Suffering hearing loss at 30 was the best thing that happened to me
A new children’s book by Samantha Baines about a girl with a magical hearing aid aims to shed light on disabilities
I was crying in the bike storage area of Westfield Stratford on the phone to my Mum, when a woman almost bumped into me. She looked up, saw my tears and then, holding eye contact, backed away slowly as if they were catching. I was crying surrounded by locked-up push bikes, so perhaps she thought I'd got a flat tyre or that I just really cared about sustainable transport. Actually, I had just been told — aged 30 — that I needed a hearing aid and it was a bit of a shock.
It all started at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2016. Comedian Felicity Ward was DJing; she is a great DJ and I was so excited I was standing right next to the speaker. That was the first time I heard a strange noise coming from inside my ear. It was like a whirring noise or a tiny animal rustling around (yes, I thought I had a spider living in my ear because I have anxiety and we've all seen those scary YouTube videos: "woman pops a spot and ten spiders crawl out of the cavity"). Following months of anxiety I went to the Doctor and was told I had tinnitus.
I was sent for a hearing test just as a precaution – so it was a complete shock when the audiologist told me I had hearing loss on one side and recommended I use a hearing aid for the rest of my life. To add insult to injury, I was sent for an MRI to ensure that my one-sided hearing loss was nothing more sinister.
Thankfully, it wasn’t, but being told you need to wear a hearing aid at 30 is still a bit of a shock. I thought my life was changed forever and that my job as a comedian and actor — starring in series like The Crown and Call the Midwife — would be over. How could I wear a modern hearing aid in period dramas? Who is going to book a comedian who can't hear and interact with the audience?
If I’m honest, my own preconceptions about hearing loss played a part. I didn’t hear much about young women who had any sort of hearing loss and the havoc it wreaks on your self-confidence. In my eyes hearing aids were for people with grey hair who had Werther's Originals in their pockets: I thought that my days of feeling young were behind me.
That’s why I wrote a children’s book about a little girl with a hearing aid. Harriet Versus the Galaxy sees the young protagonist bolstered by her disability. Harriet’s hearing aid doesn't hold her back: it translates alien languages and helps her save the world.
My own hearing aid has been a bit of a personal superpower – it has actually been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I still act and perform comedy but it has also helped push me to do more and opened up some amazing opportunities. Through my work with the British Tinnitus Association and Action on Hearing Loss charities I have met such incredible people with similar experiences and there isn’t a grey hair or Werther’s Original in sight. I am now proud to be an Ambassador for both charities to continue raising awareness. Harriet Versus the Galaxy was released this October and I have already received so many messages from children and parents who have read the book and feel less alone. Some even think hearing aids are cool.
I think it’s so important that every child sees themselves represented in children’s books and there aren’t enough books with disabled heroes. I hope that my book can start conversations around hearing loss and disability and make people realise that sometimes the hardest times in our lives can bring the greatest rewards.
Harriet Versus the Galaxy by Samantha Baines, published by Knights is available in hardback for £12.99. Buy it here.