I have had this recurring dream for over ten years now, ever since I got my first set of hearing aids…. I am standing, surrounding by all of my friends, as their mouths move and no sounds come out. The longer I stand silent and confused, the more they blur and fade away. I turn and see strangers standing nearby, hands moving, dancing. I move toward them, but when they see me coming they turn their backs. The dream ends with me standing in the middle, alone.
You don’t need a book of dream interpretations to figure out the hidden meaning in this one. It’s pretty clear where this dream is coming from. When you lose your hearing by degrees, it can feel like you’re trapped between two worlds, and belong to none.
For most of my life, I felt like a broken hearing person. Even before I knew I had hearing loss, my conversations were mostly guessing games and hard work. People often saw me as daydreamy, spacey, aloof, because if I wasn’t really focusing on understanding what was being said to me, I generally missed the point entirely. Or wandered off in the middle of a conversation, not realizing people were even talking to me. People get tired of being asked to repeat themselves all the time, and it really doesn’t take long before you start to internalize that you’re just not trying hard enough, that your communication needs are an inconvenience, that there’s something wrong with you. I stopped wearing my hearing aids, I stopped telling people that I couldn’t understand them, and as my hearing loss progressed, I increasingly isolated myself–without really realizing what I was doing.
It can be hard for hearing friends and family members to adapt to progressive hearing loss. It can be hard to understand that what you heard yesterday is not the same as what you can hear today, that hearing voices isn’t the same thing as understanding words, and that hearing loss is not about just turning up the volume. When you’re in the middle of trying to understand and accept that yourself–well, sometimes those feelings of being a broken hearing person really got in the way of me asking for what I needed.
Once I finally accepted that I am deaf, things became easier for me in a lot of ways. I stopped feeling bad about it (well, most of the time), and started to work on asking for what I need. I am no longer afraid to ask for interpreters at doctors appointments, to remind my friends to look at me when they’re talking, or to hand a complete stranger a piece of paper and tell them to write down what they’re saying. It may seem like an easy, obvious thing, but for me it’s a huge change.
I’ve been very lucky to have so many hearing friends that are supportive, and to have Deaf friends who are willing to work with my bumbling ASL skills. My horrible dream has thankfully not come true. I’ve realized that it’s not about where you are in the spectrum or how you identify, as long as YOU accept yourself, and surround yourself with people who are willing and able to support you in that.
How have you come to accept your identity?