Managing the impact of hearing loss on work life
There are days Nikki Martin’s hearing problems mean she would rather hide than socialise, but the support she gets from Life Unlimited hearing therapist Anne Greatbatch soon pulls her out of any negative feelings.
Having an understanding employer after years of struggling in the workplace also has the 45-year-old in a better space than she has been for years.
Home for Nikki is semi-rural Dannevirke in a 120-year-old villa with a big rhododendron in the front and paddocks behind.
But three days a week Nikki makes the 40-minute commute to Palmerston North where she works as an adult educator teaching literacy.
It’s the sort of work that requires exceptional communication skills.
Nikki suspects she has lived with hearing loss almost all her life.
“I remember taking my work up to the teacher in primary school and she threw it back at me. I had done something completely different to what she’d asked the class. I wasn’t being belligerent or obtuse – I was sure that’s what I’d heard. I was so confused,” says Nikki.
Despite struggling with hearing difficulties over the years, Nikki delayed seeking help.
“It’s a disability that’s demeaning – it makes you feel incompetent, so it took me a while to accept I had a problem.”
Things came to a head 11 years ago when Nikki was working part-time in a pub on Saturdays.
It was becoming more difficult to hear customers and Nikki was unable to keep “winging it”.
“People were sick of yelling at me. It was getting to the point that they were getting angry.”
That’s when she knew she had to do something about her hearing and made an appointment with Anne from Life Unlimited Hearing Therapy.
Hearing Therapy is a free, national service funded by the Ministry of Health to provide aural rehabilitation to New Zealanders aged 16 and over.
Over the years, Anne has helped Nikki to use her hearing more effectively, improve communication skills and better manage her hearing aids.
Anne also provided support and advice to help manage the impact of hearing loss on work life.
When Nikki had difficulty hearing the oven timer at one job, they came up with the practical solution of carrying a timer in her pocket so she’d know when to take the bread out of the oven.
Educating work colleagues about ways to improve communication has been one of the challenges of working when you have a hearing impairment.
Nikki’s current work colleagues are very understanding, but she still finds living with a hearing loss frustrating and exhausting.
“You have to work twice as hard,” Nikki explains.
Teaching has its own communication challenges too.
“I find students hate to raise their voice, or look people in the eye,” says Nikki. “But I’m good at putting people at ease.”
For Nikki, living with hearing loss is an ongoing journey.
“I still have my days when I’d rather hide. If I do socialise, I’ll want to go home. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. Even with hearing aids, you’re not completely without a loss.”
Even so, she advises anyone with a hearing loss to seek support.
“Get it sorted. Don’t wing it – it makes it worse. Be vocal, let others know, and try not to let it get to you.”
Nikki credits the support she has had from Anne as being invaluable.
“She’s great, pulls me out of negative thinking and redirects my energy to something positive.
“She changed my life in such a way that I can function. I don’t know how to thank her other than getting out there and doing my job.”
A recent article published locally resulted in Nikki renewing two friendships. Two women presumed she was not interested in them anymore when she left a 50th birthday party.
“That indicated to them I could not be bothered. Wow, I was extremely surprised to say the least.”
“Various members of our community have congratulated me in being upfront and honest with my hearing impairment. My neighbour told me ‘It seems like you can come across as mentally challenged.’ That scared me however I have always known when you have this disability that is what others may think.”
Life Unlimited Hearing Therapy is funded by the Ministry of Health to provide free and independent hearing advice.