By Nina Poersch
Have you ever wanted to do something so badly, fulfilling a dream, but the next minute you’re terrified? Then back to feeling like you’re ready, but then again thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?” And finally settling with: If I don’t do this now, I may never get a chance again, so you go for it.
That was me when I was chosen for Season 30 of the reality TV show “Survivor.”
I was not the first person with a disability on the show. But then, being deaf and a cochlear implant recipient wasn’t always who I was. I was born with typical hearing and didn’t lose it until I was 44. I call it a “gradual sudden hearing loss” that took place over the span of about five years. The doctors are not sure why I lost my hearing. All I wanted was to get my hearing back.
After two months of wearing hearing aids that were not helping, I knew I wanted cochlear implants and got one in my right ear. I am not one to sit back and wonder why something has happened to me, or to worry about the future, but instead I embraced my situation and began a journey of educating others about cochlear implants. It’s what I talk about with every new person I meet. I also volunteer for Cochlear Americas as a mentor with the company.
After the implant, I didn’t need a captioned phone anymore. I also threw away my note pad, which had become my ears for people to write on when I couldn’t understand what they were saying to me. Driving became less horrifying. It’s amazing what you hear in your everyday life that you didn’t realize you were hearing.
But all of this didn’t come easily. I struggled with my family. It took time for everyone in my life to understand that while I do use hearing technology, there are limitations to how well I hear.
For six years I only had one implant. It wasn’t until I was called for a possible chance to be on “Survivor” that I considered going bilateral. It was a definite life-changer and I still kick myself for waiting so long.
I’m not sure whether these challenges prepared me for “Survivor,” but I believe everything happens for a reason. “Survivor” is very much a social game, one that I could have mastered before I lost my hearing. Even with cochlear implants, people with hearing loss don’t always catch everything and in the game, you can’t always ask people to repeat themselves. Nighttime was especially hard because I had to take off my sound processor.
“Survivor” finished airing in May 2015. Looking back, I know that being on the show was a learning experience as well as a teaching experience.
I learned that not everyone knows how to react to someone who has hearing loss. It can make people feel uneasy and create misunderstandings. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a person who is deaf, or a person who wears cochlear implants. People I meet don’t see that either. They just need to be taught how I hear and how to talk to me—and that it’s okay. It’s very simple and I find most people are very interested.
Playing the game gave me insight and a voice to teach people what it was like for me to lose my hearing and what it means to have a cochlear implant. The challenges on the show that I participated in were not ones that required a lot of hearing, but I felt 100 percent confident that my implants would not have failed me had I had the chance to compete in more challenges. Instead, because of a combination of reasons—my hearing loss, my age, maybe being in the wrong tribe—I was voted off on day eight.
“Survivor” remains one of the most amazing things I have ever done. But it’s not the only thing. The biggest lesson I have learned since losing my hearing is to never let your hearing loss hold you back. Always go for your dreams. And remember that going for your dreams doesn’t always mean that you’ll succeed, but if you don’t try then you’ve failed yourself. In the end you’ll be happy that you did and you’ll find that you’ve inspired others to go for their dreams.
My motto is “go for it, live it, experience it.” It’s how I live my life and it has never failed me.
Nina Poersch lives in California. For more, see ninapoersch.com.
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