Embracing My Disability
By Vanessa Palencia
Imagine being a 10-year-old girl walking around school with your best friend during lunch when all of a sudden an intimidating 6-foot man, a teacher, towers over you and starts barking at you. You’re not sure exactly what he’s saying but you catch the words “gum” and “ear” and immediately know that he’s referencing your bubble-gum pink hearing-aid ear mold. You feel mortified and don’t say anything, but thankfully your best friend speaks up for you and tells the teacher that it’s just a hearing-aid. This calms the teacher down and he walks away like nothing happened. But something did happen. The girl became extremely self-conscious about her disability, and she would go through 13 years of her life going through extreme measures to hide it before learning to embrace it and love herself again.
Yep. That was me.
I was born with complete hearing loss in my left ear and moderate to severe hearing loss in my right. My hearing loss was normal to me because it’s all I ever knew. Growing up, I used to love getting a new mold because I loved picking out the colors and creating something cool that I would proudly wear later. But as I got older, the kids around me started getting meaner. Maybe I was just a delicate flower, but I took so many things to heart. From the older, popular girl telling me that it was weird that I wore earplugs all the time to people yelling at me thinking that being louder would solve the problem (for the record, it doesn’t. It’s all about clarity, and I can’t control that).
I can’t pinpoint exactly when I realized that I was different, but I do remember that once I realized it, I stopped being comfortable talking with other people (aside from close friends) and I became super introverted and super shy, which only spelled disaster for me when I started moving around and switching schools.
In an effort to be seen as normal, I let everyone into my life, both good and bad. I didn’t think that I had the privilege or the opportunity to be picky with my friends. I thought that because I was hard of hearing and reluctant to tell people that I wore a hearing aid, I had to just make-do with the people that decided to approach me and call me their friend. So sad, right?
But it doesn’t stop there. I can’t tell you how many times I’d make up lies about hating water to avoid taking off my hearing aid and how many times I’d play the bitch just to keep them from finding out about my hearing impairment. If anyone ever figured it out, then they never brought it up because my energy would be so tense and embarrassed. I was constantly living a life revolved around my hearing impairment and only doing things that I thought it “allowed” me to do, which meant anything that didn’t involve putting my hair up, taking my hearing aid off, or sitting in a loud, noisy room. At one point, I even started devising a fool-proof plan for whenever it came time to start dating seriously. I had concluded that I either had to marry someone stupid enough to never find out about my hearing impairment or not date at all. But that was only because I truly believed that I wasn’t going to find someone who would love me exactly as I am.
Except, I did.
And with his help, I learned to open up about my insecurities and overcome them. Something about him loving on me and telling me that he loved my disability made me feel less freakish. I finally felt accepted. That’s when I realized that that’s all I ever wanted from the moment I felt out of place. I wanted reassurance that my friends would still love me and that the world wouldn’t treat me like a glitch. But because I didn’t allow anyone close to me to discuss my insecurities, I never learned to grow from it and embrace it until now.
So to all of you who have hearing loss in its various forms, whether you were born with it or not, just know that you are not alone. Let my story and my lessons influence you into opening up and accepting yourself exactly the way you are and may you take your own experiences out into the world to help someone else with a disability learn to love themselves as well. Because regardless of our bodily circumstances, we are made perfectly imperfect.