I am Deaf; born profoundly Deaf. I was born into a hearing family with hearing parents and siblings, like a lot of Deaf people in this country. I was issued with NHS phonic aid, a body-worn aid strapped to my chest, before moving onto NHS analogue hearing aids at the age of 5. They served me really well throughout my childhood and through my teenage years until I became an Adult. Hearing aids never bothered me as from a young age I was always encouraged and reminded by my family to put my hearing aids on as soon as I woke and take them out again as soon as I go to bed. It became routine and they became part of me.
When digital hearing aids replaced analogue hearing aids, I hated them. They sounded awful and I felt they were not as loud as the analogue hearing aids. I always felt the strong urge to turn up the volume on the hearing aids. But as they were digital, there was no longer a volume control as it is all done by a computer. I carried on wearing them but was never fully happy.
Things that I used to hear really well with my analogue hearing aids became hard to hear. I used to be able to hear music well with my analogue hearing aids but not so with the digital aids.
After several years of wearing digital hearing aids, feeling very frustrated and struggled with everyday life. I asked my Audiology clinic to revert back to analogue hearing aids as I was happier with them. They told me that it wasn’t possible. I know I am not the only one who feels let down by digital hearing aids – lots of friends I spoke to all say the same – they all preferred the analogue hearing aids. I know some friends have searched on eBay or other internet sites in hope of finding analogue hearing aids! Instead, my audiologist asked, “why don’t you consider a cochlear implant”. For me, that was an instant no-no. I didn’t want and never wanted a CI. But at the same time, I was so frustrated with my digital hearing aids and didn’t know what the future held with digital hearing aids.
Would there be better digital hearing aids for me in the future? What if there isn’t? I decided that I much rather enjoy life and being happy, than struggling with my digital hearing aids, that I decided that I would find out a bit more about CI’s and decide if it is for me or not. Until you find out, you just don’t know what is or isn’t for you. For me, it was an opportunity to find out what I wanted rather than what other people thought was best for me.
I know that CI is a very controversial topic within the Deaf community. Deaf people are concerned about protecting the Deaf culture, Deaf language and Deaf identity.
I consider myself to have a Deaf identity, and I don’t see myself as Hearing, nor do I want to “fix” myself. The Hearing world isn’t somewhere I fit in. It’s too exhausting trying to fit in and keep up with what’s going on. Social situations are a real nightmare because there are so many situations where I can find myself excluded or isolated.
Going to the pub with hearing people is a nightmare because it is so easy to find yourself excluded from conversations because it’s too fast to keep up when lip-reading, too dark and noisy. Hearing people won’t remember a Deaf person is in the group and won’t always repeat what is being said, other than “it doesn’t matter”, or “I will tell you later”. Going to the pub with Deaf people, although it’s noisy, it’s easier to communicate because the pub may be lighter so it’s easier to see each other to sign/lip-read and the pace is easier to keep up. No one is left out of conversations and no one misses a joke being said.
Going to the cinema has to be planned ahead by finding out what movies are showing with subtitles and when it is on and where it is available. It is very restrictive because the subtitled movie might only be screened once or twice a week at specific times. For hearing people they can choose when to go and see a film because the same film would be shown several times a day, all week for however long the cinema screens a movie.
The CI journey for me is about discovering more about myself and what works for me; whether I continued with my digital hearing aids, go Deaf or have a CI.
I agreed to be referred to the CI centre and waited for my appointments to come through. This would involve a series of assessments to find out if I am suitable for a CI. While undergoing the assessment, I spoke to a few people that I know have CI to learn about their experiences and why they decided to have a CI and whether they were happy with their decision.
The assessment was a very quick process and I was told that I met the criteria for a CI and that I would do better with a CI than I did with my current digital hearing aids. This was the hardest decision of my life as I had to decide whether or not I wanted a CI. Initially, I said “no” because I feared for my own identity and the fact that I would have to have surgery on my head, which terrified me.
I decided to postpone my decision until I was ready. During that time, I continued to question the quality of my hearing aids and speaking to friends and family about CI’s. Someone I spoke to commented that a CI is, at the end of the day, “just a super-duper hearing aid”. It is true because at the end of the day, when you are not wearing the external part “processor” you are still Deaf.
After weeks of deciding whether or not to have a CI, I decided that I had nothing to lose and go for it. It was a huge decision as it involved all aspects of my life. I had the support of people closest to me, and work was extremely supportive in making sure I had the support I need when I got back to work.
The operation took place and the period of recovery followed where I enjoyed four weeks of total silence. I found that not wearing my hearing aids was the most refreshing experience. Communicating with the people closest to me didn’t suffer as much as I thought it would. Going back to work was easy. I simply explained to my colleagues that I would not be able to hear at all.
They were all very supportive, and because I know them all very well; it was easy to lip-read them, or simple signs were used to communicate in the office.
My Switch On Day was not like any of the experiences as seen on TV or on YouTube. For me, it was like any other trip to the audiology clinic where they fit the hearing aid. Switch it on via a computer and wait for you to respond with “oh, yes, I can hear something”! It was about half an hour before I can hear anything through my new CI on my switch on the day.
The CI experience is still very new to me and I’m learning to hear new sounds that I have not heard before. I am not yet fully tuned into the CI, and I still have a long way to go. They have told me that my journey will only get better and I will learn to love my new CI; I still feel just as Deaf with my CI as I did with my hearing aids. I still feel like Me. There are situations that I still cannot hear well, and struggle in everyday situations; even with the CI.
I have the odd days where I don’t wear my CI and enjoy my Deaf days; just as I used to with my hearing aids. That’s never going to change and therefore I having a CI hasn’t changed me; because I just see the CI as a much more powerful hearing aid; more powerful than the digital hearing aids I used to wear.