Monday, 22 June 2015

Behind the Book: An Interview with Gael Hannan

Last September, I wrote a blog post on Gael Hannan as the 'original' hard of hearing mommy writer. Since then, she has written her book, The Way I Hear It and I thought it would be appropriate to do a behind the book interview with her - even though we've known each other since 2008 when I first met her at the CHHA/IFHOH Congress, and have seen each other intermittently through the years.

The Hard of Hearing Mommy (HoH Mom): Could you give us a background of who you are, the author behind the book? 

That’s a toughie, because I’m not just behind the book—I’m in the book.  The Way I Hear It is about the life with hearing loss.  My stories are also the stories of anyone touched by hearing loss.  But besides being a writer, I’m also performer and a mother-spouse-friend-family person who likes to travel and socialize. I’m a witty person who can make jokes but can’t always take them, and I’m also impatient and a procrastinator, which made the book-writing process challenging.  I recently turned 60 and my husband and I celebrated by selling our Toronto home and circumnavigating the United States (with plenty of visits home to Canada) with our two cats in a 32-foot camper.  Yes, we left our son behind but he’s in university and knows how to feed himself.  The final draft of the book was completed as we drove up mountains and over bridges and we toasted the end of every day of driving and writing with a glass of wine.

HoH Mom: When you first started writing the book, what were your first thoughts? How did you feel about sharing such personal experiences? 

I started writing the book because I’d been talking about writing it for several years, and I’d reached the point  where I could see the eyes of my friends and colleagues glazing over every time I went blah-blah-blah about this book I was going to write.  So I started the book with a mild sense of panic: “I have GOT to get going on this!”   Because I’d been writing and performing about the hearing loss life for many years, sharing personal experiences was not a problem.  Even so, I was surprised at some of the dark corners it took me into—frustrations and hurts that, deep down, still existed. It was an interesting and liberating process.

HoH Mom: In your book you give us so many valuable strategies on how to be a better advocate for yourself. What would you say is the most important strategy for you? 

Honesty and openness about hearing loss are crucial to communication success.  If we don’t admit to ourselves and to others that we have hearing loss or that we aren’t following or understanding in that moment, we cannot expect others to understand or meet our communication needs.  It’s so easy for people, even those who consider themselves well-adjusted with respect to their hearing loss, to become lost or isolated in conversations—every single day.  It’s important to become comfortable in saying “I have hearing loss” or “I’m not following, could we try this or that…?”

HoH Mom: You also emphasize the need for hard of hearing people to have a good working relationship with their audiologists ("audies"). Do you have a 'checklist' when you are looking for an audie? 

I’m a huge fan of ‘word of mouth’ shopping.  Regardless of what I’m shopping for, whether it’s clothes or hearing aids, I’ve always asked for the opinions of people I respect.  So if I’m in a new place, I ask someone “Which audiologist do you use? Why?” But as an experienced consumer of hearing health services, I know what I need.  If I sit down with a new hearing health care professional, and that person speaks in a whispery voice or has trouble remembering to face me, I won’t go back.  Most audies are trainable, but I don’t want to work with someone who does not honour basic communication strategies. 

HoH Mom: I have a hearing child, and from mother to mother: did you ever feel guilt for not being able to immediately respond to cries or requests, because you simply didn't hear it in the first place? 

This has always been a major area of anxiety for me and, in fact, expecting a child was what first drove me to seek the support of other people with hearing loss.  At a conference, another mom calmed my fears and helped me understand that my hearing loss would not interfere with my ability to be a good mom.  There were many hearing-related incidents, some of them terrifying and others just funny, as my son grew up.  I talk about this relationship a great deal in the book and, yes, there was guilt.  I call it the mummy-tummy—that feeling you get, lying in bed at night, when you berate yourself for whatever happened that day that would not win you “Mom of the Year” award.  But ‘hearing’ moms have the same mummy-tummy; they might even have the same incidents but they can’t use hearing loss as an excuse! 
Gael, with her son Joel, at age 8.
Handsome Joel all grown up, "in spite of having a hard of hearing mommy"

HoH Mom: Is there anything else you'd like to share with those who are experiencing challenges with a hard of hearing family member, or simply dealing with their hearing loss? 

Hearing loss is the gift that keeps on giving; when we have it, or our family member has it, we usually get to keep it forever and ever.  But we can learn to live successfully with hearing loss.  It takes time and work but we need to shift our goal from wanting to hear better to communicating better.  Communication, no matter how we do it, is the glue that connects people to each other.  It’s a gift.  And there many tools and strategies available that help us learn about our hearing loss and how to communicate better.  (Reading my book is one of them!) 

Curtis and I with Gael at CHHA's Yellowknife Conference in 2010 :)

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