Share your story: Tarryn-Ann
Tarryn-Ann was studying to become a teacher in India when her life changed forever. Out of the blue, she contracted an illness that led to extensive damage to her hearing.
“When I was 22, I started having these episodes where I was dizzy and I was feeling faint, and then I'd get Tinnitus. Over time, I realised I was not keeping up with what everyone was saying or understanding much,” says Tarryn-Ann.
“So I was put on a waiting list to see an ENT specialist, which was very very long. I waited a really long time.”
After a drawn out and often frustrating time navigating the healthcare system, she was finally diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder, which caused permanent mixed hearing loss. She had experienced damage to both the bones in the middle of the ear (conductive), and the cochlea (nerve).
“Even when they found answers, it took a very long time to be able to afford hearing aids.”
Her part-time job at a call centre was not possible with her new disability, so she handed in her resignation. She also suddenly had a new financial challenge ahead of her, as she grappled with how she would be able to access the hearing aids she would need.
Her situation also did not offer Tarryn-Ann much certainty as she contemplated her future as a teacher.
“I didn't know if by the time I got hearing aids, if I would even have any hearing, or if I was even going to have hearing by the time, I was 25.”
“I think that we have this idea that you’re either born with a hearing impairment or you get a hearing impairment because of your age, and then there’s a whole gap in the middle that I never knew existed, until I was part of that gap in the middle.”
Her time as a student was isolating as her classmates and friends had no idea what she was going through.
“I didn't know how to speak to anyone about it, because it wasn't on anyone's wavelengths, that kind of conversation. My classmates had much bigger concerns. Like their exam results, “What did you get on this? Did you miss today's lecture?”
“My concern was, Am I going to be hearing things next year? How am I going to communicate with my children on placement? How am I going to afford hearing aids? What are my students going to think of me?”
Tarryn-Ann persevered her studies and teaching training despite being in uncharted waters.
“I went through an education system, all my life hearing where I fit really well, and then suddenly I was in a really intensive post grad programme where I didn’t fit. There were a lot of peaks and valleys. I think because I was 23 it was the hardest thing.”
“I was just mad, it shouldn’t be happening. I couldn’t speak to anyone about it. It wasn’t even on their wavelength.”
Getting her hearing aids was a life saver, but Tarryn-Ann had to make a a lot of sacrifices to be able to afford them.
“I waited without hearing aids all and all about 8 months. I waited until I got a community services card as a student, and then I could also get a subsidy.”
“I think people think people think they’re the same as glasses – they say glasses are so expensive, they cost $400. I think - owh cute.”
“My hearing aids cost close to $10,000. That was my placement money, I was eating very cheap food and had to find accommodation with my very limited budget. I never want to see 2 minute noodles or packet soups again. And as a health teacher, you know that’s the wrong food to eat.”
Tarryn-Ann spent a year in between the Deaf world and the hearing world while she grappled with her hearing loss.
“I don’t think it’s something you can ever understand unless you’ve had it. Because even prior to this I thought I knew – but you don’t know what you don’t know.”
“Even though my family is the most supportive family in the world, as much as they try to understand, they just don’t. It’s not the same as talking to someone who as been through it, they understand and get it.”
“But then I met someone in Dunedin, Yoshi, who spoke sign, and I started go to her classes to learn sign... I joined a club called Deaf chatters, where we meet at a pizza places and catch up...”
For Tarryn-Ann, learning New Zealand Sign Language was a bridge between two worlds – her journey into the Deaf community was incredibly healing.
“I started to learn a bit more about Deaf culture, and then doing that made me join back into kind of both worlds. So I didn’t have a foot in no doors, and then I had a foot in both doors which was so much nicer.”
“I started to learn NZSL two weeks before we went into Lockdown. I checked out different schools and because of COVID, they got completely cancelled. So, I had to start learning online.”
Tarryn-Ann wanted to acknowledge both her worlds by presenting her masters in NZSL.
“I decided that my goal for the year would be to learn enough NZSL to do my final Masters presentation.”
“I got an email back from the university that said, ‘This course is an English medium course, and this is the only language that we can use and accept in our programme.’”
“I was banned from my end goal, which was to speak one of the official languages of our country.”
“Then, a friend who was studying to be a Te Reo Māori teacher said, “Well, if it's an English medium course, by their logic, that means that I can't speak my language either. He asked if he could present in Te Reo Māori, and they said no.”
“So, we protested. I only got confirmation that I would be even allowed to do it, two days or three days before I was presenting.”
“In the end as a big final finish for my Masters, I presented in NZSL, English and Te Reo Māori with a sign interpreter.”
“When I leave and I go into teaching, those are the languages I need to know if I want to teach children. I'm the first person that I know of in New Zealand to present post-grad in three languages.”
When Tarryn-Ann began her placements as a teacher, she was presented with a newfound understanding of the major stigma of hearing loss.
“A teacher came up to me and noticed, “Oh, you’ve got Phonaks.” I asked her if she wore them, too. She said, “I don't wear them, because I don't want the kids to change that the way they talk to me.”
“I said, perhaps if you did wear them, they’d learn not to change how they talk to you. She told me, I just admire how you're wearing them.”
“It made me realise that there is such a massive stigma. Like, if I got glasses, people would look at me and think, ‘Oh, you're quite intelligent!’ Then, you see someone's hearing aid and you don't think that same thought.”
She soon discovered that teaching Outdoor Education with a hearing loss would some outside the box thinking.
“When I realised, I would be teaching surfing, I thought…I can't hear in the ocean.”
“What am I going to do with 36 children in the ocean, when I cannot talk to them? Well, it is obvious, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
“I went to my mentor, really worried. He said, Deaf people have a language, right?”
“So, as I started teaching my lessons in my placement, I signed the instructions as well as saying them. I wasn't teaching them NZSL, I was just doing it naturally as part of my instruction.”
“When I was surfing, I would be signing to them, and they would know exactly what I was saying. I realised this makes me a better Outdoor Ed teacher, for everybody. Not just for Outdoor Education, but for life beyond school.”
“I'm teaching that people who are hearing impaired or Deaf can be in leadership, and I'm teaching them that New Zealand Sign Language is normal communication.”
Tarryn-Ann advises anyone starting their hearing loss journey to remember it is essential to connect.
“I think hearing loss works by taking away connections, but when you connect with other people you take that back.”
“Hearing loss wants you to not be able to talk to other people, it isolates you from everyone around you. But when you actively connect with other people you’re actually making a difference. You’re fighting against it.”
“When I was 22, and I didn’t know anybody, I thought - you’re brain tells you that – no-one else can know what you’re going through. That’s not at all true. There’s a whole world of people in New Zealand who know what you’re going through.”
For Tarryn-Ann, it’s about riding the wave.
People forget that hearing loss is a loss, with that there’s a grief that comes with that. I had 22 years of hearing and then, literally within less than a year its gone. There’s a grief that comes with that but you’ve just got to ride the wave.
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: