Hearing Fatigue


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.

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5 comments

  1. Thank you for this post I now feel validated. As my hearing fails I have been shrinking my world for years now and most just think I do not like them any more. I live in an isolated cabin in the wilderness of Northern Alaska but I do still have “neighbors” and they now think I hate them. I stopped dropping in for morning coffee because there would always be at least two conversations going on at the same time and after a half an hour I was drained. They know I am loosing my hearing but still think I am just an old ‘fart’ who likes living alone.

  2. Hi Pete, glad it was helpful. I’d say print it out and give it to your friends, but I don’t know if you have a printer. 🙂

    I don’t remember where in rural Alaska you hail from, but there are places to get hearing augmentation equipment that can help some. Even a “pocket talker” for about $120 is better than nothing when it comes to talking to people. Without my HA I am at a severe disadvantage in even face-to-face encounters depending on the pitch of the person’s voices.

    Over time I’ve become more and more overt about my hearing problems because if people don’t know I can’t hear they figure I’m just rude or standoffish. People don’t understand until they are having problems themselves. However, if you drag out a pocket talker and put the microphone near the speaker and whip it back and forth they’ll get the message faster. Unfortunately, hearing loss is a hidden disability.

    In a way my HA is too discrete. It is impossible to see even with my hair skinned back unless you know it’s there. I’ve dug my FM system and iCom out and am charging them to see if that will work better next Sunday. We’ll see. Even with additional high-end high-tech stuff hearing is never easy or simple, even for someone like me who can’t remember hearing normally. For a late deafened adult it is even harder.

    Be kind to yourself about needing breaks and the odd aspirin to deal with a headache from trying to understand conversations.

    Take care.

  3. Marsha, I’m so glad you posted this. I heard of Trancense before but couldn’t think of the name of it. It’s called Ava now. They are lauching the Alpha version very soon. I just signed up for it. I really hope it works. I have requested CART so many times and it has never showed up. I am so lost most of the time. This would help me so much. There are a lot of programs that are supposed to help, but the speech to text is so wrong.

    All the things that go with my CI’s that are supposed to help, don’t make it better. Due to my Meniere’s my hearing with my CI’s fluctuates so much, I have so much difficulty. I even got a personal loop, it didn’t help.

    I do so hope this helps.

    Thank you again.

    1. Hi Wend,

      How can I find this app? What is it going to cost, do you know? I think I heard of it once before, but not that the name changed or it was having an alpha release.

      One of the very HoH people at the spiritual fellowship I attend has no smart phone, no hearing aid, no understanding at all of technology. He thought Bluetooth was an actual tooth that was blue. Explaining is difficult when my voice is not in his hearing range. I’m thinking of taking the iPad there and writing back and forth on it so he can understand.

      It is hard enough for those of us who are connected with technology. For the severely to profoundly late deafened with no hearing assistance it is a nightmare – and often getting the off their point of being high centered in life is very difficult.

      When this guy says: I need a HA and can’t afford it then I say: but I gave you the name, address, telephone number, and email address of a local agency that will help you get your hearing needs addressed so you can go back to work three times now… then he replies: I’ve been working on the barn and my back hurts. And I then I ask him three more times in three different ways to see if he understood anything I just said. I’m not sure he does, or he is the king of the non sequitur.

      Last time I asked if his barn would fall down if he took a few hours to get his hearing attended to. He finally (after several tries at communication) allowed that the barn would not fall down if he took a few hours for himself.

      I’m not his mother. I’m not going to chase him down and drag him around by the nose. I know he’s retired and that he’s recently widowed, but I’m neither his mother or his late wife. It’s going to be very hard for him to get a job with little hearing, little understanding of technology (outside of email) so that he has no idea how to apply online for jobs, and an inability to prioritize what needs to be done from what is in his comfort zone. Feel bad, but still: not his caretaker. 😛

      That being said, I buttonholed one of the ritual leader team members (husband of the president of the organization) and talked with him about an FM system for the many HoH people who attend. Tiny congregation and yet older and many of them have hearing problems, some worse than mine. They have apparently been looking into it. I referred them to someone at the Center for Independent Living who could discuss the best options rather than something that might not be what is actually needed.

      At this point I could work a comedy sketch on how people eat the microphone. I actually had one person in stitches the other day demonstrating how communication just dies when you can’t read lips and the person trying to swallow the mic sounds like: Afn dnnn ve cohm to the en f t…” (and then we come to the end of the) in loud, distorted and yet muffled tones.

      Maybe I should do that sketch for the speakers? Or would that be too “in your face” or offensive?

      Lots of technology that should help (hearing aids, CIs, pocket talkers, etc.) are sometimes no help at all. In certain situations I turn my HA off and I can hear better because I can’t hear much out of a certain zone so I have a better chance of hearing someone in front of me that I’m lip reading if everything else sounds more like surf and less like words.

      It’s hard for the fully hearing to understand.

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