Hey guys! Hope all of my East-coast friends are staying warm and dry in this crazy snow storm!
I don’t know if it’s the snow or what, but I received an incredible surge of inspiration and had a major Eureka moment in regards to the opening chapter of my memoir. I thought a better opening would be something more reflective in which I show what is going through my mind moments before I received my first cochlear implant tied in with flashbacks on my life before I was implanted and the time when I was first diagnosed with profound hearing loss (the yellow brick road chapter).
This needs A LOT of work still, obviously, but I’m pretty happy with the first 1,000 which are the new words that I added today. I am also in the process of interviewing my mom for more details with the original yellow brick road chapter. She said she’d need some time to think about many of the questions I had as she tries to remember, but I’m hoping to get some answers from her soon to better flesh out that chapter/add more details.
Regardless, I hope you enjoy the revised opening chapter. Feel free to leave a comment on this post letting me know what you think!
Entering Into a Technicolor World of Hearing
I’m lying in a hospital bed at Jefferson University hospital in Philadelphia. There is an IV inserted in my right arm and Mom is standing to my left. Dad, who has never been a fan of hospitals, is outside in the waiting room. Everything looks like your typical hospital setting except for two things:
- I am not sick or injured.
- I cannot stop smiling.
My journey begins now. Today I will receive my first cochlear implant, and if all goes well with the surgery and recovery, next month I will be activated and Lord-willing, hear, like a normal hearing person, for the first time in my life.
If this works, my black and white and sometimes sepia world will become technicolor and I will not just hear the sounds I’ve always heard, but I will be able to understand what those sounds are and hear them the way they are supposed to sound. Conversations will sound like actual conversations (without me needing to exhaust myself by practicing heavy lipreading). I’ll know when music is playing, and it will sound like actual music. I may even be able to hear what a flute sounds like. I’ll be able to go to the movies without having to awkwardly ask for a pair of caption glasses which A. The ticket salesman won’t understand, or B. won’t work anyway. After the movies, I may be able to go out to dinner with my friends or a date and order my own food without awkwardly staring at another person as if to say, “Please lend me your ears, I can’t hear a thing the waiter is saying.”
If this works, my world will forever change, hopefully for the better.
If this doesn’t work, I risk losing the approximately 7% total residual or natural hearing I have left in my left ear. This residual hearing is currently being amplified by hearing aids.
Amplify [am-pluh-fahy]. Verb. – Increase the volume of (sound).
Notice how it doesn’t say anything about clarity or being able to understand or comprehend what those sounds are. That’s what’s missing. Hearing aids amplify sound, but they don’t give me any clarity. My cochlear implant is supposed to fix that. But if it doesn’t work, I’ll lose my ability to even amplify sounds. I’ll be left with absolutely nothing in my left ear — silence.
I made a list of the things I want to do post-cochlear implant activation, should this work. It looks like this:
THINGS TO DO POST-COCHLEAR IMPLANT ACTIVATION
- Get caught in the rain.
- Experience church in a whole new way.
- Watch movies without captions.
- See a movie at the drive-in.
- Hear a flute, bell, violin, and any other instrument I couldn’t hear before.
- See an orchestra.
- See a play.
- See a ballet.
- Listen to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety.
- Talk on the phone.
- Order food out on my own (restaurant and takeout/Dunkin).
- See a concert (preferably Good Charlotte).
- Hear my cat meow.
- Listen to the radio.
- Hear a cricket chirp.
I didn’t even want to think about what my life would look like if the cochlear implant didn’t work. Would I be forced to learn ASL? Would I join the Deaf community? Could I manage to get by with the remaining, un-implanted ear? Thinking about what would happen if the cochlear implant worked was fun but thinking about the alternatives was terrifying.
I had faith and trust in God that the cochlear implant would work. I prayed constantly and attended church as much as three times in a single day. For the weeks leading up to this day I had both Gloucester County Community Church and Washington Baptist Church praying for and with me and even met with the deacons and deaconesses at both churches.
“God is going to give you an incredible gift. Now it’s your job to figure out how you can use it to serve the Lord,” the deaconess at whose name I cannot recall told me as I met with her in the chapel at GCCC.
