It’s a bit like the work/life balance and it seems apt to think of it in these terms, because for months now I’ve been ‘part-time deaf’ – it beats full-time deafness hands down. You know how people complain that they ‘work all hours God sends’, which is what it seemed like when I was chained to nothingness for many years. I was permanently at work: deciphering lips, reading body language, scanning my environment for clues, filling in the gaps, deducing this, that and t’other, watching for cues all the time. Hearing people appeared to think that I had the skills of acquiring information by osmosis, judging by how often they assumed I knew particular things . . . which of course meant that I had to work even harder to catch up!
And the assumptions hearing people used to make till I got wise in my 20s. “Do it our way”, meaning, “We’re not going to put ourselves out for you.” You know the drill: “sit at the front and lipread”, “wear this loop”, “if we tell everyone to look at you, you’ll be able to follow, won’t you?” And you’d know it wouldn’t work, but they wouldn’t have it and insisted you try it their way, seeing with their own eyes you failing and getting frustrated, before admitting you were right all along (but never any apology for putting you into that situation and wasting your time and energy). There are none so deaf as those who will not hear . . .
And people used to say to me: “You never relax.” Well of course not! “Why don’t you go to the pub?” “Because trying to follow the conversation doesn’t really help me unwind!” Aside from with a few close deaf-friendly friends, I rarely went to the pub, but a few years ago on a course with some signing deaf people we used to go to the pub at the end of the day and had a great time laughing and chatting in BSL. For the first time, the pub was a relaxing place to be. And it came at the right time in my life: always proud of being a good lipreader, I was finding it becoming increasingly a struggle.
And ‘more relaxing’ certainly sums up my life now. My hearing supplements what I miss in my lipreading, and vice versa. The two complement each other, and that’s what I was aiming for in getting my CI: filling in the gaps. Actually, I’ve gone beyond my initial expectations and now do quite well in following conversations with just one ear: getting to the point where I can get some of what’s said by a random invisible stranger in passing or someone chatting two rows behind in the office. It’s just such a relief. Yet the lipreading is such a huge part of me I just didn’t want to lose it, and I’m glad I haven’t (yet!) though I can feel my skill is deteriorating. It’s how a butterfly might feel, I guess: it emerges from the cramped confines of its cocoon and spreads its lovely wings, but there must have been a little part of it that liked being a funny fat little grub. But it is meant to become a butterfly, and the feeling that I have ‘come home’ gets stronger and stronger all the time. I’m now turning into the person I was meant to be, somehow: but all the trials, tribulations and sheer bloody hard work have also turned me into the person I am, and I wouldn’t be without them either.
With one ear, does that make me 50% deaf and 50% hearing? No, it’s not quite like that. I’m only ‘part-time hearing’ and doing the job with half the equipment! At heart I’m a deafie, but a deafie on my terms: I love being able to speak, and being able to sign, and am privileged to be part of two worlds. My CI enables me to participate more fully in the hearing world, so in a way that feeling of belonging to two worlds has grown stronger, but instead of pulling me in two I’m becoming a walking Venn diagram!
Even though I want to grab everything I can physically hear with both grubby little chocolate-smeared paws, it doesn’t make me want to become more ‘hearing’ in the sense of having the values and attitudes of those who take hearing for granted. Seeing things from both sides gives me an advantage: I can hear for myself that the subtitles are not in sync on digital television, I can hear when an announcement is made at the railway station that doesn’t make its way onto the information boards, I can hear when a sign language interpreter is not doing a good voiceover. I have evidence from both my eyes and my ears as to what is wrong – I can see the whole picture. Those reliant on their hearing can’t see what they’re doing wrong, and as I was before, with only my eyes to guide me, I had no idea how bad it really was. Being able to hear has allowed me to see more of what people get away with and it actually makes me madder than ever. So in that sense the ability to hear has made me a more determined deafie, if you get my drift.
One of the things that prompted me to get a CI was partly the fact that I no longer heard in my dreams, but was watching people’s lips, and it made me sad, because it was proof that my aural memory was slipping away fast. I’m not one of those people who can change their dreams, as some people can, but as I started to lipread someone in my dream the other night, I remember saying to myself: “I can hear now, I don’t have to do this any more!” and turned away. For the first time in my unconscious life, I was able to alter my destiny.
And I catch myself doing and saying new things all the time. By coincidence this morning a colleague from another office, whom I’d never met before, happened to get into my carriage on the train and we converged in the vestibule on waiting to alight. Realising from the logo on his jacket he was from our organisation, I offered to walk him to the office. I think he was quite startled at first that I had to ask him to repeat what he was saying just behind me in the chaos of the station, but I didn’t explain. We chatted quite naturally on the walk to the office and in the tunnel under the railway line a child shrieked and the high-frequency echoes boingedboingedboinged off the barrel ceiling. I commented on it and then explained: “I have a cochlear implant.”
That’s it! I’m not deaf or hearing, but I have a cochlear implant! And I’ve taken charge!