Daniel Brown: Deafness is part of who I am, and it makes me appreciate the world around me

Posted on November 25, 2015

One day, my hearing aids stopped working.

Wearing hearing aids is important for the development of a profoundly deaf person’s speech. Without them, I discovered that I was losing ground on my speaking ability, crafted through years of speech therapy.

I even remember my mum saying to me: “If I can’t understand you, and I’m your mother and I brought you through all of this, then how are other people going to understand?”

But I did nothing about it. In fact, at some level I was happy about it.

When I was the age of three, I fell ill to bacterial meningitis. I don’t really remember that time, only brief snatches of me sitting in my living room, rail thin, covered in what looked like nicotine patches. It nearly killed me – it should have killed me. Instead, I survived, but with a caveat – I was now profoundly deaf.

Growing up, I hid my deafness at every opportunity. I found that, in high school, if I grew my hair out over my ears, I could do a convincing impression of a ‘normal person’. I’m no Daniel Day Lewis, but it was close enough.

At university, my knowledge and understanding of ‘normal people’ was now so extensive, that I could slip by them like a KGB spy in 1980s USA.

Daniel Brown

Daniel Brown

My only big weakness was being in a nightclub. What do you do when a drunk person is yelling mutely in your ear over the roar of thumping club anthems and leaning back to lipread might be misread as an invitation for a snog? It isn’t fun, let me tell you that.

Safe to say, during all this time I was incredibly sensitive about it all. Someone asking me to repeat what I just said often felt like they’d just asked me to punch myself in the face.

It’s only recently that I started to ask myself why. I’ve just completed my master’s. Those of you who have attended university know that it isn’t real life. It’s a warm, comforting bubble. And when it burst, I got my first glimpse of the precarious free-fall that lies on the other side.

It was time for me to grow up and that didn’t mean suddenly going all pipe, slippers, and rocking chair. It was time for me to stop running away and accept the reality of this part of myself.

The last time I put my hearing aids in was in the middle of Des Moines, Iowa, USA. I was working my second summer as a camp counsellor at Camp Sunnyside, a camp for those with special needs and disabilities, run by Easter Seals.

The Midwestern summer completely destroyed the things and I chose to do nothing about it. I believed that my hearing was just fine without them, so why bother? That was back in July 2013. And yes, the irony hasn’t been lost on me.

After all, the conflict at the core of my being was manifest in the very place I was working at. It could even form the basis of a movie plot – the campers and the counsellors, working together, yet there’s someone there struggling with who he is because he believed that others would define him by his disability.

And the resolution would be that person suddenly realising how wrong he was.

Deafness is a part of who I am. Deafness makes me work hard, not willing to be overlooked or cast aside. Deafness makes me appreciate the world around me, that it’s okay to just stop and stupidly stare at something beautiful, even if it’s at the risk of looking gormless.

Deafness makes me appreciate the significant level of hearing that I do have, that I can appreciate music, that I can listen to the waves folding themselves on the shore, that I can hear the voices of the people I love.

And I will still appreciate all that. Except, from now on, everything will be that little bit louder.

Daniel Brown graduated the University of Stirling with a First Class Honours in English Literature in 2014. He has recently completed a Masters in Creative Writing, his dissertation project being a screenplay set in a summer camp for those with special needs and disabilities, based on his own experiences of working at a summer camp in Des Moines, Iowa, for two years. He is passionate about writing and film, something that I’d like to pursue in my aspirations to be a professional screenwriter.

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