I was so excited to begin my new life as a hearing person that as the date of my surgery came closer, sleep became more and more difficult. I’d stay up for 20 or more hours at a time, keeping myself busy by binge watching all 9 seasons of How I Met Your Mother and when I got bored of that, I’d clean everything in sight. I no longer had any concept of time.
“Do you really have to clean your toilet at 3 in the morning? I’m trying to sleep and all I can hear is your toilet flushing,” Mom complained.
“No more cleaning. I don’t wish to smell all of your chemicals first thing in the morning,” Dad pleaded.
Last night, I could hardly sleep at all. The Patriots played the late night 8:15pm game against the Colts.
“Don’t stay up too late, you have a big day tomorrow. You know the Patriots are going to win anyway,” Mom warned.
“Oh, let her stay up. She’s just going to sleep through the surgery anyway. Does it matter if she’s tired?” Dad said.
I stayed up for the whole game and then spent most of the rest of the night in bed, browsing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on my phone. By 5:30 AM, I was wide awake, dressed in my brand-new button down fleece pajamas (mom said there was no sense in wearing real clothes, I’d be better off being comfortable and I’d need to wear button downs to avoid pulling shirts over my head post-surgery anyway), and ready, a full two and a half hours before I was scheduled for surgery.
Now the day is finally here. Dr. Wilcox just came in to tell me everything would be okay and to instruct the anesthesia team to begin. I have a plastic mask on my face, covering my mouth and nose. I can hardly keep my eyes open anymore as I feel my body surrender itself to the anesthesia.
When I wake up, I’ll be a cyborg.
In another month, I’ll be activated, and I’ll finally be able to hear, Lord-willing.
If this works, I’ll be able to hear for the first time in my life, or at least, the first time since my mother discovered I was deaf at the mere age of two.
When I was two, Mom would call out my name, but I never responded. When she mentioned it to my pediatrician during my next checkup, the pediatrician thought it was just a phase or a case of the “terrible twos”.
“No, I know my daughter. She can’t hear me,” Mom would argue.
When my mom clapped behind my back and I didn’t flinch, she knew something was wrong. Against my pediatrician’s advice, my mom took me to see Miss Terri, an audiologist at Cooper Hospital in Camden, New Jersey.
After performing a series of hearing test, Miss Terri confirmed what we already knew: I had hearing loss. What we didn’t realize was how severe my hearing loss was. Miss Terri explained that my hearing loss was profound, meaning the only sounds I could hear were those that were at a volume of 90db or higher such as airplanes, helicopters, firetrucks, and possibly a lawn mower. Hearing aids were recommended to amplify these sounds, but my ability to hear and comprehend sounds, even when amplified, would always be a challenge.
After being diagnosed with profound hearing loss, I made the journey to Camden once every two weeks for speech therapy lessons. Mom and I would drive from our small condo in Washington Township to the big city every other week. On our way in, we’d pass endless food and street vendors selling everything from hot dogs to pretzels and even random t-shirts. It amazed me how at 9 o’clock in the morning people would still be out selling lunch foods. Everyone always had a smile on their face and seemed happy to be working.
“Mom, I want to live here one day. I love the city,” I said on our way in for my appointment.
“That’s because you don’t understand what this city is really like. It’s not safe,” Mom explained. I’d understand it more when I got older and would see individuals hauled off by police for God knows why on more than one occasion. But as a child, it was a magical place with audiologists and speech therapists that thought the world of me and were helping me to hear and speak well.
Cooper Hospital had many departments and was easy to get lost in. Fortunately, they developed a system to help speech and audiology patients find their way around. By placing strips of yellow tape on the floor, patients could simply “follow the yellow brick road” to their appointment. Every time I had an appointment I knew to look down at the floor for that yellow tape and I’d sing along and skip to the tune of, “Follow, follow, follow follow follow the yellow brick road!”
Since speech and hearing worked so closely together, my appointments were run by both my audiologist, Miss Terri, and my speech therapist, Miss Vicki.
