When I first had hearing aids I grew my very short hair slightly longer to hide them. It was a vanity thing. When people said “goodness, I didn’t know you had hearing problems – you could never tell” I was very pleased. This isn’t an approach everyone with a hearing loss shares. The letters page of the magazine produced by Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the RNID) sometimes reverberates with people getting very cross about manufacturers who advertise hearing aids as “invisible…..no-one will know you are wearing them”. They feel that we should be more upfront about our deafness, and stop it being quite so much a hidden disability. I can see their point, but admit that I was quite happy to hide for as long as I could.
Things have changed now that my hearing is much worse. I’ve got very short hair again and everyone can see my hearing aids. That’s a good thing now, because people I meet casually might get a first prompt that all is not well (that is, before I completely misunderstand what they say and veer off on some strange conversational tangent). I also like it that other people with hearing loss sometimes come up to me and strike up a conversation, starting it, “I see you have hearing aids……”
So my view is that we all reach individual decisions about what works for us on this, and that might change over time. We shouldn’t criticise others for their choices.
Writing about those decisions reminded me of the tiny deafness-related decisions I make, many times, every day. Sometimes, as you all know, people with hearing problems pretend they have heard something when they haven’t. We shouldn’t do it, because it is all too easy to make a disastrous mistake and nod and smile when the right response would be to say *oh how terrible, I’m so sorry”. But there are times when my ability to say yet again, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that, could you repeat it for me” just fails me – I’ve said it so many times that day. I decide to zone out for a while.
There’s also the aspect of trying not to completely dominate other peoples’ conversations. When I am with more than a couple of other people there are inevitably conversations going on between the others that are not particularly directed at me. A person without hearing loss would be able to hear all of it and know when to chip in, but you would be driven mad if I interrupted every time anyone said something that I didn’t catch. So I decide when to butt in and when not to.
There is also the issue of deciding how much to explain to people you don’t really “meet” but who you exchange some pleasantries with. An example of that scenario is with an artist who, last summer, was painting a scene on a local canal towpath where I often walk our dog. As I passed him sat at his easel I was mainly focussing on how to stop a friendly but sometimes shall-we-say-over-exuberant black Labrador causing oil paint mayhem but I would call out “Good Morning” and walk on by. One day I was fairly certain I could hear the man saying something as the dog and I charged past. So I turned and said “I’m sorry, did you say something? I’m deaf and didn’t catch it”. “Ahhh” he said “that explains it…I’ve been trying to talk to you the past two or three times I’ve seen you but you just ignore me”. So we had a chat. Indeed the next time I saw him he had researched how to say “Good morning Vera” in sign language (which was a shame because, living a life surrounded by people who can hear, I’ve never learnt it). He and I became firm friends, until his painting was finished and he moved on to some other place. It was an excellent example of how people can assume you are being rude, or standoffish, by ignoring them. On the other hand, it’s not really feasible to tell your life story to everyone you pass on a walk.
So many decisions. I was somewhat horrified to read recently the theory that we all have our daily quota of decision making ability, and once that’s gone decisions get far harder. If it’s true I’m destined for a life of dithering, as all my decision making quota gets used up on variants of the above.