There are several great resources for hearing loss out there. In my view, none is as comprehensive or as entertaining as Hear & Beyond, a book about living with hearing loss by hearing loss advocates Shari Eberts and Gael Hannan.
Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, a 304 page book about living with hearing loss, was published on May 3, 2022. Co-author Shari Eberts describes herself as a “passionate hearing health advocate.” You may have heard about her efforts to improve video call captioning during the pandemic. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss and an executive producer of “We Hear You,” an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Eberts also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Loss Association of America. She has adult-onset genetic hearing loss.
Read more: deaf community petitions for free captions
Her co-author Gail Hannan is a humorist, writer, and speaker on hearing loss issues. She describes herself as a “leading international hearing health advocate.” Her book, The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss is part memoir and part survival guide. Hannan has profound hearing loss and is bimodal.
The book is divided into handy sections packed with advice, information, and personal anecdotes. The first section covers tinnitus, which is often overlooked when it comes to hearing loss. The two conditions are clinically separate, but commonly occur together. Eberts and Hannan both experience tinnitus. They mention in Hear & Beyond that medical practitioners and audiologists do not sufficiently understand the condition.
“Sometimes they simply throw up their hands, saying there is nothing we can do about it,” Eberts says. “And maybe that is true from a ‘cure’ perspective at this time, but there are many things we can do to live better with tinnitus. One of the things that has worked very well for me is meditation. It helps me calm my mind and lowers the background ringing, especially when I do it regularly. My hearing aids also help me block out the unwanted sound most of the time.”
Hannan once tried medication for her tinnitus – assumed to be caused by anxiety — but found it didn’t really help. It did help with her sleep, however. Now she has severe tinnitus. After a couple of years, she went off her medication and still sleeps reasonably well. She has learned to shift her focus away from the orchestra playing in her head. Like Eberts, she has found exercise and meditation to be beneficial. “I won’t lie; it’s still bothersome,” Hannan says. “It helps to know that there is a tidal wave of international tinnitus research going on. But it will take time to see the results beyond the available tools that don’t work for everyone. Your readers may find books like Glenn Schweitzer’s Rewiring Tinnitus and Joey Remenyi’s Rock Steady and ours to be helpful.”
I’m passionate about how hearing loss impacts mental health. It’s refreshing and wonderful to see whole chapters devoted to this. Eberts and Hannan have come up with the concept of MindShifts to change your attitude about living with hearing loss.
When the two began writing the book together, they discovered something almost immediately. At some point in their respective journeys, they had shifted their focus from hearing better to communicating better.
“That made all the difference,” says Eberts. “We will never hear perfectly—that is out of our control—but we can communicate more effectively because much of that is under our control.”
“We will never hear perfectly—that is out of our control—but we can communicate more effectively because much of that is under our control.”
A three-legged stool of skills is laid out in the book that helps people take charge of their hearing loss. “One of the legs is MindShifts: the ability to change our attitudes about our hearing loss,” explains Eberts. “MindShifts are not ‘cures’ for hearing loss. And—reality check—even the best hearing aid in the world won’t ‘fix’ hearing loss because science and medicine are just not there yet. But you can communicate better when you actively support your hearing aids with other strategies, including an improved emotional attitude.”
There are 10 MindShifts in the book, though in reality there are many more. One of the key ones is the first attitude discussed: “Why me?” The MindShift is: “I have the potential to change my journey,” Hannan says. “The person with the most power in my hearing loss success is me. That is powerful learning to absorb. Another attitude is: Nobody understands what I’m going through. The redemptive MindShift: Many people experience the same challenges as I do. I can learn from them. I’m not alone.”
These are examples of the life-changing aha moments that lightened the load for the authors and pushed them forward on their journey to become better communicators. “Not always perfect, but always better than before!” Hannan adds.
Another crucial element to hearing loss and tinnitus is self-identifying and self-advocating. To see this championed in a book like Hear & Beyond is fantastic. Eberts battled self-imposed stigma — which she learned from her father — for many years. This made self-identifying challenging for her. She says she tried to fake her way through conversations like her father had. This changed once she had children. She saw them watching her, just like she had watched her father. It was then she realized she was passing on the same hearing loss stigma to another generation. Eberts knew she had to set a better example on how to live well with hearing loss, especially since hers is genetic and may have passed on to her children, she says.
This epiphany resulted in some changes. Eberts began wearing her hearing aids all the time. She let others know about her hearing loss so she could ask for the communication assistance she needed. It was difficult at first. She found it easier to practice my hearing loss script on strangers first to find the correct phrasing that worked for her. It went something like this: “I have hearing loss and am having trouble understanding you. Please face me and speak slower so I can hear you.”
Each time Eberts self-identified, it got easier. Now it is second nature. “And always worth the effort,” she adds.
Early on, Hannan learned that if she didn’t tell people about her hearing loss, her mother would. As a result, she started early, but wasn’t necessarily good at self-identifying. She was still carrying the stigma, and is sure her requests were delivered apologetically. Eventually, she improved, especially once she understood more about her hearing loss. Even today, she prefers to be the one to self-identify as it’s irritating to have her husband or someone else say, “You’ll have to speak up; she has hearing loss.”
We’ve all done it – misheard something important, turned up at the wrong time, or said something odd or hilarious in response to something we heard incorrectly. Eberts told me about the time she struggled to hear during her son’s hospital stay, highlighting the need for much advocacy to improve hospital communication access. In Hear & Beyond, one of the many Hearing Hacks details tips and tricks for managing hearing loss in a healthcare setting.
As for Hannan, she says she avoided ruining her own proposal by speechreading her future husband when he asked her to marry him.
“Lucky for me (and him), I’m an ace speechreader,” she says. “I saw his lips say, ‘Let’s get married.’ So, we did.” This is an improvement on a previous incident when she sabotaged a promising relationship because she bluffed her way through a conversation. “I mean, it was dark!” she says. “I said no when I would have said yes if I’d properly understood what he had asked. End of relationship.”
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