Play with Sound. Music License: Summer Eyes by Airplanes
Confession: I just put Belle in the video just to brag about how cute she is. She's usually the only company I keep in my everyday work life and she's the best co-worker a girl can have (even though she just sleeps all day). Yesterday, I skimmed the surface of how deaf I am and already got tired of talking about my hearing loss so I’m moving on to the money makin’ stuff. Obviously, my hearing loss limited my job options when I was fresh out of college in 2013. With an economy that had also gone to sh*t, this artsy English major struggled to find a stable job to be proud of. No sense in sugar coating that because I know about 80% of you may relate to that time in your life. After doing some soul searching and teaching art at a school in Atlanta, Georgia for a year, I decided to move back to the Outer Banks and gamble on myself by starting my own business. In the Summer of 2014, Visuals by Helen was established. Best decision I ever made.
Creating a generic business name like Visuals by Helen was intentional: I wanted to be able to open myself up to additional visual opportunities beyond photography like graphic design, videography, marketing, etc. I wanted more than one thing to be passionate about. I had learned some of the ropes from another local photographer on the Outer Banks throughout high school and college and then I dipped into graphic design when I was in Atlanta so that opened a whole new niche I was fascinated with. After watching You-Tube videos, subscribing to every Adobe software, and taking an online business certification course at the Kenan Flagler Business School at UNC-CH, I was the owner of my own company in three months time. Now, I label myself as a self-taught photographer, graphic designer, and marketing guru. Funny how that happens right? I always had the belief: if you make something your homework, it takes all the fun out of it.
The first thing I do when I brand Visuals by Helen? I order about 3,000 beer koozies with my logo on it and made a promotional video because koozies and videos make everything look legit right? My theory was everyone likes free stuff and something pretty to look at. After rallying a gorgeous model named Katie, a talented hair stylist named Chelsea, and an amazing videographer named Jess, we went into the marshes of Wanchese, North Carolina and I took bridal portraits of Katie in a wooden rowboat. Looking back on it, it sounds nuts, but it was some of the best memories in my business! That video got me through two years of wedding expos with the Outer Banks Wedding Association —it was the perfect icebreaker with engaged couples I had never met before.
Check out the video:
After launching the video on my new Facebook page, I recruited followers and the awareness of my business spread across different facets of the internet. In the meantime, my entrepreneur parents, wanted to start over with their 25-year franchise restaurant on the OBX and make something of their own: Rooster’s Southern Kitchen. I volunteered myself as marketing director, designed the logo, the food and drink menus, and the initial website along with managing their social media and food photography. That’s where all my graphic design skills kicked in and then I eventually became confident enough to start selling myself to other small businesses looking for a contract graphic designer. A break in the photography rhythm helps me stay creatively inspired so that I am not just photographing and editing on repeat. My romantic and bubbly personality thrives on wedding and engagement photography and then my nerdy and tech personality thrives the small design projects—so I get the best of both worlds.
So yep. I don’t make money by just doing photography. I don't make crazy money but just enough so I can do what I love and enjoy a life with my husband and dog. Sure, there are days where I have to rely on my brilliant husband for troubleshooting. Sure, there are days where I have a million questions but the internet is an amazing resource. Sure, there are days when I’m doing hours of my own invoicing and accounting that I want to pay a million dollars to never do that again. But that’s the small business life—you take on about fourteen different roles to make it work. So when you say "working from home is the life," that just depends on whether you're fully prepared to be responsible for your filling your own wallet.
Monday’s blog (and 4th day of my 30 workday blogging challenge): “How does my hearing loss affect my job, much less my everyday life?” Funny stories about how my hearing loss has helped and hurt my business. Once I accidentally left a bride + groom on the side of the road because I misheard what they said and one time I walked in on the groom going numba 2 even after knocking. Yup that happened. More details Monday.
Have an amazing weekend everyone!
So the question of the day: Would I hear you and turn around if you were standing here in the office with Belle and me? Yes. I'm hard-of-hearing, not oblivious. Some days I actually forget that I’m 90% deaf but then little things happen and I’m like oh yeah, my ears don’t work. I have embraced it as a part of who I am and even introduce myself everywhere I go as “Helen... like Helen Keller” because well... I AM almost deaf and have -2.25 vision in both eyes so I basically am Helen Keller. Only not as accomplished since I can’t communicate through sign language or read Braille so definitely not as decorated as her but that’s by personal choice.
Let me first say, every hearing impaired child is different— they can have different reasons for hearing loss, different audiograms, different parents, different schools, different lifestyles, different resources, different decisions so every outcome can be unique for each person with the same diagnosis. So for those of you that have hearing loss or have family members with hearing loss, know that you need to take this post with a grain of salt. This is not a success story or a horror story, it’s just story that happens to be mine.
