Thursday 30 September 2021

DeafGirly: How I feel about being deaf at work

It's been a whole year since I posted a blog on here. Life's been happening. And I guess I am no longer 'deaf in the city and having fun'... I am deaf in the countryside and having fun.

And I am still having fun. But it's a whole other kind of fun. It's an 11-hour working day, being a mum, exploring where we live now kind of fun. And I am here for that.

But it is exhausting. Particularly the work bit. Because in a virtual world, I now do all my communicating over video calls. Which means I am missing the full body language that helps me understand and piece together what people are saying.

And that means, more than ever, that I rely on the subtitles to help me keep up and feel included and part of things that are happening at work.

Microsoft Teams subtitles are not perfect but wow do I need them. They are not perfect in that one of my team mate's names comes up consistently as Bill Gates - and I do not work with Bill Gates. And that they don't translate acronyms very well. Or keep going when people talk over each other. Or decode accents brilliantly.

I feel like I am on the back foot a lot.

Luckily, I work with great people. Those who can see my eyes start to glaze over, read the panic in my face when I am being called on, or just generally know that I don't have a clue what's going on.

But all of that is exhausting. Listening is exhausting at the best of times. But listening from a grid of tiny faces is a whole other level of exhausting. Sometimes, I am convinced I am listening and I get to the end of a big group meeting and have no recollection of anything that happened. Because I am so busy listening, my brain forgets to store the information I am listening to.

When I first started writing this blog, it was because I felt my deafness defined every aspect of my life. And some of the writing helped me come to terms with that. In lockdown and remote working, sometimes I feel again as if deafness defines every aspect of my working life. 

Today, I had to articulate this on a really fascinating team-building exercise I was a part of. And for the first time in a long time I forced myself to really address how my deafness made me feel in the context of remote working.

This is what I wrote:

My deafness affects my ability to contribute. To learn. It dulls the impact that I can have. It excludes me from the conversation. It stops me feeling confident in my place in the world. And I feel sad, tired, lost, left out and isolated.

Do I think that 100% of the time? Absolutely not. But is it fixable? Not really no. 

But those feelings and acknowledging them took me right back to the early days of this blog. To when every day felt like that. To when I couldn't see how I was going to have a viable career.

As I was recovering from lipreading that two-hour team building call and drinking a cup of tea (while eating all the biscuits) I thought about what has changed since those early days of my career. And I think that it is my resilience and how I choose to handle myself.

Nowadays, I acknowledge I feel that way, then find the tools I know I have to help alleviate that feeling. It's not fixable. You can't fix deafness or the way it makes you feel. But you can chat to someone. Ask someone for support. Tell someone how you're feeling. Or just eat an entire limited edition Cadbury Christmas chocolate bar while lying in an exhausted heap on the sofa.

I also (hope) I keep the sadness and anger I sometimes feel about being deaf in a professional context and the anxiety I feel about it impacting my career out of my working relationships.  

I try to find constructive ways to convey this to my colleagues. Let them know when I need help. Or simply someone to tell me what the fresh merry hell is going on.

And I'm proud of that. It's been a journey.

It absolutely isn't easy being deaf. In so many aspects of my life. Don't even get me started on motherhood. But every day I try and work it out and do the best I can do. Because that's what 13 years of writing this blog has taught me I can do.

Happy Thursday peeps. It's almost the weekend. We got this.


Tuesday 29 September 2020

Deaf Girly's return to work

When I went on maternity leave last August, one of the things I never considered was that I'd be returning to work in the middle of a global pandemic. But in May this year, that's just what I did.

Before I went on maternity leave, I had been working both in the office and from home and it was great. I'd have video calls with my colleagues around the world at odd times in my pyjamas and then head into the office to have real-life meetings and conversations. I liked this balance.

My deafness is a tough one when it comes to speech. I can hear the human voice quite well, but the clarity of what is being said is completely missing. It's like I'm living in a world where everyone speaks a different language to me. This means that when I chat to someone, I am completely reliant on lipreading and context guesswork to understand what they are saying.

This. Is. An. Exhausting. Existence.

When I was at school, I was statemented in order to get additional support. Someone from the council came and observed me in my 70-minute lessons and established that I have a hearing ability of just 40 minutes. After 40 minutes of listening, lipreading and guessing, I completely zone out. How did she discover this? Because after 40 minutes, I was fast asleep at my desk.

One time, I actually woke myself up sleep talking in my history A Level lesson.

Anyway, returning to a completely remote working set up challenged me in ways I never anticipated. Before I had perhaps a 60/40 split of calls versus real-world conversations. Now all my conversations take place over a video call. And do you know what? I don't find them easy.

And over the last few months, I've found myself questioning the value of my contributions to my team. The value of what I offer. I've felt like an outsider colleague. And I'd been struggling to put my finger on quite what was going wrong.

But yesterday in a call, I finally realised what it was.

One of my amazing team members is in Portugal. I work very closely with her and yesterday we were working on a really important document and editing it live over a Teams call.

I was doing the editing and was lipreading her over the screen - using the subtitles for support - to ensure that both our thoughts were included in the edit. However, what I realised was that even though I was 'hearing' what she was saying, I was so focused on piecing it all together that my brain forgot to retain it.

I would literally 'hear' whole sentences and two seconds later think, 'What did she say?'

It was madness. But the reality is, this is probably most of my calls right now. I am focusing so hard on hearing that I am completely unable to retain it at the same time. And I am so nervous about saying the wrong thing, that more often than not, I say completely the wrong thing. 

It's cringeworthily, facepalmingly horrific. 

The kind of horrific that leaves me thinking, 'I just need to keep my mute button on and stay in the background'. But those of you who know me will know that mute buttons are really not my usual style.

And this makes me sad.

When I realised what was happening in my call with my colleague and explained it, she was brilliant. She suggested summarising what she was saying in the chat so that I could refer back to it. And it worked. I heard, I understood and then I read the summary back to try and force my brain to retain the information. But it meant that we spent the best part of six hours on a call yesterday, bashing a piece of writing into shape. And I needed to lie in a dark room afterwards.

And this also makes me sad. Because I want to be the very best at my job. And I feel mediocre right now.

One of the things that the COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted for me, is how I am having to rethink all my deaf person life hacks. Before, with my work, I would make sure I had a balance of office and remote working so that I felt included and part of the team. Before the pandemic I had really strong career ambitions, and now I find myself wondering if I will ever realise those.

Before with bars, shops and restaurants, I had ways of getting by that have all vanished behind a sea of facemasks - but that's a whole other story.

I know that I will hack a successful way of working again, but for now, I am stuck in that weird halfway period of sadness and a little bit of tantrumming while I work out what the heck I am going to do.

And do you know what? It was feeling like this twelve years ago in 2008 that inspired me to start this blog in the first place. And I worked it out then and I will work it out now.

Wednesday 6 May 2020

Deaf Girly and the (Covid-19) face masks

There's been a lot in the news and on social media recently addressing the issues around face masks and deaf people being able to lipread. Poorna Bell wrote this piece for the iPaper about how deaf people are being affected by the Coronavirus crisis.

I'll admit, this subject scares me so much, I've not really wanted to talk about it. Or think about it actually.

One of my biggest fears is ending up in hospital and being surrounded by masked people and having no clue what is going on. Especially if I'm in hospital with COVID-19 because I know I also won't have any of the family support I rely on to help me hear in tricky situations.

On the occasions that this thought has infiltrated my brain, I've gone down a rabbit hole not only of future what if's, but also of looking back and thinking about how difficult it would have been giving birth eight months ago if my midwife had been wearing a mask. Those instructions are literally life saving - in my case they were anyway. Had I not been able to lipread my third and final midwife, who had the demeanour of a soccer mom after two litres of strong coffee, I'm not sure my birth experience would have been the same - but that's a whole other blog.

I've seen the amazing suggestions for clear sections on face masks to allow for lipreading and hope that these one day become commonplace. But it doesn't take away from the fact that right now, they are not.

This week, we had a Tesco deliver order. FJM works very long hours and this coupled with a small baby makes supermarket trips in this current climate very very difficult. So when I was lucky enough to get delivery slot, I was thrilled. As I questioned whether I was suitable to claim that slot, I thought 'Yes, I am.'

All the staff in shops right now have masks on. It makes it completely impossible to understand them. Double this with the stress of actually going to the shops, which takes my deafness up a notch to 'no idea what's going on at all' and I'm just not ready for that level of deafness confrontation for the sake of a loaf of bread and some milk.

Indeed, the only time I have ventured out shopping since lockdown began, my card wouldn't work and I couldn't understand the masked shopkeeper. I was close to tears, trying to explain my deafness to him and staring at my bags of vegetables and fruit for FFB's meals. Was this my new reality?

In the end, a lady behind me lifted her mask up and translated for me. The shopkeeper was telling me to take my shopping and come back and pay him another time. When I understood what he was telling me to do, I really did cry. And return a week later, my cash in an envelope so that he could leave it to one side for a time if he wanted to ensure it was safe to open.

So as I was saying, this week, our Tesco delivery came and the lovely driver came bounding up towards the front door chatting away with his trolley of goods - mainly fruit, veg and fish for FFB's meals. I'm trying to get FFB excited about new foods. But right now he's all about the half blueberries and working on his pincer grip.

But I didn't understand a word of what the delivery driver was saying because he had a face mask on. I was so sad because I didn't want to seem rude or disinterested. I wanted him to know how grateful I was for a much-coveted delivery slot. I explained that I was deaf and needed to lipread and he kept talking, which I find people often do - perhaps because they don't want to appear rude by literally shutting up straight away, or perhaps because he didn't quite believe me. I'm not sure...

But it was very winding, solar plexus winding as it hit me...

This is my new reality.

Now, I know in the grand scheme of things, this is really not something anyone else is going to be bothered about. But as I lay awake in bed last night, watching FFB self settle on the monitor, reassured that he didn't need me, I thought back to how hard I've worked to understand the world around me, how long it's taken me to feel comfortable in shops, restaurants, hairdressers, airports and other public places when I can't hear. The little hacks I've created to enable me to get by.

In a post COVID-19 world, that'll all be gone. I'm going to have to create new ways of coping with a masked world, where facial expressions and lip patterns are hidden. It scares me.

A masked world scares me. And right now, there's no way around this.

And it sucks.

However, as it's Deaf Awareness Week this week, I have one request. Do not forget D/deaf people if we live in this new masked world. Keep them in the forefront of your mind as you go through your daily life with your face and lips concealed. And if anyone has any other brilliant inventions to help make it easier for us to navigate the barriers we are facing in what is already a very scary situation, then I am all ears... kinda!

Happy Wednesday peeps!


DeafGirly: How I feel about being deaf at work

It's been a whole year since I posted a blog on here. Life's been happening. And I guess I am no longer 'deaf in the city and ha...