My Quiet Struggle: Growing Up Hearing-Impaired
Between the ages of birth to six, we learn. We learn how to interact. We learn how to socialize. We learn how to speak up for ourselves, tell people to stop being mean or tell people we enjoy their friendship. Between the ages of birth to six, we learn how to build a relationship, keep a relationship, find friends that build us up and make us feel like we are good enough.
What if you couldn’t do all that? What if in order to survive your everyday life, you had to hide behind who you really are?
What if you spent those first six years observing, watching from the sidelines. You wanted to play. You wanted to speak up but you couldn’t. Your brain worked just fine. After all, you had taught yourself. You had taught yourself to read lips and to just read period. Your first six years were spent as if you were underwater. Spent as if you had to interact, socialize, talk all underwater but even then. . .you got every other word.
What if every single time your hearing was tested, you read the doctor’s lips and passed the hearing tests because you had figured out how to survive? If you had one friend whom you followed everywhere, watching her closely, picking up clues and copying her moves in the hopes of figuring it out and when that one friend would wonder why you were following her, you could never explain it because you didn’t know and neither did anyone else. What if you spent your first six years with your nose in a book because books didn’t require a volume control? What if you adapted? Laughed when they laughed. Nodded when they nodded. Played a role. A role in some kind of movie where you got every other word and did what was asked of you, never certain exactly what they were asking.
Your first six years are filled with snapshots. Silent moments. Strong moments. Hanging upside down on the monkey bars. That nice girl in first grade who gave you her giant pencil. Silently correcting another student as she read out loud to the class, knowing you had stronger reading skills but never volunteering yourself. Playing, running, laughing but all the while, not hearing much of anything.
Then at six, you got hearing aids and were put into the world. You had to figure out how to adapt. How to socialize, how to make friends. Yet everyone else knew the rules. They knew everything that you did not. They had a six year head start. You fell into this gray area. You do not fit into the world of the hearing but you do not fit into the world of the deaf. So you make a choice and for the next thirty years, you wandered, you listened, you were steps behind everyone—six years behind everyone. You make mistakes. A lot of mistakes. Those mistakes cost you. Those social cues are up for criticism from the masses. Why are you doing this? Why do you act like this? Or even worse, you’re called names or labeled because you don’t know. You don’t know why you’re being shunned, it’s just that you’re being shunned. People assume they know why you act the way you do. Bitter. Angry. Negative. Self Absorbed. Pathetic. Unstable. Yet they never hit on truth. Disabled. Impaired. Six years behind.
It’s easier to shun than understand. It’s easier to cast aside and place a label, immediately diminishing someone’s worth, diminishing who they are as people, who they are trying to be because of the label. It’s easier to label someone as having a defective personality trait than understanding their impairment. It’s easier to call someone angry or negative because it’s something that can be changed. You can be positive. You can just not be angry. A disability, an impairment cannot be changed. It sticks with you forever and yet you have to adapt. You have to catch up, speak up, be strong and brave. And if you don’t say the right thing, or say the right thing in the right way, you’re cast aside, and labeled. It’s always easier to accept someone as just pathetic than it is to accept them as disabled.
Disabled. Impaired. It’s not an excuse, but rather an explanation. When people explain that they get you. That their grandparents are hearing impaired. That they also have bad hearing or that they have a friend with the same impairment. . . it’s not the same. It is not the same as your grandparents or your friend. It’s being five years old and living in a world where you wondered why everyone spoke so softly and then got mad when you didn’t respond correctly. It’s a world where at sleepovers or at sleepaway camp, you sleep with your hearing aids in at all times so you don’t miss anything and you will yourself to stay up until everyone has gone to sleep. Just in case. It’s a world where at 12, you were called names because of that disability and the teachers brushed it off. It’s a world where you are constantly catching up, trying to connect, trying to figure it out, trying to trust. You are following the steps but being told told those are the wrong steps, or not being told anything at all.
It’s an explanation. It’s a disability. My disability. My impairment. Mine. My gray area world.
Meredith Lee is a highly educated thirty-something living in Los Angeles who has written several unpublished Young Adult Fiction books that she hopes will be published one day. She is also a teacher/private tutor who works with students who have learning disabilities. In her free time, she watches way too much television and enjoys witty puns. She can be reached via Facebook, Twitter (meralee727) or email at email@example.com, if you would like to discuss pop culture, Common Core Standards or if you know, how to beat level 243 on Candy Crush.
(Featured image via Shutterstock)