Jeez, B’y – Is You Deaf? (A Newfoundlander’s Story)

Editor’s Welcome:  Thanks to the internet, we can connect with interesting and wonderful people whom we might not otherwise meet. This week’s guest blogger is my kerry robertsnew friend Kerry Roberts from Newfoundland, Canada. Kerry is a computer programmer/analyst, woodworker, musician and family man. Newfoundlanders are storytellers and Kerry has a powerful tale to share.

I still remember the incident that started a chain of events that ended months later with getting my first hearing aid – a bulky, smartphone-sized contraption with an earpiece that somewhat fit. I was 6 and my mom had given me my first-ever watch. I told her the watch must be broken because it wasn’t ticking. She put the watch to her ear and I remember her saying, “You can’t hear the ticking?”

And so it began.

My name is Kerry Roberts. I was born in 1970 and grew up in Hermitage, a small outport community on the south coast of Newfoundland.  My mom also gave me my hearing loss – a sensorineural genetic disability handed down through a line of ancestors living in and around my community and others – Seal Cove, Connaigre Bay and Grole. Most of the families had the surname ‘Loveless’ and our unique condition was dubbed ‘The Loveless Loss’. The defective gene for our condition has since been identified, so there is hope that the disability won’t be passed on to our children’s children.

I can’t say I had a bad childhood. There was always lots of love and support in my family and they tried to help me. However, small isolated communities like the one I lived in are often the most unforgiving of people who are ‘different’. Growing up, I often heard, “Jeez, b’y! Is you deaf!? “If you’se not deaf, then you’se stun!” [Translation: What’s the matter, boy, are you deaf? Because if you’re not deaf, you’re stupid!]

Hitting puberty, my hearing nosedived and situations became increasingly difficult. Newer and more powerful hearing aids helped with the volume, but when people spoke, it sounded like a foreign language. With my fragile sense of self-esteem hanging in the balance, the burden of not being able to communicate well seemed insurmountable. I was angry at the world and I became a trouble maker. Fortunately, I met the girl who became my wife; she helped me focus on getting good grades and to deal with the challenges of a hard of hearing teen.

In university and college, however, a few events helped damage the brittle structure of my confidence – to the breaking point.

In one incident (I won’t say when or where), I’d made a joke in class; the instructor must have been annoyed because he taunted me, saying something I couldn’t understand. Whenever I said “I’m not getting that” or “What”, he mocked me again.  I realized what was happening and tried to laugh it off.  The other students were looking at me, and when I met their eyes, some were concerned, others looked away – and a few laughed. My smile died and I became so red-faced and embarrassed that my lips quivered.  I buried my face in my hands and I could still hear the instructor mocking me.  He stopped when he saw the extent of my embarrassment, but the damage was done. I left the room.  I was humiliated to my core and after that incident I avoided having attention of any kind focused on me. Remembering the stares of the students, I could not go through that again.

On another occasion, I had an instructor with a thick foreign accent.  Most professors willingly wore the mic of my listening system; many even gave me their class notes so I could focus on listening.  But this new instructor, when asked to wear the mic, responded with “Hmm, why don’t we see how you do without it for a while and then we’ll see.”  I didn’t know what to say and sheepishly replied “OK”, but he was impossible to understand.  He must have sensed this, because he suddenly stopped his lecture and asked, “Can you hear me OK?” But his accent was as thick as cold molasses and it was only by his face and body language that I figured out what he was asking.  Turning all colors and panicking because the class was suddenly looking at me, I simply said yes.  Then he said – and this I could hear – “Well, if you have problems hearing, I will speak loud and you can sit by the chalk board next to me.”  A part of me died inside as the class chuckled at his comment.  I never went back.

These incidents helped shatter any confidence I had in social settings.  I sank into a deep depression and started down the road of anxiety disorders, social phobia, OCD, etc., and within a year I was taking strong medications.

Somehow, I gathered the courage to take a job as a computer programmer where I knew I would have to deal with and talk to people. Sometimes it worked and I got a lot of positive reinforcement from colleagues. Other times, the failure of people to truly understand my communication struggles sent me spiraling into a deep dark hole again. I somehow coped, using strategies that centered on avoiding difficult situations, such as meetings. But the coping came with a price – debilitating anxiety disorders.

The hearing never gets better, although technology improvements make many situations easier than before. My workplace accommodates me with live captioning at every meeting, and I use captioning on TV shows and movies. But when I meet friends and family I haven’t seen in a while – nothing has changed. Most of them fail to understand or recognize my hearing problem; they speak to me as they do to everyone else, which is extremely stressful for me.

On the plus side, I have some wonderful friends who truly get what I’m going through and always do what’s necessary to help me understand. Research is progressing and I have plans to connect soon, for the first time, with other people who have hearing loss. I have my family, my woodworking and my music and – although it’s probably not coming through in this story – I have the ability to laugh.

I also have hope.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

38 Comments

  1. Such an amazing and compelling story by a fabulous writer. Growing up in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s we were indeed putty in the hands of people in authority.They thought shaming a person in front of others was the thing to do, as if that would help. Little did they know the embarrassment and humitiation a person went though from their public outrage. Years ago and even today people in authority didn’t and don’t know how to be sensitive to people with different affections. Your story touch me deeply.
    You’ve done very well and I salute you for having the courage to bring this out in the public forum. May God Bless you and your Family.

  2. I read this and was so outraged by all the teachers and what you have been going through all your life .I wonder sometimes if I have a hearing problem but went and got tested and they said I was fine but I have ppl sometimes tell me are the deaf ,did you hear what I just said even when I went to school .This problem still goes on today and it needs to be addressed and taken as a serious matter with employers and employees and all businesses .After reading your words in this article you have my full support on this matter and people need to be aware of this situation .I see you went through a lot growing ,something that no one needs to go through .This was very informative to me and to others .

  3. Wow, Kerry…you just described my “life”…I was diagnosed at 3, had to wear the lovely yucky body hearing aid…that I wore outside of my clothing and school uniforms. Talk about being the odd one out! Especially once you hit puberty and became conscious of our appearances, dating, etc. Always felt isolated as no one else in my family or in my peer group had this disability. Truly guilty of avoiding going to parties, meeting new people, shy at work, etc. These experiences affected my self esteem, confidence, etc…so much so, that I too was diagnosed with anxiety, panic and of course depression. It has been a struggle, but I realized now…at 45 years old (!) that it is never too late to reach out and seek support, meet other people who have the same disability as you, gain confidence and still try new things, studies, etc…as we may still surprise ourselves with our “abilities”. Still working on the reaching out part…but, it is never too late…

    Thank you for your article…you made me feel not so alone!!!

    1. Please contact me any time you would like to chat Christine. Gael and others have helped me tremendously and I want to do the same. :)

  4. Hi, Mr. Wood ;) Not only are you a fighter, but a fabulous writer, Kerry. I don’t have hearing loss yet — that I know of ;) — but I could relate to your experiences growing up “different” in those fragile growing-up years when we are putty in the hands of people in authority. Thank you for taking the time to open up. I was deeply touched. It is such a pleasure and honour to have met you. I hope we will have a long and abiding association.

    1. Catherine, you are certainly a highlight in my life. Never did I dream the day would come when what people said in a meeting could be captioned on a screen for me to read….and the heavens opened up and gave me Catherine. You are a godsend to me and I hope we always keep in touch. :)

  5. This has been my life story as well……I have the same gene, and hearing lost as you have, I’m moderate. I have been ridiculed about my hearing since grade school and even to this day, certain remarks about me being deaf still bug me…I have an hearing aid, and I now need 2 .

    1. Verna, I hope my writing inspired you … maybe even enough for you to get that 2nd hearing aid. Drop me a line any time if you want to chat! *hugs* :)

  6. Kerry – I have to admit, I nearly broke down reading this, as I have had very similar situations at school and work. My hearing loss is not as severe as my mom’s or other family members, but I have sensed the feeling that I will need hearing aids soon. I never used the disability claim at school, but have instead tried to struggle through it, settling for possibly lower grades than I could have had. I am 17 years younger, but have still had difficulty growing up, and going through grad school. I am currently on path to get my CPA. Your story is inspiring to me that I am not alone and there are others like me.

    1. David, it was just a few weeks ago when I made the pleasant discovery that “I am not alone” by reading Gael’s wonderful blogs. Of course I always knew there were many others with hearing loss…but for some reason always thought that these bad experiences were exclusive to me – they are not, not even close. Feel free to drop me a line and keep in touch if you need to chat or vent. I will continue to face many challenges in my life and I need others who can relate too…there is no reason to ‘go it alone’ when there are so many others traveling along the same path. :)

  7. Kerry, what an amazing and compelling story! I watched my Aunt struggle with the Loveless hearing loss for many years! She too struggles with her confidence even today! She has had to deal with people not understanding her disability and it has sometimes made life difficult. I truly hope that with the advances in medicine and technology, something amazing comes along (better than what is currently available) that will provide those with hearing loss, the ability to hear all of the wonderful sounds that most of us take for granted. Thank you for sharing your story….

