A Tale Of Being Deaf: Part 4

Challenge, dedicated to me, by Alice Burt

When people ask me what it is really like being deaf, it’s hard to compile up all of my experiences into a short answer. Do I simply say, “It’s interesting,” and wait to see if they ask me more questions or do I take five minutes to share my life story? More times than not, I rather state short and sweet that it is indeed interesting rather than exposing my personal stories to complete strangers. “Interesting” can mean so many things and is incredibly ambiguous. Quite interestingly, not once have I have listed my experiences in an empirical way in which they are divided up into pro and con categories that are comprehensible even to strangers. Hence, I am using this opportunity to go into depth what I, a deaf person, perceive what it is really like being hearing-impaired from both sides of the discussion.

“Children who hear acquire language without any particular effort; the words that fall from others' lips they catch on the wing, as it were, delightedly, while the little deaf child must trap them by a slow and often painful process. But whatever the process, the result is wonderful. Gradually from naming an object we advance step by step until we have traversed the vast distance between our first stammered syllable and the sweep of thought in a line of Shakespeare.” –Helen Keller

Pros:

  1. I can easily take off my CI’s for convenience purposes. For instance, my roommate began to intentionally play this incredibly annoying song and in response, I threw off my CI’s in a comedial way. Other times, I take them off when I need complete silence for studying or recovering from a headache. As a bonus, I can peacefully sleep through rowdy pregames, drunk people, suspicious squeaking sounds, slamming doors, thunderstorms and boisterous dogs.

  2. In general, deaf people are known for having heightened visual attention in their peripheral vision. I can attest to this fact. Due to more sensitivity to visual stimuli, I tend to notice movement quicker than others. This is beneficial if I failed to hear someone call my name but respond anyways due to his/her movement. Also, as a bonus, studies have shown that deaf people are better drivers than hearing people. While I cannot prove this, as I don’t drive, I hope this is true because this fact is a sweet deal.

  3. Going off being visual attentive, the combination of taking breaks from not wearing CI’s and being aware of my surroundings allowed me to become much keener to details and aware of patterns that people fail to notice on first glance. Exemplifying this, I recall when I was young looking out of my living room window and noticing shapes within tree branches and excitedly blurting out what I saw. While I could recognize and create these patterns, no one else could understand my visual perception and after a while, I realized that how I see is different and better in some ways than others- which is ironic considering I am practically blind without my glasses/contacts on.

  4. Sometimes I reluctantly use the deaf card, especially to get out of language requirements -- sorry, not sorry. Just thinking about learning a new language gives me so much unease because I would have to relearn to read lips in a different language and pronounce difficult words. Safe to say, I am still learning English and I rather focus on one language only. Thus, I have used the “deaf card” before to get out of language requirements- giving me the freedom to choose extra classes I would actually enjoy.

  5. While being deaf can be isolating, it also serves as a connection to others. This semester alone, I have had at least two deaf people and one person ask me questions related to being deaf. Even if people didn’t directly come up to me to talk about my cochlear implants, the stories I have allowed me to connect to others. I love to tell stories of how one time I threw my CI’s out of a car window like baseballs, another time when I accidently dropped my CI’s in the toilet, several times I lost my CI’s swinging on a swing or rolling down a hill, many times I comedially attached paper clips to my head due to my internal magnets and countless times of when my cochlear implants leaped from my head to a magnetic whiteboard (for this reason, I no longer lean against white boards).

  6. I serve as a living example that people can overcome anything. I have transitioned from initially being suspected of being autistic, being diagnosed with deafness, getting a surgery, immediately starting speech therapy, being bullied, breaking my internal processor due to falling off my bed, getting another surgery, being held back for being delayed on my language and speech development, transferring school, continually doing terribly in school, discontinuing speech therapy, getting another surgery, starting speech therapy again, ceasing speech therapy, thriving grade-wise, finally accepting myself, starting to advocate for equality and to becoming who I am today. Surely, I have encountered countless roadblocks in my journey thus far, but they define who I am. I certainly would not be the same person today if I had never become deaf in the first place. Because of this, I am not afraid to share my life story in hope to instill wisdom in others that there’s always a tomorrow. There’s always time to dust yourself off and move on. What happens today does not forever dictate the future. The beauty of time is that things will get better in a week, month or year. Thus, there is no point of being harsh on oneself- one would merely waste time that could have been used to overcoming tests and trials and thus improve oneself.

