I came home the other day exhausted from listening with my hearing loss in a social gathering. Two very good friends whom I’ve known for over thirty years were in town, and we planned a lunch date as we had not gotten together for some time. My friends and I met in graduate school in the late 1980s. We supported each other through the hard work of our Master’s in Business Administration program. We are close in age and have similar joys and issues with marriages, children, and husbands.
I knew our visit would not be easy on me due to my hearing loss. We chose a restaurant that was noisy, but strategically located so none of us would have a long drive. When arriving at the restaurant, we were shown to one table. One of my friends noticed another available in a corner, and inched me towards the alternate table instead, knowing the corner and back wall would be better for my hearing. What a considerate friend! Both friends remembered my struggle with hearing loss through graduate school. Since we have exchanged emails and kept in touch about my hearing since that time, they are aware of my nose dive from moderate to profound hearing loss.
We talked about my hearing and what I was doing to help myself. I shared about my new Oticon OPN aids and how wonderful they are. How, like many hearing aids today, they help reduce background noise in loud settings but how I still had to focus…. and focus hard. If I found myself drifting or lost in a thought about something someone said, I would lose the conversation and have to ask someone to repeat. My friends didn’t mind. In fact, they went out of their way to make sure I heard everything.
We talked through lunch and for an hour afterwards, catching up about children and grandchildren and what we had been doing to keep ourselves busy with retirement. Our stories varied, and I was pleased to hear my friends, like me, had taken up hobbies and activities they were too busy to do when raising a family and working. One friend, a long-time music fan, now plays the organ for her church and the other concentrates on golf and bridge. We felt fortunate in our new lives. When the afternoon came to an end, we hugged and made promises not to let so much time go by before seeing each other again.
Even with all these warm feelings and the thought of a very pleasant afternoon, I felt exhausted driving home. Having to concentrate to hear hit me suddenly. After entering my home, I headed to the couch for fifteen minutes to close my eyes and appreciate the silence.
I often wonder why struggling with hearing loss and the limited ability to hear can be so exhausting. Others with hearing loss have shared the same feelings with me. Some seem to take it all in stride, others do not. There are those who avoid large social gatherings where hearing will be too difficult. Others will avoid social situation all together due to the hard work and fatigue in efforts to communicate. The fatigue comes effort to “listen” and understand what is being said without losing track of the conversation. Age seems to be a factor in hearing loss fatigue as well. As I age, I have discovered it is harder to focus. It takes additional energy for me to hear. I have spoken with my audiologist about this and he has encouraged me to not give up on my social life but, rather, to practice hearing in social settings that are added work for me to hear. Regardless of the reasons behind the struggle, it helps to give the gift of down time, to get away and have peace and quiet. But to remain engaged and avoid additional health issues that come with isolation. My goal is to continue to move forward in meandering through the hearing world. It takes grit, patience and know-how to hear in various settings, especially in noisy environments. But there’s also knowing there are kind souls to help along. I’m grateful to all my very good friends who take the time to make sure I can hear. Ultimately, they ease my exhaustion.