Hearing aids, self-consciousness, and social identity

Hearing aids, self-consciousness, and social identity

Pretty typical look for my hair pulled back.

This is a topic that I think on a lot, as I tend to contradict myself—I feel that no one should be ashamed of anything associated with a disability, but at the same time, I’ve always made an effort (whether unconsciously or very consciously) to hide my hearing impairment. This is something I’ve been trying to work on in recent years, trying to discuss it or bring it up as casually as someone mentioning they need glasses to read (which… I do too). This whole post might sound seem strange coming from someone who started an entire web presence called “the deaf mama”. I’ve gotten a LOT better about it, but I still notice things I do here and there.

For example, I wear a behind-the-ear (BTE) aid on my left ear, and when my hair is pulled back tight off the ear, it’s visible. Starting in high school, I started tugging my hair or wearing looser styles so that it fell over my ears some to conceal the aid. Over time, it became a habit of mine, one that I don’t even catch myself doing. The other day, I had my hair up high in a bun and went out to the mailbox, and when I saw a neighbor coming over to chat, I noticed my hand going up to fix my hair! Why? I guess it’s still a holdover from my insecure puberty days. But many people tend to choose a hearing aid color that blends in with their skin or hair, so it can’t be just me that struggles with this. I imagine it is more pronounced in those that wear a hearing aid while growing up.

While I still tend to try and hide my hearing aid physically, I’ve gotten a lot better about being upfront with it in conversation, though I oftentimes have to REMEMBER to tell someone about my hearing impairment. I’m not sure how common this is, but I have a fairly significant impairment, yet I don’t sign—I wasn’t raised in D/deaf circles. I wore an auditory trainer through 8th grade, and then ditched it (without issue) to try and “blend in” more. I do lip read, and I orient myself so my left ear is closest to the conversation. And I always have subtitles on my TV. Only the most perceptive people have noticed these little things and asked if I haven’t volunteered the information. There was a period of time in college where I would say “oh, I’m deaf in my right ear” and that seemed to sit with people much quicker than, “oh, I wear a hearing aid in my left ear,” which was a more foreign concept to most people at that time. This, of course, stems from feeling like you’re being treated differently after someone learns this information, which unfortunately does actually happen sometimes. The worst is when someone starts speaking uncomfortably slowly and loudly after learning about my impairment, even though the conversation was going fine before… oy.

There have been moments in my life where I really should have let people know. Probably the most embarrassing one I’ve ever had as an adult is when my aid battery died in the middle of a French class I was taking in DC when I was maybe 23 or 24. I didn’t have any spare batteries (I always do now!), and I couldn’t hear a THING. I panicked and acted like I didn’t feel good and basically ran home, because trying to explain the whole impairment and THEN explain the dead battery in this aid that I wear was just going to be too much. People probably thought I had some major gastrointestinal issue, and it would have been much less stressful if I had established that in the beginning.

Is this something that any of you struggle with? Or, depending on your degree of loss and your age, is it a non-issue for the social circles you find yourself in?

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2 Comments

  1. I know exactly how you feel! It looks like my hearing impairment is very similar to yours. Grew up in the hearing world and don’t use sign language. It seems like as I got older, I would hide my hearing aids more. I used to be less self-concious about it when I was younger. I’m weird too. 🙂

    I hear better with my right, and my left ear used to be a dud before I got a cochlear implant. Which I decided to get when I was 30, six months after my son was born. It was one of the best (and hardest) decisions I’ve ever made.

    I feel like we have a lot in common. Feel free to shoot me an email to chat. 🙂

    1. Author

      So sorry for the belated reply, Meg! I’ll definitely shoot you an email, as I’d like to know more about your cochlear implant. Only recently have audiologists started mentioning it as an option for me!

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