Nobody tells you that every day you will be challenged. That you will battle a silent and solitary battle where friends and family don’t experience life the same way you do . Nobody tells you that the things that used to be your interests and your passions are the things that you are going to have to relearn how to enjoy, experience and engage with.
My name is Tony, I’m 31 years old and have hearing loss.
I live in Australia, originally from Hobart, Tasmania but now reside in Melbourne, Victoria. My work is in Melbourne and my long-term partner resides in Hobart, so I spend a lot of time travelling between the two.
In June 2016, after having a few sporadic hearing issues throughout my mid-to-late twenties I experienced a severe and sudden loss of hearing.
At first I didn’t really understand what was happening. I didn’t understand that my body, which had otherwise been good to me, was not doing what I expected it would do. I hadn’t processed that this was going to be the beginning of a very new and challenging chapter in my life. Finally, I simply didn’t accept that my hearing loss was going to be permanent.
“I simply didn’t accept that my hearing loss was going to be permanent.”
That first month was one of the most challenging months of my life. I went through every possible emotion – confusion, anger, depression and despair. I would like to think that I came close to coming to acceptance in that first month, but it probably took a little bit longer to get there. As well as the emotional rollercoaster to ride, there were a lot of practical questions that I didn’t have the answer for:
How is this going to affect my job?
Only as much as you let it.
Will I need to move back to my home state for support?
Only if you absolutely need it
Do I need to learn sign language?
Not at this stage
Am I going to be able to continue to fly regularly?
Yes, flying is not a concern for this type of hearing issue
Am I going to need to get hearing aids, or a cochlear implant?
Whatever solution gives you the best outcome is the best solution.
What has caused this hearing loss?
You may never know.
Is this my fault?
The month I suddenly went deaf was one of the hardest months I’ve ever experienced, but it was also one of the months where I learnt the most about myself. That first month was a huge amount of work. Not just for me, but for my friends, my family and most of all my partner. Coincidentally he knows just how hard living with hearing loss can be having suffered from Meniere’s Disease. A fantastic support network around me through this time really allowed me to focus on myself, and to focus on the things that I needed to figure out.
“The month I suddenly went deaf was one of the hardest months I’ve ever experienced, but it was also one of the months where I learnt the most about myself.”
I focused on finding an ongoing Ear, Nose and Throat doctor (ENT) to try and diagnose the cause of my hearing loss. I also had regular meetings with an audiologist to assess my hearing, evaluating any changes to my daily life that I was going to have to make to accommodate this drastic change.
I spent two weeks unable to hear anything or communicate without the use of voice to text transcription applications I downloaded to my phone.
Two weeks into my experience, I put in my hearing aids for the first time. Previously, I had only experienced how isolating it can be to be hard of hearing for two weeks. I almost cried when my audiologist turned on my temporary hearing aids.
“I almost cried when my audiologist turned on my temporary hearing aids.”
These days I use Phonak Audeo B-R and I love the freedom that these rechargeable hearing aids give me!
Now 12 months on, every day presents new environments to get used to and new challenges to overcome, but I am proud to say that I have approached my hearing loss with resilience and determination to continue my life as much as I can in the same way as before my loss.
Of course, there have been some situations that have been really hard. I have had days where I have felt like trying to overcome this challenge was insurmountable. These are the days that I look back on now and realise are the ones where I learnt the most and took the most away from my experiences.
When I first started experiencing difficulty with hearing, I tried everything I could to hide it. I would make situations harder than they needed to be by pretending I could hear what people were saying when I couldn’t. I would smile and nod, laugh and try and move along with the conversation. In many of these instances while I thought I was bluffing and just “making it through the conversation”, I wasn’t really contributing. I wasn’t sharing my opinions, my thoughts and my interpretations. I didn’t know what was really being discussed in the conversation.
At first it seemed awkward to ask people to repeat themselves, or to speak up. But quickly I realised that the more I did this, the more natural it became to do so and the more I was finding conversation more comfortable. Just like all I want is to be able to hear what was being said, the person speaking just wants to be heard.
Before experiencing my hearing loss I was a very social person. I enjoyed nothing more than getting together with friends for food, wine and stories. After suffering my hearing loss these experiences which I used to revel in were quickly becoming less enjoyable and downright frustrating at times. I fumbled my way through some unenjoyable social engagements. Going out in public was something I started to avoid. I decided that I couldn’t accept this. It was time to take matters into my own hands.
“Going out in public was something I started to avoid. I decided that I couldn’t accept this. It was time to take matters into my own hands.”
Now whenever anyone suggests a get together I try to suggest venues that I know have worked for me before. Venues that have large open spaces, little soft furnishings and large groups of people are going to be difficult if you are hard of hearing. Unfortunately for me, this style is definitely a popular aesthetic in Australia at the moment! I always attempt to pick somewhere that I know is going to have an intimate space. I will let the venue know ahead of time I’m coming and that I’d prefer a “quiet spot.” I’ll plan to arrive first so I can pick a spot that will optimize my hearing capability. If I can’t arrive first and someone sits in “my spot,” I politely ask them to shuffle across explaining to them why.
This is the most important thing that I’ve learnt along the way. That yes, things are hard – especially new situations where you don’t know what to expect and what you can control. Every day gets a little bit easier though. Every day I learn something new, a different way of communicating something that isn’t working or a new tactic for dealing with a situation. Each time I learn these new things, it becomes easier to incorporate them into my every day life.
“Every day I learn something new, a different way of communicating something that isn’t working or a new tactic for dealing with a situation.”
In those first few months there were things that I never thought I would enjoy again – watching television, listening to music, family dinners, drinks with friends. All of these things had new challenges attached to them, but I know how to account for them. It is easier to involve myself and I enjoy all of these things as much as I used to.
Sometimes with a bit of help from technology along the way!
I’m not going to lie, the last twelve months have been hard. Really hard. But with a positive attitude and absolute resilience I’ve learnt that this isn’t going to hold me back. My hearing continues to fluctuate for reasons unknown but I’m experiencing an increased in decibels in my left ear.
Any positive change I am exceptionally thankful for. Whatever is around the corner, things will get easier and I can handle any challenges coming my way.
Did you suffer from sudden hearing loss? How did you cope? What have you learned to overcome the challenges? Please let me know in the comments!