Tag Archives: communicating

no_asl

I often times speak out against how frustrating it can be to have people see my cochlear implants and automatically assume that I sign. This is annoying but an easy mistake for people who are not familiar with the difference between lowercase d deaf and capital D Deaf to make. What is infuriating to me is when I tell people that I don’t sign and they don’t listen and insist on trying to sign to me anyway, such as what recently happened to me at Human Village.

I’m realizing more and more as I talk to different hearing adults that they just simply don’t understand why I don’t sign and how I can still communicate with others without sign language. People are especially confused by how I managed to get through school and to survive in a hearing world without sign language. I want to use this blog post to try to clear up some of the confusion.

Here are 5 reasons why I never learned sign language. As you read through my reasons I ask that you remember that I am and have always been mainstreamed. I am lowercase d deaf meaning that I have significant hearing loss but I live in a hearing world. I have never been a part of the capital D Deaf community. I support Deaf culture and sign language and the capital D Deaf community, but this is not my world. My experiences are unique to me just as someone else’s are unique to them. What worked for me isn’t right for everyone and vice versa.

1. It Wasn’t Practical.

I was first introduced to sign language when I was five and in the process of enrolling in kindergarten at Oakview Elementary School. My speech teacher, Mrs. Smeltz, offered to teach me sign language. My parents asked me if I wanted to learn it. They were very supportive of it but ultimately allowed me to make my own decision. I decided against it because it didn’t interest me, mainly because I didn’t know anyone that spoke sign language. It seemed to me at the time that learning it would be a waste of time and not worth the effort because I wouldn’t really have anyone to sign to. My parents would have had to learn sign language in order for me to sign with them and any friends or loved ones or honestly anyone I’d want to communicate with would need to learn how to sign in order to talk to me. It seemed much easier for me to learn how to communicate in spoken English and to learn strategies on how to exist in the hearing world than it was to have everyone I wanted to talk to learn sign language.

2. Nobody Cares About Sign Language (Except the Deaf Community).

If you are capital D Deaf, you care about sign language. It’s very, very, very important to you. Sign language is your world, and I get that and support it.

But I’m not capital D Deaf. I am lowercase d deaf living with hearing loss in a hearing world where most people don’t really care about sign language. Some people might choose to study it for fun or as a hobby, but a lot of people don’t really take it seriously.

Unfortunately, this can make learning it very difficult, especially if you try to learn it later in life like I did.

I tried to take ASL in college as an elective at Rowan University, but at the time I was enrolled in undergraduate studies (September 2010 – December 2012), it wasn’t an option. I remember asking about this before and they said they weren’t offering because they didn’t have the money/funding for it and there wasn’t an interest. This is no longer the case…ASL is seen as being almost trendy now and there are classes (which I’ll get into in a later point), but that was unfortunately not the case when I was an undergraduate student there. One of the biggest problems with how people view sign language is they see it as a hobby rather than as an actual language. This is a problem because people lose interest in hobbies and pass them off to the side to forget about when they get bored. Languages on the other hand are seen as essential communication skills needed to survive in the world. ASL sadly is not viewed in this light by people outside of the capital D Deaf community.

I to enroll in a non-credit course at Gloucester County Community College multiple times to learn ASL. It was always cancelled though due to low enrollment. They couldn’t get enough people to sign up for it as a non-credit class to make enough money to pay the instructor I guess. People will enroll in ASL if they can get college credit. It’s often seen as an “easy” and “fun” class to take for credit. But when people aren’t getting something out of it for themselves (they don’t see learning ASL as being important, especially since many of them don’t know anyone who is capital D Deaf…), they don’t see a point in learning it.

3. Learning Sign Language Was Too Expensive.

I know what you’re thinking.

“This isn’t true.”

“My best friend’s cousin’s dog sitter is fluent in sign language and could teach you for free…”

“There’s YouTube!”

“Blah blah blah insert random noise/nonsense here.”

Okay, first of all when the concept of sign language was first introduced to me back in/around 1995, there was no YouTube.

