I Can Hear You Now.

For all of you talking behind my back (or behind your hands so I can’t lipread), I have sad news.  Actually, first–shame on you– and second, I went out and got myself some hearing.  For the low, low price of $2,300, I am no longer Helen Keller.  Well, full disclosure: that’s true unless i’m in the shower, pool, or hot tub, because this thing can’t get wet.  I guess you can talk about me behind my back then.  Anyway, yes.  I got a hearing aid.

Let me set this post up by saying two things:

1.  I was without a hearing aid for ten years.  I am not looking to explain why or psychoanalyze myself.  One of my best friends in the entire world is an audiologist.  It helps quell your nerves and the childhood trauma when one of your favorite people is reassuring you every step of the way.  Major thanks and love to Caitlin.

18 years of friendship and still going strong. Me on the left, Caitlin on the right.

18 years of friendship and still going strong. Me on the left, Caitlin on the right.

2.  The last time I had a hearing aid, digital technology had just come out.  The first generation was a stepping stone and incredibly flawed.  It was programmed by a computer to have two settings and frequently shut off.  It was more frustrating than not hearing at all!

So, what does that mean? NOTHING prepared me for this thing.  I’ve lost quite a bit of hearing since the last time I had a hearing aid.  If you’ve read my blog,  you know that I don’t lament what I don’t have.  Being moderate to severely hard of hearing is not the worst thing in the world.  But, as I missed out on more and more, I started thinking THE.MOST.OBVIOUS.THING.IN.THE.WORLD.  Why was I allowing myself to be left out and miss things and why on earth would I allow it to continue if I could do something about it?  I know– Captain Obvious over here.  So, I dug deep, put on my big girl pants, made an appointment with Caitlin (who had been patiently awaiting the day since the ink dried on her doctorate).

As the wait for it dwindled down, I was more and more excited, and thrilled at the prospect of being part of the world again.  Now, I’ve always been honest on this blog when I talk about my hearing and I want to share really candidly, so i’m going to confess something.  There was this little part of me that was scared it wasn’t going to work for me.  Sure, countless people benefit and Caitlin was sure I would, too.  Maybe I had Special Snowflake Syndrome, but it was really annoying wondering if I was setting myself up for disappointment.

The day finally arrived and when I got there, Caitlin went through her whole spiel (including some gross maintenance stuff i’ll spare you), then put it in.  I froze.  It was like I forgot how to move, but I was just completely freaked out because I could hear myself swallow, breathe, and when Caitlin spoke, I started to cry.  It took approximately 45 seconds for me to realize just how much I had been missing.  I knew right then and there that this was going to be life changing.  I like to think I have a way with words, but when I try to describe what this is like, words seem to fail me.  It’s like someone turned the volume up on the entire world, and it was set on near mute for a really long time.

It took about a minute for me to speak and stop answering Caitlin’s questions with anything but a nod.  The prospect of hearing my voice was horrifying.  I’m not going to lie– I cannot stand the sound of my own voice at the moment.  Our brains process our own voices differently than strictly external sounds, and as my brain adjusts, my own voice sounds echo-y and oddly lisp-y to me (no matter how much people assure me I have no lisp of which to speak).  It sounds like I’m listening to myself speak over a ham radio.  It gets better everyday, but still strange.

The first conversation we had in Caitlin’s office was basically a 30 minute gab fest (shoutout to having your best friend be your doctor) and not ONCE did I need her to repeat herself.  It felt miraculous.  I sailed out of her office with a “have a great weekend!” to the receptionists, exhilarated when I heard their responses.

Then I stepped outside.  Readers, I’m just going to say it.  I was so cocky.  “I don’t need to ease into it.  Let’s just set it at its full settings,” I said in the office, which was pretty empty on a Friday afternoon.  That Special Snowflake Syndrome reared its ugly head and decided I’d acclimate super fast.  After all, i’d had a hearing aid before.  I laugh at my naivete now.  I walked out of that office and it was like I got smacked in the face with a 2×4 made entirely of loud noise. It came at me all at once–my feet crunching through the leaves, heavy traffic (horns, brakes, speeding cars, etc), wind, keys jingling, and god knows what else.  There was no such thing as background noise- it was ALL FOREGROUND NOISE.

