For this anything at all post, I’ll be sharing my first personal essay of this year. I hope you enjoy it!
The Visual Aspects of Hearing
There is a point in time when we all become self-conscious of something about ourselves that makes us stand out and be different. Usually this happens around middle school where the unseen but understood struggle to ‘fit in’ makes us rethink how we live- from changing our outfits to choosing different friends. Generally, areas that we are self conscious about tend to be the physical aspects of ourselves, as these are the things that the outside world can see. Your friends, the clothes you wear, they are seen all the time every single day. It's no wonder then that we spend so much time worrying about them. It's almost ironic that we spend most of our time worrying about our physical appearance when that's only a small part of what makes us different and stand out. The bigger part of the picture is our inside lives.
Our inside lives are all vastly different than each other, yet we usually aren't self conscious about it. What we really worry about is our physical appearance. Why is that? Well, it's just that people can't see our differences on the inside whereas they always see what makes us different on the outside. So that is why we strive to control these differences, and in doing so, hope to fit in. Earlier, I said that we are usually not self conscious about our inside lives, but sometimes we are. What would make us self conscious about something that no one else can see? Well, that question is complicated, but there is a sort of simple answer to that. When we become self conscious of something on the inside, it is usually because that thing on the inside is affecting our actions on the outside, and people can see those actions. In simpler terms, what we are on the inside can be displayed by our actions on the outside. Now that is an interesting idea to note, and here’s where I come in.
On the outside, I look perfectly fine to people. There might be a few things that I am concerned with, but I have thick skin and I don’t let it bother me. However, on the inside, there is one thing that sets me apart from most people: I am deaf in my right ear. Now, if you were to meet me for the first time, you wouldn’t know that unless I told you. Since I was born that way, there are no obvious clues either. I don't have balance issues nor is my speech impeded at all. To you, I look and act like any other normal person. There is nothing about my actions that tells you I am deaf in my right ear. And as far as I can tell, I don't feel different. Since I have never heard anything in my right ear, I have gotten used to living with just my left ear, which is fine with me.
When I was in preschool, I had to wear hearing aids. I remember wearing them up till 2nd grade, when we moved down to Maryland. I didn't like the hearing aids, as I couldn't tell the difference with them on or without them. But alas, I wore them and I didn't really think much of them. Yes, wearing hearing aids is an obvious implication of a lack of hearing, but considering how young my peers and I were, nobody paid any attention to them. As a result, I did not get self conscious while wearing hearing aids. In preschool, there was no need to fit in, and honestly, nobody really cared what I did, so I didn't dwell on the fact that I had one ear. Instead I just pushed that into the back of my mind, and continued on with my life. It was a little different when we moved down to Maryland for second grade.
I don't know why, but we moved down with everything but the hearing aids. At the start of second grade I stopped wearing the hearing aids, and I didn't notice anything different. I didn't hear any better, nor did my hearing worsen. At this point I would simply tell my teachers at the beginning of the year that I was deaf in my right ear and that I should probably sit in the front because of it. None of my friends knew, and so I continued like I had in preschool: not really noticing that I was deaf in my right ear. The years went by and I sort of forgot that I only had one ear. I became good at maintaining eye contact while reading lips so that just in case I didn't hear every word, I could always figure it out by what their lips said.
Earlier, I said that our actions on the outside can sometimes display our inside lives, and this turned out to be the case for me. Up until middle school, I never really thought about my lack of hearing in my right ear. To me, I heard as well as anybody else because I didn’t know what it is like to hear with both ears. So it was a surprise to me in middle school when I noticed that how I acted on the outside had a different effect on the people around me. Like I said earlier, from preschool up till middle school, nobody really noticed how I acted and if they did, they didn't seem to care. But this was not the case in middle school. Now, I don't mean to say that I was excluded because of my actions, but rather I noticed a slight change in how people interacted with me.
Besides reading lips, I had developed some other habits to help me cope with only one ear. Some of these I do consciously, and I am aware of them, while there are others that just happen naturally that I don’t even know I am doing, and that’s where I run into some trouble. Since I can’t hear in my right ear, I almost always try to sit to the right of the person, so that I can actually hear the conversation. When I sit on the left side, I can sort of make out what is being said, but in loud places where there are multiple people talking I am lost. I can’t hear a thing, and therefore cannot keep the conversation going. So in order to combat this, I try to sit on the right side. But when that’s not possible, I do the next best thing.
