When I was about five years old I was diagnosed with a severe hearing impairment on my left side. I was not diagnosed until I reached school age because nobody had noticed it before. Like so many of the others who have stories about living with any type of difference –it was simply all I ever knew so I learned to adapt to mine.
My ‘difference’ was invisible. In fact, before my diagnosis I didn’t realize I was different at all. I naturally favored my right ear and I just assumed everybody else did too. My mother eventually realized something was amiss when she noticed that I would only take the telephone to my right ear. One evening when she held up the phone to my left ear to say hello to my grandmother I said, “No, Mommy, that won’t work!” and put the phone to my right ear. She tested my hearing with her watch and realized I couldn’t hear it ticking on the left side. That prompted her to bring me to a doctor.
Then when I was finally tested, we learned that my hearing loss was the result of an inner ear malformation that I was born with. The doctor told us about available hearing aids etc, but since my hearing loss wasn’t holding me back he suggested my parents wait a few years to see how it developed. As I grew up, my difference continued to be only a relatively minor inconvenience. I never kept it a secret. In fact I think I became kind of proud of it. Like a special challenge.
To date, my hearing loss still impacts only my left side and I have near perfect hearing on the right. I have instinctively learned to choose seating positions or meeting locations that enable me to hear optimally. It can be tougher to do this in places with ambient noise (such as in noisy restaurants or in loud traffic), but I have learned to read lips fairly well to compensate. I have chosen not to use hearing aids or to pursue other options. When I was younger my choice was likely, in hindsight, driven by my desire to keep my difference invisible. Today I am a driven professional, and my difference has never held me back. In fact it may have even made me more determined. While modern technology has made these devices near invisible, my decision to forego a hearing aid is simply driven by my belief that I don’t really need one; I manage fine. I may decide differently in the future and that is okay too.
Although my ‘difference’ is unique to me, I can still relate and empathize with other “flaunters” who have shared their own stories. I too do not want to have assumptions made about me and do not wish to be limited in any way. Ultimately, I believe my hearing challenge is not only part of who I am, it is a gift. After all, because of it I use my other senses more fully and get the opportunity to pay even closer attention to ‘hear’ those around me.