Today I watched Heather Artinian’s Georgetown TEDxGeorgetown Talk, “Not the Hearing or Deaf World”. Heather Artinian was the star of the popular documentary Sound and Fury and its sequel, Sound and Fury: 6 Years Later. As the daughter of two Deaf parents, Heather grew up in Deaf culture and was taught to speak with ASL from an early age. Some of her other family members like her cousin were also deaf, however, they supported and got a cochlear implant (or two, not entirely sure to be honest). While Heather supported Deaf culture and was proud of her cultural heritage, she also had many hearing friends and was eager to be a part of the hearing world. At the mere age of 5, Heather knew that she wanted a cochlear implant.
However, her parents were not fully supportive of her decision. Instead of allowing her to get the cochlear implant, the family moved to Maryland which has many more Deaf individuals than her hometown in New York did. They lived there for about 3 or 4 years until her Mom got very sick and had to go back home to New York. During her time in Maryland Heather grew up in a comfortable Deaf environment where she was taught at a Deaf school and ASL was her primary language.
When Heather returned back to New York ASL was no longer the norm and doing the simplest of things like trying to order food from a restaurant was a difficult and frustrating experience for her and her family. Heather wanted to be able to communicate with her hearing friends and to be a part of their world. This is something I can relate to very much. I feel like in many ways Heather’s story is my story. Anyway, as Heather desired to be a part of their world she once again longed for a cochlear implant and this time her family didn’t fight it on it – they allowed her to get her first cochlear implant when she was 9.
Heather has since went bilateral and she is doing very well. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and currently attending Harvard Law school. In her talk Heather focused on bridging the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds and what I loved is that Heather isn’t concerned in being in either the hearing or the deaf world – she wants to be in the Heather world which is a little bit of each world.
Watching Heather’s Ted Talk honestly made me think about my own life and where I am with always having lived in the hearing world and now wanting to learn ASL. People think it’s weird that I never learned ASL and I never belonged to Deaf culture but I didn’t really know about it since everyone I know is from the hearing world so it makes sense that I would want to be a part of that world. Sometimes I feel almost guilty for not belonging to Deaf culture. I’ve had people in a round about way also say that I’ve turned my back on my own culture or I don’t even know who I am or am supposed to be since I’m so out of tune with Deaf culture. Then there’s another part of me that wonders if I’m doing a disservice by wanting to learn ASL. Is this offensive to the Deaf community? I went my entire life trying to fit in to the hearing world and going bilateral and I think being able to hear now is the greatest thing ever and sometimes it’s mind-boggling to comprehend that some people wouldn’t want to hear even if they have the ability to with cochlear implants…and yet here I am after going bilateral wanting to learn ASL and join in the Deaf world. Is this okay or is this cultural appropriation? Have I’ve been missing out on a big portion of my life by not belonging to this culture that I maybe should have been born into? Has my entire life been a mistake for choosing not to belong to this culture? There’s so many questions I don’t have the answers to and may never have the answers to.
Why do I want to learn ASL and why now? Maybe it is because I wonder if maybe I’m missing out on something. Maybe I do want to join in with Deaf culture or maybe I just don’t know yet but I at least want to see what is there. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to go against or abandon the hearing world I worked so hard to get into. It means that whereas Heather wants to live in the Heather world I want to live in the Kimberly world. I want the best of both worlds. I don’t want it to be hearing world and deaf world – I want it to just be 1 world where everyone can co-exist.
I loved Heather’s Ted Talk. I think she is a very smart girl (she’s studying Law at Harvard after all…) and what she says really makes sense. She doesn’t just reject the hearing world the way some Deaf individuals do (I’m looking at you…Mark Drolsbaugh…) she embraces it. Heather wants to make the best future for herself and she knows that in order to do that she needs to learn to adapt to the world around her and the world around her is primarily hearing. However, Heather didn’t forget where she came from. She was never about abandoning Deaf culture. I do get the impression she prefers the hearing world hence why she chose to live with her grandparents, attend a hearing school, and notably didn’t sign during her presentation, but it will always be a part of her and something she is proud of. Heather successfully balances both world to create one universal world that makes her who she is – Heather Artinian. I think we can learn a lot from her and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.
