I didn’t really fit in with any particular group. However, like almost every other high school kid, I wanted to be cool.
Being in high school with hearing loss meant that I still had to attend IEP meetings with teachers and aids. Now instead of getting pulled out of class, I met with them after school. I started to channel my embarrassment about it towards my academic performance. I thought if I worked hard and got straight As, I could prove to them that having a hearing loss didn’t mean that I needed extra help, and I could stop having those embarrassing meetings after school. I think the meetings could have been far more productive for me if I’d had the courage to speak candidly about my experiences with having a hearing loss.
We were allowed to have earbuds to listen to music at school, and I really wanted to be a part of that. This was during the time when iPods and MP3 players were big. The big, over-the-ear headphones were not all the rage yet and AirPods definitely did not exist. All the cool kids hung out with one earbud in an ear, listening to music, while the other earbud dangled down. Sometimes kids would share music by sitting close to each other with one earbud each. I wanted to be a part of that, but I knew I couldn’t because I would have to take out my hearing aid to do it. Not only would hearing be significantly harder, but it would expose my disability and instantly make me uncool. Ugh.
I thought I could never be conventionally “cool” with my hearing aids. I kept them a secret as best I could. I was afraid of what my classmates might say if they saw them, so I kept my hair down, even during gym class. I would get hot and mildly sweaty during gym class with my hair flying everywhere, especially if we had to be outside. I would let myself suffer in the heat before ever putting my hair up. During homecoming and prom, I sometimes had my hair in an up-do, but always took care to hide my ears. Many of my peers started dating, but I was afraid that boys wouldn’t like me as much if they knew I had hearing aids. I thought hearing aids made me significantly less attractive.
“I thought I could never be conventionally “cool” with my hearing aids. I kept them a secret as best I could.”
After a couple of months of texting back and forth, a boy I liked asked me out. I was giddy and nervous, but still excited. Somebody likes me! My first boyfriend! A date to the school dances! I remember a few weeks into us dating, I mindlessly tucked my hair behind my ears in front of him. My cheeks turned red when I realized what I’d done.
Oh no… did he see my hearing aids?
I braced myself for him to say something along the lines of, “Oh I didn’t know you had hearing aids! Wow! CAN YOU HEAR ME WHEN I TALK LIKE THIS? …or this…? When did it happen?”
But he said nothing. In fact, he never pointed out my hearing aids. One day, he told me that he loved me for the first time. Sure, it was teenager love, but it was then that I realized my worth and value was not limited by my disability. He liked me for who I was. Who I am goes far beyond just my hearing loss.
Like many high school couples, we did break up eventually. I was devastated when it happened. But I also had a little bit more confidence in myself going forward. Now I knew that my hearing aids did not hold me back as much as I thought they did, and they didn’t change how people saw me. I took some of that confidence with me as I headed to college.