Living Life Out Loud by Desirae Layher

My Hearing Loss: Living in the Gray Space

Before I begin this second blog offering, with snippets highlighting my adventures at RIT/NTID’s Health Care Career Exploration Camp, I want to note that stepping out of one’s comfort zone in reality is harder than the cliché implies. I’m a teenager. We are all about fitting in, traveling in packs, and Facebook profiles that show us in the best possible light. Being honest about one’s struggles isn’t high on our priority list.

However, as scary and uncomfortable as it may be, I have been given the opportunity to be candid with readers in hope that my story will help and encourage others. For me, being hard of hearing has been a little bit of an identity crisis. I can feel so alone in the hearing crowd, but I’m not fully deaf either. I’m a in a strange gray area that even I find confusing sometimes. I came to camp with expectations ― and not just from my medical career pursuit perspective. I want to discover a way of better understanding that gray I feel I live in, and perhaps find some others who also feel gray.

Here we go.

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After check-in and camp orientation, I found myself on my own. My mom (and safety net) left. All around me were color-shirted counselors, interpreters, and campers who seemed at home with this deaf and hard of hearing environment. How come appearances are so deceptive? Maybe it’s my adolescent brain, but sometimes others seem to have it all “goin’ on”.

I did not have it all goin’ on. In fact, I think I was nearly hyperventilating. Undoubtedly, I was in the deep end and I had to swim (sinking wasn’t an option). Being a closet optimist I had to find my resolve. I had to embrace being uncomfortable. As my panic subsided I sat down in the circle, and introduced myself.

New workshops greeted us each day. To many, suturing a pig’s foot would not be a highlight. Yet, for me, it felt like we were learning a trade secret for aspiring surgeons; a rite of passage. It was fabulous!

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Blood typing was unquestionably an anticipated activity. This might have been because I was secretly convinced that I possessed an extremely rare, superhuman blood type that could save lives and enable me to telepathically communicate with animals (hoping for O-Negative). At last, after pricking my finger, I discovered (drum roll)…my blood type is the most common blood type of all: O-Positive. *sigh*

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On the other hand, the people and instructors there to help/teach us were anything but generic. They were accepting, supportive, and passionate. With professors that both signed and talked, the captionists and interpreters served as more clarifiers than main communication outlets. Labs were made ten times more instructional and inspirational because they catered to different varieties of communication, sign, and speech. Furthermore, the staff’s acceptance of individuals with all ranges of hearing loss created a foundation of support that seemed to encompass the entirety of the campus. The “learning environment” was indeed that…and more. In the midst of the pig feet sutures and blood stained panels I found a fan of excitement and desire that fueled my teenage dream of being a physician.

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With the anticipation and participation of each new workshop/lab activity, the volume in the workshop lab setting seemed to continuously rise. For the hard-of-hearing individual volume has varied effects. Because I am aided (bilateral hearing aids) many times such situations can be overwhelming and cause headaches. Overstimulation/over-amplification often tires my brain out. I try to focus on too many things at once for too long a time. Many professionals call these symptoms “brain fatigue. Yet, with so much to be learned, so many details to discover, I didn’t want to miss a moment. And I didn’t! With innovative smart technology in my ears (Signia Pure® primax™) the plethora of sounds around me were automatically cleaned up.

Image 5Many of you wonder if a camp for the deaf and hard of hearing can be loud and messy. Yes, it can! The new smart technology was a blessing. However, even though my hearing aids’ smart technology reduced brain fatigue, my initiation into an environment of continuous signing often contributed to it. Even though I’ve taken more than four years of American Sign Language (ASL), a laser-like focus is often needed to decipher the lightning-fast finger spelling of my peers. Their fluency has not been the only way they have been inspirational — what a reminder they have been that each of us has obstacles to overcome (some more arduous than others). We face challenges; yet hold on to hope for tomorrow.

Bottomline: Dreams and dreamers don’t have to remain in the confines of childhood. What a relief!