2 weeks ago I turned 21, yesterday I was given my first set of hearing aids.
Ever since I was very young I’ve struggled with my hearing. There is a history of deafness of my dad’s side of my family, and I consistently failed hearing tests at primary school. I have always had a loud voice, and I struggled with my speech when I was growing up (unlike my hearing, this is not something I struggle with now – if you know me you’ll know I never stop talking!)
I had annual hearing tests until I was 16, but my hearing was never bad enough for me to have to wear a hearing aid. In the last 5 years, however, my hearing has deteriorated. I’m now at the point where, at least once a day, I find myself pretending that I’ve heard something someone has said, when really I have no idea. Saying ‘excuse me?’ once is fine, but having to say it two or three or sometimes four times is awkward, embarrassing, and often makes people think you’re either stupid or rude.
The fact that I have a problem with my hearing isn’t obvious: unless you spend a lot of time with me, you probably have no idea that I often struggle to hear things. That’s because I don’t make it obvious, I don’t make it an issue, and I hate making a fuss. But in reality, being hard of hearing does have an impact on my daily life. I find it hard to hear music, I have to have the TV very loud, and I can’t hear people I’m having a conversation with if there’s loud background noise, or if they aren’t speaking very loudly.
After lots of hearing tests and trips to see various consultants, at the beginning of the summer I was diagnosed with otosclerosis – a condition which effects the tiny bones inside the ear. In simple terms, these bones should vibrate together to create sound waves that help us to hear. For sufferers of otosclerosis (ie. me), these bones are fused together, which means that sound is no longer transmitted to the inner ear effectively. This is why I find it hard to hear certain frequencies.
There is an operation which involves replacing part of the bone, and it has the possibility to completely restore my hearing. The downside to this is that there is a chance that the operation won’t work, and the person will end up entirely deaf. I would need the operation in both my ears, and at 21, any risk of that seems too high. That’s why I chose to opt for hearing aids instead, to see if these will provide a less permanent and less risky solution to my hearing problems. I have one for both ears, and I can wear them whenever want to, or feel I’m going to need them most. For me, this is probably seminars at uni, when I’m at work, and when I know I’m going to be in a place with a lot of background noise.
I really struggled to publish this blog post. Not because I’m embarrassed by the fact that I struggle with my hearing, but because I hate receiving sympathy and showing my weaknesses. I’m stubborn, especially with my health, and I’d much rather “just get on with it” than make a fuss or admit I’m struggling. Hearing aids make the one weakness I am most self-conscious about – my hearing – blatantly obvious, and writing this blog post makes it public knowledge. Plus, hearing aids aren’t exactly the definition of ‘beautiful’ or ‘sexy’, are they.
So I definitely wavered when I went to click the publish button today. But then I realised that that’s the whole point of the post. I always say I am a strong believer in self-acceptance and owning our differences. I need to practice what I preach. No one likes admitting their weaknesses, because that means accepting them and doing something about them. Instagram filled is with so many photo shopped images because everyone wants to appear to be ‘perfect’. In reality ‘perfection’ is different for everyone.
So that’s why I’ve written this post. Not because I want sympathy, and not because I think suffering with hearing loss is the worst problem in the world. But because I feel like there is a stigma attached to wearing hearing aids. In my mind, wearing a hearing aid is no different to wearing glasses: you wouldn’t walk around not being able to see, so why should I walk around not being able to hear just because I’m embarrassed to wear a hearing aid? The answer is, I shouldn’t. I refuse to let my hearing impact my daily life and make social situations awkward anymore.
On a more general level, I’ve written this post because I think that as a society, we need to embrace who and what we are. Everybody has things they don’t like about themselves – their hair, their skin, their legs, their laugh. When we look in the mirror, our immediate reaction is to start picking out what we see as our ‘imperfections’, instead of focusing on these as things that make us unique, things that make us different. And in reality, none of these things change who we are as people, and nobody cares about them except us. Wearing hearing aids doesn’t change who I am, only for the fact that it means I can actually hear when people talk to me, and that to me is worth more than any worries I might have about my appearance.
At the moment I just have NHS standard hearing aids. I don’t know how these will work for me, and it might be that in the future I pay to have smaller and better developed ones. Whatever happens, I will always wear my hearing aids with pride, because they are part of who I am. They might not fit society’s definition of ‘perfect’, but they make me the perfect version of me.
Ps This is the link to the NHS page about Otosclerosis if you want to know more about the condition.