Lower-case deaf, not the upper-case Deaf, since the latter is more suited to describe the Deaf culture, while the former describes a physical condition. To be more specific, I am hard-of-hearing. Or more specifically, I’m profoundly deaf, which further along the “deaf scale” than severe, moderate, and mild deafness. Only complete deafness is further along the scale than profoundly deaf. But don’t ask me what the threshold levels are for each level–I don’t know right off the top of my head.
I have a cochlear implant in my left ear, and a hearing aid in my right. When I wear my hair down, which is most of the time, people can’t tell I’m deaf. Only people who are really experienced with deaf people can tell by my slightest accent, most others don’t notice it, or ask me if I’m from England or Germany, which I think is fantastic. I’ve always liked the English accent, particularly. My favorite is when people say, “Oh, you have such a cute accent! What country are you from?” “Er….Colorado?” “Oh!……..oh…” I love that it takes them a few seconds to figure out that Colorado is actually not a country.
I have a little brother who is deaf, too. Only moderately so, so if he has his hearing aids out, you can talk really loudly and he’d be able to hear you okayish. That’s Tom, by the way, in case you were wondering. Before he was born and found to be deaf, I’d always wondered if I was adopted because nobody else in my extended family was deaf. If it weren’t for pictures of my rather tired-looking mom in her hospital gown and with tubes snaking out of her hand holding me, I would have believed that I was adopted with more intensity.
Most people I talk to are quite accepting and flexible concerning my deafness, and that’s largely an account of how well I hear. Or how well I can fake hearing. I try to avoid talking on the phone as much as possible. It’s so awkward, because I can’t read lips, but I do great in face-to-face situations, but I’m slowly working on that phobia/difficulty of mine.
My parents did good with my deafness. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 2 years old, and when the first audiologist said I’d never learn to read, speak, hear, or amount to anything at all, my parents effectively said, “Screw you” and took me to another audiologist. My parents were rather poor at the time, so they applied with some charity to seek help paying for my first hearing aids, and the charity said the same thing about me. So, they got a loan and bought me one anyway. These were huge adult-sized hearing aids attached to a processor box on a belt or a harness by some long wires. They somehow got some sort of funding or grant to give me 6 months of speech therapy, in which my mom asked them to teach her how to continue giving me therapy, and she did keep practicing with me with every waking hour of mine. With that, I gained 2 years of speaking/vocabulary skills in those 6 months.
My dad said he worked many hours at many jobs to get me my hearing aids. He said so every time he raged at me because I was, according to him, a spoiled brat. If I forgot to take out the recycling, then I was a spoiled lazy brat too big for her britches, and I should be able to take out the recycling when he nearly died of pneumonia working three jobs to pay for my hearing aids.
Honestly–that hurt. Every single time. I think that contributes to why I feel extremely guilty every time I need to buy something for myself. “Oh no, I’m too expensive,” when I’m buying a $20 skirt that will last me 5 years, a skirt that will replace one essential article of clothing completely wore out and developed holes since I wore it every year since high school. Or was it Goodwill?
I appreciate my parents’ tenacity in helping me overcome the fact that I lived two years of my life believing that the only language that existed was the lipreading language. I appreciate my mom’s crusade against the insurance in trying to get my cochlear implant covered, the one I got when I was 17. That cochlear implant helped me immensely in that one bad ear of mine since I could barely hear anything even with a hearing aid.
What I do not appreciate is how my father, while he worked hard at helping me “overcome” deafness, had a problem with me being deaf. I said earlier I hated talking on the phone. Well, it’s hard whenever it’s a male on the other side. There’s certain frequencies that are harder for me to hear–mostly lower frequencies. I could barely hear my dad over the phone. Or my Grampy.
The difference is that Grampy never got frustrated with me asking him to repeat things 5 times (or if he did, he never showed it to the best of my memory), while my dad became convinced it was “proof” that I hated him and didn’t want to talk to him, that it was proof of my disrespect for him.
One day, when I called home to let them know I was on my way home from the university (we were required to call when we got to places, and before we got home) I couldn’t hear what my dad was trying to say, so finally he had Mom come to the phone and I told her that I was coming home. When I got home, he confronted me, sure that I was disrespectful to him. I told him the truth. “I can’t hear most men’s voices on the phone.” He didn’t speak to me for three days. It was actually kind of nice in one way, because he wasn’t raging at me. On the other hand, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Or he would call for me from upstairs and on the other end of the house while I was in my basement bedroom. If I didn’t hear him, he would send one of my siblings to fetch me, and they would sometimes whisper, “Dad’s really mad,” or “Dad’s in a bad mood” to let me know that he was aggravated that I couldn’t hear him.
