I've been wearing hearing aids for 28+ years, it hasn't always been plain sailing. Look back, I've made some bad decisions about my hearing loss and they are common choices that people often make. I've made these, many other people are too, maybe you are as well.
Didn't wear a hearing aid until I absolutely had to
My parents first noticed my hearing loss when I was about five years old, I had some NHS hearing aids throughout school but I wore them maybe a little bit up till the age of about thirteen and then didn't wear them at all. Even when my parents bought me some tiny in-the-ear models privately I still didn't wear them.
It wasn't until I was about nineteen that I realised I absolutely had to wear them. I was struggling with my hearing loss long before that, I was missing out on a lot of conversation, ignoring people because I didn't hear them, avoiding people and other such things all the time between five and nineteen but it wasn't until then that I finally admitted to myself that I needed an aid.
That's about fourteen years where my hearing was causing me problems every day but that still felt better and easier than the perceived horror of wearing hearing aids.
I'd built up such a negative picture in my head of me wearing hearing aids that I was avoiding that in any way I could. Laughing when I didn't hear, avoiding people, being laughed at when I said something totally out of context, being quiet and withdrawn were all better than the alternative, was my thinking.
Suffering from hearing loss when you could be benefitting from an aid not only means you miss out on the conversation, groups activities and friendships, it can also be making your ability to understand speech even worse: if you don't use it, you lose it.
Luckily my speech recognition didn't suffer that much, or maybe it did and I've recovered it in the years since, I don't remember. But certainly, I missed out on a lot by not hearing a lot.
Only wearing one hearing aid
So, aged nineteen, I have the epiphany that actually, you know, it might be OK to wear a hearing aid after all. So what do I do?
I wear just the one aid even though I have a loss in both ears. My parents had bought me a pair of tiny in-the-ears at this point.
Why? It was easier to hide one ear from everyone. If I was talking to someone I could make sure they couldn't see the ear with the aid in it. Even the in-the-ear devices were tiny, I felt like they stuck out a mile and everyone would instantly see it, like there was a big neon sign pointing at it the whole time.
Obviously, I'd accepted I needed help but was still not comfortable about it.
Wearing just the one when I needed two was a terrible idea because our ears work as pair, just like our eyes do. Wearing one hearing aid is like buying a pair of glasses and taking one lens out, you aren't even getting half the benefit, you are making it more difficult for yourself.
Wearing just one would be even crazier in 2021 as a pair of hearing aids now actively communicate with each other wirelessly to help you pinpoint sounds around you, a process called localisation. The pair also work to minimise noise from specific angles and help you hear voices from others. Wearing just one when you need to seriously hampers your ability to hear.
Not telling people about my hearing loss
I don't know what age I was when I was finally comfortable telling someone that I have a hearing problem - it was probably late-twenties or maybe early-thirties.
I had convinced myself that I would be viewed negatively because I had a hearing loss, that'd I'd lose jobs and friends, be seen as stupid or less than others, be shunned or laughed at. That was the story I was telling myself and that's exactly what it was: a story. The only place that story existed was in my head and I was the only one narrating that story. I'd locked myself into that thinking and missed so much because I couldn't change the story.
That's not to say that some people do view people with hearing loss negatively, overlook them for a job, laugh at them, ignore them and other things. But some people are just dicks, there's nothing we can do about that, dicks will be dicks.
I think back to the times when I got laughed at because I didn't hear what someone said, I tried to blag it with an answer to what I thought they were saying, got it totally wrong and got laughed at because I'd said something weird. It stung, a lot. I don't blame those that laughed because they didn't know about my hearing loss, that was on me.
Once I started to tell people about my loss I was hugely surprised and relieved to find two things: people didn't react badly, they made allowances when I couldn't hear. The story I'd been telling myself didn't play out in real life.
I know it's not plain sailing for everyone, people do discriminate, but I'm willing to bet almost everyone with hearing loss has a much easier time overall once they start telling everyone about it.
Not asking people to repeat themselves
The last one, and I think I still do this a bit, is not asking someone to repeat themselves when I don't hear them.
I must have done this thousands of times over the years. I think there's a small window of opportunity when someone is speaking to ask them to speak up, to move to somewhere quieter or to repeat themselves. If you leave it till they've been speaking for a while it's too uncomfortable to say, "uh, actually, you know all that you just said for the last ten minutes? I didn't catch a word of that".
Even if someone knows about my hearing loss, there's still plenty of times when I can't hear them and I always try to nip that in the bud early. I don't really blame the person for not making themselves heard initially, we might be in a noisy place, they might be talking quietly as they are feeling conscious of surrounding people, and they might not realise I'm not hearing for any number of reasons: it's windy, I'm tired, I'm distracted, etc.
I try to be specific about the problem, not just say, "I can't hear you", but I say, "it's too noisy for me to hear", "you are talking too quietly", "you're covering your mouth and I need to lipread", "I'm tired and not hearing as well as usual". People don't understand hearing loss, and that's OK, I help them to understand so they can help me.
Mistakes have been made
Looking back, I could have made conversations much easier for myself but I've learnt my lessons and I now mostly make any situation as easy to hear in as possible. It was a long road to get here.