I was borrowing my step-dad’s SUV, and even that offered no respite.  I fired that thing up and all of a sudden, I could hear the noise that accompanied the suspicious vibration I could only feel pre-hearing aid (PHA).  On the way home, I decided to listen to music through my iPhone.  Last time I did that in the car PHA, I turned it all the way up and tucked it into my bra strap so the speaker would be aimed at my ear.  Imagine my shock when I pressed play with the volume at 1/4 capacity, tucked it in the center console and heard it crystal clear.  Cue tears.  Cue more tears when I started singing along and realized how out of tune/key I was.

Simon-Cowell-Gif

I stopped at Starbucks on my way to my Friday night plans.  Big mistake.  Do you have any idea how LOUD Starbucks actually is?  The cappuccino machines, the music, the chattering, even the pumping of syrup.  It was like being assaulted when I walked through the door.

simma-down-now

But beyond that, when the shock passed, I realized I could hear the cashier talking to the customers way in front of me, I could hear some guy selling a woman an iPhone at the table next to where I waited for a pumpkin spice latte (Absolutely DISGUSTING, by the way.  Why do people drink these? I wasted my free drink trying that crap.).  It blew my mind. It terrified me.  Even now it scares me to think of just how much I’ve been missing all this time.

When I got home later that night, I could hear my refrigerator running.  I could hear my next door neighbors through my wall.  I could hear dogs barking outside, the gas turning on in the oven and all kinds of sounds that I couldn’t even identify.  It’s like my brain is trying to catch up.  I have relied on lip reading for so long that it’s hard to break that habit and rely only on sound.  Sometimes, it takes a little time to process what I heard, so I say, “What?” out of habit, even though I heard it.  Then, halfway through the repeat, I say, “Never mind! Got it!”

Even with all of that, my life has changed in ways I didn’t even realize it would.  Hiking this weekend, I carried on conversations with people ahead of and behind me without even thinking about it.  Even going to the store and buying things is a whole new experience.  I can banter with the cashiers.  I can hear sales associates even as they walk away talking as they lead me to what i’m looking for.  I can hear my boss from in her office when I’m at my desk.  I can listen and write notes at the same time because I’m not trying to lipread.  I can hear the tea kettle whistling.  I can carry on a conversation with my extremely soft spoken nine year old cousin.

I never realized how much EFFORT it took me just to do the smallest of things involving human interaction until I didn’t have to do them anymore.  And it turns out that the TV has a volume DOWN button.  Who’d have thought?  It’s been a week and a half of revelations.  I’m going to stop here for now.  This post has gotten long.  Next time i’ll share some funny anecdotes and crazy stories about adjusting to my new reality–there have been some really unexpected things.  Like, how I burst out of my office when the copy machine was warming up because I thought someone was vacuuming at nine a.m.  I had no idea what it sounded like.  I’ll leave you with some firsthand accounts of that first weekend:

Meg text 2

And that’s how I discovered I needed a new TV.

Meg Text 1

And for the LOVE of freaking puppies, the next person who covers their mouth and speaks to “test” me is going to be get a lovely kick in the shin.  Yes, I can hear you.  And I can see that you look ridiculous.  Buckle up, kids.  I’m bionic now.

 

 

 

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Holy crap. Did you just say I’m normal?!?

I first met my friend Ali about six years ago.  Ali is the volunteer manager for a Leadership Conference I participate in.  I marched right up to her at the end of the volunteer session and said, “I’m Jenny.  I’m deaf, just so you know.  I probably shouldn’t be on registration.”  The next year I told her, “Oh yeah. I’m the deaf one, remember?”  This was not the first or second time I made this bold declaration.  Eight years ago, before even applying to my job, I went to my now boss and said, “I’m deaf.  I don’t want to waste your time with an interview if you feel that this will be a problem.”  She later told me that it was my forthrightness and boldness that tipped the scales in my favor.

I do this all the time.  Mumbling store clerk?  Mumbling Waitress? Trouble on the phone when the other person has it on speaker?  “Oh, I’m deaf.  Can you please speak up?” I even do it at parties when I’m introduced to someone new.  “Just a heads up- I’m deaf so please look at me when you talk.”  Somehow, it’s become no big deal to me to divulge this information.