One memory has been bothering me, lately. I tried to put it in my “container” in therapy yesterday, and it refused to be contained. Even with the help of an imaginary, courageous dog that would help keep me grounded, I struggled with putting it away. I think I’ve talked about it before on here. I know I have in therapy, with previous counselors.
My brother, Tommy, was in Boy Scouts some years ago. It was the homeschool troop, and met at the same time in the same location as my sisters’ American Heritage Girls troop. (AHG is for those who think the Girl Scouts are too liberal). If you’ve ever been to a scouting meeting, you would know it gets noisy when they’re working on activities. Voices overlapping each other, everyone speaking louder to make themselves heard. For us hard of hearing people, that’s a nightmare because we don’t have the fabled ability to pick out and focus on any particular sound source that hearing people have. We just hear it all. Newer technology is able to focus on only things directly in front of you in noisy situations, but it still isn’t perfect.
So, we fake it. My brother was trying to “fake it” by smiling and nodding, and sometimes saying, “Yeah,” when people tried to talk to him. We have this fear of seeming stupid. We don’t want to respond with a non-sequiter. A made up example: “How are you, Tommy?” “I like watermelon!”
Then, when Tommy, dad, mom, and Betsy came home from scouting–I was babysitting my littlest two siblings–it was apparent that dad was angry the whole car ride home. Tommy was sad and scared. dad sat down on the couch and began yelling at him, as Tommy stood there.
I can’t remember the exact words, because all of his rants are similar. It went something like this: “Damn you, Tommy, damn it to hell! What the hell did you think you were doing? You made me look like an idiot! You looked stupid. When people talk, you RESPOND,” he said, with his bottom teeth jutting out, jabbing Tommy in the chest with his finger. “God damn it Tommy, you’re getting too big for your britches. You think I’m an idiot? Damn spoiled brat! We spend OUR time taking you to these meetings, so you’d better RESPOND when people talk to you, otherwise they’ll think you’re an idiot and that you’re uneducated and a damn spoiled brat!” and on it went for a few more minutes until he sent Tommy to his room, grounded for the next couple weeks.
My heart was pounding. I knew exactly what Tommy was doing at that scouts meeting. I needed to speak up. It was not fair. Grounded because he couldn’t hear! Adrenaline surged, and the room tilted for half a second, a bright spark appearing in the corner of my vision. “He couldn’t HEAR,” I said to dad, interrupting him as he raged out loud to himself, to the rest of us. How dare I interrupt him. Nobody ever interrupts dad during his rages. I could sense my other siblings and my mom tensing up, wondering what would happen next. “It’s hard to hear people when it’s noisy,” I tried to explain, but dad interrupted me, with his face the purplest I’d ever seen, his voice becoming jagged along the edges as he yelled, making angry gestures, “He needs to learn not to be a spoiled brat anymore, and he raged on about Tommy to me. I stood there, clenching my teeth. dad’s not going to understand. I expected him to understand about deafness with two deaf kids, and yet he doesn’t.
Later on, while the rest of the family was busy with the nighttime routine, I snuck into the boys’ bedroom to give Tommy some encouragement. I had to be careful, lest dad punish him even more because it would have been further “evidence” that Tommy was a spoiled brat, trying to get other people to take care of him. I told him it wasn’t his fault. That I do the same thing all the time, too. And I gave him some pointers, reminding him that it’s okay to ask people to repeat themselves. Just say, “Could you say that again, please?” and people are usually glad to do that. Or say, “It’s really noisy in here, and I can’t hear too well. Can you repeat that?” Or try to find a quieter spot in the room to talk. I gave him a hug, and told him again, it’s not his fault, that dad didn’t understand. And then I had to leave the room before dad found out I was talking to Tommy.
I still worry sometimes. It’s hard not to be concerned about your little siblings, you know? Doubly so when a verbally and psychologically abusive parent is involved. Even more so when they’re deaf, and said parent uses that as a reason to abuse. I really really hope he’s doing okay.
I am really open about my deafness, and I use my openness to try to teach others. It helps me in the long run, and I hope it helps others, too. And yet, sometimes when people get aggravated that they have to repeat something, it makes me want to cry. It’s a trigger. When people act “weird” about me being deaf, like it’s some personal offense to them that someone can’t hear them, it makes me want to cry. Or if my deafness somehow hurt someone else–it doesn’t happen too often but sometimes I accidentally ignore people–it makes me want to cry. It’s a trigger. It honestly is a trigger being deaf, sometimes, bringing up memories like the above, memories that keep refusing to go back into my “container.”
With a full toolbox of skills for managing a hearing world with a hearing impairment, my deafness is usually not a problem, but frustrations, if they keep mounting, I get overwhelmed and need some quiet time to myself to “recover.”
And I write. Writing this is incredibly therapeutic. Even though my body mildly relived the emotions of the situations, it is so, incredibly, freeing to get this out there, and perhaps now I can put it back into my container.
Thank you for listening.