Nat Lauzon at work

Nat Lauzon at work

The second in our series of guests posts for Better Hearing and Speech Month is by one of our supporters, a Voiceover Artist and DJ – Nat Lauzon, who shares her personal story of living with hearing loss.

I was about 15 years old when I first noticed my hearing was different from other people.

I was in class, when suddenly, the kids around me started looking frantically around the room. Some went digging into their backpacks, others checking their desks.

I had absolutely no idea what was going on.

A wristwatch.

Somewhere, an alarm was beeping on a watch.

And everyone could hear it but me.

I’m 37 now.  My last audiogram indicates that I have “moderate to severe” hearing loss.  Ironically, I also work in an industry that relies heavily on hearing:  I’m a radio deejay and a voiceover artist.

When I tell someone I’m ‘hard of hearing’ (as I have been doing since I was in my 20s), I almost feel as though sometimes, they aren’t quite buying it. Because I’m not 5000 years old with an ear trumpet dangling from my belt loop, they are quicker to dismiss what I’ve just shared.  I often get, “You’d never know – you seem to hear everything.” (points for noticing the operative word there).

And for the most part – I do. I’m fortunate in that I can hear most things in normal ranges of speech. My hearing loss is largely in the higher frequencies. So – dripping taps, chirping birds, the phone ringing in another room, the voices of small kids and some women – and deciphering certain sounds in speech (“ch” vs “sh” that kind of thing).  Those are my challenges.

Sure, I can “get by”.  But it’s a concerted effort. Like most hard of hearing people – I’m pretty brilliant at making you think I heard you (the ol’ smile and nod is such a timeless classic, really). For me to hear someone 100% properly – they need to face me while speaking. Obviously, a quiet room is better than a bar at Happy Hour and loud-talker friends are the best.  But that’s not real life, is it? In real life, everyday conversations are filtered through background noise and any number of other sounds and situations.  Am I really going to ask the waiter to turn off the in-house music, come with me to a quiet corner, and face me while I ask about the soup of the day?

My hearing loss is genetic (this always surprises people given my job – but it happens to be one of those twist of fate things). My mom got her first hearing aid at the age of 28.  Her dad wears one too and there are a smattering of relatives on my mom’s side of the family with hearing difficulties.  As a side note, I also have 24/7 Tinnitus (a common ‘side effect’ of hearing loss). I manage it pretty well and have to extend some serious props to William Shatner, who’s done an inspiring job – not only of hand-to-hand combat with a variety of epic space beasts – but also creating awareness of Tinnitus, which can be a constant nightmare for so many.

Hearing loss needs to be viewed as a true deficiency. Getting frustrated with a hard of hearing person serves no purpose. Growing up, I’d get frustrated with my poor mother when she couldn’t hear me. Can you imagine? Frustrated!  As though she had a choice.  Would you have a Gordon Ramsay-style meltdown on someone with a broken leg because they couldn’t run as fast as you? Unless you’re a Grade A a****t, probably not.

If it’s frustrating for YOU to repeat yourself 5 times, it’s infinitely more frustrating for someone who can’t hear you 5 times.  Empathy is key. Yet, it’s challenging when the person in front of you doesn’t ‘look’ physically impeded. As many a child has eventually confessed to their parents upon reaching adulthood, I’d now like to say to my own mom – Sorry ma. Boy, do I get it now. 

Jobwise, I feel lucky to still have a range of hearing that allows me enjoyment of what I do.  In fact last year, I chose to scale back on my radio career to launch my own voiceover business (I still do radio on the weekends).  I absolutely LOVE my work and I’m proud of what I’ve built.  Still, there are moments when I wonder how long I’ll really be able to do it and if I’ll need to think of a Plan C – even after working so hard toward my Plan B! In actuality, there is no way to predict at what rate my hearing will decline. Or if it even will.  It’s really a crapshoot.

So, sure, I get my Debbie Downer moments. Hearing loss – especially when you have no same-age peers with the same problem – can feel isolating. The bottom line is, when you can’t connect with someone who gets it, you can feel quite alone.  I’ve spent many a late night google trying to find radio or voiceover people with similar hearing struggles and came up empty-handed every single time. Though, I do think there are more people in my position than care to admit it – even to themselves.

Having said all of this – I would like to shift gears and get to the good bits.  I’d like to tell you about something that has really done wonders for me recently.

Hearing aids!  I just got a pair. They are crazy discreet which is nice at times – (but I would seriously LOVE to get them in zebra print. WHERE CAN I GET THEM IN ZEBRA PRINT?). I wear them in situations where I might need a little more help, such as crowd-based situations (restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores).  Let me tell you, the change was immediate.  Night and freakin’ day.  Like flipping a switch.  If I had to describe how it feels in one word, it would be: relief. 

My auditory world had dulled so gradually over time that I didn’t even notice what I was missing. With hearing aids, I hear the birds, I hear the turn signal in my car, I hear the subtleties of music arrangements, I hear my dogs’ little claws tapping the hardwood floor.  I’m hearing the details!  My life suddenly feels more colourful and layered.  I am no longer asking people to repeat themselves or looking at their mouths to understand what they are saying. Conversation flows struggle-free. It’s just easy. Seriously? It’s kind of like having a superpower (Invisibility Cloak can suck it!).

Anyone who is (literally!) suffering in silence with a hearing loss and putting off getting hearing aids for whatever reason – believe me – I get it, okay?  It’s not easy to finally admit to yourself – maybe I need this (especially at MY age? In MY industry? What will people think of me?). But the only one who is really in your way – is you.  You’re doing yourself (and others) a disservice by missing out on so many things you could be enjoying without difficulty. Struggling unnecessarily when there is such incredible hearing technology nowadays, is silly. There are millions of people walking around with glasses on because they need help with their vision.  How is needing help with hearing so different?

As a final note – I need to mention the Stanford Initiative to cure Hearing Loss. Like many of you, I came across a news article a few months ago about how researchers at Stanford had devised a way for mice to regain their hearing – a first time occurrence in mammals.  I was amazed, appreciative, inspired.  A cure for hearing loss is a potentiality that is actually within the reach of science! This is huge! I  immediately donated and sent along a note of thanks, explaining my personal situation and why a cure would mean so much to me.  It’s actually how this blog post came to fruition.

For me, a cure would mean the ability to continue my passion in life.  To not worry about what’s around the corner for me or what the audiogram will say in another 10 years’ time. But honestly, the bigger picture is just as meaningful to me. To know the lives of millions of people – from babies to toddlers to adults -with profound hearing loss and deafness would be forever changed? I consider that, not only a marvel but a miracle of science.

For now – I consider myself lucky (part of that luck is now having the opportunity to share my story with you!). I’m happy, I’m healthy, I am still able to pursue my passion for voicework and radio.  Maybe I will for a long time to come. Maybe I won’t. Life as we all know, is unpredictable and there’s a point where you have to stop investing so much worry and stress on an future that is altogether unknown (despite all the Magic 8 Ball consultations).

My hope is that I can help be part of a larger picture of optimism and awareness:  not only for hearing health in the radio profession, but also to help tear away the general stigma of hearing loss as merely an “old people” affliction.   And, along with that – draw support for the incredible and groundbreaking work that is being done by Stanford to find a cure.

I would like to thank Kate Morris for inviting me to contribute my personal story during Better Hearing and Speech Month. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity.

Healthy hearing to all,

Nat Lauzon