At the age of three, I was crossing the road with my grandmother and dropped my teddy bear. I ran back into the road and was knocked down by a car. I can see that car now as it hit me, and I must have lost consciousness for a bit because my next recollection is being in the back seat in my grandmother’s arms as the driver took us to hospital. I can remember a striped red, blue and green beach towel, covered in blood and being in the ward.
My parents had gone out for the day as it was their wedding anniversary and they went for lunch and then to see a film.. My mother who was very intuitive walked out of the cinema half way through,claiming that something had happened to me!
When they arrived at the hospital, they found my face covered in bandages and were told that I had lost most of my nose (not true) but otherwise I was ok. This was not the case – I had fractured both of my ears which was unusual as this only tends to happen with a fractured skull which I did not have. The bones in the right inner ear were damaged beyond repair and the nerve severed. However, this was not discovered until I was 16.
My dad would sit me on his knee and get me to listen to his watch which I could just hear in my left ear but not at all in the right. The doctor decided it was tonsils and adenoids so back into hospital I went. I can recall being terrified and of course, parents were not allowed to be with their children in those days. When the operation was over, I was given cornflakes with hot milk and I have never touched cornflakes since!
At infant school I missed things but didn’t understand why. I was chosen to dance round the maypole for our May day celebrations but then dropped because I didn’t attend rehearsals. Someone would come to the classroom door and call for the dancers but of course I didn’t hear so didn’t go.
Another operation at eight took out my regrown adenoids and finally it was acknowledged that I had a hearing loss of over 60%. I was given a hearing aid, for the worst ear which I hated. It was the size of a cigarette packet, skin coloured with a clip on the back with a long lead, attached the earpiece I got teased at school and wouldn’t wear it. I believed I could cope but was heartbroken when I was turned down for the school choir as I didn’t hear the same tune as everyone else!
I took the 11+ and was a borderline pass which meant I had to have an interview to see if I was grammar school material. I can see the three members of the panel now – the lady in the middle wore the requisite twin set, pearls and a hat . She was the one who told me that I couldn’t possibly cope with grammar school – because I was deaf. This made me feel that because I was deaf, I was obviously daft as well and this belief stayed with me for many years. I never applied this belief to other deaf people, just myself.
My parents thought otherwise, and my mum went out to work to pay for me to go to an all-girls private grammar school. Surrey County Council bought me a private hearing aid to acknowledge that I was the first young person in the county with my level of deafness to go to a grammar school. It was silver as opposed to the NHS pink plastic, but I still hated it and avoided wearing it whenever I could. The wire would annoy me, and I never knew where to clip it so no-one could see it. It was just as bulky as the old one and it felt conspicuous. I recall falling asleep in several lessons because it was exhausting straining to hear, and my eyes would get tired with concentrating on lipreading. Teenage girls can be very cruel and once again I was teased and hated not being “normal”
At 16 I had another operation try repair the broken bones, but the nerves were severed and the damage was too great. I blew my GCSE’s and got two out of nine – after all I was deaf and daft, wasn’t I? My parents were heartbroken, and I decided that I wanted to leave school and work in a shop. Fortunately, my headmistress and parents had other ideas and I stayed on and achieved enough qualifications to enter teacher training college. There were no exams and I was good in the classroom, so my confidence began to grow a little. (I still avoided wearing my hearing aid.)
Fast forward a few years and I changed my career path from teaching to youth work. I became a full-time youth worker in a multi-cultural London Borough and studied for a diploma in counselling skills. (I still didn’t wear my hearing aid) As part of this course, I had to have counselling myself and I was incredibly lucky to have Christopher Spence as my counsellor. He went on to become the Director and Founder of London Lighthouse (the first HIV and Aids Centre and hospice in London and largest in Europe) then other important roles which led to both a CBE and MBE.
Chris helped me to understand how much my hearing loss had affected me. As a result, not only did I start to wear my hearing aids, ( by now they were smaller and behind the ear so less conspicuous) but I also went on to work for and receive my master’s degree in counselling psychology. It took me over twenty years to realise that I wasn’t so daft after all!
I then had a successful career in youth work, being able to both hear and lipread as well! I became the Head of the Service and was Chair of the Centre for Youth Work studies at Brunel University and was even a dreaded Ofsted Inspector. (Brunel awarded me an Honorary Fellowship which was a very proud moment)
I took early retirement twenty years ago and built upon my counselling qualifications to become a stress consultant. I am a strong advocate for hidden disabilities and raise awareness whenever I can. I have published numerous books (on Amazon) to empower people of all ages to deal with their stress.
My lack of hearing is still stressful, especially on the phone when I can’t lipread. This is one great skill that has got me through many a challenging conversation but in this age of facemasks, it is virtually impossible for me to understand what people are saying!
I now have a profound loss in one ear and a severe loss in the other as my hearing is deteriorating with age. I need subtitles on the television and at times I still feel frustrated, tense, and exasperated by my limited hearing, but overall, I’m incredibly proud of a disability that I’ve largely been able to overcome.
I have proved that even with a huge disadvantage, you can still achieve your goals with a bit of guidance, hard work, and sometimes a bit of luck!
STRESSED OR STRUGGLING? Change the way you THINK, Change the way you ACT, Change the way you FEEL. Ruth Fogg is a Therapist : Educator : Professional Speaker : Author.
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