Thursday, August 29, 2013

A teacher coping with disability

I've been contemplating this post for quite some time, but it's been difficult for me to put into words.  I've decided to give it a shot, in hopes that maybe somewhere out there, my story might impact somebody, and possibly give me some closure to what has been one of the biggest challenges of my life.

So flash back 4 years to May of 2009.  It's a normal Saturday, like any other, except I woke up and couldn't hear anything.  I shouldn't say I couldn't hear anything at all, it was more like all I could hear was fuzz and ringing.  I'd had some tinnitus in my left ear since college, but this was tinnitus times 1000.  To put it into perspective, my husband had to put his mouth right up to my ear for me to hear him, and even then it was very garbled.

I went to several ENT's and had more hearing tests than I can count...basically, no one knows why this happened, and no one was sure if it'd ever get better.  That was a huge gut check.  I'm a teacher, how in the world am I going to teach if I can't hear what my students are saying? The doctors were optimistic that my hearing would get better, but they weren't sure how much.  My official diagnosis (and I'm not making this up) is Sudden Hearing Loss...yes, that's really the name.

As if all that wasn't enough, this happened exactly 1 week prior to the River Bank Run...a 25K I had been training for since January (over 300 miles logged), and my ENT told me that because of all the steroids I was on my immune system was really low and that I should probably sit it out.  He may not have realized what a big deal it was for me to not run, but it was a big deal.  I had never run anything remotely that long, ever, and I was a charity runner for the Kent County Girls on the Run.  Talk about pouring salt on a wound.

As it stands now, I can hear low tones pretty well, but I can't hear high tones well at all...things like microwave beeps, annoying reminders on your phone, and high pitched voices are beyond my range.  I have to wear hearing aids when I'm at school to help me better understand what the students are saying, but even with them, students often have to repeat themselves.

As you can probably imagine, it is incredibly frustrating for me and the students...I've gotten in the habit of repeating the student's comments to make sure I'm right, and often the students look at me like I'm nuts.  That's a pretty clear sign that I didn't hear them correctly.  That is probably the most frustrating part because I don't want people to think I don't know what I'm doing, or that I'm not an intelligent person.

While I try to stay optimistic, it is hard...really hard sometimes.  I hate that I can't hear my students the first time.  I hate that I miss side comments that I really should be able to hear.  I hate that I miss the point of a joke & have to have someone rephrase...I always feel like I'm 10 seconds behind the punchline, and by the time I laugh it's not funny anymore.  I hate that I can't always hear my kids (imagine driving somewhere with kids in the backseat that you can't hear talking to you).  I hate that I avoid phone conversations purely because I'm afraid I won't be able to understand them.  I hate that I am nervous telling people about my hearing loss because I'm afraid they'll judge or avoid me.  I could probably go on and on, but it's easy to get into a "poor me" mentality, and that's not who I want to be.

So how do I cope? For starters, my family is wonderful.  My husband is extremely patient with me if I need something repeated, and my kids are finally of ages where they understand that I'm not being mean when I don't respond to them, I just don't hear them.  My friends are also incredible.  I used to get nervous when going out with the girls because I missed a lot of the conversation.  I found myself just nodding my head.  I don't want to burden people, so I took the easy way out.  They finally caught on and had a mini-intervention with me.  Basically it took them saying, "Damn it! Would you just say something if you don't hear us? We miss you being a part of the conversation."  So now I do.  I don't know if I have formally thanked them, but it meant a lot. So thank-you Wendy, Julie and ladies are fantastic.

But probably the hardest thing to cope with is my teaching.  How do you handle a class of 30 students when lots of noise is a major issue for you? Do you require them to be silent...please, like that's even possible!  I've found that simple honesty is the best policy.  I tend to not mention my hearing loss until I develop a relationship with my kids.  If I could pick a graphic for how most students respond it would probably be a little guy shrugging his shoulders and saying "ok, no big deal".  And that's a huge me.  They do little things for me now that they wouldn't before.  Like answering the phone because they know I don't even hear it ring.  Or looking at me before they speak so I can read their lips as well as hear their voices.  Do some students take advantage of it? the other kids think it's funny when they do? Not at all.

I'm writing this in an effort to get it all off my chest, find some closure, etc.  In addition to finally getting this out there, I'm also going to sign up for the River Bank Run.  It's been 4 years since this happened, and I still haven't tried to run it.  Call it a mental block, emotional block, or whatever you want, but I associate my hearing loss with the River Bank Run and I haven't wanted to try again.  This year I've been inspired by a lot of people doing amazing things, and I'm ready to give it a go.  I also found a running buddy to do it with me, so that's exciting as well (now you can't back out Megan!).

This year I was introduced to a company called Fellow Flowers.  To me, they're a place to find encouragement, motivation and inspiration.  Their company basically sells flowers (the cute ones that go in your hair), but each one has a different meaning to it.  I'd been wanting one for awhile, but I wasn't sure which to choose.  I finally decided upon Red:  Love, Passion, Commitment and Spirit.  Caring for the world around you.  Bringing it - every damn day.  It takes strength to do what you love.

I think red seems appropriate.

---------- Guess what? I accomplished my Riverbank Run goal! You can read about it here. -----------


  1. Thanks for sharing your story Delia. I'm sure it wasn't easy putting it down for all to see and read. Good luck with the River Bank Run (you too Megan).

  2. Lia- I admire your courage sharing this story to make people aware of what we experience but also what we learned from it. I was nodding my head internally while reading this because it sounds so similar to what I have been experiencing growing up. I think that you and I have overcome the strength that our disability doesn't stop us being who we are. It may have shaped who we have become today but we are two determined ladies!! Right? :-) I love you Lia and I am proud of you getting into the river bank run again!! Way to go girl!! And you are right - you have awesome girlfriends and an awesome family!! Keep them close to your heart. Sending you lots of hugs and happy tears your way.....

    1. Thanks, Coriann :) I've always admired you and respected the way you handle adversity...But now I can certainly relate more.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I've never talked to my doctor about my it, but I relate to a lot of the same things you struggle with. Sometimes I worry about how it affects my performance as a teacher. Now that I know it IS possible to teach with a hearing impairment it makes me feel less worried about the future, should my hearing get worse.

    Good luck with the run! :)

    1. Thanks for your comments, Amber. I'm so glad that this post hit home for you.

      Feeling like you aren't doing a good job, or I should say as good of a job as you wish you could do, is one of the most challenging parts to this whole thing.

      Keep your head up, it is possible to teach with a hearing impairment, it's just a little more difficult ;)

      Good luck, and I really hope that your hearing doesn't get worse.

  4. Delia,

    I'm very glad that we've connected because I've learned so much from you and I'm constantly inspired by your work. I also really appreciate that you shared such a personal story. Teachers are people. We have obstacles in our lives, just like our students do! Your students are very lucky to have someone that they can look up to who doesn't let a disability stand in her way!

    Good luck with the River Bank Run! I look forward to reading about your experience after you've accomplished your goal!