- Being told to turn the volume down on the tv and subsequently told to not sit so close to it.
- Figuring out the solution to the above dilemma was watching shows with the closed captions on.
- Having to take five extra minutes before swimming so I could get my custom ear plugs in.
- Knowing my whole day would be spent listening for beeps I could not hear and watching confused looks on adults faces upon the announcement that there would be hearing tests at school.
- Painful, occasionally bloody, landings in airplanes (especially when doing more than one flight in a journey).
- Always getting to class early to get a front row seat (better for hearing and lip reading).
- “Ohh” reactions from new doctors when they looked inside my ears.
- 11 surgeries starting at the age of two.
- Always making sure I am positioned to the right of the person I am talking with.
If you had asked me several weeks ago how being hard of hearing affected me I would have answered with the above list. Sure, some of those things are bothersome, but in the grand scheme of things I don’t have much to complain about. I have struggled with hearing and ear infections all of my conscious life. I have tried countless Western and Eastern remedies. By my early 20s I was burnt out; I stopped trying to fix it and just decided to “live with it”. Time went on, and for me life was normal.
“Hey, do you want to review this product?”
A one line email from my editor, Kavan. He knew I was hard of hearing (and had not found traditional hearing aids accessible). The attached email was from LifeEar CORE announcing their new disruption to the hearing aid industry: “The first hearing aid you can adjust yourself with a companion mobile app.”
I jumped at the opportunity. I couldn’t believe this was finally happening. For years, I had wondered when the tech industry, which I live smack in the middle of in San Francisco, would tackle hearing-aids. The current options are prohibitively expensive and inaccessible. I have lived with hearing loss my whole life, severe enough for the past decade to warrant a hearing aid, and yet I did not know the depth of my desire to hear better until getting that email. I was positively giddy waiting for my LifeEar CORE to arrive.
Getting hearing aids is not like getting glasses – there is no “Wow, trees have leaves from far away!” moment when you realize the whole world was a blur before you put them on. The change is much more subtle. At first, I heard new things that didn’t really add much to my quality of life – things like the fridge kicking on or paper rustling – but slowly, my brain adjusted (LifeEar’s instructions say this takes about three weeks) and began to tune out these periphery noises. I wore the hearing aid daily as recommended, and over the three week period the real benefits snuck up on me.
I became so accustomed to my new hearing ability that one night at dinner when I could not hear what my companion was saying I became frustrated. I went into the app to change the setting to ‘Restaurant Mode’ to help with the background noise only to realize I had forgot to wear my LifeEar CORE. The level of frustration I felt trying to lip read while I was missing big swaths of the conversation showed me how much I had been missing for years. I realized how much frustration I had lived with every day. Was my apathy about parties and large dinners all introversion? Or was it frustration from not being able to hear well?
If you asked me to make a new list of how hearing loss has affected me it would have only one item: isolation. I now know how much human connection being hard of hearing has cost me. (I want to name that I have deep reverence and respect for the connected and loving deaf community, my story is one of disconnection from the hearing world because my hearing was just good enough that I could pass largely undetected). I can’t help but wonder how many times someone told me something important and I smiled and nodded and they moved on rather than connecting, thinking I didn’t care. My hearing loss is largely invisible. I got by reading lips, guessing what people said and seeking out conditions where I could hear best.
Thankfully, or maybe even subconsciously (on purpose), I have always done work that didn’t require perfect hearing. How many jobs would have been significantly harder for me? How much better could I have done in school had I been able to hear better? I cannot know what could have been. I can only hope for my future and the future of others. I am so grateful for what LifeEar CORE and others are doing to make hearing aids more accessible. I hope they continue to refine their product to bring even better solutions at even lower investments. How many others are out there living with hearing-loss and not knowing how different the world can be?
Do you have a journey with hearing? Or know of another innovation in this space? Please share in the comments.