Being in middle school with a hearing loss made this period extra challenging.
Middle school with a hearing loss meant covering my ears with my hair and staying quiet in my classes. In 2006, cool meant wearing Aeropostle clothes, carrying sequin purses, and having a flip phone. I was mildly panicked most of the time, as I was terrified of drawing attention to myself, or more specifically, my hearing aids. I managed to keep up with the trends and fly under the radar at school so no one would notice me. In school, I didn’t stand out in a good or bad way. I masked the mild panic I often felt by appearing unfazed by any challenge I faced at school with my hearing aids. This included the horrible swim unit in gym class.
Everyone hates the swim unit. I mean, who wants to smell like chlorine and have wet hair for the rest of the day? How uncool is that? Most of my classmates grumbled their way through the swim unit while I was shaking in my boots.
“I have to take my hearing aids out! I won’t be able to hear anyone clearly enough and I might miss something and embarrass myself in front of everyone! Sitting out isn’t an option because I want to get an A in gym class!” I internally screamed as I sat at the top of the bleachers by the swimming pool and tried my hardest to listen and understand what was going on around me.
Then, of course, the gym teacher says, “Okay now everyone find a partner!”
In that moment, I wanted nothing more than for this whole stupid swim unit to be over and to be at home playing on Club Penguin and listening to Kelly Clarkson. I frantically looked around until my eyes landed on a girl I knew from some of my other classes.
I spent five minutes mentally preparing myself before I asked, “Want to be partners?”
“Sorry, I already have one!” she responded.
I hated swim unit so much. Another five minutes of mental preparation went by and I tried again with someone else.
“Do you already have a partner?” If I’m the only one without a partner, the teacher will have to announce it to everyone and it will be hard for me to hear what is going on. I’ll be so embarrassed!
“Sure!” she smiled.
The relief that washed over me was like that freezing water hitting my skin as I finally jumped into the swimming pool.
My anxieties about my hearing loss persisted even when I was around my friends. If they brought it up to me, I still felt my face get red hot with embarrassment, even though I was comfortable with them and trusted them. Sleepovers were stress-inducing because I was worried that if I took my hearing aids out to go to sleep, I might miss a funny joke or a late night conversation. I often chose to try and sleep with my hearing aids in during sleepovers, as uncomfortable as it was, so I wouldn’t have to tell them I couldn’t hear what was going on. I didn’t want to ruin or miss any fun moments with my friends.
Clearly, I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin or confident in who I was with my hearing aids. Even if my classmates weren’t asking about my hearing aids anymore, like they did in elementary school, it still always felt like everyone was noticing my hearing loss.
“Clearly, I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin or confident in who I was with my hearing aids.”
In sixth grade, I had to take a music class, so I opted for choir since I had no interest or experience with playing instruments. Sometimes we sang cool songs and sometimes we sang weird songs, but in general, I didn’t mind choir. I always tried my best and fully participated, even though I didn’t have much singing experience.
Then one day, the girl next to me raised her hand.
“Someone is singing out of tune!”
“Psh sucks to be that person,” I thought to myself.
The teacher went over the singing part again and we started up the song once more.
The girl raised her hand again. “Someone is still singing out of tune!”
Oh, come on!
By that point, I realized that the person singing out of tune could very well be me. When we started singing the song again, I sang in a barely audible voice. It was the first time it occurred to me that even though my hearing aids help me hear, maybe I don’t perceive sounds the same way other people do. I felt a little sad about this because I love music and singing. I had dreams of pursuing music. It felt like this girl in choir class had crushed my unrealistic hopes of becoming a famous singer.
Middle school was a weird time, as it is for many people. Twelve years later, I still feel anxious about any pool party social events where I can’t wear my hearing aids in the water. However, I’m also learning how to play guitar. I’m practicing singing along, even though I can’t tell if it sounds like angels or if it’s still out of tune after all these years. Whether I’m trying to sing like Adele or I’m sharing my stories of having a hearing loss, I’m happy to report that it gets better. I have confidence in my voice at last.