12 million people in the UK are currently living with hearing loss and deafness, according to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID).
That’s about 1 in 5 people in the UK. Look around you right now. Are you at work? On public transport? In a park? Find a group of around five people.
The likelihood is that one of them has hearing loss, because that’s how fractions work – and also I literally just told you that.
Chances are, one person in your family has hearing loss or is deaf. It might even be you.
Two people in my family are deaf, because we’re high-achievers. Yep, I have one hearing aid and my mum has two – she always has to go one better. You know mums!
Seriously, though, it is lovely having a family member who knows what I’m going through, but when I was diagnosed with hearing loss (yes, that’s the terminology medical professionals use) aged twenty-nine, it was a bit of a shock.
Not even my mother could really help me with my feelings of premature ageing and ‘otherness’. Turns out hearing loss isn’t just for people with grey hair and Werther’s Originals in their pockets – although, if that is you, I love you . . . and also please save me a sweet.
On average it takes TEN YEARS from noticing the first signs of hearing loss to actually doing anything about it.
Ten years is the time it takes to see at least two UK prime ministers pass through government, that’s 5 billion, 840 million miles the Earth will travel orbiting the sun, and that’s about a fifth of the time it will take me to pay off my student loan.
Wouldn’t it be great if this book encouraged someone to get a hearing test? Or, after reading it, someone noticed that a family member might benefit from a lip-reading class?
Or maybe it will help you – the person who has just been told they have hearing loss and are considering what that means for their future.
When I was told I needed a hearing aid, I cried in a bike storage room at Westfield Shopping Centre. It was the only quiet place I could find at the time and I didn’t really want to break down in the middle of H&M.
I was completely shocked at my own hearing loss diagnosis. I was utterly unprepared to be a thirty-year-old deaf comedian, actor, writer and broadcaster.
I worried that I would lose my job, that my life would become completely different, and that I would need a walking stick.
I’m not sure why I suddenly imagined myself with a walking stick; we know that they don’t aid hearing, but perhaps it was the idea that I was getting old before my time and that my body had already begun ‘failing’ me.
All of this came crashing down on me in that bike storage room in Westfield, and so I rang my mother and cry-mumbled to her until a bewildered cyclist walked in on my teary saga.
You may not have had as climactic a ‘diagnosis moment’ as I did, but it may have still been a difficult one.
You may have been born deaf and grown up coming to terms with an ableist society forcing you to live in a hearing world. You may even have breezed through all of it and only felt its impact later, like a hot curry.
Whatever your journey, the first – and most important – thing you need to know is that you are not on your own. There are 11,999,999 people in the UK – plus me – who can relate to what you’re going through.
No matter how ‘strange’ or ‘other’ or ‘broken’ you might feel right now (and, trust me, I felt all of those things), we’re all in this together and I’m here to remind you that you are not ‘broken’; you are wonderful and loved and you are deaf.
Yes, even if the audiologist tells you that you have ‘hearing loss’, you are allowed to call yourself ‘deaf’.
Deafness can actually be a strength: it can change your life for the better like it has mine (plus you will get a third off public transport, cheap tickets at the theatre, and can listen to Britney songs via your hearing aid without anyone knowing).
Welcome to the deaf club.
This is an edited extract taken from LIVING WITH HEARING LOSS AND DEAFNESS by Samantha Baines published on 27th April.