“The Social Challenges of Hearing Loss” as seen in ALDA News

aldacoverMany of you who are members of ALDA (Association of Late Deafened Adults) received the latest ALDA News, Summer, 2013 Volume 29, Issue 3 this week. The Editor, Nancy Kingsley contacted me and asked if I would be interested in submitting something for them along theme of social challenges regarding hearing loss. It was a privilege to be asked to submit an article, and a pleasant surprise to see my story on the front cover.

Have you ever had an embarrassing moment of miscommunication? I have, numerous times. Here is one of my more memorable moments…

The Social Challenges of Hearing Loss

By Joyce Edmiston

You might think that as a child with a hearing loss, I would have grown up being used to social situations where it is difficult to follow what is being said and what is going on. It wasn’t like that for me. In fact, in many ways, I was socially stunted because of my hearing loss.

Much of what goes on is accessed through the ears. Conversations are happening around us everywhere we go, and people learn about social graces by listening to the comments of others. (This is called incidental learning.) We learn how to use words to convey emotions, social norms, acceptable behavior, and small talk. On more than one occasion, people have mentioned that I don’t waste much time getting to the point, and as a result, I sometimes come across as rude. I’m not actually being rude—I just know that by the time I get to the end of small talk, I’ll be worn out from trying to follow the conversation and be so mentally exhausted that I’ll miss important parts.  I’m sure some of you reading this can relate. It’s so much easier just to get to the point, but that’s not the norm. People talk a lot without saying much before arriving at what they actually want to communicate. The small pleasantries of discussing the weather, asking how the family is, and even a simple “how are you” can turn into a huge discussion.

I’ve noticed through the years that as my hearing deteriorates further, it becomes easier for me to talk a lot about nothing just so I won’t have to ask the other person time and again, “I’m sorry?” or “Could you repeat that, please?”  If I do most of the talking, there is less chance that I will answer inappropriately. That is my biggest fear when it comes to socializing, and I spent many years isolating myself because of it. I don’t know the scientific name for this phobia, if there is one. It was never a problem for me until I went to the dinner party that changed that.

I was married to a military police officer in the early 1980s. This was before I got my first hearing aids. (It was actually this man who set me up with the audiologist that prescribed my first ones, courtesy of the U. S. Army, while we were stationed in Europe, but this happened after the story I’m about to tell you.)

That husband—I’ll call him  M.P. for military policeman—received orders to report to Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia. I was 22 at the time. We opted to live off base in a house near Kings Ferry and Ogeechee. The landlord lived on the other side of the watermelon patch behind the rental. He was very friendly, the epitome of Southern hospitality, and invited us to his home for dinner the next day with some of their friends. His wife, he said, made the best barbeque in these parts. Although I was nervous about meeting new people and making new friends, I knew it was important to accept the invitation.

M.P. went through processing the next day.  He had a bad reaction to the typhoid fever vaccination and was sent home early.  He began developing a fever and needed to get into bed. By now, it was late afternoon, and we were expected at Mr. and Mrs. Landlord’s house in just a couple of hours. While I was debating whether I should stay home and be a nurse, M.P. said to just go to the neighbor’s for dinner. It wasn’t like I was driving across town—I would be right next door, and he wanted to be left alone and sleep.

I walked past the watermelon patch up to Mr. and Mrs. Landlord’s home. Mr. Landlord introduced to their adult son and their friends, a young couple. The gentleman was an officer from the base where  M.P. was just processed. I don’t remember much about his girlfriend other than she was lovely and so soft spoken that I didn’t hear her well. I let them carry the conversation and I didn’t say too much.

As the hostess prepared each plate, I began to lose my appetite. The meat was a gray stringy concoction with a watery gray sauce. Not wanting to be rude, I began to think about what I could say so she wouldn’t put as much on my plate as she was giving everyone else. When she looked my direction as she picked up a plate, I requested, “Not too much for me, if you don’t mind. My husband and I had a very late lunch today.”

While I was watching the hostess as she began putting a small portion on my plate, the officer sitting across from me asked, “Where is he at?”

“He’s home in bed,” I replied.

Mrs. Landlord frowned and gave me an odd look. I glanced at her husband, who gave me a very stern look. Then I looked at the officer who had asked me the question. His face was red, and it looked as though he was trying to keep from laughing.

Warning bells went off in my head. Something just wasn’t right. I asked the officer, “You did ask me ‘Where’s he at?,’ didn’t you?”

Still red-faced, he slowly shook his head no. “I asked, ‘What did you have for lunch?’ ”

To say I was greatly embarrassed is an understatement. To this day I don’t remember what the food tasted like, what we talked about, or anything else other than how quickly I left for home with the excuse, “I need to go check on my husband.”

I can laugh about this today, because it really is funny. However, back when I was young, inexperienced, and awkward in social gatherings, this misunderstanding caused me to not go anywhere socially without M.P. I lost many wonderful opportunities by allowing that moment to define my social choices. I missed out on friendships, meeting fascinating new people, and traveling with other military wives when we were stationed in Europe. As a young woman, I didn’t know how to explain my hearing loss or advocate for myself.

This is why I believe it’s so important to have support groups such as ALDA and HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America) and why I love reading stories about other deafened, hard of hearing, and Deaf people. I also think it’s why blogging is on the rise among us. If you haven’t checked out some of these blogs, I encourage you to do so. You’ll learn, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll understand, and you’ll relate. Here are a few blogs I like to visit:

Amy Sargent aka Deaf Girl Amy is a wonderful writer, advocate, and blogger at http://deafgirlamy.com/thriving-deafie-spotlight.html

Be sure to check the trailer for Amy’s book, A Survival Guide for New Deafies, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=qfk0pnt9fDQ

Author Shanna Bartlett Groves, aka Lipreading Mom, blogs at http://lipreadingmom.com

Charlie Swinbourne, a TV screen writer in the UK, publishes an international e-daily, “The Limping Chicken,” at http://limpingchicken.com

If you’re looking for a place that covers a wide variety of issues regarding deafness from bloggers around the world, check out http://www.deafread.com

For the top blogs that cover deafness, go to http://deaf.alltop.com

While you’re at it, stop by my blog at http://xpressivehandz.blogspot.com , where there is something new each week. I also encourage others to guest post. Do you have something on your mind you would like to share? Email me at xpressivehandz@hotmail.com and put “Blog Post” in the subject line.

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