I know I’m not the only person who’s been met with a solemn facial expression and a softly murmured, “I’m so sorry” after disclosing a hearing loss.
Truth be told, I’ve struggled a lot socially, academically, and financially since I suddenly lost more than 80 decibels of hearing in both ears as a teenager. Learning to navigate the world largely without a sense that I grew up with has not been easy. But at the age of 24, I’m beginning to notice the ways in which hearing loss has shaped my life in ways I wouldn’t take back for anything.
I’m now preparing for a career as an anthropologist, but I wasn’t always so curious about people. After experiencing such an abrupt change in my sensory abilities, I was awakened to the seemingly obvious fact that human beings don’t all engage with the world in the same way. Suddenly I wanted to know what life was like for the blind, the culturally Deaf; for refugees from war-torn countries and for people whose opinions I didn’t agree with. Learning about the human experience in all of its astonishing variation continues to excite and amaze me on a near-daily basis.
As a student, I’ve had to work harder than many of my classmates to keep up with the material. This may seem like a drawback, but it’s led me to develop a ruthless work ethic that continues to benefit me in everything I do. Having to constantly assert myself in requesting accommodations has also given me a lot of practice in sticking up for myself and not taking it personally when someone makes negative assumptions.
Thanks to the amount of effort it sometimes takes for a hearing person to communicate with me, many people don’t ever give it a second try. Those that do are always patient, considerate human beings that I’m glad to have as friends. My social circle is undoubtedly smaller than it would be if I could hear better, but I’ll take quality over quantity any day.
Last but not least, losing my hearing led me to discover the richness of Deaf culture. In the months after being diagnosed, I was sent to speech therapy and told I wasn’t “deaf enough” to learn to sign. So I scraped by with inadequate accommodations and rapidly declining confidence until I took my first American Sign Language class in college. Since then, I’ve been addicted to absorbing the art, poetry, and perspectives of Deaf people all over the world.
Later on, I began seeing a Deaf therapist who introduced me to the idea that I could choose to engage with the hearing world on my terms. While it struck me as a strange idea at the time, I’ve come to understand that I don’t have to wear my hearing aids, strain to hear, or even use my voice if I don’t want to. If I’m lucky enough to be in graduate school soon, I fully intend to make good use of an interpreter. For those days when I just need to grab some groceries, I can break out the pencil and paper and save my energy for more important things than stumbling through pointless chit-chat with the checkout clerk.
In the process of embracing my deafness, I’ve become more accepting of myself on the whole. I no longer grieve the loss of my hearing, because I’m proud of the person I’ve become without it.
Kiela Gwin is a partially deaf freelance content creator from the United States. She wants to study human evolution in graduate school. You can read about her adventures on experimentalways.com and follow her on Twitter: @KielaGwin.
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