'Coming Out' With My Hearing Loss.
Updated: Mar 19
So I thought I would write a bit about my mainstream school life from being diagnosed in Year 2, progressing to high school and what it was like 'coming out' when I eventually left.
I first started wearing hearing aids at 7 years old.
Due to being at a young age, I don't remember feeling conscious or worried about it, nor did I experience any negative comments from my fellow classmates. One of my childhood best friends used to say that she was jealous that I had something that she didn't have, people viewed my hearing aids as an "accessory" rather than a difference. I remember feeling proud when I walked in class and shown everyone my hearing aids for the first time, I never felt ashamed, I was excited to wear them and show them off! Little did I know, that feeling would not last forever...
As the years rolled on, soon I was starting high school which was the 'big kids school'. I do not remember exactly when my anxieties begun, but I remember the first day of high school when I started wearing my hair down. The anxiety of starting high school was more focused on how people would react to my disability, rather than making friends. I was soon parted from that 'safe' feeling I had in primary school. I knew once I started high school, I was mixed with many other children from different schools who would maybe not be so accepting of my disability (I was right!).
I felt incredibly exposed and decided to 'keep my head down' and just pray that I would not become a victim of cruel jibes which I would have to face for the next 5 years!. I knew then, in the first year, I had lost my confidence and my whole personality changed, I was no longer the chatty, happy, bubbly, proud girl that I was in primary school. Instead, I was always anxious and a very closed, quiet person. I would have a few comments from people who would call me "weird" because I apparently "never talk". Although, this was incredibly frustrating, I knew that I could not tell them 'the truth'. The 'secret' was incredibly difficult to keep, I just repressed all my feelings and tried to forget about my hearing loss and pretend to be someone who I was not! I believe I was going through the 'denial process'. It was incredibly depressing! I assumed that I was going through that typical 'teenage phase' when everyone is conscious about themselves and just wants to 'fit in', hormones and peer pressure playing a role too. Everything seemed to go well in the first year, nobody knew about my hearing (other than the teachers, my primary school class mates and one or two close family friends who attended the school) I felt comfortable, but slightly conscious that somebody would find out ‘the truth about me’. Little did I know, people were beginning to work out that I had ‘something wrong with me’ Sometimes in class I would not hear something and people would notice this more over time as it became common. Also, people noticed how I never contributed to class discussions. Some people thought that I had a "mental impairment". Soon I begun having problems hearing people and made the teacher aware, who strongly suggested that I told my form tutor group and without hesitation, I told him that I was not ready and I would need to tell them in my own time. Unfortunately he never listened to my wishes and that following afternoon, to my horror, I found that he had told my whole class. From that day forth, times were much more difficult. The news spread like wild fire. By the next day, most of the year group knew and I got a lot of nasty comments from people because I was ‘different’, this carried on for the following 5 years. Some days I just could not face my lessons with certain people in my year, for instance, my languages class, which involved a ‘listening test’ almost every lesson (we had to listen to a foreign tape and then were asked questions about it). It was so embarrassing when I had to pass my answers book to be marked by someone else in the class! People then begun to take the mick because I would score an incredibly low mark, most times I would not even score 1 mark as most of my answers were left blank or a random guess. Sometimes if I got an answer wrong in class or did not hear my name in the register several students would sit there laughing… so you can imagine why I hated language lessons! The following 5 years were incredibly slow and most days I just wanted to leave school and escape the ‘prison’ I was in. I had a small group of friends who made school worth it, and without that support, I honestly would have moved schools (which I did consider a few times). I decided as I grew older, I realised that I wanted to put my experiences to good use and help people like myself who had negative experiences. I realised that I needed to stay at school for a further 2 years to study at Sixth Form so I could then continue on to University to fulfil this ambition I had. When starting University, I realised that it would be completely different from school and that I needed to make things easier for myself and tell people about my condition, this would mean that I would not experience these unnecessary problems that I had faced for 7 years at my high school. It was incredibly difficult 'coming out' and for me, was 'easier said than done!'. Leaving school was a massive weight lifted off my shoulders! I was finally free and i could be myself!
I vowed from that day on wards to start with a clean slate and be open and not ashamed of my disability. I knew this would take some time, but my attitude about myself needed to change. I am NOT that 'second class citizen' that people treat me as! I am Louise and I passed all of my exams... and I was the first in my hearing family to go to University!! - Woo-hoo!
I walked in University the first day and was open and honest about myself. People were pretty understanding and obviously no longer judged me for being “strangely quiet” (I am actually FAR from quiet!), instead, I openly gave them a reason for this. I just did not hear them - oops! Just to clarify… Deafness is NOT a mental illness. NO I am not “deaf and dumb!” YES I know I speak normally, but I still do have a hearing loss. YES I know I don’t look like a person with a hearing disability! (A silly comment I hear on a regular basis because I wear my hair down a lot). I have a permanent severe- profound hearing loss – it is known as a ‘hidden disability’ I would describe myself as your average 24 year old woman. I like spending my money on clothes, laughing hard with my friends (usually at myself!), being romanced! etc. People are SO quick to judge. That is why I still sometimes delay in telling people about my disability. There are very few people out there who are open minded and understanding. I am a lot more open about my deafness today and I believe that I have come a long way, progressing with confidence in comparison to my 14 year old self. If someone told me 10 years ago that I was going to share my story to a regional newspaper about my deafness OR take part in three ‘Action On Hearing Loss’ charity fundraising events and win a regional volunteer award… I would most definitely not believe it!
I still have a long way to go regarding acceptance of my hearing loss and I believe this acceptance and confidence will come in time as I age. I am honestly proud of myself for getting through all of my awful experiences and am now determined to raise awareness of the difficulties people can face from mental, social and emotional perspectives. I am a volunteer for ‘Action on Hearing Loss’ and am so determined to help others and raise awareness of hearing loss and tinnitus. This is also a career ambition of mine, I want to raise awareness in schools of these conditions. I definitely feel that there needs to be more teacher training that focuses on hearing loss and how staff can support their pupils from many different perspectives, not just educationally. I think this is because it is a rare case that some schools may come across (I for one was a ‘rare case’). Unfortunately I feel that my high school was NOT prepared at all and constantly needed educating! Teacher training for hearing loss needs to happen. This can benefit the new pupils with a hearing loss as well as the school who will have a much better understanding and can therefore be more of an INCLUSIVE school. The support system will be much stronger and confident with welcoming students with such ‘rare conditions’ and supporting them throughout their time in the school.