Recently I passed my one-year anniversary of having hearing aids. Just after my 22nd birthday, I was diagnosed with Sensorineural Hearing Loss – something I was born with, but it was never actually picked up on. I had enough hearing to get by, although relied a lot of lip-reading. I often missed parts of conversations; my brain learned to fill in gaps quicker than I could even register it happening. It was the norm for me, and I assumed it for everyone else. But when classes moved back to in-person after being online for a while, I started to notice that I couldn’t hear people in seminars when the people around me could, and I’d have trouble locating who was talking. At a hearing appointment, they confirmed I had a hearing impairment and asked how I would feel about having hearing aids.
I was unsure at first – I didn’t expect to be told my cochlear wasn’t functioning correctly, and I didn’t know anyone else my age with hearing aids. I agreed, with a lot of hesitation. When I got my hearing aids, my world changed dramatically. Not only were sounds different to me (sharper, more tonal variety), but I was introduced to new sounds too: ones I had never heard before (clocks ticking really scared me at first!). My brain was learning to process these new sounds and figure out what they were, whilst processing the sounds I could hear, but with a slight adjustment. It was a lot for my brain to take in. Alongside this, I was trying to process the fact I had this hearing impairment from birth and it was the hearing organ which wasn’t working properly. And then came the processing of the fact that Sensorineural Hearing Loss – when congenital in nature – is often progressive.
I was angry about the past – for all the times I had issues with my ears and hearing and was told it was fine or ‘I’d grow out of it.’ For the little girl who had to adapt and overcome a lot, but thought it was normal.
I was upset for my present self because it was so overwhelming: the new sounds, old sounds, the diagnosis, having hearing aids. Nobody seemed to understand (I will say, my university was amazing when I told them).
I was terrified for the future: how would this impact me? Will it get worse? How will I cope? Will I be viewed differently? Who do I go to and trust with this? And sadly, many of these questions don’t have an answer.
I became aware of the sounds I was supposed to hear, so when I wasn’t wearing my hearing aids, I became quite anxious. Little things like doors locking, I knew it had a sound: the lock clicked into place. Without my hearing aids, I can’t always hear it. I became anxious about a lot and withdrew from social events and many activities I used to enjoy.
Over the year, I have been working through this; letting myself feel angry and upset for the invalidation I felt and what I had to cope with. I let myself be scared of sounds people don’t even register because it’s so normal for them. I sit with my anxiety when I remember how I can’t control the future. I let myself be happy and feel grateful that I get to hear birdsong and leaves rustling and the crunch of grit on the ground in winter. I’ve learned it’s okay to have a range of feelings towards a situation. I’ll be honest, I haven’t fully processed my situation still, there’s still a lot of work to do but there is one thing I have realised over this year. It’s that situations don’t have to be good OR bad – there can be good AND bad aspects to them - and that’s okay.
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