December 1990 was a big month for me—coming into the world and all. A couple months later, the whole chicken pox incident happened. Mom and Dad say it was pretty bad but of course I don’t remember. It was life-threatening but my immune system won that battle. However, the pox was strong enough to eradicate the hair cells in both ears leading to a progressive loss of hearing over the next six years. This was before hearing screening tests were required for small children so my parents didn’t think too much of my slow response and development as an infant. They were trying not to compare me to what society thought was normal. Then one day, a family babysitter took my brother, sister and me to a parade and noticed how soundly I was sleeping during a marching band performance —triggering some red flags and an eventual conversation with my parents. By the time I was a year old, my young parents had to make a life-changing decisions while working and raising three young kids:
For those of you who don’t know— a cochlear implant is an electronic medical device that was invented in the early 80’s, that helps mimic the function of normal hearing. Unlike hearings aids, which amplify sound (make sounds louder), cochlear implants do the work of the damaged parts of the inner ear (cochlea) and provide sound signals to the brain. There is a tiny receiver that is surgically placed under the skin in a bony part behind the ear that also has a magnet attached to it. On the outer surface of the head, the individual wears a microphone that harnesses the sound from the environment and transmits the sound as a signal to the tiny receiver underneath the skin and sends the signals down a flexible man-made fiber that’s connected to the cochlea that helps tell the brain: “Hey you just heard that.” I know that sounds terribly scientific and complicated—perhaps a visual video could help explain things better than I can… I practically failed Bio 101 at Carolina for a reason, your girl is not science-brained AT ALL— so don’t be embarrassed if you have no idea what I Just said. Just know, technology is amazing and I’m genuinely grateful to be born when I was and to be born into my incredible family.
Long story short, technology, my family and my speech therapists have helped me feel as “normal” as I do. My family was a testimony of patience as there was not one single person on the Outer Banks that had my type of hearing loss or cochlear implants when I was growing up. They didn’t have other parents to talk to, there weren't facebook community groups, cochlear counselors, nothing —they had to figure it all out on their own. They eventually introduced me to an incredible speech pathologist named Kathryn Wilson and she literally changed my life. She and her husband even came to Jess and I's wedding this year because she means that much to my family and me. During the language development days, Kathryn helped me identify the way words were supposed to be spoken. Because of my time with her coupled with patient teachers and modern technology, people tell me almost every day “Wow, you don’t have any deaf speech.” Hearing the shock behind their voice when they say this always amuses me. The reason I don’t have “deaf speech” is because I can hear myself well enough and auto-correct my voice. My husband and mom both say I have a very slight deaf speech and talk more quietly when I take my implant out—which makes sense because I can’t hear myself.
So how deaf am I? Well, let me put it this way, I will enjoy sleeping peacefully at night for as long as I can until babies maybe come into the picture. Until then, my poor husband will wake up every morning to a vibrating alarm clock (click here for a photo of it) that shakes the bed to wake up us both. That is usually the only time in an average day that I think about the silence around me. Sure phone conversations, loud restaurants and parties are more challenging to me but that’s just part of it—I just tell folks my situation so they know I’m not being a b*tch and ignoring them and people tend to adapt politely.
The evolution of my cochlear implant devices:
From my first surgery in 1997 until 2011, I wore a body-worn processor... You'll see it next to my right breast in the above photo from my Camp Trinity days in 2007. I called it my third boob. Technology has evolved significantly in the last ten years that it has drastically changed my lifestyle for the better.
In the Summer of 2011, I had surgery for a second implant on my left side and with that came more modern technology. The one you see in the above photo is called a B.T.E (Behind-the-Ear) cochlear implant. Having the ability to not wear a special bra, not have three boobs and be able to hear was an incredible milestone for an awkward and socially-growing twenty-one year old. It was my first semblance of independence to be able to wear a bathing suit and continue to have conversation. It's the little things that make this beach girl happy.
In the present day, I get goosebumps thinking about how much my life has changed since 1997. Now I wear a magnetic Med-El Rondo that is completely wireless on my head and away from my ears. This device change was crucial for me because my ears would get so sensitive and sore after long hours. Wearing my glasses with my B.T.E. was unheard of because it felt like 10 pounds were sitting on my ears. Being the active person I am, the B.T.E and its batteries could not sustain the sweat I was producing from my workouts. (Sweat weirdly sits around my ears versus in the top of my head). Don't ask me why.
In a nutshell, God knew what he was doing when he gave me a 'fro during puberty so I could cover up my implant even though I have nothing to hide. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier if people saw the implant and would immediately understand that I don't hear well versus having to explain it. But I like feeling like a normal person in society because I am a normal person. Drawing attention to myself is not my cup of tea because that's how my personality is but I'll talk about it any day of the week if you ask. Nothing you ask me can offend me.
So with all that said, it should make sense that I’m in a visual industry. My ears don’t work so I use my eyes.
Tomorrow’s Blog Post: “How do I make a living doing just photos?” Well that’s the thing, I don’t. There’s more to what I do than just photography. I just didn't really broadcast it… until today.