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Sheila’s story: ‘It does matter’

Sheila lives in Hertfordshire and is a retired widow who volunteers at a hospice once a week. Hearing loss runs in the maternal side of her family. She was diagnosed with hearing loss in her 40s, after her mother noticed she wasn’t hearing properly.

At 45 her eldest son was diagnosed with two types of hearing loss and has struggled to come to terms with his condition. Sheila is determined not to let her hearing loss define her, and this journey has led her to accept and adjust to her hearing loss.

Here Sheila shares her story and talks about the highs of being able to hear again, the lows of isolation, and how she’s hopes to champion her son and others on their hearing loss journeys.

Hearing loss ran in my family

Sheila stands outside in her coat, looking aside from the camera.
Sheila outdoors in thought

‘It was very hard to have a conversation.”

My grandmother had hearing loss, and her brother had it, but my mother didn’t. It’s probably why I didn’t think it would impact me. In those days, hearing loss was awful because there were no hearing aids at all that made any sense. My grandmother couldn’t hear anything and she must have lip read to a certain extent. It was very hard to have a conversation with her. It was sad, and I think it made me frustrated as a child.

Facing my hearing loss

It was a real shock to think that I would really go deaf.”

It was my mother who broached me about my hearing loss. She noticed that I wasn’t hearing properly and suggested that I have it checked out. My first reaction was to deny it, that the problem was with other people: that they don’t talk loud enough or that everybody mumbles.

I think because my grandmother had been deaf, when my mother suggested I might be going deaf, it struck a chord. I thought better do something about it.

My mother and I both went to see the consultant about my hearing loss. The consultant was very straightforward and said that I had hearing loss in both ears. I asked if I was going to go deaf. He said ‘yes,’ I would. It was a real shock to think that I really would go deaf. But I think it was more of a shock for my mother. I could see that she was terribly upset.

I focused on her at that point in time, as I was very close to my mother. I didn’t want her to feel guilty, and she obviously did. She took a hearing test and found that her hearing was much better than mine, and that just made her feel worse. She said: ‘Why couldn’t it have been me?’ It was quite tough to see her suffer in that way. We both felt guilty for each other.

My first hearing aid

I struggled, and it was very tempting to give up.”

My first hearing aid wasn’t brilliant. In those days, hearing aids weren’t that good. I really struggled with the sounds of peculiar things, like the sound of paper. I remember working in my office, and turning sheets of paper over was excruciating. I panicked then, because I had been told I would go deaf, and yet these hearing aids weren’t helping me at all. I was thinking, ‘well, what’s the future then?’ It was very tempting to give up.

Rediscovering the joy of sound

Sheila looking outside of her kitchen window, smiling

One of the first things I could hear were the birds.”

I eventually got digital hearing aids that were programmed exactly to my hearing loss. I put them in and drove home, and it was amazing! I put the radio on in the car and I could hear it – I was just so elated.

There were things I had to get used to. But one of the first things was I could hear the birds. I hadn’t heard them for a long time, but I obviously hadn’t realised. It was incredible. My mother was delighted, and it was a relief for both of us. It helped at work a lot as well, being able to understand what people were saying. Your hearing changes over time, so I’ve had several different varieties of hearing aids. I’m now wearing behind ear hearing aids because my hearing is much worse.

Living with hearing loss: feeling left out

Sheila sat in her dark bedroom, looking at a photograph of her son
Sheila sits alone in her bedroom, looking at a photograph of her son

There are still days when it’s not easy.”

My hearing loss is now severe, and I’m facing more negatives in society now. My hearing aids are still a great help with one-to-one conversations in a good acoustic environment, but not otherwise. I can’t cope in noisy environments such as restaurants or group meetings and supermarkets, and background music can make these locations even more difficult. This leaves me feeling excluded.

This feeling has worsened since I became a widow – just at a time when, ideally, I’d want to make new friends, as all my existing friends are coupled. It can be lonely. Even with good hearing aids, there are still days when it’s not easy. So that can be isolating. As much as my friends include me – and they do – you can’t keep relying on people to always think of you because you’re on your own.

My son’s hearing loss

He has struggled with hearing aids. In fact, he was conscious of what they looked like his age.”

Unfortunately, my son now has hearing loss. He started to go deaf about the same age as I did. We noticed it straightaway, but it was a long time before we could get him to admit it. He has struggled with hearing aids. He was conscious of what they looked like at his age, you can’t always hide them with hair. He had in the ear hearing aids to start with. They weren’t terribly successful and were always going wrong.

He now has behind the ear hearing aids. He has accepted that he needs them. Unfortunately, he doesn’t wear them full time. I want him to be happy living his life with hearing aids. I think gradually he will, but it’s just taking him a long time. I therefore spend a lot of time repeating myself when he is here! He doesn’t seem to realise how much he fails to hear.

How I feel about my hearing loss now

You mustn’t feel defined by hearing loss.”

I now have a part time volunteering job at our local hospice’s distribution depot, where my boss happens to also wear hearing aids. It’s quite a noisy place, but we understand each other’s problems! But the noisiness does stop me interacting well with other volunteers.

I think the first thing you need when you have hearing loss is acceptance. So many people find it hard to accept that they might have hearing loss. What I’d like to say to people is: if somebody tells you that you might have hearing loss, don’t ignore it. You mustn’t be defined by your hearing loss, doing so will stop you doing things. Just bite the bullet and get your ears checked.’

Join our campaign

We’re asking the public to show ‘It does matter’ by signing up to our communication tips. Let’s invite deaf people back into the conversation.rnSign up to our communication tips.
Sign up to our communication tips

RNID is also encouraging people to check their hearing. It only takes 3 minutes to do the hearing check and is free of charge.

Read about our new creative approach to how we’ve presented BSL translations in this campaign.

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