It is an odd thing, to be partially deaf. There is nothing about me physically that would indicate the fact I have trouble hearing to anyone else and most of the time I am glad of that because, in all honesty, I don’t think I warrant any special treatment. After all, I can still hear the whole register pretty well out of my left ear and the right ear works ok in the upper and lower registers, it’s just the spectrum that covers human speech that’s badly damaged (and gives me a delightfully continual ringing buzz to listen to, rather than the sound of anyone’s voice). So I can still play and listen to music, I can still use the phone and, thankfully, I taught myself to lip read when I was six – well before my hearing loss happened – so I can manage in pubs and other places where the background noise makes it almost impossible to understand people right next to me.
I therefore count myself exceedingly lucky and spend the majority of my time trying to pretend that it doesn’t affect me at all; although I suspect this charade comes from the fact that I blame myself for the deafness – I used to shoot and I made the mistake of not checking that the ear defenders I’d been allocated to use were ok (apparently my type of hearing loss is more usually seen in members of the armed forces) – because it does make a difference in everyday life. I often don’t answer people if I’m not looking at them when they start to speak; I repeatedly find myself having to ask other people to repeat themselves; I loath telephone help lines with every fibre of my being because even when I tell the person on the other end that I’m partially deaf most of the time it doesn’t make a jot of difference to how they speak and enunciate; I find it hard to follow some films and stuff on the TV (depending on the sound quality, the background music they use and how often the actors are talking when their faces aren’t turned to camera) and even subtitles don’t help as I find them really distracting because I can’t read them and watch the actors acting at the same time. There are times when it can be really draining and difficult and, occasionally, it really makes me unhappy.
And that was really brought home to me rather forcibly whilst using the trains to get from London to Paris and back, as one other thing I now cannot understand is tannoy announcements. Not at all. No matter how close I am to the speakers or what accent the disembodied voice has. I deal with this problem in UK train stations by the judicious use of the monitors and having a National Rail app on my phone so I can check the up to the minute delays etc without having to try and decipher the booming, crackly jumble of sound that could be Swahili for all the sense it makes. However doing that isn’t possible with the Eurostar trains and I experienced an escalating feeling of panic as I tried, without success, to work out what was going on. Now I wasn’t on my own, so in reality it didn’t matter because I could just wait to be told what was going on, but that initial sense of helplessness and confusion I experienced, underscored by the knowledge that I couldn’t do anything to fix it, was horrible. Had I had to struggle with it alone I think it might have tainted the whole holiday, knowing that I’d have the same problem to deal with on the way back.
Now I don’t – never have and never will – think of myself as disabled but it’s made very plain to me, by both my ENT specialist and my HR department at work, that I actually am. Which is all well and good but the only thing it really makes me think is how difficult and isolating it must be for those people who are profoundly deaf and how bloody marvellous they are for coping and just dealing with it all. If I find what is, really, a minor inconvenience hard to manage then they must find every day life completely exhausting and I have nothing but admiration for them all. I have a sneaking suspicion that if my hearing ever deteriorates to the point where I cannot hear anything I may find the option of just hiding away from the world rather more appealing than it should be.
So this little post is just my way of sharing with everyone just how much I admire those who live with deafness and, hopefully reminding you all that disabilities are not always visible, that person you think is ignoring you might actually just not be able to hear you and asking that, instead of getting annoyed, you take the time to find out.