I've decided to share a part of myself, that I've never really brought to the light, not out of shame but out of fear and disappointment at the judgements which ALWAYS left me feeling inferior. I'm twenty-two years old and this is the first time I've ever boldly said
"Yes, I'm deaf, So what??"
Going back to what I said about " fear and disappointment" , It all started as a kid, my experience was the same in both South Africa and in Ireland. Every time I went places where other kids were they would all warm up to me and we would have so much fun. That is until one person would see a little brown "thing" sitting comfortable in my ear and start pointing and asking me,
"What is that?,
why is it in your ear?,
what does it do?"
Before I could answer these queestions myself, A kid beside me would whisper as if it was a secret I couldn't know about,"Its called a hearing aid, it means shes deaf and she cant hear without it" and just like that, a switch would go off in all the little heads around me that I was the "disabled one", and that everyone would have to scream or move their lips dramatically for me to understand. I remember my little self thinking "one, I'm pretty sure I could have answered those questions myself and two werent we all having normal conversations and playing five minutes ago?". From there on I hated having up-do hairstyles or short hair, my ear just had to be covered at all times. Regardless of what my mum or my brother said to me about how capable I was. I wouldnt change my mind, because to me it was simply a matter of less stress. Hide it and be treated equally, problem solved.
This didn't get any better as I got older, being in a school for the deaf meant I was constantly in 2 worlds, and finding it hard to fit into both. In the deaf world, teachers and friends constantly asked why I was there because my hearing didnt affect my speech or my learning ability, to them I was smart enough to "survive" in a mainstream school. In the hearing world, my personal rule was no one was allowed to know, until they knew me well enough to not treat me differently. Up to this day atleast 65% of the people in my life still dont know and they probably will after reading this, But... I don't care any more.
I went to a boarding school. One day I was out with some friends of mine and naturally we would tend to "turn off" our voices and just sign to eachother. I remember one particular day we were in the toilets of McDonalds and a group of girls walked in and having seen us they started laughing, doing mocking hand gestures and saying to eachother "They're deaf and dumb, I wish we could understand what they are saying, theses b*tches are probably talking about us. They're so stupid". We all turned around and each of us spoke to them as calm and as humble as we could, informing them that yes we were deaf but not dumb, everything they had said was heard and even better we could speak back to them, so next time they decided to embarress themselves using stereotypes, they should take a second to recall that day" and with that being said we left, feeling happy about how our fifteen year old selves handled the situation.
In my final year of secondary school, I remember being out with one of my best friends, Kate. As we walked down henry street signing, we happened to bump into two girls who knew me and without even exchanging greetings one of the girls looked shocked and immediately went on to ask me,
"Lily how do you know sign language?"
"why are you with her?"
"can she hear me, poor thing?"
Before I could answer for myself, the second female decided it was her place to jump in. "Shes deaf. They both are. she wears a hearing aid" having heard this the first female looked at me in shock "No way! but you're one of the smartest people I know! your english is so good Lily, you speak so well omg! no I dont believe you". Being me, I always avoid confrontation and my friend knew this so despite how offended we both were at the ignorance and perception that a hearing loss means you're mentally a vegetable that cant think for yourself. she just looked at me and purposely kept quiet as I laughed, lifted my hair and showed the girl my hearing aid and told her yes I was deaf and no it didnt affect my capability. With that said we left.
Ever since finishing secondary school, my hearing has always been something I've pushed to the back of my head. I moved away for a year and even at 19, I told no one, then one day I decided to tell a friend and she told me they all knew, in my absence everyone had spoken about the little whistling sounds my hearing aid made from time to time but no one thought to tell me what they were hearing or ask me about it, They spoke amongst eachother in my absence and exchanged looks in my presence. I didnt realise then, how hiding a culture I was accustomed to because of people who werent, wasnt living MY life. I wasnt born to fit in and I had to accept that.
Two weeks ago I walked into college and my hearing aid snapped and I went all around the city trying to find a place to fix it and every where i went told me they couldnt do it. I found myself feeling alone and locked up in a college toilet cubicle crying and having an anxiety attack feeling as if I had no solution. At that moment not being able to hear my lectures meant there being no point in attending classes, especially since my college doesnt provide note takers, so I would be sitting in class listening to monotonous voices and not being able to take notes. Fortunately that evening I had plans to have lunch with Kate and she told me where I could have it fixed. I felt so much calmer and having a solution made me realise my anxiety attack was not because I wasnt able to hear my lectures. It was because in my isolation and hiding, this part of me. I felt like I had no one to talk to, which was the real frustration and I didnt want to call my mum because of my own pride.
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.
Only through experience of trial and suffering
can the soul be strengthened,
vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
- Helen Keller.
I dont feel like I should give people the power to make me feel like someone I'm not.
I'm finally letting go and realising I cant be the little girl shyly hiding behind mum with anxiety whenever I feel vulnerable over situations that never bothered me but people who did. I have too many scars to be breaking my bones just to fit into places or in with people that werent meant for me. Self -love, self respect, and self worth... Theres a reason that they all start with self, you cant find them in any one else. I've always been the kind of person who uses her pain to fuel growth.
I'm a firm believer in the fact you determine your own ability not society's stereotypes.
My 2 female best friends are an example of how strong women can achieve what they dream of regardless of what the voices utter. Kate who is deaf and Nicole who isnt.
Kate has a degree in Geography and is in the middle of doing her masters in Community Education, Equality and Social Activism at National University of Ireland Maynooth. Shes been to 26 European capital cities, 33 countries in total. She was one of seven women to swim 35KM across the English channel as a relay team and has recieved numerous swimming awards having swam for our old school and then gone on to swim for Maynooth with a scholarship.
Nicole has a degree in Psychology and a masters in Human resources. shes an intern at one of the best hospitals in the country and a part time employee there too.
Sometimes you just need to forget everything and try to be a stiletto in a room full of flats rather than conform.
As for me, I've been through so much but I've also accomplished so much. Theres great things I'm about to show the world and I'm still growing. I'm going to be a doctor in Psychology, I'm going to sit and I'm going to listen to every little voice better than I've ever been heard. Then I'm going to make sure each child that comes to me learns to gracefully embrace every little detail about themselves without outside influence. They will understand that your circumstances nor the people around you determine who you are. My deafness doesnt affirm my capability, infacts its my motivation to show the world a culture that not only is beautiful but also capable of tremendous things.
" Confidence isnt walking into a room with your nose in the air, thinking you are better than everyone else. Its walking into a room and not having to compare yourself to anyone in the first place. "
Thats what I am, Finally. I'm confident. I know my ability and I know who I am and I dont care what people have to say, I dont care about stereotypes and judgements because I've found my voice. I love the woman I'm becoming because I fought to become her and I know now that nothing can dim the light that shines from within.