Exactly a year ago today, EastEnders aired an entire episode from the point of view of Ben, who had previously lost more of his hearing in the boat crash, which was the focus and the climax of the 35th Anniversary week earlier in the year.
The episode, written by Simon Ashdown, featured distorted and reduced sound, limited subtitles and camera angles which highlighted the disorientation which can be experienced by those with hearing loss. Although some of the viewer feedback and comments on social media were centred around the fact that hearing viewers found it difficult to follow and found the inconsistency in sound ‘irritating’ and ’annoying’, asking whether the partial sound ‘really needed to be through the whole episode’, I for one was moved to tears.
Having progressive, acquired, bilateral hearing loss (meaning my hearing is fading in both ears), the deterioration of which has been speeding up substantially over the last few years, I’ve been clinging on to my place in the hearing world like my life depended on it. Until I watched this episode.
Without my hearing aids, my hearing level isn’t far off what the audience witnessed of Ben’s hearing during the POV episode, but without the added stressor of the effects of a traumatic brain injury. In sharing bits of the episode with close friends and family, it allowed me to give them an insight into almost what it is like in my world when I take my hearing aids out.
The conversations that the episode sparked about what I can and can’t hear, why I’m tired in the evenings and what crowded places are like, forced me to face up to the fact that there’s a lot I can’t hear and that I’ve just adjusted to my status quo.
From speaking to other people in my position, it seems lots of deafened adults do the same and feel the same but, because hearing loss is so individual and personal, we live inside our own experiences and don’t generally discuss them.
This is why episodes and storylines like Ben’s are so important – it opens eyes and hearts to the experiences of others. This is especially needed now, given the current situation and the added communication barriers we now face in the form of face masks everywhere. Ben’s POV episode came just at the right time, but it is equally important now and going forward.
I am massively grateful to the BBC and EastEnders for this groundbreaking episode; the writer, Simon Ashdown for the perfect script, and Max Bowden for the putting the time in to research how it really feels, to be able to accurately etch every thought and feeling on his face.
Because of this episode, I have come to accept and take pride in my hearing loss and my deafened identity.
Representation really does matter.