    1. Joanne, you are very welcome and I am glad you were able to relate to the experiences I shared. After receiving so much positive feedback from the story and so many telling me “I go through the same thing” I feel like “my story” is becoming “our story”. :)

  8. Kerry, I always thought you were one of the smartest people they had in IT at work – and you could aways have fun too! I remember your first day at work, and how shy you were, which you seemed to deal with over the years. I will always remember you and Dean, throwing those pencils, and the Dilberts (think that is what they were called) ! Then the help you gave to everyone who needed it. You are sooooo freakin smart! Simply loved your story and the difficulties you faced, dealt with, and overcame. You should be proud, as I am proud of the person you are, and so glad to have met you! Good for you, and again, thanks for sharing this.

  9. Awesome story .

    I know Kerry personally now for the most of my career .never would have thought that he had gone through that . I too have a disability and went through similar situations I have had a lot of fun with Kerry and made fun of him on many occasion but not about his hearing . others have had embarrassing moments he is not alone. this story should be told across the country and the world for that matter.

    well done Kerry

    1. Thank you Rod. You too are an inspiration to others. You have overcome great obstacles and have a great career and a wonderful family. I have always considered you a friend and an awesome co-worker. Thanks for you comment! :)

  10. Thank you for your story Kerry. I find myself close to tears as I feel your humiliation and ongoing anxiety.
    I too have ex periemceed this and I totally get how volume can be adequate yet people sound like they are talking loud gibberish. Sometimes I repeat what I think I heard which may be nothing more than grunts or groans with the same syllables and then they understand my perception levels . Anyway whether we ever live in a day where hearing aids can actually make us hear again or not I do believe the world is getting more aware and sensitive towards this disability.
    I often joke to my friends that I will be way ahead of them as a senior when they start losing their hearing . It’ll be old hat for me . And even as our eyes age we will hopefully always be able to taste that Gin and Tonic..

    1. Wendy, your post put a big smile on my face. You seem to have a very good sense of humor about it all, which seems to be the ‘key’ to maintaining some level of sanity through it all.

      The part about people sounding like they are speaking “gibberish” is the story of my life. I recall a little while ago a co-worker sent me a video of a news broadcaster who had a mild stroke while on the air. The inset on the video said something like “just listen for the moment when her speech makes no sense and sounds like gibberish” After I watched this video I realized that I could not tell when the stroke hit because the whole time she was speaking sounded like gibberish to me. :)

  11. Great post, great reminder to all of us hearing people to pay attention to the needs of others when we speak.

  12. What a great story Kerry ! It must have been so hard going through school . Hearing loss is a very serious condition that makes life so stressful for some. You have overcome a lot and I thank God for the internet that can be so informative and helpful in a situation like yours and many others. I’m so glad that you have your beautiful little family and that you excel at wood craftsmanship and that your music means so much to you. I hope you gain Confidence every single day and keep on believing in yourself ! xoxo, Luv you lots, from B.C.

    1. Thank you Nicki! Your post means a lot to me as I know you can certainly relate to my struggles on a personal level. Thank you again! :)

  13. kerry
    you are an inspiration! living with and being a part of a family with severe hearing loss(loveless) i can truly understand the struggles that you have faced in your life.i think the key thing in your story is that you never gave up and today you have a fulfilling productive life. the future is bright kerry with new technology and research,and i wish you the very best in yours.you are courageous and you give hope to those who feel none……….bless you and your family

    1. Etta, thank you for such an uplifting response. Hearing others tell me they understand what I have been through means so much to me. :)

  14. I’m not clear whether or not Kerry is wearing HA’s now? (Great name by the way Kerry) I hope help comes soon in the form of better hearing.

    1. Thank you KERRY! :) I still wear two HAs most of the time. I too hope technology and awareness improves to make the lives of all people with hearing loss (and other disabilities) one that is comfortable and free of barriers and limitations. Thank you for your post. :)

  15. Having an issue such as this is hard to accept. What’s harder is to share this with the world. I congratulate Kerry’s bravery and am very proud of him. Despite his hearing loss, he is one of my best guitar students. He amazes me at every lesson. Keep it up!

    1. Eren, my friend. You are also a HUGE inspiration for me. You ALWAYS have encouraging words and in times when I have doubted my ability you ALWAYS give me the encouragement and guidance I need to achieve what I thought would be impossible for me in the past.

      You are an INCREDIBLE teacher, an AWESOME musician and I am honored to have you as a friend.

      Thanks bud! :)

  16. This is a great story. Very honest and believable. You’ve done very well and I salute you for being able to get some workplace accommodation. I wish you all the luck in the world.

  17. Growing up with a hearing loss in the 1940’s was tough. Some people though I just dumb kid. In the end it had a positive effect and made me work and study harder and eventually I did become successful. A lot had to do with the support from my mom.

    1. Hermine, I could not agree with you more. The love and encouragement I got from home and later from my wife, family and friends is what got me through. Thank you for sharing. :)

  18. I feel for you mate, I grow up similar to that as well, it was a pain but I manage. I have a CI now, only had it not even a month activated.

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