I unintentionally missed ‘Blogging Against Disablism’ Day (BADD) 2009 as well as BADD 2008 (May 1). Last year everyone said that BADD 2008 was the best yet, and I couldn’t help thinking, “I drop out, then everybody remarks on the rise in quality!”
You won’t get rid of me that easily, though. I have various ideas rattling around in my head like peas in a drum but never seem to have time to capture them. Also it becomes harder to talk about personal experiences (apart from light, everyday accounts). In any case, I hadn’t forgotten about BADD. My thoughts this year concern anxiety and depression issues amongst the deaf.
I was born deaf (to hearing parents) at a time when children (certainly in the UK) were discouraged from signing. Thus I was brought up orally, wearing hearing aids from around the age of 6. My first hearing aid was a box that clipped to my clothes. If you accidentally caught the wire with your hand, your earpiece would be yanked out of your ear — made you feel awkward.
Of fairly dominant personality as a young child, I tended to be the ringleader in my primary class at deaf school. I wasn’t afraid to voice my thoughts concerning whatever we were discussing or watching, and the rest of the class would say “yes, we agree with Diddums!” It was a sweet class, now that I remember…
At home I regularly challenged my sister (also deaf) even though she was older and stronger. We fought like cat and dog. As time went by, I became quieter and less inclined to argue. I saw that as a positive, more peaceable quality, but took it so far the other way that I began to wonder! I was losing confidence in my own understanding of what was going on, and it’s hard to take a stance and support it when you worry that you missed something important.
Anxiety surfaced quite early, though not enough for panic attacks at school — thankfully, I was free of that particular problem till I was 19. One day, when I was old enough to go shopping without adult supervision, there was a particular album I was after. I went into a store and handed the assistant a note of the record I wanted, and fidgeted while waiting for her to check. They didn’t have the record in stock. I thought I had disguised my nervousness, but at home my friend surprised me by saying to my older sister “she was so flustered!” and waited for laughter. She didn’t get the reaction she hoped for, as my sister said nothing — but I felt bad about being flustered and being caught out in it.
For a while I was convinced the real anxiety started when I was 19, which was when the panic attacks began — but when you look back far enough, you realize the seeds of it were always there.
Take my first day at the local High School… the babble of children in those echoing corridors and gym hall! When my sister introduced me to the deputy head, he asked me a question and I didn’t answer — too transfixed by the seething mass around us. “She’s overwhelmed!” he said.
While still in high school, I remember telling a visitor from the deaf school that I wasn’t happy in groups of people, and she did not seem surprised at all. I was afraid she would tell me to get on with it and not be a silly… but she didn’t. She filled in the blanks for me where I stopped talking, and I went home thinking how maybe she had seen this happen before.
People would advise me, “just ask for a repeat” or “tell people if you didn’t hear,” and I blamed myself for not doing that… but it was hard to interrupt a conversation without being rude, and the conversation would go on and on until someone stopped it to ask me something. ‘Just asking for a repeat’ wasn’t easy either, because sometimes you wouldn’t understand no matter how often it was repeated, and the person doing the repeating would start to go pink with frustration and embarrassment. So you would bow out by pretending that you got it. In the end you didn’t ask for repeats at all unless it was unavoidable… you already knew what would happen, and that you would be asking people to repeat everything all the time.
In the end, being in such a group meant being bored, embarrassed, and thinking a great deal less of myself. It made me feel different because people observing the group would look at you as being the only one not talking and laughing. I would long to be on my own or with a close friend, doing something I wanted to do where I would feel competent and at ease.
The quality of the sounds I heard also seemed to play a part. At university I loathed the dining hall… people shuffled about and scraped their chairs, clattered cutlery, clashed trays and dinner plates; laughed and chattered. It was all too loud; too echoing. I ‘froze’ a few times and was unable to finish my food. Soon my friend began to recognize the signs; I remember her saying, “oh, I know that look! Let’s go.” We worked out the quietest times to eat, which were usually after everybody else had finished.
