The group is bantering witticisms back and forth and raucous laughter ensues. I am standing among them, nodding and smiling, and my brain is working hard and at double time. I am trying to string together the words I missed with the words I could hear to form a cohesive sentence. I can do this. But by the time I have put it together (and even laughed) the conversation has swiftly moved on to the next concept or topic. Because of this, I usually will not chime in with a comment; when I do, I have often found that I have entered the dialog with a total non-sequitor. A couple of beats behind, I am out of synch – I have missed the conversation bus. The blank stares, the occasional smirk, the looks between others, or worse, being totally ignored as if invisible tells me so. Because of this, I am now usually a passive participant. Because of this, I am on the outside of many social situations.
Back to the group, who are clearly having a bonding moment of levity. I turn to the person next to me and ask, “What did he just say that was so funny?” That person turns back to me (sometimes they practically have to wrench themselves away from the conversation out of what appears to be a sense of guilty duty) and says, “Never mind, it wasn’t important”. If not that, I will sometimes get “I’ll tell you later”.
Those words. When I hear those words, I feel like I have just been slapped hard in the face, or worse, discarded. I have been reduced. Because that person, who could be a coworker, a friend, a lover, a family member, whether they intended to or not, has just discounted my presence. Those words, to someone who cannot hear well, are hurtful and enraging.
It is my right and my choice to determine what is or what isn’t “important”, and telling me “later” decisively cuts me from the moment and removes me from the opportunity of being on the same page as everyone else. What those words have accomplished is to socially discount me. It has isolated me. Perhaps what was just said was mindless drivel, but it is really up to me to make that discovery. And if it is, so what? Not every single thing in every discourse need be important, or a masterpiece. Sometimes it is the small nothings that allow people to connect. I am disconnected by “Never Mind”.
I realize it can be a pain-in-the-ass for whoever needs to stop and translate. Could it be that it might be inhibiting their own opportunity for socialization to have to pause and make a quick translation of what is going on? If so, how does that feel? Often I don’t need the sentence verbatim. To rephrase or throw in a few key words will usually allow my brain to figure it out and be part of what is happening.
Never mind. It’s not important. I’ll tell you later. To a hearing impaired person, saying those words is comparable to letting a door slam on a person in a wheelchair who is trying to enter a room. It’s like leaving a blind person standing on a curb when you know they are unable to maneuver across busy traffic. It falls far beyond being rude. I have given a lot of thought to this. Perhaps, because those kinds of disabilities are visual – you can see the broken or missing limb, the dark glasses or the cane – there is more of an awareness that seems to induce more of a kindness and reaction in the unaffected person.? Deafness is, for the most part, an invisible disability. It does not seem to generate the same degree of tolerance. Holding the door for the wheelchair, guiding the blind across the street, these simple acts take mere minutes, and to ignore them would be incredibly bad-mannered and uncivilized. But to have to translate, to have to stop yourself amid conversation to cue in a hard-of-hearing person, that takes patience and pausing and repetition – it slows down the flow of your own conversation and socialization, doesn’t it? Is that why people hate to do it? Regardless, it is equally as offensive and unkind.
Just because I don’t hear you does not mean I am not paying attention to the whole picture. Just because I don’t discern everything that is being said doesn’t mean I have not picked up on the joy or anger or excitement or guilt or anxiety or emotional pain radiating from someone’s face, in their movements, their body language, their aura. Sometimes I can see if someone is earnest or dishonest without having to hear any words. Other senses are heightened to compensate for the lost one. Sometimes what I observe is a whole lot more than what is being said.
As my hearing continues to deteriorate, my social world has gotten so much smaller. There are venues where it is just impossible or too exhausting to navigate. Big parties don’t work well anymore. Places with constant, loud music or crowds are no longer fun. I get lost in busy, chaotic scenes. Given this, there have been a handful of people who have graciously, either consciously or unconsciously, shown incredible patience, tenacity and creativity when we are together, and who continue to seek out my friendship, regardless of the extra efforts it might require. They have been willing to work through or overlook the frustration. I thank those who have easily slipped into the habit of rephrasing amid conversation, or those that step forward to make things clear when I am looking a little lost, and those who offer help or give cues before I have to ask for it. I thank those people for their kindness and for being real friends, for it lets me know that our relationship is valued. You know who you are.
Thank you, my friend, for reminding me. I never see you as disabled, I just see you as you. I was at a conference recently with my husband and friends. After the conference they were talking about one of the speakers who was missing an arm. I never even noticed that. I guess I just automatically see a Whole Person?
I remember that the first time you visited we were at the flea market, and you were looking at sharks teeth necklaces for your daughter. I was a bit off to the side. A man was trying to get around you and obviously did not know we were together when he made a nasty remark about how you were blocking his passage. I just said, “my sister is deaf you asshole, what’s your excuse?” and then I went over and stood with you and moved you in a bit.
Please always point out to me when you are being excluded – is the music too distracting? The discussion too fast? I couldn’t bear to hurt you – and I hope I have never discounted you. You count.
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You can ask me to speak louder, repeat myself or whatever, any time you want.
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Is a hearing aid possible? I have the same problem and I finally got one for one ear. It makes a huge difference in participating in conversations, although I still miss stuff in some settings (maybe I should get one for the other ear, ya think?). Sometimes I amuse myself with how earnestly people will be saying something to me and I’m thinking, “you don’t realize that I’m not getting a word of that.” I guess I use humor to diffuse the frustration.
I have two of them and have had them since I was a young mother.
Great post. I struggle with all you mentioned and do find myself withdrawing socially at times.
Thank you! It is so frustrating and difficult to be dismissed in that way….we really all need to find ways to make this point in a tactful but strong way.
If I’m asking someone to repeat what was said, I find it easier to understand if they rephrase rather than using the same words. That way I can sometimes piece together from what I first understood and the new phrasing and make a coherent sentence. Hearing loss is terribly frustrating since it’s an unseen issue. People usually assume I’m rude and ignoring them or not terribly bright. Or just can’t fathom how I couldn’t hear that (so loud or so clear, according to them). Okay, I think I’m done venting for now. Thanks for listening.
I am right there with you!
Oh that burns me up! I get furious when people do that to me! Being told “never mind.” Hurts. It says “You are not even a person and you need to go away you hearing impaired FREAK!” I’ve quit talking to some people because of this.
yes, it sure does hurt.
I love this post – and I love your sister’s comment. I’m so thankful to have made a commitment to learn sign language first and then discover that I was losing my hearing later. It was a big deal to cut down on work hours and eventually be in school full time at the tender age of almost 50. (I’m a year away from taking a certification test for ASL interpreting.) Good interpreters do this all of the time when off duty but still in a party mix like you described so well – they sacrifice staying caught up on various conversation threads to keep others caught up with things – jokes especially I’ve noticed. Thanks for writing this so well – I’m going to share it on my blog, my FB page and my school facebook page for other students to see. Keep up the good work 🙂 ~ Kate
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thank you! It’s great that you learned ASL first. I have taken basic ASL a number of times over the years, but because I am not in social situations where other people know it and use it, it has become the same as if I took any foreign language and never speak it – unused and forgotten. What I have found as a late-deafened adult is that everyone in my social world happen to be hearing people. Sometimes with my children they have used a few visual cues from ASL, but mostly not. Texting on the phone has become my lifesaver on more than one occasion…..
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