As stated in my previous point, I didn’t want to learn sign language as a kid and could you blame me? A five year old usually has better things to do or other interests…

As mentioned in my last point, the non-credit courses were constantly cancelled due to low enrollment. These did cost money and at one point my family and I shelled out a few hundred dollars so the whole family could learn it together, but it ended up being refunded to us all after the course was cancelled.

The non-credit courses were about all that I could afford. With Rowan not offering ASL courses for credit my other option would be to take the classes at a local community college for credit but it wouldn’t be covered by my financial aid/loan and I couldn’t afford to spend that kind of money on a class that wouldn’t even count towards my degree.

Another issue with learning sign language for free – while people definitely mean well, the people offering to teach it often are not fluent or experienced in sign language. They may know the basics and a few sentences here and there but not enough to really hold full conversations in sign language, which makes it not entirely practical. Those who are really fluent and certified to teach sign language typically want to be paid for their services so they teach the college classes which I already stated I couldn’t afford to take. This isn’t true for everyone of course, but it is true in a majority of cases.

4. Learning Sign Language Wasn’t Worth the Trouble.

For some unknown reason, learning sign language was designed to be the toughest subject I could ever study or learn. I have been working to teach myself German recently and it has been a much, much, much easier experience than learning sign language which is just ironic.

Here’s a list of some things I think are easier to learn for me than sign language:

  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Amish quilt-making
  • Homemade cheese
  • Calculus
  • Quantum Physics
  • Flying an airplane

I’m serious. This has been made to be impossible for me to learn.

Backing up a bit, remember how I said that Rowan University *did* in fact get an ASL course after I finished my undergraduate studies?

Well, I tried to enroll in it as an elective as a graduate student. I tried to make my case that this course would be perfect for my graduate research since my Master’s thesis was a memoir on my cochlear implant/deaf experiences. The writing department and professors such as Dr. Drew Kopp were so supportive of this and really tried to advocate on my behalf to make this happen.

But it always comes down to one person who has a little bit too much power and is the final decision maker…

I don’t know who that one person is, but if you’re that person and you’re reading this now – just know I’m glaring at you from my computer screen. Yep. Glaring. Mad hard glare.

So here’s the shortened version of what actually happened:

Since I was a graduate student, under Rowan University’s policies I was not permitted to receive graduate level credit for what was an undergraduate class. I would need to do something more to have the work qualify as graduate-level work.

Okay, that makes sense, right? No problem. I was planning to use this course for my research for my MA thesis anyway. I would take the course as a form of an independent study and keep a research journal and check in with Dr. Kopp who would be my adviser of the project. I just finished taking his Core II course where I had to keep a research journal as I conducted research for my MA thesis anyway. This would be essentially a continuation of the work we’ve already started together.

But that one person who I am glaring at through my computer right now said that wasn’t enough.

Instead I needed a detailed description of what exactly I’d be studying and using for my research. I needed to create a very, very, very detailed research proposal about how I’d be studying students. I needed to explain what I’d ask students, who would participate, how their data would be used, and so forth. It was so much more than what I had intended to do. I wanted to learn the language, not how students used their experiences or what they thought of the course or whatever, but if it got me into the classes, I was willing to comply.

But of course it wasn’t that easy. Nothing in life is ever that easy – I had to submit a research proposal to the IRB and have it approved.

It took me several weeks that summer to put together my application for the research proposal. There were so many parts and it needed to be as detailed and specific as possible. I also realized I would need to hire an intern to help me with my research along with a videographer to film students. I would also need permission from the students. There were so many different loopholes and approvals I would need. Dr. Kopp worked with me every step of the way to help me in writing down the steps and just what I would need. We didn’t submit the application until the last minute when we were confident we had covered all of our bases.

I think I worked harder and longer on that application that I did in most of my graduate level courses combined.

And yet, the application was STILL denied for many, many, many different reasons. The overall theme was that they needed more specific information and more approvals from people involved.

I was tired and getting burned out and the class wasn’t even approved yet, let alone started.

After having my application rejected I decided not to move forward and just accept that I wasn’t going to learn ASL that semester (or even study people who would learn it). I accepted my next point…

5. I Wasn’t Meant to Learn Sign Language.

God’s ways are better than mine. Every time I tried to learn sign language he put roadblocks in my path that prevented me from learning it. Sometimes this seemed extreme, as was the case with the hardships I faced trying to take the ASL course in grad school. He simply did not want me to learn it. I will never know exactly why he didn’t want me to learn it until I am face to face with him in heaven and have a chance to actually ask him, but I do have a few theories.

