People Think You're A Dick: 5 Facts About Hearing Problems
When I was 15, I woke up one day to find my left ear had been skull-fucked by dream elves, or at least that was the closest the doctors ever came to finding out the reason it was suddenly practically useless. Later down the line, a gun accidentally going off next to my head made matters even worse. These days, I can still hear enough bass with it to enjoy rock concerts in glorious stereo, but for most everyday purposes the thing's pretty much a lost cause.
Tough shit, right? People live with impairments all the time. Winston Churchill stuttered like a motherfucker and used that to become one of history's finest orators. People who lose limbs are just one prosthetic away from being badass cyborgs. Compared to that crap, partial deafness is a nonissue.
At least, that's what I used to think. As I get older, I've started to notice that this tiny thing I've always assumed was little more than a minor inconvenience has actually screwed up my personality and affected the way people see me in a host of interesting ways, such as ...
People Will Think You're An Asshole
Just to make things clear: This is not a victim story. I never planned to be a pilot or anything. Reduced hearing isn't a huge hassle in your everyday life. I've worked in restaurants and customer service with no problem. I've always mentioned the ear thing to my bosses when I start a new job, but within a week they've completely forgotten about it. In over two decades, precisely one person has figured it out on his own, and he was a trained nurse. You learn to adapt: Some rudimentary lip-reading and tactical positioning will always win over a slight impediment.
It's very difficult to tell by a glance whether this thing works or not.
The thing about all of those "survival" tactics I just mentioned is that they work only when I concentrate ... which is difficult when you're so used to the condition that you sometimes just forget about it. And that's when people will think you're a dick.
"Misunderstanding" is the name of the game here. There have been situations where I've gotten visibly frustrated with people because they are talking so quietly -- only to realize way too late that they were speaking normally; I was just standing on their wrong side. I've been known to absentmindedly walk right past people who were trying to speak to me, which is never going to win me any popularity contests. On one particularly memorable occasion, I was walking down the street and this dude I knew started to walk by me at my 8 o'clock, saying hello, exchanging one-sided pleasantries, and then proceeding to tell me about this problem he was having. Had he come in from the other side, I would have noticed him immediately. But since it was my blind (hah) spot, I kept on walking. Then, I absentmindedly picked up my phone and started to make a call as he finished his question. Then, I noticed him, got startled, and let out a loud, "Fuck!"
Luckily, this time my fight-or-flight response didn't kick in.
If you don't think that sounds so bad, imagine it from the guy's point of view. You see someone you know, say hi, walk with them for a while and maybe talk a little about this thing that has been troubling you. You're friendly and social. You're the good guy here. He, on the other hand, remains stone-faced and sullen to the point of completely ignoring you and your problems, then digs out his fucking phone. Then he starts swearing at you. That guy is probably not going to take "I'm half-deaf and totally forgetful" as an explanation.
So, guy, in case you're reading this -- I'm sorry I didn't hear you coming. My answer to the dilemma you had is: some bricks, plenty of chicken wire, and at least two body bags. That way you'll have one spare if the skin breaks and something starts leaking.
It Will Affect Who Your Friends Are
Don't worry; that's an ear canal. Admit it, you thought it was an anus for an instant, didn't you.
Anyway, don't misunderstand that header title to mean that I pick my friends based on how they pamper my practically nonexistent disability -- that's not what I mean. I would never pick and choose my friends based on how carefully they tiptoe around me.
I wouldn't, that is. My subconscious, on the other hand, apparently gets triggered like it had a Tumblr account.
Where do you hang out with your friends? In places that you enjoy, that's where. For me, this has always included an extra element: Where can I hear what the fuckers are saying? Let's say we're planning a night out. Quiet restaurants and dive bars are just fine for me, as are rock clubs, because no one else can hear jack shit when the band lets rip either. On the other hand, I fucking loathe clubs and raves and suchlike. Oh, I've been on occasion, while sufficiently Scotch-infused. I even had a good time or 16. But all in all, I tend to gravitate away from them, thanks to the ear -- and, in the process, I gravitate away from people who like to go to those places.
And of course it gets worse. Because this is just something that I've lived with for so long it's become reflexive, I've only recently come to realize that for a good chunk of my life, I've applied that approach to not only places but people as well. People's voices are different. Some of them I find super easy to hear; others give me trouble to the point of fading into obscurity. All of this I've noticed before. Only recently I've started paying attention to the fact that almost every friend I keep in touch with today has the sort of voice that I find easy to hear -- their pitch and tone just happen to match my shitty receiver.
Normal people have this in their hearing center; I have a toy phone and a monkey banging cymbals.
So, either I've been extraordinarily lucky -- or over time I've subconsciously faded out people that I find difficult to hear, which would be kind of a dick move whether I meant it or not. Spoiler: I'm not particularly known for my luck.
