When you typically notice someone with a disability, you become curious about it. You wonder how it affects their daily life and if they are able to live “normally” despite it. You might treat that person normally or you might feel some sort of undeniable pity. Either way, you notice it.
As a freshman in college, I meet new people every single day. I introduce myself shyly and slowly, cringing each time I am forced to say my name. It’s not that I don’t like my name, I do. It’s that due to my sensorineural hearing loss, I cannot hear and can hardly say letters of high frequency. In more simple terms, the letter “s” comes pretty hard to me. I often have back and forth conversations with people like “Gara?” “No, Sara.” “Oh, Tara!” “Okay, sure.”
Maybe this isn’t what you think of when you think “disability.” It isn’t really what I think either, but it’s still considered one in some sense or another. I’m your typical college student. I don’t have any special services, and I hate calling my hearing loss a “disability” or being treated differently than anyone else because I have a hard time hearing. My friends get frustrated with me when I scream “What was that?” four times in a row because I’m too lazy to put my hearing aids in, but it doesn’t typically disrupt my day to day schedule as some disabilities do.
I’ve worn hearing aids for as long as I can remember. I started with clear ear molds (boring) and slowly made my way up from there – purple, sparkly, hot pink. I’ve had hot pink ear molds for as long as I can remember. They’re my own kind of fashion statement, even though they’re typically hidden by my hair. But they do not define me – my love for pizza, food instagramming, writing, psychology, people and the world define me far more.
I don’t think that having a hearing loss has had a large effect on my life. I have chosen to treat it as a facet, rather than something that belittles me. Although I am a terrible swimmer because I’m terrified of losing my ability to hear well when I’m in the water and my name is a constant daily struggle, having a hearing loss has become something that I love about myself. There is no point in putting down the things that have the ability to make us weaker. We are better off allowing them to make us stronger.
When kids ask me “what that thing in my ear is” I respond “they’re like glasses for the ears.” I patiently let them poke at my hearing aid, prod at my ear and stare in confusion. I know that little kids don’t understand it, I probably didn’t either when I was five. But just like glasses are a tiny adjustment to a huge life, hearing aids are nothing compared to the life that I love and live everyday.
My hearing aids are a pain in the ass – but they’ve made me who I am daily. Without my pink ear molds, I would not be the same patient person that I am today. I would not appreciate sounds and voices and the beauty of building relationships with the people who help you succeed. There is an excitement that comes with that trip to the audiologist, seeing that with each hearing test, although it hasn’t gotten better, it hasn’t gotten worse. Even though my friends think I’m ignoring them when I walk in front of them in the caf, they’ve learned to laugh at me when I glance at them in confusion when they say “Did you hear any of that?”
Having hearing aids hasn’t necessarily made me a better person and it certainly hasn’t made me a person who should be considered different from the person next to me. It’s essentially the same as wearing contacts or glasses, and I realize that. But I’ve come to realize that no matter what we struggle with, whether it is hearing or depression or heartbreak or physical disability, we all struggle in some way or another. It is how we take those struggles and learn from them, push through them and make ourselves better from them. Never let your flaws weaken you. Instead, let them let you thrive. They are a part of you, let them be.
Appreciate every strength that you have and appreciate the world around you. There will never be another today. Every day is a new day and every day is open for change and possibility. So sure, maybe I have crappy hearing, but that’s only made me more patient, more appreciative and more observant. Every flaw comes with its perks. Every weakness comes with a strength. Recognize those strengths and do whatever it takes to make them stronger. Every single person in this world has flaws and every single person in this world has the ability to turn those flaws into an asset. Life’s what you make it (thanks Hannah Montana).