My Hearing Aids and I
My hearing aids and I have a funny old relationship. I love them and I’m grateful I have them, but boy has it taken me a long time to really accept them. For those of you who don’t wear hearing aids, let me firstly just say that hearing aids are not the same as wearing glasses, which instantly correct your vision. Hearing aids don’t make me hearing. They just make sounds louder.
I didn’t really wear my hearing aids full time until I became profoundly deaf at the age of 18. Prior to that, I had a deteriorating type of deafness that was detected at the age of 4 and I was moderately to severely deaf for most of my childhood.
I first got my hearing aids when I was around six years old. They were huge, boxy beige things and I would yank them out the moment anything got too loud. At one point, my class teacher noticed I started blinking incessantly and after an assessment the audiologists realised that my hearing aids were far too loud for me and caused me to jump each time there was a noise.
So I didn’t really have a great first impression of hearing aids, lets put it that way.
During primary school, a peripatetic teacher would visit me once a week in class. When I knew she was visiting, I would pop my hearing aids in and as soon as she left I’d take them out again. Everyone seemed to want me to wear them but I felt like I could manage just fine and dandy without them. I could hear enough to get by and I could lip read like a pro too, which helped.
My mum even found a little box to put my hearing aids in and decorated it with Minnie Mouse stickers (my favourite cartoon character) in the hope that it may persuade me to give them a go. But still, they stayed stored away inside the box, sitting on my desk at school.
During secondary school I felt even more pressure to wear my hearing aids. I attended a school which had a unit for deaf students. All of us were provided with phonic aids and expected to wear them in every lesson. I could manage this to a degree but after six hours of amplified volume in a school with over a thousand pupils, my head would usually pound at the end of each day.
I remember also how I would never wear my hair up high in a pony tail with my hearing aids on. They looked like massive strange things on the side of my head, with wires poking out of them! So most of the time I’d wear hair styles that cleverly disguised my hearing aids.
When I moved to Mary Hare school, it was refreshing for me to see so many other students with hearing aids or cochlear implant processors. I no longer felt so self conscious about the hearing aids. However, after school time I still chose to leave them out. My ears felt lighter, freer, more natural without the heavy things weighing them down.
Soon after I left Mary Hare school I experienced a massive drop in my hearing after taking a flight. I could no longer hear the television or my own voice when I was in the shower. Reluctantly, I started to wear my hearing aids once again as I craved the background sounds that I had been accustomed to growing up.
Shortly after this I landed a job working on a BBC1 show, Grange Hill. As an actress on the series I was provided with private hearing aids by Starkey which transformed the way I viewed my hearing aids.
Starkey allowed me to choose the colour of the sleek aids (purple of course) and the colour of the moulds (pink glitter, naturally) and they showed me all sorts of clever ways to get the most out of my hearing aids. My favourite discovery was how the hearing aids would connect to my Ipod and I could enjoy music clearly. The sounds were clearer, sharper and suited my level of deafness better.
The hearing aids weren’t perfect, however. Even though the audiologist adjusted them so that I could hear low frequency sounds better, the hearing aids would still turn themselves off if I encountered music that was too loud. This was frustrating for me as I was taking a dance degree at the time and I couldn’t deal with off-cutting hearing aids during performances.
I also noticed how the aids would get affected by sweat during ballet rehearsals and jazz technique classes. If I wore a headband that rubbed against the aid’s microphone, it would create buzzing feedback too.
That said, my hearing aids and I were finally forming a friendship after years of me resisting their existence!
During my career, I have been fortunate with the NHS service I have received for my hearing aids. The audiology clinic I attend have supplied me with silver hearing aids and also gave me a choice of coloured moulds. I was thrilled to select a vibrant purple!
A friend of mine then started creating accessories for hearing aids, pretty florals that wrapped around the tube of the hearing aid and decal stickers to place on the main body too. I experimented with leopard print decals and sunflower attachments, as the more attached I felt to my hearing aids the more I wanted them to express my own personal style.
More recently, I was even gifted a set of ‘hearings’ by Deafmetal which is a set of amethyst earrings that connect to your hearing aids. Deafmetal have transformed hearing aids into jewellery accessories and currently offer six different designs – how cool is that!
Whilst I am comfortable in my deaf skin and happy with my deaf identity, I am of course grateful for the access to sounds that my hearing aids now give me. I have gone from someone who would hide their hearing aids to someone who wakes up and puts them in straightaway.
Looking back, perhaps if when I was younger my hearing aids were more suitably adjusted to my hearing and more attractive for me to wear, I would have persisted with wearing them a little more. Who knows?
As we see more deaf representation on screen and on stage, it is interesting to note how I no longer feel self conscious about my hearing aids. In fact, I feel the opposite. I am glad when they are noticed and when they spark a conversation and encourage someone to talk to me in a deaf-friendly manner.
Growing up, it’s true to say that I wasn’t sure where I belonged – was I hearing, was I deaf? At the time, it wasn’t seen as acceptable to be ‘different’ so is it any wonder that I would hide my hearing aids in my teenage years. Back then, we were encouraged to blend in, and deaf kids were encouraged to look/sound/behave in the same way as a hearing child.
Now, thankfully, I am much more comfortable with who I am and I fully accept my deafness. Therefore I completely accept the things I use that enable me to communicate and enjoy the world around me. British Sign Language is one thing, hearing aids are another.
Going from a six year old who hides their hearing aid box to an adult who wears their hearing aids religiously, my hearing aids and I have definitely been on a journey.