I love the holidays. The crisp, crystal clear mornings, the holiday songs on the radio and in the stores, the anticipation of spending time with family, the chance to wear my kitty hat again . . .
Of course, the holidays usually involve some kind of company and/or family party where lots of people get together, eat food, drink more than they should, and well . . .talk. Large crowds make me nervous, especially when I don’t know everyone else all that well. The thing with large crowds at parties is that they are usually very noisy. And, depending on the location, the lighting usually isn’t very good. This means that lip reading becomes essential, as well as reading body language. Yet, as I’ve mentioned before, lip reading is only 30-50 percent effective. That and it’s really tiring.
When lip reading fails me, which it does on occasion, I have to resort to another tactic. I fake it. Yep, that’s right. I do the tried and true smile-and-nod-even-though-I-have-no-idea-what’s-going-on trick. Generally, it works pretty well because if someone else is laughing or smiling, I probably should, too. Thankfully, this works well. . .most of the time.
Sometimes, though, smiling and nodding backfires. Someone will ask me a question, but I can’t understand them. So, I automatically say, “Yes.” or “I don’t know.” This isn’t a great thing to say if someone asks you your name or something like that or if someone asks you if you’ve ever run over a dog on the highway. Okay, extreme examples, I know, but it’s basically like that. And yes, it is embarrassing when you get that confused look from someone who is trying to figure out why you said, “Yes, I have run over a dog on a highway, and no I don’t know what my name is!”
Other times, no one will attempt to have a conversation with me at all. This usually happens when I go somewhere that has a lot of people I don’t know. I get really shy and uncomfortable, so I stand in the corner holding a drink and wanting to go home. It’s really noisy and I can’t understand anything and no one is attempting to make me feel welcome. I start to feel like I’m suffocating sometimes in such situations, like not knowing what is going on is going to drive me insane.
I am aware that some people don’t know that I am hard of hearing and thus don’t know what to do to help me understand them. So, they talk really fast or they don’t get close enough in a noisy room or they cover their mouths with a napkin or hand or they talk with their mouths’ full. I am having a hard enough time focusing on lipreading, so it doesn’t help when additional barriers to my understanding get in the way.
Sure, I could say something, but I’m always afraid I’m going to come off as rude or condescending. “I’m hard of hearing so you have to accommodate me in the way you talk to me.” Something like that comes across as so snooty and self-righteous. It makes me cringe.
On top of the hardships of being in noisy gatherings where lip reading is my lifeline, I constantly stress out about my social etiquette. I am hyper aware of everything I say and do and how people react to me. I try really hard to be proper and polite and to take cues from the people around me. I think I do an okay job most of the time, but afterwards my mind plays over the evening and scrutinizes everything. “Why did so-and-so look at me like that? Did I laugh too loudly? Did I say the wrong thing? Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that bit about work. Was I too forward? I really hope I didn’t upset my boss by saying that. I hope so-and-so didn’t think I was flirting . . .”
I think being hard of hearing causes people to constantly stare at you and judge you. When you are a child taking speech therapy, people stare and whisper because you sound funny. If you wear hearing aids, you get stared at for that and people ask judgmental, insulting questions. If they don’t say anything to you directly, they make unfair judgments about your actions and your potential to act “normal”. Needless to say, you get used to being judged by everyone.
Constantly being judged your whole life starts to spill into everyday situations, and honestly, you start expecting to be judged for things besides your hearing. I think we try so hard to be like our hearing peers that we hurt ourselves in the process. We are setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment by trying to be like everyone else instead of ourselves. We are trying to force ourselves into masks and costumes that don’t fit because we want so very badly to be accepted, appreciated, respected . . .loved.
I should be okay with who I am. If these people at social gatherings really are my friends, they will forgive a small social misstep and they will be fine with me being myself instead of trying to be like them. As John Mason once said,
You were born an original; don’t die a copy.
Those are words I should really take to heart.