Sometimes hearing loss is very hard on the self-esteem. I’ve always considered myself a fairly confident and resilient human being but sometimes being deaf really tests that. It’s hard to feel confident when I’m on the edge of conversations, trying to get a foothold. It’s hard not to feel a big sense of loss about some of the things I can’t do any more (chatting easily to my husband whenever I want to is top of my list of things I would like back).
But what do you do? My philosophy is that there’s no point giving into it. It’s my one and only life and I’m determined not to let my ears spoil it.
When one thing is constantly sapping your confidence and self-esteem it seems important to me to have other things building that confidence back up again – some projects to be proud of.
This blog is one such project. I really enjoy writing it. It’s fun and it’s given me a way to express things I don’t normally talk about much. I was a child who loved writing – stories, plays, invented newspapers – so I feel that I’ve returned to something I’ve always loved doing, and with a purpose to it too. But learning the technology of blogging has been a challenge. I am one of the world’s least techie people, prone to crying for “Help!” when things go wrong, but with the blog I’ve had to figure it out myself. Slowly, I’ve discovered I can do that quite well, actually, given time. I’ve mastered categories and tags and the WordPress dashboard and all manner of arcane stuff. You can laugh (I do!) but I feel really quite pleased with my techie blogging prowess. That helps.
Another project was deciding, last year, to teach a class for my local University of the Third Age. (Lots of people haven’t heard of U3A. It is a self-help educational group for retired people. Members offer to run classes or lead groups on anything they know about and are interested in – everything from walking groups to Wagner to wood turning. Group leaders don’t get paid so membership is very cheap. U3A started in France but is now very popular in the UK; our local group has over 900 members).
A couple of years ago, after being a member for a while, I thought “I could do that” and put together a class based on exploring the housing options for retired people in our area. I had worked for a big non-profit English provider of housing and services for older people, so putting the class together was right up my street. I was also very used to speaking to groups – my job had involved lots of that. What scared me for a while, though, was how I was going to cope with my hearing loss in that situation. Although I described myself as deaf in the last few years before retirement, my hearing is quite a lot worse now. How would I cope? Particularly scary was how I was going to cope with questions.
In the end I had a plan and a fall-back position. The plan was to be very upfront about the problem and to explain to people at the very first meeting how I was going to handle it. So, right at the start of the first week I explained what we needed to do. I was happy to have questions at any time but people would need to wave their hands about to get my attention. I probably wouldn’t notice if they just called out. I arranged the chairs so that I could, if I needed to, get quite close to people, to maximise the chances of hearing and lip reading. I explained that, during the coffee breaks and when we were out visiting different developments, I might appear to ignore them but I wasn’t intending to. I’m really very friendly, and want to talk, but I might not hear people saying something to me. Just tap me on the shoulder. “Deaf but friendly” got a laugh and hopefully got people on my side a bit. I’d put a very low limit on the group (in the end I had fifteen members) and that helped too. Of course, given the age group, I wasn’t the only one with a hearing problem so there was a lot of understanding.
It all went fine. I enjoyed myself. Feedback was good. I’m doing another class this coming winter on a different topic (fingers crossed for that). I proved to myself I could still do something that I thought maybe wasn’t possible any longer, which felt great.
If you can bear another tip from this class, which I hadn’t planned but was helpful, it was this. Each session was two hours long, less a coffee break. Now, at work I would rarely have talked to a group for that long, whoever they were. I would always break things up with some sort of participation. So, out of habit, I had people sat round tables and planned one or two points where people discussed something at their table and then shared it with the rest of us. People took this in good spirit and, for example, discussed with each other for a few minutes “what’s most important to look for in a retirement scheme” and then wrote some points on flip chart paper. When it was time to feed back – all their points were WRITTEN DOWN. Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of that? I could just walk round and read what each group had talked about and pull out some themes for further discussion. It hadn’t occurred to me how relaxing this would be, compared to lip reading verbal comments. I’ll remember it, though, for another time.
In the end I didn’t need the fall-back position, but it might come in handy in the future. The plan was to have a friendly participant with a good clear voice who would repeat the questions for me (and anyone else who hadn’t heard) if I couldn’t understand the speaker. That would work.
So now I’m looking for new challenges. Ideas welcome! If some parts of your life are going backwards you need to have other things to feel positive about.