As someone who has sight and hearing loss, I would like to draw attention to the feelings of isolation and loneliness within one’s circle of friends and family. Although in some cases this can be attributed to one’s personality, it is possible to feel ‘left out’ by their nearest and dearest.
I’m an example of someone with dual sensory loss who has some central vision and can hear better with hearing aids. This can give the impression my loss isn’t ‘all that bad’. When in a group situation, a party, in a pub, at a restaurant for example, hearing conversations can be really challenging, even with hearing aids. Overlooking this, family and friends continue to converse among themselves expecting people to join in. But my hearing loss, for example, often prevents me from following their conversations.
This can result in periods of time lasting many minutes, perhaps even into hours, feeling left out. Most living with hearing loss are much more confident when they are talking one on one with people. But this isn’t always possible in group situations.
At a family function once, I sat talking to my sister-in-law for about 20 minutes or so about music and things. Later when we returned home my ex-wife accused me of ‘cornering’ her sister! I had no idea where this was coming from, but her argument was I spent too long talking to one person as to joining in as a group. She also implied her sister was giving out signs that she was trying to break off and join the group. Being with sight loss, I was unable to detect this and I really thought the conversation was flowing along happily.
I pointed out these things to my ex-wife, but to no avail. Looking back, it not only reminds me of how much more comfortable I am with one on one situations, but how they can also be frowned upon by others. This incident left me feeling misunderstood and very alone within my own family circle.
In many situations like this, whether with friends or family, the onus is on me to keep up or I will be left out. Nothing is meant by it. The nature is to simply engage and go with the moment. Unfortunaley, living with sight and hearing loss can make engaging difficult.
Last Christmas I began working at RNIB when celebratory drinks and meals were going on. I was invited by my group to the pub for Christmas drinks. Being new I was dreading the lighting and noise of the pub. How was I going to engage with people I can’t see very well and certainly would struggle to hear? Lucky for me I was sitting next to an angel.
This young lady took it upon herself to talk to me one on one. She really gave me her time as if she knew I was finding things difficult. And whilst it was still a battle to see and hear her, that time spent with me gave me slightly more confidence to converse with others. She even insisted on walking me back to the station to ensure safe passage before rejoining her friends at the pub. Again, this gesture made me feel ‘part of things’.
Indeed, her sensitivity touched me deeply because it was such a rare show of understanding. She spared me the anguish of sitting there ‘looking’ engaged whilst trying in vain to listen to what’s being said in the sea of noise. And she also spared me that sense of feeling isolated and alone – amongst colleagues who are kind, warm and friendly.
People – particularly with hearing loss – want, like everyone else, to be a part of a group, be it family or friends. But there are many situations when in order to converse and to not feel left out, they need to have one on ones. This may not be conducive to group situations, but an understanding of this can go some way to helping with feelings of isolation.
Family and friends should be aware that this kind of neglect leads to one feeling misunderstood, isolated and depressed. The onus isn’t on us with sensory loss to keep up with everyone else. The onus is on others to show understanding and meet their needs.