No doubt about it, hearing loss imposes limits on our communication and participation. Feeling our way through new limits after big drops is a challenge. The new limits imposed on us can be overwhelming and isolating. It takes time to grieve for them and then heal.
Remember, learning limits is a common theme in life. Health in general imposes limits on us. As we age we have to respect certain physical limits. We break a foot, there’s a new set of limits to live with for a while. We can’t do everything so we have to learn to limit our time with certain activities. It helps to remember we aren’t alone and there are others going through changes in life and learning to get around too.
We begin to heal when we learn how to get around the obstacles with accommodations and strategies. When we realize it takes two to communicate and everyone must do their part, we instill communication boundaries. When our hearing partners help us advocate, that too takes away a few more limits.
Reminder: We have a Hearing Loss Limits workshop on October 3rd at 6:00 PM Mountain time. It’s on Zoom, you can join from anywhere. Register here, checking the box below our classes & workbooks.
Julia: Just like boundaries, we all have limits. And just like boundaries our limits change over time and depending on the audience. It can be as simple as working an 8 hour day instead of a 12 hour day. We also set up spending limits so we can take that week-long cruise for vacation. Setting limits is about self care. Accepting somebody else’s limits is respecting each other.
A hearing partner’s job is to accept hearing loss limits, not use it against them. Done properly, a hearing partners’ job is to help alleviate limitations. How?
Things hearing partners can do to help with limitations…
There are some simple changes to make your shared adventures easier as a hearing partner. You can ask for assistive listening devices in public venues for yourself. Find out how well they work and they can be quite helpful at times, even for those of us that hear well. Choose open caption movies and open captioned live theater performances. Quite honestly, at times the background noise and music make it hard for me to focus on dialogue. If you used to have a favorite date night restaurant that now doesn’t work because of background noise levels, order it to go and find a place that works. Or, go in off peak hours.
If you both enjoy large group events, brainstorm together before going. There is no magic bullet that allows HoHs to hear well in large groups. Hearing loss fatigue will play a factor and they reach a limit at some point. Decide together how long to go and arrange for a signal that means it’s time to go. There will be some trial and error and could be certain events that are a HoH “NO”. Work with the limits (boundaries) together.
A few things hearing partners should NOT do…
Do not stay home pointing a finger at your loved one while saying their limitations limit you. First off it solves nothing. Instead look at yourself and ask why you are using their hearing loss as a limit. How can you change that? If your HoH has a “NO” limitation at a large event, why can’t you go alone or with other friends? Odds are your HoH is already struggling with the limitation themself and working it out in their way. If they don’t mind you going alone, do it and don’t make it about you. If they need to limit the amount of time at a gathering, work more on how to make the gathering easier. Want to stay later? Uber home. Be in charge of your limits and be respectful of their limits.
Hearing loss is physically draining.
Chelle: When we can’t hear clearly, we use lots of brain power to fill in the gaps in a variety of ways; checking out body language, filling in gaps with guesswork, using situational clues and so much more. If I’ve had a heavy day of meetings and conversation, I’m drained. My shoulders are tight because of the focus which also can give me a headache. After a certain amount of time, I have to withdraw and give my ears, and body, a hearing break. I used to wait until I dropped instead of listening to my body. It took me years to learn to say no. I didn’t want to say no because I didn’t want to disappoint others. I didn’t want to miss out on anything either.
Reaching a Limit
One night many years ago, after a full day of activity on top of traveling, I finally voiced my no. Everyone wanted to go out to a poorly lit patio bar to socialize. Part of me wanted to go, then I visualized the experience:
- It’s dark, the lighting is poor so I won’t be able to use my lipreading.
- There will be loud music and lots of background noise. My hearing aids can’t do as much as I want them to in that environment.
- If I go, I’ll be a bump on a log because of the limiting environment and my lack of energy.
- If I stay, I’ll be a bump on a log because I didn’t participate.
Either way, I’m going I’m a bump on a log! At that point, I might as well stay in the room and read. I decided resting was more important so I could be my usual self the next day with socialization.
Then I gave my husband a, “No.” He wasn’t happy, he wanted me there. I explained how exhausted I felt. Together, we reviewed the environment with me pointing out how Hard of Hearing UNfriendly it would be. I argued that if I went, he would probably still be upset with me for not participating enough. In the end, he let it go and went without me while I stayed back. My decision was the right one for me and I did not regret it.
Learning to accept my limits helped me come to terms with my hearing loss. The world is so noisy that I came to treasure my quiet times like never before. Let someone else have the noise, I’m taking my hearing aids out and relaxing. Sometimes I am not sure how hearing people handle it! Julia and I have decided I have hearing aid privilege. I get to tune out when I want, hearing people don’t always have that option.
Some other hearing loss limits I’ve accepted:
- If it’s not a captioned movie/play, I’m not going to watch it. It’s super frustrating sitting through something I cannot hear, a waste of my time.
- Meetings without proper accommodations. I refuse to sit and look pretty for everyone’s benefit while it tortures me. It’s another waste of my time and my time is valuable.
- People who won’t accommodate me one on one. Though this is rare, it happens. I will limit my time around this person or avoid them all together. There’s no sense in us both banging our head against the wall. It may hurt me to let them go, but it’s better than being frustrated.
At first, hearing loss felt like it limited me. As I learned new strategies and more about accommodation, my limits expanded. It went from hating to be in a crowd to managing the crowd in the way I could participate. Yes, I will attend that lecture and here’s how we can make it work together. Limits aren’t bad. Used right, they are boundaries. Once you know some limits, you can play with them and expand them.
Disabilities and Limits
There are lots of us out there living life with disabilities and learning our limits. The Help Guide Organization offers words of wisdom in regards to working with our limitations. “Adjusting to life with a disability can be a difficult transition. We all tend to take our health for granted—until it’s gone. Then, it’s all too easy to obsess over what we’ve lost. But while you can’t go back in time to a healthier you or wish away your limitations, you can change the way you think about and cope with your disability. You are still in control of your life and there are many ways to improve your independence, sense of empowerment, and outlook. No matter your disability, it’s entirely possible to overcome the challenges you face and enjoy a full—and fulfilling—life.” Click the link for the full article.