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Navigating A World That Assumes You Hear

In deaf, Deafness, Hearing Loss, Lip Reading, Speech Reading, Uncategorized on March 8, 2017 at 6:10 pm

By Michele Linder

maze-of-worryanddoubt

At whatever stage in life you came to hearing loss, it’s likely no one gave you any specific information on how to deal with not being able to hear in a world that assumes that you do. No one instructed you on what to expect, how to react, or what to do to make communication easier. There’s no required Hearing Loss 101 class or orientation for newbies that teaches you how to navigate through difficult hearing situations.

          There should be.

I recently posted a great article to our SayWhatClub Facebook Page that I read on The Mighty, a website that publishes “real stories by real people facing real challenges”. In the article, To the Girl Who Saw Me Struggle to Communicatethe author describes a process she’s gone through “hundreds of times” throughout her college career—standing in line at the bistro in the busy student café rehearsing her order before it’s her turn at the counter. 

          I’ll admit to wondering… if this situation is something she’s dealt with “hundreds of times”, why isn’t she better at it?

I’m going to break this simple scenario down for you the way I do for myself when I’m met with a situation that is difficult and uncomfortable to hear in, because I spent several decades letting these very simple situations turn unpleasant, frustrating and awkward.

          Yes, I still assess situations that are new to me, rehearse, and use my super powers (lipreading, anticipatory and observation skills, etc.) to do all I can to make things go more smoothly, but no longer am I on pins and needles waiting for what can, and most likely will, go wrong, because—and this is really important…

I tell people that I can’t hear. Don’t be afraid, just do it. And, however you say it is fine… for me, I say “Hi there… first, let me mention that I’m a lipreader and I need to see you speak, so please don’t look down while talking or I won’t be able to read your lips.  Lipreading is great, but it doesn’t always work, so I may need you to write down what I can’t hear.”, as I hold up my trusty pad and pen. That may seem like a mouthful, but it’s pretty much a given that anyone behind a counter—wait staff, check-out or bank clerk, etc.—is going to talk to you while looking down, so clue them in at the start of things and they’ll know better.

And, speak up when you foresee a problem. If, when you place your order, the counter person asks for your name, let them know you’re not going to hear them call you when your order is ready. Ask for a plan B.  If they make a workable suggestion, great! If not, offer a solution of your own—“I’ll stand over there and watch for you to wave at me when my order is ready, but if I miss it someone needs to come over and get me.”

          If something does go wrong and you miss a cue, and the aggravated guy behind you taps you on your shoulder and rolls his eyes…

Keep your cool. Because the minute you freak out, all the skill in the world won’t be of any use… you’re now so flustered that any ability you had to figure out what’s being said goes out the window.

And, do let rude people knowin as nice a way possiblethat rudeness is not helpful. It’s not something they would want from others, so thank them for getting your attention, tell them you’re deaf and sometimes miss things, but also tell them the aggravation and eye-rolling isn’t necessary or appreciated.

          If you need justification for calling them out…

Consider it a teaching moment. Express your hope that when they next encounter someone that seems to be not paying attention, consider that they might also be deaf.

          If you do lose your cool, for whatever reason—someone has made you feel “less than” or you’re embarrassed at not hearing and panic—consider this…

It’s not your fault that you can’t hear. Stop buying into the misconception that you’re inconveniencing the world because you have different communication needs.  

          Stop pressing your lips tightly together and glancing at the scuffs on the toes of your black Converse low-top sneakers. No amount of fiddling with your hearing aids or wishing will produce an answer to the mysterious unknown question you didn’t hear. It will never magically appear out of nowhere in written form.  But you can…

Have them write it down, thereby creating your own magic! Hand over your paper and pen, and say “You’re going to have to write that down, I’m not getting it… thanks.” Don’t pose it as a question, simply offer instruction for what you need.

It’s empowering when you realize you don’t have to leave difficult hearing situations to chance. When you actively participate in finding ways to make things play out as smoothly as possible, you’ll likely not need a gentle and helpful soul to swoop in and clue you in… you’ll be able to handle the situation yourself before it turns unpleasant.

However, as the author states, she was having an incredibly stressful week and was feeling extremely insecure, isolated, and alone with regard to her hearing loss, and we all know how that feels. It’s normal to have bad days when we feel vulnerable and don’t handle situations as well as we could. So, there’s no need to beat yourself up about it. 

          It’s certainly not my intent to beat the author up in any way, either. I’m really glad she wrote in such detail about her experience and gave the world a window into what life is like with hearing loss. We’ve all had encounters where we’re not in the frame of mind to be our own best advocate… sometimes we’re just tired of explaining. Her article made me think about my own bad days, how far I’ve come in my fifty-seven years, and how what I’ve learned along the way has made me stronger and a better person.

And, hopefully, on those bad days you’ll be as lucky as the author was at crossing paths with a particularly tuned-in person who took it upon themselves to step in and help, and who didn’t make a big deal about it.

Sometimes we, and others, can make hearing loss out to be a bigger deal than it needs to be.

          Yes, it is a big deal that one whole sense is not working the way it was designed to work and it affects almost everything you do, especially how you communicate. However…

Take charge! Actively work on ways to eliminate what makes a situation unpleasant. Think of it as instruction that increases your self-sufficiency, which in turn makes you feel more capable. And, capable is what gets you out in the world to enjoy your life more.

Live more, isolate yourself less.

          Most people with a disability want to remain independent and self-sufficient and to feel capable.  Don’t you?

