Hearing Loss Acceptance

by Chelle Wyatt

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In 2007 my hearing took a big drop and I knew it because three year old hearing aids were not powerful enough anymore. It saddened and concerned me since I couldn’t afford new hearing aids but life continued as it had in spite of it. I needed a few more repeats than I used to and co-workers at the salon helped me with the phone more often. They helped without hesitation or questions. I had family and friends who acted as my translators while running errands around town and because it was a smaller town, people knew and accepted me. I had no idea I had such a wonderful support system in place.

support system

At the end of 2008 I moved out of state to a big city away from my support system. I moved with confidence in myself, my ability to do hair and a belief that people were helpful. That confidence took a pounding! Even though I landed a job right away, there was no one to help me with the phone anymore. Making matters worse, something in the building made my t-coils hum rendering my hearing aids useless. I took my volume control phone to work thinking that would help but words were still garbled and I couldn’t get names or numbers right. There were people who called to hear my voice and say “never mind, I’ll call back later.” (Why did I understand that!) It didn’t help having a co-worker who pressured me to answer the phone. Soon I began to loathe the phone…and the salon.

The salon, though beautiful, was an acoustic nightmare. My hearing aids wouldn’t function, meaning I couldn’t hear clients in my chair either. I became a boring hairdresser with nothing to say, unable to create the necessary bond with clients. Most of my first time customers didn’t come back to me. Every day I went into work a little later and more often than not I came home crying. Who knew a hearing drop would affect me this much well after it happened?

I quit after 6 months of torture. My working life as I knew it ended. Ever since I was 18 years old hair had been my anchor. If all else failed I could do hair but the wind was knocked of me here.


In one sense I withdrew. Socializing felt like a nightmare, all around me was English but it may as well have been Spanish. It was nothing but a crush of noise that didn’t make sense. I stayed home more often and started cleaning houses for money because cleaning didn’t require hearing. I became an introvert after being social most of my life.

During this time I joined the SayWhatClub again seeking solace. SWC helped me once before, and I was sure it would help me again. They listened to me, they sympathized and they helped me get back on my feet again slowly but surely. I started to spend more time on my computer reading and replying to emails. To my husband, it seemed like I was withdrawing from reality but it was more like healing instead.

There is a local HLAA chapter here, an advantage to living in the big city. My extrovert self sent me to a meeting. I needed people and I needed people who would understand. This was one of my best moves. I experienced CART/live event captioning for the first time. I didn’t have to hear, I could see the conversation as it happened right there on the screen. I met people who knew to face me and speak a little slower. I admired several people for their advocacy efforts and decided I wanted to be like them when I grew up. I became a regular at the meetings and it wasn’t long before I was part of their steering committee.

The meetings were held at the local Deaf and Hard of Hearing center. I started attending their hearing loss classes and captioned lectures/workshops. Coming in from the outside world, I felt the weight of hearing loss fall off my shoulders. I discovered a place safe for me.

A few years later I started attending hearing loss conventions and WOW! Here was another world created just for those with hearing loss, an ultimate place to learn and socialize without fear. There were loops and captions in every workshop making it easy to be there. I had tons of energy leftover to hang out with new friends.

Henderson leslie henderson chelle

The HLAA convention in Rhode Island had a workshop called Hard of Hearing and Exceptional: Landing the Job and Achieving Career Success led by Malik El-Amin. I remember him telling us to be in control of our hearing loss, don’t let our hearing loss control us. Control my hearing loss? My hearing loss ruled my world. How would I ever own it? Even though I couldn’t grasp the concept at the time, those words continued to bounce around in my head.

I continued with my hearing loss groups. Life began to change for the better.  I achieved a small victory in getting captions at a workshop.  Then, I became a hard of hearing assistant at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing center teaching hearing loss classes to others. I attended workshops on advocacy and went to the state capitol to show support at a legislative level.  Also, I got back into doing hair but out of the salon this time.  I started going to home bound people’s houses. Even if some of those things put me out of my comfort zone, I pushed myself forward.