I was so inspired by Heather that I sent her the following message on LinkedIn:
My name is Kimberly Erskine and I am an adjunct professor and graduate student at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. I was born profoundly deaf but always lived in the hearing world and got by with lipreading until receiving cochlear implants in 2015 and 2016.
For my MA project I am writing a memoir about my cochlear implant experience. I have been doing extensive research on Deaf culture and ASL as well. Some of my research involved watching both of your documentaries. I also just finished watching your Georgetown TedX talk tonight. I just wanted to say you are a huge inspiration for me and I believe many other deaf/Deaf individuals as well. I admire the way you chose for yourself which world to belong to – the Heather world – and how you’re working to build bridges in both the hearing and deaf communities.
I don’t think I ever had a choice but to belong to the hearing world. I was offered to learn ASL at a young age but declined because I didn’t know anyone who was Deaf and learning to adapt to the hearing world made more sense to me. I never knew that Deaf culture was its own thing. Once I got older and began to learn more about it it completely fascinated me though. I am trying to learn more about it and hoping to learn sign language (I am applying to take an ASL class as independent study this Fall) so that I can meet more Deaf people and communicate with them.
I can understand how challenging being in both worlds might be for you at times. Sometimes people look at me weird for never having learned ASL or belonging to Deaf culture. They think that means I don’t know who I really am or they don’t understand my sudden interest in Deaf culture now especially since I can hear with my cochlear implants. Maybe in some ways I’m also still trying to figure it all out. I really loved your Ted Talk though because it was so relateable to me. I saw a lot of myself in you and your presentation.
I honestly really hope Heather responds because I think she is really cool and would like to make friends with her haha. We shall see…
Hey guys! Wow, long time no updates! I apologize for being so quiet lately I have just been so intensely busy! Juggling work full time at Penn Medicine with teaching part time at Rowan University and taking two classes a semester towards earning my MA in Writing for the past year has been no joke! I’ve really been enjoying everything I do though. None of this stuff would have been possible if it weren’t for getting my cochlear implants (or at least not teaching) and it has all been so incredibly rewarding.
School has especially been an interesting experience for me. I am never shy from discussing my cochlear implants with anyone that will (or won’t…as is the case with at least some of my sleepy, bored students…hey I do teach at 8am afterall…) listen from students to classmates, professors, and really anyone in between. One of my students even mentioned that she wants to be an art teacher for the Deaf and learn ASL and hear more about my story.
On the student side of things, well I’m continuing to work towards completing God Granted Me Hearing which will serve as my MA in Writing Master’s project. I have been doing significant research for this project especially on Deaf culture and ASL. There’s definitely a lot to learn and I’m really loving this journey I’ve been on.
But enough about school, the real thing I want to talk about with this post is my hearing appointment I had at Jefferson yesterday morning. This appointment was one of the rare times in my life when I scheduled an appointment kind of “just because”. I mean I guess there was kind of a point to it – I haven’t had a hearing appointment in over a year and haven’t really followed up with anyone as much with my right ear post-activation as I did with my left. I guess it’s because I kind of knew what to do and expect and things have been going well for me. Also, I’m just so busy it’s hard to get around to scheduling appointments like that these days, but with my summer hours allowing me to have off on Fridays I thought it would be a good time to schedule a checkup just to make sure everything is working as it’s supposed to.
