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Finding One's Place

by Branden Huxtable

Originally published in the June 1995 issue of the CSCDHH GA Newsletter

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In the past, I never understood the full meaning of hearing loss. As with most people, hearing loss simply meant needing hearing aids. Just make sure you change the batteries, clean the molds and put on a smile. Of course, hearing people generally knew much less than I did, so you cannot blame them when they said:

"Turn up your hearing aids."

"Why don't you invent waterproof hearing aids? They have waterproof radios."

"Why don't you just get an operation to fix your hearing?"

Hearing people won't understand if you don't tell them, but how can you tell them if you don't understand yourself?

When I was younger, because of my lack of comprehension, I naturally felt inferior to other people because I was limited in who I could be with, where I could go, and what I could do. Instead, I would either become the center of attention by telling jokes ("I don't mean to comment on your driving, but isn't that billboard coming at us awful fast?"), or clinging to a select few for much needed support (my mother, my teacher or a few friends), but never just simply socialize and have fun. From elementary to high school this approach became a comfortable defense against the world outside. Of course, I was taking each little situation as they come with no understanding of the big picture.

My years of dependency changed dramatically when I started college. Old rules that applied as a child no longer applied as an adult. With thousands of people running all over the place, intense classes almost to breaking point and far far less free time for play, my reserve of hearing friends started dwindling. I was frustrated because I no longer had control over my own social situations. Everyone had their own lives to live. I hardly knew anyone anymore so I had to fend for myself. What frustrated me the most was that I found nothing to replace my old social norms.

So how did I handle that situation? I eventually withdrew from other people and made friends with the four walls of my apartment. No longer was the world comfortable. And you know what? I was doing this to myself. No one else was.

How do I break the rut?

My father suggested I find a club or a group of hard-of-hearing people. I had never heard of any such group. My audiologist told me about Self Help for Hard-of-Hearing (SHHH), an international organization committed to helping the hard-of-hearing people, their relatives and their friends. One friend of mine said SHHH sounded like a meeting where people sit around and say "What?" but I went anyway. We sat in a circle talking about ourselves, our backgrounds, our needs. When my turn came, I introduced myself.

"My name is Branden Huxtable, and I . . ."
"Speak up."
"Talk louder and move your lips."
"Oh. Sorry."

Two minutes later, they got an interpreter. I have been hard-of-hearing all my life but had no idea how to talk to one. After this inauspicious beginning, I learned new communication rules and coping skills through lectures, discussions and support at SHHH. Most of the people at SHHH, however, had lost their hearing much later in life and still had better hearing than me. While naturally I felt different than hearing people, I started to feel oddly different than hard-of-hearing people.

Later on, a friend of mine that I met at SHHH told me about deaf bowling and asked if I would be interested in joining. Ordinarily, I would have declined since I knew very little sign language, but I went ahead anyway. At first, I felt no better than in the hearing world: silent, alone and inferior. Slowly, I learned various signs from deaf people, my confidence built up, and I became more comfortable in the new world. As I learned more signs and met more deaf and deaf-blind people, my four walls finally tumbled. With my new-found independence, I gained control over my life even socializing more with hearing people whether they could sign or not. Sign language showed me that I could make new friends. My hearing loss became a way of life and a springboard to new opportunities. I even learned how to talk to a hard-of-hearing person.

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