None of this is new to my writing, you may have seen it throughout my posts. What’s new is I’m confessing acceptance of my hearing loss, and I wouldn’t change my journey. I’m comfortable with it and I learned to be in charge. I’ve been through hell because of it, but I can’t hate my hearing loss anymore. This is difficult to explain because few people reach this level. I tried to talk about it once and botched it. Hopefully I don’t sound like I’m from another planet this time.

In short, here’s my hindsight:

  • I realized some years ago that most everyone has something to deal with; depression, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, ADD, hearing loss and so much more. I’m not the only one trying to figure how to live well with an affliction. Sometimes we feel like we are the only ones in the world with a cross to bear but we aren’t. Talking to others about their issues keeps a balance.
  • In the last 5 or 6 years I read every book on hearing loss I could get my hands on. I joined hearing loss groups and attended their conventions. I feel less isolated being around others who also have hearing loss. Through them, I acquired a nationwide network of people with hearing loss.
  • Without hearing loss, I would never have met some of the neatest people I know. If I had to chose my hearing or my friends, I’d keep my hearing loss. I treasure the people it brought me to.
  • I took a lipreading class. It’s hard and I’m not anywhere near a perfect lipreader but it helped. I started teaching the class. Repetition is a good teacher. Let go of hearing/seeing every word, catch what you can and let the rest go. If nothing came through, ask for a repeat or better yet, a rephrase. Letting go of hearing every single word took a lot of weight off my shoulders.
  • I learned to advocate for myself personally and in public. It gave me confidence. I learned to do this through workshops, classes and support groups.
  • Volunteering for hearing loss organizations gave my hearing loss a purpose. There are an estimated 48 million people out there with hearing loss. Many of those people could use help and guidance of some sort. After you’ve learned a thing or two, return the favor and pass it on. My volunteer efforts looked good on my resume and I was hired to be a hard of hearing assistant for the state. You never know where your volunteer efforts will lead.
  • Relax. It took me years to relax in social settings. Once my confidence built up I relaxed more. The less I stress, the more I hear with my ears and my eyes.
  • I don’t have to be a part of everything. I pick and chose what I’ll do and won’t do. Am I too tired for speechreading? Then no. Will the sports movie my husband wants to see have captions, no? Then I’ll pass on that. I’m not interested in extreme sports anyway. Should it be accessible? Yes but this one’s not my fight.

There’s probably more to this list. It’s been hard to put my finger on just what brought me around to complete acceptance. It doesn’t mean it’s all a breeze now. I get mad and sometimes I get hurt. The difference is I snap out of it quicker because I know what to do. I take the experience and think, “What can I do to make this better next time?” If I can’t make it better, maybe it’s not worth my time and effort.

There could be another big drop in my hearing in the future. That would mean more anxiety as I feel my way around, figuring out what works best again. It will shake up the world as I know it. I’ll have my fits and I’ll have to reach yet another level of acceptance to some degree. However, I already have super role models in place so I won’t be so alone should it happen again.


So be upfront about your hearing loss. Talk about it. Learn about it. The more you know the easier it is to work with. The more people you know, the more help there is available.

people in drawing net on blackboard


Working With Hearing Loss

When I was 13 years old, someone taught me how to french braid hair and that pretty much sealed my fate. I practiced and practiced until I got good enough to braid several girls hair during school breaks. I loved playing with hair and knew I wanted to go to beauty school right after high school.  Working with hearing loss wasn’t something I ever imagined.

For 26 years now I’ve been doing hair. In my career, I watched a few hairdressers who continued to work up into their 80’s and I figured I’d be one of those too. I’d come in a few days a week for those dedicated clients and for the socialization. I didn’t think of retirement. I wanted the smell of perms, the sound of hair dryers and all that chatter that went with it.

