What you may not want to hear.

People are always asking me what its like to be deaf. I know that they are wondering what it is like to not hear, and so I tell them what they want to know: that deafness is the quietest quiet where even all the white noise you take for granted is absent. They are content with whatever their imaginations contrive for them upon these words, but this is not what it means to be deaf.

No one wants to hear that to be deaf means to be lonely. That to be deaf means being surrounded by people who take for granted that their words and feelings are understood. That to be deaf means being left out of conversations, events, groups, and friendships. It means never knowing whats going on, and always being the last to know.

It means watching friends and family have conversations around and without you. You watch them talk and laugh, and occasionally catch a thread of discussion into which you may interject a comment, which, more often than not, has already been uttered.

It means getting little tension headaches right between your eyes if you must lipread more than 30 minutes. It means being accused of “not paying attention” or “not wearing your hearing aid” if you are having difficulty understanding complicated words or phrases. It means learning to dread meeting new people and learning new names, for proper nouns are the most complicated words in English language.

It means learning to smile and nod your head, just so the conversation can move on.

It means being pushed into a working-class or blue-collar life, never given a chance to prove yourself as a competent professional–because professionals need to have “excellent interpersonal communication skills,” codewords for a telephone and switchboard requirement.

It means growing up being told that regardless, you can do anything you want to do, and knowing but not daring to believe, that it isn’t true.

It means discovering, at some point in your life–and if you’re lucky, as a child–that sign language is truly the only vehicle by which you can really belong. It means discovering that only when surrounded by people who are signing–whether they can hear or not–is the only time you can really relax, and not feel like you are working.

Being deaf means a lifetime struggle between two conflicting desires: the desire to belong and be accepted, and the desire to not even bother, and just retreat into peace and solitude.

Every deaf person is different, and we all deal with our struggles according to our personalities, skills, and needs. I, as an introvert, more and more often choose the later course. But I do not wish to be a hermit, and sometimes, I feel frustrated by my circumstances.

And that, more than anything else, is what it means to be deaf. It is not a disability of hearing. Rather it is a disability of socialization–a handicap of circumstances.

Advertisements

26 thoughts on “What you may not want to hear.

  1. Something that’s occurred to me as we’ve conversed (and conversed and conversed and conversed) is how much internet chat and text messaging must benefit you. At least with those, the conversation will ALWAYS include you, and you won’t miss anything (barring server issues).

    I’m really glad we get to chat as much as we do. If we get a chance to ever hang out in person, I’ll let you say my name however you want and we’ll communicate however we can. I feel your pain of the blue-collar, working-class job because I’m there too.

    I think you have excellent interpersonal communication skills. That’s never been in question for me. 🙂

    Ian

  2. Something that’s occurred to me as we’ve conversed (and conversed and conversed and conversed) is how much internet chat and text messaging must benefit you. At least with those, the conversation will ALWAYS include you, and you won’t miss anything (barring server issues).

    I’m really glad we get to chat as much as we do. If we get a chance to ever hang out in person, I’ll let you say my name however you want and we’ll communicate however we can. I feel your pain of the blue-collar, working-class job because I’m there too.

    I think you have excellent interpersonal communication skills. That’s never been in question for me. 🙂

    Ian

  3. Rachel, thank you for your comments and for writing this post. It’s hard to know how to follow this. I think a lot of your sense of isolation must come from hearing people’s ignorance. It’s so sad when people won’t take the time to communicate! As a deaf education major, all this is near and dear to my heart.

    Did I read on Martha’s blog that you’re from England? I think England’s perhaps the most lovely place in the world. : )

    And that’s fabulous you’re into art! Are you more of a writer or painter, or what? I love to draw and paint. I love to write, too, although you have to choose your primary allegiance. ; )

    I hope to hear more from you!

    Britt

  4. Rachel, thank you for your comments and for writing this post. It’s hard to know how to follow this. I think a lot of your sense of isolation must come from hearing people’s ignorance. It’s so sad when people won’t take the time to communicate! As a deaf education major, all this is near and dear to my heart.

    Did I read on Martha’s blog that you’re from England? I think England’s perhaps the most lovely place in the world. : )

    And that’s fabulous you’re into art! Are you more of a writer or painter, or what? I love to draw and paint. I love to write, too, although you have to choose your primary allegiance. ; )

    I hope to hear more from you!

    Britt

  5. What a fabulous post, lovely.

    I guess, only knowing you in the blogosphere, I have no real concept of your deafness. In fact, I usually forget unless you remind me. But what you say makes me sad, because I can see exactly how you feel when others take for granted that your capacity to follow a spoken conversation is equal to theirs.

    The only comforting thing I can think to say to you is that the feeling of isolation you describe is well-known to some of us who can hear. I rarely feel part of a group and I, too, struggle with group conversations – even though I can hear what is said and I think that’s partly an introvert thing.

    Puss

  6. rachel,

    first, i had no idea you were deaf.

    second, thanks so much for this peek into your world.

    what a beautiful post!

    thank you.

