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Navigating being Deaf (continued)

Updated: May 3, 2021

To: Mom, Dad, Jalah, Coley, Megan, Chelsea McKnight, Susan Flory, Ms. Balcarcel, LaSaun, Manuel, Mrs. Myne, Terry, and Ms. Bennett.. I am here because of you..

My crew..

These two guys here, were the ones that were with me for as long as I can remember. I was the only girl in the group, but they were my BFF’s growing up. We spent home rooms together, then we would head to mainstream together. We were together from elementary, to middle, and high school. One very special person is missing from this group, Houston.

All of us are so different, but share something so big in common. I belonged to two different communities, or “family” as I like to call it. A “hearing” family and “deaf” family, I had two different worlds. One that hearing people wouldn’t understand, and one the deaf wouldn’t understand. My deaf family always made me feel so welcomed. I could easily be myself, they were patient, and honestly I think some of them could relate to some of the tough moments I had experienced. For my hearing friends, things were a little bit more challenging. If I’d miss something in a group conversation with my hearing friends, some would cut me off, moving on to the next subject. Too embarrassed to ask a third time, I just missed out on the information, or juicy gossip. Some may think of me as quiet, and many of you know I’m far from it, but in those moments where I sit in silence, I’m listening and observing.

By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I hung out more with the hearing kids. I was more involved in extracurricular activities, I played sports, joined after school programs, and hung out with the hearing students after school. At this point, I decided not to have my interpreters with me after my classes, it was all me navigating the hearing world on my own. I had also ditched my hearing aids, I felt like I was the center of attention when wearing them, so I left them behind.

“I’d become comfortable not hearing some things to be honest, my world was quiet again, just like when I was younger”.

I enjoyed it, well until someone would try whispering to me and after the second, “huh”, I’d just nod in agreement, with an awkward smile. (To those of you wondering, whispering to someone who’s deaf makes zero sense).

That’s one of my worst habits, smiling then nodding in agreement. In the past, if I had to ask someone to repeat something more than twice, they’d often get frustrated or annoyed of me. So to avoid that, I picked up a terrible habit, this is something that still haunts me to this day. I’m constantly working on it, expressing to people that if I’ve missed something, I need for them to say it louder or repeat it once more. I appreciate the people who are patient with me, that take the time to adjust.

As I entered my early twenties, I began to resent hearing people. I struggled trying to get them to understand that I was different, so you’ll need to adjust. I often have to ask my hearing friends to approach me if they need to get my attention if I’m far away. Screaming my name will only make you look crazy... if I’m being honest. The best way I can describe this is if someone is blind, are you going to wave to get their attention? It's probably best to call out their name to get their attention.

This built up a lot of frustration, I stopped telling people that I was deaf, they didn’t seem to adjust. During this time, I wasn’t wearing my hearing aids, so that my hearing wasn’t the center of attention. Back to reading lips I went. This worked out OK for me, but again, I had to work twice as hard to get all the information.

I’d miss things that were said, but after getting bits and pieces, I’d put it together. Entering college, I made the decision on where I would sit, and mainly stayed quiet so I wouldn’t miss out on any information. If I was too busy talking to someone, I would then miss information in class.

When entering in the working world, I paid close attention to my peers and managers, watching to see how things were done so I wouldn’t miss anything. I worked hard, making sure my disability didn’t set me back. I couldn’t hear as good as everyone else, but I didn’t let that stop me.

Being deaf allowed me to see people differently, I often joke that I have the chattiest friends because I’m the only one who’d actually sit and listen to them..(you know who you are) I am patient because that is what I need for others, to do with me. For anyone whose been viewed differently, or not given an opportunity because of something that could possibly set you back, I understand. I believe that God designs us so uniquely, to be able to reach people differently.

I am now 27 and find myself reflecting a lot, as I get older the insecurities that bothered me as a young girl start to leave. I see the young girl who was so worried about what others thought of her, hide. I see the young girl who was called names, who would reject the tools and resources handed to her, all to avoid embarrassment. That girl today, has a voice and she’s using it more. Using it to tell my story, loving me for who I am, and who I always was.

Throughout my life, my teachers were my saving grace, they gave me strength. Many of them saw me, it was like they could see my determination to do whatever I put my mind to, and they did everything they could to support me. I have a very long list, but to my last home room teacher, Ms. Bennett, you saved me during my many lows, during one of the most complicated chapters of my life, High School. You supported me even when I did the exact opposite of what I was suppose to do. You made sure I was set up for success to take on the world, because of you I did so, so confidently. Thank you, I have so much love for you in my heart. You’d do anything for your students, and you did so much for me.

Also, to my interpreters, you ALL held me up.

And to Megan you were more than just an interpreter to me, you were my friend. Thank you for being such a great partner. I felt understood and supported when I had you around, never judged. You adjusted how I wanted things done in those moments. Thank you for coming alongside me for every adventure, from NYC, Grand Rapids, and Detroit. You were a safety net for me, and such a huge support system. 🤟🏾

It is now 2021 and I am being challenged again, face mask and Zoom calls.. to be honest, I dislike both of them very much.

Face masks now make reading lips impossible, and zoom calls are well... a hot mess sometimes! 8–14 people on a screen, and typically 3 people talking all at once.

While it is challenging, I’m navigating these times. Speaking up, and sharing how I need other people to adjust when being with me. I’ve had to leave some of those people who can’t adjust, from my life. People who’ve said inappropriate things to me, or dismiss me when asking them to speak up.

I am more confident in my skin now more than I have ever been. Proud to be speaking up, I still get frustrated when people make ignorant comments, but instead of running from it, I’m calling it out in the moment, with the hopes of sharing bits and pieces of my story.

To the young boy or girl reading this who may feel the same, don’t let a disability disable you from living the life you want to live. Wear your hearing aids, cochlear implant, sign BOLDLY, share your story. Love others, celebrate your good days, and don’t dwell on your bad days. Don’t settle because you're embarrassed. Want to do something that others say you can’t? Share what you need adjusted and do it. You’re paving the way for the next person.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story.

-Xx Jas

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