Of late I have begun to understand hearing impairments better. I am more intrigued about it. It’s not the reason why it occurs that intrigues me. It is the way it differs from person to person, from someone who is born with it to someone who has acquired it say once they have completed their education and crossed language/speaking barriers. After the discovery of my hearing impairment in 1998 when I was 31, there followed a brief period of denial, counseling and ultimately acceptance and now I am at a stage when I can even laugh over it. Especially when I mishear things and it comes out all funny.
I seem to dislike using the word ‘deaf’. I don’t know why. Maybe ‘deaf’ , ‘blind’, ‘mute’ sound harsh and blunt ,like a label that refuses to peel off.( I know that is a reality).I seem to prefer using the words hearing impairment maybe because impairment sounds more gentle, less judgmental and less labeled.
I need to give credit for this sudden revival of interest to my new found friend Ruchi who has a 6 year old daughter, Prisha who has been hearing impaired since birth. As a mother it has been an amazing and challenging journey for Ruchi.When one meets Prisha and hears her speak it would be very difficult to determine that she is totally hearing impaired and has successfully crossed her language barriers. She speaks fluently and does not lip read. She can hear even in the dark with the help of her hearing aids. When I see her and since I am hearing impaired, I begin to see a bit of me in her and a bit of her in me. Maybe a bond that links us though we are ages apart. Although there is very little to give away her impairment, there are subtle nuances that make me aware of it. I also realized that here the challenge is for her mother-caregiver as Prisha has never known a world of sound. Instead she has been guided in to that world of sound with the help of her parents, speech therapist along with the indispensable hearing aid.
My hearing loss is so vastly different from hers yet am also hearing impaired. I rely on lip reading which is more or less guess work. I also tend to gesture more. I cannot hear in the dark even with my hearing aids on. I always need to face the person I am speaking with. My hearing loss was however discovered when I was 30 although the process of degeneration must have begun much earlier when I was unaware of it. It’s a progressive hearing loss that is to do with nerves or medically put- a Sensorineural hearing loss...Understanding that this condition came from ‘deafness’ genes took me a long time. A journey of blame and regrets followed which fortunately I have passed through now. I recollect my childhood of sign language and raised voices to communicate to my mother but then I never really understood the ‘difficulty’ in that situation. As a child it came naturally to me and naturally enough to accept my mom the way she was.
From a world of language, music and being able to carry on normal conversations even from a distance, I progressed into a new world where I adapted myself to my dis-ability.I miss, missing out on witty comments, wry humour, jokes and even gossip. There are times I laugh when everyone is laughing. I have to tune in to the group around me and this I notice is becoming more frequent. The struggle to cope with group conversations where sometimes I just tune myself out is really becoming a struggle.
Does it matter? Yes, it does.
Is my communication lesser than before? It is.
Does it leave me feeling sad? It does at times especially when am in a conversational mood and I know phone conversations don’t come easily to me.
I struggle in a movie theatre or while watching a play. Its tough to lip read then and I settle down to tune into body language and doing my usual guess work.I cannot hear an alarm clock or my mobile buzz in case I need to wake up early morning. I have stopped using them and rely on my body clock that doesn’t seem to go wrong as long as I believe in her. I long to hear the words of songs as they play on my CD or on the car FM and have to keep asking my family, ‘Which song is this?’, that’s one part I miss the most because music was always an integral part of my early life.
Are these regrets? Now after 12 years of hearing aids and slowly losing out on sounds, I also value this world of silence. It has honed my other senses remarkably. I am far more intuitive than most. I am also better at reading facial cues and eyes. And I love it because I have a partner who refused to let me become dependant on him to hear and carry on with normal life. Instead he encouraged me to hear, make mistakes and move on. My daughters who in turn empathize with me as well as roll with laughter over it. They can say something perfectly ordinary and I hear it as something so different that it results in peals of laughter all around. It has its merits. At night, I don’t hear the sounds of traffic and I don’t hear the watchman sing aloud to keep himself awake. The watchman by the way sits right below our 1st floor apartment. And I can conveniently miss out what I don’t wish to hear. ‘Selective hearing’ as A puts it.
I love to watch movies with subtitles because it makes my world a lot easier. I am so glad for sms’s and the internet (when I use it) although they by no means replace actual direct conversations. Thank god for technology.
I just wish I do not reach a day when I am unable hear my own voice, the voice of my girls and of A.