Finding My Voice in a Silent World
By Melissa Mark on Tue, 01/08/2013 - 16:27
Our 15-year-old Girl Blogger Melissa Mark shares her personal story of how she was born with a profound hearing loss, and how it takes more than hearing aids to hear and to be able to speak.
I’m just like any other fifteen year old girl, but there’s one difference. Everyday, I wake up to a silent world. I get up and put my cochlear implant and hearing aid on my ears so I can hear the noises around me. I was born with a severe to profound hearing loss, so this is what I consider a normal morning routine. Up until 3rd grade, I didn’t participate fully in classroom activities. I couldn’t because I couldn’t hear half of what my friends were saying. I also was somewhat shy with new people because I was always asked the same question- “what are those things in your ears?” Even though I could hear with the help of my hearing aids, I was quiet.
In February of 2006, I underwent surgery to get a cochlear implant. For those of you who don’t know, a cochlear implant is a device that is surgically implanted into the inner ear to help people hear. My cochlear implant was turned on shortly before my 9th birthday. Since then, I have been able to hear more sounds and my speech has improved dramatically. My cochlear implant opened up new opportunities and allowed me to gain closer friendships. I was able to hear the punchline of almost every joke, understand movies and gain more out of my education. With my cochlear implant, my voice began to grow. However, my voice was limited by my uncomfortable memories of past experiences, like people making fun of my speech or getting annoyed when I said “what?” five thousand times. I was also scared of people judging me based on my hearing loss. I didn’t want to automatically be labeled as “stupid” or “weird.” I thought that the simple solution to this was to not talk as much and hide my hearing aids from the world.
This is where Girls Leadership Institute comes in. I first came to the summer camp in 2011, after 3 awful middle school years. At GLI, I learned how to advocate for myself and I was trained with better methods of dealing with drama. With the help of my fellow campers and counselors, I learned to relax and let myself be myself. I found my voice was growing. By the end of the summer, I was no longer surprised when I heard myself speak up in group conversations.
I loved the camp so much that I returned in the summer of 2012. I was still a quiet person but GLI was helping me become bolder and more confident. Throughout camp we worked on projects like movie making, clowning (yes, being clowns), and silent movies. I decided to work on performing my writing. I remember being nervous to sign up for the class but another camper encouraged me to put my name on the sheet. I’m glad she did, because I have grown so much as a result of that project. At the beginning of the program, I had stage fright and was scared about performing in front of a large audience. On the second to last night of camp, with the support of my special projects group, I got up in front of 100 campers and counselors and read my story out loud. I had written the story at the start of camp. It was about a pen and how I believed that writing and texting were my way of communicating with the world. Towards the end of camp, I didn’t believe that anymore. GLI showed me that being myself wasn’t as bad as I thought. It gave me reassurance that people weren’t judging my speech and person 24/7. It made me feel better about asking someone to repeat what they had said. As a result of all this guidance, practice, and support, I found my voice. This time though, my voice wasn’t going to go away again. It was here to stay.
*Editor’s note: Melissa will be getting a second cochlear implant this summer before GLI camp.