Hear’s My Story... What’s Yours?

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 14:07:19 EST

It’s been over two months since I was named a HearStrong Champion.

I was sitting in my Monday afternoon design class when my phone buzzed—I had received an email stating that I was one of the new HearStrong Champions. Initially, I thought it wasn’t that big of a deal. I didn’t know much about the organization, and I came up with countless reasons to brush off an award that I would soon find to be incredibly eye opening and important.

After forwarding the acceptance email to my family—and having 20+ emails sent back and forth between us all, per usual—they told me I’d be silly not to attend the Champion ceremony (I was worried about missing a class!) and that my professor should support me attending (she totally did). The following week I ditched class like a pro college student and went to the ceremony sporting a handmade bowtie and my favorite khakis (so I could make a Jake from State Farm joke).

Speaking in front of over fifty hearing healthcare professionals about my story—my diagnosis, journey, and ownership of my hearing loss—reminded me of how I never let my hearing loss define me, but how I make it a part of me. In fact, if you ever met me, you’d hear at least one deaf joke or comment come out of my mouth in a conversation. With that mindset, I’m able to share my journey with pride and confidence.

So, I was born profoundly deaf in both ears (as was my brother who is five years my senior) and immediately given hearing aids. As time went on, my joy for speech therapy (something that I looked forward to—I’m quite the talker!) faded and my family had me retested only to find out that my hearing deteriorated significantly.

My parents were faced with two options. I could either receive a cochlear implant or ditch hearing altogether and immerse myself in the Deaf world with ASL. Making such an important decision for your four-year-old child is intimidating, but my personality and dedication to speaking and listening made the choice obvious. Today, I’m still a unilateral cochlear implant wearer because I do so well with one and the process of retraining a second ear wasn’t worth the potential failure/low success rate.

That’s the medical side of things—*yawn*—but I will say, my cochlear implant has given me opportunities I never thought I’d have. From my first shocking hearing discovery (I learned that toast could talk — when, sadly, it was just my mom buttering the toast) to being at the top of my class in a very exclusive major at Syracuse University while juggling my own business and doing freelance design work, I have grown as a person regardless of being deaf.

Notice how my point of where I am today didn’t mention my hearing loss? That’s because it’s not my sole identity, and it shouldn’t be for any hearing impaired/deaf person. Own it. Share your story. Educate. Make a difference. You have the privilege of something unique that some people don’t understand or know anything about. Be a strong advocate. Most importantly, you’re capable of absolutely anything — why should a hearing loss stop you? All of this is cheesy, I know, but I mean it... (Plus, cheesy sayings are my forte!)

Anyway, this is barely scratching the surface of who I am and my hearing loss story.

I am honored to be one of over 100 HearStrong Champions. Each of you HearStrong Champions are equally, if not more, remarkable in your own way.  Like I said earlier, I love to talk! But I also love to read and learn too. I want to hear your stories. In fact, I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to hear what you’re doing now: recent accomplishments, self-discovery moments, or even a funny hearing loss story that’s unique to you! I look forward to having my cup of coffee (or third...) and reading your rad stories and replies!

-Jake

If you're interested in writing for HearStrong, contact us at jharleston@hearstrong.org


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