I’ll be honest – I was pretty nervous about this appointment. For once though I wasn’t nervous because of my hearing abilities or how I’d test, but I was nervous because I’d be getting a new audiologist. I loved my last two audiologists – Dr. Louisa Yong Yan Liang and Alyssa Lerner (who was an extern when I had her, but I really liked her). Louisa left Jefferson to go to Chicago since her husband is a doctor and took a job there. Alyssa was in a similar situation where her boyfriend finished medical school and matched with a hospital in St. Louis so she left to be with him. This left me without an audiologist.
With all of that being said, I was happy to hear that there was another audiologist I could see, Laura Somers. However, I was still nervous at the prospect of meeting someone knew and gaining a new audiologist.
Fortunately, all of my nerves went away the moment I met Laura and her extern, Shelby Weinstein. They immediately made a great impression on me. They were as sweet as could be. One of the first things that Laura said was “Were you in an article…something about talking on the phone?” referring to the article that I did with The Philadelphia Inquirer. This right away made a great first impression on me because it showed me that she did her homework to familiarize herself with my case and my history. She was very personable and friendly which helped me to relax and made me feel comfortable during the appointment. She had an extern, Shelby Weinstein, who was also very nice. She was more quiet but friendly and seemed eager to learn. Laura took her time with everything she did to make sure to show Shelby what she was doing and Shelby seemed really interested and engaged with it all.
The first thing that Laura did was check my settings and the volume on my right ear. The right ear was the main focus of my appointment since I’ve been doing so well with the left (which makes sense since it was the first ear I had implanted and it’s really common for your first ear to be your dominant or preferred ear since you’re more used to it and it’s also kind of a mental thing – getting your first cochlear implant is such a huge, impactful thing (or at least it was for me) that you don’t forget it. It’s still big and impactful with the second one, but not as much since you have something great already to compare it to whereas with the first one you may be comparing it to nothing.
Laura explained to me that her main goal was to balance my ears out more. She played a series of sounds/pitches and gave me a “loudness chart” where I had to indicate if the noise was too soft, soft, medium, loud but comfortable, or too loud. Most of the pitches fell in the medium or too soft range. Laura turned it up a little bit. At first it was too loud and a bit overwhelming so she had to turn it down a little bit to make it more level. It seems pretty good now but I am still adjusting to it. I notice it the most when I put my processors on for the first time in the morning.
Next Laura and Shelby took me into the hearing test booth and they tested my right ear. First they did the beeps and I scored in the normal – above normal range. This will never cease to amaze me. I still remember when I’d be lucky to have any ranges or pitches listed on the chart. When I was first considering my first cochlear implant I told my surgeon, Dr. Willcox, that I would consider it a success if I could have about 30% of my hearing (at the time I had at the most about 7%) and he said my expectations were way too low – he wasn’t wrong! Now I probably have around 80-90% of my hearing.
Here’s where my hearing was on 6/29/2017 on my right ear…quite a difference!
This test was from January 28, 2016 – a little over a month after having my left ear activated. The red circles at the bottom were for my right ear. This is almost a year before I had it implanted.
Next, Laura tested me for word recognition with my right ear. I was a little bit nervous here because the last time I was tested for this in my right ear was on March 25, 2015 I didn’t do very well – earning on a 68%.
I didn’t do too well on my first word recognition test back on March 25, 2015…
However, I ended up doing just fine. I knew I was doing well – you really can just tell with these things if you’re doing well or not. The more I felt I got them right the more confident I became. In the end I performed even better than I imagined by earning a 90% – quite a big difference from the 68% I earned the last time!
I only got about 3 of them wrong and I wasn’t off by that much on the ones I missed!
For the final test Laura tested me with full sentences and she added in a high level of background noise – the highest level possible – to make it harder. She admitted that a lot of people with normal, natural hearing struggle with some of these. Honestly I think what makes this hard sometimes is how WEIRD the sentences are. One time I got a sentence that was something along the lines of “The monkey is using sign language.” This time I got “A camel is not the most comfortable animal on which to ride” and “Could you speak up a little?” which isn’t a weird sentence on its own, but when you say it in the context of a hearing test it becomes a little awkward and confusing – Laura actually asked me to repeat it probably because she wasn’t sure if I was saying back the sentence or asking her to repeat herself lol. #DeafProblems – right?
