I have been losing my hearing for the past few years, but when pregnant with Felix, my hearing loss became acute. A few weeks after he was born, I finally got the diagnosis I had been suspecting, that I had otosclerosis, a progressive hearing loss disorder that is accelerated by pregnancy. (Just one of the many super-strange things that pregnancy can do to a body!) It’s a genetic condition, and my maternal uncle also has it, so I’d suspected this was the reason for losing my hearing at a relatively young age. The good news is that I’m a candidate for surgery to correct this loss (by getting some new faux tiny ear bones, how chic), and I hope to schedule that sooner rather than later.
Overall, the experience of gradually going deaf has created space for all kinds of new observations.
Masking has been a real trial for my new handicap. The pandemic is inconvenient to many of us in many different ways, but the constant need to mask in social situations has been a real drag for me. I have to ask everyone to repeat themselves multiple times. I can’t watch their mouths to guess at the words they might be making. It’s incredibly frustrating.
Related to this frustration is an increased social anxiety. I’ve always been introverted, but losing my hearing has made me want to avoid casual interactions with people. With masks and my gradual hearing loss, I miss so much in conversation, and I feel ashamed and irritated. I try to disclose my deafness, but people often don’t turn the volume up vocally. It’s terrible to admit, but I feel happy when a cashier doesn’t try to make small talk, for instance, but bags my groceries in silence. It’s more peaceful that way.
Accordingly, I pretend a lot of the time now. I pretend like I heard the punchline to a joke. I pretend like I understood the question. It’s not efficient—I should just ask people to repeat themselves. But I hate having to always do that. So I just look at them vacantly and nod and try to mirror whatever facial expression they’re making. Ah, she’s grimacing; I should express concern. OK, he is smiling; I should smile and nod too.
I have a harder time hearing men, because of the lower tones of their voice (especially men speaking quietly). Guion jokes that this is just an expression of my feminism: refusing to ever listen to the patriarchy.
I suppose this is a small PSA more than anything. If I seem ruder to you than normal, know that it’s not intentional. I probably just didn’t hear you. I hope I will be able to hear you again soon. In the meantime, feel free to shout.