Have I had learned sign language, my life would be very different. I may not have been mainstreamed like I am today and I may not have accomplished all that I have. I know that these is controversial and this statement may infuriate anyone from the capital D Deaf community who may be reading this, but you can’t deny the fact that it’s true:

Not being able to interact in the hearing world will hold you back in society. Is it right? No, it’s not. But it is the truth. 

If I learned sign language from an early age and made it my dominate language and chose to become a part of capital D Deaf culture, I may not have been as prepared for the “real” world because my communication skills may not have been as good. I wouldn’t have had to rely on lipreading as much and I wouldn’t have learned ways to navigate the hearing world because I wouldn’t have had to. I probably wouldn’t have went to mainstream school, let alone college, and wouldn’t have had the same experiences and may not have had as many job opportunities.

I know it’s not right, but the world is designed to operate for people who can hear and while it’s discrimination, employers get away with it. Most employers don’t want to hire someone who can’t hear, especially if they need a lot of accommodations such as sign language interpreters. These things cost money and people don’t want to have to pay for it and if employers aren’t the ones responsible for paying for it (ex – if health insurance or disability services cover it…I admit I’m not entirely sure how this works) it still won’t change the fact that employers will view it as a hassle that they may not want to deal with. Meetings will take longer, phone calls may go on unanswered, and work days may be less productive. Again, I’m not at all saying I agree with this. It’s horrible and it should not be this way, but you can’t deny the fact that this is how the world operates and even anti-discrimination laws can’t change the way people think and feel – that’s something only God can change.

If you want to get ahead in life, you need to be able to sell yourself and adapt to the outside world, knowing that a majority of people exist in a hearing world. This is similar to how a majority of the world speaks English (and most of the US). If immigrants want to get ahead and make a future for themselves in America, it is very wise for them to learn the language. We can and should support them by trying to speak their native language or becoming familiar with it and offer translators, but at the same time it is easy for them (and perhaps more practical) to learn our language then having all of our people try to learn theirs.

Have I had learned sign language, I may not have ever gotten cochlear implants. I know that this isn’t the right path for everyone to take, but it was the right path for me. My cochlear implants have opened a whole new world of opportunity for me and greatly improved my quality of life. If I had sign language then getting cochlear implants wouldn’t have mattered or been a priority for me and I would’ve missed out on so many amazing experiences (not to mention sounds!)

And yes, I did try to learn sign language post-cochlear implants. I am not sure why God still doesn’t want me to learn it, but I even have my theories about that, too. I am still training my brain to hear sounds and I imagine I will for the rest of my life since there’s always something new to hear. My hearing is fantastic now and “almost” perfect, but it will never be natural. I will always need a minute to think about and process what I am hearing. I’m never going to “just hear” – my body is not capable of that. If I would’ve learned and became fluent in sign language I may not have had the need to work so hard at hearing the sounds and training my ears post-cochlear implants. Simply put, I may have gotten lazy with my training and rehab.

Sign language is important and should never go away. I understand the point oralists were trying to make way back when and I agree that being able to communicate in a hearing world without sign language will help the deaf to advance in society. However, sign language is a tool or a strategy that works better for some than for others. For some people they may be the son or daughter of Deaf parents born into the capital D Deaf culture where sign language makes the most sense for them to use. For others like myself, lipreading and cochlear implants are better tools to help prepare us for the hearing world we choose to live in.

There are some people who absolutely need sign language, but I am not one of those people and I shouldn’t be made to feel bad or wrong about my decisions. As a child I was able to get by in school and society through lipreading, sitting in the front of class, reading a lot of books and text to gather messages, and relying on others to lend me their ears when in need. As I got older, cochlear implants gave me nearly perfect hearing. In either case, I managed without sign language and I regret nothing. I was still able to live a happy and fulfilling life and never felt cut off from communication.

