Straight from the heart:
Most people don’t know my whole story. And some people know some of my story but not enough of the backstory to really be able to make sense of it all.
I lost the majority of my hearing in what I would consider pretty rapid succession when I was about 10/11. Crucial ages for socialization, social skills, conversation skills etc. It was kinda rough. I internalized a lot of it, but it was definitely rough. At that age you are spending time talking to your friends and boys on the phone, and I couldn’t do that. I felt isolated. Hearing aids helped a little bit, but I relied heavily on lip reading. And let’s face it, that in a group setting is really tough.
For a LONG period of time, I was ashamed/embarrassed about the severe lack of one of the major senses. Rather than having the confidence to embrace it and simply tell people “I don’t hear as well as others, you will need to speak a little clearer if you wish to converse with me” and accepting that most people are cool with making a little extra effort to accommodate someone, I basically just stopped trying to really communicate and socialize.
Adding to this, for several years after I lost my hearing, I refused to wear my hair up in public, or anywhere outside the comfort of my own home. Anywhere where there would be another human being I was loathe to wear my hair up. I didn’t want to expose my ears and what was in them. I would prefer to just hide the fact that I had hearing aids. Yes, I know, that’s ridiculous. But it was my reality. I am certainly not proud of that, but… Because I wasn’t really outright telling new people I’d meet of my “disability” (my friends would usually eventually do this when I wouldn’t), and because I wasn’t making it VISIBLE, people had no idea. So they thought I was just weird, quiet, and antisocial. And I let them think that for the most part.
Eventually, someone who is no longer in my life, but played a pivotal role at the time, helped me learn to accept it and show it.. I started to leave the house with my hair up to some degree. It was baby steps but it was progress.
But I still had a crippling lack of social skills; I truly believed me being involved in conversations was a burden to the others in said conversation. For my part, I could have (and should have) made more effort. But instead I just thought off into my own world, only jumping back in when someone specifically said something to me. Not real fun, but it is what it is.
Of course, in grade school, in junior high school, and in high school there will always be people who are cruel. There will always be people who mock you and make fun of you if you are even slightly different, which I was. High school was awful – most of the people were awful, and made me withdraw from socializing even more. In fact, I considered it a successful day when I didn’t converse with anyone and no one said cruel things to me. Yes, I was aware I was different – I didn’t need others judging me and pointing this out, of course. I didn’t need the people who thought it hilarious to cover their mouths and then speak, knowing I would have next to zero idea what was being said without the ability to read the lips. And I certainly didn’t need the people who would come and put their hands directly over my ears, which caused my hearing aids to beep. (Look I will confess that to this day, I find humor in my hearing aids beeping… but it’s different when it is I who is making them beep. It’s a different story when someone is physically placing their hands on me to do it. It’s kind of a personal space violation, you know?)
That sweet lady sitting at the table with me taking notes for me? Absolutely helpful, absolutely appreciated… but at that age, absolutely a magnet for criticism. She was, in all her helpfulness, a glaring beacon that I was different, and couldn’t do what the others kids could do. I couldn’t take my own notes, I mean come on…
Because I was so quiet and withdrawn, people often never got to know the real me. (The real me then is quite different from the real me now, but I consider that growing pains, wisdom with age, and the ability to feel confident in my own skin.)
In my life today, I confess I am still somewhat lacking in social skills. But I try harder now and I am continuing to make greater efforts. I speak up, I am more outgoing and I try to involve myself in conversations. Group settings are still challenging, but I am doing my best.
I still get anxiety sometimes in certain social situations, but I am working on not letting it get to me as much, and I am learning to navigate them with more ease. I long and strive to be part of things but on the other end, I have some anxieties to work through with regards to that.
My Beachbody business has been very helpful with this because it has enabled me to interact, and to put myself out there a bit more, to show more people who I am and what I am about, and what makes me tick; what makes me happy; what makes me grin from ear to ear. There is a lot of personality in this little pint-sized powerhouse, it just hasn’t always been known to those outside of a select few who actually took the time to find out, and helped me along the way. I am happy I am finally putting myself out there a bit more. My teammates and fellow coaches have been great about helping with stuff I might need, and Beachbody itself has been FABULOUS about including subtitles and captions in all their videos.
And even better, it took me falling in love with Beachbody and the ability to help others for me to F I N A L L Y take the “leap”, and learn ASL. I put this off for twenty-two years, thinking it would be too difficult and that I didn’t have time, and I was too busy, insert a million other excuses here… Ugh, I could almost kick myself for putting it off so long, but here I am now, learning ASL, which helps both myself and others that need help. Beachbody has been really good for my own health, my own anxieties, my own shyness (yep, sometimes I can be ridiculously shy!), and a bevy of other things. It’s opened up a world that I previously thought I was shut out of forever due to being “different”. But it’s not shut! My entrance is just a little different, that’s all 🙂
Outside of the social aspect. I have never really let my hearing impairment play much a role. Occasionally I get frustrated with it, because like I have said a million times, I am human. But I don’t let it stop me from doing anything anymore – somehow, someway, I will find a way. I think back to all of the missed opportunities because I was so insecure, and while I can’t change the past, I can definitely not allow this to happen in my future.
I will say I was blessed to have AMAZING parents, family, and a handful of friends who have worked tirelessly to assist me in the aspects I needed help with. I strive to be independent as much as possible, and for the most part, I am, There are a few things I am unable to do alone (such as making a phone call, etc) and I am blessed beyond belief to have such a great support system willing to help me out when needed. It is truly a testament to how amazing everyone, especially my parents, have been throughout my whole life.
Additionally, I am beyond grateful to have grown up while technology was as great and cutting edge as it was, and we continue to make strides. 40 years ago I wouldn’t have had email and text messages and instant messaging and social media to help me, and I am very much aware of how blessed I am that I had/have all of these things and then some at my disposal!
Whew… I have NEVER shared most of these thoughts… thats a very powerful feeling!