Fran Benson: What should I say, when I haven’t got a clue what is being said around me?

Posted on November 4, 2013

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 11.50.31When I was a child we moved from the North to the South of England. At my new school my northern accent was the cause of much interest. But as time passed, I started to say “barth” rather than “bath”, “carstle” instead of “castle”.

I was no longer a northerner and I wasn’t a southerner either but something in between. And so it is with my hearing. I don’t think of myself as deaf, although sometimes I might as well be, and yet I can’t hear as well as someone with pin sharp hearing.

According to the professionals I have mild to moderate hearing loss.

If I think of hearing capabilities as two separate countries, the country of the deaf is separated from the country of the hearing by an ocean. And that’s where I am: somewhere in the middle, desperately doggy paddling away to get to the shore of the hearing.

Sometimes I do. A random wave washes me up and I get to sit on the beach in the sun. Except it’s not a random wave at all but a finely tuned set of circumstances: someone with the right pitch of voice; who speaks clearly and loudly enough; who looks at me (so I can lip read) and without any background noise. This is my utopia. A situation that lulls me into believing that my hearing is A1 and that perhaps by some miracle I am ‘cured.’

Obviously I’m not.

And sometimes the converse happens, the perfect storm so to speak. Someone with a low voice, maybe with a strong accent or perhaps someone who’s suffered a stroke so that their mouth works in a slight different way. Throw in a dollop of background noise: children playing, the hum of a printer, music playing and I’m completely and utterly lost.

The sense of panic when I haven’t got a clue what is being said around me is intense. That feeling of being cut off and the risk that I will look stupid when someone says: “And what do you think Fran?”

Luckily this doesn’t happen too often.

But I’m still working out what to say when it does. Obviously “pardon” works well but in the extreme situation when I can’t hear what they say the second or even third time I’m never sure what to say next.

“I’m deaf,” feels like a lie. I can hear them – I just can’t make any sense of it. “I can’t hear you” – well, that’s obvious, but it doesn’t explain it. And “I’m hard of hearing” makes me feel old.
I think I just dislike labels. I don’t want to define myself by my hearing.

It’s a work in progress for me finding the language to use that I’m comfortable with. “My ears don’t work very well so it’s really hard for me to understand you in this situation,” is one that I’m edging towards. It’s a bit long winded but I can cut it down to size.

It’s honest too, and I like that. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m going to give it a go next time.

Fran is a freelance journalist (The Telegraph, Sussex Life, Everyday Health) and mum to three primary-school-age children. Born with a hearing condition, first mild and now mild to moderate she gets by with a mix of hearing, lip-reading and guess-work.  She is learning to use hearing-aids when she remembers to put them in.

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