I wake up to something vibrating in my bra. There’s a moment of groggy incomprehension before I remember what it is. Pulling the still-buzzing phone out, I glance at the time: 7:00am. At least I managed to sleep through the noise of the garbage trucks, one of the silver linings of being deaf! I switch the phone off and get out of bed. It’s not the most traditional of alarm clocks, I know. Often I’ll just use my fitbit strapped to my wrist, but it wasn’t working last night, so I had to improvise. Still, these little life hacks make for funny stories and help break the tension when discussing my disability. I was diagnosed as profoundly deaf when I was a baby, which means I can’t hear anything at all. The doctors told my parents I wouldn’t be able to hear a drill boring into concrete, even if it was right next to me. Being deaf makes me feel insecure sometimes, so when I was younger, I would avoid talking about it at all costs. But over time I realised that if I’m not comfortable with my disability, other people won’t be either.
It’s time to face another day. Gym’s the first thing on the agenda, so I quickly throw on my workout gear and switch on my cochlear implant. The implant sits on top of my skin above the ear, nicely camouflaged by my brown curly hair. I like that people don’t see it straight off the bat; it gives me the opportunity to introduce my disability on my own terms. Next, I plug a special chord into my iPhone and attach the other end to my cochlear implant. This allows me to listen to music and works in the same way as headphones. I can’t actually hear the lyrics of songs. When you’re deaf, your ability to differentiate the nuances of sound is reduced, so with instruments playing over the top, all words merge into one overall sound. For that reason, I love songs with a good beat, especially Ministry of Sound. Playing aggressive music gets me up and about for the gym (or that’s what I tell myself).
I head over to the gym from the residential college where I stay during the semester, often with a cigarette in hand (ironic, I know). I took up smoking in high school because being there made me feel dehumanised. I wanted to look cool, and if I could do it while shocking others, all the better. Sometimes, people seem to hold up those with disabilities as some kind of “inspiration”, and smoking was my way of telling them to stuff it. Hopping on the cross trainer, I have to take out my cochlear implant because sweat stops it working. Although this may seem inconvenient, I relish the chance to literally unplug for another forty minutes. Instead, I open up Netflix on my phone and tune in to the most recent episode of Riverdale (I totally ship Cheryl and Toni). Luckily, my 20/20 vision makes reading the small subtitles on my phone easy. I head back to college and get ready for uni, trying to figure out how I’m going to get my tutorial participation mark without having done the readings for the last month.
There’s a preconception out there that cochlear implants or hearing aids miraculously fix a person’s hearing, but this isn’t the case. Essentially, the implant absorbs sound vibrations in the atmosphere and transports them to the brain. Simple in theory, but there’s a lot of sound out there so it’s no surprise that some of it is missed. If I concentrate really hard, I can hear about 60 to 70 per cent of what happens in a tute. Most people don’t realise this, but that level of concentration is exhausting, which often serves as a brutal reminder that being deaf clouds my life with isolation and loneliness. Imagine trying to listen to someone with a heavy accent, who happens to be underwater! Sometimes, it is easier for me to just zone out completely. Of course, this can be awkward, like this one time in a criminal law tute, when the tutor asked me a question after I’d stopped listening. So I had to throw an answer out there in the hope that it was relevant. It wasn’t, and I was left with everyone staring at me. This can be embarrassing but doesn’t prevent me from piping up about a controversial topic from time to time. I once had a development studies tutorial where we were debating how tax should be used to aid developing countries. Let’s just say that I got very passionate—how on earth can developing countries be expected to compete against developed nations without any help?—and everyone, including the tutor, was clapping and laughing!
My next class is an international politics lecture. On the way, I pass someone I know well enough to say “hi” to, but not so well that I’d feel comfortable having a conversation with them, a situation we can all relate to. Luckily, I can pretend I can’t hear them and just walk past! In a big crowded lecture theatre, I can never hear what the lecturer is saying, so the University provides a note taker who takes notes for me. Usually, it’s a different person for each subject; they’re all very professional and just want to help you get the most out of your education. I realise I’m blessed to be in an environment where I have the support to flourish in my studies, but I do feel concerned for other people with disabilities who haven’t been as lucky as I have. Still, like most students, I definitely prefer the comfort of my bed over a cold lecture theatre, so I usually just watch lectures online using my special chord on double speed.
Yay, it’s finally lunchtime—eating is a rather passionate hobby of mine! I meet up with a friend at Dr Dax and order the tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwich and a coffee. Once my friend has ordered, we look for a place to sit that is quiet enough for me to hear. If the weather is nice enough, I like to go outside where it’s quieter. Luckily, all my friends are supportive, even when some days are colder than others. When the food arrives, I take a bite of my sandwich, savouring the freshness of the tomato, the creaminess of the mozzarella and—let’s be real—just the general feel-good sensation we all get from eating carbs. They say that if one sense is missing, the others are heightened and I can absolutely attest to this.
Soon, my friend and I are chatting away. One-on-one social situations have always been easiest for me, as I can hear about 80 per cent of what is said, and lip-reading fills in some of the blanks. Other situations are more difficult. You know that moment where you’ve asked someone to repeat themselves three times and you still can’t understand what they’re saying, so you just awkwardly smile and nod? Yeah, that’s me about 40 times a day. On a good day. Like most people, I enjoy socialising and meeting new people, but the exhaustion does take its toll on me. Some days it converts to grumpiness or even anger at those around me. But today is not one of those days, and my friend and I are soon lost in conversation about how our Tinder love lives are going.
After all this, I head back to college with ambitious plans to be really productive and studious, but in reality, Netflix and Facebook are more appealing options. If the day has been particularly draining, I might even chuck in an unscheduled two-hour nap. Dinner rolls around at 6:30 and it’s a good chance to catch up with college friends. We’re all chatting about how our days have gone and what costumes we’re wearing for the upcoming college costume party. Even when I’m around great people, group conversations can be isolating. Missing the joke that has everyone else in hysterics never gets any easier. After dinner, sometimes I’ll study, which really involves tearing my hair out over four 2,500-word essays due within a week of each other (something I think all Arts students can relate to). Usually, I just watch Netflix, vibing shows such as Blacklist or Queer Eye, and calling it a day at 11:00pm.
Society imposes a weird and false dichotomy on people with disabilities (PWD). They’re expected to be either tragically dysfunctional or an inspiration for others (think Paralympians or Stephen Hawking). But as many PWD (myself included) will tell you, these stereotypes are bollocks. We’re people like anyone else, and I hope this insight into my life shows that. Sometimes I love helping others, yet sometimes I struggle with life and get wrapped up in my own problems. Sometimes I love to socialise; at others I prefer to be alone. Sometimes I take myself seriously, but I also love to take the piss out of myself. No matter what, I am always human.