I used to assume the reason I am totally wiped out after being around a group of hearing people for hours is that I’m an introvert. (Note, not signers, just hearing people.) More likely it has to do with what I like to call Sensory Input Overload.
One of the symptoms of PTSD is hyper-vigilance. That’s also one of the characteristics of a hard of hearing (HoH) person in a noisy environment where there are large numbers of people talking at the same time. We switch into alert mode, scanning faces and voices and paying so much attention that if someone drops a coffee cup we over-react to the unexpected, loud, sharp noise because our brains have been recruiting sound.
For a long time I’ve had an app on my iPhone to measure the decibel level of places I go. 85 db is where hearing damage starts. Lots of restaurants, especially those with loud music, exceed that and run in the 90-100 db range. Large coffee klatches after church can hit the 85-90 db levels. Know those annoying gas engine two-stroke leaf blowers? They put out 90-100 db on average and operators are supposed to wear hearing protection. When a gathering produces as much or more noise than a gas-fired leaf blower there’s a reason I can’t cope.
I’m told by hearies “no one understands” everything going on. That may be true. But I’d love for them to wear noise canceling ear plugs and give it a try talking to someone in a noisy venue. Repeatedly. Because if you walk into the bathroom, turn on the shower, shut the door, put your fingers in your ears, and have a person on the other side of the door face away from the door and speak to you in a normal tone of voice THAT’s what I hear. Good luck with that.
Because people with hearing loss work so very hard to understand their auditory environment it is a full time job for the brain and body when hearing is engaged. Imagine working out at the gym for hours. When I leave after several hours of weight training and cardio I’m like a limp rag. I can get that way after even the most anticipated meeting of a writer’s or photographer’s group because I have to be “on” all the time, just like you have to be “on” while you’re running on the treadmill. Try being “off”on a treadmill and that’s where you’ll be: off – on the floor.
Things that contribute to hearing fatigue as a result of hyper-vigilance include:
Anxiety – did I not hear something? mishear something? give a non sequitur response? why is he looking at me like that? what did I miss?
Heightened continual scanning of the environment – is that noise meant for me? if I answer am I answering someone else’s communication? If I don’t answer am I being rude?
Then there’s the lip-reading component. The number of people who assume I’m attracted to them even after I’ve told them I lip read to assist the sound I hear is incredible. Really. Don’t go there. I have enough problems without you thinking I’m flirting .
I can lip read one person, two is iffy, three is a nightmare. Four and I’m looking for a corner to insert myself into to control access. I’m not being introverted, I’m overwhelmed. There’s a difference.
So, if you have a friend or relative who avoids large gatherings it is probably because there’s no accommodation for him/her to participate one person at a time. And if you are that deafie (like I am) who staggers off, takes two aspirin, and collapses in bed for two hours to recover: that’s a normal response to being hyper-vigilant.
Take two catnaps and call me in the morning.