Craig attended our first ever Intensive Rehabilitation Programme in Northern Ireland with his sister Joanne in 2013 after struggling with hearing loss for many years.
My early years
I’ve had hearing loss from a very young age, probably since birth, but didn’t really notice it until pre-school when I was interacting with children and adults outside of my immediate family. I was aware that when they spoke to me it didn’t make any sense; it was just noises without meaning. I thought maybe I was a bit too stupid to keep up or I hadn’t learned as many words as them.
This made it really difficult to participate at school or in social activities because I didn’t know what was happening or being said. I was afraid it would draw attention to my poor hearing. As time went on I became more and more anxious that my hearing was leading to increased embarrassment – I was ashamed of my condition.
I lived in fear of being asked a question by teachers because I would certainly need to ask for a repeat (or three); or worse mishear it and make a fool of myself.
At nine years old I was given a hearing aid – I refused to wear it. When I transferred to secondary school I had to wear it because I couldn’t keep up. I resented it because it was a continual source of embarrassment for me. I struggled to see myself as anything other than a defective human being, worth less than everyone else.
I bumbled through and gained entry to university, but the same problems persisted, worse probably because I had lost all confidence. I struggled with the challenges of the lecture theatre environment and hearing any lecturer who had an accent.
I was too ashamed to ask for help and my misery was making it difficult to do the coursework. I felt completely inadequate to be a part of that world and life was just one panic attack after another. Each day was mentally and emotionally exhausting; all I wanted to do at the end of it was shut myself away.
Then one day I just quit. I was sitting in a group project and I couldn’t understand what was going on. My life had been like that for as long as I could remember and for all I knew it was going to be like that for the rest of my life. I took the bus home and never went back. I stayed there for the next 10 years; not bothering or trying because it wasn’t working for me anymore.
In 2012 my dad died quite suddenly. The ground disappeared from under my feet. I found myself trying to deal with a situation that seemed impossible. I was surrounded by dozens of people, from the familiar to complete strangers, and having to deal with a funeral in the presence of them all. For me it was every nightmare packed into one.
It was in the course of all of this and the weeks that followed that I admitted to my family just how bad things were and had been for a very long time. With the help of my sisters, including Joanne,
I was put in touch with our local sensory support team. They told me about Hearing Link and its Intensive Rehabilitation Programme. The idea that an organisation existed that could help someone in my position was new and unique to me.
Making the journey to the programme in Cookstown was hard. I was extremely nervous and had no idea what to expect.
I was nervous about the challenges of hearing in an unknown environment, but what I found was a safe place that Hearing Link had created for all of us. Everything was designed to put us at ease. We could all be who we were – hard of hearing.
By the end of the week we had all changed quite a bit and gotten to know each other well. I found myself with a better sense of hope for the future by being surrounded by people who seemed to care and understand. Meeting others, learning their stories and sharing my own was essential to the process of coming to terms with and accepting my hearing loss.
Sharing my story
After the programme I was asked to speak about my own experiences at one of Hearing Link’s Hear & Now events. Doing this was a major leap for me, but I felt it was important to share my story and I also wanted to give something back to the organisation that had helped me.
So, with new-found confidence I was able to talk to a group of sensory support teams, charities and people who wanted to know more about Hearing Link. My family were there to support me. I was amazed I did it, and my family couldn’t believe it either.
I started lipreading classes; I’d never known they even existed before I attended the Hearing Link programme. Getting on a bus by myself, going to a strange place, meeting new people, these were huge challenges. But I pushed myself to overcome my fears, and I ended up really enjoying the classes, where I learnt about lipreading and talked to the other students. I hadn’t mixed socially for many years.
Becoming a Hearing Link volunteer
I became a Hearing Link volunteer, helping mainly with the programmes, Helpdesk and website. I met other volunteers from all walks of life and some of them have become great friends. It was a revelation to me that there were people the same age as me with the same problems; we had a shared camaraderie.
Hearing Link knew I loved all things IT and I felt I was able to develop and improve some of their key services.
After a few years of volunteering I got a job with Hearing Link sponsored by the Rank Foundation scheme. It’s given me an opportunity to get back into the working world, my first job since leaving university.
My life today
I now have a connection with my family that I never had before. I’ve a lot of nieces and nephews, and all I wanted to be was a good uncle, but before now I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to show the hard of hearing side so I stayed away from them. I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t follow what they were saying and the easiest way to deal with that problem was to avoid conversations, birthday parties and family events. I made the decision to hide from my family and as a result they didn’t know me.
Since the programme I have been a lot more honest about my feelings and how difficult I have found the world. My family have a better understanding of what I have been going through. The family life I have now is completely different than before, it’s not that it didn’t exist, it was that I had chosen not to be part of it.
Five years ago there was no hope whatsoever, I felt that people with my condition could never be of any use, I couldn’t have worked, I couldn’t have admitted that I had a hearing loss or asked people to repeat themselves.
Hearing Link was a turning point in my life, they made me realise that I was not alone, kept me involved and gave me a chance to return to the world. Right now yes, I have a hearing loss, yes, it makes things difficult, but there are ways around it and I know I can have a good and happy life. I’m no longer ashamed of my hearing loss or hearing aids and I’m putting myself out there in a way that I never have before. I am enjoying life.
Webpage published: 2018