In order for me to hear on the left side, I have to position myself in a way that my left ear is facing the speaker. In order to do that I will turn 180° so that my left ear is facing the speaker. The only problem in doing so is that I am not facing the speaker, so I am left just staring around, listening intensely at every word so that I can hear what is going on. For me, I have gotten used to having to do that, but for my classmates, I can tell that they aren’t used to it. Now, I don’t know exactly what they’re thinking, but I can tell that they are slightly uncomfortable. And this is where my ‘outside actions’ can display what’s happening on the inside. People don’t know that I am deaf in my right ear (some students know because I told them, but that’s not the point) so when I do an action that seems normal to me, it seems rather bizarre to them. So for me to be doing something natural and have it actually put me at odds with others and make me stand out is a little hard to grasp. For all I know I am not doing anything wrong, but rather am coping without an ear but that’s not how other people see it.
Me tilting my head is a conscious action which I do to help hear better, but as I mentioned earlier there are some other things that I do subconsciously. One of these things is being loud. Now, I get it, I am a naturally outspoken person, but I often have people telling me that I am too loud, and I am a little taken aback, because I do not notice such a thing. Being deaf in one ear means that I can’t hear the full environment in a room, and so if I think it is too quiet I naturally raise my voice thinking that others can’t hear as well. Since this is not true for them, it makes it seem as if I am shouting at them when to me I am just talking. This can be very frustrating at times when I claim that I did not raise my voice at all, but people say I actually did. I have no choice but to believe them, but I don’t like too. Also when I get excited about something, I get naturally louder without realizing it, and as you would guess people get irritated too.
Because of those things that I did, people started acting differently around me in middle school. I noticed that people referred to me as ‘obnoxious’ and ‘loud’ and simply one of those people you didn’t want to be around with. Now, I am not trying to blame all of my behavior on my hearing as I did contribute to some of those things, but not all of them. What I’m trying to say is that because my actions appeared ‘strange’ to other people, they thought I was strange as well. And because of this I suddenly got self conscious of being deaf in one ear- something that I never did before in my life. For the first time, people were able to see how I heard. Something that had always been a part of my inside life was now visible to other people, and that factored into how they viewed me. Not only did I have to worry about my physical appearance, but now I was worrying about being deaf in one ear.
Eventually middle school smoothed out a bit, and I was thinking about my deaf ear less and less- but not completely. It still hovered in my mind, sometimes going into the background for a bit but then re-emerging due to another incident. And I found that that has faded a little during high school but is regularly being brought to attention. Someone in freshman hall might ask a general question such as “Does anyone have a free this morning?”, (or so I think that was what was being asked) and I wouldn’t hear what was asked, so I wouldn’t respond because I am not 100% sure that that was the right question. Other times in freshman hall (or in classes) people tell me “Jack, you’re way too loud” and I am reminded again that other people can’t hear what I hear, and so I quiet down again. It’s amazing (and frustrating) because I think that I am not doing anything wrong, but other people insist that I am too loud.
So, how am I doing now? I would say that since these issues will be present throughout all of my life, I will need to try to find a balance between them. People will always be able to see how I hear, and that will set me apart, but I think I’ll set that aside and learn to disregard it. Being self conscious and worrying about my deaf ear seems rather futile at this point as I’ll be half deaf my entire life. I shouldn’t worry about it throughout my life but find other ways to cope with it. Ignoring it might work, but then I’ll always have people complaining that I’m too loud or such, and that bode well. Finding a balance between our inside lives and our outside physical appearances can be hard at times, but if I can manage to at least try to do that, then everybody will benefit. That being said, if I work really hard trying to please everybody, nobody will be pleased- including me.
Part of the excitement for the future is the mystery surrounding it. Nobody knows what it will bring, and that’s why we’re intrigued by it. I certainly don’t know what’s in store for me down the road, but as the old saying goes, we’ll cross the bridge when we get to it. This relates to my hearing as well. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but I’ll let that happen later. Certainly things will be different in the future, but I’ll be different then too. Instead of working really hard now worrying about how I’ll cope with one ear for the rest of my life, I’ll do the best I can now and come up with new solutions later on. I’ll meet problems as they arise- and not try to anticipate them. And so I think this is a solution that works not only just for me, but everybody else. It will certainly help me and my hearing, but it will also help you in your own problems as well.
Just to clarify, the bolded sections of the essay were the parts that got deleted because Notability was acting up. Anyway, I know that this was a long essay, but hopefully it was interesting. Stay tuned for the next post! I
- Jack Goodenough