Share Your Story: Adrian
Adrian lives with his partner and two friends in an inner Auckland flat. He works for Spark at Commercial Bay and is a skilled Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athlete. At 27, Adrian has his eyes set on the Deaf jiu-jitsu world championships. He is also an advocate for people in the Deaf and hard of hearing community and is a member of the Hearing House’s Consumers Advisory Group.
Adrian’s hearing loss journey began when he was just five. His parents suspected there might be a problem after noticing how high Adrian would turn up the volume on the TV.
“At the age of five, my parents took me to an ear specialist, who diagnosed me with hearing loss. I was given hearing aids which did help, but as I aged my hearing just kept getting worse.
There was no medical reason, they just said the inner ear, the cochlea, appears to just be damaged or dead. And it just kept getting worse. By the age of 17, my last year of high school, my hearing loss went from 75% to 91% so practically couldn't hear speech properly, even face-to-face.
I had to lipread about 80% of the time and the sound I could hear just helped me to work out where the noise was coming from and who was talking.”
This made high school a particularly tough experience for Adrian. Not only was his hearing getting progressively worse year on year, but he was also bullied about it by his peers.
“I will say the entire high school from year 7 to year 13 was just… it was really tough. I was bullied in high school.
I used to walk to the tuck-shop with my $3 to buy a pie for lunch. On the way to the tuck-shop, you pass through a basketball court. And every time I walked past these boys from the year above me would say “Hey Deaf boy!” and throw their basketballs at me. Of course, I couldn’t really hear them so I wouldn’t be able to hear the ball coming and it would always hit me.
That happened for half a year.
Finally, I told my teacher, that I can’t even go to the tuck-shop because these guys just throw the ball at me every time. It was hard.”
“I had those moments in PE class too, where I knew that they [my classmates] would choose me last because I am Deaf. They would think “Oh this guy is disabled so he will be useless at sports."
Or someone might be walking past in the hallway and would say "Deaf boy, out of the way" and bump past me.
Right now, I am over it. I don't care. But back then it was really tough.”
In year 10, Adrian plucked up the courage to stand up to one of the high school bullies. This helped him regain confidence, and even protect others.
“From year 10 onwards I was like, I will stand my ground and they cannot bother me anymore. We had a new kid come into the school that was really shy and I was like, "Hey, you and me, we are the same. Any troubles after school, just let me know.”
But even without the bullies causing so much trouble, Adrian’s hearing loss became incredibly isolating. In year 13 Adrian had 92% hearing loss. This made social situations incredibly difficult.
“In year 13, I felt quite isolated. During lunchtimes, everyone was loud, and the volume was all the same to me. So, I would just sit down in the corner and play PlayStation Portable (PSP). It was a really tough year. I didn’t go to any social events pretty much that whole year.”
It sucked because it was that time where everyone was turning 18, meeting girls, going out with friends, just starting to drive and I was like, "Yeah, I can’t hear, I will just stay home." Not being invited to stuff was hard too.
That is when I started the [MMA] training. I had to start doing something for myself.”
When Adrian’s looks back his last days at secondary school, he is grateful for the advice he received from a teacher aid who encouraged him to consider a Cochlear Implant.
“I had this teacher aid from Kelston Deaf school who pops in and helps you out. She is the one that pushed me into getting a Cochlear Implant. Before that I didn’t want to get an implant, you know, to have a chip on my head. The idea of that made me feel like… like no thanks.
But where I was in year 13 with my hearing loss… it was so bad. She said I would have to [get a cochlear implant] or I would not be able to function as I was or be part of the hearing community.
She was being down to earth and honest with me, which I needed. I needed something firm.”
Before committing to the cochlear implant, Adrian did some background research and talked to a friend at school.
“I talk to one of the boys in my high school. He had one already. I asked him, what is it like having a CI? Is it good? What are the pros and cons? Does anyone think of you differently having something in your head? Stuff that only he could give me the answer to.
At the end of the day, I got it. I signed up myself, got an appointment, and had the surgery the day after my last exam.”
“The first day they already told me that people would sound like chipmunks. They were right. I switched on the CI and I felt like I was in Disney World. Everyone's voice was high-pitched. I think at first, I was shocked because the nerves in my head… they started working!
It was overwhelming, but at the same time it was like - I can hear something on this side again!”
“The appointments and travel though… having to get the mapping done… it was frustrating. We had to make changes again and again.
They do warn you before getting the surgery that the first year will be challenging. It’s true, it is.”
Despite the first year after the surgery being challenging, Adrian overcame the ups and downs. At the time, his newfound love of MMA played a significant part in helping him through it.
“The training I do is called Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I currently train at Oliver MMA and have been doing that for about four or five years now. But I have been to other clubs since I was 18, so about nine years of combat training.”
“I love it. I can't stop.”
“I’m just so lucky that in my club I have people that are understanding and know I have this [a cochlear implant]. So, when there is a class, I listen. Then when I am going to be drilling the thing, I take it off [the processor]. My partner knows what’s going on and they never give me body language of frustration or make me feel like I’m wasting their time.
They just understand – it’s really nice. If it was a different club, maybe I would not be doing it anymore… but I am surrounded by good people who understand what is going on.”
After the difficulties of high school, the challenging period of adapting to his cochlear implant, Adrian is now in a place where he can wear his cochlear implant with pride.
“This is, honestly, probably only the second year where I am proud to be wearing am CI. Before that, I am not going to lie, I had these thoughts in my head, I would not be good enough to be a PT. [Personal Trainer] I didn't think that people would want to train with me…
I think it wasn’t until lockdown that I was going through social media, along with your Instagram page too, and seeing these other people advocating for themselves.
"I am Deaf, can’t do this, but this is what I do." I realised that these people sharing their stories was enlightening everyone. Just because you are Deaf, it doesn't mean you are useless or something. We are just different.”
“I realised maybe I should start thinking like that. So I started changing my perspective. I got my partner to help me out. She knows how I think and how to push back and say, “Look at things from a different perspective”.
I'm trying to practice that every day pretty much. When I wake up, I try to think of something that is good. If I were not Deaf what would I not be thankful for or appreciating?”
Not only has Adrian’s positive mindset shifted his own life, but it is helping to change the lives of those around him.
“I work in Commercial bay [at Spark New Zealand]… parents are coming into the store and saying, "You are wearing a hearing aid. I have a little kid who has a hearing aid and they are scared to show it. Do you have any advice?"
I can't say, "Your kid is going to go through a tough time. He is done for.” You know?! Instead, I can let them know that I went through it and that I know what their son is going through.
“It’s helpful having to think positively and then passing that on to the next person…
…It makes me feel empowered in a way, and I really like how that feels. It’s a nice feeling. It’s actually what prompted me to start talking to the Hearing House. I’m now part of their Consumers Advisory Group to see how we can help consumers of CI.
I am more positive and proud of who I am.”
“When people ask questions and say, "I feel useless. What will having the CI change?" I can help them. I don't sugarcoat things. It’s not going to be an easy journey, but I’m coming to it with my new positive mindset.
It’s been life-changing.”
And Adrian has a message for people out there that are still holding back.
“There are so many people out there that I didn't realise were holding back because of shame and stress about people looking at their ears. People just need to show their hearing aids off – everybody has ear pods now and hearing aids are so similar, except instead of just music, we are listening to the world...”
“You don’t need to be ashamed of something that you need to be able to function.
By being open and comfortable about your hearing loss, you can have such a big impact on the lives of others. It’s incredible.”
In our Share Your Story series, Deaf and hard of hearing New Zealanders open up about their experiences.
Stay tuned for more interviews, which will soon be released to our blog: