Speech is becoming more unclear for me and harder to understand and lip-reading only gets me so far. I can’t communicate with more than one person on top of the racket of background noise. Saying no to my friends that went to great trouble of organising group invites to pubs and dinner for catch ups was hard but a relief afterwards one I explained to them why. I knew I had to learn to accept that for now this isn’t an option otherwise I would miss out constantly and refrain to sitting in silence.
I can barely hear what’s being said in cars so long car journeys can be stressful. In noisy places, when the level of background noise is too much for the ears it’s like white noise and so the tinnitus kicks in! Tinnitus for those of you that haven’t come across the term derives from the Latin word for “ringing”, it is the awareness of sound rather than an external sound. Everyone’s experience of tinnitus is different. Sounds can vary from ringing, buzzing, whooshing or humming, low to high frequencies and can range in volume. If you are a hearing person reading this, it’s similar to the “ringing” sound you might hear after a loud concert or nightclub except that for you luckily it is temporary while I experience it on a daily basis. To help give you a good comparison to what I’m hearing right now as I type in my local coffee shop:
[Switching on hearing-aid]
Imagine trying to listen to your friend sitting opposite you through ear muffs. The background noise of music and the whirring coffee machines are quite loud. Now throw in a constant low car horn sound in the background that comes and goes at different volumes. Could you still hear everything that your friend is saying?
[Switching off the hearing-aid] Ahh..that’s better! Silence again and I resume to typing.
This is typical for someone with hearing loss with or without tinnitus.
I went on a date recently, it all became a bit much and I was unable to hear his voice which was too soft. In addition to this he had the dreaded “smiley face” which is nice I know but for us lip-readers we have to rely on facial expressions, changeable mouth movement and these sort of people are a bit like still-life pictures with the fixed facial expression! I’ve made a mental note to resume with the dating scene post “switch-on”. I’m sure many familiar heads are nodding as they read this!
At restaurants, I can lip-read the predictable things that waiters will say without needing to hear them, for example; “Table for 2? ….Would you like to order drinks first…. are you ready to order food?…” . Over the counter at cafes and shops, over the past few months, I can’t make any sense of what they were saying unless they were easy to lip-read. Of course at Sainsburys or Tescos, I divert quickly to the self-checkouts rather than face the struggle again over the counter. I can anticipate what they might say but if it’s unfamiliar it would take a few repeats to interpret and understand what’s being said. There are days when you just don’t feel like repeating for the 20th time in one day that you are deaf so thank god for self-service check outs!
At work, I was struggling to hear some of my new clients to the point that they had to write down what they were saying. I started to rely more heavily on support workers in small meetings such as STTR (speech-to-text-reporters) and Remote Captions. STTR and Remote Captions are like reading subtitles on an ipad capturing what everyone is saying. The difference between both is that the typist is present in the room for STTR whereas for Remote Captions the typist is listening in on the meeting through a Skype call. I started avoiding group situations at lunchtime in the office kitchen. I stopped carrying out my nutrition workshops and promotion work to community classes became a struggle so my workload had to change in order to adapt to my new hearing loss. My confidence took a knock naturally. Before my hearing dropped further, I was at a crossroads with my career, full of ambition to succeed and climb up the ladder again. When I faced new hearing challenges, I felt as though these bridges were slipping away beneath me one by one.
Although I was facing more challenges as time went on, I tried to be more mindful this time compared to the last time my hearing dropped which was 10 years ago. This time round, I must admit, I was in denial that there was something wrong with my hearing although I knew deep down everything was quieter than usual. I did consider that perhaps the hearing-aids were getting old and worn out. I kept trying to pop my ears thinking maybe this was due to the pressure of the tube journey on my way to work. I said nothing for months until the day I went for another hearing test and ironic enough this was part of the cochlear implant assessment. The consultant confirmed there was a new drop in my hearing loss.
The science bit! As mentioned in my first blog entry on this journey, I have a 95 decibel hearing loss in both ears which is classed as a severe-to-profound deafness. My high frequency sounds had taken another significant drop (high frequency sounds include speech, female voices, sirens and birds chirping). 8 months ago I heard these sounds better than I did now. From just a 3 minute conversation with the consultant I began to think about different options in going forward to find out what was best for my ears next. At this stage, I had agreed to the cochlear implant assessment for information only so that I was prepared incase it were to happen down the road.
Little did I know then, it was all about to happen much sooner.