Amateur stand-up comedian, film-maker, corporate sales associate and surfer are just a few of the paths Charlie has walked last ten years. After spending the first 8 years out of university working his way up the corporate ladder, at 29 Charlie underwent an ear surgery that would potentially leave him completely Deaf, altering his life forever. This moment also became a catalyst that led to Charlie pursuing his dream of film making, trying out stand-up comedy, and making peace with his hearing loss.
Charlie is completely Deaf in his right ear, and as far as he knows, has been that way since birth. However, he wasn’t diagnosed until Primary School when his mum noticed something was off.
“I was around eight years old when I was diagnosed. My mum was watching me answer the phone and realised that I only ever used one ear and was very uncomfortable doing it with the other ear.”
“Thankfully, I didn't have any major challenges that I was aware of until Intermediate school, when I started to get infections in my good hearing ear. Every time I would get an infection, I would really struggle, because I couldn't hear much at all.
I spent a lot of time alone with my thoughts and reading. I wasn't familiar with other people that may have experienced the same thing or what to do with it, so I kind of dealt with it my own way.”
As a teenager, Charlie took up surfing. However, this didn’t help the frequent infections in his ears. Eventually, he developed cholesteatoma, a tumour behind the eardrum in his good hearing ear.
“I was 29 when I went into surgery to remove the cholesteatoma. I was told by specialists that there was a chance my hearing might never return. If the bones were infected by the tumour they would have to take them out, and my life would drastically change.”
“At first I did a lot of avoiding. I just didn't want to think about it, but as the surgery date got closer, I had no choice but to mentally prepare for what might happen. It was tough, but it forced me to listen to what my inner voice was telling me.
At the time, I was working in a corporate job quite high up in sales, and I was using my hearing every day as a communicator. So that was in jeopardy as well, because obviously, your hearing in a sales based job is pretty key. I had to really think about what I would do if I were to lose my hearing, where I would work.”
Ever since he was at high school, Charlie had dreamed of studying at South Seas Film School. With the ear surgery approaching, Charlie decided to transition from his corporate job to study film, regardless of whether his hearing returned or not.
“I've always wanted to be involved in film, and based on this experience, I decided to make the transition. And that's why I'm here now, because I listened to what my inner voice was telling me and went through a period of forced rediscovery.”
“This year [studying at South Seas] has been a whirlwind and I have learnt so much. I've also accepted parts of myself that I didn't previously in my schooling. Years ago, I went to AUT to complete a business degree. When I was doing that, I never asked for help from Disability Services, or talked to anyone about my hearing loss. It wasn't like my hearing loss was fixed - I was still getting ear infections, which meant that there were times I couldn't hear. At points my grades did struggle because of that.”
“I don't know if I was ashamed, or I just didn't feel like there was anything out there or any support. But now that I am studying again and have accepted my Deafness as part of my identity, I'm not scared to ask for help or be different. It's just part of me.”
This newfound confidence has made a huge difference to Charlie’s experience at South Seas Film School. Recognising the power that self-advocacy holds, he has been able to access support from the school and his peers.
“This year at school has been different. If I have to wear a headset when we're in a studio and I can't hear them [my instructors and peers], I am open with my Deafness and let the everyone know. I've never really done that before. Coming into my course each day with that acceptance, makes me feel stronger than I previously did.”
Charlie has some advice for others who may be struggling to feel confident in their hearing loss.
“Number one, there's nothing wrong with you. Every person has their own challenges. Your hearing loss just makes you more unique and with every challenge there are strengths and weaknesses.
You know, when I was younger, I felt a sense of shame when I had to tell someone about my hearing loss, but you need to remember that there is no shame in being yourself. If you're yourself, you're the bravest person you can be. Wear your differences with pride because everyone has them.”
“Number two, if you're not too comfortable with telling everyone about your hearing loss, just tell one person that you're closest with to help in social situations. For me, I need to sit in the seat on the right-hand side of the dining table, so my left ear is exposed to the table. Just having one person aware of that means they can either save me a seat, or they can shuffle over without it being a big deal. It can really make a difference in a social situation.”
Having almost finished his first year at South Seas, Charlie is working on a 12-minute short film that was inspired by his own experience of hearing loss.
“It’s about a about a young man who has lost his feet in the corporate world and is very much chasing material objects and financial freedom, while dealing with hearing impairments as well.
One night the man receives a promotion, so he and a couple friends go to a comedy club where the man instantly falls in love with comedy. Everything about it just makes him happy, especially seeing people brave enough to get up on stage and try to be themselves. Despite this, the young man feels that due to his own impairments, becoming a comedian is not achievable.
Later, the man falls ill and is rushed to hospital where he learns that he will be losing his hearing. No one can tell him whether it comes back. He's handed a brochure for Sign language, an experience that happened to me personally at the hospital when I had my surgery.
When he awakes from the operation everything is completely silent. Through the silence, he learns to ask himself questions and listen to what his inner voice is trying to tell him. Eventually, he reconnects with the world of comedy and laughter."
“It's a story that's really close and personal to me, and I just hope, that I can reach out to others, both in the hearing loss community, and the hearing, who have lost their way and let them know that you can always find your way back if you listen to your heart. Which is the crux of what I learned through my experience.”
His goal is to one day make this short film into a full-length feature.
“Sound of Metal took the awards by a storm and since then, there have since been other films featuring Deaf and hard of hearing characters such as CODA which is getting a lot of Oscar buzz. What makes me excited is that there seems to be an appetite for these stories, which is great because Deaf and hard of hearing characters have often had little to no representation.
To be able to put my hand up, now that I am secure in myself, and be able to be a representative and promote this kind of story on a bigger platform is going to be so rewarding and that's what I want to do.”
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: