Thursday, 22 September 2016

Deaf Girly and guessing words

One of the reasons I find 'listening' so tiring is that an awful lot of guessing goes into what I think I might be hearing...

I've always had to guess what words are – I remember being in my teens and my amazing audiologist at the time showing me the speech banana in relation to my audiogram and explaining that was why I was so bad at 'hearing' words. I'm missing consonants... and I don't really have any vowel distinction either.

For example, I cannot hear the difference between 'yes' and 'no' when it's said in the dark and I have no visual or lipreading clue to guide me.

I was reminded of how much I guess words the other night when, on arriving back from the gym, I poured FJM a glass of sparkling water before starting to cook dinner.

'Fizzy water is so distressing,' he said as I put the glass down in front of him.

'Well,' I reasoned, 'I know it's not a beer or anything, but I think that's a little dramatic.'

Cue, lots of confused looks from him.

Distressing and refreshing it turns out, sound exactly the same to me. I heard the three sylables, I heard the 'ing' at the end and I guessed the rest.

Granted, I could have guessed better, but it's interesting how my brain fills in the gaps of speech without me asking it to.

I think I honed my skill for guessing words before I knew I was deaf, in the 1980s, when dictation was a thing at school. Those lucky enough to remember this will recall the teacher sat at the front of the class reading a passage from a book and you had to simply write down what she was saying.

At 8 years old, I thought that this was a guessing game. I thought the point of dication, was not a test of spelling and grammar, but of working out what words the teacher might be saying to get the best story. I was terrible at dictation. I think on one occasion I was told sternly that it wasn't a creative writing exercise.

The same goes for French listening. I thought that it was again, a creative exercise of guessing what the people might be saying... once my deafness was discovered and I started having French listening read to me by a teacher, my marks went from 10% to 100%.

But I think that the one amazing thing to come from guessing words and making up stories during dictation is that it gave me an early introduction to writing. It forced me to think about alternative plot lines, use of language and indeed working alone – school was an incredibly lonely experience for me in so many ways as I just didn't know what I was meant to be doing half the time.

The creative side of school embraced that – it allowed me to go off on tangents due to mishearing and in later times – and certainly during my degree, I wasn't penalised for it. Whereas the more structured side – the maths and the sciences – had no room for my deaf interpretation and lack of understanding about what was going on...

I think the time I realised that science was not for me was during my GCSE Biology practical. That year, my hearing took a MEGA nose dive – I didn't have a notetaker at that point and just seemed to 'get by' in lessons. But this 2-day practical revealed that I was doing anything but getting by.

It was an experiment to test the clotting agent in milk... (or something), and going into it, I had no idea what I was meant to be doing. Not because I was stupid or I hadn't been paying attention, but because I quite simply hadn't heard enough to have a clue. And my 15-year-old self (I was very young for the year) didn't know I should speak up.

I spent two days in exam conditions – no talking, no sudden movements – trying to work out how to get milk to clot with no idea why I was doing this. By the second day, I was covered in clotted milk and vaguely hysterical. I was escorted from the practical and failed on it.

The teacher was horrifically unsympathetic. And again, I didn't know how to convey the fact that I didn't have a clue what was going on.

I will NEVER forget how I felt that day, trudging home up the hill to my parents' house covered in rancid milk and wanting to lie down on the pavement and cry.

It's easier now to look back on those days with the hindsight and confidence I have now and think how I could have dealt with that situation differently, but then I remember it really doesn't matter. I will never have to do a Biology practical again. And if they worst I do is guess words wrongly every now and again with amusing results, well, I'm OK with that.

Happy Thursday peeps

DG

Monday, 19 September 2016

Deaf Girly: Hearing in my dreams

Recently, I've been having nightmares. Nightly. Which wake me up at 5am, in a sweat. They're the kind of dreams that make you get up and go and stick the kettle on, staring out the window as you wait for it to boil, willing your brain to stop whirring with whatever hideous thoughts were in it – the thoughts that jarred you awake.

The past few times this has happened, while staring out of the window, I've found myself marvelling about the fact that I am never deaf in my dreams.

I've blogged about this before. I've blogged about the fact that I can hear whispers, shouts, people talking to me without me being able to see their lips. I've blogged about the marvel that in my dreams I am a hearing person, even though really, I have no idea what it's like to be a hearing person.

Sure, I have a memory of what it's like to be less deaf, but it's definitely not the same as being hearing.

In the most recent nightmare I had, involving someone I really really don't like, a phone rang and it was for me. I took the call. I had a phone conversation. I can't remember what it was about, but that doesn't really matter, because when the phone conversation was over, I took the phone and threw it down the stairs before running down after it and smashing it to a pulp.

Maybe I'm not that hearing in my dreams after all...

Monday, 12 September 2016

Deaf Girly hears an echo (echo)

Living in London, I sometimes forget that the general din of the city drowns out other things. I know, when I'm walking down the street that the only thing I am hearing is the chugging of busses. Conversation, laughter and any other general noises, including a cyclist yelling at me to get out of her way – which happened today – are all lost.

Whenever I head back to the countryside, I am always shocked by how quiet it is – I can't hear the things that make a noise in the countryside – namely birds and other animals – so it really is just me and silence.

So yesterday, while away for the weekend in the country imagine my shock when I heard an echo.

It was late, it was dark, one of the cats we were cat-sitting had gone AWOL. We had to head back to London, but I didn't want to leave him outside, when he's never been an outside-at-night cat, has a phobia of heights and cannot jump. He's the most uncatlike cat I've ever met. He wags his tail when you tickle his tummy, he follows you around like a small dog. Forget lean, mean killing machine, his most notable prey to date is a butterfly and that was by accident when he thwacked it with his gigantic fox-like tail.

So I wasn't overly keen at leaving him out overnight until the other cat-sitters arrived.

Standing at the back door, the night dark except for the glow of the moon, I called his name and listened – although what for I'm not sure seeing as I have NEVER heard a cat meow. But instead, I heard my voice echo in the night.

I heard my very first echo.

Amazed, I called the cat's name again and once again, it came bouncing back clear enough for me to make out.

So I said it again, and again, more for the fun of hearing an echo than trying to get the cat back. The neighbours must have thought I was a screw loose.

My deafness really is the oddest thing. Sometimes it floors me with the detail it takes from my life. It takes away the conversations, the television, the podcasts, and quite possibly my career development. It takes away my confidence frequently and happiness sometimes. And it rarely ever gives.

But just sometimes, it says 'Hey DG, how about this?' and gives me something totally unexpected. Like the time I heard my best friend's newborn baby cry while I was snoozing on her sofa and was up and holding the said bawling infant before knowing anything had happened.

Or the time I went to see David Gilmore in concert and the Division Bell that had been inaudible on the MP3 track on my iPhone was suddenly very audible in all its metal glory.

And then last night, I heard an echo. A beautiful, clear echo. It was so amazing, it made me want to cry. Or tell everyone. Or run around letting people know that my deafness had just given me a break.

Do you know, echos remind me of the harmonics I had the brief privilege of hearing on my violin (I reckon I had harmonics for about one year before my hearing took a nose-dive). They're clear, they're ethereal, they're only there if you treat them carefully and listen carefully, and last night I did. In the stillness of the countryside.

In other news: the cat stayed out all night.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Deaf Girly's and the world of work

The fab peeps over on Twitter will know that since I quit my job to write a book and be an au pair, then got a permanent job for one year and then left it again, I've been going it alone in the world of employment. With varying degrees of success.

But this morning as I was walking to one of the offices I am working at, I suddenly realised I should in fact feel incredibly proud of myself.

When I first started out working in London many many moons ago, I used to look at the freelancers who came into our office on a regular basis and wonder how they did it. How they slotted into a different team, got to know different people and different ways of working and didn't panic about it.

I mean, me getting a job in the big bad world was the reason I started this blog. Learning how to be deaf in a professional environment sent my head into a spin, I cried every day - in a cupboard where I did much of my work. I loved that cupboard, it was my safe haven away from the people who could use the phone and be efficient in the world of new millennial media.

In my 20s, I clung to every job like my life depended on it. My food and rent certainly did depend on it. I was terrified of redundancy and so eager to climb the ladder that I think I lost perspective of what made me good at what I do in the first place.

And then in 2013, I had that brainwave to quit my job, rent out my flat, write a book and be an au pair. All of which were varying degrees of successful... But all of which taught me an awful lot about myself and my capabilities as a deaf person.

And then I finished the first of many drafts of the book, got a job while being an au pair (RESPECT TO WORKING MOTHERS HERE BECAUSE THIS WAS A MENTAL TIME IN MY LIFE), then stopped being an au pair, left my job, continued to rent my flat, and had to rent another one...

You still following?

So what does a thirty-something deaf girl with a patchwork CV and an unpublished book with bills to pay do?

I did something I'd never thought I could do... I went freelance.

To be fair, at the start I kept it local. I contacted former colleagues who gave me work and gradually built up my confidence again. But then - because I really did need a bit more money - I sent my CV out to random places to see what happened.

And that had varying degrees of success.

There was the company who contacted me and were really interested having seen my
CV but then on finding out I was deaf, told me I wouldn't be suitable for the job and they needed a hearing person who could communicate well... All without finding out whether I can communicate well and dismissing the fact I have a CV showing 13 years of communicating well. *scowls

Then there was the office who gave me chance but was so frantic I swear I only peed once the whole time I was there...

Shortly after the 'you're too deaf to do this job' rejection, I got an email from another company I'd sent my CV to. They offered me some work – a trial. I accepted. But as the dates drew nearer I found myself getting more and more anxious.

What if my deafness let me down? What if I was required to use the phone and there was no other alternative? Should I have told them in advance about my disability? What if they had a problem with me not telling them about my disability? The worry list went on... and on... and on... I almost talked myself out of doing the work.

On my first day, I went through all the possible disaster scenarios before shooing myself out of the door reminding myself that the need to earn money was greater than my anxieties about being deaf.

On arrival, I discovered my lovely manager had a Scottish accent, which meant revealing my deafness in the first second of our meeting. And he didn't bat an eyelid. Not even a tiny flinch. He just accepted the information. I passed my trial.

And since then, in the three months that I have worked at this office, my manager has continued to accept the information I give him about my deafness. He's made phone calls for me, repeated things without any issue, reminded me of people's names and he always, always comes over to speak to me rather than shouting.

It's amazing.

I am lucky. I know I am. Not all offices are like this. But I think quite a few are. And now, when I realise that freelancing is going OK, and I'm not falling apart in a deaf-related anxious heap, I can't help but beam to myself.

It's made me realise that some of the things I've avoided in the past because of my deafness are do-able... and it's made me wonder what else is...

I'm just off to make a list!

Happy Tuesday peeps

DG
xx

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