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Getting Comfortable With the Discomfort of Hearing Loss

Acceptance and self-advocacy can help us find comfort with the discomfort.

Key points

  • One of the reasons hearing loss is so frustrating is that it can't be controlled.
  • Letting others know about one's hearing loss and asking them to assist can improve many listening situations.
  • Adjusting what one can control, rather than focusing on frustration or anger, creates better communication.

One of the reasons hearing loss is so frustrating is that we cannot control it. When entering a new situation, we don’t know what listening challenges we will meet. We can’t figure out in advance if an important speaker will be a mumbler or worse yet a mumbler with a voice in your hardest-to-hear frequencies. We have little authority over our hearing loss, but what we can control is how we react to it and what steps we take to counteract it. We take back the power when we learn to find comfort with discomfort.

Photo by Kampus Production
Source: Photo by Kampus Production

Finding Comfort With Discomfort

Regular readers know that yoga is an important part of my daily life. It helps me blow off steam, stay healthy, and handle the frustrating aspects of my hearing loss. I practice several styles of yoga, but the one I do most often is Bikram yoga, which occurs in a heated room — typically set to 105º and 40 percent humidity. It is not for everyone, but I love it because it has taught me an important lesson — how to find comfort with discomfort.

I cannot control the heat in the room or whether the teacher opens the door to bring in some fresh air; I can only manage my reaction to it. Sometimes I want to run for the door and escape into the cool lobby air, but over time I have learned to control these impulses, continuing to practice despite the heat or sitting down for a rest when needed. Nothing I do will change the parameters of the situation, but my actions will change how I feel about the challenge and how much I will suffer.

You don’t have to cook yourself in a hot room to understand the benefits of this concept. Holding a yoga posture in a cool breeze can be equally challenging if the teacher chooses to hold it longer than you would like. You can’t change what the teacher has decided to do, but you can control how you behave in response. Sometimes this might require modifying the posture using straps or blocks to adapt the pose to your needs. Taking charge of what you can control will make it a better experience for you.

How to Make Peace With Your Hearing Loss

It is the same with hearing loss. We cannot control how well we will hear in a certain situation. We often cannot change the acoustics of the room or the background noise that is present. We certainly cannot govern the behavior of others, but when we make peace with that lack of control, we can begin to focus on the power we have to alter the situation to maximize our ability to hear.

Here are some ways we can exert control.

  1. Let others know about our hearing loss. Hearing loss is an invisible disability. If we don’t let people know that we have trouble hearing, they are unlikely to notice right away, let alone speak slowly and clearly or make sure they are facing us when they speak.
  2. Provide specific requests for assistance. The more details we provide in our asks the better. People are generally willing to help, but they may not know what to do. The same goes for venues. Call ahead to see what accommodations are available and request what it is that you need. Planning ahead goes a long way.
  3. Understand what tools are available to help you. Educate yourself about hearing assistive technologies and use them. Some, like Roger pens and the like, are costly, but others like speech-to-text apps are often free. Using these tools will take some practice, but they will improve your interactions enormously.
  4. Accept your hearing loss. This is a tough one for many of us, but the more relaxed you can be about your hearing loss, the more comfortable others will be. We cannot control our hearing loss, but we must also not give it the power to govern us.
  5. Focus on what you can control. Expend your energy on what you can control — finding the best seat in the room at a lecture or asking your partner to speak louder — rather than on trying to hide your hearing loss or being angry about how hard it is for you to hear.

Follow these steps and you too will find comfort with the discomfort of hearing loss. Learn more about the self-advocacy mindset in my book Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully With Hearing Loss co-authored with Gael Hannan.

Copyright: Living With Hearing Loss/Shari Eberts. Reprinted with permission.

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