By Matthew Martin
Ed. Note: Martin is a 21 year old graduate student at the New York University’s Stern School of Business and currently lives in New York City. He was born with a 50 dB bilateral hearing loss due to a non-functioning thyroid.
I was just surfing the internet for self-discovery when I happened upon the Hands & Voices site. I first read the “Social Bluffing” article and learned there was an actual term for what I’d been doing so much all my life, ha ha. I’ve gotten very good at social bluffing by focusing on the tone of voice, length of sentence, relative volume, and facial expression. (See www.handsandvoices.org/articles/SocEmot/V9-4_bluff.htm)
A funny story you might hear from many is the difficulty my mother had in proving that I had actually had a hearing problem. While testing in various audiology booths, I would always look through the little window and read the audiologist’s lips. That worked until I went to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where they covered their mouths during testing. I was four or five at the time they finally identified my hearing loss.
I can say that I’ve re-invented myself from a clumsy kid with wires coming out of a box strapped to my chest (1st grade) to someone who you might be surprised has a hearing problem (by the way, I did away with the trainer, and today I only use the hearing aids). My biggest challenges, however, have been my social relationships and my relationship to myself.
As I’d been looking within myself, I realized most of my progress had, unfortunately, been driven by self-loathing, self-criticism, and shame. From middle school and sometimes even now, I’d try not to wear my hearing aids. The big reasons being that 1) other people could see them and I thought it affected their behavior towards me; 2) hearing aids reminded me of what I am—they were compact symbols of my inadequacies (looking so awkward), so I always tried to hide them from view.
Sometimes if I was wearing them in a social circumstance, I’d still have to say “what?” multiple times. I felt pangs of self-loathing right then in the group conversation. I was viewing myself through my interpretation of “their eyes” and what I thought they perceived. It’s pretty complicated, but that’s how I felt.
Another article on the H&V website that caught my eye was the Seaver/Schick interview on “Cognition in the Classroom.” It explores the effect of hearing deficiency on a student’s social-emotional progress because of isolation—this is HUGE. I’m still making progress, but I still haven’t had a romantic relationship or even a short-term fling (even though many opportunities were there) because interpreting responses and discerning widely-variable signals is still a weak point for me.
Anyways, I just thought I’d chime in on insights to some of my experiences.
Thank you for existing, Hands & Voices. ~