My experience with being me:
“You’re too loud!” – I stopped talking.
“You closed the cabinet/door too loudly!” (I also quickly apologize if I think I may have done something loudly or too hard. Not to the Hearing person, but to the door or cabinet. Yeah) – I am painstakingly careful to the point of refusing to participate in family kitchen/party activities.
“My Gosh, I could hear you stomping from the other side of the house! Walk softly!” – I learn to walk toe-heel steps so softly no one knows I am present. (I have scared people when suddenly appearing.)
“You chew too loudly!” – I eat alone more often than not. And when I do eat with others I am wary of making sound so I tend to eat very slowly. (And then they complain I eat too slowly.)
“You breathe too loudly!” – I often find myself gasping for air to avoid annoying others with my breathing.
A lover asks, “Are you into me? You’re too quiet when we’re making love!” – During intimacy I make no sound at all. Lord knows I don’t want to embarrass my lover.
These are my lived experiences just being a kid, and then an adult with being hard of hearing and now Deaf.
I once had a strong, jovial laugh and high energy.
Now, no one knows I am present and they don’t know when I am gone because I will simply disappear when I am told I am too much.
I am not sure if JC Wordsmith is an actual person, but can you feel their TRAUMA? I certainly can.
Lately, I have started to think that I no longer want to be deaf. I have been exposed to so many stories of deaf trauma in the past few weeks that I have begun to wonder if it is all worthwhile. Whether it is adults, children or parents of deaf kids, the deaf experience seems to be one big TRAUMA! Everywhere I look be it at the theatre, on TV, in my work, on Facebook or just in everyday life, there is so much TRAUMA in the deaf experience. Nearly all of it is to do with interacting with a hearing world. It is exhausting.
Last night was no different. I turned on New Amsterdam on Stan. A new episode arrives every Wednesday. Marnie and I watch it religiously. Last night, the psychiatrist was assessing a two year old boy. He had severe behavioural issues. He screamed, he spat, he hit, he threw and was generally a real handful. His parents wanted answers. As it turned out, the boy was deaf. The smart psychiatrist diagnosed him in five minutes as having, “Language Deprivation Syndrome” (It is TV land; they’re allowed )
As it turns out, the parents had been ill advised. Hearing professionals told them if their lad learnt to sign, it would impact on his speech development. They said sign language would prevent him lipreading. They said sign language would narrow down his circle of peers and he wouldn’t be able to function in a hearing world. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
So clever psychiatrist starts gesturing and signing to young deaf lad who immediately smiles and responds, and even copies the psychiatrist signing, verbatim. The parents look on in wonder. To continue their education, the clever psychiatrist takes the young deaf lad and parents to see a deaf doctor operating in the theatre. The young deaf lad is in awe, perhaps seeing hope for himself in the future. The parents are amazed.
There has to be a happy ending, right? It’s TV land after all. The psychiatrist, without a hint of irony and with a big smile, says the young deaf lad needs to go to a deaf school for total language immersion. Only problem is the school is four hours away and the young lad will have to reside there. His parents look horrified for they will be separated from their child! We never got to know what happened. The last scene with the deaf lad is seeing the parents’ horrified faces at the prospect of being separated from their child. Truth be known, a lot of this is what parents of deaf kids experience in real life, even if it was condensed. It is pure TRAUMA, nothing less.
Moving on to Facebook; a friend screams on her status that she hates the NDIS. They have denied her funding for a visual alert system that will notify her of fire or someone at the door no matter where she is in the house. It is colour coded too, so she knows whether it is the door bell or the fire alarm going off. The NDIS say it is too expensive and want her to get an inferior system that relies on batteries and remembering to wear a pager. God forbid if you forget your pager or the batteries go flat and there is a fire. You are literally toast. (Apologies for the visual image.)
They denied her hearing aids too, despite these being recommended by a hearing professional with detailed reports. Too expensive, apparently. She is appealing which means she has to get even more reports with no guarantee that the hearing aids she wants will be approved. The paradox is that the NDIS pays for these reports and the reports, along with the appeals process, probably cost more than the hearing aids themselves, Meanwhile, my friend is made to feel devalued and to jump through hoops. – TRAUMA!
Moving on to theatre; I am attending a Deaf story telling night. There is a deaf woman on stage. She is recounting her upbringing in a hearing family. She talks of her isolation around the dinner table as her family banter rapidly expecting her to lipread them all. Inevitably, she gives up, finishes her dinner quickly and retreats. She talks of having to watch TV on her own because her family don’t like subtitles. Sitting on her own, she would often glance at the rest of the family watching TV together, talking and laughing in the other room. She tells the tale of her family learning Auslan to communicate with her Deaf boyfriend. When she and her boyfriend broke up, they stopped learning because she was oral and could supposedly communicate with them without problems. – TRAUMA!
Back to Facebook. A mother has discovered that cochlear implants apparently can provide data of usage to hearing professionals. Hearing professionals are able to use this data to ascertain how often the device is used. There is a family that, apparently, give their child a break from the cochlear implant because it causes exhaustion and headaches if used all day. Hearing professionals have ascertained when this break happens and have told the parents to ensure the cochlear implant is used throughout the day until bedtime. Cue guilt for the parents and never ending exhaustion of the child who has to use the cochlear implant 24/7. – TRAUMA!
Does it ever end? No wonder deaf people have some of the highest incidences of mental health issues in the world. This constant fight to meet the standards and demands of hearing people is absolutely exhausting and worst of all, TRAUMATIC.
I know the life of deaf people is far more positive than the traumatic stories we see and hear everyday. I know that deaf people are not all a bunch of sad sacks. There are happy stories out there. Like how I met my deaf wife at the front door and I was wearing Humphrey B Bear boxer shorts.
I have a challenge to readers of The Rebuttal. Send me your happy deaf stories and I will compile an article or a series of articles to highlight these positive stories. Email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please! Because, quite frankly, I have had a gutful of all this TRAUMA! It’s exhausting!
“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”
― Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral’s Kiss