Hearing loss has been a significant part of my world as an adult, being diagnosed in my early 20s and having a moderate mixed hearing loss in both ears. It took me 2 years accept that I needed hearing aids and haven’t looked back since, loving the flexibility of the technology to adapt to most (not all) of my life. I ended up working in the hearing industry for 15 years, starting in administration and then working my way up over 15 years to being Head of Education and Community Services with Ear Science Institute Australia (ESIA) in WA. I was heavily involved in developing and facilitating education for the community and health professionals on hearing loss and inclusive communication (the lived experience). I now work for the Royal College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and have been known to both advocate and educate colleagues and GPs in my current role, especially the importance of microphones and subtitle use in education. I am still involved in the hearing loss world with my focus at the moment being paediatric hearing loss, as my 12 year old son has recently been diagnosed with a loss, and has started his hearing loss/hearing aid journey along with starting Year 7, challenging times!
I am someone who researches and figures out what to do and how to do it. I did this all through my hearing loss journey and now my son’s. Living with hearing loss, working and living life (getting married, having a child) and maintaining social connections is hard. Forgetting to tell the celebrant to face me during our wedding ceremony, not hearing the asthma wheeze in my premature son and chilling with friends in noisy cafes and pubs is never boring. In that regard, if I think about the personal impacts of living with hearing loss, miscommunication is the biggest thing. One day, my husband was driving back from work and he told me over the phone he was taking pictures of fridges. I thought that was odd but didn’t question it. When he got home I realised he meant bridges! This is a funny example that I frequently share, however the more personal and scary ones hit me much closer to home. Things like this mean you end up fighting with your husband for two hours only to realise you were talking about completely different things, thinking your son is happy and healthy when he isn’t, struggling to understand your younger sister’s ramblings, mumblings attempts at humour, and turning up at the wrong time to a work function or doing the wrong task.
There are benefits which my son and I both enjoy, mostly taking our devices out and relishing the peace and quiet and we love the tech, linking our phones, computers and TV to our devices and look forward to all the new features heading our way.
If I was to summarise the main “grrrrrrrrrrrrs” for me and my son, it is not the situation when we don’t hear something and ask for clarification or something repeated, it is when we mishear something that makes sense. Any hearing loss, even a “small hearing loss” is actually losing the ability to communicate properly. It is never “just a small hearing loss” it is a hearing loss. If we think we have heard correctly then don’t question it and we carry on unknowingly and oblivious to the error. It’s exhausting listening all day, and the anxiety from worrying about what me may have missed or might miss in the future. We are both comfortable with owning our hearing loss and have supportive families, friends, teachers and work colleagues, yet still we find it hard. We link with support organisations and the NIDS and do everything we can. We have clear strategies, communication tips (face me when talking) and don’t talk when there is background noise or from another room. Resilience by everyone is needed and most importantly a sense of humour! Remember “fridges and bridges”, it might happen to you one day!