Tuesday 14 October 2014

Deaf Girly's 24 years of deafness discovery

This month I will be 34.

Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I am in my mid thirties.

Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I've known about my deafness for 24 years now.

But recently I've been reflecting on my journey a bit more. Just how I got here. Just how I became Deaf Girly.

You see, my deafness still feels quite new to me. In the same way as when you first get your ears pierced and forget you have earrings and then get excited all over again. Except I don't really get that excited about my deafness.

Funnily enough though, when I discovered I was getting hearing aids – aged 10 – my mum lowered the age I could get my ears pierced from 16 to that exact day. So soon I had earrings to be excited about and hearing aids to erm well… put in a pocket and forget about.

In my teens I was pretty much in denial about being deaf. I knew it was the reason I got exhausted from lipreading in class. And one of the reasons why I fell asleep a lot in history – the other one... sheer boredom perhaps. And the reason why I was more than a little grumpy at times. But I absolutely refused to acknowledge it. And actually I found that most people were happy to ignore it with me.

At university, I faced another struggle. Getting people to acknowledge my deafness. The special needs person was absolutely useless and it wasn't until my third year that I got a notetaker and the difference in my marks was such that I finally realised I might not be so thick after all.

Moving to London put my deafness under the spotlight again. In early jobs I played it down. I didn't tell people until I had to and I cried every day. In secret. In the cupboard at work.

When I had jobs to do that involved phone calls, I cried some more and my amazing line manager at the time used to come with me into the cupboard, which luckily had a phone and make the calls for me so no one would know I couldn't do it.

I remember at the time trying to put into words what was making me cry and realised that it was frustration. Frustration at being reminded every day that I couldn't hear. That I couldn't do have the things on my job description. Or the things I wanted to do.

But gradually – and probably with the help of writing my blog – I began to find my voice. The one that told people what I could and couldn't do. Without sounding like I had a chip on my shoulder about my disability. Without sounding like I was going to make their lives super complicated or be super demanding. Because I'm quite lucky really. My deafness isn't that demanding.

I've learnt to say – 'I don't use the phone but I treat email in the same way that you would the phone and pick them up straight away.' and I've learnt to work hard within the limitations I have and accept help graciously.

I've also learnt to laugh. Like the time I was hard at work in one of my old jobs and turned around to find the whole office empty. Evacuated during a fire alarm that no one thought to tell me about. Or the time I had Taylor Swift blaring out of my phone for a good few songs without realising it until someone asked me to turn it off or at least down.

And now, 24 years after finding out I was deaf, it's safe to say I'm the happiest I've ever been. In general and also in relation to my deafness. I have hearing aids that give me 3D sound. That give me sounds I've never heard before. Things like cats meowing and the occasional police siren if I'm lucky. And I have a fantastic quiet life when I take them out.

I have a job where I can't tell you what my direct line phone number is because I have never had to use it . AMAZING HUH? If you'd told my crying self that when I was hiding in the cupboard at work 10 years ago, I would have never believed you.

I have an amazing support network of people who will pick up the phone and be me, or listen for me when there is no other alternative.

And most of all I have that confidence that at 10, 14 and 24 I never thought I'd have.

Of course there are still bad days where I am reduced to tears of frustration over a phone call (most recently to HSBC) or because I've managed to embarrass myself in some way. Not heard something important. Or felt like I've missed out on something. But my recovery time is quicker. And after 24 years, I've got the experience to know that the good far outweighs the bad.

The last 24 years have been quite an amazing journey of discovery. An initial discovery of deafness, which quite possibly changed the path I decided to take in life. Not the end goal of course, which is the career I'm in now (with a bit of my own writing thrown in for fun) but the way I got here and the person I became on the way. And looking back, I wouldn't change a thing.

Have a lovely day peeps


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