Beth Connolly, a young professional living in New York City, discovered she had hearing loss as a teenager. In this weekly column, Beth will chronicle her experience with hearing loss and hearing aids.
People have asked, but it is difficult for me to exactly pinpoint when my hearing loss began. I know that as a child, I was often in my own world, intensely focused on playing or studying alone, undisturbed by others and unresponsive to them even when they called out my name. Of course, I am an only child, so I grew up learning to entertain myself.
I remember in middle school, those important bonding moments, whispered conversations in study halls or hallways or sleepover parties, seemed to exclude me, in effect. Not being able to understand the information passed along in hushed tones, I could not contribute to them. Whispered asides in movie theaters proved disruptive to everyone, taking attention from the screen to my asking, “What? I can’t hear you.”
In high school, I dropped out of choir and other singing groups, though I had loved singing as a child. I found it impossible to blend my voice with those singing around me, because I could not hear the notes they sang. Time after time, I had to endure the humiliation of hearing my music teacher single out first the Alto section, and then just the first row, and then just me to determine that I was the cause of discord. Gradually, I learned to move my lips in time with the conductor without actually venturing to sing in order to avoid the embarrassment of being called out in front of all my friends and classmates. Thankfully, though, I was surrounded by peers who never really bullied me over my hearing loss.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until years later that I realized the true cause of my loss of singing ability.
In high school, I believe I was considered too slow socially, and always “out of it,” though I was consistently at the top of my class academically. My friends grew accustomed to the fact that I wouldn’t “catch on” very quickly to their rapid fire dialogue of inside jokes and asides. I was also quite sheltered and innocent, relatively ignorant of popular culture and R-rated concepts, which added to my confusion. Throughout my adolescence, it was a common occurrence that someone would have to tap me in order to get my attention, even though they’d been calling out my name for minutes. This contributed to the perception that I didn’t really pay attention to other people, or that I ignored people I didn’t want to talk to when they said Hi to me.
Despite those signs, which seem in retrospect to be rather significant indicators of hearing loss, I had no inkling of the situation until my second year of college. Of course, people commonly joked, “You should have your hearing checked,” “Clean your ears,” and the favorite, when I’d asked them to repeat themselves multiple times, “Are you, like, deaf or something?” I never took the ribbing to heart. I had my vision checked every year at my annual physical, but not my hearing.
When my friends and classmates heard the news that I was diagnosed with hearing loss, they were not surprised. “Everything makes so much more sense now,” was the general response. Before hearing the news, they just thought I was always spaced out, on another planet, or too sleep-deprived to figure out what was going on around me. Ironically, if smartphones existed when I was a teenager, I believe my “spaced-out” state would have been far more acceptable to my peers. Who really focuses on a real-time face-to-face conversation today, when they have their phones out at the ready to stay up to date on the latest texts, e-mails, and tweets?