I had already been struggling with my hearing loss for years when I became a first year college student. Now, however, I was away from home and in danger of failing some of my classes. The frequent embarrassment in social situations and feelings of isolation (even in a crowded room) were something I had always struggled with. The addition of college-level academic stress was paralyzing and nearly unbearable. I was struggling to navigate it all. I was being tested on information I couldn’t make sense of. I went to the audiologist to share my frustration and she showed me a huge pair of hearing aids that would be a good fit for my loss. Although I was on a budget, it was very important to me that I had smaller and more hidden hearing aids. She reluctantly showed my a smaller pair that she felt wouldn't be as good of a fit. I put the entire purchase on a credit card. The set was $2300 and was the most expensive purchase I had ever made.
The hearing aids did help as I sat in the front of my classes. I wasn't straining as hard to understand and was able to follow the lecture. However, the second anyone behind or around me started shuffling papers, opening a soda, unzipping a backpack, or flipping a notebook page all I could hear was the extraneous sounds so I missed the notes. The social stress continued as I lived in a dorm and was always around people and I couldn't wear my hearing aids all of the time. The cost of batteries added up and they were not easy to find unless I went back to the clinic where I purchased the aids.
Three years later I was a junior in college and still sitting in the front row of my classes. Classes were more detailed, lectures were specific with examples, and I couldn’t create decent notes even with my hearing aids in. That familiar stress and anxiety set in and I knew I had to get my hearing re-tested. While my hearing loss had not changed, I learned my hearing aids were breaking down and needed an expensive repair. My audiologist reminded me that this was one of the drawbacks of hearing aids of this type because all of the mechanics were in the ear canal, which is a moist environment, and they would likely break down again. I had only recently completed my payments. She encouraged me to try newer, better fit hearing aids suggesting this would be a better investment.
Trying the hearing aids, I was dismayed to see you could see them in my ear and they felt large and awkward in my small ears. I did notice I could hear better with them right away. At $3500 they were almost twice as much as my last ones and I couldn't believe how unlucky I was at having to purchase new ones. At the end of the day my ears were so sore, I had to remove them. Often times when going out at night, I did not wear them because in the louder environments they did not help me understand conversation and it was just a wall of noise and clanking silverware. However, in my classes I was able to survive.
I did not realize it at the time, but this would be my journey for many years. I would worry about my hearing and I would worry about my hearing aids. I would worry about different aspects of my life, my classes, and ultimately my job. I couldn’t understand the voicemail I had listened to 100 times, or couldn’t understand what the person calling me was asking. I was missing important information at meetings. I contributed to a meeting and was told “we just discussed that”. My kids would get frustrated, my husband would get frustrated, and I would get frustrated. My social life was challenging because there were times I just couldn’t follow what was going on despite using hearing aids.