Posted by jennifer gibson on Thursday, July 30, 2015 Under: July 2015
I’m thrilled to introduce Gael Hannan, a new author who also happens to be Hard of Hearing, just like me. I’m so glad that you could join us today!
Growing up with a progressive Sensorineural loss without the use of assistive devices such as hearing aids must have been a particularly difficult experience for you. How on earth did you manage to get through school?
My hearing loss was mild when I was a child, steadily progressing—perhaps ‘regressing’ would be a better word—to its current status of ‘severe to profound’. So, I got my speech early, although certain sounds that were difficult to hear—sibilant sounds and soft word endings, for example—were therefore also difficult to pronounce. You can’t recreate something that you didn’t know was there! I pronounce pizza as pea-suh instead of peet-zuh until I was 21!
Were you aware of the impact that your hearing loss had on your classmates and your teachers?
Interesting question! But no, I wasn’t aware of the impact it had on my classmates - only on me. Although some of them may have thought I was a bit aloof. But I always had good friends, so I wasn’t isolated socially.
Did it bother you that you were not able to hear as well as everyone else in class?
I was the one who had to sit at the very front of the class to read the teachers lips (which meant I often had to look up their noses, too); this was the day of sitting in rows all facing towards the blackboard. When someone said something from behind me, I had to rubberneck or do the swivel-in-the-seat thing. If I said something wrong because of what I’d misheard, my face would burn with embarrassment. My teachers knew about my loss and accommodated me as much as they were able…there was no technology and no hearing resource teachers at that time. Oh dear, there’s the ‘poor me’ thing….
Due to the stigma of hearing aids, not everyone is keen on wearing them. What made you decide to get them when you turned 20?
From the time I was in my teens, I remember wanting a hearing aid. But the doctors had always said no, it wouldn’t help me and my parents accepted this advice. When I was 20, I was living on my own and I switched from a paediatric ENT to a big-people ENT who said you need a hearing aid. I was using one within a month, and it was life-changing. Loud, but life-changing.
Having a hearing loss can lead to some rather embarrassing mishaps as well as hilarious situations. Are there any particularly memorable experiences that you would like to share with us?
I just wrote a book full of them! But one incident still has the power to make me cringe with embarrassment when I recall it. In school, as I mentioned, I always sat at the front. But in high school, I decided to try sitting at the back of the class – I wanted desperately to be with my friends and be cool. On the first day that I brazenly moved to the back row, the teacher called on me and I hadn’t heard clearly- partly because I hadn’t been paying close attention to what the teacher, now so far away ,was saying. I didn’t want to say pardon in front of everyone, so I stood up and said, “Sorry, sir, I wasn’t listening.” Jaws dropped, the class went silent. The teacher said, “Well, thanks for sharing, Gael, but I was calling on Dale, not you.” Next class, I was back at the front, following my most basic of hearing loss rules: sit where you can see the lips.
Having a disability is not easy, especially one that is frequently misunderstood and virtually invisible. Yet you’ve managed to find the humourous side of it. What prompted you to do this?
I didn’t set out to write funny stuff about hearing loss—because hearing loss in itself isn’t funny. But I am lucky to have inherited the humour gene from both parents - and I come from a long line of performers, preachers and teachers. I can’t sing or dance, but I can be funny. Except when people introduce me to someone and say, “This is my friend Gael. She is SO funny.” Then the stranger looks at me expectantly, waiting for me to make them laugh. Which I can’t just do on demand, you know, I need some inspiration! But back to hearing loss and humour…when we are talking about the life of communication challenges and the things we need to do in order to live with it successfully, it helps to put a humorous spin on it, at least some of the time. It’s like Mary Poppins and her ‘spoonful of sugar’ which makes the ‘medicine go down’. And besides, some things are just funny—what we thought we heard, etc.
Here’s a short passage from my book on the subject:
Hearing people (what we call people who are not deaf or hard of hearing) usually find these miscommunications funnier than we do. When we’re out of earshot—which is usually not too far away—they tell these stories to other people. They deny it, but they do! They don’t intend to be mean, but simply want to tell an amusing anecdote. “I told Gael we were concerned about my son’s shyness, and she said that no one in her family has sinus trouble, har-de-har-har.” Many of these stories are funny in a spoken slipping-on-a-banana-peel kind of way—but only when they happen to someone else, not me.
You have a very diverse background including being a public speaker, speech reading instructor, actor and most recently, an author. Which one has been the most challenging field to tackle?
One thing leads to another. Experience and skill form layers that help you go to the next step. I started doing theatre when I was in my teens, returning to community theatre in my early 30’s which helped develop my future public speaking ability. I always had a flair for writing and my work in business communications and sales helped develop my sense of myself as a communicator. But when I discovered my passion for hearing loss issues, it all came together. But the most challenging role, I suppose, was writing the book. There are just so many words to string together!
Your hearing loss is now severe to profound, which makes it much more difficult to pick up speech. Was this a difficult transition to accept?
No. The worse my hearing got, the better technology became. I believe that I hear better and communicate better now than I did when my hearing loss was ‘milder’. There are so many wonderful tools….better hearing aids, telecoils and looping, captioning!
