by Jacqui Metzger
Managing hearing loss is a major challenge. All of us with hearing loss know this. Whether you lose your hearing over time, overnight, or have had the same loss for many years, we each deal with very real and significant issues related to communication.
Ask any hard-of-hearing or late-deafened person what their challenges have been, and you will get as many different stories as there are people you ask. But you will hear similar experiences related to problems communicating with others, not understanding or knowing what’s going on, feeling left out and uncomfortable, becoming isolated and lonely, discouraged, angry, resentful, scared, and resigned.
Add to this the impact of one’s hearing loss on family, friends, and co-workers who report not knowing what to do and also feeling frustrated, resentful, and resigned. Hearing loss presents major challenges for all who are touched by it.
However, over time, people find ways to live with their hearing loss. We use a variety of technology, including hearing aids, cochlear implants, assistive listening systems, Bluetooth connections, and texting. We develop speech-reading skills. We get support from family and friends especially when we can talk about the challenges we’re facing and let people know how to improve communication with us. We join HLAA or ALDA and make connections with others who have similar experiences, and we share useful resources.
I remember when I met Sam Trychin thirty-plus years ago. He was a psychologist at Gallaudet University researching issues that were facing hard-of-hearing people. I had been dealing with my version of meeting the challenges of my progressive hearing loss. My main survival strategy was to bluff. Not only did I adamantly believe I was getting away with it, I also had absolutely no idea that there were other options for my “hearing problem.”
Enter Sam and his extraordinary, revolutionary, unconventional ideas about living well with hearing loss. Managing? What a concept! This implied you could think about the problems that came with the territory. Sam taught me — and many others — how to identify the problem, then challenged me to figure out a number of solutions. Bluffing was one idea, but in the long run, it didn’t serve me very well. There were other options! This was incredibly liberating. I was learning to talk about my hearing loss.
Hearing loss is stressful. Coping is what we do to manage stressful situations. Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes not. I began to develop new coping strategies and communication skills to better manage what Sam called “communication breakdowns.” We all know about those. I was learning what to tell people to do so I could understand them, and also how to tell them. This opened the world for me in new ways.
Adjusting to hearing loss means dealing with the very real losses that come with this experience: the loss of easy communication; the loss of information, power, and control; fewer options; changes in self image…the list goes on. Along with these losses is a predictable psychological reaction, the grief and the emotional reactions we have to loss. We resist or deny our reality. We’re angry. We say it’s not fair, and we’re sad and sometimes depressed. Eventually, we come to terms with it. Accept it? Perhaps. Adjust to our new reality? Hopefully that’s what we each can do — to find ways to navigate successfully this extraordinarily challenging experience.