‘You can’t be THAT deaf. You can speak to me.’ My disability was always up for debate.’: Advocate urges ‘there’s no right or wrong way to be deaf’

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“At the age of 7, I began to lose my hearing. At first, my parents thought it was ‘selective deafness’ but after multiple visits to see Ear, Nose, and Throat specialists at the hospital, I was told I had glue ear and would need surgery to fit grommets. Glue ear is where the usually empty middle ear fills up with fluid. This puts pressure on the eardrum and can cause temporary hearing loss. It usually clears up on its own within 3 months, however, it’s common for children to be fitted with grommets to drain the fluids. Grommets are tiny plastic tubes that are inserted into the eardrum to help drain the middle ear. This releases the pressure in the eardrums and restores the hearing. Grommets fall out on their own and regular check-ups ensure the inner ear is clean and free from infection.

While the grommets surgery was successful and my hearing was partly restored, I did not receive any check-ups. This resulted in the grommets, which had fallen out of the drums, getting lodged in the ear canal. This went un-noticed for 6 years and a layer of skin had grown over them, which kept getting reinfected. I was on constant antibiotics for these 6 years until I was transferred to see a different doctor. This doctor had a look in my ears and suggested the cause of infection was from spots in the ear canals. He suggested removing the spots using a vacuum ejector. However, because they weren’t spots (they were tiny plastic tubes under the skin), they were incredibly painful when they were removed. Due to the location, when they were removed, they pulled out my eardrums and middle ear bones.

In that moment, I became deaf.

Think of it like you’re in a crowded space and you put on noise-canceling ear defenders. You know people are talking to you, but you just can’t make out what they are saying.

Courtesy of Jenny Beamish-Young

Losing one of your primary senses in your early teens is devastating. It cuts to the core of who you are because it affects your relationships, plans for the future. From the time I was 7, I wanted to be a marine biologist, but my doctor advised scuba diving with my ears in their damaged state would be impossible. My relationships were strong with my friends before I lost my hearing, but they took a knock as my schoolmates tried to adapt and understand what my hearing loss means on a day-to-day level.

Courtesy of Jenny Beamish-Young

My family was brilliant during this time. Understanding I needed a period of adjustment to my new normal, alongside giving me space to learning new skills like lipreading. My family practical people and I realized early on I could allow my deafness to be an excuse for not setting my goals and achieving my dreams. With their support, started to rethink my career goals. My mams advice was to go with your heart and peruse a career in something I loved.

Around the age of 15, I was told by a specialist my hearing would never recover, and I would go permanently deaf by the age of 30. I asked my parents and brother to learn British Sign Language (BSL) with me so when my hearing goes, I will still be able to communicate.

Courtesy of Jenny Beamish-Young

One of my earliest memories is being in the kitchen with my mam and my brothers. I loved helping mam make sweet treats for us to eat after dinner. My love of baking stems from that time – the kitchen was always a warm safe place with lots of fun, laughter, and chocolate! So it wasn’t surprising I found comfort after my diagnosis in baking.

Courtesy of Jenny Beamish-Young

School became more and more difficult to navigate. I large sprawling secondary school is full of noise and shouting, which overnight became a serious problem for me. I would come home at the end of each day with a thumping headache and completely exhausted with the effort of trying to lipread and make sense of the muffled sounds all around me. It was at this point I changed schools. My new school was much smaller and had superb support staff who were able to help me academically outside of a noisy, busy classroom.

I was pleased with my exam results and these enabled me to continue further education. It was while I was studying for my F.E exams I realized my heart lay in the kitchen. I applied to a catering school close to where my grandparents lived, and I was so lucky to have the chance to live with them for 3 years while I studied. While I was there, I had some wonderful opportunities to work at the fine-dining level at some prestigious establishments. I knew my heart lay in patisserie and I have pursued a career in this field for the past 8 years.

Courtesy of Jenny Beamish-Young
Courtesy of Jenny Beamish-Young

While I am in an industry I love, there have been some significant challenges. I can’t hear oven timers and my boss has often asked me, ‘What’s black and in the oven?’ It’s only then I realize I have burnt the pastries. More recently, I had to be rescued by a hunky fireman as I couldn’t hear the fire alarm and so had no idea we were supposed to evacuate. There are some compensations!

Courtesy of Jenny Beamish-Young

As the pandemic spread worldwide and it became compulsory to wear face masks, I have found it difficult to communicate when out and about. Although I am not prone to anxiety, I have found this last year challenging as I do rely on being able to lip-read. Lip reading is really hard work. You work with your eyes and your brain, trying to make sense of mouth shapes that could have three or four different meanings. While you’re making sense of these, your brain is processing context. So for example, the mouth shape for ‘buried’ and ‘married’ are identical – two words you don’t really what to get mixed up!

Courtesy of Jenny Beamish-Young

There is no right or wrong way to be deaf, and deafness has a wide spectrum whether using sign language, communicating orally, or being children of deaf adults (CODA). By raising awareness, I hope one day, I will no longer be dismissed during conversations or being told: ‘Never mind, it doesn’t matter.’

As a deaf child of speaking parents, I have grown up mainly in the hearing world. I always felt like my deafness was up for debate. I was being told things such as: ‘You can’t be that deaf as you can speak to me and have good English’ or ‘If you can’t sign, you aren’t really deaf.’ These things damaged my self-confidence, but slowly I grew to like my deafness, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.

I have noticed my hearing get worse over the last few years, but I am determined to live life to the fullest.”

Courtesy of Jenny Beamish-Young

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jenny Beamish-Young. You can follow their journey on Instagram, Facebook, and their blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories like this:

‘I want to be normal.’ People around me were always talking. I felt so lonely in my own world. I struggled to accept my deafness.’: Woman becomes hearing loss advocate, ‘I can do anything’

‘You will never become anything,’ my doctor said. I was going stone-cold deaf. ‘What now?’: Woman loses hearing to infection, vows ‘deafness will not define me’

‘Put the device away!,’ a lady was yelling at me. ‘I’m deaf, this is a closed caption device for the movie.’: Woman diagnosed with ‘profound hearing loss,’ credits daughter for giving her ‘strength’

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