For 23 of those years, I’ve been wearing aids. My hearing loss is progressive and it started to get in the way at work about eight years ago. At first, I couldn’t understand people on the phone occasionally then it went to not understanding them half of the time. The clients in my chair repeated often and they were patient because I told them I didn’t hear well. Then I couldn’t hear people with my blow dryer on and it eventually got hard to hear people when another hairdresser or two (or three) had their blow dryer on.  Working with hearing loss became challenging over time.

My hearing loss progressed so much that when I moved to Salt Lake and tried to start again (I didn’t realize how trained me and my old clients were), I had a helluva time. This is when I found out noise renders me deaf. I went to work in a big, beautiful salon which was an acoustic nightmare. Seven hairdressers with at least seven clients made for a lot of noise which bounced around wrecking what little hearing I had left. I could not hear if more than three of us were working at a time. I became a deaf, mute, boring hairdresser which was not good for building a clientele in a new city. Daily frustration and anxiety plagued me so I quit. I couldn’t do it that way anymore.

I found a job working in an assisted living salon. Only two of us worked at a time but hair dryers and blow dryers could overwhelm my hearing. However! These were older people who for the most part either experienced hearing loss themselves or understood it because their significant other had it. I worked there for over a year and truly enjoyed the people I worked on. Too bad the boss continually shorted my checks and started erasing tips. I quit and tried looking for another assisted living salon to work in and found nothing open. It seemed once hairdressers found that little niche, they dig in and stay, except for the lady I worked for. She didn’t keep anyone long. Discouraged, I gave up doing hair for a few years.

Last summer I moved to a small town and found a one person salon. Maybe I could do hair again? I could control the noise, the radio volume and only one blow dryer would be on at a time, mine so I started to work again. The acoustics weren’t the best but overall, I heard better than normal in salons. Unfortunately, the town was too small and I couldn’t make my way. Options opened up again in Salt Lake City for other areas in my life but what about work? Small salons seem to be nonexistent in big cities. I’ve seen ads for studio salons (one person) for rent but there’s no way I could afford that without a clientele. What to do?

Scenes from working in Salt Lake a few years before flashed through my mind. The foremost scene was that awful experience in that big, beautiful salon. No way did I want to go through anything like that again. Then I thought about my time in the assisted living salon and how much I enjoyed working with the people there. Thoughts upon thoughts tumbled around in my mind. The what if’s started…

If I was totally honest with myself, I mostly worked with retirees and snowbirds since I’ve been doing hair. I get along with them best and they seem to like me. I know I’m supposed like working with all ages but kids are too hard to hear and young adults want wild colors I’m not wild about. What if I recognized that older people are my niche, my preference? To me, they are much more interesting people to talk with. How can I make this work with me?

Thinking…thinking, the wheels turning. What if I became a mobile hairdresser? I’ve done it for friends and family in the past so why not make it a business? It wouldn’t take much to start because I already have most of the equipment.

What if I catered to those in hospice care and the home bound? Maybe I could give them a little happiness and make enough to live on. I bet they would teach me a lot too. If I could make this work, it would be ideal for my hearing loss also because it’s a one on one situation and I get by lots better that way. Maybe this could work for everyone???

So the puzzle pieces started coming together. Within a week of moving back to Salt Lake, I checked with my the licensing department who told me to go to the city health department who told me to go to the county health department. There were a few hoops to jump through but I got it all done. I’m now waiting for my business license to come to begin.

Will I be able to make a living at it? I sure hope so. It feels right and for the first time I’m not stressing out about it at all. I feel sort of adventurous. I’m not looking to make a killing, I’m looking for a way to do what I love until I’m 80, like I originally planned in spite of my hearing issues.

Working with hearing loss can be a challenge but it’s not impossible. Not to say there isn’t a crushing blow now and then but who doesn’t have their challenges and setbacks in life? Afterward, healing time is allowed and I’ll admit, it took me over two years to want to do hair again after all the problems I had with my hearing and a shortchanging boss.

