Hard Lessons

Today at church we discussed what our “hard” is. What do we struggle with? What can we learn from it? I listened intently, reflecting on my entire life. My hardships. It actually wasn’t till later that week that I realized my hearing loss is a hardship. I’m astonished. I have finally arrived! I think it takes a level of acceptance and embrace to not view your “hard” as hard anymore. And don’t forget humility. It took many hard falls and tears as well as friends to influence and help me arrive to where I am today.

Lessons I have learned from my hearing loss:

It’s okay to be DIFFERENT! I spent half my life trying to “compete” and be normal! Academically and socially. I guess when you’re different you learn to envy normal. But as my momma says, “Normal is a setting on a dishwasher.”

There’s no ONE right way. Everyone is different. Therefore there is no one size fits all. Everyone runs on all cylinders at their own pace. We are all doing our best. Let’s face it, no one came here to be mediocre.

LISTEN. I have learned to listen. I am an excellent listener. Jokes aside, I have to truly focus, and hone in on what is being said. My life is like the game Mad Gab. Like a translator, I am constantly deciphering and decoding what is being said. Therefore, if I hear you, I actually HEAR you. And if I don’t, I Iaugh and hope it was a joke.

I have learned EMPATHY. I have learned to put aside judgements and criticism. There is enough anger and hate in the world. What we need is the benefit of the doubt. That each of us, MOST of us, are only trying to have the best of intentions. I’ve learned to not judge the man who mumbles, or the child that stutters or avoids eye contact. Or the mother with rambunctious kids. Who knows what the story is behind the curtain.

Most importantly, I have learned not to be easily offended. It helps that I can’t hear the rude jokes told behind my back. But even when I do, I don’t rely on it. I have learned that most comments have more to do with the person offending than the person who it’s intended to offend. In other words, it’s not ME they have an issue with. It’s usually an insecurity of their own.

My husband and I have the perfect marriage, because I can’t hear half of what he says, giving him another chance to rephrase or omit as needed. It takes a lot of patience to be married to a deaf girl.


A Deaf Girl in a Hearing World

I have an unpopular opinion. You see, the deaf community won’t see me as “deaf” and politically speaking, I’m not. I’m hearing impaired, hard of hearing, or “speaking.” I relate more to the hearing world. I am unbelievably grateful for my hearing aids and wouldn’t change a thing, except I wish I used sign language. It’s a beautiful language, but that’s another topic.

I want to discuss the paradox of being hearing impaired. I am not deaf, I do not immerse myself in deaf culture, or sign language. I love it, and I would love to sign more often. I teach my kids sign. But I chose to be hearing.

I was born with a “moderate to profound” hearing loss. My mom was positive for GBS, or group B Strep. It is common practice now to test and treat GBS before a baby is delivered, or in my case induced. It’s a classic lawsuit that we probably could win. I was in NICU for 2 weeks and nearly died. My poor mother. I can only imagine the panic and heartache, all of which could have been prevented.

My hearing loss was discovered, or diagnosed, when I was 3. I wasn’t speaking, but they didn’t suspect hearing loss since I would respond to noise. My mother, who is very insistent of finding the answers and not afraid to disagree with doctors, didn’t give up until she got her answer. The audiologist casually told her that her daughter had profound hearing loss. Her heart sank. She had no idea what that meant or what to do. She did lots of research, which wasn’t “Google” in the 1980’s. I wouldn’t change any of her choices. She considered all options. I was fitted for hearing aids at age 3. I had a bracelet that stated my name and “if lost call…” This was pre-cell phone era, and I can only imagine had they lost me, running home and waiting and praying for the landline phone to ring.

My parents sent my to Utah’s deaf school for the Deaf and Blind. I rode the bus for nearly an hour, there and back, to go to this school. I was one of 6 students. I remember our daily routine of testing all the students hearing aid batteries. There was one time my teacher was dumping everyone’s batteries when she realized it was the battery checker that was broken!

I loved my class. I had a “Magic School Bus” education. My teachers name was Miss Riddle (sounds like Miss Frizzle), 6 students and a ton of field trips! We went to the State Capital, the zoo, the State Fair, even got front row to the ballet Nutcracker! Every year! We even rode a short bus! All like the television series. I would argue that I had a terrific education. While in this class, they did not promote sign language or deaf culture. It was frowned upon and would “handicap” our potential. I even got punished for trying to teach my friend, Wendy, who was profoundly deaf AND had a heavy Czechoslovakian accent, sign language. My hand was slapped and recess was taken away, my parents were called. It was a big ordeal. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong! I knew sign language because my mom wanted to make sure I was immersed in both worlds, and would take me to an after school program every week that was for my church and for deaf and signing children. I was “mainstreamed” to public education at age 8. By MY choice. My parents were told I was “high functioning” and the top of my class. At the time, I was spending most of my time in my deaf class while immersed with the “normal” kids for math and science. They proposed that I go to my main school and do the opposite having only one class with a hearing specialist or speech pathologist and all of my other classes be mainstreamed. My wise mother again, felt it was MY choice to make. From a child’s perspective, I wanted to ride the bus and go to school with my neighborhood friends.

I wonder what my life would be had I chosen to stay. Would I have been top of my class? Popular? Full ride scholarship? More leadership oriented rather than shy, insecure and feeling lost.

There are some things in public school that were not appropriate, like facing me to a wall while my peers watched a educational film. Why not just turn on closed captions or just ask me if I could hear and understand it? The education system in Utah during the 90’s was definitely not at its best. I experimented with the FM system, a black box hung around my neck while my teacher wore a microphone. I remember when the class sat in a circle for reading time, and everyone passed the mic as they read. The kids loved it! They were great for a while. Until that age when being different was bad. Then I was teased, insecure and often left out.

