Isabelle Garraued talks openly about her "hearing" problem and her hope for finding answers.
Isabelle at a Paul McCartney concert in 2017
It doesn’t take long after meeting me to notice I have trouble hearing and I usually just say I’m hearing impaired because it’s simpler to say. You see, my hearing problem isn’t really about sounds but rather a speech reception problem that leaves everyone sounding like those minions from Despicable Me.
Despite living with this impairment for six years, I can still barely understand it myself and the closest diagnosis I have come to in my own research is I have an auditory processing disorder. That’s what I usually tell new people in my life and explain to them that it doesn’t matter how loud they talk, if I can’t read their lips, I don’t know what they ‘re saying.
It all started the summer before my senior year of high school. It happened gradually, but it was talking on the phone that made me realise something wasn’t right. I’d have my phone up to my ear and hear someone talking but I couldn’t for the life of me understand what they were saying. I’d hear a word here and there, but basically, it all sounded garbled.
I also noticed (and everyone else) that I was saying “what” more often. Since I was already deaf in my left ear, my parents just assumed I was losing my hearing in my right and immediately hooked me up with a hearing aid. All that did was give me a headache because it amplified everything, yet I was still constantly asking people to repeat things.
I was confused because how could I hear someone clicking their pen behind me, opening a bag of chips, the AC running, etc., but not someone screaming my name. In fact, everything sounded ten times louder than usual. I’d get startled by turning the sink on because it sounded like I was standing next to a waterfall, I’d step outside and become overwhelmed by all the street noises, someone would drop something and it’d sound like a bomb went off in my ear.
Over that summer, I went to many doctors and had many tests done, but the results all said I was deaf. No matter how hard I tried to convince people that I could still hear, everyone believed what was on paper and assumed I was in denial. I felt so alone and angry, all because I couldn’t get people to believe what didn’t make sense.
I became the deaf girl and yet, I couldn’t help but respond to sounds, especially since I was now overly sensitive to noises. My friends were noticing this too and began to think maybe I wasn’t deaf, but it didn’t explain why I was having difficulty following conversations.
I don’t remember when I realised what my hearing problem was, but over the years, I got better at understanding how my ears work. It’s like the sound of your voice goes into my ear, then up to my brain, but then the words get lost. If I close my eyes when you’re talking, I will hear what sounds like a garbled voice but no matter how hard I try to make out a word, I usually can't.
No, I don’t know why sometimes I can’t hear you calling my name or why sometimes I can hear you talking in the other room. If I’m listening to music, I can still hear the beat, the rhythm, and the type of music it is, but unless I heard the song before, I don’t know the lyrics. I can recognise songs I know, though, and learn new ones if I listen to them a lot.
I don’t remember when I realised what my hearing problem was, but over the years, I got better at understanding how my ears work. It’s like the sound of your voice goes into my ear, then up to my brain, but then the words get lost
The only times I found that I don’t hear the music playing is when there’s a lot of other background noise. It’s like my brain can only pay attention to so many different types of sounds at the same time.
I’m lucky that because I was deaf in my left ear basically my whole life, I was forced to learn how to lip read as a kid. Without this ability, I would’ve had a more difficult time adjusting to my new problem. It’s hard at times because it’s like I’m in-between hearing and deafness, and lip-reading isn’t always easy but I try my best or, at least, pretend too.
Hanging out with my friends, I sometimes forget about my disability, as do they, because communication isn’t hard with people I’m comfortable with. They too have learned how to talk to me and if I really can’t understand a word, they’ll spell it out for me.
Maybe in the future, I’ll have an answer to what’s up with my hearing or, at least, find someone like me, but for the meantime, I just go through my day like everyone else, except maybe with a few extra “whats”.
Isabelle enjoying a silent disco
Rare Revolution Editor