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Why I Am Finally Talking About My Disability

I never wear my hair up in public. Why? 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 my safe haven. My parents never treated me any differently. It was the world outside my safe haven that I was particularly anxious about.

For a long time I did everything I could to physically appear "normal" in order to protect my inner peace - to prevent me from being singled out, teased, bullied, or worse, rejected. I remember as a child I would thank God 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. My ears. This went on for years. Throughout middle school, high school, college and graduate school. Even today.

Truthfully, I hardly bring up my hearing loss unless by some miracle I feel brave enough. Sometimes when I wouldn't hear things, people would get impatient or joke, "what are you, deaf?" or "are you sure you can hear?" I would often laugh it off, but honestly, comments like that would tear my heart to pieces. Because they were right; they were definitely onto something.

Here's an example. 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 can't make out what you're saying.

As my friend joked about it and brought it up, I think that's when I flat out told her, 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 was totally accepting of it, but ever since that day, my hearing loss became a thing she would constantly shed light on, especially during social gatherings and I couldn't stand it. The (unsolicited) attention made me feel like I had a target on my back; like suddenly, by opening up, my disability defined me.

Since then, as an adult, I haven't really been as upfront to people about my disability for the reason being that I feared doing so would suddenly change things; change their perceptions of me, or how they would interact with me etc. Face it, people can lack self-awareness.

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 so long, I believed my hearing loss was a weakness, not a strength. I'm not exactly sure how or why I've come to that conclusion. Maybe the media is to blame. Maybe it's the idea of perfection. Maybe it's past experiences. 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 completely - thinking somehow by doing so would make it all just go away. Obviously, that's just me being a coward. Like it or not, I was born this way. And I'm finally realizing it's okay to not give a damn.

I am hard of hearing. To whoever is reading this, I hope my this inspires you to never be ashamed of who you are - and to never refuse your potential because you feel less than or unworthy. No matter what, you have so much to offer. You can be anything you want to be. It may take some time to figure out but it all starts with letting go of your fears and awakening your senses.



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