Miss Terri would always start my appointments by testing my hearing. She would lead me into a gray, audiology testing booth that was no more than 50 feet wide while my mom waited and watched outside in the hall. Miss Terri would then crookedly place a special pair of headphones over my ears and hook some wires up to my hearing aids and hand me a button.
“First we’re going to test the beeps. Push the button whenever you hear a beep. We’ll start with your left ear first before moving to the right,” Miss Terri explained.
I’d smile and nod and occasionally give a thumbs up to let her know I understood. I loved pressing that button. It felt like I was playing a video game where hitting the button was the equivalent of shooting the monsters and bad guys and freeing the victims. I never even noticed that the button didn’t get pushed half as often as it should have.
Once that portion of my hearing test was completed, I would be given a series of words that I’d have to say back.
“Say the word hot dog,” Miss Terri said.
“Hot dog,” I answered.
“Say the word baseball.”
“Say the word airplane.”
“Say the word ice cream.”
“Terri, I’m sorry but I have to stop you,” mom interrupted.
Miss Terri and I both looked up. I was doing so well with the words, what could possibly be wrong?
“She’s not actually hearing you – she’s reading your lips,” said mom.
“I can fix that,” Terri said as she grabbed the sheet of paper with her word list.
“I’m going to cover my lips now. I want you to focus on what you hear, not on me.” Miss Terri said. I was nervous, but knew I had no choice but to try my best. I nodded in agreement.
“Say the word kite.’
“Say the word chair.”
“Say the word sub.”
“Say the word third.”
“Say the word ran.”
I didn’t know what Miss Terri was saying, I could only guess, but I knew I was wrong.
When Miss Terri finished with the hearing test, it was on to either Miss Vicki for speech therapy where we would do different activities. One of my favorites involved using what I liked to refer to as the “magic mirror”. It was a long, oval-shaped mirror that rested in a tan wooden frame on wheels. There was nothing actually magical about it; it was just a regular mirror that I was allowed to draw on with magic markers, but I always loved this activity. I was never allowed to draw on the mirrors at home. I thought that this mirror was special since I could draw on it and the markers would wipe right off when I was done. As a two-year-old, the only logical explanation for how this could work was that it must have been magic.
Before I could draw on the mirror, Miss Vicki put me to work by having me practice my speech.
“Okay. Let’s practice our “Sh” and “Ch” sounds,” she’d say. “We’ll start wi“Sh!” I said. It was easy for me to think of the sound as a syllable, as if Miss Vicki was the teacher and I the student, getting yelled at for talking.
“Very good!” she said. “Now, I’m going to give you a word. Can you say “choose”?
“Shoes!” I said.
“No, not shoes like on your feet. Choose like when you choose something to eat,” she said.
“Shoes!” I said.
“No, look in the mirror. You want to move your tongue up a little bit and touch your teeth,” she said.
“Tooze,” I said.
“Try again. Remember, you only want to touch your teeth a little bit, not a lot.”
“Choose?” I said.
“Yes, that’s right! Very good! Want to take a break and draw on the magic mirror?” she asked.
I nodded yes and reached for the bucket of magic markers, choosing the pink one first, my favorite color. I drew a big heart on the mirror with several smaller hearts for arms, legs, and even eyes. My little heart person, my favorite thing to draw.
When I finished my masterpiece, Miss Vicki would continue with our lesson.
“Okay, Kimmy. We’re going to play a game now,” Vicki said.
“You’re going to take this ball and throw into the trashcan across the room. But as you throw the ball, I’m going to give you a word to say and I want you to imagine your voice going with that ball. As you throw the ball you’ll want your voice to get louder. Got it?” she said.
I nodded. I wasn’t sure if I really understood, but the idea of throwing a playing a game sounded like fun. The game sounded like basketball, a game I’ve always enjoyed watching my dad play.
“Okay. Your first word is suitcase,” she said.
“Suitcase,” I whispered as I threw the ball.
Vicki threw the ball back to me. “Try again,” She said. “Remember, Mr. Loud Mouth. Your voice travels with the ball.”
I took the ball back from her and paused as I remembered Mr. Loud Mouth. “SUIT CASE,” I said.
“Very nice! You got it!” she said.
