Author Jennifer Gibson, interviews her main character, Jessie from her book series.
Author - Hi Jessie! I’m so glad you could join us today!
Jessie - Thank you! It’s nice to be here, especially on a such a beautiful summer day. It has been a very cold and rainy season lately, so this is a real treat.
A - What are your plans for this summer?
J - I’m helping out at the dojo, teaching karate to the students. We are starting a new summer camp program this year, where we are having more classes during the day for the kids.
A - Is Ethan a part of this too?
J - Yes, of course! He loves working with the little children. He has a natural gift with them and they really get along with him.
A - Have you come across any difficulties or challenges when you’re working with the students?
J - Every day is a challenge for me. Although, occasionally I will have a couple of people who are soft spoken, others that mumble, and guys that have a moustache or beard that covers their lips. I’m a big lip-reader and I tend to miss a lot of what they say. It’s frustrating for both of us when I can’t understand what is being said.
A - How do you overcome this?
J - Sometimes, I’ll ask them to repeat what they asked me and remind them that I have trouble hearing in a noisy environment. Believe me, it can get really boisterous in class, especially when we have a lot people working on their kiai's. The kids love to yell loudly!
A - Does that typically work for you?
J - Sadly, not always. If I still have trouble hearing them, I will encourage them to ask Sensei Ethan.
A - Does it bother you to have to rely on someone else for help?
J - Sometimes it does. Logically, I know that I’ll need assistance from time to time. But in my heart, it feels like I’ve failed in my ability to hear them. It bothers me on an emotional level.
A - Do you mean in terms of your expectations?
J - Yes. I work very hard, every day to try to live a normal life. And most of the time, it feels like I’ve accomplished that. Once in awhile, when something goes wrong and I missed what was being said to me or gave a wrong answer, it’s a harsh reminder that I’m not perfect.
A - Well, no one is perfect and we all have our flaws. What kind of pet-peeves have you come across so far?
J - Do you mean in regards to my hearing loss?
A - Yes, you have a severe to profound hearing impairment, is that correct?
J - That’s right and I’m deaf in one ear. I have lot of pet-peeves and some of the biggest ones are when people tell me to turn up my hearing aids. I know that they are often joking but it’s actually hurtful to say something like that to me since I actually can’t do that. My hearing aids are already the most powerful ones on the market and have a limited volume level. The problem is that the damage to my inner ears prevent me from being able to hear like a normal person. It’s not like putting on a pair of glasses and getting perfect eyesight. Even though the quality of my Oticon hearing aids are superb, they can only pick up a narrow band of information such as speech. I try very hard to listen to people, watch their body language as well as social cues (which I tend to miss). But if I’m tired, particularly at the end of the day, it’s a huge struggle for me to do that.
A - Do you find that you get tired more easily than other people?
J - Yes! After a day of being around so many people, especially at school or around active kids at the dojo, I’m exhausted because I work so hard at lip-reading everyone.
A - How did you learn to lip-read?
J - It happened naturally over time. When I was very young, I had to take a lot of speech therapy which required me to pay attention to the speakers face.
A - How much does lip-reading help?
J - I pick up a lot more actually but it’s not perfect and definitely not 100% since my hearing loss is so severe.
A - On average, how much can you hear when you wear your hearing aids?
J - Maybe 50-60% in a quiet setting and face to face.
A - How does that change in a noisy environment such as sports or a restaurant?
J - It drops dramatically to 30% or less. That’s a huge change for me. My mother always had to sign to me whenever we were in places like that. She knew right away that I was missing a lot of information and could see that I was struggling.
A - Did that help?
J - Yes, but it was so embarrassing!
A - Why is that?
J - I think it’s because it feels like everyone is watching me and that bothers me.
A - A lot of people find that sign language is beautiful to watch and they would love to learn more about it.
J - Yes, that’s true. Part of it is because I’m actually very shy, and partly that I was bullied and ostracized from wearing my hearing aids when I was younger. To me, it feels like I have a giant spotlight on me all the time and I don’t necessarily want to be the centre of attention especially in a public place. I’m still trying to overcome that. I do know that I need to utilize sign language since it helps fill in the gaps for me.
