I was born with a profound hearing loss and have worn hearing aids for as long as I can remember. Growing up in a large "hearing family," I had to learn to speak and read lips, but I always felt like something was missing.
For the average person, hearing is a passive activity, but lip reading is exhausting work that requires constant concentration. Even then, the results are inconsistent. Yes - I could communicate, but something was keeping me from truly connecting with people. Every day, I watched other people have the type of interactions that were always just out of reach for me.
Because of my hearing aids, I was never quite deaf enough to join the deaf community, but my severe hearing loss also meant I wasn't a member of the hearing community, either. Friends referred to me as a "hearfie," both hearing and deaf. My ability to speak and read lips allowed me to pass in the hearing world, but it also made life exhausting.
Having a social life as I was growing up was hard. I was a teenager before social media, texting or the Internet. It was the era of landlines, the great enemy of a lip-reading teenager who longed to talk to her friends. For me, there was no exchanging numbers, no "Hey! Call me after school," no spontaneous invitations to a friend's house.
Finally, the Internet, texting and emails arrived. Articulating myself had never been easier, and finally, finally, I could participate in group conversations. But an email still couldn't provide the feeling of intimate connections that I so desperately craved. I was introduced to Facebook in 2007 by my younger sister, and fell in love with its clear and visual world where everyone communicated with words and pictures. There was no hearing involved. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was on the same page as everyone else.
Facebook has enriched my life in ways that were not possible before. It has broken down the traditional barriers of communication, allowing me to form relationships with so many new people and reconnect with friends from my past.
Now I can take time to really learn about the people in my life, instead of trying to simply figure out what they're saying. Instead of working so hard to speak and understand, now I'm able to spend time getting to know the people in my life.
Hearing loss is an invisible disability. It's not easily seen, but it's easily forgotten. There are no simple answers for communicating with others, and though we tend to take it for granted, communication is vital for human beings. It gives us the ability to learn, laugh and love each other. It allows us to express our reactions to the beauty and sadness of everyday life. The power of these connections is what makes life so amazing, but in order to connect you need to understand and be understood.