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10 Practical Tips for Tinnitus

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2017 at 7:22 pm

By Chelle Wyatt

Tinnitus is on my mind today and that’s because I’m off the grid, in the middle of nowhere at my parents house. How quiet is it out here? Many years ago after they finished building their house I came to visit. We were on the porch, everyone talking and I kept hearing a noise. It was indescribable and it drove me nuts not knowing what it was. I stopped the conversation finally to ask “What is that?” And of course everything sounded normal to them so it took a bit to pin down the noise I wanted. “There! That noise,” I yelled when I heard it again. My mom said, “You mean hummingbirds?” I was aghast. I could not believe how loud they were. At home I couldn’t hear them due to traffic or city noise so I guess I forgot what they sounded like.  
Today it’s early February so isn’t porch time yet. My parents aren’t listening to the radio as they normally would avoiding today’s political environment. None of us watch TV much either so it’s quiet in the house too. I hear my tinnitus all too well. My tinnitus sounds like cicadas, crickets and has a high pitched squeal 24 hours a day , 7 days a week. Luckily I habituated years ago so it’s not driving me crazy but it is noticeable.  


Memories of tinnitus are drifting in and out. I remember when tinnitus struck back in 1987 and I was told by the ENT to go home and learn to live with it. He gave me no other suggestions nor information. I couldn’t sleep and I was a zombie during for days at school. Every night I laid awake hating the sudden invasion and wished I could just die. Only with much determination did I make it through that time period and was able to push tinnitus to the side.

I didn’t think too much about my tinnitus for many years, it was there but in the background only. Then working as a hard of hearing assistant, I was asked to edit a tinnitus presentation into a class. I spent weeks organizing the information and researching tinnitus on the internet. I hadn’t heard my tinnitus so well in years! I was so happy when I finished the project.

Once or twice a year I teach the class and it always throws me back to my early days when I suffered from it as I listen to others tell their story. At least there’s more information available today thanks to the internet than what I had in 1987. It’s wonderful of the state of Utah to offer this class to help others. Together we talk about it and I always hope I helped them at least a little bit. Today I thought I’d write up a list of things to help other people as well.


Tinnitus is most vicious at night because the world is quieter. All we want is to sleep and it seems impossible with all that racket in our head. We lay there awake..thinking about it, hating it, crying or pissed off. It’s at the forefront of our thinking and it’s evil.  

Here’s some things you can do to help you sleep. The trick is to take your mind away from your tinnitus and place it elsewhere. If you find yourself focussing on your tinnitus, take the focus away to something else.

1)  Soft noise. Turn on the fan. Get a fish tank that bubbles. Use soft music or the TV. There’s small water features you can buy to keep on the nightstand. Get some environmental sounds to listen too. (I use an app on my phone called SleepStream 2 and I love it. There is a fee.)

2)  Try something visual. I know some people don’t like lights at night so experiment. Try fiberoptic lights or something like a projection of the night sky on the ceiling.
3)  Some people claim aromatherapy distracts them from their tinnitus at night. Find a soothing scent.

4)  Create a regular bed time habit and make it a comfortable routine. Turn off the TV, read a bit, have a cup of tea. Create a peaceful atmoshphere with light background noise. 

5)  Find your happy place. Start creating a visual in your mind of your perfect place. Counting your blessings also works, not matter how small it starts, the list will get bigger.


During the day it’s a little easier to ignore tinnitus but in quiet places or at idle times it can sneak up on you. Again, every time you catch yourself thinking about your tinnitus take it away to something else.

1)  Mindfulness works. If you’re dusting furniture and the ringing is driving you nuts, focus instead on the dusting-the motion your hand makes, the smell of the furniture polish, the trails you make in the dust as you go.  

2)  Keep light noise in the background. Don’t make it too loud because sometimes loud noise can make tinnitus work. Use the radio, some music, the TV.

3)  Some people started a new hobby when tinnitus struck. I remember a story of guy who took up running to ‘run away’ from his tinnitus. He used it to work through his tinnitus and enjoyed it so much he became a marathon runner. Have you always wanted to paint? Take and art class. Take a dance class or start attending a climbing gym. Having something new to do will give you a new focus.

4)  Many hearing aids have a tinnitus program option. Whenit’s quiet at the office, I’ll turn on my tinnitus program and I hear crashing waves in the background. If someone comes in and starts talking to me, the waves fade away and I still hear environmental noise.

5)  Here’s your excuse to go get a message. Tense shoulders leads to a tense neck and even a tight scalp. It could be making your tinnitus worse. It won’t take away your tinnitus but maybe you’ll feel more relaxed and able to deal with the tinnitus better.

These are practical tips. I don’t know much about alternative therapies so I won’t get into that. The American Tinnits Association (ATA) which talks about those therapies and you can explore them on your own. The ATA has tons of good information on tinnitus and you can read the latest updates on studies too.

Some people have tinnitus triggers and spikes. Mine is a lack of sleep and it will make my tinnitus scream! I warn those around me it will be a bad hearing day. For other people it’s loud noises, over the counter meds, diet (caffeine, sugar, alcohol, salt) or smoking. None of those things affect me but lack of sleep will. It’s different for everyone.  

If you’re feeling suicidal please seek help.  I know of someone who was, reached out for help instead and successfully habituated tinnitus.  

Feel free to share your tinnitus story in the comments.  I’m always looking ways to help people with their tinnitus.