I was having lunch with an old friend, Alan, over Christmas when another friend, Steven,who I hadn’t seen for a long time joined us. As we talked the subject of my hearing came up. I explained to Steven how bad my hearing was, a roughly 40 % loss(though percentiles are hard to establish. Lets just say all my consonants are missing.). I told him that I have hearing aids. I said that it had destroyed my life. Alan said, in that patronising tone us deafies have to get used to, “Oh come now, that’s a little dramatic”.
Except it’s not. Not only has it destroyed relationships, self-esteem, social life, earning capability and career advancement it has also shaped me too and not particularly for the best.
I have been diagnosed with inner ear damage but a consultant on examining me 6 years ago said I more than likely had Central Audio Processing Disorder(CAPD) too and have probably had it since childhood. CAPD means the brain is a little slow at figuring out words. Unfortunately after doing some research and contacting a leader in the field I cannot get a diagnosis because of the ear damage. Great.
Having bad hearing has formed me. I have what I call a Man Brain:I can only concentrate on one thing at a time. I thought this was genetic but I realise now it is not. It is because I have to direct all my attention to hear one thing at a time that I cannot multi-task. I get very irritated when people try to talk to me when I am working. It splits my attention in an unbearable way.
Having bad hearing skews your personality, the way you perceive yourself, the way people perceive you, the way you relate to the world. It influences the type of people you hang out with and if you will be able to build a successful career.
I have only slowly realised this in recent years. For instance I have always, unintentionally given off a snooty, don’t bother me vibe. When I was a teenager I was often called a snotty bitch. I thought I was very shy, I certainly had low self-esteem, but I always looked bad-tempered too. Boys hated me. I never had a boyfriend. Looking back now I realise I probably did have CAPD and interacting even then was fraught and frowning to hear was a part of my make up.
In school, I spent my time staring out the window. I was smart but uninterested. Maybe I was just bored of course, and I still don’t think the school system suited me but it also is likely I had only so much hearing energy available. This of course impacted on my career options. I still wouldn’t have understood maths mind!
I always only had one friend at a time, I couldn’t handle groups. Still can’t. To grease the wheels of a social life through my 20s I drank, as many did I suppose. It worked to an extent and I made a lot of friends but I still often found myself isolated and bored even within a group and I couldn’t understand why.(I’ll cover friends in PART TWO )
Depression was constant. I didn’t understand then how much effort it was taking for me to maintain attention. Often I would drift off into reverie. Looking back, drink was the only way I could get some social contact while not having to deal with not understanding everything.
There’s nothing I can do about my ear damage though I did finally get (expensive)hearing aids last year-a decade later than I should have. They have not made the difference everyone expected, again probably because of the CAPD being a factor. I can just hear jumbled noises louder.
There’s not too much I can do about CAPD either although there are some audio programs directed at children to help re-educate the brain to hear. I emailed a crowd in Cork about doing a course (€500 + more money) and they told me to phone them to talk about it, a staggering thing to hear from someone in the hearing business but sadly at this stage not surprising for me.
People who understand the breadth of the impact of hearing loss are few and far between. In fact bad hearing and its impact seems to be very poorly understood by just about everyone. Even sufferers don’t notice they can’t hear so well any more they just withdraw, as I did.
To complicate matters deaf peoples hearing often fluctuates.
I can hear some people better than others, in some places better than others. I can hear one person better than two, men better than women(but not always), slow talkers better than fast talkers. I can hear better when I am not tired and when I don’t have any mucus build up.
I can even hear better outside of Ireland. Another deafie I know who lives in the UK really struggles when he comes to Ireland as the Irish talk so fast. This is a big problem with CAPD as the brain has no chance to catch up. In the long run I will be better off to leave again.
All this only gives rise to the suspicion that the deaf person is making it all up and so not only are you isolated from society, half of the buggers won’t even take you seriously.
As a hard of hearing person I know first hand that its more common to be made fun of, misunderstood, ignored, passed over, accused of making your disability up and even to be on the receiving end of impatience and anger and that is aside from all the practical and social problems you encounter.
You probably couldn’t imagine rolling your eyes or laughing at someone in wheelchair because they can’t walk but we deafies get abuse daily. Imagine getting impatient with your wheelchair-bound friend for not being able to run?Imagine accusing him of pretending?
If you are hard of hearing this will happen to you all the time and it will come from every direction even from those who say they care about you and there is nothing to do but grit your teeth and take it. If being deaf isn’t enough to isolate you, the contempt of friends and family can be.
TO BE CONTINUED…