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.