A - Do you have any other traits or issues that you are trying to overcome?
J - Ha ha! I have a lot of things that I’m working on changing. I think the biggest one is trying not to get frustrated so quickly or losing my temper when I can’t hear what’s going on. Situations where I’m in a big group are my worst nightmare to deal with since I miss so much of what being said. Quite often, I’m the last one to be picked or even left out. That really hurts me.
A - Why is that?
J - When someone chooses to ignore me or fail to utilize my skills and talents, it makes me feel very isolated or even useless.
A - Can you expand on that for us?
J - Sure. We live in a very social and hearing world where everything is designed for people with normal hearing. For someone like me, we tend to get left out because they don’t realize that we can’t do the same things as everyone else and we struggle to keep up with them. It’s a horrifying feeling to be told “Never mind, it wasn’t important.” Well, to me, it was important. I want to be a part of the conversation, I want to feel included and be able to pitch in. I want to be able to engage in the society and not be left on the sidelines simply because I can’t hear very well. It’s not my fault that this happened to me. I’m doing the best I can under these circumstances and sometimes it’s not good enough for some people.
A - I’m so sorry to hear that. What’s the worst thing that has happened to you?
J - Aside from not having anyone show up for my 16th birthday party? Having someone walk away from me, especially a teacher or coach, when I tried my hardest to listen to them. To have someone that I respected, turn around and leave, was extremely disturbing and deeply hurtful.
A - Why does that bother you?
J - I think it’s because I’m already working really hard to simply listen and then have someone give up on me so quickly without trying other options, makes me feel less valued. It’s bad enough that I sometimes feel like a freak since I tend to stand out with my hearing aids.
A - Don’t worry Jessie, you are most certainly not a freak. You are a remarkable young lady who I greatly admire.
J - Oh, thank you. You’re making me blush!
A - What other benefits have you found with using your hearing aids?
J - The coolest feature is being able to listen to music and watch Netflix on my ipod. It’s wireless so it streams right to my hearing aids!
A - Now that is awesome! I don’t know if you will be able to answer this next question but let’s try it. How does music sound to you compared to someone with normal hearing?
J - Actually, I can answer that question. An audiologist that I met, made a series of short tracks of music and sounds that represent different levels of hearing loss. For someone like me, it’s a bit like having pillows over my ears where it’s very muffled and distorted. There is a lot of information missing and I’m only hearing bits and pieces, usually the loudest sounds. When I first heard those tracks, I cried.
A - Why is that?
J - It made me realize how much I was missing and how awful it sounded. I’ve since then learned to accept what I can hear and embrace my limited ability since it’s all I have.
A - Good for you! What other experiences have you dealt with in relation to your hearing loss?
J - A lot, actually. I’ve discovered that the way people respond to me or my hearing aids, is a good reflection of who they are. Most people are generally very open to it and want to learn more about my life. Once in awhile, I’ll meet someone who gives me a hard time or won’t work with me. That’s usually a sign of their personality and I can’t change that. They have to learn at their own pace, and be willing to deal with disabilities. My mother has met several closed minded individuals like that and has said that she feels sorry for them.
A - Why does she say that?
J - We suspect something happened in their life that prevents them from being able to see the person behind the disability today. It’s a shame since they are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to see how talented we can be. We all deserve to be loved and appreciated.
A - That is a very mature attitude and wise words coming from you, Jessie.
J - Thank you. I think it’s because of what I’ve endured, it made me grow up a little bit faster than others. Most of all, I couldn’t have done it without the support of my mother. She helped shape and define me to become the person I am today.
A - That is certainly true. Family is everything isn’t it?
J - Yes! I’m so grateful for that. In fact, I’m more appreciative of what I can do and receive as a result of my hard work, it means a lot to me.
A - I can see that. You are a talented young lady! Thank you for chatting with us today.
In : July 16, 2017
Tags: july 2017 interview jessie "jennifer gibson" "hearing loss" "hearing aids"