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June 11, 2015

Coming Out of My Hearing Loss Closet

I grew up the child of someone with hearing loss. I knew it in a peripheral way — my father wore hearing aids, but they were never seen — always hidden by sideburns grown long for that purpose. He never discussed his hearing loss and went out of his way to hide it. I remember social gatherings where he would disappear only to be found sitting at a table in the corner alone. I always wondered why, but now I know, because I have hearing loss too.

As a child, my hearing was fine, but when I first had trouble hearing in my mid-twenties at business school, I hid it, following my father’s example. I even refused to wear my first pair of hearing aids, afraid someone might see them. I felt embarrassed. I am not sure why. Was it a learned response from watching my father, or was it something larger — a stigma associated with hearing loss that I wanted to avoid? In any event, my mother’s reaction was not encouraging. “Do you really need to wear them?” she asked me.

Eventually, the answer became yes, I really did need to wear them, but I still avoided them as much as possible. I would sneak my hearing aids in on my way to work, wear them all day hidden behind my long hair, and whip them out as soon as possible at the end of the workday. I hated my hearing aids and only wore them when I absolutely needed to, and never socially or with my family.

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But then I had two children of my own, and this forced me to come to terms with my hearing loss. Since my loss was genetic, I worried that I might have passed it onto them. Given the adult onset nature of my loss, we won’t know for another 15 years, but I wasn’t going to sit idly by and wait to see. And if they did have an issue, I didn’t want them to feel embarrassed and ashamed of it. I needed to come out of my hearing loss closet.

So I did. I was lucky enough to become involved with Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) and found my way onto the Board of Directors. My work with the foundation has been a good excuse to be more vocal about my hearing loss. My friends asked me why I was involved with HHF and I would tell them about my hearing loss. Most of them had no idea, and none of them cared. And when I meet new people, they don’t care either. What had I been so worried about?

As time goes on, I have grown bolder. I now wear my hearing aids all the time and regularly advocate for myself, asking for quiet tables at restaurants, using caption readers at the movies, and rearranging the seating at family dinners to make sure I can hear and participate. I even started a blog, Living With Hearing Loss, where I discuss my hearing loss and what I do to cope.

My hope is that my story will inspire others to come out of their hearing loss closets. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. Nobody will care, and in fact, they probably already know. Plus, being open about your hearing loss sure takes the pressure off having to hear everything perfectly all the time! And what a relief that is.

Shari Eberts
Shari Eberts
Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.