“I follow four dictates: face it, accept it, deal with it, then let it go.” ~Sheng Yen
Growing up different isn’t easy for anyone.
I was born normal, happy, and healthy. I had five fingers and five toes. I reached all my developmental milestones and showed promise as a vivacious, energetic child. It all changed when I was ten months old.
I became violently ill with bacterial meningitis. I battled the infection with a strength I was naturally graced with at birth. One week into my hospital stay, I was finally able to lift my head; two weeks later, I was back home.
I was lucky to escape with my life from the meningitis. When it’s not fatal, it can result in long-term complications, such as low IQ, cognitive impairment, loss of limbs, and learning difficulties, to name a few.
I came away with profound hearing loss. Not quite deaf, but enough loss to have it impact on my daily functioning.
At seven years of age, I got my first pair of hearing aids. It opened my world to a whole new experience. I could hear a lot more and I have this vivid memory of hearing a leaf scatter across the pavement for the first time. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what that noise was.
It brought challenges along with it too.
I was known as the kid with “the things in her ears.” I was bullied for being different. I hung out with the boys playing football and cricket because the girls didn’t want a bar of me.
It left me emotionally dead. I was really good at burying all the pain inside and trudging along every day.
I became a master robot—a mechanical human being incapable of trusting and feeling. It was my survival mechanism doing its best to avoid accepting who I really am.
Entering the real world after school became a shock. Out of my comfort zone, I had to enter a world of large groups, noisy parties where I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying, large lecture rooms, and meeting new people. I had to suddenly be more than okay with my hearing loss.
I had to be okay with being a little different.
It was the biggest lesson of my life—my own perceived fears are far more powerful than anything else.
I perceived people would treat me different or look at me differently if I told them I had hearing loss. By believing this, I practically encouraged them to treat me differently without realizing it.
So there I was, in my late teens, brewing with years of buried emotions and a confronting new reality of accepting who I am. So what did I do? Partied hard of course. The emotions came out in a flurry of binge drinking and hangovers worthy of a death bed.
It took me three years to finally wake up. Three years to finally realize that I must accept every part of me in order to live the life I want. Negative emotions continue to build up when we cannot accept ourselves for who we really are, and burying our emotions is no different to avoiding our true self.
Accepting who we are is a beautiful, bone-achingly hard thing to do. It’s about being vulnerable, consciously opening our eyes to our flaws, and seeing them in a whole new light. It hurts at first, but it’s a pain worth a thousand lifetimes.
By changing our perception to see our flaws as neutral traits that are both good and bad, we change how we choose to react to things. It will ultimately change our life for the better.
I’ve learned to see the benefits of my hearing loss. I’m a world-class lip reader who can probably “hear” better than you in loud settings. I’m more visually aware and observant than most, which has been incredibly handy in understanding human behavior.
I had to face my hearing loss through accepting it as a genuine, unique part of me. I am absolutely in love with my life, despite all its challenges and pitfalls, and I have no doubt that if I didn’t have this unique part of me, I would be in a very, very different place.
If I could give you five tips to help you accept who you are, they would be this:
1. See your perceived flaws in a whole new light.
Nothing is ever completely good or completely bad. In fact, everything is in perfect, harmonious balance. Find the benefit of that one thing you have trouble accepting, and change your perception to see that it’s not so bad having it after all.
2. Practice gratitude daily.
We all have so much to be grateful for. Gratitude helps to cultivate a positive mindset, which will help you to accept yourself for who you really are.
Create a daily gratitude journal and list three things for which you are grateful. Do this in the morning to start your day on a positive note.
3. Recognize that you are not your thoughts.
We get so lost in the story that goes through our minds. Our egoistic mind is, in fact, our greatest storyteller. And too often, we believe everything it tells us.
Learn to recognize that thoughts are created by an egoistic, survival-focused mind. It sees the threat in everything. Start to separate yourself by asking your mind this: “Does this thought serve me and my purpose? Does this thought actually help me?”
4. Be vulnerable with others.
You will be pleasantly surprised to know that you are not alone in this big, beautiful world. Someone out there has gone through your tribulations and trials, and they will understand what you are going through.
We can feel so alone with our ego at times, so sharing with others can help us to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It also helps us to change our perception, as others can guide us to a different angle.
5. Look after yourself.
Eat a nourishing diet, move regularly, rest often, and be mindful. We, too often, underestimate how the mind and body work both ways. By looking after your body, you are creating a sacred environment for your true being. It makes acceptance a lot easier when you look after the house your soul resides in.
It wasn't until I started applying these five tips that I finally began the arduous process of accepting every little part of me, including that ever so tough one of my hearing loss. Every day, I accept myself a little more.
I just want you to remember this: you are imperfectly perfect, just the way you are.
Photo by g-imagination