Being a toddler with profound hearing loss was easy. Nobody asked any questions about my hearing loss or questioned anything that I did or didn’t do. My parents couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding of my hearing loss. My sister paid no mind to it. And my audiologist and speech therapists couldn’t help me enough. I was a toddler without a care in the world. The only thing that made me different from any other toddler in the world was the fact that I couldn’t hear. I was able to live my life in black and white or sometimes sepia. My world was full, but not always beautiful or complete. The older I got the more I realized that living as a deaf girl in a hearing world was a lot like living in a world without color.
If you’ve known me any time in the last 3 years, you’ve probably hear this same old argument from me countless times. I said I wanted to go back to school to get my Master’s in Public Relations. Then I had my heart set on earning a Master’s in English from Rutgers. Some days I wanted to get a third Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. I played around with earning a degree in Marketing, too.
Basically I’ve been completely indecisive. For awhile I actually said I didn’t want to earn my Master’s in Writing. I guess after studying Writing Arts for 2 and a half years, I had a enough of it and didn’t really feel like writing anymore. Sure, I had plenty of ideas. I did, after all write a young adult novel on suicide and depression called Escape, which I still have every intention of publishing (I’ll revise and edit it and work on trying to get it published one of these days…I swear”. And there’s still that insane children’s novel about the kids who eat forbidden cheese on a field trip to the moon and end up turning into cheese and having to live an alternative life on the moon… but it still just wasn’t enough for me to want to go through with grad school for it.
But getting my cochlear implant changed all of that for me. I had stories to tell, but it’s almost like before, the stories were never really my own. I still have a lot of faith in Escape, but it is a very difficult novel to write. I am writing a novel about a childhood friend that killed himself. In that novel, I am looking for answers. I will never have the answers. I can only speculate and wonder what drove one of the most popular guys in school to end his life so tragically. So Escape is based on reality. But it can never be labeled as non-fiction, because no one will ever really know the truth. And as his classmate, I am an outsider. I will never know what really went on during that time. I only know the rumors and speculations.
Escape is a very risky book to write. I have to worry about upsetting the family members of the individual who inspired my book. I have written about him in the past, but very vaguely. I have attempted to interview the family, and ended up cancelling on them because I got the sense that they were so uncomfortable with the interview, that I’d be doing more harm than good with going through with it. Also, while I believe very strongly that the world needs a book like Escape — a novel that speaks the truth about teenagers and how depression is a prevalent issue in today’s teens and how suicide is a huge problem no one wants to talk about — that is just it. Nobody wants to talk or hear about teenagers ending their life. Unfortunately, I believe that this includes book publishers.
Going to grad school with the intent of using “Escape” as a thesis and publishing it afterwards— a very big risk that will cost a lot of money.
As for my cheese story — I love talking about it. It’s very creative and imaginative and wild — but I don’t have any sense of direction. I have a couple variations of a short story — but I don’t know where this is going for a novel and I’m not sure when if ever I will know. I am still in the thinking and brainstorming process with it. Graduate school will move fast. It will also be very expensive. I don’t think I should go into graduate school with a vague idea and no sense of direction regarding my work. It would be better to hold off on that for graduate school.
But now, I do have a story. I have a story that is filled with my own unique voice. I know exactly which directions to take with it because it is my reality. It is my life. I am living my story now. I had to wait to go to grad school because I had to wait for my story to come to me. This — my cochlear —this is it.
My blog has served as a bit of a first draft. I am never short on ideas for what to right. Most of my posts are at least 1,000 words long. I have 39 posts and counting. That right there is an estimated 39,000 words or more. A standard novel is estimated to be approximately 50,000 words or more — with that being said, I’m already well over half way there. There’s no denying I have the material for a story. It’s just a matter of writing it — which through this blog, I already begun doing.
And I know there is definitely an audience for my book. My friends, family, co-workers, and people from my church have all been following my blog. They love it. They say they are fascinated and amazed by the things I write about. But even beyond that, there’s an audience.
There are not many books out there about cochlear implants or hearing loss in general. The few that do exist are either horribly outdated or too technical to understand, or both. There isn’t a lot in the way of inspirational stories that people can connect with. If you are considering getting a cochlear implant, good luck finding a book in your local bookstore written by someone who went through with it and can tell you what it’s REALLY like. You might find one if you’re lucky. Never more than 3.
My book can also fall into many categories — inspirational, Christian,motivational, etc. It’s very uplifting and of course I attribute much of my success with my cochlear to my faith and belief in god. After all, my book is called “God Granted Me Hearing”. You don’t get much more Christian than that.
I want to go to grad school because I believe that that will be the thing that helps me to really bring my book to life. I plan to use my book for most of my assignments and my thesis project. I will spend a great deal of time in grad school working on this book. I know my professors can help point me in the right direction and help me to polish it and get it published, too.
I am extremely familiar with the professors I’ll have as a graduate student in Rowan’s Master in Writing program. I had a majority (if not all) of them as an undergraduate Writing Arts student. I loved my professors and learned very much from them and will be excited to continue learning more from them at the graduate level, especially now that I have a clear grasp of who I am as a writer and what I want to do.
There is just one thing that might be holding me back now — graduate school is very very expensive. It is estimated to cost me a good $24,000. I do not have $24,000.
I filed for FAFSA this weekend. Unfortunately from what I’m told, FAFSA does not give you grants as a form of financial aid as a graduate student like it does if you’re an undergrad. It will merely tell you what kind of loans you are eligible for.
Like most of my peers, I am already deep in debt from undergrad. I currently owe approximately $20,000 to be paid off during a 10-year time period. My debt is nothing compared to most people’s, but it is still not easy to pay off. I have already had to defer payments once and have frequently been late on payments because with my current income, $200+ per month is not always doable.
By going to graduate school, my student loan debt will more than double. It could take me more than 20 years to pay it all off. It makes sense for many of my classmates who are taking on careers such as that of a doctor or lawyer, but when you’re a writer the future is very very very unclear.
My book could become a bestseller.
My book could end up never being published.
You want to think positively, but when there’s $44,000 worth of debt on the table, it becomes difficult. You need to think long and hard about your ROI, and it’s completely up in the air. And that is hard.
I’m 25 years old. Yes, I am young, but at the same time, I am getting older.
I am in rush at all to get married or have children now. But I do want these things. I want these things very badly. Ideally, I’d love to get married in the next 4 or 5 years and have kids in the next 6 years or so. But if I put myself into $44,000 worth of debt — i don’t know that this will be possible.
If it is possible — it’s not fair. My future husband would be marrying into debt. My future children may not be able to have all that they deserve because of debt. That is not fair at all.
Graduate school always sounds like an amazing idea. How could going to school and furthering your education and bettering yourself be a bad thing? But when it comes to debt, it is. It is like you get punished for wanting to be well-educated. It’s not at all right. In my opinion, college and graduate school really should be free. Unfortunately in our country that must be an unpopular opinion, because I don’t see this happening any time soon.
I have an amazing amount of support coming from my boyfriend, my family, friends, everyone around me. I know they would support me wholeheartedly. My boyfriend even said he’d like to help me when he can. While I definitely appreciate this offer, it’s not one I could ever see myself accepting. It’s just way too much.
There is one thing that could help me get to graduate school without it being a major debt sentence — a graduate assistanceship.
Graduate assistanceships are known to pay about half (sometimes even more) of the cost of grad school. They also pay a stipend which can be used however you choose — which in my case would be towards graduate school. This would definitely make graduate school affordable for me.
I will go through with graduate school if I can get an assistanceship. This is the only way I will go through with it. I refuse to allow myself to take on an extra $24,000 of student loan debt.
I contacted my former professor who also serves as the director of the Master in Writing program at Rowan last night asking for some guidance in regards to what to include with my application and asking if he could help point me in the right direction for landing an assistanceship. I will also be sure to keep an eye out for any postings. I cannot apply for them yet because I need to be accepted into the program first. I have not yet applied.
For now I need to work on the application. My application is due in August. I need two letters of recommendation (still toying with who to ask for those), an 8-10 page writing sample (considering submitting my blog — they say that can be acceptable. I asked Professor Block but I’m still waiting for a response), my resume, and an application along with the $65 fee.
