Seeing the Beauty in the Struggle

By Caroline Duncan

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This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

Growing up in a hearing community, I knew pretty early on that I wasn’t like everybody else. You see, I was born with hearing loss in both ears.
I have about 55 percent hearing in my left ear and about 65 percent in my right ear.

I’d be lying if I said every single day wasn’t challenging in at least some way. Throughout middle school and high school, I’ve always needed accommodations to make it through daily activities in the classroom.

It really wasn’t until college that I realized how much I’d actually leaned on others to make it through.

That’s when I told myself, “Okay, I have to do this all on my own now.”

That journey through college was a big change and a turning point for me in so many ways. I had to stand up for myself and be willing to ask for help. That isn’t always easy, you know?

Sometimes, it can even be scary.

Living life on my own

I was willing to overcome my fears for an opportunity to fulfill my dream of playing for the Memphis women’s soccer team.

Memphis is my hometown, and I kept up with the team as a kid. It was one of those dreams that you think about a lot, but you don’t really think it could ever happen, you know?

Imagine playing college soccer with my disability at the NCAA Division I level, where 90 percent of success basically comes down to communication. There was no question the odds were certainly stacked against me.

But my confidence started to grow on the field as I made my way through high school. That’s when I thought to myself, “Wait a minute—I really can do this!”

But even after fulfilling my dream of signing with Memphis, I still struggled with the transition to college.

And it wasn’t just on the soccer field, either.

For one of the first times in my life, I had to ask for help myself.

It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s not easy to walk up to staff and professors, talk about my problem, and ask for special accommodations. 

Frankly, it was even a bit scary for me. 

And honestly, it made me question whether I even deserved those special accommodations because I wasn’t as deaf as someone else. I could still hear partially out of both ears, even though it was really difficult in that sort of setting.

Did I really deserve that kind of special treatment?

That was a question I grappled with for some time. It took a while before I completely adjusted to being on my own and dealing with those sorts of thoughts and emotions. 

College was just completely different from everything I’d ever experienced.

Coming to grips with my disability

It was very frustrating at times.

You know, it’s easy to take things for granted, like simple conversations in a crowded room or even a joke being shared amongst a group of friends.

If some teammates are having a conversation in the locker room, I can’t pick up what they’re saying because so many people are talking at the same time. I can’t read everyone’s lips.

It can all feel a bit overwhelming and lonely at times.

It’s also tough meeting new people because I probably hear maybe 10 percent of what they’re saying. It’s different when I’m hanging out with family, teammates, and longtime friends because I’m familiar with their voices and know what their vowels sound like.

But I basically have to relearn all of that every time I meet someone new.

Their voices and the way they pronounce their words—it’s all new to me.

And COVID hasn’t made it any easier.

I’ll be honest, these masks have been a nightmare. Reading lips and facial patterns is a pretty significant part of how I communicate with people, especially when I’m meeting someone new. 

But, everything aside, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in college is acceptance. 

I’ve accepted the fact that my disability is something that’s always going to put me a step behind others.

And I’m okay with that.

Counting my blessings

Most importantly, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my hearing loss. While I might need extra cues here and there, my interactions with others are usually more authentic. I can see people’s emotions more because I’m studying their lips and face.

In a way, I get to know them quicker.

My disability has also brought me and my twin sister, Grace, closer together. I’m not so sure we’d have the relationship we do if she wasn’t always there by my side, willing to help me in hard situations.

If there’s a conversation going on, she always makes me feel included because she knows when I can’t hear something.

I guess you could say twin telepathy is a real thing!

So, my disability isn’t some curse that has doomed me for the rest of my life. I’ve never looked at it that way. There are real positives to take from all of this.

I wouldn’t want to be any different than who I am because it has made me stronger, and I’ll always be super grateful for that.

I’m proud of who I am, what I’ve accomplished, and what I plan on accomplishing in the future. I can do anything anybody else can do, but I just might have to work a little harder for it, even if it takes me all day, every day.

Without doubt, I can do anything I set my mind to.

So, my disability isn't some curse that has doomed me for the rest of my life. I've never looked at it that way. There are real positives to take from all of this. I wouldn't want to be any different than who I am because it has made me stronger, and I'll always be super grateful for that.