Being Deaf II

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In 2014 I wrote a blog post about my deafness. This blog post was significant for me as it demonstrated a time in my life where I started to accept, and embrace, the fact that I was deaf. I fancied adding this post to my new blog and enhancing it with my – more adult/mature – experiences over the last four years. This is Being Deaf Part II!

What encouraged me to write this post was a Channel 4 documentary called “Breaking The Silence”, which witnessed the moments a group of deaf people hear for the first time, via their cochlear implants. Sadly I haven’t actually been able to properly watch the show as it’s not subtitled, so I can’t fully give my opinions on the documentary (however I did read the review on popular deaf blog, Limping Chicken). Being unable to watch the show frustrated me as it’s a documentary focusing on deaf people, but inaccessible to deaf people, where’s the logic in that? Sadly I have grown to accept that deaf awareness and accessibility is not an important matter for many organisations.
So the show, which I can’t fully understand, appears to try to trigger emotions in the viewers by showing people hearing for the first time. This is great and must have been compelling viewing as I recieved a number of text messages saying “why don’t you just get a Cochlear Implant”. This immediately demonstrated to me that the documentary had portrayed an implant as a “silver bullet”, and perhaps neglected to fully document the whole picture. Whilst I’m not going to bang on about this programme or Cochlear implants, I’m writing this post for people to read so they can understand more about my deafness and how it affects my life.

I started to lose my hearing at around 12 years old, it was identified in a hearing test at school. I remember having a meeting with the deputy head who informed me and my parents that this was quite a significant loss which would impact my life going forwards. I can’t remember if I had been struggling before and I didn’t feel like I was particularly struggling then, so I ignored everyone’s advice and refused to wear hearing aids, continuing my life as normal.

Throughout my teens I remember continuously telling people that I was a bit deaf but it wasn’t until my early twenties where it seemed to significantly decline and effectively forced me to wear hearing aids, aged 21.

Here’s a graph of my hearing from 2013…

being-deaf

If you’re wondering what the numbers mean in terms of levels, here’s some info….

The numbers along the top are the frequencies,or range of sounds, from low to high.
A bass drum, a “rumble,” thunder, or a deep man’s voice are all examples of low frequency sounds. A shrill whistle, squeak, squeal, or a child’s voices are all examples of high frequency sounds. The red line is the right ear and blue is the left.

The numbers on the left are the levels of hearing, here are some example degrees of hearing loss.

  • Normal hearing – 0 to 20dB
  • Mild – 21 to 40 dB
  • Moderate – 41 to 55dB
  • Moderately-severe – 56 to 70dB
  • Severe – 71 to 90dB
  • Profound – 91+ dB

As you can see, my hearing loss is pretty significant, especially in my left ear which is effectively useless. Without my hearing aids I can’t hear anything at all. Putting them in effectively amplifies the sound to a level which I can hear. However, deafness is more than just volume and simply “turning things up” doesn’t solve all the problems. I’m unable to listen to the radio or watch television without subtitles now, no matter how loud the volume is. I am simply unable to distinguish what’s being said, I hear sounds and maybe pick up a few words, but the rest is just noise. It’s hard to remember exactly how things changed but I do remember listening to the radio and watching television as a child, but now it’s impossible for me.
I often think hard about this, is it my hearing or my brain that’s preventing me from understanding these sounds? I learnt words from sounds whilst growing up, so why can’t my brain adapt to the new sounds I’m now hearing? But on the other hand these sounds I hear mean absolutely nothing to my brain, they are just like radio static, so how could they be understood?
Because of this I tend to avoid, where possible: radio, television, cinema, concerts, conferences, talking to people I don’t know, going on dates, joining teams and many, many more.

“Meeting someone new – especially people who are foreign – is really tough for me as their lips move differently to what I’m used to”

In person I rely heavily on lip reading, something that has been self-taught over the years. I also rely on the person speaking to my face, not mumbling and emphasising words with their mouth when they talk. Meeting someone new – especially people who are foreign – is really tough for me as their lips move differently to what I’m used to. I’ve had some really funny experiences with my hearing. I don’t tend to identify accents so there are a few times I’ve asked Irish or Scottish people where they’re from, much to their confusion.
It’s hard to say which I rely on more: lip reading or my hearing. I go cycling and swimming without my aids and will get by with no sound, but it’s tough and many scenarios would prove impossible. On the other hand it wouldn’t be possible for me to close my eyes and depend on my hearing aids, so perhaps it’s 50/50.
I’m very observant and I can often engage in conversations without hearing a word. It’s quite easy to judge what kind of reply is adequate based on their expressions, be it face, hands or body.

“Accept what is and adapt”

Over the years I’ve been labelled ignorant or daft, simply because I’ve not heard what people have said. It’s only post-university that I’ve been open about my hearing and now everyone in my life is aware of my deafness, making things so much easier. Last week I gave a talk to a group of primary school children and, after being with them for an hour, it made realise how silly I had been hiding my hearing for all those years. No one is bothered and life is so much easier when people are aware. Having been hearing, and then suddenly deaf was certainly some transition, but I wish I would have chopped my long hair off, had my aids on display and accepted my deafness about ten years ago. In that respect I probably made my life a lot harder than it needed to be, as the inspirational Henry Fraser once said, “Accept what is and adapt”.

With regards to the future, I’m not sure what it will hold. My hearing has stabilised in past years but there’s probably a good chance I will be totally deaf. However, both the medical and technology industries are progressing rapidly and I’m sure there will be more options for me – and all disabled people – in the future.
Implants could be an option for me but there are many things to consider: the risk of the operation, the fact you’ve something embedded in skull, the quality of sound and the very complicated process that comes with cochlear implant’s (none of which appear to be covered in the documentary I mentioned).

I have developed into someone who’s really independent as I’m keen to stand on my own two feet. Perhaps peculiarly, I have often been reluctant to develop close relationships with people as – having experienced how annoying deafness is myself for 15+ years – why would I want to burden them with it too. Personally, I’m not sure if I would have children – whilst I am proud of my deafness and am happy in life – I know how tough it would be, both for me and the child, if I passed on my genes. These are views I have thought long and hard about, but views can easily change as people mature and find themselves in different scenarios.

99

On a more positive note being deaf has certainly changed my life for the better. I discovered that I had a lot of drive and enthusiasm, two skills that were vital for me to overcome my struggles. That drive enabled me to do things like graduating from university, finding a career I absolutely love and, more recently, cycling across America. Hearing people won’t understand, but being able to take your hearing aids out and hear absolutely nothing is incredibly tranquil. Most people have been incredibly supporting and accommodating to my needs, especially my family, friends, employers and colleagues.

“You only get out what you put in”

I now embrace – and am proud of – my deafness, it doesn’t define who I am, but it has helped shape the person that built the happy life I live today. My deafness – or anyone’s disability – isn’t a barrier to life, it’s just a hurdle you have to overcome. I try to live by a motto which my Dad instilled into me from a young age: you only get out what you put in.

Thanks for reading.

Shane

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