At a university meet and greet for international students, I realized it was crucial it was for me to tell people that I have bilateral conductive hearing loss ahead of time—and that I wear Cochlear™ Baha® Sound Processors to help me hear; that without my sound processors, I consider myself deaf. I had chatted with one of the students—an undergraduate in psychology – on a free-messaging app prior to the event. She was not too happy when she found out I was deaf, perceiving the omission as a lack of trust. It never occurred to me to mention my hearing loss when chatting with her. But when I met her in person, I made the wrong impression right away. That evening, I was lost in a cloud of voices. I wished I would have brought my Cochlear™ Mini Mic 2+ to help. Before that night, I had never experienced that intense and debilitating feeling of isolation. And when I did, it came as a shock. I deeply regretted not informing the event organizers of my hearing difficulties beforehand. Later on, it would come back to bite me. It was time for me to find confidence with my hearing loss.
High school advocates
Back at high school, everyone knew me, and they knew I wore Baha Sound Processors. I had teachers who advocated for me before the first day of school and all my accommodations were in place from day one of each year. My teachers and peers in high school knew to repeat sentences for me; they bent over backwards to ensure enhancements for my learning. From their supportive behaviors, I built an inflated sense of confidence and never thought of hearing as a luxury. However, at this event, I should have disclosed my deafness before I arrived.
Withholding my hearing loss
My mistake that night was assuming my peers would figure out I had hearing loss. Somehow, they would see the Baha Sound Processors on my head, and understand what they are—and how they work for me. Though I am only able to do it to a certain degree, I thought I might try to pass as an individual with hearing. My Baha System is built to be discrete; when I wear my hair over my Baha Sound Processors, they blend in perfectly. No one would know I was deaf unless I told them, which I refused to do. My decision to withhold my deafness would only continue to have more consequences.
After I moved into my new apartment, and orientation week was well underway, I realized, for the first time in my life, I was alone and on my own. Until the morning I was startled by voices in an adjacent room. I was still wearing my pajamas and drinking my morning coffee.
The person who would be living next door to me for the duration of the 2017-18 academic year appeared. When we began talking about our lives and where we come from, she never asked me for more than the basics. In turn, I never told her I was deaf. I never thought about disclosing my deafness when I began living on my own and I continued to keep it to myself. That was another mistake with long-lasting consequences. Had I told her in the beginning, we never would have had awkward moments when she thought I was ignoring her, being aloof, or plain rude.
When my second roommate moved into the apartment and introduced herself, she did not hold back. From the very beginning, I knew her name and her medical diagnosis. Her openness made me feel comfortable sharing my story and it gave me the confidence to tell her everything from that point forward. I started with disclosing my conductive hearing loss and blindness in one eye. I continued, telling her that I wear Baha Sound Processors, explaining what they are and how they help me hear. Giving her a clear picture of what she should expect from me when I am not wearing my Baha Sound Processors. For example, I told her when the university residential fire drills occur, I would need her help to make sure I get up and out of the apartment since I do not sleep with my Baha Sound Processors at night. I also warned her that I do not hear in the shower.
Looking back, I wish I had told my first flat mate the whole story. Maybe we would have had a better understanding of what each other was going through. But since I was honest with my second flat mate, we have built a friendship. If I had known the importance of telling people I wear Baha Sound Processors in the beginning, maybe things would not have been as awkward with my first flat mate.
Through this experience, I learned the importance of informing people about my hearing loss. Hearing implants open doors and help build friendships that may last a lifetime.
My hearing loss is a part of me. I can try to deny it, run from it, and shut the door on it completely, but I would be missing out on so much if I did. My second flat mate helped me reestablish the perseverance I had previously locked away. She told me that when I fall, I need to get back up, laugh it off, and keep going. People judge me, and I cannot control their thoughts, but I can control how I approach the situation. The only thing stopping me from showing my true colors was denial and the fear of betrayal and embarrassment.
Then one rainy day in Dublin, I locked myself out of my room. Wearing nothing but my pale-blue, sparkly bath robe and my first flat mate’s white gym shoes, I walked out of the apartment onto the Front Square of Trinity College Dublin to retrieve a new key card from security under the Front Arch. Tourists were staring and I heard a lot of chuckles, but I had a smile on my face the whole time. When I got to the Front Arch, a woman told me how brave I was. As I made my way back to my apartment, I was laughing hysterically alongside the tourists, realizing how much I had overcome.