Sunday, June 10, 2007

When Adversity Turns Into a Blessing

Stephen Hopson, over at Adversity University, has tagged me for a post on the Secrets of Overcoming Adversity. I thought I'd share about a tough time in my life which actually turned into a blessing:

I grew up as a "solitaire", a term that Gina Oliva, author of Alone in the Mainstream uses to describe a deaf or hard of hearing child who is the only one in a school of hearing students.

Born with normal hearing, I became hard of hearing in elementary school and obtained my first hearing aid at the age of nine. By the time I started middle school, I was lipreading my teachers and fellow students and fooling everyone into thinking that I could hear pretty well.

I was even fooling myself.

When I was in eighth grade, it became apparent to my mom that I needed more help in school. Up to that point, I was getting yearly hearing tests and speech therapy--that was the extent of my "support services" at school. My mother tried to convince me to attend a local high school that had a program serving deaf students. The students used sign language interpreters.

"No way," I told my mom. "I'm going to attend the same high school with all of my hearing friends. I'm not deaf."

Never mind the fact that I couldn't use the telephone nor follow group conversations. Every day, after school, I took my hearing aid off and kept it off each summer. The hearing aid often gave me headaches and it didn't contribute much to my understanding of speech. I was relying nearly 100% on my ability to lipread.

So off I went to high school. I was fortunate to have a group of friends who I could communicate with. I hung out with a couple of girls from the swim team and I fell in love with a boy on the guys' swim team. The telephone was a nightmare for me. Since my mom was deaf, I often had to wait until my father arrived home from work and asked him to make phone calls for me. If he was in a cranky mood, I was out of luck. I quickly learned to ask my local friends down the block to make calls for me. It sure wasn't fun communicating through a third party to set up dates.

I quickly became the "Queen of Social Bluffing" in high school. It was the only way to save face; if a bunch of people at a party were laughing together, you'd find me laughing right along. Heaven forbid if anyone came in and asked me, "What's everyone laughing about?" I'd mumble something and head off to the bathroom.

After I graduated from high school, I attended a local community college. I applied for jobs around town and ended up working at a neighbor's restaurant washing dishes. I also babysat for extra money. Even though I still had my core group of friends, I found myself feeling lonely. I could communicate one-on-one just fine, but I sure wasn't having much fun at parties. At one point, I stopped going out at night because it was too hard to communicate in the dark or even with a single light on in a car.

I had visited Northern Illinois University during my senior year in high school and saw that they had two floors in a co-ed dorm filled with deaf and hard of hearing students. Instead of jumping at the chance to go away to college and meet other deaf and hard of hearing students, I turned it down for the same reason as I turned down the high school program: I didn't know American Sign Language. I didn't need it. I was doing just fine bluffing my way through life, thankyouverymuch.

By the end of my first year at the community college, I knew I needed to go away to college. Going away was going to be my only ticket out of the house, because I couldn't seem to find a job that was going to get me an apartment. So I applied to NIU and I was accepted.

That summer, I was barefooting (waterskiing on bare feet) a lot on Christie Lake. One day, I turned to cross the wake and fell. I slammed into the water sideways--there was no time to tuck and roll. I was a little sore afterwards and my ears felt as if they were filled with water and I couldn't hear. In the past, I could shake my head and blow my ears and I would be fine. This time, nothing happened. I just shrugged it off, thinking it would clear up later.

The day I headed out to NIU, I still couldn't hear. Just before heading out the door, I started bawling. My mom was upset enough about having her youngest go off to college, so she urged me to reconsider. "You can stay here and finish college!" I shook my head and we headed off.

As it turned out, becoming deaf was a blessing in disguise. While I mourned the loss of hearing and had to get used to wearing a hearing aid 24/7, I was also learning a new visual language and discovering a whole group of deaf and hard of hearing people to communicate with. I met my husband and fell in love, not only with him but with a whole group of friends that I still hang around with today.

So today, I feel blessed to have deaf, hard of hearing and hearing friends and the ability to communicate with them all.

I'm passing the Secrets of Overcoming Adversity baton on to Dawn Colclasure. Here's her entry: Being a Burn Survivor.

Note: It is with great sadness that I share the news that Gina Oliva's husband recently passed away.

14 comments:

Stephen J. Hopson said...

Karen:

What a fantastic story! I identified with EVERYTHING you said. It brought back a lot of memories in my own life - I sure knew how to bluff my way through school, pretending to laugh whenever someone made a joke - I didn't want to be the odd man out.

Bravo! Thank you so much for participating in my interactive tagging experiment over at Adversity University. It's been so interesting to read about other people's experiences and thus be lifted by their tales. Your story will sure touch a lot of people's lives if they have a chance to read it.

I am blessed to have fellow bloggers like you who are willing to share their innermost experiences - like I always say, adversity does not discriminate - it touches everyone.

Bless you!

Stephen Hopson

Mad goat lady said...

You have such a great attitude and are truly inspirational :)

Jana B said...

Wow...

I love reading things like this... kinda like you gave me the password into your brain for a little while, so I could see your inner workings!

So, out of curiosity, how have you helped your children to avoid feeling ashamed of their deafness/ hard-of-hearingness (is that a word? lol)?

Karen said...

Jana,
I'm a heck of a lot more comfy with being deaf than when I grew up hard of hearing. I've tried to instill that pride in my kids. We talk about social bluffing (I've seen all three of them do it) and I think the single most important thing is for them to see other kids and adults who are deaf and hard of hearing.

groovyoldlady said...

Karen, you are one awesome lady. :-)

Karen said...

Right back at ya, Groovy! :)

moxie_mocha said...

Great story, Karen! I appreciate you taking the time to share your experiences.

Jana B said...

Karen, that's interesting. *examining your brain more*

I'll remember that if I ever have a deaf child... I'll also occasionally send them to you for training LOL

meleah rebeccah said...

WOW. What a wonderful post. I have two cousins that are twins and deaf. At least they always had each other (as to not feel so isolated) This was a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing with the internet.

(sorry for the loss)

Jane said...

Thank you for sharing your story with all of us. We all have things we must overcome in life and you have shown us how to do that with grace.
God bless you and your family.

Sarah said...

I can relate to the bluffing and the denial! More and more I've become aware of how often I mimic other's expressions and laugh along.

Tony Barlow said...

I had to laugh at myself cos I am doing to the same thing as you, even now. Even though I have discovered my Deaf identity (I have a Deaf wife), I'd still 'social bluff' at my work with full of hearing people. It is a habit that's hard to snap out of and I suppose that by losing all your hearing will consolidate your position where your identity are concerned.

Anonymous said...

Hi:} How are you? I read your article, kind-of what I did. I have seizures. There has been many test done, and no trace of seizure ativity.On my last visit to the nuerologist, I was being weaned off my med., on the 4th of July I had a seizure, now I take med. again. I also am losing my hearing, and I don't want to get a hearing aid. I would like to meet deaf, or hard-of-hearing people. Debbie

Karen said...

Debbie,

Have you had a chance to try out a hearing aid before making a decision whether or not to use one? Part of making an informed decision is to try several approaches and see how you feel.

Meeting deaf and hard of hearing adults is a great idea. Use the web to find resources and agencies near you that provide services for deaf/hh adults and you can locate social opportunities that way. Look into ALDA, an organization that serves late deafened adults.