More than anything right now though, I need prayers.
I am putting everything in God’s hands now. If it is my will to go to graduate school, I know the Lord will bless me and make it possible. After all, it was the lord’s will that I gain the gift of hearing, and I can hear now, right? Everything in my life is a part of God’s plan, and maybe, lord-willing this is the next step to take in fulfilling his plans for me. Only time will tell what God’s plan for me is.
Image Credits: Digital Sherpa
“Your last blog post had three mistakes in it”, my mom told me after reading my post on What’s It’s Like to Go to Six Flags Great Adventure With a Cochlear Implant, “Don’t you ever proofread your work anymore?”
“Nope.” I replied.
“Obviously. You said ‘I was both very excited and a nervous.’A nervous what? For an English major you sound pretty dumb right now”.
Mom always was brutally honest…
But the thing is, I don’t proof read my blog posts because I have a degree in English and Writing Arts. Now, I can hear my boss and co-workers cringing. Here I am, not only an English and Writing Arts graduate, but a Project Manager for a digital marketing agency openly admitting that I never proofread my own blog posts before hitting the “publish” button.
But, there’s a reason for that.
I mean, if I were to write a blog post for my clients or a post like the ones I used to do for BitRebels.com I’d be sure to proofread and proofread again 10xs over.
But this is different. It’s not for a client and it’s not for Bit Rebels (or any other major news site/blog for that matter). This is my own personal blog. And it’s more than that…
Before you read any further you may want to glance over Anne Lamott’s famous short essay, “Shitty First Drafts” as I plan on referencing it quite a bit here.
You see, to say it simply, this blog is my “Shitty First Draft”.
Back in my college days my creative writing professors used to make us read Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” on the first day of class. It didn’t matter that we already read it in Creative Writing I or Writing Fiction class.They’d make us read it again, always on the first day of class. The reason? Had we not have read this essay, we may never have finished writing anything for class.
As this essay explains, too often writers get wrapped up in their own writing and way too focused on making it perfect. It’s good to proofread your work and take the time to make it good. However, if you focus on that from the get-go, you won’t get very far.
Your first draft of a story or a novel or even a poem isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being well, pardon my French, but to quote Lamott, it’s about being “shitty”.
Your first draft isn’t supposed to make much sense. It’s not supposed to be very good. Hell, I’ll even going on to say it’s supposed to suck. Being perfect and making sense isn’t the important thing now. Getting your thoughts and ideas down is what’s most important.
I got a cochlear implant. It’s been one heck of a journey. I’m hearing and experiencing things I’ve never heard before in my life. You may say I have quite the story to tell.
And yes, that’s it.
I have a story to tell.
I am telling my story.
This blog is capturing my story.
This blog is my “shitty first draft”.
To say in a less obnoxious and/or offensive way, I am using this blog as a way to capture all of my thoughts, emotions, desires, and experiences with my cochlear implant. Once I finish living through the experience a bit more, I plan on turning my blog into a memoir and hopefully one day publishing it. I hope that it can help others who may be considering getting a cochlear implant.I know that if it wasn’t for hearing the stories of others through the online groups I have joined I never would’ve went through with getting my cochlear implant. This is my way of giving back to others the way they have given to me.
Consider this blog my first draft for my novel. Please don’t bug me about how I mispelled or mistyped things. Don’t tell me that things are grammatically incorrect or don’t make sense. I know all of that already. It might not be the greatest thing in the world now, but I’ll go back and edit it all in another draft in time.
For now, just enjoy this raw copy of my first draft of my new novel.
P.S. — i have a name for it already to. It will be called……………….. *DRUMROLL PLEASE*………………..
God Granted Me Hearing.
The reason? It’s simple. After 24 years of not being able to hear well, God did answer my every prayer and Grant Me Hearing.
Also, ironically enough, my first novel that I wrote shortly after graduating high school in 2008 was a fiction novel called “God Grant Me Hearing”. This is like the non-fiction sequel (only it’s not really a sequel since God Grant Me Hearing was a god-awful book and I kind of want to completely scrape the project and pretend it never existed…but that’s another story. ;)).
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.