I scored an 84% with this test. I thought that I got about a 70 on the sentences last time but I don’t see a record of it (I keep everything) so now I’m thinking this might have been the first time they did full sentences with my right ear? Either way it would be an improvement and I’m quite happy with these results!
126/150 or an 84%? I’ll take it! It sure beats my pre-cochlear implant scores of 0!
My appointment concluded with Laura calling me a “Rock star” and telling me I was good to go until next year when I should come in just for a checkup unless of course something is wrong. She told me to keep her posted on my book and everything else. I was definitely impressed by both Laura and Shelby’s care and I look forward to working with Laura more in the future and I hope that Shelby stays at Jefferson so I can work with her more in the future as well because she seems like she’s going to be really good once she finishes her schooling.
Hey guys! Long time, no talk! I can’t believe I haven’t updated this blog since April! Huge apologies for that — I’ve just been so incredibly busy these past few months – mainly with starting my new jobs! Starting a new job with a cochlear implant can be quite a different experience from back when I started new jobs without the ability to hear. This post will explain why.
First off, a little bit of background information. I left my old job at WebiMax at the end of April. I worked there for about 2 years and 7 or 8 months, so really close to 3 years. When I first started working at WebiMax I did not have my cochlear implants yet, so I relied solely on e-mails and instant messages to communicate. After getting my cochlear implant I saw my roles at WebiMax grow and with my new ability to hear on the phone and to hear audio like in YouTube videos, my usual duties became much easier to perform and I was promoted to Assistant Marketing Manager and later Digital Marketing Manager – SMO. I can’t really discuss why I decided to leave my old job other than to say I knew it was time and I needed a change.
Applying for New Jobs With a Cochlear Implant
I started to apply for a new job quickly after recovering from surgery with my 2nd cochlear implant. I think I got really serious about it in January. When I last counted, I sent out over 100 job applications from January – May. So, my ability to hear combined with my skills and experience didn’t make this process any easier. However, when I did interview for positions, I felt that it always went much smoother and I was a lot less anxious than I was three years prior when I interviewed for jobs before getting my cochlear implant. I think I interviewed with about 3 or 4 companies in person and did 2 or 3 phone interviews (that never went further from that) with different companies. I very rarely had to ask anyone to repeat themselves in these interviews which I think helped me a lot. I think sometimes people would look at me weird for my cochlear implants, but they very rarely asked about them (probably because legally they were afraid they couldn’t). I felt like my phone interviews were clumsy since I still didn’t have strong phone skills yet. I always wanted to try to avoid them, but most people wanted a phone interview before bringing me in, so I just kind of had to deal with it. During my first in-person interview with Penn Medicine, whom I accepted a job offer from (more on that later), I opened up about my cochlear implants to the second interviewer and shared my story and how I was writing a book about it. That’s something I normally didn’t do at interviews, but it felt right since I was interviewing to work with a medical company. The interviewer was very intrigued by my story and this helped me to open up more not just about that experience, but all of my work experiences in general.
The first offer…
I accepted my first job offer in the beginning of April to work as an SEO Marketing Strategist. There was a few strange things about working here. First off, I almost didn’t go to the job interview. Becker’s is located in Pennsauken, an area I wasn’t too familiar with – so we got really lost when my dad drove me there and I was frustrated and running late to the interview. I was still waiting to hear from Penn as well, but the job did sound good. The people were incredibly friendly and I loved their advertisements and the tone they used and the way the company was a family business. I initially had a phone interview with HR which went extremely well and then the in-person interview also went well. However, someone else they interviewed had a bit more experience and they decided to hire her instead of me…
But it didn’t work out with the girl they initially hired, and less than 2 weeks after being told I didn’t get the job, I was contacted again and made an offer which I accepted immediately.
