At about 14 years old I started losing my hearing a little at a time. Back then I was the typical teenager wandering around saying, “Huh” so no one caught it. I got by but all the signs were there such as making sure I sat up front in vehicles so I could hear better. I talked loud and had to learn to feel my voice. I asked for repeats often.
When I was 19 tinnitus struck with constant ringing in my ears 24/7. (Tinnitus is often the beginning stages of hearing loss.) By 23 years old my hearing loss was obvious and my mom told me to go get hearing aids. So I did and we thought that cured my hearing loss except there were times when I still had troubles understanding people. They would ask, “Are your ears on?” Yes, they were and I didn’t know what I couldn’t hear so I started bluffing, pretending to hear, so I could be normal.
I continued to lose my hearing a little every year. The doctors don’t know why, I stopped asking years ago. A few times I experienced big drops than which seemed to coincide with periods of heavy stress.
I have a profound high frequency hearing loss with only a mild loss in the low tones. I hear but I can’t make sense of what I hear. In speech I hear vowels best but consonants are difficult. My brain is constantly scrambling trying to fill in the missing sounds to make sense of the words I did not hear correctly. My brain continues to work while I listen to other sentences hoping for clues to what I missed. If I get no immediate clues I am lost and have to stop conversation to ask what they are talking about or give up and fake it.
In my bluffing days, I picked up the mood of the conversation, watched facial expressions and listened for people’s tone of voice to the ‘appropriate’ way to respond. I could get by without understanding anything quite often. (At times it got me in trouble agreeing to something I shouldn’t have.) Then I realized I was wasting the other person’s energy by doing this and hurting myself worse. Now days I ask for repeats or find the topic of the conversation.
However there are two exceptions for bluffing. Occasionally I run into people who will not face me and talk clearly. If I’ve asked a few times to face me and they won’t, I allow myself to go into bluffing mode, I call it my energy saving mode. If they don’t or can’t work with me why should waste tons of energy trying to hear them? Only those closest to me seem to know when I fake it and bust me. I also tend to slip into bluffing when I’m tired without realizing it.
In 2009 answering the phone was extremely difficult and stressful. When I answered the phone in at work it was no longer professional. There were many repeats and I would still be unable to understand what the other person was trying to say. People got frustrated with me while trying my best to get names and numbers right so I developed a huge dislike for the phone. I weaned myself off the phone ignoring it almost totally and using captions on the internet only when I had to. Once in a great while I talk on the phone now thanks to captioned phones but I went so long resisting the phone I got out of the habit. Email and texting are my main modes of communication.
Now I am 49 years old (2017) and I’m on my fifth pair of hearing aids. In the best of conditions (sound proof booth) I have a 65% word discrimination. The world is not a sound proof booth and as soon as I step outside my word discrimination goes down but lucky for me I use a lot of lipreading these days.
Getting involved with the hearing loss community healed my pain and gave my own hearing loss a purpose. These days I work at the state Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center part time and volunteer for more hearing loss causes. I belong to my local Hearing Loss Association of America Chapter, part of the Loop Utah team and I belong to the SayWhatClub. I highly recommend finding your hearing loss tribe too.
Hearing loss can be a challenge and it’s best to keep a sense of humor along with it. When I can repeat what I thought I heard, “Bun crunchies” and repeat it back to the other person who laughs then I am ok. (It turned out to be “band concert” by the way.) My blog posts focus on hearing loss challenges and even triumphs. There’s a lot of learning experiences in those posts and I’m proud to say a lot of growth too.