Living with Hearing Loss: Amanda Tonkin
In honor of Better Hearing Month, we've brought our readers a wide variety of articles, hard-hitting news and celebratory pieces. One of our features this month - "Living with Hearing Loss" - hit close to home for many as we profiled three individuals whose lives have been impacted by hearing loss, whether professionally, personally or spiritually.
To round out this feature, we decided to have a member of the Healthy Hearing team wear earplugs for a day to experience what life was like for the estimated 36-million individuals suffering from hearing loss.
As a mother with young children and many day-to-day tasks which require keen hearing, I, Amanda Tonkin, decided to find out how it felt to lose my ability to clearly hear. Using two standard earplugs purchased from the drugstore and with a resolution to stick to my day-to-day schedule, I embarked on my journey through hearing loss and a day that I will absolutely never forget.
Growing up, regardless of what icebreaker or get-to-know-you activity we were performing, we always seemed to be asked the question, "if you had to give up your hearing or vision, which would it be and why?" And every single time I was absolutely certain I would give up my ability to hear over my ability to see. After all, you could always read the captioning on a television show or movie, but you couldn't expect hearing alone to paint the same picture your eyes could.
And you could always read lips, right? If I couldn't hear I could still participate in day-to-day things because at least I'd be able to see what I was contributing to.
Every conclusion I had ever drawn about what it would be like to lose my hearing was completely unfounded and inaccurate. Losing my hearing for just one day weighed on my shoulders - and my heart - more than I ever imagined it could.
My Saturday started off normally, the only difference being the extra few minutes I spent in the bathroom finagling the earplugs into their proper place. My children were already dressed and being fed by my husband. He kissed me good morning and then went outside to start mowing the yard, his typical Saturday arrangement. I rallied the children into the van and headed over to my aunt's house for coffee with the women in my family. And that's where things veered into very unfamiliar territory.
I could barely hear the music. Not only did I have to turn it up, I had to reposition precisely where it was playing in the car so I could almost comfortably listen to it. And while it may have been a slight relief to be less alert to the bickering of my young children in the seats behind me, it also meant I was missing out on the humming of my daughter, on her belting out lyrics to our favorite country song she just recently learned. I wasn't just missing the words my daughter singing, I was missing the pride and excitement in her voice when she finally got all the words right (or so she had to tell me, four times).
Coffee with the women in my family was frustrating. Unless someone was looking right at me, I had a hard time clearly hearing what was being said half the time. And if more than one person was talking or my daughter was chattering to one of the cats, it was nearly impossible. While I realize people with hearing loss often learn to cope with their diminished ability, I can't imagine how absolutely exhausting it must be day in and day out.
When it was finally time to retreat home, things slowed down some as my husband and I were able to sit in peace and catch up on the day's events. After a quick nap for the children and some household chores, we were hurrying out the door to meet our friends for dinner at a Mexican restaurant.
I'm not sure if the waiter recognized my "impairment" because I asked him to repeat himself 16 times or if he noticed I only responded to him when he was looking at me, but after a few attempts he made a point to kneel down and remain at my eye level when he was speaking to me. I can't begin to fathom what dinner would have been like had he not gone out of his way to make sure I was satisfied and didn't need anything additional from him. Conversation through dinner was a struggle. I found myself nodding along to the others' conversations, my opinions became few and far between as I remained mainly inside of my own head.
The night ended with friends gathering at our house to start an outdoor project. While I laid my son to sleep in his crib, I shut the door and returned outside, feeling less-than-confident that I would be able to hear his cries from the open kitchen windows like I normally could. At almost a year and a half old, my husband and I don't use a monitor for our son, relying on our hearing to be able to tend to his needs. Suddenly, without my regular hearing ability, I wasn't able to hone in on his cries, not the way I normally would. Instead of feeling capable and confident, I felt shaken and questioned every noise I'd hear.
At the end of the day, when it was time to remove my plugs, I felt overwhelmed by the noises I'd been missing through the entire day, sounds I didn't even realize I'd neglected. From the throaty pitches of the toads in our pond to the humming of our ceiling fan in the living room, my day of mostly silence made me recognize how these little daily nuances aren't accessories to my life, they're key instruments.
I don't have a true hearing loss. At the end of the day, all the isolation, embarrassment and loneliness I felt from my inability to interact the way I normally would, I was able to walk away from that. If you're not able to "take out" your hearing loss at the end of the day, I urge you to visit a professional to see what treatment options are available. Who knows how much of your daily life you might be missing out on?