#2: I take my hearing aids out when I play Beethoven, so I can experience playing his music in a way most pianists cannot: with his ears.
#3: I rarely wear earrings because they draw attention to my hearing aids.
#4: I have "selective" hearing much more often than my husband realizes.
#5: I sleep through thunderstorms very well.
#6: I told my best friend that I was the best best friend ever, because when I sleep on their couch she and her husband can still enjoy their marital bliss - and I would never know.
#7: I get extremely annoyed when movies label their English subtitles as "SDH" or "Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing".
#8: I am uneasy about staying by myself or being responsible for my sisters overnight, because I am afraid that if something happened I wouldn't hear it.
#9: I am occasionally approached by little old ladies who want to know how I like my hearing aids.
#10: I really love getting to say "Yes!" when frustrated strangers ask "What are you? Deaf?"
I am partially deaf. You should all know this by now. I'm usually fairly open about it. For one thing, humor is how I deal with nearly everything. For another, it would be incredibly bad if I were walking around at a pool party with my hearing aids in and someone thought it would be funny to push me in. That would be a very costly mistake. (A $5,000 mistake, in case you're wondering.)
And yet, somehow I still manage to come across friends who apparently never realized that I'm deaf.
Actually, since I can still hear without my hearing aids (albeit not very well), I'm technically "hearing impaired". But I have what's termed a "moderate to severe" hearing loss. I've lost 50 decibels in the left ear and 55 decibels in the right ear. To give you an idea: imagine we were at a pool party and you had to raise your voice to talk to me over the crowd; if I was not wearing my hearing aids, then you would sound like you were talking at a normal conversational level. (Even though through your body language I would know you were speaking with a raised voice.)
There is some debate over when exactly I became hearing impaired.
For simplicity's sake, I usually tell casual inquirers that I've been deaf since birth. But the strange reality is that I passed all of my audiology exams until I was 4 years old. My father swears that one time pre-hearing aids he told me he loved me, and I responded "I love you, too" - even though I also had a speech impairment. The latter impediment was most likely the result of not being able to hear properly. In addition, my mother was very ill when she was pregnant with me - during the time that hearing normally develops in a child. So the general theory is that I was born with a defect which caused my hearing to deteriorate until it became really noticeable when I was 4 years old.
Though when we watch home videos it's painfully obvious that I can't hear them calling me.
When I was four, I got my first pair of hearing aids. They were gargantuan. And ugly. But I could hear. This was before the internet was really popular and definitely before YouTube was invented, so sadly, I have no video of my first hearing experience. However, I have a vague recollection of going to get my hearing aids and going to Burger King afterwards. My mother says we walked into Burger King, and I immediately looked around with wonder.
"Music!" I exclaimed.
My parents, thankfully, remarkably, didn't treat me like I was handicapped. They didn't set me apart from my siblings in any way. I never felt like a second rate human being, and they didn't lower their expectations for me. Quite the contrary. The public education system tried to label me as "special needs" but my parents insisted I be treated normally. They gave me a biography of Heather Whitestone (first deaf Miss America) and told me I could be anything. There is only one instance in my whole life in which they treated me differently as a direct result of my hearing impairment: they didn't allow me to get piano lessons when I first asked (at age 6) because they didn't think I would really enjoy music because of my hearing. They were wrong, of course, and they eventually took me to piano lessons (beginning at age 10). And that was the only time my parents ever doubted me because of my hearing.
Me, on the other hand, I doubt myself all the time.
When I switched from middle school to high school the government became extremely concerned that I wasn't in a special needs program, and I had to go to the doctor to be evaluated so that I could continue with my education as planned. The doctor shook his head over the bureaucracy and stated that I was "well-adjusted" and by no means did I need special education.
And that's how I've always thought of myself. Well-adjusted.
After all, I function normally. I joke about being hearing impaired all the time, because saying "I'm deaf" makes a great punchline in far more situations than you would think. I'm very open about it. I mean, here I am blogging about it. Sometimes people ask me if I ever wish I could hear normally (stupid question, really), and I usually reply with something kind of cheesy about how I'm looking forward to the fact that it will be Jesus speaking the first time I hear with normal hearing. I don't seem to have a problem with my state of being.
But appearances can be deceptive. Even to oneself.
This becomes very evident every year or so whenever one or both of my hearing aids break and have to be sent in for repairs. This is a process that usually takes weeks. In the meantime, I have a complete meltdown. I stress about everything, because any "normal" situation can now be considered hellish. Conversations become very difficult and frustrating. I worry that I won't be able to do whatever job I happen to have at the moment. I get angry when the hearing aids finally come back and we have to reset the settings, because the audiologist will invariably ask me what sounds normal. I just want to shout at him "I'm deaf, you idiot! I've always been deaf! I don't know what normal sounds like!" And then I realize, that I never will. I become reclusive, and I begin to hate myself.
Though to be more precise, I should say that the hate that I have for myself becomes more evident.
It's then that I finally realize that I've never really been okay with my hearing impairment. I know that there are things I can never do because of my disability, and I allow myself to be discouraged and give up on dreams because of it. At the same time, I've used it as an excuse to get out of things - say, learning a foreign language - I shouldn't have and I wish I hadn't. I hate it when I am labeled as "deaf" or "hard of hearing" and treated differently without a second thought, but then I find myself hypocritically hoping that my "disability" will be an angle that will boost my desirability for that scholarship or that job. I used to ask God to heal me, before I "matured" out of that hope. I was stunned when I heard of an acquaintance's miraculous healing. I felt jealousy and rage bubble up in me only to be drowned out by pure hopelessness.
I want to hear the rain drops on the roof while I drift to sleep. I want to be pushed into the pool. I want the questions "what?" and "say again?" to be expelled from my vocabulary. I want to wear large earrings without obnoxious little voices asking "what's that?!" I don't want to have a mild panic attack every time a battery dies. I want to be able to spend that $5,000+ on something else. I want to sleep soundly without fear. I want to have the option of doing whatever job I feel like doing. I want to earn my jobs because I'm good enough to get it - not because I'm a statistic. I want to whisper to my husband in bed and hear him whisper back.
My real confession is this: I want to be normal. I want to hear like other people can hear.
I'm not sure I will ever rejoice in my impairment. I'm no saint. But I do know that I can make the best of it. I can talk about it with humor. I can relish my unique abilities. I can be extremely grateful that my hearing aids last an average of 10 years. I can wear whatever kind of earrings I want. I can trust God to take care of me when I am alone. I can determine to do what I want to do regardless of my "disability". I can break stereotypes. I can strive to be the best at what I do. I can be happy for people who are in better circumstances..
I can be glad that I can hear.