I spent so much time as a kid feeling like my hearing loss was something to be ashamed of.  It set me apart.  It made me different.  It meant I was “disabled”- I freaking HATE that word.  It made me work harder to be better, be smarter, be the best at everything.  This has made me strive to overachieve- and I do.  In the fourth grade, the kids in class called me “the walking dictionary.”  I’ve always had something to prove.  I hid my hearing loss as best I could.  After all, I was plenty attuned to the looks my mother got or the problems that she faced just walking out the door on a daily basis.  But me?  I was a chameleon. I could blend.

As is wont to happen, the older I got (and ironically as I lost more hearing), the less I really gave a crap what other people thought about me and I accepted that my hearing loss was a part of me and that it really didn’t matter.  It seemed that I was being blasé about it and just mentioning it as an, “oh, heads up!” sort of way made it no big deal.

This morning, Ali (I’m now her second in command) and I were attending a breakfast leadership seminar led by none other than the enigmatic Vernice Armour, the first African American female fighter pilot.  Vernice asked us to take a minute and jot down our goals/aspirations, etc.  So, I wrote the usual “Open my own fabric design company,” and “Start a small business branding consultation firm (er…I also wrote, “STOP PROCRASTINATING.”).'”  The last thing I wrote? “I want to be an example for others like me, be an advocate and work to bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing world.”

Ali (such a snoop!  Kidding, Ali. 😉 ) saw what I wrote and at the break she asked me about it- about this gap and why I felt that I had to bridge it.   She went on to say that she always found it interesting that I label myself so quickly, especially when it’s something so invisible.  She pointed out that technically, i’m moderately hard of hearing and that I could probably just tell people that I was sometimes have a little trouble and might need to ask them to repeat themselves.  She was genuinely curious- she wasn’t being judgmental or negative.

I told her that it felt like something people should know so that they’d know why if I didn’t respond.  I went on to say that on some level, perhaps it’s also about me saying, “See?  The stigma isn’t always right!”  So many people I know have never come across someone my age with a hearing loss.  I’m an anomaly.  I’m their first live impression.  All they know is what they’ve heard or seen on TV, etc.  That stuff? Not always good.  Hell- the school curriculum probably still teaches kids that Helen Keller was called, “deaf and dumb.”  When I’ve told people I’ve had countless, “Are you kidding?!” reactions.  I’ve been accused of lying.  I’ve gotten, “Wow!  You’re not what I expected!”

Then Ali said a few things that blew my mind.  She pointed out that by labeling myself (it didn’t even really hit me that I was labeling myself!)when people would otherwise not know meant that I was setting myself apart right off the bat.  She told me that she doesn’t see me as different and that to her, I sometimes just need things repeated.  That was when she dropped the bomb- “To me, you’re normal!”  I’m pretty sure my eyes were huge at that point.  I don’t think i’ve ever considered myself normal- not as a child of profoundly deaf parents and certainly not as a hard of hearing person.  But, what if I am?  What if I’ve been limiting myself by defining myself in such a way? What if I’ve been using that as a default setting so I can “check out?”  What if I stopped answering the question “What is it like to be deaf/hard of hearing” and starting answering the question, “What does it mean to be me?”  My hearing loss is a very small part of who I am.  It is not the sum of my parts.  Maybe I am normal?  Relatively speaking, of course.

I will always be an advocate for deaf and hard of hearing people.  How can I not be?  I will continue to  make jokes about my hearing mishaps- it makes ME laugh as much as it makes other people laugh.  I will continue to share my experiences here.  I am not now and will never again be ashamed of my hearing loss.  But darnit, this is food for thought.

Being Deaf: Fortunate Side Effects

First, I must express my surprise that Paula Deen has finally managed to cause her own downfall and it wasn’t butter-related.  For shame, Paula.

On with the show.

If you have a WordPress blog, you know that among the stats reported to you are the search terms that were used to find your blog.  I’ve had some odd ones (how to make your own fake puke, putting out electrical fire), but one that really stuck out to me?  “I kinda want to be deaf.

