Real Talk: Dealing with Hearing Loss as a Young Adult

November 13, 2015

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So, today I want to share a little bit about a personal topic that I haven’t really ever discussed with anyone except close family and friends….

…I wear hearing aids. 

Phew!  It feels good to get that out there.  You see, wearing hearing aids (and allowing people to see them with my hair pulled up), is something that I have only really become comfortable with in the last year.  But let me back up a bit.

**THE EARLY YEARS:

When I was a few years old, my parents found out that I had congenital hearing loss (or hearing loss at birth).  I could hear certain pitches perfectly, and others not as well.  Growing up, I had my hearing tested every few years and it remained about the same.  During this time, I learned how to deal with this loss in certain ways.  For example, I have the hardest time understanding what someone is saying if they are standing behind me or whispering, or if there is a lot of other background noise.  In school, I tried to get a seat at the front of the classroom and when I was talking with friends I always tried to face them directly.  Facing someone helps A TON because (fun fact!) I’ve actually become pretty good at reading lips.

**ONTO COLLEGE:

When I went to college, however, my hearing loss got worse.  By the time I was a Junior I really began to notice that I was missing a lot.  Friends would see me in between classes on campus and ask if I had heard them yelling my name for the past few minutes…I hadn’t.  The most frustrating situation though, was having to ask someone if they could repeat themselves two or three times and then still not have a clue what they were saying.  When this happened (which was pretty often), I would usually just nod or say something general like “Oh yeah” – I felt rude asking so many times!

Around the middle of my Senior year, I hit my breaking point.  I slowly became more and more frustrated and embarrassed that I was missing out on important conversations and the full college experience.  Also, I worried that to many I was unintentionally coming across as rude, ignorant, standoffish or snobbish.  I had not had my hearing checked since before college and…honestly, I was afraid to go because I knew what they were going to say.

**THE UPDATED DIAGNOSIS:

My appointment at the University of Iowa Hearing and Speech Clinic confirmed that certain parts of my hearing loss had gotten a lot worse.  When the audiologist recommended that I get fitted for hearing aids right away, I broke down.  Looking back now, this seems like an overreaction, but at the time I was already so overwhelmed with change (graduating, finding a job, figuring out where to live, leaving my friends, being an actual adult…)  that I couldn’t handle the idea of adding yet another big change into that mix.

**CRYSTAL CLEAR:

Even though I was nervous about wearing hearing aids, I knew that I needed them and was excited about the idea of being able to have normal conversations without having to stop and ask “I’m sorry?” or “Can you repeat that?”.  A close family friend who also wore a hearing aid took some time to share her experience with me.  I really appreciated her openness – it was so nice to talk to someone who was around my age and had gone through a similar experience.

So, did you know that when you start off wearing hearing aids you have to ease into how long you wear them for?  This surprised me, but ended up totally making sense — it can be overwhelming when you actually hear everything clearly!  On my first day, I remember walking to class and being distracted by this loud rustling noise.  Only when I stopped walking to try and figure out what it was did I realize that it had been the sound of the leaves crunching beneath my feet!  I never realized that leaves could be that loud before!  🙂  It might sound silly, but it’s little moments like this that make me so grateful that hearing aids exist.  What a blessing it is that so many people who have a hearing defect can live life normally because of these trusty little devices.

**THE PRESENT:

Once I started wearing my hearing aids full time it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though.  Even though I was thrilled to be able to hear clearly again, I felt extremely self conscious.  I wore my hair down as much as possible to cover them up.  Sometimes, if I had to wear my hair up because it was dirty, I would purposely not wear my hearing aids that day.  I was upset with myself because I knew it was so vain, but at the same time I hated feeling awkward and on display.

Here’s the thing though, I eventually realized that the whole time I thought other people were judging me, I was really judging myself.  Struggling with perfection has been an issue for me, and I viewed my hearing aids as a visual imperfection that allowed everyone to see my flaw.

It took some time and self-love, but now I finally feel comfortable rocking one of my favorite hairstyles again – the ballerina bun (pictured above) 🙂  When I go out in public, my hearing aids don’t define me – they are a special part of of what makes me the woman I am today.

**HOW YOU CAN PREVENT HEARING LOSS:

Even if you weren’t born with hearing loss like I was, there is a high likelihood that you will experience some hearing loss eventually because of the noise exposure of our generation.  So, how can you prevent this loss?  Here are a few guidelines that I really try to stick to (courtesy of Mayo Clinic):

1)  Turn down the volume – Whether you’re listening to your headphones, watching TV, listening to the radio in the car, or talking on the phone, be aware of the volume levels that you can control.  Prolonged exposure (think as little as 20 minutes) to loud noises can start to cause damage.

2) Wear protection – If you know that you’re going to be somewhere with prolonged exposure to loud noises, plan ahead to wear earplugs or or earmuffs.  Also, noise-cancelling headphones are worth the investment if you’re constantly listening to them when there is a lot of other background noise.

3) Get your hearing checked regularly – It might not be the most fun thing to do, but catching hearing loss early on can make a big difference in the long run!

Thanks for letting me share my story with you.  If you have any questions about this topic, want to chat, or share your own story with me, please feel free to email me at ladyplannerlg@gmail.com.

Cheers,

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