They’re small, almost invisible to the naked eye – at least when I wear my hair down. If my hair is pinned up or piled into a bun, I can also hide the slim, tan plastic backings with a thick, woolen headband – for the rest of winter anyways.
They are my hearing aids. I love them, and I hate them.
For those of you without a hearing disability, you will probably never be able to understand the daily struggle those of us with hearing loss undergo. Even with the assistance of hearing aids, life can be difficult. There are times when, despite the latest technology, our assisting devices are simply not enough. And there are times when are devices work so well, amplifying sounds and voices to the point that we want to rip the aids from our ears and run away screaming.
Yet despite our difficult relationship, my hearing aids have given back to me not only sounds I didn’t know I’d lost, but they’ve returned the ability to once again communicate effectively, to be confident and to jump at opportunities I previously would’ve avoided for fear of how my hearing loss would affect my performance.
Did you know when you lose your hearing, your voice can change? The letters you are able to hear and speak vary and your voice can transform into that of someone else.
As my hearing loss progressed, I took on the vocal persona of a young English/Australian woman. (No one could really decide which.) The nationality of my voice changed depending on the person I was speaking to and their knowledge of the world outside of Missouri and Texas. Throughout college, and even still today, the most common first line I get from new acquaintances is “You have an accent. Where are you from?” Needless to say this has become my go-to ice-breaker in conversations. Top guesses in the last five years include: Great Britain, Australia, France, Canada, Germany, Russia, New Zealand, Maine, the entire East Coast, and the outlier, South Africa.
But when I got my hearing aids this last December, I realized for the first time how foreign I truly sounded. During the first week of wearing them, it became obvious the changes in my speech. I no longer elongated my R’s, dropped my S’s or omitted my H’s and D’s. And when I took the aids out, not only did I lose or misuse letters and sounds, but I stumbled and jumbled common words in the midst of casual conversation. If a conversation was relaxed, I spoke and only tripped a few times, and when I was nervous or anxious, it seemed my words slipped and fell every-which-way as though my vocal chords were skating on freshly frozen ice.
I cried when I put the hearing aids in my ears, for my “English/Australian” accent was not a unique or charming attribute but a mischievous sign of a severe disability.
I don’t always want to wear them every day, and on some days, I don’t. They stay in their silver cleaning box or stitched, leather case, and I walk away as if they don’t exist, pretending that my hearing is normal and as though I can survive the day alone.
I can’t, but I still stubbornly try.
Perhaps its the difficulty of accepting my disability, the loss of over 87-percent of my hearing at only 23-years-old. Or, perhaps it’s not so much accepting that loss as it is accepting that I need help.
Confidence at any age is often connected to something we do or something we have. It is rarely connected simply to who we are. Self-esteem and confidence are an unbreakable pair that work together for good or for bad. We can seek confidence and self-esteem from just about anywhere and from almost anything, but when something happens that affects our ability to do something or that changes what we have, the resulting consequence is a faltering break in our sense of self-worth.
I have never seen myself as physically beautiful, instead finding self-esteem and confidence from riding horses and, later on, writing.
Horses became a sanctuary throughout high school, a sport I was talented at but didn’t need my ears for. I continued training throughout high school and college, and even recently have been riding and teaching. It’s something that I’ve never needed hearing for, never will need hearing for, and so it remains a primary source of pride and confidence. But for the months when horses were no longer part of my life, I saw my confidence shift towards writing.
Writing came upon me unexpectedly during my junior year of high school, and while it never really took root until my junior year of college when I worked as a sports reporter, it’s become a passion, a job, part of who I am, and my alternative to speaking to God. But even as a junior in college, I knew my ears would give me trouble, and before the reporting term started I made my editor fully aware of my disability. Interviews on the phone terrified me, and I avoided them at all costs. Sources had to repeat words and phrases multiple times on the phone, and I always made sure to do dedicated fact-checks on quotes and data.
My ears hindered me at first, isolating me from the rest of the bustling newsroom and trapping me in a fear-based bubble. They tortured me with anxiety for weeks, and until a profile on an Olympic historian, Dr. John Lucas, I shrank from fellow reporters and editors attempts at conversation. The article’s results would gift me a renewed sense of confidence in my abilities and in my self: feedback from editors, fellow reporters and those who knew Dr. Lucas; nominations and awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Missouri Press Association. The article would show me that I could report and write, do it well, and do it despite my ears.
While I’ve faced significant difficulties over the last two years, when I was given my hearing aids this past December, the struggles began to go away. I no longer fear speaking on the phone or doing interviews with strangers, well not as much anyways. I can speak to them without asking for multiple repetitions, and I no longer shrink from coworkers attempts to converse. I work in a digital marketing agency, and I handle over 10 B2B and B2C clients on a daily basis. I handle it, and my ears no longer get in the way.
Jumping at Opportunities…
My ears used to keep me from applying to jobs I wanted, taking freelance assignments offered and from living the normal social life of someone in their twenties. I began to write about my hearing loss last year, using my blog as an outlet for the frustrations, struggles and epiphanies associated with my disability.
The posts reached out to people in a way I did not expect, appealing not only to those with hearing loss but also to those without it. Each post helped make a fellow hearing-disabled person feel understood and heartened, and each post brought enlightenment, understanding and knowledge to those who were normal.
Now, I don’t shy away from sharing my disability, from promoting it or being open about it. It doesn’t hinder me in any way, and while I face struggles daily, sharing helps not only myself but others who are in the same situation. Here it reaches those who follow the blog, and on Twitter it reaches hearing associations near and far.
In the next coming months, I will hopefully be writing a monthly column for the Dallas Hearing Foundation and will hold the first interview for my Eternalizing Memory project.
Hearing loss shouldn’t hold you back.
It did for the longest time, and I let it. I don’t anymore.
I fight it.
I have my hearing aids, the confidence to be open about what I need to perform, and while I have days when I just want to hide in a silent bubble, well I save those for movie nights or quiet reading.
I’m disabled, and I love it and hate it. I have hearing aids, and I love them and hate them.