Everyone has their own communication preferences, especially those who are living with hearing loss. It is important to remember that no two people are exactly the same and just because some individuals with hearing loss sign, doesn’t mean that they all do and it’s perfectly fine if you choose to sign or not to sign. It’s a personal decision and you should never feel the need to apologize for the way you wish to be spoken to. People should respect your decision and if they don’t understand it, they should take the time to ask questions and educate themselves so that they can learn rather than judging, speaking for or on behalf of someone else, or flat out ignoring someone’s requests or communication preferences.

 

Advertisements

The purpose for today’s blog is to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about deaf people. These five questions came from the most searched terms related to the keyword “deaf” according to SEMrush. Please note that I am answering based on my own personal experience as a lowercase deaf individual who has profound hearing loss but has never been a part of the Deaf community.

1. Can Deaf People Drive?

Yes, and I just ran over the last person that asked me that question.

But seriously, why wouldn’t a deaf person be able to drive? If you’re deaf-blind then okay I can definitely see why you wouldn’t be able to drive (no pun intended), but this question specifically calls out deaf people, not deaf-blind people. While being able to hear things like sirens would certainly be beneficial for driving, it’s not actually a requirement so long as you can see.

Did you know most deaf people actually have really strong perceptive vision? My boyfriend is always amazed by my ability to spot a car coming from miles away because I can always see the lights out of the corner of my eye. Since deaf people can’t hear, they rely on the eye sight to make up for it. What this means in terms of driving is that deaf people will always be alert and aware of their surroundings and they will be able to see the flashing sirens, even if they can’t hear them. Some may even argue that BECAUSE deaf people can’t hear they will actually be more careful and cautious drivers. That of course is up for debate. I’ll let you know the verdict on that one once I receive my license. 😉

2. What language do deaf people think in?

Seriously? This question is so dumb it makes my brain hurt.

Deaf people think in the same language(s) they speak in. This goes for all deaf people including those who are deaf with a lowercase d, those who are culturally Deaf and use sign language, and those who are non-verbal. Just because you’re deaf does not mean you lose your ability to think or that the way in which you think is any different from that of a hearing person.

Also, those who are non-verbal may still be able to understand spoken and written language and will still very much have a native language (or maybe even more than one). I think that one thing that most people get wrong about deaf people that are non-verbal is that they assume that because they are non-verbal they must be dumb. In actuality, most deaf people that are non-verbal choose not to speak with their voice because they can’t hear themselves speak and it’s a self-conscious thing or not something they feel comfortable with. Some of them may not have had speech therapy, so they may be aware of the fact that their pronunciations may seem strange to someone who is hearing which may make them feel uncomfortable. Others may have limited hearing and not like the sounds of their own voice. Whatever the case may be the important takeaway here is that even non-verbal deaf individuals can be highly intelligent and most often are.

Similarly, some people may be under the wrong impression that culturally Deaf individuals that are fluent in sign language must not be able to think in that language since sign language is a non-verbal language. This assumption is also false. I could be wrong, but I have a hard time imagining deaf people thinking in terms of signs. Rather, I think they think like you and me do in their own native languages.

It’s important to note here that sign language is not a universal language; there’s actually many variations of it. American Sign Language most closely resembles the French written language, but there’s also British Sign Language, South African Sign Language, Afghan Sign Language, and hundreds others even including Jamaican Sign Language! While not a verbal language, they still hold many of the same structures as verbal and written languages do including having verb tenses, parts of speech, subject-verb agreements, etc. When deaf people think I believe that they are thinking in terms of these sentence structures even if they aren’t actually hearing spoken language.

3. Can deaf people talk?

This kind of goes back to what I was saying in my last answer. Generally speaking, the answer is yes nearly all deaf people are CAPABLE of talking. However, some Deaf people may choose not to talk with their voices.

It’s important to note that many Deaf people, and even myself as a lowercase/non-culturally deaf individual hold the belief that you don’t need to use your voice or to speak to communicate. “Talk” means to say something verbally, but “communicate” means to simply share or exchange information, news or, ideas. There are many ways in which a person can communicate. Many Deaf people prefer to use sign language to communicate, but even that isn’t their only option. For me personally I prefer to communicate via social media, E-mail, text messages, and hand-written notes.

