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“Don’t be afraid to be yourself”

Read Zara’s letters to her younger self as she grows to accept her hearing loss.

Dear baby Zara

Welcome to the world, you better get strapped in because it’s going to be a hell of a journey. You’ll be diagnosed with progressive sensorineural hearing loss at the age of three, which will initially leave the family devastated, as you’ll be the only one diagnosed with hearing loss. Don’t worry though, your mum and dad will do everything they can to give you the best quality of life.

Your hearing will continue to deteriorate until around the age of five when you’ll be left with profound hearing loss in your left ear and moderate-severe in your right, hearing aids will be fitted. Be brave, it’s not going to stop you doing anything.

Dear 10-year-old me

You’re about to finish primary school and you’ve managed to ‘sail’ through. Your hearing loss has plateaued and you’re just ‘getting on with life’. Everything you participate in you give 100%, except using extra equipment in class to help you hear better (you’ll think you don’t need it and pretend you’re using it when you’re really not).

Despite the added support you will be entitled to, you’ll dismiss it as you’re ‘fine’ and you will think you don’t need it. You’ll also ditch the left hearing aid as you think it’s too bulky and big, you’ll try and hide your aids in the hearing world as you don’t want people to have assumptions about you before you have had chance to show them that you’re ‘fine’. In the midst of all the education, you’ll find a love and passion for football.

Dear 15-year-old me

Nothing’s really changed – you’ll just be living ‘normally’ in the hearing world. You want to be spoken about for your sporting achievements not your hearing loss. But then one day, you’ll be at football training and you’ll be approached by the England Deaf Women’s Futsal manager and she will ask you to come and train with the team. This moment challenges you.

You don’t want to be defined as a ‘deaf’ young girl. You’ll brush it off for a while, but after getting approached again you take a chance and join the team. You’re about to experience the best years of your life – but it will get worse before it gets better.

Meeting other deaf girls at training sessions isn’t going to go as well as you planned and some of that will be down to you and your perceptions. Initially it will be hard for you to fit in to this environment as you rely on spoken English and a lot of the girls will sign, you’ll be the ‘odd’ one out for a few training camps. You’ll even contemplate leaving for good but soon you’ll realise this is the best environment for you to be a part of.

You’ll form bonds and learn so much about the ‘deaf’ world that you never even knew, you’ll end up enjoying the camps and becoming a part of a team that will travel the world representing your country and winning medals.

However, the transition between spending 90% of your life in the hearing world and 10% of the time with other deaf girls once every month won’t give you the desire to start speaking about your hearing loss, you’ll just be part of two different worlds in different ways.

Dear 17-year-old me

You’ll spend two of the best years of your life playing football and studying at college and will go onto achieve triple distinction alongside a full ride scholarship to play out in America. But in America you will experience home sickness and the American football journey won’t be for you – but you’ll return home to achieve other great things and the lesson of overcoming adversity wills set you up for life. You’ll be the first one to obtain a degree in your family and you’ll be so proud of yourself.

Dear 23-year-old me

The year is 2020 and it’s about to send a tornado into your life. You better get used to talking about your hearing loss as it is about to affect your whole world. It’ll be the toughest year of your life so far, but you’ll get through it. You’ll lose more of your hearing and you’ll feel like your life has turned upside down. You’ll be lost, scared and frustrated. You won’t ever know why it happened, just that it did.

Not just that, it will all happen during a global pandemic. You won’t be on your own through all this, you’ll have the support of your family and close friends that have been a big part of your life, even though at times you will feel alone, you will keep smiling because you know ‘everything happens for a reason’ and bigger things will come to you.

Within 6 months, you’ll be on a new hearing journey giving you back the access to sound you lost overnight in July 2020. Throughout this year you’ll keep your spirits up, you’ll smile, you will keep physically and mentally healthy because you know you’re strong (you’ll get this from your mum).

Everything you have been through before this year has prepared you for this life changing experience, you’ll get through the other end. You just need to keep patient. You’ll change as a person throughout this year, you’ll have to accept your hearing loss and you’ll become aware of how powerful you could be in someone else’s hearing loss journey. You’re going to be going through your own journey for a while but that’s ok, I know you’ll get through it and make it the best that you can.

Dear future me

Don’t be afraid to be yourself, you will realise that authenticity is an invaluable gift. Believe in its power because no one can be you or walk in your shoes, but you can use your experiences to help others and educate those around you.

You’ll find yourself longing to be a part of the hearing loss world and you’ll find great connections that will last a lifetime, you’ll help educate and bring awareness in the hearing world and you’ll continue to spread the message of ‘never let your fears hold you back from achieving your hopes’. Things may need to be adjusted – but anything is possible.

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