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The importance of not suffering in silence

Published Date: 17 Aug 2023
Photo: Author not pictured. Stock photo from our image library.

So, it’s A-level results day. You’re probably feeling anxious about receiving your results. You’ve possibly got a conditional university place, or you may have something else lined up, which may or may not depend on your grades. A very stressful, scary time all around, and one I wish you nothing but the best with.

Imagine this. It’s 2011, and you have just completed an AS-level exam in German. You struggled through the listening portion of the reading, listening, and writing exam, and came out of the exam flustered and anxious, hearing your classmates discussing that the listening section was about accommodation, when you’d thought it made little to no sense and was about the future. Dread and fear floods through you, and you know that you’ll get a bad grade, despite having written a good essay, and having understood the reading portion.

You wished that you’d told someone – a teacher or a parent – that you cannot hear properly in one ear and have never been able to. But you refuse to, for fear of being judged, ridiculed and ignored. You’re scared to be seen as different. Sound familiar?

AS-level results day rolls around. You arrive at school and open up your results. You get a miraculous A in the speaking portion of German AS-level, and a D in the other exam. The worst bit is, you still don’t tell your teachers or parents quite why there is such a stark difference. You don’t tell anyone that you’ve spent the past 17 years of your life coping through lipreading. You don’t let it slip that you’re struggling, quite literally, in silence.

You knuckle down and buy yourself a book on 555 German verbs and try to improve your grades in every which way, to compensate for the secret that you’re hiding. You spend hours trying to work out the past participles and the imperfect tenses of a foreign language. You don’t tell anyone except for a trusted friend that you think you’re deaf in one ear and always have been. You push it down, ignore it. You don’t want to be seen as different, you don’t want to have to get a hearing aid or have special considerations, even though you know deep down that you would qualify for them.

You’re determined to get a B in German. You retake the AS exam in the January exam season. You can use headphones this time, and still only get a C, but it’s enough. You don’t have a listening exam in the A-level exam that summer and achieve a C in the speaking this time around, and a B in the other paper. You achieve a B grade overall and get into university. Your teachers are impressed and pat themselves on the back for helping you do so much better in the more difficult A2 exams.

You get to university and realise that you cannot hear a thing in crowded, echoey lecture theatres, and promptly leave after Fresher’s week, because you cannot mentally deal with the thought of spending another four years struggling. You don’t tell anyone that you’re struggling with your hearing loss for five more years, and that it’s part of why you feel so lost and scared at 18.

This was my reality as a very stubborn teenager with undiagnosed, single-sided deafness. I caused myself a lot more stress than was necessary, and a decade later I regret not having told anyone that I was struggling. If I had the opportunity to change anything from my school days, it would be about not telling the right people that I could not hear, meaning I would have been diagnosed sooner and been able to advocate for myself and others.

If anything I’ve mentioned here sounds like it could be your life, please talk to someone. You’ll feel a lot better about both your education and future. You will definitely be heard, and help will be at hand.


Jenny has single-sided high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss in her left ear, which is severe to profound at the highest frequencies. Jenny uses a Phonak Receiver-In-Ear hearing aid.