Sue isn’t sure if she was born with hearing loss, it wasn’t talked about in her family. Despite regular hearing tests during her childhood, it was only when she turned 28 that an audiologist told her she needed her first hearing aid. Here, Sue shares her journey to hearing loss acceptance, and how the support of Hearing Link and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People changed her life.
It was devastating to find out that I had hearing loss, and that was the start of my denial for the next 28 years!
In the early days of my less severe hearing loss, it was all about keeping it a secret from friends, work colleagues and my social circles. But, as my hearing got progressively worse, so did my struggle to keep it hidden.
Hiding my hearing loss
I worked as an estate agent for many years, which meant a lot of time spent on the telephone and having face-to-face conversations with landlords, tenants, buyers and sellers. These conversations all involved sharing of extremely important information and mishearing could have landed me in very hot water, never mind being embarrassed.
I didn’t know about the support I could get via Access to Work, so I just managed and coped as best as I could, always thinking I was ‘winning the challenges’. In later years, I realised I probably hadn’t fooled all of the people some of the time, or some of the people all of the time!
The same things occurred in my social circles – hiding my hearing loss, pretending I could hear conversations, and laughing at jokes when I hadn’t heard the punchline. Everyone else was laughing, so I was too.
My hearing loss wasn’t part of my family life for 28 years, then it became this unspoken addition to who I was, but nothing changed within the family – even when I got my first hearing aid.
Feeling isolated and alone
I have experienced isolation, loneliness, loss of confidence, fear, anxiety and discrimination because of my hearing loss – and still do from time to time. I was bullied in three different jobs, which lead to quite severe depression on each occasion.
The hardest thing about losing your hearing is not feeling connected to people and the world anymore, and feeling left out at times – although I’m sure it’s never intentional. I don’t feel part of the hearing world or part of the deaf world, so I live in a sort of ‘no-man’s land’ between the two.
I first found out about Hearing Link 10 years ago when they were involved in an event that I was working at. But it wasn’t until I moved back to Northern Ireland in 2011 that I got involved through volunteering. That’s when I learned about all their services, and got to experience some of them for myself, such as the LinkUp group.
Through Hearing Link I found a new level of confidence. I felt appreciated and valued as a volunteer, and no one laughed or thought I was stupid when I made a mistake because of my hearing. I have wonderful friendships with both hearing people and those with hearing loss; many have also been fortunate enough to have walked the Hearing Link path to a better understanding of life with hearing loss for themselves or for their partner or family member.
Hearing Dogs for Deaf People
I am now profoundly deaf. Nearly three years ago, I received my hearing dog Kristo, a Cocker Spaniel, and it would be hard to keep my hearing loss a secret any longer when he wears his burgundy coat with such pride. I am much more upfront about my support needs, now I have him.
He brings an awareness to all situations – that means other people are more willing to try and understand my hearing loss and help as best as they can. He starts conversations in the park, at work, in my social groups, hospital appointments, at the dentist, supermarkets – everywhere we go, people want to ask about him.
He is my ‘shield of invincibility’. I am not as lonely now he’s in my life. He makes me laugh and smile because he is such a character.
Today, I work as a technical advisor for Hearing Link helping others on their hearing journeys. It’s thanks to Kristo, Hearing Dogs and Hearing Link, that I have much more confidence and belief in myself.
I don’t feel lonely or depressed any more.