Working for Becker’s was pretty good. The people who work there are all some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. Although my time at Becker’s was short, I was able to do many different things. For the first week or two I watched a lot of training videos on Google Analytics and SEO which were provided to us by a marketing partner. These videos were extremely helpful and I didn’t have to worry at all about whether or not they had caption because I could hear them perfectly with no issues.
One thing I had a hard time getting used to or adjusting to was that they didn’t use instant messaging like WebiMax did…everyone had a phone and they called each other if they needed something. My phone used to give me really bad anxiety. I was always afraid my boss would try to call me and I wouldn’t hear it and he’d think I was ignoring him and I’d get in trouble. Sometimes I’d hear one of my co-workers phones go off and think it was mine and try to answer my phone only to realize it wasn’t ever ringing. I had a hard time deciphering between my phone ringing and my co-worker’s phone ringing. Once I even had a panic attack and emailed my boss saying “Hey I’m not ignoring you if you call me and I don’t answer, I just have trouble hearing it”. He was always very understanding.
My co-worker/office mate and I had cubicles right across from each other with a giant wall in between, so sometimes she’d try to talk to me through the wall even though we couldn’t see each other. This was great because I could hear her with no problem – something I never could’ve done prior to getting a cochlear implant. However, sometimes she’d be talking to someone else or on the phone and I’d mess up and answer her because I thought she was talking to me. I had a hard time knowing who she was talking to or when someone was talking to me. When someone was on the phone near me with a client I would also struggle to focus on my work. I’d hear their whole conversation and focus on that instead. Sometimes I wanted to take my cochlears off so I wouldn’t be distracted, but I was afraid that would make me look rude or that I’d end up missing something important when someone did need to talk to me.
In the short couple of months that I worked at Becker’s I was able to join in many meetings with vendors which was always neat. I loved seeing the new products they had to offer us and the people were usually very nice. I also met with some designers and other partners. Once we even took them out to lunch with us. I never had to ask anyone to repeat themselves and I could always hear everything – even when we talked in the restaurant which was kind of dark.
I was much more relaxed working at Becker’s probably than I was working at any other job I’ve ever had. I didn’t have to focus so hard to hear what people were saying. I could perform my job and hear everything just like everyone else.
I left my job at Becker’s in July. It was a very difficult decision to make, but The job at Penn was more in line with my career goals and interests and paid more, plus it would work better with my school schedule when I went back for my MA and taught in the fall.
Transitioning to Penn Medicine
While it was hard for me to leave my job at Becker’s and a bit of a risk (it was a great job with great people and they had to fill the position ASAP, so if things didn’t work out, there would be no turning back), I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing. SEO was a small part of what I do. The large part of what I do is writing and social media, which I didn’t have the opportunity to do at Becker’s, but it would be my main responsibilities at Penn.
After an offer was made which I gladly accepted after months of working out fine details and waiting, I had a lot of phone calls to make with many different people including my boss, human resources, and the people conducting my background check. Many of these phone calls took place in the car on my way home from working at Becker’s as I finished my final two weeks. Despite the noise of the busy highways and traffic, I never struggled to hear anyone. This was a major accomplishment for me.
Before my first day on the job, I had to attend an all day orientation where there was probably 50 people or more in attendance. I had to do many group activities and ice breaker activities. In the past these would always be really difficult for me to participate in because I’d struggle to hear the person in charge of orientation and all of the people in the group. This was also taken place in a very large conference room where sometimes people speaking would be more than 50 feet away from me, but I could still hear every single word everyone said. It made it so I didn’t feel nervous or anxious at all.
I’ve now been at Penn for slightly more than 2 months and it has been a very fast paced but exciting journey. I know that I definitely made the right decision to leave Becker’s and take on this position. I am so happy where I’m at. I am still afraid of the phone, but it doesn’t matter too much. I’ve only had to use it for Sprinklr trainings and to call in for meetings, but that doesn’t happen too often. We usually just communicate through IM, e-mail, or in person.