You have a very open mind towards hearing loss, how did this come about?
There is no shame in having hearing loss. But I didn’t really get that until I met other people like me. Going to my first meeting of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) was an epiphany for me. I realized that I’d been carrying around a little shame-monkey on my back—for years—and didn’t know it. That was gone immediately when I realized that it’s part of life that happens - and I was in no way responsible for it. But I was responsible for addressing it and dealing with it as positively as possible. Not only for myself but also for other people. And so began my life of hearing loss advocacy—performing, presenting and writing about it.
You’ve written a cheeky book entitled “The Way I Hear It” which is part memoir and part survival guide. What made you decide to write a book about your life in dealing with hearing loss?
Because people asked me to, and it was something I always wanted to do. You know the spiel—I want to be happy and famous and marry a handsome guy with money and write a book. And since I started on the book, I’m amazed at the number of people who confide that their secret dream is to write a book. But I also had no choice. One of my oldest friends is the Canadian actor Mary Haney. She and I took drama lessons when we were about 12 or 13 and our futures were prophesied by her mother Sheila, also an actress. One day, when Mary and I were in our mid-teens, Sheila pointed at her daughter and announced with Shakespearean resonance, “YOU—will be an actress! And YOU (pointing to me)—will write a book!” And here we are, forty-odd years later.
Since your book features snippets of your life, were there any situations that you struggled to write about?
The most challenging was writing about being a hard of hearing mom, because that has been my most challenging life role - as well as the most exhilarating and love-filled. My son will be 20 this fall, and any mom who has had the pleasure of parenting a teenage boy, will understand the angst that goes along with this. Joel is an amazing young man who can make clouds dance with his charm and wit and mind…but it’s tough being a sensitive child who has an older (I had him when I was 41), hard of hearing and often irritable mother. We’ve just about worked it through! But writing about the process brought back a lot of emotions. It was, in fact, my pregnancy with Joel that prompted me to reach out for support from the hearing loss community.
When I wrote my trilogy series about a hearing impaired teen and incorporated my life experiences, I discovered a deeper revelation about myself. Did you go through this too? Did you learn anything about yourself?
Writing—and performing—about hearing loss is my life’s passion. I found that thing in life that we all want to find. Apart from the people I love, I had never been passionate about anything in life before. If I were to die tomorrow—I would prefer it not be today—and I had a few moments to think back on my life, I would be able to say, yeah, maybe I should have done this and this and that. But on the other hand, my work with hearing loss made a difference in people’s lives. And I wrote a book. Ta dah! That’s it, I’m done, I’m outta here.
Since this is first book, are there any plans for a sequel?
What was your ultimate goal when you wrote your book?
To start it and to finish it….and maybe to create a book that made people laugh, think and feel better about the hearing loss affecting their lives.
What has been the most difficult experience that you’ve been through so far as a result of your hearing loss?
Getting used to new hearing aids is a particular brand of hell reserved for people with hearing loss. That, and the double-hell that is the tinnitus that I’ve been experiencing for the first time over these past few weeks.
How would you describe yourself?
Emotional, creative, impatient, and self-absorbed (aren’t most creative types?). But on the flip side, I would say that I am loving and curious, which is the gift that I wished for my son at his birth (and it came true), and which also makes up for a lot of sins. Oh, did I mention that I am hard of hearing?
As a public speaker, you’ve travelled around the world countless times, is there a special place that you would love to visit again?
New Zealand and Australia. Seattle. Yellowknife—but not in November next time, please. Anywhere where people with hearing loss need a laugh or a reminder that they are not alone in what they are going rhough.
Being hearing impaired has certainly turned your life into a success story as one of North America’s sought after public speaker and performer. Do you think this was fate, that all of this was meant to happen?
I don’t know if it was meant to happen, but I’m certainly delighted that it has!
It’s not easy having a disability, particularly hearing loss - what advice can you offer to people struggling with it?
I end the Introduction in The Way I Hear It with the advice that I have to follow if I don’t want my hearing loss to swallow me up:
Use technology and other strategies
Tell people what you need.
At least, that’s the way I hear it.
Thanks for joining us Gael!
Gael’s website: http://www.gaelhannan.com/
Gael’s awesome blog: http://hearinghealthmatters.org/betterhearingconsumer/
She’s on Twitter: https://twitter.com/gaelhannan
Watch her on CHCH news: http://www.chch.com/advocate-hearing-loss/
You can order her new book “The Way I Hear It” at these bookstores:
Friesenpress - http://www.friesenpress.com/bookstore/title/119734000015376639/Gael-Hannan-The-Way-I-Hear-It
Amazon.ca - http://www.amazon.ca/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_7?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=gael+hannan&sprefix=gael+ha%2Caps%2C196
Amazon.com - http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_11?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=gael+hannan&sprefix=Gael+Hannan%2Caps%2C203
Indigo - https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/search/?keywords=Gael%20Hannan
In : July 2015
Tags: "gael hannan" "the way i hear it"