I’m having severe anxiety issues surrounding my hearing loss. I’ve been trying to do research on the subject and I’ve found quite a few articles that mention anxiety and hearing loss but I don’t feel that they go into enough detail. Every article I found only spoke of hearing loss and anxiety with the elderly. There are many reasons one may lose their hearing other than age. I lost my hearing quickly from an illness. The articles all speak of getting a device to for your hearing loss to relieve anxiety. I got my first cochlear implant (CI) almost as soon as I lost my hearing, my assissitive devise has not taken away my anxiety. I do not know if my anxiety would be higher if I did not have my CI’s and lived in a completely silent world all the time or not, I never have. But I can tell you that my anxiety has risen significantly since I lost my hearing.
At first I didn’t realize I had anxiety due to my hearing loss. I knew I had anxiety due to the sudden attacks of vertigo so I simply attributed much of it to that. I can say that both have been a big part of my life for years now, but at this time in my life, I’m not as concerned about the vertigo. Not because I don’t have it, but because I deal with it much better. I’m not so freaked out by an attack, I can deal with it if it happens and I rarely have attacks as severe as the attacks I used to have on a regular basis. I’ve come to realize that the majority of my anxiety now stems from my hearing loss.
Many people believe that with my CI’s I can now hear normally, that is far from the truth. It also confuses people because I can hear fairly well in a quiet place, I can also hear certain people much better than others (it depends on the frequency of the person’s voice) this makes it hard for people to understand why I can’t hear under every circumstance. However it is very hard for me to hear when there are 2 or more people talking, or when a person has an accent or someone has facial hair or doesn’t move their mouth much, or puts their hands in front of their mouth…. I simply cannot understand speech in a lot of situations. Most of the time I am completely lost in a noisy environment. How am I supposed to socialize?
I often just smile and nod, or I chime in at an inappropriate time and get embarrassed afterward. Sometimes I talk too much, after all if I’m talking then no one else can so I’m not missing anything. There’s a problem there too, often people will chime in and I’m lost again, and I seem very rude. So normally I look at Stuart for cues and ask occasionally if there is something I need to know. It’s not a pleasant experience and it is very anxiety provoking. Imagine sitting at a table where everyone is talking and you have no idea what is being said. You simply eat your meal and wait until it’s time to leave. Since moving to Tucson there have been numerous times that we have gone out to eat with the family that includes between 7 and 9 people. We’ve been to extremely noisy restaurants and we’ve been to quiet restaurants, it makes a huge difference. Unfortunately, they seem to only want to go to the noisy places so I normally bow out of those outings.
When we had them to our home I did have the children sit at a different place than the adults which reduced the noise but our dining room does not have carpet so it echoes, that makes hearing harder. However, one person kind of dominated the conversation so I kept up pretty well, I did miss some and Stuart caught me up on that later, which I thought “when did that happen” but since I was in my home it was not as bad. But my anxiety leading up to that dinner brought on a full blown panic attack. I will not go through that again. I’m not sure dinner with the whole family together is worth it to me.
There are many other things that cause me anxiety around my hearing loss:
- sleeping alone in the house – I can’t hear the smoke alarm or anything else.
- being in a store I can’t hear when anyone is around me
- I can’t hear when someone calls my name
- I can’t hear when someone comes up behind me
- I often can’t hear if someone knocks on the door.
- I can’t hear emergency vehicles.
- I can’t hear the GPS
- I meet someone and tell them I’m deaf and they begin to use ASL
I realized recently that my anxiety over driving is not totally the action of driving itself, although living in a new town and not being able to hear the GPS is pretty bad, it is also the anxiety of what happens when I get there.
The last time I drove I went to Whole Foods. a whole 1 mile from my home, I got there and was fine, I went to get a basket and found a phone in my basket. I knew I had to take it in and find someone to turn it in to. Anxiety started. I found someone as soon as I walked in the door as she was returning glasses do someone who had left them at a register, we exchanged pleasantries and I walked away not really knowing what she said but I knew it was nice and hoped I had responded appropriately. As I walked the aisles looking for my groceries I was acutely aware of the people around me but still one person came up behind me, and another came around a corner and I did not hear either before the were right on me. When I got to the register I had to tell her I had profound hearing loss and had to see her lips, she went on to say how wonderful it was that I could read lips and I have no idea what else she said, I paid for my groceries and left. When I walked outside I was still shaken but the day was beautiful and I saw a lady I saw when I went in who was eating her lunch and I decided I wanted to put myself out there for just a bit (my therapist would be proud) she was reading a real book and I commented how nice it was to see that, she said how much she loved real books and I went on my way. I only spoke to her because it was quiet out and I was sure I would know her response, and I did. At least I’m pretty sure I did. However, when I got in my car I realized I was shaking. I felt the car vibrating like it was running but I hadn’t started it. I looked around to see if big truck had gone by, but the only thing I could attribute it to was me.
When reading over the articles about anxiety and hearing loss the suggestions they give to help include getting a hearing assistive device like a hearing aid, give the device a change, see a therapist, ask family and friends to help what you need to hear easier, get a hearing dog, get involved in a hearing loss association…
So out of those suggestions, I have a device that I’ve had for nearly 6 years, I give them a chance every day. I have not shied away from situations. (Although a I have started to). I have a therapist. Stuart helps me, I’ve asked others to understand and help but most do not even attempt to help, I’m considering a hearing dog, but I need to make sure we can take on the added responsibility of caring for another dog, I have been involved in a hearing loss association in the past and I’ve looked into it here in Tucson but my anxiety simply hasn’t allowed me to do it yet. (If it’s like the last association I’m not sure I’ll feel like I belong)
Studies, sited below, have shown that hearing loss is related to anxiety, depression, social isolation, and demetia.
We need to work with those with hearing loss to help them integrate with main stream society better so they do not feel so left out. We need to help them understand they are just as viable and cared for as they were before their hearing loss.
Ryan, Cynthia. Link Between Untreated Hearing Loss & Mental Health. Vestibular Disorders Association. Sept. 13, 2014. https://vestibular.org/news/09-13-2012/link-between-untreated-hearing-loss-mental-health
DeWane, Caludia. Hearing Loss in Older Adults-Its Effect on Mental Health. Social Work Today. July, 2010. http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/071510p18.shtml
Alzheimer’s Association. What is Dementia? Oct. 1, 2014. http://www.alz.org/what-is-dementia.asp
Boyles, Salynn. Hearing Loss Linked to Mental Decline in Elderly. WebMD Health News. Jan. 22, 2013. http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20130118/hearing-loss-mental-decline