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Living Life Out Loud by Desirae Layher: Part 1

My Life as a Teen with Hearing Loss

Waiting in that lobby was indisputably the most arid and monotonous experience of my existence. Or at least that is what my four-year-old self rationalized. I’d already overplayed the meager variety of toys available. None of the magazines had American Girl dolls or Barbie dolls on the cover, ergo: they were of no interest to me. And finally, there were never any other kids my age in those sterile lobbies. All the other seats were taken by people who were even older than my dad! Those kind faces, whose eyes seemed inundated by crinkles when they smiled, always smiled at me. Looking back, I can see why a small girl equipped with hearing aids that had yellow ribbons tied to them — anchoring them to her braided hair — was definitely a sight to smile at. Listening to her strain to pronounce audiologist (aw-lee-aw-lo-jis), was always worthy of a few chuckles. That was then.

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Today, that little girl is newly 15.  My name is Desirae and I live in small town America (Douglas, Wyoming). It’s been quite a while since I wore ribbons on my hearing aids, but still find myself at that audiologist office once or twice a year. However, I have journeyed through several pair of aids since my two-year-old self was diagnosed with a bilateral hearing loss after suffering through an almost deadly case of viral encephalitis (brain virus). Their fates:

  • One pair: lost
  • One pair: drowned in the swimming pool
  • One pair: eaten by our dog
  • One pair: stolen

Perhaps my parents’ “journey” (paying for them) has been a bit more arduous than mine, LOL.

Growing up “hard of hearing” never seemed to adversely affect me. I can’t remember life without an earmold in my ear. I charted each passing year with a new color peeking out from behind my hair. Truly colored earmolds in primary/intermediate school rocked! With my mom’s encouragement I began to learn sign language (I thought “for fun”). Yet, my parents would tell you it was because of a change in my yearly audiogram that showed a further loss of hearing in one of my ears. Signing, T-coils, and evolving hearing aids launched my unspoken “superhero” mentality.

Don’t get me wrong. There have been hard days, mean girls, and unforeseen challenges. These teenage years have redefined the definition of “drama” in my brain. I can testify that words do hurt; even the thoughtless ones. Being different – though our society (and guidance counselors) push the “be yourself” ideal – is the road less traveled. And as we learned from Mean Girls, it’s not going to win you popularity or prom queen.

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For those of you who have forgotten what high school is like, it is its own subculture with mores and rules. “Do the right thing” is not necessarily the daily mantra. You have to adapt, get focused, and be happy with who you are. Me? I am a self-professed bibliophile: cookie burning, hot tea drinking, and home-schooled (since 7th grade). I swim competitively year-round for our local high school in the fall and for USA Swimming the remainder. I don’t know. I think I’m pretty… cool… but I’m not sure that would be everyone’s sentiment.

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This past school year I took five college classes at the local high school setting. The year before, two. Being home-schooled has allowed me to challenge myself academically. I get to experience the high school teenage environment, the community college’s diversity, as well as the solitude of home where my tea pot is ever-steeping. I’m different. But we all are. Our stories, though unique, can share different commonalities: we all have problems, challenges, and dreams. We want to feel special, important, and powerful. Knowing there will always be obstacles to overcome and navigate through gives us the opportunity to share our success — small and big – in order to encourage and spur one another on our way to success. That is why I think this blog is important. It’s the opportunity to share with all of you a piece of my story.

My dream is to become a surgeon. This part of my story is about the beginning steps to achieve that dream. Newly-equipped with the best hearing aids I’ve had to date (my Signia Pure primax), I am off to the East Coast and to the RIT/NTID Health Care Careers Exploration Camp for high school students interested in the medical field. (Did I mention it is only for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students?!) It’s the beginning of a new chapter in my evolution. I want you to be a part of it.