Alone “On Purpose”

I recently “re-read” a terrific article by Arlene Romoff, fellow blogger and Hearing Loss Association of America member/leader. She detailed how to navigate the holidays with a hearing loss. (Her article can be viewed here).

I was reminded that these tips work well for most holiday situations, but not ALL. Are you ever invited to holiday gatherings that are not “family” or close friend centered activities? It can be quite difficult to navigate holiday gatherings that you are not in control of – or – that are attended by folks you may not know so well. My husband and I have been attending a terrific church for the past two months and are involved in a small group with similar aged people. A holiday gathering was discussed and planned. Sign-up for the activity began a couple of weeks ago. And you know? For the first time in my life with hearing loss, I explained when asked if I was coming that I’m would not be. I did not feel crushed by the guilt of being so anti-social afterwards!

Perhaps it is because I have learned in recent years that it is OK to be alone “on purpose” on occasion. Now don’t get me wrong! I’m all for relationships, communication, and forging/cementing friendships! I believe in “play time” and in working hard to participate in family and friend activities during the holiday so as to celebrate the season in all its glitter, glory, and historical significance.

I knew from paying attention in this small group at church that “sign up” would begin soon. So I embraced an opportune moment at home with my best friend and husband, Terry, to discuss the issue. I explained that I fully supported his going to “represent us” and that I know from understanding the dynamics and participators in this group… that not all attend with spouse or “significant other” for various reasons. I explained to him that I have chosen to not put myself in extremely unsettling and difficult situations. Sure… sometimes I have no choice. But in this? I did. I explained that the effort was almost debilitating and between fears of being jostled and trying to navigate and hear in an unfamiliar place – in a PARTY no less – well… I was just choosing literally NOT “to go there”. I could see him thinking about my comments and as he is very expressive, I could tell he was thinking back to various activities I had attempted in the past. He was very understanding. He agreed that should things like this come up and he desired to go, he would do so even without me. He knew I’d hound him for details later and appreciate participating vicariously.

It has been a couple of weeks now since that sign-up sheet went around in class. I still don’t feel guilty, but must be so use to that feeling I keep waiting for it to hit me! (GRIN) As it is, I simply think am finally OK with being alone “on purpose”.

Solitary Activities

I love to walk and hike. Thankfully my assistance dog, Chloe, never argues about being a walking buddy so I can depend on her ears and alerts to stay safe while doing something I enjoy. My preference is to walk alone… but I never say “no” to walking with my young adult daughter, Kyersten. However, when walking alone I actually hear better. No one to talk to you see, unless you count a very attentive hound dog. Because of this “lack of people” noise, I’m able to tune into what sounds are going on around me. I’m constantly amazed at what my cochlear implant will pick up – when no one is talking. The sound of crunching leaves, fussing squirrels, the wind blowing the now skeletal branches of the trees around me… autumn is noisy! I can hear traffic sounds both near and far, children on the playground, dogs barking at doors as we traverse the neighborhood, and cats glaring from windows in homes. OK, yeah… that last one was a bit over the top, but I certainly have “holes drilled into my back” by the glares of imperial felines who watch us pass their kingdom’s boundaries!

I love when my house empties out with various family members going to activities, movies, or different shifts at work. I work better in a quiet house. No one interrupts me and I get a lot of work done! When I don’t have work to do, I have learned to not only embrace solitary “down time”, I look forward to it! A hot cup of tea and a good book + turning off my ears “on purpose” = a type of sweet surrender to all that is good in being alone.

I participate in holiday activities and feel close to family and friends. Thanksgiving was at my house (but of course!) and we had company as well… but on my terms. No holiday music, activities were quieter ones, and I heard very well. The experience was not at all stressful. I’m learning, you see…

I DO get to know new people – but usually one-on-one. In large or even small group settings, my focus and concentration are on staying at a place I’m not “lost” in the conversation. That makes it pretty difficult to get to know others! But one-on-one meetings, lunches, or walks allow me to really discover new people. I’m quick to invite and accept the invitations for such outings!

Thankful for… the Internet

Perhaps a bit “off topic”, but as Thanksgiving was this past week, I don’t feel as if I can close this post without mentioning how thankful I am for the Internet. I know people think that you cannot have “real” friends through the Internet. However hearing loss can at times be almost isolating… and not by choice. I have discovered a network of very special friends – all who have hearing loss. I have peeled back layers of “them” to see reveal people who I am proud to call FRIEND. I have met them face-to-face in various locales… usually hearing loss related activities. I never hesitate to participate in groups – even large ones – with my peers. There is no frustration in asking for repeats at these conferences, conventions, and gatherings. I don’t mind folks invading my personal space, for it is always good EAR first. In super noisy environments, paper is always handy and darn if we don’t abbreviate and jot quick notes as good as the younger texting generation! If your batteries go dead, one need simply to remove their implant… scowl at it, and several people nearby will hand you batteries. It isn’t strange to ask hostess or waiters to turn the background music “off”, because no one in the group wants it on anyway. We finish each others sentences and clarify for each other when one voice, timbre, or pitch may not be heard as easily as another. We are comfortable with each other because we live the same kind of life. The Internet allows us to stay in touch “in between times”. For that I am grateful and mindful to acknowledge the power of connecting through this tool – the Internet.

If you are a person with hearing loss and have not yet learned it is fine to be alone “on purpose”, perhaps it is because you have not yet discovered solitary activities that you enjoy. I hope that you will learn to embrace these times. Take up a new activity that is done well as the result of your being alone. I know dynamite photographers, writers, and artists whose skills improved when they learned to embrace their own alone time. What hidden talents and skills have you not yet honed but could do so should you choose to be alone “on purpose”?

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal


One thought on “Alone “On Purpose”

  1. This is a really important topic, Denise, and I’m glad you brought it up. We do need to realize that there are certain situations that are simply not going to be accessible to us right away, and to think seriously about the advantages and disadvantages of participating in them.

    In some situations, it might be possible to advocate for a more accessible event the next time around, to prepare people to communicate with individuals with hearing loss, and/or to suggest other kinds of changes that would be inclusive of several people with hearing loss—-if the situation feels worthy of that kind of effort. For a church which surely has many members with hearing loss and other kinds of disabilities, it would seem particularly desirable for a social gathering to be accessible to all of them. Maybe there could be some creative brainstorming about how to make a party more enjoyable and accessible for participants with hearing loss.

    We with hearing loss do have limited time and energy, however, and need to pick our battles. There is so much in our life that is *not* accessible to people with hearing loss that we cannot work on making all of them accessible. There would be such a toll on us if we tried to do it all, especially since it’s already difficult to try to understand speech in challenging situations. We very much do need to have some downtime to recover, to relax, and to spend time enjoying the people and things that we *can* enjoy.

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