I cannot imagine who typed this:  someone whose kid sibling took up the recorder(cue home movie of me playing the recorder on both an inhale and exhale at age three)?  A person living next to an airport? A new parent? A parent, period.?  A crazy person? Beats the hell out of me, but it certainly got me thinking that there is something to be said for not hearing things.  Or from the side effects that seem to come with the territory.  So, I’ve told you before what it’s like to be deaf and some of the unfortunate parts, but let’s answer another question.  Why is it not always bad to be deaf?

1.  Sleep tight!

Me speaking to my co-worker at a few weeks ago.

Her: I’m exhausted!

Me:  Why so tired?

Her :  Stupid thunderstorms kept me up!

Me:  We had thunderstorms last night??

In the morning, friend is over.

Him:  What the hell is that noise?

Me:  What noise?

Him:  I hear little kids yelling.

Me:  Oh! Probably just my landlord’s kids.  Their rooms run the length of mine. 

Him: How does that not make you insane?!?!….Ohhhhhh, right.

2.  Heightened sense of smell (both a blessing and a curse, but i’ll put it here for the purposes of this exercise).

Boyfriend at the time picks me up from the airport, I hop in the car.

Me:  Did you have fast food for dinner?  It smells like a big mac and fries.

Him:  Yeah- TWO DAYS AGO!!!  

At family gathering at aunt’s house.

Cousin Mia (coming into living room next to kitchen, stands a few feet away from me): Let’s go play something.

Me:  Have you been eating peppers?

Aunt (calling out from kitchen):  Mia, I TOLD you to STOP eating peppers off the cutting board!

3.  The Lipreading.  Oh, the ability to lipread.  It’s an incredible espionage tool (although I wouldn’t mind an Aston Martin ca. 007). 

I wouldn’t even know where to start with this one.  It has served me well countless times, not only because it comprises about 90% of the way in which I “hear” things, but because I have caught a lot of crap I am certain I wasn’t intended to. This can be wildly entertaining for me, if I use these powers for evil.  Those “bad lip reading” videos?  I can actually tell what the heck they are really saying.  Sometimes, when I watch sports, I know the plays before the announcers do or the rest of the viewers because I lip read the coach (occasionally in the huddle, too).  Also, Bill Belichick?  Filthy potty mouth. On a side note, it’s really too bad that lip reading can’t help me figure out what the hell his latest “experiment” is with this Tebow business.  

4.  Ease of tuning out that which you don’t want to hear.

I’m going to be honest here.  I try very hard to hear what’s going on around me.  Unlike a hearing person, I have to CONCENTRATE.  Concentrate on the sound, concentrate on deciphering it, concentrate on the non-verbal cues, etc.  It is really really really easy for me to just let it go.  If I stop concentrating, it just becomes NOISE.  I can zone out.  You can imagine that this can be really useful.  My mom?  She just turns off her hearing aid.  Instant peace and quiet!

5.  Awkward chit-chat can be warded off easily.

“Sorry, I’m deaf” is a perfect deterrent for those pesky awkward situations including, but not limited to:  Religious fanatics at your doorstep at the crack of dawn, salespeople that will NOT leave you to browse in peace, the [insert cause here] advocates accosting you on the street, etc.

On a side note, my mom often gets out of speeding tickets by playing the deaf card.  I haven’t tried this one.  It requires mastery of the deaf accent, and I don’t do that well.

You know, I joke around a lot.  As I’ve said before, it’s so important to be grateful for what you DO have, but honestly, if you can’t laugh about your shortcomings or the less than optimal situation you’re in through no fault of your own, what kind of life is that?  Yeah, it’s tough to be hard of hearing sometimes.  I know from growing up with profoundly deaf parents that it’s even harder, but it isn’t all bad.  I prefer to be an optimist.

When your parents are deaf.

First, a couple of items of business.  Numero uno:  I am incredibly honored to have been freshly pressed (that sounds like I was run through a juicer), and I am touched and humbled by the responses I have gotten and those of you who have started following this little blog.  Thank you for reading and for all of your comments – some that made me tear up, some that made me laugh, and one that, admittedly, was pretty gross (to be fair, there was a fart reference in the post in question, so I’ll let it slide). Numero dos: I am recovering from a nasty flu-like virus as I write this.  So, any errors, let’s chalk it up to the Dayquil, shall we?

