One thing I have always struggled with in accepting myself is my hearing loss.

I have had a progressive sensorineural hearing loss in both ears since the age of 3. I started having chronic ear infections at the age of 6 months old. I had PE tubes in my ears eight times from age 1-8. Due to all the fluid in my ears, the doctors were not sure I had permanent hearing loss until I was 4 or 5 years old, and my loss was a mild high frequency loss at that age. I got my first pair of hearing aids when I was 6 and I would hide them behind my hair. They were a pair of Phonak, in-the-ear, analog hearing aids (you know, the ones that when you turned up the volume wheel, ALL the frequencies got louder, even the ones where I had no hearing loss!). I was in the first grade and every time I got feedback in my OH hearing aids, my teacher would say, “Oh we must have a little birdie in here!” I was thoroughly embarrassed.

Having a hearing loss is something that I did not like about myself growing up. I was the only one in my school with hearing loss. Some kids teased me and made fun of me. Sometimes they would pretend to talk to me but no sound would come out of their mouth. I was not fooled, nor was I amused. Other times they would come up behind me and cup my ears to make my hearing aids squeal. As I got older and was in middle school, my loss progressed across all frequencies to a moderate hearing loss. I got my first pair of behind-the ear hearing aids and even had an FM system to use in the classroom to help me hear my teachers.  I had to work so much harder at focusing and listening in the classroom because it was so difficult to hear, even with hearing aids. It was exhausting, and I came home from school many days in my earlier years crying and would take a nap.  I also felt like a fool when I would hear something incorrectly and give an answer that had nothing to do with what we were talking about. I did not accept this part of myself and questioned why God would create me this way. I prayed for God to heal my ears daily.  I wanted so bad as a child to be normal and be considered normal by other children rather than that girl that can’t hear. I rejected this part of myself so much that I refused to learn sign language as a child because I did not want to be seen as “deaf”.

Even so, I delved into my studies, sports and extra-curriculars. I was determined to show my teachers and peers that I was not any less of a person or student even though I had a disability. I surpassed many of my classmates in all that I was involved in.  I was a wonderful flute player in band and sat first chair in concert band in high school.  I was successful in track, cross country, and swim team all throughout high school. I graduated with a 4.0 and went on to college to achieve a Bachelor’s of Science in Hearing, Speech & Language Sciences (3.4 GPA), post graduate work in Audiology and later in my life, a Masters of Arts in Teaching (4.0 GPA).

In college and mid-twenties, my loss progressed even more to a severe sensorineural loss across the frequencies. I had to order power BTE hearing aids now, and I still felt like I had trouble hearing. I have always feared that eventually I will reach an age where I will be deaf, and I felt like my fear was slowly becoming a reality. I was just beginning my family, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to hear my baby cry when she would wake up, hear when she called for me or spoke her first words. I had met Dr. Figliano a year earlier, and decided to call the Cleveland hearing aid center, Centers for Hearing Care and make an appointment.

The care and services I received at the Centers for Hearing Care have been above and beyond the care and services I received at any other hearing aid providers. All of the staff are kind and courteous and the doctors are extremely knowledgable, patient, and determined to find the hearing aid that best suits the needs of the patients. Also, free batteries and cleanings for the life of my hearing aids (5 years!!!)! I have not received services like this elsewhere! Dr. Figliano help me pick a great pair of hearing aids that gave me enough amplification and clarity of sounds. I heard my babies when they cried and spoke their first words.

Dr. Shobel helped me pick and program my most recent pair of hearing aids. The technology has changed so much! This is my first pair of fully digital aids with Bluetooth technology.  Phone calls and music from my iPhone stream directly into my hearing aids. It has changed my quality of life in several ways. First, I do not dread receiving a phone call. I do not get embarrassed now on phone calls, because I do not have to ask them to repeat over and over. I can hear the person talking and my hearing aids reduce other sounds around me. Second, I hear music in a whole new way. It’s almost like I was not hearing the full spectrum of sounds from instruments and voices before. Music has always been very beautiful to me, but the first time I heard music through my new hearing aids I cried. Finally, my new hearing aids have shown me that I was not hearing soft consonant sounds of speech. I think this was something that I gradually lost as my hearing changed over the past 10 years. Now I can hear people pronouncing the “S “sound, the “T “sound, the “ch” sound and the “sh” sound. That makes a huge difference in discriminating speech! I can even hear myself making these sounds and I realize I hadn’t heard myself say those sounds in a long time. It took me 4 to 5 weeks to get used to hearing everything new with my new hearing aids, but it was worth it!

It took me a long time to realize that other people did not look at me as a disabled person. They looked at me as a normal person. I was the one that saw myself as disabled. It took me a long time to come to a point where I fully accepted that this is who I am. This is how God created me and I am okay with that. I don’t need my ears to be healed to accept myself. And I don’t need my ears to be healed for me to experience a full life. I could have very easily taken a different path in my life succumbing to my fears and insecurities, but I continually choose to overcome this.  I graduated high school, went on to college and even graduate school. I’ve held really great jobs. I got married and had children. I didn’t let it hold me back. I still get overcome with anxiety and worry every time I have my annual hearing test, but then I always feel encouraged knowing that I have great Cleveland clinic audiology doctors at the Centers for Hearing Care who support me and always make sure I have good working aids that help me experience a full quality life!

Julie Larson

Current Patient/Guest Blogger