Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Janet, a 53-year-old mum of two from Auckland, almost made a very expensive mistake while on holiday in Samoa.
“I dived into the swimming pool. When I came up I thought, hang on, everything sounds clear! I then realized that I'd left my hearing aids in.”
“Sometimes they just feel so comfortable. I forget to take them out."
Thankfully, due to her quick reaction time, her hearing aids survived the dive.
Janet wasn’t always so comfortable with her hearing aids. After successfully navigating the rocky road to where she is today, wearing her hearing aids confidently and proudly both on holiday and at work, she is hoping to become a coach to help others who are navigating similar challenges.
Janet always knew that developing a hearing loss would be a possibility due to her mother wearing hearing aids.
She was inspired to get a baseline test for her hearing at age 35, which came back normal. However, at age 49 she realized that she couldn't hear the oven beeper.
“The family would say to me, ‘Mom! The beeper is going.’”
“I'm like, ‘Really? I can’t hear it from the lounge,’” explains Janet.
When she visited the audiologist, it showed that she had the first significant change in the hearing of her left ear.
Today, she has moderate hearing loss in both ears. She didn’t get hearing aids directly after her diagnosis, because she had to spend some time wrapping her head around the decision.
“At the age of 49, when I was faced with the idea of having a hearing aid, that made me feel very old. However, eventually, I did get them fitted.”
Janet’s audiologist did a lifestyle audit during her appointment, which went into detail about social interactions, her level of activity, and her overall day-to-day routine. Her fears and concerns were discussed, and she felt very supported.
However, the $4,500 investment came with quite a sticker shock.
“I mean, gosh, it's the cost of a small car! We got that $500 helping hand from the government, and were fortunate financially that we were able to cover the cost. It was about adding value to my life,” she says.
Janet’s audiologist explained that it would take a couple of weeks for her brain to adjust and normalize from a sensory perspective, but that didn’t make her new access to sound less overwhelming.
“I got in the car, and it was raining. I put the window wipers on and that was all I could hear. It was really loud.
“Then when I went to use the indicators in the car, it was really loud as well. I was like, “Whoa!”
For the first few weeks, she took them out when she needed to, and built up her tolerance over time. All in all, receiving her hearing aids was a double-edged experience that included both joy and grief.
“It just becomes second nature. Sometimes, I even forget that I'm wearing them…I was simultaneously realising the benefit of how much sound I could hear again, and how much better the quality was.”
“However, it was a bit of a shock to realise how much hearing I’d lost.”
As she is passionate about her career, Janet was very concerned about how her hearing loss would affect her ability to perform.
Her position as a consultant at contact centres requires that she works alongside 30 to 40 people who report directly to her -- there was a possibility that it would create insurmountable challenges.
“Is it going to stop me from getting a job? You know, am I going to be seen as someone with a disability that is going to be marginalized? Or is it going to affect my chances? If they’ve got another candidate, would they choose me over them?”
“Also, open-plan offices are the norm nowadays. So, I did have a lot of fear around how I was going to deal with that,” explains Janet.
“Since I contract with different organisations, some will ask when you apply if you have any hearing impairments or limitations. Previously, I wouldn't disclose when they didn't ask me, because I thought that it might be an issue. I know that they can't discriminate, but I still had that fear.
“Now I'm quite comfortable with my hearing aids. I've got long hair that I can pull down or pull back.”
“The contract I’m doing now with Lumino, the dentist, was the first interview I went to with my hearing aids, visible. It's taken me four years to get to that point where I can say, ‘This is me.’ I am just going to keep them visible. I am going to normalise it.”
In time, Janet has come to understand that people hire her for the capabilities and experience she brings to the table and she doesn’t need to be ashamed of her hearing loss.
However, she has had to learn important self-advocacy skills to ensure her success in the office.
“I might need to ask you to talk directly to me because if I'm trying to have a conversation with someone in the office in it can be quite loud. I also might need to say, ‘Hey, can we just pop into a meeting room?’”
“Especially when people want to tell me about things that are happening with my team, they might whisper. I’ve got my ways of working around it,” says Janet.
During the COVID-19 Level 4 lockdown, a cancelled contract and communication barriers caused by masks provided an opportunity to ponder her future.
“I remember going to the supermarket, and I had a mask on. The lady behind the counter had a mask on plus, she had a protective screen. She asked me a question.”
“I just went completely blank [and couldn’t understand].”
“She just moved slightly to the side of the screen and spoke to me again, and it was clear enough that I could hear.”
However, she wasn’t always so lucky. Sometimes essential workers wouldn’t make an effort to change the way they communicated with her.
“I struggled and sometimes I just didn't bother. I would say that I can't hear very well. They would go ‘Oh, okay.’ Nothing like, ‘Do you want me to write it down?’”
“It is very confronting, and you know, it can make you very despondent. I can see how it can make you feel isolated. Especially if you're an independent person.”
She decided that since her hearing loss may worsen over time, she wanted to dive into a passionate new line of work that she could do regardless of her level of hearing.
“Last year I did a professional coaching certification…I want to work with people who are 40+ who have discovered that their hearing is changing, and help them through that journey.”
“It’s taken four years to get to the point where I feel more confident and more accepting of it. I can now be comfortable with it, understand it as part of me, and know that it's who I am.”
In her current role, the decision to be open and honest about her hearing loss came from a fundamental shift in her thinking that provided confidence.
“I just had reached that point of change, and it all just fit into place. I decided that if people have a concern about it, then that is their problem. I will do my best to mitigate any issues that I have with my hearing, but they have hired me for my expertise, and the fact that I'm good at what I do, and not the fact that I wear hearing aids. “
Janet is passionate about being an ambassador and advocate for change and normalize getting a hearing check when you reach middle age.
“I have had a lot of conversations with people and in my wider social group, who say, ‘I really should get my hearing tested because I'm sure that I've got some issues.’"
“I've got friends in their 40’s and 50’s. It's amazing how many are probably limping along and actually could be getting a better quality of life, but they are missing out.”
At home, her family is supportive and understanding. They have learned to adjust the way they communicate to include her.
“They will try and talk more directly to me, rather than like talking away so I can sort of get the direct sound of the conversation. Sometimes they will write things down! [Laughs] I just give up.”
“They are becoming more considerate of my limitations. They also speak a little bit more clearly.”
While there are still inevitable communication barriers, she no longer feels as emotionally affected by the day-to-day reality of hearing loss.
“My husband and kids will sometimes laugh because they'll say something to me, and I'm either not listening or it just didn't pick up on it.
Sometimes when I reply, they’ll laugh and say, ‘What are you talking about?’”
“Now it's just a bit of a joke. I don't take it personally or as hard as I used to. I used to get quite upset about it but I have learned to be a better place with it. I accept that that, you know, hearing aids don't bring back hearing perfection.
“What they do is they put you have a much better position than if you don't have them.
I can hear the beeper most times now, but they’ll still tell me when it is going on!” [Laughs].
In our Share Your Story series, Deaf and hard of hearing New Zealanders open up about their experiences.
Stay tuned for more interviews, which will soon be released to our blog: