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Emotions, Psychological Stress Hard of Hearing Hearing Loss Shame/Stigma/Denial

The Emotional Side of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss comes with a cycle of emotions—sadness, grief, anger, depression, pain of isolation, and feeling panicked at not being able to do things in exactly the same way as you used to, or not all. One of the biggest things most people miss about hearing loss is how emotional it is. 

Big moments—a loss that is glaringly and painfully apparent—and day-to-day challenges make life with hearing loss an ongoing rollercoaster of emotions.

Some Emotional Aspects of Hearing Loss:

  • Losing the ability to communicate in conventional ways, and having family and friends fail to accommodate you in the alternative ways you have requested. 
  • Being left out is a given, and it makes you feel insignificant.
  • Self-esteem – hearing loss changes the way you interact with others and makes you feel as if you’ve lost a part of your identity. Suddenly losing the confidence you’ve spent a lifetime building has deep emotional and psychological ramifications.
  • Panic becomes a knee-jerk reaction to any situation you have no idea of how to respond or handle.
  • Stress becomes a daily battle. There likely will be a point in your day when communication breaks down or you are unaware of what is going on around you. Being on pins on needles waiting for the inevitable is so stressful.
  • Sense of failure when…
    • Hearing devices don’t work as well as you want/expect them to, or at all.
    • You can longer participate and contribute in the way you want due to lack of accommodation.
    • You feel like you are losing your independence.

The ongoing emotional and psychological trauma of hearing loss is often not adequately addressed during the process of seeing a doctor and audiologist, having a hearing test, being fitted with hearing aids, or receiving cochlear implants.

The HoH need emotional support, counsel, and/or therapy to deal with how hearing loss changes your life. They need instruction on how to take control so they are not always at the mercy of their emotions.

Chelle: Sudden onset of tinnitus was traumatic. That unwelcome high pitched squeal invaded my peace, ruining my sleep. I went to an ENT who told me, “You have tinnitus and you have to learn to live with it.” That was it, no suggestions or advice. We look to our medical providers as a source of help. If they can’t help us, who can? I did not see how I would ever be able to sleep again. Any resource would have been helpful, a pamphlet, support group… anything. Instead I waded through it on my own. 

One morning my resolve rose up and I decided I would NOT let this ruin my life. I was 18 years old and I still had plenty to do in my life! The cartoon below represents how I felt, I was not going to let tinnitus be more annoying than me. 

Getting hearing aids at 23 years old felt odd. My husband at the time used my hearing loss to his advantage. He would ask me about buying something from across the house. If I didn’t answer, it must mean it was okay to buy it. He was not nice about repeating and constantly turned off the captions because they were in the way. Because of him I learned to fake it, or bluff. If my own husband thought it was such a pain in the ass, what must other people think? It took me a few years after divorcing him to learn most people were okay with my communication needs. 

Big drops in hearing are always a hurdle. This has happened twice in my life. It means losing parts of your old life and that hurts! There’s a grieving period for that. Losing phone calls, losing hearing from other rooms, not hearing my kids in school plays. Losing music hurts. In the 80’s I could hear all musical instruments and sounds even though I misunderstood lyrics. Now when I hear an 80’s song, I know I’m not hearing the whole song. Pieces are missing, pieces my brain can fill in but there’s some grief every time that happens. Another piece lost.

I get mad sometimes. We hear anger is wrong but I beg to differ. Sometimes it’s needed to get the point across. Anger is telling us something is wrong. Don’t tell me “never mind” or you’ll see my anger. It’s unfair to be denied access to communication. I try my best to hear. I didn’t ask for this hearing loss. Besides that, were you facing me when you said it? How much background noise was there? Did you get my attention before talking? It’s usually not my fault for not hearing.

Julia: As a hearing partner you will have grief and different emotions arise. Hearing loss will affect your relationship and communication. Not if, not when, not maybe. Flat out it will. Respect the emotions of your partner and their hearing loss experience. But take care of your emotions, too. If you don’t, resentment will set in. 

I tell the story in an earlier blog when it became obvious communication with my grandmother changed and how that affected me, and how it dawned on me that it affected her in a different way. I can’t say how the experience may have gone had I not learned years earlier that this would happen and where I could turn to for support. So take a class with your partner and learn about hearing loss. Join a support group together and/or separately.

Michele: I have many stories from my own life, of heart-cracking moments that sneak up on you and take you by surprise, but for this week’s topic, I’m going to share a story from a dear friend and hearing loss peer. 

I remember reading this story when it was written, over ten years ago, thinking how perfectly it takes you inside of a moment of raw emotion… a moment when hearing loss breaks your heart all over again.

I Felt My Heart Crack: I lost my hearing, as most of you know, about close to 20 years ago. I’ve grieved, cried, come to terms, got help, learned to live inside of it and moved on. Or, so I thought.

Yesterday, my husband forwarded me an email that was sent to him. He keeps up with all of our old high school friends, and is considered a contact with them because he also runs our alumni website. So the friend who contacted him, sent the email to him asking him to give it to me. Here is what it said:

“We would be honored to have you and your husband attend a pool party at my home. Several of the old choir members will attend. We need to sing, and fellowship for one more time. I need you to sing the high notes for me, as in the past. Call me at Home. I love you, can’t wait to hear from you.”

So, as you see, I used to sing. A lot, and well. This friend, and I, and a few more people were in our school choir, and also in a small elite singing group. We were good, real good. 

So, I read this email and felt my heart crack. I can’t sing anymore. I can’t sing the high notes. Sometimes I can’t even hear them, depends on all the hearing loss variables that exist in my life. Even with the CI’s, I’ve pretty much lost music as far as being able to hear it correctly and on key. I can identify and hear instrumentals pretty clearly but add lyrics in and it’s still not easy. My singing days are over. 

I haven’t seen this friend since high school. She doesn’t know what’s happened to me. I wrote her back, and told her. I declined the invitation. My husband doesn’t get it, why don’t I want to still go? I can’t explain why my heart is broken, by just thinking about this, let alone having to deal with it in person and be unable to participate. He just doesn’t get it, he wants to go anyway, and I just can’t stop crying.

I can’t believe something from a thousand years ago has popped up in my face and is causing all these emotions. I surely thought I was over feeling this way about my hearing loss. Like the energizer bunny, the losses just keep on going……

No matter how much hard work we’ve done to reach a point of acceptance and “moving on”, there are always deeply emotional losses lurking under the surface just waiting to be triggered. And, no matter how much our hearing partners try, they will never understand unless they experience hearing loss themselves. 

The day-to-day challenges can be as overwhelming as the big ones that slap us in the face. And we aren’t the only ones affected by hearing loss, our family and friends have emotional adjustments of their own.

Until the emotional and psychological side of hearing loss becomes a part of diagnosis and treatment, millions of HoH people will continue to struggle. It takes a lot of hard work to build the skill, knowledge, and awareness needed to live fully with hearing loss. Managing our hearing loss isn’t something we should have to figure out on our own.

Watch our companion podcast on The Emotional Side of Hearing Loss.

If you liked this post, try Hearing Loss: Family and Communication because we are often emotional with our family. Also try Misconceptions because that’s what often trips us up.

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