Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I’ve had a tough week. I’m “stuck between a rock and a hard place”.

If I’ve had a really busy week with a great deal going on, I don’t consider that a tough week.

When I spend a week “butting heads” with two wonderful but “learning to be independent” teenagers who just happen to belong to me, I don’t consider that a tough week.

If I have a week where I rarely seem to see my often over-worked husband, I don’t consider that a tough week.

I didn’t even consider the week that our dishwasher quit washing, our attic ventilation fan… quit (ummm…) venting, and our doggie door quit opening to allow a canine who really needed to GO, a tough week! (Ok, ok! That was a pretty TOUGH week!)

But I just experienced a week where I felt like I really didn’t belong… ANYWHERE. Sometimes it’s really tough to be late-deafened. I hate to complain, and to me the worst thing a person with an acquired disability can do is to whine about their life! I much prefer to look on the “bright side”. I want to be the kind of person who helps others, and who sees the glass as “half full”. Besides, I really believe that you cannot make a difference to other people if you don’t have the right attitude! I desperately want to make a difference!

“Stuck between a rock and a hard place”

In my classes, we often discuss the meaning of English idioms and colloquial expressions. When translating phrases like these, it is best to translate the meaning… not the words. So I’m often digging in and trying to discover what some of the phrases that we use a great deal actually mean. Phrases like “stuck between a rock and a hard place”, require some investigation. One online phrase dictionary explains that it means: “forced to make a choice between two equally undesirable options.”

I feel “stuck between a rock and a hard place”. I don’t “belong” in either population group! My daughter (who is almost 18 years old), told me several years ago that she was really hurt when I would say, “You can’t understand. You’re a hearing person”. She said that it made her feel as if she were another species; that I was somehow claiming we weren’t even the same flesh and blood. She reminded me that I’m her mother and that she’s my daughter. Whatever level of hearing your ears has — doesn’t change that. (Geesh, sometimes kids can be pretty smart!)

Even though she is RIGHT, the fact remains that I am neither a person with normal hearing, nor am I Deaf. I am deaf (with a small “d”) and cannot hear in a conventional way. Yet I am not Deaf (with a capital “D”) which means that I am not culturally Deaf and use sign language as my primary means of communicating.

I’ve had a tough week. (I’m getting redundant, aren’t I?) I have been gently arguing the case of my peers… to an organization in Frederick County who will only provide services and assistance to groups who are culturally Deaf. If you don’t sign, you are “up a creek”, basically. I can’t go into a lot of detail because of the type of folks who “happen across my blog”. Being married to whom I’m married to keeps me from speaking my mind on my very own blog sometimes. I’m ok with those parameters, as it has probably kept me from saying something I shouldn’t! Suffice it to say that it has been made very clear to me this week that I am not “Deaf enough”. I’ve the email exchanges to prove it.

I have discovered that wearing visible reminders of my hearing loss usually helps me. I wear my hair up so that people can see my cochlear implant bling, and bright red/orange hearing aid ear mold. However, if I’m not going to class, church, Bible study, or to school, I have to wear my hair down to cover all of that up. There are a great number of Deaf in Frederick. Most of the time I love it, and have met some wonderful people. Talking with them helps my receptive skills! But most of the time those visible reminders draw some pretty sharp criticisms. I’ve been cussed out (in sign), called names, and been talked about and belittled by Deaf parents to their children. Cochlear implants and the choice to remain in the hearing world is not a very popular thing to do in my area. Certainly I have met some Deaf who treat me like a normal person, and are glad that I even sign. Sometimes, they are only confused and after discovering I sign, ask “What’s wrong with being Deaf? Why did you change that?” After explaining that my cochlear implant allows me to stay in the hearing world in which I was born, that it enables me to communicate the way I was first taught language, and it allows me to interact with my hearing family, they concede it was “right for me”.

The same day I received the final email from this organization that I am trying to “gently persuade”… asking that they help my group of people who are oral with hearing loss, I was shopping in Target. I stopped to look at some clothing, when a mother with a daughter who looked to be about 10 years old, walked around me to a rack of clothing next to where I was standing. I heard the daughter ask, “Mom, why does that lady have a dog with her? She can see!”

I didn’t turn to look right away as the mother immediately replied, “the dog’s vest says it’s a hearing dog. She sure is cute! I wish we could ask to pet her, but the Deaf don’t speak well enough to understand. They don’t like hearing people”. By having a hearing dog it automatically meant that I wasn’t “like them”. I couldn’t be talked too in a normal way. It meant that I was “mean”.

I know I must have stiffened, because Chloe turned to look at me as if to say, “Excuse me? Why are you so tense?” I think because I had just received the kind of email that made me feel like I didn’t belong with the “popular” hearing loss community, I felt like I’d been struck in the face. I realized I don’t belong in the hearing world either. (You can’t hear the wail in my voice right now, but believe me it’s there!) I can’t simply be a person with hearing loss who hears better with a cochlear implant, and lives more independently due to the fact that I pay attention to a dog trained to hear for me.

I know the mother and daughter were very shocked when I turned to scoot by them and calmly said, “Excuse me! ‘Chloe, FOLLOW, please!’ “ If I had looked back I probably would have seen their mouths hanging open.

I came home feeling sorry for myself. I hate that feeling. I don’t like being the kind of person who feels sorry for themselves. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. The Deaf world doesn’t identify with me and seems to feel threatened by my bionics. The hearing world assumes I cannot communicate with them. I was mad. (I’m big enough to admit that)

However, this morning I had an email from a friend in L.A., who relayed something that happened to her over the weekend. It reminded me that I don’t live these ‘frustrations’ alone.

I had another email from a list serve to which I belong called, “HOH-LD News”. It is a mail list/newsletter email that goes about about once a week targeted specifically to hard-of-hearing, late-deafened individuals. Larry Sivertson and his wife are two individuals who are making things happen on the west coast and “beyond”. This list serve is only one of many things they do. They are an encouragement to me.

These kinds of things are an affirmation to me in many ways. I am NOT alone. It is an unfortunate reality that there are over 34 million Americans with hearing loss in the U.S. It is a fortunate reality that there are some who “reach out” in support, education, and advocacy. Without them I would feel alone.

It’s a new week.

Denise Portis
©2007 Hearing Loss Diary

4 thoughts on “Between a Rock and a Hard Place

  1. Hi Denise, I enjoyed reading your Eggo post at the Well Drained Mind so I came over to visit your “real” blog. Wow, this post was a jaw-dropper – I can’t believe that woman told her daughter that deaf people don’t “like” hearing people. I’m sorry that happened to you and I hope this week is better for you!

  2. Hi! I saw your post over at HOH-LD News.

    I am profoundly deaf, but grew up oral and wear bilateral hearing aids. I so understand what you mean about not belonging to the Deaf world , but not belonging to the hearing world either. It is very frustrating and depressing.

    You wouldn’t believe the abuse I’ve received from people because they didn’t know I was deaf and thought I was ignoring them. I’ve started wearing my hair up so that my hearing aids show and that has helped some.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  3. Janet,

    Pardon the pun, but “I Hear ya!” Being late deafened can certainly be misunderstood a great deal! Another assumption that has really hurt my feelings is when people realize that even with my CI I do not hear perfectly. They have said, “But I thought your hearing was FIXED?” Smile.

    I guess that’s why my own “small goal” in life is that I educate just a “few” about what hearing loss really is. If they go out and educate a “few”, and then so on and so on. I’ll feel like my life was worth something!


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