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How my hearing loss is shaping my travel experiences

hearing loss and travel
When I first set off for my year abroad, I didn’t realize how my hearing loss had prepared me for this adventure. Traveling with hearing loss has helped me be more present and accept situations that are out of my control.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ashley Derrington. I’m originally from Atlanta, GA, spent the last five years in Los Angeles. Now, I’m living the digital nomad life. What does that mean exactly? I’m traveling with a company called WY_CO, a work-remote travel company. I’ve committed to this program for a year, so I’ll be living in a different country every month for a year. I work as a freelancer across many industries.

My hope is to take this time for some self-exploration, figure out a career path and general life purpose. A promise I made to myself to fulfill on this journey is to be more vocal about my hearing loss. Also, to learn about the deaf and hard of hearing cultures in the countries that I visit.

“A promise I made to myself to fulfill on this journey is to be more vocal about my hearing loss. Also, to learn about the deaf and hard of hearing cultures in the countries that I visit.”

My hearing loss was never something I fully embraced, so I figured in taking this leap of faith to explore the world, why not take it a step further? I have a moderate to severe hearing loss in both ears, something I was born with. I’ve worn hearing aids my whole life, up until about seven years ago when I got the Esteem implant in my left ear. Now, it’s the implant and a Phonak Naida V hearing aid in my right ear. I’m considering getting the implant in my right ear at some point.

My journey around the world

I started in Cambodia in January of this year before heading to Bali in February, Taiwan in March, and currently, I’m in Australia. I will venture to South America next month before heading to Europe and Africa for the second half of the year. I’ve only been on this adventure for less than four months, and I’ve already learned so much about myself and those around me. When it comes to this adventure, my hearing loss has definitely had an impact on the overall experience. For instance, in Cambodia, I started to realize how my hearing loss is helping me adapt to life abroad.

Read more: Why I’m traveling the world, despite my hearing loss

When I first arrived in Cambodia, it wasn’t exactly the smoothest transition into a new travel/work lifestyle that I was hoping for. I was battling a sickness off and on, stuffy nose, scratchy throat and a stomach that spent more time gurgling than not. My luggage got lost on the way to Cambodia, but don’t worry, after many phone calls and pacing in the heat and humidity, it finally arrived! Also, jet lag is REAL! The dust, pollution, and lack of road rules have been quite the adjustments, but somehow through all of this, I’ve managed to be fairly calm. 

For a long time, I resented my hearing loss. Why did I have to be so different? I had no control over it, so I controlled everything else that I possibly could. News flash! We have no control over anything! Once I learned to really accept this fact, things became so much easier. When I look back on this week of unfortunate events, I remind myself that it’s out of my control. It’s easier to be relaxed than it is to be stressed. 

“For a long time, I resented my hearing loss. Why did I have to be so different? I had no control over it, so I controlled everything else that I possibly could.”

There have been moments where I’m out and about, and I’ll find myself jumping to conclusions before even really observing the situation. I find myself having to reel my thoughts in. Long ago, I promised myself that I would not make assumptions about anyone or anything because I have always hated the looks I would get from others when I didn’t understand something that was said or when my hearing aids were exposed. Like they don’t know me, how dare they judge me! And now I’m sticking my own foot in my mouth. But that’s the thing about traveling and what I’m excited about over the next year – this reminder that I am in no place to make accusations. What is perceived one way in my culture is perceived completely differently in another. It’s easy to be narrow-minded when we’ve only seen something done one way our entire life, but like how there are two sides to every story, there’s always another way to look at something. 

How my hearing loss has made me more present when traveling

Once I arrived in Bali, I started to become overwhelmed with my ever-growing list of things to do and see in Bali and its neighboring islands. I became frightened by my own lack of presentness and just living. My experience in Bali was starting to ere more on the tourist/gotta do everything side.

After accepting this realization, I slowed down. A lot. And it was so refreshing, just having a bit more of a routine and letting things happen organically. Thanks to the lovely Bali belly gracing me with its presence, I’ve was pretty much been holed in my room a few days. Initially, I was pretty bummed out to have missed out on those days, but I started to think that maybe it happened for a reason.

During my alone time, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and ponder. It had me thinking deeper about the concept of ‘being present’ and my particular ‘presentness’ or ability to be present. And you’ve guessed it, a lot of it circles back to my hearing loss.

 

When I’m in a situation where I’m interacting with people, I am most certainly present. If I want to fully engage in a conversation, I have to be completely in the moment in order to catch the details. Otherwise, you will get a smile and ‘yes’ nod (which you will, at times, still get regardless of my deep focus #deafproblems). 

And as I’ve mentioned previously, due to my hearing loss, I’ve learned to accept that I don’t always have control over situations, so spontaneity is something I thrive on. The unknown is thrilling and in the moment, aka present!

“And as I’ve mentioned previously, due to my hearing loss, I’ve learned to accept that I don’t always have control over situations, so spontaneity is something I thrive on.”

Now while I say I love the unknown, I also love the known. I’m a walking oxymoron. And I attribute this to my hearing loss because in order to feel like a part of something, I’ve always felt like I had to be one step ahead. In other words, I like having a plan. I like knowing what’s coming, so I can prepare for any ‘difficult hearing’ situations that may come up. Also, to prepare any sort of conversational prep work to show that I can participate like and with everyone else. 

That part of me that likes control will always be there, will, to some degree, always affect my presentness; but my goal is to work on feeling less of need to plan. Or at the very least make sure that I’m as present as I can be when executing my plan. 

Additionally, if there a is a plan, my hope is to do it more for me and not for the purpose of feeling like I have to be on the same level as the person next to me (aka no pre-event social skills prep work). 

How your hearing loss can teach you to be present

So I leave you with this challenge:

  • Take a minute to think about your ‘presentness’. Specifically, what it means to you and what influences that state of being for you. 
  • Look for the positives of your hearing loss
  • Take the steps towards accepting your hearing loss
  • Learn from your hearing loss 

Because there are no certainties in life, why not embrace the now?!

Do you feel that your hearing loss has taught you lessons about other parts of life such as traveling? Let us know in the comments. 

ashleyderrington
ashleyderrington
Ashley is a 28-year-old who loves to travel and try new things. She has bi-lateral, severe hearing loss, and wears a Phonak Naída V-SP hearing aid in one ear and has an Esteem implant in the other.She plays soccer for the USA Women's National Deaf Team. She's currently traveling the world in pursuit of adventure and perspective while also learning about the deaf and hard of hearing communities in various countries. Her travels can be followed on instagram @ashley5chanel or on her blog deaftattooedandemployed.com.