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I Was Ashamed to Wear Hearing Aids — Until This

Here's what changed my mind.

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illustration of woman standing surrounded by location pins with ears, hearing aids
Matt Chase
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Want to take a free at-home hearing test? Visit AARP's National Hearing Test website today.

I know, I know. Think of mentors and you think of a kid gravitating to someone who can teach them, guide them or get them where they want to be. Of course, I’ve been there, done that. There was the ninth-grade writing teacher who not only told me I could write but worked with me all year to show me how. My high school art teacher encouraged my painting and made sure that I got into a special program for high school students at the Massachusetts College of Art. Those early mentors changed my young life.

Cartoonist, illustrator and novelist Mimi Pond, best known for her books Over Easy and The Customer Is Always Wrong, knows what I’m talking about. She credits her printmaking and creative writing teacher, Betsy Davids, and two other female mentors for her success. Davids was the one who told her, “Write like you talk!” They eventually collaborated on a book that’s in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. As Pond told me, “I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without having these three women prod, poke and drag me into the life I’ve enjoyed all these years!”

Think Jodi Picoult started out writing New York Times No. 1 best-selling novels right out of the gate? She had a mentor, too, author Mary Morris, whom she credits with “teaching me everything I know about writing. Best of all, we’re now colleagues and friends, which is better than student and teacher.”

Mentors are essential when you’re young, but as I got older, I relied on them less and less. This, because the help I needed seemed to be more occasional: things I could Google or ask friends, like how to post a YouTube video.

Then I became critically ill for a year, and when the wonky meds and treatments stopped, my hearing was impaired. I had no role models for dealing with this, for how to be this new person! Instead of reaching outward, I went inward, grappling with shame and pretending I could hear, which narrowed my life even more. Losing your hearing meant “old” in the worst way, I thought. I didn’t know how wrong I was.

One day, while I was obsessively scrolling social media, Jennifer Pastiloff popped up. She is a writer, a yoga teacher, a life coach whose mission is to travel the globe, banish shame and encourage personal growth. Also, she is young, beautiful and, without her hearing aids, deaf.

She is also so confident and unabashedly honest about her hearing loss that I began to wonder if she could be my role model. So I called her. “You gotta own this,” she told me. “No one can make you ashamed except yourself, and you never want to do that.”

Then she said, “And I will help you.” Suddenly, in my mid-60s, I had just what I needed: a mentor!

Jennifer lives across the country from me, but she kept checking in, making sure I knew she had my back. She shared with me how she herself had conquered the hesitancy to own her hearing loss by bringing it out into the light, and how I could do the same. Write about it, she coached. Tell people. Claim it. Rock it. “And,” she urged, “go see an audiologist.”

Hearing aids? Me? I told my audiologist, Dominick Servedio, that I hadn’t come to see him to get hearing aids, that I didn’t want them, wouldn’t wear them, but perhaps there was another solution.

He was calm and nonjudgmental. “Let’s try this,” he told me. He stepped outside his office and spoke to me. Of course, I couldn’t hear him. Then he came back, gently placed a hearing aid in one of my ears, went outside and spoke again. I could hear every syllable. I started to cry. I got the aids, but I didn’t wear them as much as I should have because of — you guessed it — shame.

Recently, Jennifer shared information with me about a cutting-age company, ReSound. Not only were their hearing aids state-of-the-art, but their philosophy was all about changing the story about hearing aids, wanting them to become as ordinary as glasses. “Talk to them,” she urged.

And I did, contacting company staff on Zoom with my audiologist. They showed me a new way to be: Instead of hiding a disability, they told me, you can rock it! And so, with the support and encouragement of my audiologist, ReSound and Jennifer, I did. The new aids gave me natural sound. I swore I could walk down the street and hear microbes.

The more I was encouraged by my mentors, the more I was open about my hearing issue, shedding shame and becoming, well, an advocate. And I began to realize that just as I had been mentored, I could mentor others simply by being honest about how I’d changed my own story.

So, here I am, writing about it, talking about it and sharing my journey — of first feeling terrified that people would think of me as “old” if I wore hearing aids, and then being lifted by mentors who cheered me on. I am in turn lifted by grateful people with whom I share my story and who now wear aids.

I went to hear Jennifer speak in New York City, and I watched her calmly tell people who had questions that they had to speak up, as she is nearly deaf without her hearing aids. She was modeling more great behavior for me! We are never too old to get ourselves a mentor … and to pass that gift along by mentoring others.

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