Living With A Silent Secret

What's it like growing up half deaf?

Have you ever thought what it would be like not to be able to hear? Of course not, why would you?

When I was six years old I lost the hearing in one of my ears, making me half deaf. During the two years following this accident, my parents did everything they could for me. I was seen by countless doctors and I underwent two surgical operations. In the end the doctors had to admit that my hearing was never going to get back to normal: all I could do was take extra care of my other ear.

That’s not something you want to hear (ha!) when you are only eight years old and about to start a new school. I was given a hearing aid that was supposed to help me feel “normal”. I tried it for a few weeks before I realised that I didn’t feel normal. I felt silly and disorientated all the time. I didn’t know whether the person speaking to me was on my left or right side. It was horrible and I decided never to wear a hearing aid again; it wasn’t for me.

The worst thing about being half deaf is that people don’t recognise it as an actual issue. Because you can still hear, right? I can’t class myself as deaf and to be honest I don’t want to: I am glad that I have some hearing even if it isn’t as good as it should be. However, people not acknowledging my condition has caused a lot of problems in my life. Often when I tried explaining to people what was wrong with me, they didn’t take it seriously, which has led me to stop mentioning it. Other people just have to get used to me being weird about which side I must walk on. Even my friends thought it was me being quirky. Only a few know the real reason for this.

Clubs and loud pubs are my nightmare. I just can’t hear people and I have to pretend a lot of the time. It’s even worse when you are out with people you don’t know. You end up being classed as this stuck up girl who wouldn’t answer their question when you first met. Even sitting in a group around the table in a quiet room is difficult: you can hear the person talk on your “right” side, but to hear the others you have to keep turning around and looking at them. Making friends when you are half deaf is really difficult and affects you more than you would think. You never make a great first impression because you will always miss something that was said, and the person you just met will not understand. Honestly, how many of you would want to be friends with a girl that keeps ignoring the things you say or seems not to listen?

Most of the time I have to concentrate on one sound, otherwise the background noise takes over. I can’t even listen to two people talk at once because I can only concentrate on one sound.

I have days when I can’t concentrate at all which means I cannot hear anything people are saying to me. I can hear the noise but not the words. It’s frustrating and I try to stay away from people when that happens. Yes, I’ve missed countless lectures and days at work because of this. Sometimes I have to ask someone to repeat something so many times that I actually end up pretending I finally heard them because I can see they’re getting frustrated with repeating themselves.

It has now been 17 years and I honestly don’t remember what is was like to be able to hear fully: I can only imagine it. People have asked me before how it is to be half deaf, but how can I compare what I hear with the full hearing I no longer recall. I don’t remember what it is like to put headphones on and be able to hear the music in both ears. I don’t remember what it like is to have my TV on low. I don’t remember what it was like to have an earphone in one ear and still hear people talking. I can’t remember the time when I didn’t have to stand on the “right” side of someone without being scared that they will try whispering into my “wrong” ear. I absolutely don’t know what it like is to switch from one ear to the other when you are on the phone and your arm starts to hurt.

I’ve got so used to living with my partial deafness that I forget a lot of people aren’t aware of my secret. I forget that this is not “normal”. I’m so good at acting “normal” and knowing where to sit and where to stand that people don’t even realise. I learned how to lip read so that as long as I can see a person talking, I can pretend I heard everything they said. Perhaps you know me and never realised this until now. You probably just thought I was a bit weird or ignorant because I ignored you a few times.

But now you know it wasn’t on purpose.