Deaf Awareness Week
Some of you may know that this week is Deaf Awareness Week, so I thought I would take the time to tell you all about my own personal experience with hearing loss in order to raise awareness.
I have mild hearing loss in both of my ears. I was born with it and it was passed on to me through my paternal grandfather. Apparently it's degenerative but my hearing has stayed the same since I was 18 so that's a good sign!
It was noticed when I was a child as my mum would call my name or make loud noises around me and I wouldn't respond or react to the sound. It's also the reason I am so incredibly clumsy - due to my balance being affected. I was meant to wear two hearing aids as a child but due to being stubborn and the fear of the other children noticing, I rarely wore both of them. This then meant that I was able to learn how to lip read pretty well. My audiologist actually says that I am able to lip read people without looking directly at their lips, which is normally a big giveaway. Somehow I am able to do it whilst looking at their eyes! I went through most of secondary school wearing them in dribs and drabs. I finally decided I needed to wear them at college due to missing things in lessons, so I went to get new moulds fitted. Again I only wore one instead of two because it would be less noticeable and I could tuck one side of my hair behind the ear without the hearing aid and no one would know. After years of rarely wearing them and at most only wearing one, two hearing aids was just too much noise. My audiologist says that I must be getting all the sound I need from one as that's the way I've conditioned my brain to receive the sound.
That's the thing. Despite the fact that wearing hearing aids isn't something to be embarrassed about, I spent my whole childhood and teenage years feeling exactly that. I used to be terrified that the other children would see and make fun of me for it. I used to always wear my hair down so that there was less chance of someone seeing it. A lot of my friends that I went to school with never knew that I had them because I never told them. I appreciate that my hearing loss is mild in comparison to others and so there's no way you can tell from my voice. It's taken me a long time to be able to get to the point where I am writing and publishing this public blog post about my hearing. I was bullied during junior and the start of secondary school, so keeping my hearing loss a secret seemed the best way to avoid extra attention. I always felt that people would then treat me differently after knowing or then may use that against me in some way. Growing up there was never a large number of role models that were public about wearing hearing aids and were my age. No one really talked about it and the only adverts you would see of it on television were for the elderly.
However, through my confidence growing so much, my amazing friends, family, boyfriend and I think just general ageing, I felt it was important to address it. There may be other children, teens, young adults, adults or anyone else that are feeling the same things that I felt up until very recently that this may help. I'm not pretending that I am 100% confident about my hearing all of the time, but I have generally reached the point where I don't care what people think anymore. People have hearing aids just as they have glasses. Hearing aids are mostly associated with older people, which is why I guess people are ashamed of them. The more we spread awareness of deafness, the more it becomes normalised and accepted as part of everyday life. Some people wear glasses, some people wear hearing aids, some people have tattoos, some people wear skinny jeans.
It definitely gets easier to deal with when you put it into perspective. Everyone has something about them that makes them unique and different. When I was at school, the environment was one of which "if you're different and stand out, people notice" and that's not always a good thing. As a child, I took that to mean that standing out was wrong, which I realise now is inherently untrue. Standing out is what we should try and aim for. I think the largest factor that contributed to the school environment, is that people were not aware. If everyone in my school knew about hearing loss, they were educated on it, had role models in popular culture of all ages with it, it wouldn't be so much of an issue. This would have definitely reduced the stigma and curiosity that then turned to negativity whilst I was growing up.
With the World Health Organisation predicting that noise-induced hearing loss is a potential health crisis, with 1.1 billion young people across the world at risk, it is an increasingly important topic. Hearing loss can be linked depression and anxiety so it is SO important that together we break the stigma associated with hearing loss, deafness and hearing aids. Our hearing doesn't define us, but it is a part of what makes us. The hearing aids are an essential life-changing improvement in sound-quality, allowing us to be confident and lead as normal of lives as possible.
I hope this post has been informative and useful to as many of you as possible.
If you wish to find out some more information on hearing loss and how to deal with it, I've left some links below. I am going to take more steps to work with deaf charities to support and encourage education in schools right from a young age, in anyway that I can in order to spread awareness and knowledge about something that is more common than we all think and share.
If anyone reading this is from a deaf/hearing loss charity and you want to work together, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and I would love to hear from you.