After that, I had to rebuild my self respect and I needed the distance/time to look back over it objectively to see how I could do things different in the future. Thanks to my family motto “It’s not a mistake, it’s a learning experience,” I keep learning and moving on. Thinking outside the box seems to help too.

Audrey Hepburn once said, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible!”

Tweaking a Hearing Aid Program..and Cookies

Yesterday was another trip to the audiologist to get my hearing aids programmed. For the last three months, certain sounds made me cringe, clench my teeth and rip out my hearing aids. Those worst of those sounds were in the kitchen; chopping vegetables on the cutting board, moving pots and pots around and someone setting something hard down on a counter/table. Those noises struck a nerve deep in my brain on the verge of pain. To top it off, rooms with bad acoustics made for such terrible hearing, I couldn’t understand any better than with them out.

At first I tried to bear with it, thinking my brain would get used to the harsh noise. Hearing people cope with noises all the time, right? However, it didn’t take long before I stopped wearing my hearing aids unless in public and even then, I could hardly wait to take them out. It took me about three months to get back to the audiologist, mainly because my favorite audi lived in another state about 11 hours away. I did not want to go through another round of finding someone I liked while living in Arizona.

When I moved back to Salt Lake, it still took me 6 weeks to see my audiologist. My time was spent settling in, getting things situated, pursing a business, skiing, kids…excuses, excuses. Mostly I only wore my aids when I absolutely had to but sometimes I tried to commit to the ten hours a day like last Monday morning.  I put them in and tried in spite of the pain factor .  Later that night while cooking, my boyfriend came home and the noise increased. I took them out, tucking them away into their box and thought, “That’s is it. It just isn’t working for me. ”

Tuesday afternoon while running errands, I drove to the audiologist office to make the appointment in person (I avoid the phone where I can). They had time for me the next afternoon and I thanked the office lady with all my heart. The next day, I barely made my appointment thanks to wasting time on FaceBook and a broody hen (we have three chickens).

I checked in and grabbed a cookie off the plate near the counter and sat down. Less than five minutes my favorite audiologist welcomed me into his high tech office. He hung the programming ‘necklace’ on me and we caught up until the programs came up on the computer. Then, he asked how my hearing was, and I told him.

After taking my right hearing aid off (I think), he slipped a very small wire not far into my ear and put my hearing aid back in. He told me this would measure the sounds how I heard it.  Then he recited a nice little rainbow poem and watched the monitor. He fiddled around for a few minutes on the computer watching the upper right screen mainly.

Four screens to play with

Then he put on noise that simulated a busy restaurant. “How does that sound,” he asked.

I think the left side of my lip curled up. “Annoying,” I told him.

He played with the program a little more, turned on the restaurant noise again. “How is this? Tolerable?”

“It’s not my most favorite sound in the world but, “I think so.”

“Would you wear your hearing aids in this environment?”

I was totally using lip reading at this point to hear him but I always use lip reading in those kind of situations. Was the noise intolerable? No. Would I wear my hearing aids this way? Yes, I could tolerate it.

“I’m comfortable here. I wouldn’t take them out.”

We chatted a few more minutes as he took off all the gadgets and I noticed a big difference.

“There were a few sounds spiking that would drive anyone crazy. This isn’t a typical situation but we got it fixed now.

“Ah! Then I’ll commit to ten hours a day again,” I told him.

He laughed. “I’ll walk up front with you to make an appointment for four months from now but if anything bothers you, come in sooner.

“You bet now that I’m back. Thanks!”

Upfront we made the appointment and I grabbed another cookie on the way out. How can you not love an audiologist who has a plate of fresh cookies out?

Driving didn’t bother me and I could hear the songs playing on the radio. I cooked dinner later without wanting to rip out my hearing aids. I woke up this morning and put them back in wearing them over ten hours. It’s amazing how much tweaking a program makes in hearing aids.