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How my friends reacted to my hearing loss

reactions to hearing loss

Since becoming a hearing aid wearer and learning that I am at least partially deaf, I have begun to understand my friends reactions to hearing loss, both before my diagnosis and after.

There is a level of acceptance shown by those we know, which goes beyond our shortcomings; this forms a large part of any normal type of friendship. We can all sit down and come up with a handful of failings and quirks which our friends have, without condemning them or attempting to change their own individuality.

My friends viewed my being a bit hard of hearing as something of a personality trait and adds a certain charm to those afflicted. They thought of my hearing loss as simply a part of my personality. This caused a variety of reactions to the news that I have a hearing loss and will wear hearing aids. 

A range of reactions

Their changes in behavior after the event have been at times quite shocking. For example, certain friends feel saddened by my having to wear hearing aids and expect a new level of interaction, because of it.

One friend, in particular, appeared to go into a state of mourning on my behalf, at my news. Although from my perspective, receiving my hearing aids and at last being able to hear better was wonderful news. 

Read more: This is how my children reacted to my hearing loss

No matter how many times I explained to him that I was having a positive experience, he didn’t understand. He thought I was simply putting on a brave face.

He even asked whether I had begun to take things a bit easier. As though deafness was a life-threatening disease.

I would love to relate that he got over this mindset within a matter of days or weeks, sadly two years on and he is very much the same. He treats me as though I’m made of bone china, insisting that I sit down and rest.

“He treats me as though I’m made of bone china and often insists that I sit down and rest.”

On the other hand, female friends tend to exhibit concern, without blowing things out of all proportion, the way the men tend to do.

Women, certainly those within my social sphere, are far more willing to view hearing loss as something to overcome, whereas men view it as a weakness and a loss of life in general.

I find this very interesting, because not one of my female friends has suggested that I stop doing anything or take things easier.

In fact, quite the opposite. One friend suggested that I make certain not to sit and wallow, but instead get out and enjoy life, with my enhanced hearing ability.

“One friend suggested that I make certain not to sit and wallow, but instead get out and enjoy life, with my enhanced hearing ability.”

She was all too aware of the slippery slope of inertia and the way over thinking and harking back to better days could easily lead to depression and isolation.

Friends at my health club had a similar set of male, female-typical reactions. Men were either surprised or set against my doing anything fitness related. Two even tried to strongly advise me from continuing to swim. I did explain that my hearing aids are not locked in-place, but can be taken out in seconds, but to no avail.

One even took to making a little scene and telling strangers of my amazing feat in being able to exercise and swim. As you can imagine this did get some odd reactions.

A lack of deaf awareness and education

Deaf education is so lacking in the mainstream hearing society. In many cases, it is almost a joke, as in, it would be funny, were it not so sad. Because it is sad, for those who insist on seeing deafness as such a debilitating disability, when the majority of those with hearing loss consider it more of a series of challenges.

Another friend has now taken to shouting and making what he considers helpful mouth shapes when he speaks to me. He reminds me of a character from a sitcom.

“Another friend has now taken to shouting and making what he considers helpful mouth shapes when he speaks to me.”

He ignores the fact, though I’ve mentioned several times, that with my hearing aids, my hearing is very sharp. He can speak quietly and I will be able to hear him. So long as our conversation is one to one, of course. If I am in a group situation, it is more challenging to hear.

I have noticed that male friends appear to find dealing with the reality of deafness something very difficult. Some will make an endless stream of jokes; others have eyes filled with pity.

A hearing aid stigma

These things, on the whole, have died down a little. After all, two years is a considerable time for that kind of attention. However, a little is not to say that any of it has stopped.

The funny thing is before my diagnosis my friends both male and female tended to ignore my hearing issues. Or else they would make a good-natured joke out of it and then it would be forgotten, until the next time.

Now, I’m viewed as different. Either someone to admire and cheer on or else the friend who’s deaf, poor creature.

All but one, view my disability as both a weakness and something of a liability, where social occasions are concerned, expecting me to impose problems on any venture suggested.

The majority seem to consider hearing aids as clever, yet in some way not nice. I can only assume that this stigma derives from hearing aids being inserted into the ear and its association with wax and such.

None of my friends has a clear understanding of the way hearing aids work and the particular challenges those with hearing loss face.

All but one are reluctant to speak on the subject. They act as though it is not something to be spoken of in polite society.

I also have serious problems with my eyesight and wear glasses, these are viewed as perfectly normal. Even though I have sight challenges, these are looked on as simply one of those things.

“I also have serious problems with my eyesight and wear glasses, these are viewed as perfectly normal.”

I remember attending school in the late sixties and early to late seventies, how kids with glasses were picked on, because they were deemed different.

The same was true of those poor children wearing braces, they always had a miserable time. Now, of course wearing braces is seen as normal and kids all want designer glasses.

With time I imagine hearing aids will become accepted. In the meantime, I’m doing my bit to champion the cause. I think it’s vital that those of us with hearing loss help educate the hearing masses.

How did your friends react when they found out about your hearing loss? Let us know in the comments.

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PR Hilton
Phonak hEARo, Phil is an author, journalist and therapist, living on the beautiful North Yorkshire coast with his wife Raine and their three children. Phil was diagnosed in 2016 with mild to moderate Sensorineural hearing loss in both ears and tinnitus. He uses Phonak silver digital hearing aids with automatic volume controls.

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