It’s All About Perspective

I’ll never forget the words my father said to me after he sat in the sound booth with me during my hearing test in May 2013:

“Ash, I knew you were deaf but I didn’t have the faintest clue of what that was like until now. And even now, I’ll never be able to truly understand what it must be like for you; how difficult it is for you. But your ability to interact with others and do things as well as you do despite how profound your hearing loss is– it’s incredible. Absolutely incredible.”

I get really hard on myself when I think I’ve failed to perform as well as my hearing friends; especially in large social situations.

Here’s an example of what large social settings are like for me:

Everyone is having a good time, laughing and talking to each other and I’m standing in the midst of it, confused and lost on what the conversation is about. I’m hearing words but it doesn’t make much sense. The words get lost in the transmission of booming music, bangs and laughter and the room is too crowded or too dark for me to get a good view of people’s lips so lipreading’s out. I feel really out of place but I stay, thinking that if I try harder, I’ll be able to participate in the conversation.

So I stay, piecing together half-heard words and sentences, willing for it all to make sense.  Attempting to make small-talk but failing to hear what is being said in reply. Eventually, I can’t take it anymore and leave feeling like I’ve failed. That I should’ve tried harder.

If only I’ve tried harder…

I’ve thought about this quite a lot trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong. Why I can’t really hold a conversation with someone in large groups when others around me seem to do it so effortlessly. I think part of it is that subconsciously I view myself as a hearing person. I’m the only deaf person in my family and in all the schools I went to, I was the only deaf student. Living in small rural town, there are no support groups or events that I can go to connect with others who are deaf or hard of hearing so essentially all of my friends are hearing. I rarely use assistive equipment except for my cochlear implants, my FM system at school, my alarm clock and my fire alarm. So when I go to these social events, I expect to be able to hear what is being said and to be able to participate just like everyone else; not accepting the fact that my hearing loss will complicate things.

The behaviour of other people also add to this expectation as well though they may not know it. They easily forget I’m deaf, mumbling rather than speaking clearly. Covering their lips with their hands or drinks. Turning up the music louder even though it’s impossibly loud to begin with. Getting frustrated with me when I ask them to repeat what they said and effectively ending the conversation with “Never mind” or “It’s not important”. I’m not blaming other people. It’s unfair of me to expect others to always be accommodating and remember to not do these things when they are interacting with me. We are all human. There will be times people will forget and that’s okay. These are just things that I believe other people are unaware they are doing because like me, subconsciously they view me as a hearing person. They are fully aware I’m deaf but they have no idea what it’s like. To them, I seem to hear well with my CIs so they view me in a way they are able to understand: a hearing person.

It is only now that I’ve come to a powerful realization: There is nothing that I am doing wrong in large social situations. The answer is simple: I just can’t hear.

Being deaf, it is inevitable that I will struggle in social situations. That’s just the way it works. No matter how hard I try, I may never be able to fully catch what is being said and perhaps, I will never be able to participate in conversations in certain settings. And that is okay. It is beyond my control.

This expectation or standard that I had of myself as a hearing person was damaging. It was forcing me to compare myself to others that don’t experience the same challenges I face on a daily basis due to my hearing. Others don’t have to sit through a lecture everyday not being able to hear because their F.M is not working and having to rely on someone else’s notes to fill in the blanks. They don’t have to constantly focus on lipreading while running through mental word lists to associate lip movements to actual words which may fit the context of the conversation. They don’t have to filter through static and have their hearing suddenly go away for a few seconds or even a few minutes because the headpiece is not connecting properly or because their battery died. By viewing myself as a hearing person, I placed unrealistic and unhealthy expectations on myself.

While not being able to hear in social situations is beyond my control, there are small things I can do to make it easier on myself. I could try and move to a quieter room. I could try to talk to someone one-on-one instead of in a large group. I could ask the person to face me (if they weren’t already) while explaining that by facing me, it’s easier for me to understand them. There are a lot of things I could try when I’m in social situations. Obviously, these strategies won’t get rid of the hearing difficulty completely and they won’t always work but any improvement, no matter how small, is better than none.

“Ash, I knew you were deaf but I didn’t have the faintest clue of what that was like until now. And even now, I’ll never be able to truly understand what it must be like for you; how difficult it is for you. But your ability to interact with others and do things as well as you do despite how profound your hearing loss is– it’s incredible. Absolutely incredible.”

Thank you dad for giving me some perspective.

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