4. How do deaf people think?

With our brains, duh.

This bothers me though since so many people think that deaf is synonymous for dumb or learning disabled. Yes, some deaf people have other disabilities including learning disabilities or lower IQs, but as with all things in life, this doesn’t mean ALL deaf people have learning disabilities or low IQs.

In fact, there are many deaf people who are highly intelligent. Some of the smartest deaf people include:

  • Laurent Clerc – The first deaf teacher in America who founded the very first school for the deaf in North America. He was extremely influential in showing that not all deaf people are “deaf and dumb”
  • Thomas Gallaudet – a teacher whom Gallaudet University is named after; he co-founded it with Laurent Clerc
  • Heather Whitestone McCallum – The first, and quite possibly to this day only, deaf Miss America. She is an influential advocate for deaf rights and she also served on the United States’ National Council on Disability in the past.
  • Juliette Low – The founder of Girl Scouts in America
  • Rush Limbaugh – An American talk show host and Republican political commentator
  • Alexander Graham Bell – Inventor of the telephone
  • Vinton Cerf – the “Father of the Internet”
  • Thomas Edison – A famous inventor
  • Helen Keller – The first deaf-blind woman to earn a bachelor’s degree. One of the most famous women in US history.

Deaf people think in the same way that non-deaf people do. I know it may sound strange, but like I said earlier, you use your brain to think…not your ears.

5. How do deaf people date?

Girl meets boy.

Boy meets girl.

Girl likes boy.

Boy likes girl.

Girl asks boy out.

Boy asks girl out.

Girl and boy live happily ever after.

Boy and girl live happily ever after.

But no, seriously. Dating is dating is dating is dating. It really doesn’t matter if you’re deaf or hearing, it’s all the same.

With that being said, some deaf people only date other deaf people. This may be due to them having a lot in common with their hearing loss and being able to relate well to one another. Those who are capital D Deaf may choose to only date others who are either capital d Deaf or even lowercase d deaf because it fits in with their culture. These individuals use sign language as a primary language and likely attend a Deaf school and exist in Deaf world. They may have limited access to mainstream society, so this is probably what they are most comfortable with.

In my own personal experience I’ve only ever dated people who are hearing. It’s not that I am against dating another deaf or even Deaf person, it’s just that I never really met one that I was romantically interested in and now I have found my forever person who happens to be hearing. This is likely because I’ve always been mainstreamed and lived in the hearing world. I do not know any sign language and I am not a part of the Deaf with a capital D culture. Dating a hearing person comes naturally to me and is what I am comfortable with.

Just as non-hearing people have their preferences and likes and dislikes and turn ons/turn offs and deal breakers and makers, so do deaf people.

But when it comes down to actual dating, it’s pretty much the same. Deaf people still like to go out to eat, watch movies, go bowling, go golfing, go shopping, etc.

Some deaf people may prefer to go to places that are quieter so it’s easier for them to hear. Well-lite places may also be helpful so that they can see and read lips or see signs more clearly if they use sign language as a primary means of communication. But for the most part, deaf people are just looking to have a good time the same way hearing people are.

I hope my answers to the five most commonly asked questions on being deaf helped to shed light on what it’s really like to live without hearing. The most important thing I hope you take from today’s blog post is that the deaf can do anything the hearing can do except hear. We all want to be treated the same as a hearing person would be treated because we *are* the same. Our ears don’t work but we still have the same needs, desires, passions, interests, and lifestyles for the most part.


I’ve written in the past about how my cochlear implants have improved my career and what it was like to have a job interview with them, but I don’t think I ever really discussed what it’s like to work in a busy, noisy city with cochlear implants. I have been working for Penn Medicine for almost exactly three years now and it’s definitely a big change from the smaller offices I worked for in the past, especially since my office moved from 3600 Market Street to 3600 (we sure do like the number 3600, don’t we?) Civic Center Boulevard, which is much closer to the hospitals.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about working in a busy city is this:

1. It’s Always Extremely LOUD!

One of the first things I ever “heard” with my cochlear implants was the sound of sirens coming from both police cars and ambulances. I was, after all, activated at Jefferson University Hospital which is located right outside of Center City and being a hospital has ambulances coming and going constantly. However, it took me awhile to really learn how to hear the sound of siren. At first my brain couldn’t recognize this sound because it was so high-pitched. When I heard it after being activated on day 1 my brain couldn’t process it at all and I didn’t even know it was a siren I was hearing.

