Posted by jennifer gibson on Monday, June 22, 2015 Under: 2015

Being in the public eye as a speaker from to coast to coast for many years has taught me to accept all sorts of curious, and sometimes ridiculous, questions about being hearing impaired. There's nothing wrong that at all. They just want to learn more about my hearing aids or hearing loss and that's a good thing. It provides a great education about the difficulties we go through on a regular basis or clear up any misunderstandings. It's also a good reminder that we need to be more open about our struggles so that we don't have to feel so alone. 

Most people have come to know me as a strong person, unshakable in my ability to function at the same level as everyone else.  It’s weird but I feel like I’m being viewed as  someone with super powers when in reality I’m just incredibly determined to be normal. Even though I’m working extremely hard to keep up with my peers, it’s often not enough. It’s not necessarily the way I view myself, it’s that I’m more aware of my limitations.

I’m already trying my hardest, in vain, to listen and participate in conversations. Since my hearing loss is so severe and I’m deaf in one ear, hearing aids can only pick up a small amount of speech. They do amplify sounds closest to me, usually within a two meter range, but unfortunately they can increase other background sounds like a noisy cappuccino machine which drowns out the person’s voice. This makes it a very difficult situation for me to be in since I have to strain to hear someone talking, lip-read them and watch their body language all at the same time.  The more people there are around me, especially in group situations such as meetings or social engagements, the faster I get tired out.  It takes a lot of focus and energy for me to pay attention to people talking.

It’s even harder in sports since we are in a fast paced environment and everyone is constantly moving around. Wearing equipment that obscures the face, such as a mask, is my worst nightmare which essentially strips away all of the necessary tools I need for understanding speech.  It unfortunately creates a huge separation between me and the person speaking. I have no idea what they are saying and all I can do is simply watch their movements and guess as to what we are required to do. I’ve had people ask me why I don’t raise my hand and request that they repeat what they’ve said. First of all, I spent years doing that and as result, I have learned that I end up being ostracized. It has taught me that it has negative consequences. Even though this is a more common occurrence in school where teachers get frustrated by a student interrupting them frequently, it can happen anywhere at any age. In recent years, I became a target by other athletes in my group, including adults who I thought understood my hearing loss - they scolded me for telling the coach that I couldn’t hear him in the gym. I was shocked by their behaviour towards me. It was an eye-opening experience that made me realize just how much people don’t understand what I go through on a daily basis as a hearing impaired person. It also made me grasp how isolating it can be, particularly in sports and social situations.

Ironically, I’ve been a public speaker since I was a teenager and used to facing large audiences. I have no problems standing on a stage and talking to hundreds of people, it doesn’t faze me one bit. However, when I have to deal with a small group, especially at a party, I become terrified. It’s because the thought of trying to listen to them is a daunting prospect that makes me feeling very insecure much like a young child.

One thing that surprises me is when someone tells me that I’m one of the strongest people they’ve met. It seems so strange because I’m just trying to fit in. Even though it means that I push myself to work harder than most people, that’s the way my life is. Once in awhile the stress and exhaustion will overwhelm me and when I fall to pieces, it’s a long ways to go and an equally long ways to get back up.

Going deaf has changed my life considerably. It’s having a monumental impact on my ability to socialize. I’ve become even more shy and withdrawn. I get frustrated much quicker. I’m also learning that I’m at the point where I have to ask people to help me and that’s not easy to do since I’m trying to be independent. It has been a difficult transition and a major wake up call that made me realize just how vulnerable I am. And that scares me.

In : 2015 

Tags: "stay strong" "going deaf" isolation  "wake up call" 
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