Image Credits: Pulse Magazine
I have a confession to make. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing like myself, than this should come as no surprise. In fact, if you’re deaf or hard of hearing like myself, you yourself are or probably have been in the same boat at one point or another. Here it is:
For years I have dealt with anxiety issues in social settings and in non-social settings. I also have struggled to sleep at night due to my anxiety and have had to take sleeping medication if I wanted to have any chance of falling asleep at night.
I am not along. Anxiety is very common in the deaf and hard of hearing world. There has been countless studies that link anxiety with hearing loss. The reason is simple: many deaf individuals are part of a hearing world, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Even those who say they operate in a predominately deaf world will be forced to interact with the hearing world on almost a daily basis. It’s definitely not easy and a major cause of anxiety.
If you want to be technical, I am deaf but not Deaf. You may not be able to see a difference in these two words, but those with hearing loss knows what it means. To be deaf means you have a significant hearing loss, or no hearing at all, but you interact in a hearing world. To be Deaf with the capital D means that you have no hearing and you operate in a Deaf world. So what’s the difference?
Those who operate in the Deaf world sign. Their world is almost entirely silent. They go to special deaf schools. Their friends are more than likely all deaf, or at least always sign to them. They try to avoid being a part of the hearing world as much as possible. In contrast, those in the hearing world do not go to a special school. They strive to interact with the hearing world as much as possible. I fall into this later category.
Prior to getting my cochlear implant, interacting in the hearing world was very difficult for me. Not being able to hear can definitely cause a bit of anxiety. Here are a few examples.
I went to college. Not just any college, but Rowan University. A public university. I was a really great student and my professors loved me. I had two majors (English and Writing Arts) and a separate concentration (Creative Writing). These were all pretty unique majors that called for much discussion in class. My professors loved me and knew I was a good student, so they always liked to hear what I had to say. However, sometimes I had no idea what was going on in class. I tried my best to lipread. I have been deemed an “expert” lipreader. However, even experts aren’t always necessarily perfect. Sometimes people had a unique tone to their voice and it was out of my hearing range. The worst was when the chairs were arranged in single rows. I always sat in the front of the room to hear my professor, but I could never hear my classmates since they were behind me and I couldn’t see their lips to lipread. Sometimes I really wanted to talk about the book I just had to read in class. Sometimes I had a lot to say. But a lot of the times I was too afraid to say anything since I wasn’t able to follow every word or most of it and I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. I would pray that the professor wouldn’t call on me because I didn’t want to look like I haven’t read or wasn’t paying attention. That’s how I always appeared, but the truth was I was paying attention! I was paying such close attention that I was exhausted from trying to figure out what was being said! But most professors don’t understand that.
There are two instances that really stand out in my mind as awkward post-cochlear implant college experiences. Once was during one of my first creative writing classes. My professor really liked me and wanted my feedback on many occasions. She was my favorite professor actually. I did pretty well with following along most of the time, but for some reason I really struggled on this particular day. I think the desks were rearranged making it harder for me to see my classmates and lipread or something. Needless to say, she asked me a question and I had no answer because I had no idea what was going on. I kindly explained that I couldn’t hear anything. My professor understood, but got pretty embarrassed. She apologized profusely to me, which made me feel a bit embarrassed and awkward myself. By trying to make things better, she kind of made it worst.
The other instance was with my Writing Children’s Stories class. Originally I was signed up to take the course with a British professor. He was an extremely nice guy, but I couldn’t understand a word he said. He had a strong accent and his voice was in a tone that was out of my range. I was never going to do well in his class simply because I couldn’t understand a word he said. I needed the course to complete my creative writing concentration, but the other professor who taught the class didn’t have any openings. I had to fill out a special form to get into her class. Unfortunately, this form had to come from the Academic Success Center. I’ve talked to the people over their multiple times and they were always super friendly and more than willing to help in anyway they could. However, they couldn’t help without having me first register as having a disability, something I never wanted to do. But I needed help, so I did what I had to do. Then I got into the class. I was able to hear my professor just fine, but 95% of the time during class, I never heard a word that my classmates said. Needless to say, the class was a bit less enjoyable than I anticipated.
Another time when my hearing loss was a great cause for anxiety was whenever I had to order food out. I always tried to avoid it as much as possible. When I was in college I would usually buy food from the little convenience store on campus where I could just grab something and have them ring it up for me with little to no conversation. I did try to order food from the various on-campus food places a few times, but it was always an incredibly awkward experience since I could never hear the person taking my order or making my food or telling me my order was ready. If I went out to a restaurant, I would make my family/friends/significant other order for me and translate what the waiter/waitress was saying for me. Then I would apologize or have that person apologize profusely to the waiter/waitress and explain that they were answering for me since I couldn’t hear. Pretty awkward. I would avoid going to bars like the plague. I tried it once with my ex and never wanted to do it again. It was so loud and noisy. I couldn’t have a conversation or hear anything and the noise didn’t sound like televisions or music the way it did to most people. I couldn’t understand what the noise was. To me it was just that…loud noise.
Now that I have a cochlear implant though, none of these problems seem to matter much at all. Unfortunately, I am not in college anymore so my college troubles are definitely a thing of the past (though I’ve definitely thought about going back to school on multiple occasions. Problem is, I have no idea what I’d want to go for…). However, I do work for a digital marketing agency. When I first started working here some of my coworkers thought I was pretty quiet. Just like I couldn’t hear in school, for the longest time I couldn’t hear well at work. This also caused me great anxiety. When we had department meetings I could never hear my coworkers. My former boss from my inbound marketing/social media marketing days has a tone to his voice that was out of my range so I hardly ever understood a word he said. The same was true for my co-workers who were from New Hampshire. And the phone? Forget that. If I ever needed to make a phone call I’d have to get another co-worker or my boss to do it for me. I couldn’t hear on the phone at all.
Now I’m actually a Social Media Project Manager and Assistant Digital Marketing Manager. Without my cochlear, I don’t think this could have been made possible. I am able to speak during department meetings and hear my coworkers. This means my communication with them has improved tenfold. I am able to help other coworkers with projects and discuss our clients with them face-to-face, whereas in the past I relied solely on IM since I could never hear them well enough in person. I talk on the phone with clients, especially those that I manage, on an almost daily basis. While I was a little awkward on the phone initially, I have improved greatly and am now able to speak very confidentially because my anxiety is just about completely gone. I can hear. There’s no need to be so anxious anymore.
I can’t remember the last time I seriously struggled to order food out. I have been out to eat countless times since getting my cochlear with my boyfriend and my family. I’m able to order food on my own without being dependent on others. If things get too loud I can just switch my settings around to block out the background noise. Eating out suddenly became much more enjoyable and less anxiety-ridden!
And my sleeping pills? I can’t remember the last time I had to take them either. There seems to be a whole lot less things keeping me up at night. I haven’t needed them. I am much less drowsy during the day now. Or to say it more simply, I’m living my life free of anxiety and I couldn’t be happier.