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As I walk into class on the first day of high school, I am so nervous! I’ve got to find a seat in the front row. The other students are smiling and waving at each other as they rush around hoping to find seats close together. I stand alone just hoping to find a seat close to the teacher. I become distracted when I sense people snickering behind me. I’m not sure if the snickering is about me or someone else, so I just turn to them with a smile and a nod only pretending to know what they are saying.
After we take our seats, I see everyone getting out paper and pencil, so I do the same. The teacher begins to talk. I lean in to listen, but it sounds like she’s talking to me from under a pool of water. As I look around at the others, I’m trying to figure out what the teacher has asked us to do. The bell rings. Class is over and everyone hands their papers in to the teacher. I look at my paper and it’s blank; no words, no heading. It’s just plain white.
The cause of my hearing loss was discovered the summer before my freshman year. Neurofibramatosis Type 2 is a genetic disorder that causes non-cancerous tumors to grow on your auditory nerves. I learned that one day I would eventually lose all of my hearing. Of course, this was hard to accept and I was afraid. But, the fear was not about the day I would hear no sound at all. The fear was about starting high school and being different from everyone else. I didn’t want anyone to know. So, when school started, I hid my hearing aid behind my long hair and I continued to smile, nod, and pretend to be “normal”.
For a little while, the pretending worked and I was so happy when I was asked to manage the girls’ field hockey team! Part of my job was to take player stats at the games for the coaches. At our first game, I tried to understand the coaches’ instructions but, being on the sideline with all the cheering and noise behind me, it was impossible for me to hear or understand what they wanted me to do. I realized that I couldn’t do the job, so I picked up my camera and started taking photos of the players instead. After the game, I posted the photos online. The girls were fascinated by their quality. They loved the photos and asked for more. I continued to take photos at each game and soon, word of my photography talent started to spread. More and more teams asked me to be their photographer and, before I knew it, I was spending all of my free time taking photos at every game I could possibly attend.
As the school year went on, it became harder and harder to continue pretending I could hear. I finally decided to own my hearing loss and started being honest with people about it. By now everyone knew me through my photography so it made things easier. I found that the more I told people of my hearing loss, the more I began to accept it myself. I came to realize that photography is a gift I’ve been given as my unique way to communicate and connect with others.
Today, when I tell friends about my hearing loss, they are usually curious and ask how I cope. The way, I answer, is through the lens of my camera. I take their photograph and show it to them. I say, "While it’s often hard to hear the laughter around me, when I look through the camera lens, I can feel and connect with their emotions." I’ve come to realize that as I hear less and less, my eyes get bigger and bigger.