Since receiving my first cochlear implant in 2014 (and the second a year later in 2015), I must have heard sirens a few hundred times. I live almost directly across the street from what was formerly known as Kennedy Memorial Hospital (which, ironically has since been brought out by Jefferson and is now known as such…) and my office is located right outside of several major hospitals — The Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP), the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC), the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine (PCAM), and I am sure I am missing a few. Needless to say, that results in A LOT of ambulances crossing my paths and a LOT of sirens.

Unfortunately, sirens have become one of my least favorite sounds to hear because they are SO LOUD. Prior to receiving cochlear implants, I never understood how or why people would cover their ears when the ambulances would come by. I know people would say it hurt their ears, but this never really made sense to me because it never seemed loud enough to me to do any damage. Back when I had hearing aids it was the equivalent of hearing from a straw. Even if I was standing directly next to an ambulance with its sirens on, I could only hear enough sound being produced by it to give me the impression that the ambulance was about 5 miles away or so. The sound didn’t both me at all.

Now that my cochlear implants have given me almost normal hearing, it’s a whole different story. I am very fortunate to have been blessed with so much hearing especially after living so many years of my life in silence. However, no matter how good my hearing may now be it doesn’t change the fact that it’s not natural hearing. Every time I hear something, my brain needs to stop to process it. I have noticed lately that the louder the sounds are, the more difficult it seems to be for my brain to process it. My brain simply feels overwhelmed by loud noises, especially sirens. In my last blog post about graduation I explained how hearing the confetti poppers physically hurt me. Sirens are no different. In fact, especially when they go directly past me, they may be even worse. This leads me to my next point:

2.     It Increases My Anxiety.

I’m fortunate to have the ability to work in one of the safest parts of Philadelphia, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still Philadelphia and I need to be alert and aware of my surroundings.

Growing up deaf, I learned to rely on my other senses more to make up for my deafness. This especially included my eyesight. While I don’t have 20/20 vision (I always have to wear either glasses or contacts), I still have good perception and can sense something coming from miles away and I am also very sensitive to light. However, Philadelphia is still a whole different ballgame.

I have quite the commute some days to work, depending on which office I am working at (I work at 3600 Civic Center Boulevard on some days and 3930 Chestnut on other days given my unique role). On the days when I have to work at 3600 Civic Center Boulevard, my anxiety is usually the highest because there is SO MUCH going on. Most professionals these days would describe my experience as being a sensory overload. I am not sure if I am comfortable defining it as such, but I will say this: it is stressful, overwhelming, and anxiety inducing.

My day starts with a car ride of 20-30 minutes depending on traffic to the train station which is no big deal. The first train station in Patco in NJ and I take that from Woodcrest to 8th and Market. Again, no big deal. Then I switch over to Septa and take that to 34th street. Sometimes on the way there I grab a Lucy which isn’t too bad, but if I can’t take a Lucy then I walk the 15-20 minutes to 3600 Civic Center Boulevard. I also take the walk back home rather than the Lucy.

This walk is where the stress comes in. People say that NJ drivers are bad, well they must have never seen a Philly driver because I promise you this:

The. Cars. Never. Stop.

It doesn’t matter if you have right of way or not. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the cross walk. It doesn’t matter if the sign with that white man lights up. It doesn’t matter if the light is red, green, or yellow.

The. Cars. Stop. For. Nobody.

So being alert is now crucial. Because you have at least four places to look for the cars, which as we established, never stop for anyone no matter what. You have to make sure you won’t get hit by a car. The cars are also super loud as everyone is always in a giant rush and everyone is always very angry and constantly beeping their horn. It is difficult to determine why they are beeping their horns. My anxiety usually convinces me it’s all my fault and they are beeping at me, which further drives up my anxiety and causes my heart to race at the thought that I am in the wrong.