I help out a lot with YouTube marketing. I watch the videos and update the titles and descriptions to be more SEO-friendly. I never have to worry about having someone else watch them for me and tell me what they’re about like I used to do when I worked as a social media marketer for WebiMax prior to getting my cochlear implants.
I am confident in my new role and feel really comfortable talking with my boss and my co-workers. I don’t get as anxious as I did at some jobs in the past. Sometimes I felt like my hearing held me back when I worked at WebiMax. Not holding me back career-wise, of course (I was promoted numerous times), but until I got my cochlear implant, I worked for over a year or 2 without being able to hear my co-workers and effectively communicate with them in-person which made me feel like I never knew what was going on and like I never got to know my co-workers too well or befriend them. When I finally did get my cochlear implants, it was like the friendship shipped have sailed – I mean they were people I’ve already know for a long time, just never got to really KNOW and it seemed like it was too late.
I get along really well with my new coworkers. I can be a very serious person and I’m a bit of a workaholic, but I have fun with them sometimes, too. Once in awhile I go out to lunch with one or more of them or go on a run for frozen yogurt or fruit smoothies or just Dunkin Donuts. It’s easier to make friends with them and to talk with them because I don’t have to ask them to repeat themselves a million in one times. I can pretty much always hear them and follow them.
I’ve also been enjoying working in Philly. There’s so many sounds that I am constantly exploring in this busy city. Everyday I’m made more aware of the wonderful gift the Lord has bestowed on me when he granted me my hearing. Commuting to and from work like I do now wouldn’t have been possible before. Every morning I have to buy my patco ticket, septa tokens, and listen to the overhead telling me where I’m at and when I’m at my stop. I order food from food trucks, nearby restaurants, and dunkin and never have any problems (septa being the exception…but my problems aren’t due to my hearing impairment, but that’s another story).
I think having my cochlears has definitely helped to open this door for me and aided in the success I’ve had so far. I’m excited to see where this takes me in the years to come.
What’s Next: Teaching.
Becker’s and now Penn are just the beginning.
Next stop? Teaching. This is so exciting for me. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was about 11 or 12 and worked for a summer camp, but I never thought it was a possibility. How could I possibly teach a class when I wouldn’t be able to hear my students and address their concerns and answer any of their questions? Even after receiving my cochlears, it didn’t seem possible. I couldn’t teach elementary school because that would mean going back to school to get teaching certification which would involve student teaching. Student teaching naturally takes place in the day, so I wouldn’t be able to keep my job and student teach. I couldn’t afford to give up my job. I also couldn’t become a professor and teach college level because I’d need to get an MA for that, something I couldn’t afford.
Or so I thought.
In March, I received an email from the Department of Writing Arts at Rowan about the TEP (Teaching Experience Program) available for select MA in Writing Students. Through this program I’d be able to teach as an adjunct professor (and get paid for it) while working towards my MA in Writing. My dream of becoming a teacher was suddenly a very real reality for me. I truly felt like God was calling me to do this.
Long story short, I applied and was accepted.
I attended orientation for the TEP program a month ago for three days. It felt so good to be back on campus again. I got emotional walking past and listening to some of the sermons going on early in the morning before orientation began because it was the first time ever I could actually really hear them.
Orientation went very well and was so much fun. It was my first time ever being in class and being able to hear both the professor and the students in the class. I felt so much more relaxed and less anxious. I got to know my classmates pretty well already and felt very comfortable and open, something I never felt before in the classroom.
I teach my first class on September 2nd and have classes later that week. I’m both excited and completely terrified to begin this next chapter in my life and to experience life as not just a student, but a graduate level student with bilateral cochlear implants.
Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for a post on what it’s like to be a teacher and a student with cochlear implants!
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.