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Ending my Hearing Loss Isolation

This week I will be traveling to New York City to meet with five very interesting people with whom I have recently connected.

Each of them lives with adult late-onset deafness and wears a hearing aid or a cochlear implant. All of them are accomplished professionals with their own work, families, dreams, and goals: including an actor who is starting to lose his hearing and has asked me for some guidance. In return, he has offered to reconnect me with the theater and film community. Two others were highly successful in the media and on Wall Street, and are now widely known writers and advocates for those with hearing loss. Another is a celebrated composer with whom I have connected over our love for and work in music, and the other, a new friend.

This is relatively new for me.

A naturally sociable and gregarious sort, I nevertheless have spent the better part of 35 years with hearing loss, in the shadows or in the company of friends and family with mostly “good” hearing. Through my work and interests, other new friends and colleagues have come into my life, most of them with good hearing as well. I have been comforted and suffered because of that.

And that’s been the challenge.

I have to admit, for many years I avoided interacting socially with the hearing loss community. I frankly didn’t think of myself as part of it, except from a medical and technical perspective. Imagine that. Here I was: a hearing snob with a severe hearing loss. The irony is crushing.  

I have to admit, for many years I avoided interacting socially with the hearing loss community. I frankly didn’t think of myself as part of it, except from a medical and technical perspective. Imagine that. Here I was: a hearing snob with a severe hearing loss. The irony is crushing.  

I wasn’t deaf (not by my definition anyway) and could function anywhere… I believed. I just needed to make some adjustments. Then, I could socialize and participate in most any activity with good hearing folks. But that was untrue.

The hearing loss community focuses on hearing loss and I didn’t want to do that. I was functioning and working hard to function better and returning to work that I loved and the communities therein. I was also upgrading my tech and doing my own research to try and stay ahead of the curve. But even with that, I was alone much too often and for far too long.

I guess part of it is that I never gave up trying to be who I used to be, and because I didn’t make the effort, I rarely saw who others with hearing loss might be, beyond that. You know, like me.

Yes, I attended hearing loss meetings, seminars and conferences – mostly to speak or for information sake. I never felt these gatherings to be especially good at creating personal connections. But then again, I didn’t reach out to foster anything deeper either. As the result, much of my life was lived in a self-imposed hearing exile and isolation. Being single and a writer has a lot to do with that too, but so has the lack of desire to be out with folks where my hearing would inevitably be an issue. I never imagined hanging out with others who were similarly “indisposed” yet living full lives.  

I was surely not unusual in that regard, and isolation is one of our big nemeses, isn’t it?  Working with audiologists, a hearing rehab specialist, my hearing aid company, Phonak, and writing for this blog has brought me into more contact with many people with hearing loss, or engaged in addressing it. In some ways, however, that still felt peripheral, as I was not really interacting, building friendships or longer term relationships. Not enough of them at least. 

But, as another birthday passed I decided to step up and out.

By nature I’m not a joiner, but I renewed my membership with the Hearing Loss Association of America and attended a recent HLAA meeting in New York. It was there that I made several new contacts. I got to chat with the representatives from cochlear implant companies who were presenting that evening, one of whom was familiar with my blog work, as well as a number of folks attending the meeting for their own personal and professional reasons. It was a revelation.

Here was that diverse community I had been looking for. A vibrant group from all circumstances and with interesting lives, many of whom who had spent large chunks of them isolated and cut off because of their hearing loss, but who are grabbing life and carrying on. I was even asked for advice by one of the attendees, a piano player, who couldn’t get his hearing aid and the piano to sync.  I relished these new interactions.  

Not only that, but we know the drills: how to hear and make adjustments when we’re challenged, how to survive in public places, how to talk about our lives and how to engage others regardless of their situation. We also know how to communicate in a variety of settings, with a variety of tools. Not just aids and implants, but through lip reading, assistive hearing devices, and sign and body language.  

There wasn’t a good reason for me to hide and remain closed off socially or depend solely on my good hearing friends for their understanding and a social life anymore. My hearing loss issolation was a decision on my part, born of many things, but a decision nonetheless. Loneliness and isolation are not new issues for those of us with hearing loss and my story is hardly unique. Still many of us wonder how to connect our lives, work and souls to others with hearing loss given our common challenges.

As I discovered, there are ever more opportunities to engage with others with hearing loss and in activities customized for us here, there and everywhere. The chances are now greater to meet new people with similar and diverse backgrounds, skills and interests to enjoy a conversation, go out to dinner, travel, see a show, or take a walk without feeling the need to explain ourselves. Above all, we want to laugh, love and enjoy life like everyone else. Email, texting and Twitter have been a godsend for us for sure, but nothing beats a real face, a voice and a soulful connection.

Above all, we want to laugh, love and enjoy life like everyone else. Email, texting and Twitter have been a godsend for us for sure, but nothing beats a real face, a voice and a soulful connection.

At this point in life, my hearing is stable and I am engaging again in my artistic passions and pursuits. I am also happily expanding the potential universe of friends and colleagues in the hearing loss community, and ending my hearing loss issolation. And that feels right, finally. I am interested in meeting others with hearing loss to learn from them and to share in their joy and unique spark, people with interesting lives, not just tragic stories.  

We all know how precious life, love and friendship are, and how much isolation and loneliness we endure without them.

No more.  

Are you connected to the hearing loss community on a social basis? Would you like to end your hearing loss isolation and be more connected?  Join the forum or reach out to me. 

ending my Hearing Loss Isolation

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Stu Nunnery
Stu Nunnery is a professional writer, speaker, composer, musician, recording artist, actor and activist from Rhode Island. He has a special kinship with musicians and singers with hearing loss, but writes and speaks on a variety of hearing issues from his 35 years experience with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. He has hearing in one ear and sight in one eye, which makes for interesting sensory challenges from time to time. He seeks to be of help, hope and inspiration to those of whom he affectionately calls the “hearing lost.”

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