On top of being alert and on the lookout for cars, you also need to pay attention to your surroundings and the people around you. Keep a close ear on your surroundings. Don’t look anyone in the eye. Don’t talk to anyone. Don’t do anything that could increase your chances of getting murdered, raped, robbed, or jumped. Just because it’s a good part of Philadelphia doesn’t change the fact that it’s still Philadelphia.

Oh, and the ambulances are also never going to stop because it’s University City AKA Hospital City and you work for the healthcare system so you should come to expect that.

So you have the cars beeping at you, the ambulance sirens, the people being people.

And did I mention the lights?

I already mentioned how the cars don’t pay mind to the lights, but it goes much deeper than that.

Trying to determine when to or not to cross the street has absolutely nothing to do with the lights. Because when you have what you think might be the right of the way, given that the light just changed for you, there may be a traffic cop directing you not to go or they may tell you to go when you’re not supposed to go under normal circumstances.

Even though I can hear now, I still rely on my eyes for safety and guidance more than my other senses and probably always will. Have so many things thrown at me to look at and not being able to receive a clear signal or message or direction from any of the various things in my sight of vision just further overwhelms me.

By the time I get through all of the traffic to and from work I often feel completely exhausted and defeated and ready to end my day even if it’s technically only just begun. This in a way is similar to my next point:

3. It’s Hard to Focus.

This one is a little more for the actual office environment. We’ve recently switched to more of an open-office environment since we moved from Market Street to Civic Center Boulevard. This has more people closer together, which unfortunately has created more noise.

One of the things I have been struggling with the most since getting my cochlear implants is filtering out background noise and being able to separate it from other sounds or ignore side conversations. I do have settings on my cochlear implants to filter background noise which is helpful, but doesn’t always work especially if someone is having a conversation right alongside of me (but not with me).

Now that I am able to hear my brain is trained to pick up on everything it hears and to process it as sound. I hear everything, but I don’t always want to or need to hear everything. Unfortunately, I am not always able to pick and choose what I do or don’t hear.

This can make it difficult to focus at times. It is hard to read and concentrate on what I am reading when I keep hearing other conversations or especially if people are on the phone. I will often take my magnets off so I can better focus and concentrate when reading. This is an overall effective solution, but it doesn’t work for everything.

For example, with my work in social media sometimes I need to watch videos to work on YouTube or video marketing strategies. Other times I may be the one on the phone and struggling to separate outside conversations/background noise with the conversation I am trying to hear. My brain has to work extra hard to focus in on what it’s supposed to be hearing and separating it from the other sounds, which naturally causes me to feel exhausted by the end of the day. This leads me to my fourth and final point:

4.  It Makes Me Appreciate Being deaf.

This one might be a little confusing for some people who see my cochlear implants as a “cure” for deafness.

News flash: there is no “cure” for deafness; merely tools to help us to hear or better manage our deafness.

My cochlear implants are an incredible tool that I am very blessed and fortunate to have. With them, I can hear. But that’s exactly it:

With cochlear implants I can hear.

With my cochlear implants I go back to being almost completely deaf again, and at the end of the day, I am very fortunate to have that ability.

Hearing is exhausting, especially after working in a busy, noisy city all day long. I look forward to being able to come home and take my cochlear implants off and not have to hear anything. This is my way to unplug and unwind and to give myself “deaf time” where my brain doesn’t have to continue to work to process sounds.

I also like to have the option between hearing and not hearing. I can take my magnets off at any time in the day to unplug and to not hear. This, as previously mentioned, is one strategy I use while at work to help me to better focus and concentrate, and is a strategy that many have told me they are envious of.

All in all, working in a busy, noisy city is challenging and exhausting, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am beyond blessed that I can do this now, because prior to getting cochlear implants I don’t think I would’ve been able to successfully navigate the city and the train systems and everything else I have become so dependent on. While it’s true that the constant noise causes me to be more anxious, not being able to hear and being conscious of my inability to hear would’ve been even worst for my anxiety.

God has given me these challenges for a reason – perhaps to keep my mind active and to help me to not become lazy with my hearing progress. For this I am grateful and determined to keep working through the challenges and to come out on top.

Or, at the very least, to make sure I don’t get hit by a car (That. Never. Stops!!!) in Philly….


6059864539_2165018126_o

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.