“Every one of us is different in some way, but for those of us who are more different, we have to put more effort into convincing the less different that we can do the same thing they can, just differently.” –Marlee Matlin

Cons:

  1. I have mentioned in the pro list that having a heightened visual attention is a plus. However, it has its downsides, particularly when I need to focus. Moreover, it is harder to selectively direct my attention since I am more sensitive to moving stimuli. As a result, I need accommodations for extra time on tests because I get easily distracted, especially with the combination of auditory and visual stimuli.

  2. Cochlear implants and its accessory equipment are highly expensive and in some cases, prone to damage. Consequently, if a part breaks, I have to wait for insurance to agree to cover some of the costs before ordering a part- in some cases, the situation is dire and I need a part right away in order to have functional CI’s- leading to frustration and nervousness.

  3. Research has shown that deaf people are at higher risk of developing mental illnesses due to factors such as stigma, low self-esteem, frustration and embarrassment. Unfortunately, I am part of this statistic and can definitely see how my hearing impairment contributed to my depression and anxiety. Assuming that I have a genetic predisposition to mental illnesses, I believe that my hearing impairment is one of the factors that triggered my development of mental illnesses.

  4. Going off the factors that can lead to mental illnesses in hearing-impaired people, I definitely do experience shame and low self-esteem. To be clear, these are not primarily due to being deaf necessarily itself- it is more along the lines of secondary features that led to feelings such as fear and self-criticism, which in hand led to shame and low self-esteem. Meaning, I am proud of being deaf and I don’t mind wearing showing off my cochlear implants. However, when it comes to events such as meeting new people, being in large groups, talking on the phone and giving speeches, I all of a sudden become self-conscious of my hearing and speaking abilities. I imagine scenarios where people judge me if I mispronounce a word or think that I’m unintelligent if I simply cannot understand what a person is saying despite repeating himself or herself. I beat myself up when I can’t understand everyone in a large group discussion and feel incredibly alone if I missed a joke while everyone else is laughing. It is almost as if I developed learned helplessness because I simply have learned to shut down, remain quiet and smile every now and then in large groups and accept the miserable fact I will not be able to hear everyone’s stories despite loving to learn more about others as well as the fear of saying something unrelated to the topic due to misunderstandings.

  5. One of the hardest things I have to deal with the fact of being deaf is that how I hear music is not the same as how hearing people hear music. This is almost a burden because I am an avid lover of music. I cannot imagine a world without music. I honestly think life would be more bleak and gray in a sense. I constantly seek for new music and love to jam out and act like a fool. Trust me, I’m a completely different person if I’m dancing to upbeat music. As much as I can hear music, I really wish that I could hear more pitches and frequencies to fully experience and enjoy music. The hardest part of all is that I can only wonder how hearing people perceive music because the opportunity to “hear” was snatched away from me before I was even two years old. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise because at least I can’t compare and hence, the music I grew up with is the only type of music I know.

  6. There is a higher risk of being caught in a dangerous or difficult situation when sleeping, swimming or showering. Meaning, when I take off my cochlear implants, I am not able to hear fire alarms, warnings, robbers and intruders. In the future when I become a mother, it will get increasingly harder to ensure the safety of people other than me. For instance, I have already pondered about how I can respond to my children’s cries and I have not yet come up with a foolproof plan. What if I don’t wake up to the baby monitor flashing? What if my partner taps my shoulder and I fail to stir, leaving him/her having to get up? It’s ridiculous thinking about this when I am only 19 but this is reality for me.

So basically, life is a roller coaster and I am the passenger stuck under a jammed bar. All I can do is enjoy the ride and deal with the ups and downs as they come.

“I'm a proud person who happens to be deaf. I don't want to change it. I don't want to wake up and suddenly say, 'Oh my God, I can hear.' That's not my dream. It's not my dream. I've been raised deaf. I'm used to the way I am. I don't want to change it. Why would I ever want to change? Because I'm used to this, I'm happy.” –Marlee Matlin