  7. if we don’t tell people what they need to “hear” instead of what they want to hear then they’ll never know.

    thank you for telling me(us), and for this glimpse into your world.

  8. like puss, i often forget that you’re deaf until you remind me. but i also know that’s because i don’t know you outside of the blogosphere (yet).

    thank you SO much for your honesty and candidness here. i think the truth of the matter is, none of us (the hearing folk) can ever truly understand what it’s like to be deaf. as you said… we can try to imagine what it must be like, but we can’t b/c we’ll always no what it’s like to hear and therefore will never understand what it’s like not to be able, to.

    i’m so glad to know you. and i hate that you feel like this… but at the same time, i’m certain this has shaped who you are… and i think that you’re a beautiful person. so it can’t be all bad 🙂

  9. Ian: texting and online communiques really has become my prefered mode of communnication–for precisely the reasons you mentioned.

    Walled: I’m American. LOL. 12 generations. And Im totally into art and writing, though I havent decided which is the one I’m best suited for–the process in artmaking is easier for me, but my results leave much to be desired,the process of storytelling is is a struggle, but my writing is much better than my painting.

    puss, thank you. Sometimes I forget that everyone feels lonely and isolated at some point, in some way. I guess Im not quite so alone, in that respect!

    Jen: sorry, hugs to you too!

    franki; youre welcome. I dont make a big deal of being deaf or shout it from the rooftops because my deafness is not who I am. It does not define me. But it does affect how I live, and sometimes, like now, I needed to vent and maybe whine a little.

    bob, thats true, but people very often “forget” what they dont want to hear, so it becomes easier to just let it be. Ignorance is comforting.

    martha; you are entirely correct!
    For instance, by boyfriend thinks that because of the fact that I cant hear how mean and selfish and self-centered and angry people can be is probably why I have such a calm, accepting, and positive additude about humanity. He’s probably right.

  10. I really like the way you put this together.. and your final statement really sums it up for me.

    One day perhaps we’ll choose to create a world where this kind of covert discrimination doesn’t exist… where different types of people will be accepted in all settings.

  11. Huh. I was just about to ask you if you liked R.E.M. My bad. 😉

    If it makes you feel any better, I once got dissed by a pretty deaf girl. For some reason, we all thought it was “hot” that this hot girl was deaf. Vulnerable. Like a little bird.

    That was a good post. Thank you.

  12. How confining it some days must be. Thank you for letting me in and reading what its like. As anyone who doesn’t walk in the footsteps, I had no idea.

    Hopefully, with technology the way it is, your professional future will be brighter.

  13. Such an honest post. I am sure that there are a lot of people who know this on a deep level but just refuse to recognize it. I used to work with blind people and it takes some effort on the part of those of us with all our senses in working order to interact with those who don’t. Most of us just don’t go to the trouble or don’t realize that we need to if everyone is to feel included.

  14. Excellent Post Rachel! Brave,honest writing, brutally honest actually. I love you just the way you are and you are never alone as long as you have family. . .

  15. Thank you – that was a very revealing and important post. It’s hard for me to grasp, really, because I make my living by hearing. It’s the main thing I do.

    I guess blogging is such an equalizer in that respect. Although, it occurs to me having said that, that people who are blind are totally cut off from this medium. (I made a Freudian typo – I first typed “People who are blond.”

  16. Rachel, I had no idea you were deaf.

    Perhaps your prodigious and varied artistic talents are so well-developed because you needed alternative means of expressing yourself, which nobody does better than you.

    I have no doubt that whatever you add to a conversation is well worth listening to. In my view, the real deaf people are those whose hearing is not impaired but who refuse to listen to any viewpoints but their own.

  17. Thank you for writing this and I think it should be passed around and people should be required to read it. My friend was dating a deaf guy a few months ago and the things you said were some of the things I felt with him…but it was hard to know what to do about it. Does that make any sense? How to help, how to not exclude, etc.

  18. Thank you for writing this and I think it should be passed around and people should be required to read it. My friend was dating a deaf guy a few months ago and the things you said were some of the things I felt with him…but it was hard to know what to do about it. Does that make any sense? How to help, how to not exclude, etc.

  19. i watched a kids’ signing show on PBS yesterday morning with the Face. i can now say “apple” and “hungry” and “cheese”. but i’ve already forgotten everything else. but, you know…i think we could have a pretty good convo with those things.

  20. Doesn’t matter, all a women has to know how to do to be successful is make a good sandwich, give a good back massage, and smile ‘n’ nod 😉

  21. Thank you for sharing. I stand at a bus stop every morning next to a deaf and blind woman while we wait for our kids to load the school bus. We never communicated for two years and now, with some help from her very bright 7 year old daughter, I’m learning some simple communications. It just feels good to touch hands and give a gentle squeeze before we go on our way. We all need more connection.

  22. I regret I was not able to read this when you initially posted this. Your words are beautiful in all their unfettered honesty.

    I have a MIL who is deaf and experiences many of the complications of you describe. While I don’t typically assign emotions to other people, I don’t think I am being presumptuous by saying she is a lonely woman. After years of not being engaged, she is seldom interested in trying anymore.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s