As a teenager with hearing loss, I often wondered “Why me?”
It’s tough enough being a teenager, let alone one with a communication challenge. My friends didn’t need to sit at the front of the class in school. They could whisper secrets. I felt left out, even embarrassed at my difference. But over a long period of time (we’re talking decades here), I realized that often there’s no good answer to the question, except “Why not you?”
The human body is organic and, part by amazing part, it eventually breaks down. As an adult, I developed a better perspective: everybody has to deal with some health or social issue. Mine just started particularly early. This awareness helped, but I still looked at my hearing loss as a burden, as a shame so deep that I kept it from myself – and certainly from the people in my life.
Living with hearing loss every day of your life doesn’t necessarily mean you become good at it. People with hearing loss can ignore our own needs, devise ways to hide our condition and put up with inaccessible conditions simply because we don’t know how to make it otherwise. To move forward, we can start by looking in the mirror and taking back control: “Okay, this is my life now. What am I going to do about it?”
But it took a long time to get to that point in my life, and it happened only because I was concerned about the safety of the baby I was about to have. I reached out for some ideas, perhaps a little support or good advice. What I got was life-changing.
Hearing loss is not a solo dance. It’s more like a tango for two or a folk dance for many. It impacts everyone in our communication circles, all of whom are potential members of the hearing loss support teams we need to build. Learning how to build those teams and navigate the hearing loss life with confidence is part of progress to skillful living.
My epiphany happened at a conference for people with hearing loss, my first. A woman with a six-month old baby in her arms sat down and talked with me. I felt as if we were on a cloud because with each word she said, my life changed. My fears calmed. My shame disappeared. My hopes brightened. My baby was safer.
That was the day I started looking at my hearing loss with new eyes. I met other people like me, who understand me because they have the same issues. They support and help me. The powerful realization of a support I’d never known could exist almost brought me to my knees.
Even today, wherever I am, I feel their collective, invisible hands holding mine on our shared hearing loss journeys.
Note: This article was partially adapted from Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, by Shari Eberts and Gael Hannan.