I was diagnosed with profound bilateral hearing loss when I was ten months old. I received my first cochlear implant in my left ear when I was almost two years old, and got the second one in my right ear at 11 years old. I was re-implanted on my left side in June, 2020, which overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic. These two events turned the past couple of years into a great time of learning and growth for me. I am more confident than ever before.
In the past, I was never comfortable talking on the phone and avoided it when possible. When I got my left ear re-implanted, I went through a mental restart. I focused on training my hearing in ways I didn’t focus on before, including talking on the phone. I told myself that this is my chance to improve my hearing skills. Now, instead of avoiding it, I try to talk on the phone as much as possible.
I also got more comfortable video calling. When COVID-19 hit, my classes, meetings, and therapy sessions got switched to online. I had to learn this new skill – communicating via video calls – all while learning how to hear again through my left ear. Since then, I have gained an appreciation for technology, since I was able to connect with many more people than I could before COVID-19 and my reimplantation.
COVID-19 restrictions also had a significant impact on improving my confidence in talking to people with masks on. I heavily relied on lipreading in the past, but not anymore.
I’ve learned a lot of things in the past few years that helped me overcome my insecurities and gain confidence in communicating with others. I hope my learnings may help you develop more confidence in your hearing journeys as well.
Oftentimes, there is a clear barrier or challenge that hinders our confidence. For me, it was my hearing loss. Focusing on tangible ways to overcome an obstacle can help foster confidence. For example, a tangible way I’ve learned to overcome my hearing loss is through the use of my cochlear implants and weekly hearing therapy sessions. This has helped me gain confidence. If you can benefit from hearing devices such as cochlear implants, hearing aids, or assistive listening devices, try them! Otherwise, learning effective communication strategies or sign language are other tangible ways to overcome hearing loss.
Exposure therapy involves repeated exposure to a stressor at different degrees to overcome fear and anxiety.
In psychology, we call this “exposure therapy.” Exposure therapy involves repeated exposure to a stressor at different degrees to overcome fear and anxiety. This strategy is common in treating phobias.
This same strategy can be applied when building confidence. For example, I had to build confidence talking on the phone and taking part in video calls by repeatedly exposing myself to them. I started out by talking on the phone to my immediate family. Once I was comfortable with that, I challenged myself to talk to my friends, and then eventually to strangers. Initially, the task was extremely stressful, but after repeated exposure at various levels, I gained confidence and comfort in doing them.
If you are stuck on something or feeling overwhelmed, never hesitate to ask for help! For example, if I face an obstacle in school related to my hearing impairment, such as the lack of closed captioning on a video, I will ask my disability coordinator and professors for help. They will provide me with a transcript or the same video with closed captioning. If I do not ask for help, how will they know how to cater to my accommodation needs? Advocating for yourself and asking for help when needed, and getting it, can help build confidence over time.
When you achieve the goals you set for yourself, the boost of confidence comes naturally! Setting SMART goals is a great way to help you achieve those goals efficiently. Let me explain what the acronym SMART means, and how it applied to me when reaching for my goal of becoming comfortable with talking on the phone.
Specific – Make sure that you keep your goal as specific as possible. Specific goals will help you stay focused on your efforts and keep you motivated. I started off with the specific goal of talking to my immediate family on the phone. Once I was comfortable with that, my goal switched to calling my friends, extended family, and eventually strangers.
Measurable – The goal should be measurable so that progress can be tracked. I kept a journal and wrote down my experiences talking to people on the phone. I kept track of how often I needed to ask for help or repetition. As time went on, I could read my past entries and see progress as documented in my own words.
Attainable – Your goal must be attainable and realistic. I used to rely on my parents to talk on the phone for me. Instead of deciding to ask my parents for help completely, I set a goal of talking on the phone myself first before reaching out to my parents. This was more realistic to achieve, and it boosted my self-confidence every time I succeeded without my parents’ help.
As time went on, I could read my past entries and see progress as documented in my own words.
Relevant – Your goals must be relevant to what you are trying to achieve so they are meaningful. I want to feel included and be able to function in society, so I set the goal of communicating effectively on the phone, since the use of technology helps us connect with one another from long distances.
Time-based – Your goal, both long- and short-term, must have a deadline. I set myself a goal of being able to hear well again in two years so that I could go back to school and finish my degree. So, as soon as my implant was activated, I began therapy sessions. Thankfully, it only took a couple of months for my hearing to improve, and I became confident in going back to school earlier. Setting a time limit for your goals motivates you to keep working towards it and minimizes delays and stagnation.
While hearing loss is a physical characteristic, it can also pose serious implications on our mental and social wellbeing. My hearing loss took a toll on my confidence, and it was through my cochlear implants and lots of hard work that I was able to reclaim both. But just like learning to hear again with a cochlear implant, regaining confidence is absolutely possible through conscious and continuous effort.