I never wear my hair up in public. Why's that? Take a look at that picture. It's because since adolescence, I felt like I had something to hide. I was afraid to expose one of my deepest insecurities. Fortunately, growing up my home was, and still is, my safe haven. My parents never treated me any differently. It was the world outside my safe haven I was particularly anxious about.
For a long time I did everything I could to physically appear "normal" in order to protect myself - to prevent being singled out, teased, bullied, or worse rejected. I remember I would thank God as a child that He made me a girl, because my gift of disguise (so I thought) was my hair. I used my hair to cover-up exactly what I wanted hidden away from the world. This went on for years. Throughout high school, college and even graduate school. It even occurs now as I write this as the ripe age of 28.
I never spoke about my disability unless somebody voiced their inklings. Sometimes when I wouldn't hear things, people would joke, "what are you, deaf?" or "are you sure you can hear?" I would often laugh it off, but truthfully comments like that would tear my heart to pieces. Because they were right, and yet they didn't know.
I had an old friend from grad school once joke with me about it when I couldn't keep up a conversation with her while she was yapping away from her bathroom and I was sitting in her living room. Disclaimer: If I don't see you and I don't know your voice well, chances are you're going to get a lot of "whats" or "mhmms" from me. That's just how it is for me. I hear you but I don't want to be rude. The truth is I won't be able to make out everything being said.
Anyways, my friend joked about it and I think that's when I flat out told her, well yes I am deaf. I think I nearly made her cry and I will never forget how guilty I felt. But for me it was either 1). Brush it off like a fool or 2). Come clean and test the quality of the friendship. She didn't mind it, but ever since that day it kind of became a thing she would shed light on, especially during social gatherings and I really couldn't stand it. Because she made me feel like my disability defined me, like everyone had to remember, "oh yeah, she can't hear you sometimes" - and she couldn't be more wrong.
I haven't really told many people about my disability for the very reason being that I feared it would change things, their perception of me, or how they would interact with me etc. Face it, people can be mean. And I really don't understand why. Maybe it's due to a lack of knowledge or familiarity, but regardless this is the world I live in. However, since my father passed away over the summer, I felt the need to make some adjustments to my life. The first on my list: acknowledge my disability to the public like a big girl.
When my father passed away, a sense of fearlessness awoke within me. In fact, enduring my painful loss instilled a rare sense of strength I never knew I had. During my father's funeral, one of his best friends from college (ironically named Danny) shared with me how proud my father was of me and my work with the deaf community. At first I felt a bit embarrassed because his recognition only reminded me of my weakness. Then it dawned on me that my father saw potential; my father never viewed my disability as a limitation, but as a strength. I miss him even more now that I know he never once doubted me. We didn't exactly have the best father/daughter relationship. It was actually quite complicated but I think we both knew our love for each other was infinite.
You see, for all these years, I believed it to be impossible that my disability could potentially be a strength. I'm not exactly sure how or why I've come to that stubborn conclusion. Maybe the media is to blame. Maybe it's the idea of perfection. Maybe it's past nightmares. Maybe it's all in my head. All I know is that for so long, I've made it my mission to hide my disability, to deny it and to repress it - thinking somehow by doing so would make it all just go away. Obviously, that's just me acting cowardly. Like it or not, I was born this way. And I'm finally realizing I don't need to give a damn.
I am hard of hearing and at last I am coming clean about living with my disability. To whoever is reading this, I hope my journey inspires you to never be ashamed of who you are - and to never refuse your potential because you feel unworthy. You, my friend, have so much to offer. You can be anyone you want to be; but I do hope you decide to be YOU. It may take some time to figure out - like it did for me - but it all starts with letting go of your fears/ societal pressures and awakening your senses.