For way too many years, I tried like heck to blend in with everyone else. I had one hearing aid that I wore on my right ear and I did everything possible to hide it. Most days, the hearing aid ended up in the pocket of my jeans. During the summer, it sat on a shelf at home.
My only role models all had perfect hearing. So of course, I wanted to be just like them. The problem was, I was a poor imitation of a person who could hear. I ended up bluffing my way through conversations, smiling and nodding at the appropriate times.
Of course, all of that came at a heavy price: stress.
The stress of being someone you’re not is a heavy burden. It requires you to use a huge amount of energy to play a role that doesn’t fit you.
The stress comes from what I call “Duck Syndrome.”
On the surface, everything looked fine. My grades were good. I could participate in the classroom as long as I was the first person to throw my hand up (because if someone else answered first, I often missed what was said and I certainly didn’t want to look like a fool by repeating the same answer.)
So all day long, I glided gracefully like a duck, but underneath it all, I was paddling furiously to glide as “normally” as possible.
Then one day, I became deaf. There was no way I could continue to pretend that everything was okay. Nothing was okay. The hearing aid became a constant companion. I was a college student at the time, trying to juggle the new path of being deaf with the daily demands of professors who walked on stage in an auditorium. It was impossible to lipread a moving target.
One morning, I was lying in bed, contemplating my choices. I could continue to struggle and cry about the situation or I could change my attitude and become the best possible deaf person I could be. I decided that I was tired of struggling and I would embrace the new path instead.
Everything changed that day. For the first time in my life, I put my hearing aid on and went out in public with my hair in a pony tail. I was pretty sure everyone was staring at me. I started learning American Sign Language.
It took me a while to become comfortable with the changes.
But, you know what happens when you step into your authentic self?
The stress disappears.
You no longer try to fit in. Instead, you become so comfortable with yourself that you begin to share your unique gifts, talents, and abilities just as you are.
That’s how it’s supposed to be.
“Don’t try so hard to fit in–you were born to stand out.”Dr. Seuss
So if you’ve been struggling with trying to be someone you’re not, perhaps it’s time to dig in deep and discover what makes you unique. Embrace that. Deaf and hard of hearing IS different. We’re beautifully unique for a reason. We are meant to share our gifts with the world.
Karen Putz is the Co-Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infusion at Hands & Voices. Learn more at: www.agelesspassions.com