Look at Life: Deafness

11th January 2019

As Sound as a Bell

By Lisa Botwright

I’m writing this in early January – that time of year when resolutions are made, resolutions are broken. After a week of sitting around eating chocolate selection boxes for breakfast and tucking into the prosecco before midday, we’re ready to face our existential demons and keen to try harder to be ‘a better person’ (fitter, healthier, more organised…etc).

I’ve been reflecting too, and I realise I’ve already arrived in 2019 a ‘fitter, healthier’ person than I was this time last year. I’m a bit lighter (as you may already have read in our last magazine, some of the Optima team have been doing a 12 week fitness challenge… more about this in a later issue) – but the other changes haven’t been of my own making; they’ve been presented to me pretty much against my will.

The first adjustment was getting used to wearing glasses for reading. I’d always had great eyesight, but after months of moaning that ‘the lighting wasn’t bright enough’ and squinting at books and holding papers held at arm’s length, it was time to face up to the fact that, at the age of 40-something, I needed to make friends with my local optician.

But after easily accommodating my age-related fading eyesight, I had another shock. I was told by a private audiologist that I had age-related hearing loss and that I needed to wear aids in both ears. ‘I’m too young,’ I gasped.

Ironically, I’d previously been interviewing the audiologist about the stigma surrounding hearing aids; how the resistance to wearing them is so mysterious and unfounded, when glasses are so socially acceptable. He told me that hearing loss left unsupported can contribute to anxiety, and social isolation – even to early-onset dementia; and how there are so many fabulous gadgets out there that he was mystified why people weren’t boasting about their bionic ears.

On hearing the news, my emotions were all over the place. Just like a ‘spin the wheel’ game, the needle landed variously on ‘indignant’ and ‘upset’; until finally it came to rest on ‘grateful’. However, it took a long time to get there. Not least because, while I was tempted to go private, I put myself into the NHS system and waited for an appointment.

The gap between the NHS consultant confirming everything I’d already been told by the audiologist and waiting for my hearing aids to be fitted seemed to last forever; I was ridiculously apprehensive. I imagined that my life would change entirely; that I wouldn’t be able to do my job confidently; that I’d be treated differently, pityingly.

What a load of nonsense. I’m so embarrassed and ashamed that I thought any of those things.

My hearing aids are fantastic: they’re completely discreet and can hardly be seen at all unless someone contorts themselves to stare directly behind my ear; and when I wear my hair down they’re practically invisible. I can hear so clearly now; no more lipreading in busy social settings (I thought that nodding politely when you have no clue what the other person is saying was something that everyone did); and no more guessing at convoluted tv drama plotlines (there are only so many times I can ask my family, ‘what did he say?’).

I fell so in love with my hearing aids that within moments of having them fitted I started behaving like an over-excited Julie Andrews. ‘Listen to the jangling of my car keys; it’s so musical’, I told my husband, misty-eyed. ‘Can you hear the wind? Oh, listen to the birdsong…’

I’m happy to say that I’ve calmed down now, but I do feel really evangelical about how lucky we are to have these opportunities for self-improvement. Some things that we put pressure on ourselves to fix are entirely unfounded, and our unhappiness with them comes from unrealistic social expectations (like wrinkles); and other things that should be resolved make us fearful of the process, because of those same expectations to conform.

Underlying all of this, is the fact that of all the things an NHS consultant could have disclosed to me, a little bit of hearing loss is one of the better outcomes. I’m looking forward to enjoying 2019 proudly wearing my bionic eyes and ears…

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