I definitely had my perks being “the deaf girl.” Even though IEP’s were obnoxious, and patronizing, I got extensions on deadlines, extra time and precautions for testing. Once a counselor even asked if I could participate in gym! I almost lied but my mother spoke first and said yes. No fair. Needless to say, it wasn’t all bad. I graduated with honors, even got 2 scholarships, one specifically for excelling through personal hardships. I went to college, graduated and worked as a Medical Assistant. (I aspired to be a nurse, but I quickly learned my license would be constantly in jeopardy in a “He said She said” scenario with my hearing and it wouldn’t be worth my constant worry and doubt in my abilities.)

I wouldn’t change my education. Public education failed me, but I turned out alright. I had note takers, FM systems, a private tutor slash speech pathologist but honestly, I think my hard work and dedication paid off. I chose not to be a victim of circumstance. I wanted to prove everyone wrong. Statically, Deaf adults average about a 9 year old reading level. At least, that’s what I was constantly told from peers and the public education system. When I graduated high school, I tested at above grade level in reading, speech, writing and pretty much every category but math. But who needs math! (I married my math tutor!)

I had a great time at college. Worked full time, probably should have asked for assistance but I tackled college “normal” and without assistance. None of my professors knew about my hearing loss. I had to retake some classes multiple times, and it definitely was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I was the first woman in my immediate family to graduate college, and I did it with hearing aids.

Be YOUnique

In elementary school I was teased,

In junior high I was stared at,

In high school I was told I would fail,

And in college I was a unicorn.

I am deaf

As a teenager, I had an epiphany. I knew I had a choice. I could let people mock, ridicule, belittle me. Or, I could rise above it. I could be offended or choose to be happy. I could feel free to be myself, or I could be consumed by misery.

I choose happiness. Its a daily choice. Not always an easy choice, but it’s always the best choice.

I never regret a day that I choose to be happy.

The Day I Became Gigi

Scrambling through the airport, to check in our bags, Kandace turned to me and says “How much does your bag weigh?” “47.8” I say. She frantically opens her bag takes big black boots and her scriptures and shoves them in my bag. It went from 51.2 to 49.8 and mine was up to 49.8. Later on that flight, we began to play the Delta airlines games (before WiFi and smart phones and all that). I started entering my name when she looked over and said, “No, no no, the whole airplane sees this.” I realized her name was projected as Pam. At that time I looked back at my screen and it said, GiGi. “Don’t divulge your real name. This will be your New York name for our trip.” She grinned. I’m sure I looked puzzled and she said, “What? You’ve never used a fake name before??” I hadn’t. I was 23 and had never used a fake name, nor lied about details about myself. I didn’t realize till now what a profound thing that was. Especially while having a lisps and saying “Sarah” was no easy task. I hated my name for a long time because it was difficult for me to say. However, it never occurred to me that I would lie or change it for random occasions. It was a fun harmless thing, nothing wrong with it. I was raised to never lie and to love who you are, therefore no need to lie.

Kandace, along with some other friends, helped me find my confidence. I didn’t lie about who I was, but I didn’t say I was confident. Obviously I had some confidence, I had neon pink Hearing aids, living with roommates I had never met previously, I was traveling to NYC with a dozen friends and I was more concerned about if the guy I was texting liked me than my speech impediment. It took an outsider to show and tell me that my confidence was contagious, that I was funny and witty. To admire my enthusiasm and ability to be myself. Not just the condescending comments that I “speak sooo well” or “I never would have guessed” comments about my hearing. I was able to identify as something outside of my hearing loss, but also because OF my hearing loss. I became confident in my entire identity. All inclusive. Not just bits and pieces.

That day, I became Gigi.

My Friends Call Me Gigi

My name is Sarah, but my friends call me Gigi. I’m a 30 something mom of boys, I love sunshine, chocolate and photography. Oh, and I’m deaf. My identifier is, “the deaf girl,” and it doesn’t bother me. One time in college, I was at a party, a few dozen people, single, mingling and flirting it up. Suddenly, the room gets silent, except for this loud, obnoxious stomping on the hardwood floor. Everyone is staring at me. I only knew a handful of people, and the guy stomping his foot was not one of them. Neither were half of the people staring at me. I felt flushed, I’m sure I was blushing. I look at him and shout from across the room, “ What are you DOING?” He sensed my playful tone and shouted back, louder than necessary, “ I was told you are deaf, so I thought if I stomped on the floor, you would feel the vibrations with your enhanced senses!”

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Friends have a way of building your confidence by teasing you relentlessly. He still sporadically calls me to tell me a joke. Like, one day he calls and says he’s passing a billboard that says “Don’t Diss Ability” and that he sincerely wanted to apologize for all those times he made fun of me. Then we both started laughing.

I’d be lying if I said I found every deaf joke funny. But when you chose to be happy, you chose not to be offended! After all, being offended makes you an angry old hag, and I am not a hag. I am Gigi. It took an outsider to show and tell me that my confidence was contagious, that I was funny and witty. To admire my enthusiasm and ability to be myself. Not just the condescending comments that I “speak sooo well” or “I never would have guessed” comments about my hearing. I was able to identify as something outside of my hearing loss, but also because OF my hearing loss. I became confident in my entire identity. All inclusive. Not just bits and pieces.

That day, I became Gigi.

Gigi is my alter ego, it’s me in a cape, conquering the world. Gigi is my confidence. I choose to be Gigi.