Now, let’s talk about the good stuff.  No, not the GOOD good stuff.  I’ve told you before- my grandma reads this.  I want to talk a bit about what it was like growing up with profoundly deaf parents.  I’ve never intended for this blog to be about the deaf/hoh experience, but I never thought people would be terribly interested.   Apparently, I was wrong, so, when the mood hits, I’ll continue to write about it.

A while back, I had the following conversation with my cousins.

Lily (Age 12):  So, I invented this thing called sledbagging.

Me (attempting to hide laughter at name of  said invention):  What the heck is that?

Maddie (Lily’s sister, age 9): Basically, you get in a sleeping bag and slide down the stairs.

Me:  What?! Doesn’t that hurt?

Maddie:  Not as much as the laundry basket! That was Lily’s first idea.

Me:  Lily, what the heck are you making Maddie do this stuff for?

Lily:  Do I LOOK dumb enough to try this stuff first?

I, too, forced my little brother to do a lot of questionable stuff, my favorite of which was tying tomato stakes to his snow boots and making him “ski” down the rocky hill in our backyard (no, it didn’t work).  I got away with A LOT because my mother couldn’t hear me plotting and planning.  Nor could she hear the screaming that ensued when my plans went awry, as they inevitably did.

My brother is completely hearing and as a child my hearing was not as poor as it is now, so I suppose you could say that we were hearing children raised by deaf parents.  I’ll preface this next sentence with a “sorry, mom!” but we cashed in on it in every way, shape and form possible.  That’s right- these two innocent looking kids=hellions.  I think I was acting out because I was resentful of my damned hair (I hadn’t heard of frizz ease yet).  Or maybe I was just a brat.

The hair! The sweater!  But look how cute Josh was.  You can clearly see how he got away with everything.

The hair! The sweater! But look how cute Josh was. You can clearly see how he got away with everything.

What, exactly, did we do? We talked back under our breath (I’d be an awesome ventriloquist- you can’t move your lips- deaf parents lip read), we snuck out of our rooms at night and hid behind the couch in back of them watching TV we had no business watching, we hid out in the attic that we were expressly forbidden from entering, snuck out of our rooms while grounded, we would talk to each other from our bedrooms at night, listen to music when we were supposed to be quietly doing our homework or “thinking about what we did,” etc.

I have a really bad microwave track record.  The first microwave (yes, I said the FIRST) I ever set a fire in, my mother was downstairs on the computer and Josh and I were upstairs trying to make popcorn.  The bag burst into flames and we started screaming like maniacs.  I unplugged it and we ran back and forth from the sink to the microwave, putting out the fire.  When my mom still didn’t appear, we cleaned it up and I sprayed her perfume ALL OVER THE KITCHEN.  It was like a Perfumania detonated their version of the atom(izer) bomb.  She came up shortly after we’d repaired the damage, sniffed the air and said, “Have you been playing with my perfume?”  That’s right.  I set a kitchen fire as a child with my mother in the house, she wasn’t asleep or in any other way unconscious, and I got away with it.

Our house was always super popular on Halloween.  It wasn’t because we gave out full-size candy bars or we had fabulously creepy decorations.  On the contrary- my mother loathes halloween.  It really wasn’t her fault we were inadvertently ready for it 24/7, 365 days a year.  Whenever the doorbell rang, the phone rang, or the alarm clock went off, the lights in the house would go on and off, the bed would vibrate (I know, I know- there isn’t a joke on the planet I haven’t heard about THAT one), and an extremely shrill noise went off in short, staccato blasts.  Depending on how many times/in what pattern this occurred, my parents could tell what was happening.  Essentially, we had several elements of a haunted house without even trying.

Sometimes, it would be a bit of a party trick to show off my parents.  It broke the ice.  Whenever I had a new friend over, I’d demonstrate the joys of having deaf parents.  I remember my dad in the kitchen chopping zucchini when my friend Melissa came over for our first playdate.  We ventured to the kitchen and facing his back I said, “I HATE zucchini- that’s all we ever eat!”  He kept on chopping, completely oblivious, and her eyes bugged out of her head.  I actually LOVE zucchini, but apparently, that was irrelevant.

