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7 Challenges I Face Being Deaf in One Ear

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I was 8 years old when I was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, which can be fatal if not treated quickly enough. I spent a period of time in hospital reading from a Jacqueline Wilson box set. I don’t remember much else, except the lumbar puncture (a needle in your lower back to extract spinal fluid) and not being able to walk or hear. Fortunately I was able to walk again, but I didn’t regain full hearing.

Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes surrounding and protecting your brain and spinal cord; in other words it affects your brain and your ability to function. As a result, I lost most of if not all of my memory before I was 8 years old, and still have memory problems now.

I have been deaf in my right ear for 15 years. It sometimes affects my daily life, depending on where I am and what I’m doing. Here are some examples:

1. Using/buying headphones

Any headphones I use, only half of the product is useful to me. I have to pay full price for a set of headphones I’m only ever going to use half of? Where are the products for the half deaf? Another issue of only using one earbud at any given time is that people think you can still hear them. When somebody speaks to me whilst I’m listening to audio, I have absolutely no idea what they’re saying and I have to quickly take my earbud out before I miss what they’re saying. Most of the time, this is accompanied by me saying, “Hang on a sec, I can’t hear you,” and the other person looks at you like you’re weird because you only have one earbud in!

2. Background noise

This includes being in any venue/crowded place with large crowds, such as bars, restaurants, cafes, any establishment where there are other people and other sounds. In bars I have no hope in hearing anybody; most often I pretend I can hear the conversation and hope I’m nodding and laughing in the right places. Background noise is the worst. If I’m with someone else trying to have a conversation with them, I can also hear every single sound possible outside of the conversation. For example, in a supermarket, people talking, walking and shop floor music. Restaurants can be annoying, when there’s a full room full of people also chatting and eating, as well as the sounds of the kitchen and waiters. It’s all very overwhelming!

3. Group discussions

I can’t hear a thing, OK? This is why I prefer having one-to-one conversations, they’re easier for me to follow and understand. Too much is going on in a group discussion.

4. People sitting on the wrong side of me

I’m deaf in my right ear and anybody who happens to be on that side has no chance of me hearing them. This is especially annoying while walking or sitting in a car/restaurant/cinema with someone. I don’t publicly disclose my deafness to everyone in my life; sometimes it’s much easier to forget all about it and try deal with it in these situations. For those that know, I simply remind them they’re on my wrong side, but for those that don’t (which is most people because I feel awkward about disclosing) I struggle along with them.

5. People getting frustrated at me if I don’t hear them

When I say “what?” or ask you to repeat what you said, I genuinely cannot hear you. I’m not a bad listener, if anything I’m a great listener because I have to tune into the conversation so well to not miss anything. I’m not being rude, I simply can’t hear you. Don’t get frustrated at me because I’ve asked you to repeat what you said multiple times. It’s very upsetting for me to be speaking to a person, to mishear/not hear them and ask them to repeat themselves, for them to say “Never mind.” Doing this means you think I’m not listening deliberately/being rude.

6. Soft voices

Soft voices and deafness do not go hand in hand. I have several friends who have soft voices which are almost impossible to hear. I can’t lip read well, but I’ve learned to watch people mouths to understand a little better. Watching someone talk makes it easier to hear, which is also why if you’re talking to me I won’t hear/understand unless you are looking directly at me. Friends with soft voices make me feel annoying (I still love you, I just wish I could hear you) because I find myself constantly asking them to repeat themselves.

7. Missing out on music

I feel as someone who can only hear in one ear, I miss out on a lot of music. Obviously I listen to music but I feel like there’s something missing (my other ear) and I’m not getting the full experience of a song. This is something I wish I’d appreciated more before I went deaf.


Getty image by FTiare.

Originally published: February 19, 2019
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