What I Hear

Life with hearing loss

Sunny Me?

Hearing loss helped me find my sunny side again.

It’s always nice to get an intelligent and thoughtful review of one’s book, and it’s even nicer when it’s a year after publication.

And sometimes it even makes you think differently about yourself.

Last week on the website PopMatters Diane Leach wrote a long and very interesting analysis of “Shouting Won’t Help,” titled “Hearing Isn’t the only Thing Lost When One Goes Deaf.”

Reviewing the book very positively she nevertheless concluded I was not a sunny person. Embittered even, by my hearing loss. True.

But being honest and open about the loss -- and about any disability I think -- can help you get your sunny side back. I've changed. I may not be as laid back as my dog, demonstrating pure and serene contentment in the photo accompanying this post. But with the help of friends and family -- and many others like me with hearing loss -- I'm getting there!

Leach brought her own baggage to the review, as she acknowledges. She has a BA in ASL and both she and her husband are at risk of hereditary hearing loss. Two years ago her husband began to lose his hearing. She struggled to understand what he was going through (“What does the world sound like to you, anyway?” she asked her husband.. “Whaa whaa whaa—” My husband answered, imitating the incomprehensible adults in the Peanuts cartoons.”) She also struggled against the frustration of repeating herself when talking to him.

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Leach’s reading of my book is influenced by the fact that she lives with someone with hearing loss. It’s a perspective that is especially interesting to me. Most of my readers seem to have hearing loss themselves, and many of them write me to say how grateful they are that I have written honestly about the experience of hearing loss. But Leach is coming at it from the other side. She understands more clearly what her husband is going through.

“Bouton’s experience of hearing loss drives Shouting Won’t Help,” Leach writes, “and it’s positively alarming. If this intelligent, highly educated woman, now working as a science writer struggled so, one shudders to think about what happens to those with fewer resources.”

Leach’s review ends on that distressing "embittered" note. After discussing many of the frustrations I experienced, she concludes “Nor is she a sunny personality: she emerges as a somewhat embittered woman who refuses to put a positive spin on severe hearing loss.”

Ouch, that one really got to me.

But it also made me realize how much I’ve changed since I wrote the book. I was indeed embittered back then, but the past few years have been very good for me. I have met many people with hearing loss, thanks in part to joining the Hearing Loss Association of America and becoming an active involved member. I’ve made many new friends (how many of us can say that at 65?). I’ve learned an immense amount about a field I knew nothing about five years ago, except experientially.

My hearing loss is as serious as it ever was, and my cochlear implant still falls off at inconvenient moments. But I’m not embittered anymore. I’m glad I was forced out of my job: it gave me the impetus to start a whole new and far more rewarding life as a writer. And it got me out of the house and out of my isolation and a pretty deep funk.

One of the most unsettling aspects of hearing loss is the isolation many people feel. They can’t hear, and so they stay home. Isolation is a risk factor for depression and dementia and hearing loss is also statistically associated with dementia. It’s crucial to treat your hearing loss, to force yourself to see people, to be part of the world.

I admit it. I was depressed. I was embittered. But (with all that help from friends and family and others with hearing loss) I’ve pulled myself out of the slough of despond.

I’m even sunny from time to time. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some down moments: Hearing loss is always with you. It ambushes you when you least expect it. But now I’m able to bounce back and get on with it.

Katherine Bouton, a former editor at The New York Times, is the author of Shouting Won't Help: Why I—and 50 Million Other Americans—Can't Hear You.

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