I wasn’t all evil.  I helped a lot.  I interpreted endlessly, I made phone calls that no one would expect of a child who hadn’t hit double digits, and I learned tolerance from a very young age.  I had my heart broken, too.  When you learn about tolerance, you must also learn about intolerance.

In Helen Keller’s time and long before, deaf people were labeled “deaf and dumb.” What we don’t realize, perhaps because many people have not met a deaf or hard of hearing person, is that the attitude persists today.  I’m not talking about the people who have lost a little hearing as they age and go to the mall for a Miracle Ear.  I’m talking about people like my mother, who didn’t hear a thing until she was two years old and got her first hearing aid.  She’s amazing.  She underwent years and year of speech therapy and you can hardly tell she’s deaf when she speaks.  For a profoundly deaf person- holy crap.  I can only hope that if I have children, they will grow up to be tolerant, even if the world itself is full of ignorance.  And they better watch out.  I know all the damn tricks.  And mom, don’t even THINK about encouraging them.

What’s it like to be deaf?

First, you know how some people carry an emergency…contraceptive (my grandmother reads this) in their wallet?  Well, MY friend carries an emergency York Peppermint Patty.  Priorities, people, priorities.

That really has nothing to do with my post for today.  What I really want to talk about is the whole, “being deaf/hard-of-hearing” deal. Here’s today’s public service announcement: CONTRARY to popular belief, I do not have selective hearing, I’m NOT making it up, and NOT ALL DEAF PEOPLE have a “funny accent.”

Sure, my friends can still do it like animals (must.bleach.brain.) in their room with paper thin walls while I crash on their couch and no one is embarrassed in the morning.  Sure, if I tell the airline personnel handling boarding I’m deaf, I get to board with the babies and elderly.  Jealous, are you? Don’t be.  There’s a whole other side to this, people.  I bet you’ve never thought of half of these.

The REAL Reasons it’s tough to be deaf/hard of hearing:

1.  Unless it’s an SBD, you’re at a distinct disadvantage when someone lets one fly.  No advance warning (hi, grandma!).

2.  You can’t lead flashmobs.  If you miss the first strains of music, your count is thrown completely off and that’s just embarrassing.

3.  Your aesthetician may forget to speak up, so you might miss the warning that she’s going to pull the strip.

4.  Your TV is up so loud, your neighbors suspect that there is a ninety year old hostage living with you.

5.  On a similar vein, when you go through a rough patch, EVERYONE in the neighborhood can hear you listening to Air Supply and Celine Dion. On repeat.

6.   The Helen Keller jokes when you wear your glasses… Or when you don’t.

7.  You mix up weird words and think you heard the following sentence, “I burned the toast and went to the animal shelter for more booze.”  (I have no idea.)

8.  You sit through a drama at the movie theater and make up dialogue for entertainment, as you have no idea what the characters are saying.  While this is highly amusing for you,  a couple of days later, when at a party, someone knows you went to the movie and attempts to make conversation about said cinematic experience.  Your “I found it…highly ironic,” is met with odd stares.

9.You’re STILL mad you lost the fifth grade spelling bee finals because you thought you heard the girl before you spell “exaggeration” the way you thought it was spelled (CORRECTLY), and when they said, “incorrect,” you scrambled to come up with a different spelling, only to be informed that’s how SHE spelled it and that was “still wrong.”

10.  You have been hit with the following projectiles in a bid to get your attention: a remote control, a pool noodle, several pens, a coaster, a cherry tomato, a matchbox car, a potholder, a kitkat…  You KNOW there are more, and the lack of memory worries you there’s been some brain damage.

But what’s it really like?  You know, I’m not sure I can explain because it’s just the state of things. Technically, I’m not deaf, but moderately hard of hearing.  I miss a lot.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a hearing person, so I don’t know how to adequately compare.  What I can tell you is that mostly gleaned from observation and experience seeing what others can do that I can’t.

I can’t imagine being able to talk to someone in the next room, watching TV without captioning, listening to multiple conversations at a party, going to the movies without having to think about whether I’ll still understand it if I miss a lot of what is being said (action is always better than drama- rule of thumb)…  But for all of that, it’s my life.  It’s what I was born with.  You do the best you can with what you have, you use humor, you become resourceful. When all is said and done, I’m too grateful for what I do have to bother mourning what I don’t.