In my late 20s, waiting outside a cinema in a long queue, I was fine because I was with friends. Then I got tense. The anxiety rose, and rose, and there seemed no reason for it… till a car waiting nearby roared away and left us in peace. That was when I realized it had spent the past five minutes vrooming and revving loudly. It was a busy street and I hadn’t really been paying attention at first, but it seems the noise got to me anyway.
Perhaps the hearing aids have played a part in my anxiety… amplified noise: formless and unhelpful. It seems to me that I’m more relaxed when I don’t wear them at all. Everything’s silent and people float past as though in a dream. Once I was in a long queue in the bank when my batteries quit; I normally hate queues and banks, but this one time I was almost euphoric. If I can’t understand someone, they have to write it down — the pressure to make reasonable (and correct!) sense of what I hear is somehow not so great.
Where Mum is concerned, it’s amazing how much I absorb of what she is trying to say even when I can’t hear her voice at all. Recently I’ve not been wearing my new digital hearing aids because both filters gradually got damp (stopping them from working) and my clinic hasn’t laid in any spare parts at all. They said they didn’t think they would be needed ‘this soon’. The old analogue hearing aids didn’t have these wretched filters… it was easier to dry them out ourselves. These ones will NOT dry out at all, so I have a bit of a bone to pick with modern hearing aid designers! They may be better hearing aids, but they’re also less usable.
Without hearing aids this past while, I have communicated with my family by writing, lip-reading and gesturing. As we are learning the British Sign Language alphabet, I decided to try it out on Mum, signing the name of her fat cat…. MOLLY. She got it right away, and said “Molly”, pointing at the corner of the house where Molly normally hangs out. “Fatso,” she added affectionately (without writing, signing or repeating it), and went upstairs! I didn’t hear her voice but I knew perfectly well what she said.
Sometimes her message eludes me entirely, but other times I know when she’s said something I wasn’t necessarily expecting. That doesn’t make it a perfect or relaxing way to communicate, and I wish that we had been allowed to learn sign language at school. And not just us…. everybody! I still haven’t learned, partly because my growing anxiety and discomfort in group situations has stopped me from attending courses. That is a vicious circle in itself. I have always felt that communication is more important than how we communicate, though I can’t offer myself as a good example. Doubtless it’s because I don’t have that extra resource that I feel it so strongly.
We borrowed two British Sign Language books and a video from the library. One of them is quite an old book from 1988 — British Sign Language: A Beginner’s Guide by Dorothy Miles. It received two reviews on Amazon UK; neither of the reviewers seem impressed. Personally I enjoyed the potted world history of deaf people in education and society. I had a rough idea of some of it, but didn’t know everything described there. It was a shocker, and I found myself growing angry. Perhaps I shouldn’t have, as I haven’t read around a lot on the subject yet, and most people have been doing their best by their own lights, but it hit home anyway. I have been affected by some of the policies described in the book, and not in a positive way.
It brings to mind a Dean Koontz book (Seize the Night). My favourite, laid-back, surf-loving character, Bobby
“… didn’t trust those he called ‘people with a plan’, those who believed they knew how to make a better world, which seemed always to involve telling other people what they should do and how they should think.” [1999 paperback, p192].
In our history and present there have been plenty of people with a plan for the deaf, and it doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with acceptance. It’s no wonder that many of us end up with problems, emotional and otherwise.
Searching the internet for articles connecting deafness and social anxiety, I came across this piece in The Rebuttal: Deaf Phobias. I was pleased because it says much that I’ve been thinking for years, and up till now I haven’t found all that much on the subject. Mum said, “misery loves company” — but I prefer the line that popped up in a film about C.S. Lewis: ‘We read to know that we are not alone.’ I hadn’t thought about it as such… I think of reading as an escape. But it’s true, isn’t it? It’s why I go on the internet and scratch around to see if others are thinking and experiencing the same. There aren’t always answers for our problems; at least, not immediate answers… so it helps simply to know there are others, and that I’m no different from anybody else.