One Of Your Senses Is Permanently Stuck In The Tech Stone Age
Somewhere in my basement, there's a blue Sony Walkman. It hasn't worked in years, and I keep forgetting to throw away. It's a busted-up, useless piece of junk worth less than the materials it's made of. Oh, and to me, it also represents the cutting edge of audio technology. Stereo sound, man. Whatever will they come up with next?
I'm not joking; this was literally the height of my audio experience.
That's how behind I am on speaker technology. Oh, I still dabble -- I've got a home theater system and shit. I still hear bass, man, so as long as DJs are dropping it, I will be happy. Even so, for the longest time I thought surround sound was largely bullshit because it didn't occur to me that I just have no way to experience it. I don't really use anything but the cheapest dollar store headphones because the second shit starts going stereo on me these days, I lose half the sound. Thanks to my reduced overall hearing, my idea of hell is a world where everything is operated via Siri. Shit, even simple phone calls can get difficult because I don't have the option of switching the phone from one ear to another. Again, that's something that doesn't seem like a particularly important life skill, until you realize just how often your phone conspires to ring when you're in the process of hauling groceries or other crap from one place to another.
Right, like anyone makes phone calls anymore.
This is the point where you might mentally flip a table and start screaming at my stupid face: "You goddamned idiot turd mongler! Do you genuinely think you live in the 1950s or something? Stop whining over the fact that you had to call your mom while carrying your Taco Bell takeout back to your nest with one hand. Go get a hearing aid, shitlord; they've got all sorts these days. You could be a fucking cyborg and regain your hearing."
You, my impressively foul-mouthed friend, have a point. Don't worry; we'll get to that ...
You Have No Directional Hearing
You can try this one out yourself if you like. Go stand in an open, crowded place and instruct a friend to call your name. Easy as shit, right? You hear where the voice is coming from, turn to them, and punch them in the face for not returning that book they borrowed two years ago. Like you do.
Now, try to do the same with one ear plugged.
Out of whatever everyday ear-related inconveniences I might face, this one is by far the most annoying. As a mostly human being with mostly human wants, wills, and emotions, I hate to be embarrassed. As a person who more or less besserwissers for a living, I also find it really difficult to be completely clueless. Ask me a question -- If I don't know it, I'll Google that shit the first chance I get so the next time I'm ready for you.
In other words, I'm everyone's least-favorite Trivial Pursuit player.
This is why it's super difficult for me to cope with the fact that when someone calls out to me in the open, I'm inevitably looking at a faceful of humiliation thanks to my utter lack of directional hearing.
I try to fight it. Wherever I am, I try to memorize my surroundings so if someone hollers at me I have at least some idea where it comes from. Even so, it's a crapshoot. "OK, let's see: I came from there and didn't see anyone, but there's a walkway on my left -- might be there? Shit, no. Maybe on the other side? No? Is ... is there like a balcony somewhere above me? How long have I been spinning around? How much of a dickhead does whoever called my name think I am right now? What about everyone else? Or did I mishear it and now everyone thinks I'm a lunatic?" And so forth, until the heat death of the universe, or until the person takes pity on me and waves or something.
You Might Still Hear Something -- And You Won't Like It
When most people think about deafness, they tend to think about an absence of sound. And for some people, that's how it may be. I wouldn't know, because my deaf ear sounds like this:
Please warn your dog before playing this, because it will probably flip the fuck out.
Sometimes it's a few of those whines laid over each other. Often there's some static thrown in for good measure. But you get the point: Tinnitus is the name of this particular carnival game, and every prize is a shit sandwich. This is why I've never bothered with a hearing aid. There's no cure for tinnitus, only therapy, and everything I'd ever hear with the ear would need to go through that wall of noise.
Again, this doesn't make me a special snowflake. In the U.S. alone some 50 million people have a robot constantly screaming in at least one of their ears. Some of it is just mild buzzing, clicking, or hissing. Others hear roaring or even actual freaking voices or music. OK, that part is kind of shitty. The voices actually happen to me sometimes, usually at night when it's really quiet. One time, I started hearing nondescript whispering right in my ear while I was researching one of my murder columns. Let's just say those were my favorite research pants.
Prize for abject terror: eight likes and a retweet.
OK, that one might just have been an actual ghost. Still, despite such occasional weirdness and the fact that the screeching is pretty much a constant companion, I've been pretty lucky. My spirit animal and fellow tinnitus sufferer William Shatner (who's dealt with severe, prop explosion-triggered tinnitus since the freaking 1960s) used to genuinely fear for his survival and sanity, and people have actually offed themselves because they couldn't deal with the insomnia (which I sometimes have), anxiety, and depression (neither of which I do) the condition often brings.
Also, there's always the fact that tinnitus may affect the way your brain processes emotions. Suck it, cops! That's my new excuse for everything.
Check out how someone cured their vision with a fistfight in 5 Self-Destructive Ways People Accidentally Cured Themselves and learn how we're raising a soon to be deaf generation in 5 Sneaky Ways The Modern World Is Destroying Your Body.
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