Angie Aspinall: Out and proud

Posted on June 14, 2012

I have a friend who has recently suffered sudden hearing loss similar to mine. She was already a hearing aid user with mild to moderate hearing loss in both ears. Reading her email telling me what happened brought it all back to me about my own sudden deafness a year earlier.

Like me, she wasn’t given a high dose of steroids and, like me, she’s been told the loss is permanent. Also, like me, she’s gone straight back to work. Now I for one really struggled with this – not just in terms of the impact of deafness on my ability to do certain aspects of my job (such as using the telephone) – but also in terms of the psychological impact of suddenly being deaf whilst trying to give the appearance of ‘normality’. I found it a huge strain to be putting on a brave face as well as trying to overcome communication difficulties, do my job and cope with a disability.

My friend has a ‘frontline’ customer service role so, the increased deafness was bound to impact on her job. I advised her to be kind to herself; to take time off work – time to adjust.

Regardless of what others might think about someone with a hearing loss becoming more deaf – it is a really big deal. It’s not like just needing a stronger prescription for glasses; something to ‘just get on with’ or something you should ‘take in your stride’. It is your worst fear coming true. And, when it happened to me, I just didn’t know how I would cope if it turned out to be permanent.

My friend had her hearing aid turned up and went back to work but immediately started experiencing difficulties with communication. In endeavouring to get on and do her job to the best of her abilities, she told me that she had taken the decision to wear her hair up at work so that customers could see she was wearing hearing aids. She did so, I think, in the hope that they would be more understanding and adjust the way they communicated with her. (As someone who has always covered up her own hearing aids, I thought this was a very brave move and I really admired her for taking this bold step.)

Now, prior to 2011, I had always thought of my deafness as something very personal; something to be kept secret. My sudden total hearing loss in my ‘good’ ear, however, forced me into a position where I needed to start all conversations with, “I’m sorry: I’m deaf,” so that put paid to the notion of ‘privacy’ – but still I didn’t like the idea of having my hearing aids ‘on show’.

So, yesterday, I took what I felt was a huge step: I went to the supermarket with my hair fastened up and my CROS aids on show. To me, this was a really big deal. I felt quite nervous but I wanted to show some solidarity to my friend.

As we approached the entrance to the supermarket, I said to my husband that I was surprised he hadn’t commented on the fact that I’d gone out of the house with my hair up. He said he hadn’t noticed and didn’t realise I thought it was a big deal.

After we’d done the shopping, he asked me how it had felt. Do you know, I didn’t feel at all ‘exposed’ (which is kind of how I’d expected to feel). In fact, once inside the store, I never gave it a thought until I got to the till. Perhaps it wasn’t such a big deal after all.

I’d love to know what you feel about other people seeing your hearing aids – or knowing that you’re deaf. Does it bother you that people know? How have people reacted to you when they know?

I once had someone say to me, “Oh, you don’t LOOK deaf.” What are you supposed to say to that?

Perhaps the answer is to show them your hearing aids.

Angie is journalist, food and travel writer, photographer and co-founder of #Yorkshirehour on Twitter – as well as having a full-time job in local government. She’s also a wife, chicken-keeper, gardener, foodie and WI member, living in Glorious Yorkshire. Angie started going deaf in one ear at the age of 30, then suffered total sudden onset hearing loss in her ‘good’ ear in 2011. Her husband and her chickens keep her sane – or as close as she’s gonna get! You can check out her website, blog, twitter account, Facebook and Linked In.

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