There's more to life with hearing aids than meets the eye...
When I was 17 I was told I needed hearing aids. Evidently the best year ever!
While it's been a turbulent few years since, I've learned a lot about my disability and how to cope in a hearing world. Most importantly I've come to realise just how important it is to open up and tell people about it - rather than pretending everything is fine. Because sometimes living with hearing loss is anything but fine, and things would be so much easier if people understood and could support me better.
So in my first post, I want to share a snapshot of what it's really like to be a twenty-something with hearing loss...
Just because I wear hearing aids it doesn't mean I can hear you...
Lots of people think wearing hearing aids is similar to wearing glasses - just pop them in and 'Hey Presto!' you can hear!
Unfortunately, hearing aids don't work in this way. Deafness is very complex and technology isn't advanced enough for aids that can be crafted, like a lens, to fix all the different levels and types of hearing loss. This means that while it may seem like I'm able to keep up and join in with day-to-day conversations, most of the time I'm trying really hard not to not to fall behind or make a t*t of myself because I've misheard something.
Background noise is the biggest problem. Whether it's traffic, the kettle boiling, music or my colleague typing next to me - my hearing aids are competing with these sounds. I also struggle to understand people who mumble, speak softly and quietly, and have thick accents (hearing aids can only do so much in terms of amplification and picking up on certain sounds). And it's pretty much impossible for me to have a conversation with someone if they're not facing me or have their mouth covered. This is because lip reading comes naturally to people with hearing loss and is an important part of communication.
Hearing is like a day job - it takes up a lot of my time, thoughts and energy
Living with hearing loss means a perfectly natural ability becomes a tough, never ending mission. Every day I'm on high alert, straining to keep up with conversation and what's going on around me. I'm also wracked with persistent worry that I'm a liability, and less worthy, able, attractive or desirable in the eyes of others.
All this overcompensating and worry can leave me feeling exhausted, irritable and fragile - both emotionally and physically. And while for many people, regularly going for drinks after work, staying up late and spending hours watching TV is standard, I'd much rather retreat to my room, the library or any quiet place where I can take my hearing aids out and immerse myself in the peaceful silence. This gives me much-needed time to regenerate and de-stress.
My hearing loss is a big deal and I need your support
I try very hard to pretend everything is OK and that I'm coping fine with my hearing loss. This is why I don't always tell people straight away, but even when I do I often try to shrug it off. But the truth is, hearing loss (in whatever form) is a big deal. And while on the outside I come across like I've got my sh*t together, and my disability is a ripple in my big ocean; it's not. It's a tsunami, and I'm constantly struggling to catch a wave!
But it's so hard for me to express this, and even though it's been nine years since I was given hearing aids, I still feel too insecure and embarrassed to admit I have a hearing loss. Plus I worry no one will understand or care, although I realise how silly I am thinking like this - no one is heartless!
Ultimately, I know that if I want people's support, compassion and understanding, I need to be honest and open about my hearing loss. I know this will also do wonders for my self-esteem, confidence and how I deal with my disability.
And you'll probably agree... there's no better place to start being more opens than online!
HuffPost UK Lifestyle has launched EveryBody, a new section calling for better equality and inclusivity for people living with disability and invisible illness. The aim is to empower those whose voices are not always heard and redefine attitudes to identity, lifestyle and ability in 2017. We'll be covering all manner of lifestyle topics - from health and fitness to dating, sex and relationships.
We'd love to hear your stories. To blog for the section, please email email@example.com with the subject line 'EveryBody'. To flag any issues that are close to your heart, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, again with the subject line 'EveryBody'.
Join in the conversation with #HPEveryBody on Twitter and Instagram.