Another Look at Isolation

Hearing Elmo welcomes Melissa Sisco, from Alabama to our list of talented writers who have learned to “write from the heart”. Melissa is the mother of two young daughters. She was first diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease in 2007, and also has asthma/allergies, a heart condition, weak bones, endometriosis, and diabetes Type II. Melissa admitted that “Meniere’s Disease has been the single most challenging medical diagnosis I have experienced in my 32 years”.

I’m not really sure why I’m attempting to do this.  I’m not much of a writer; at least I haven’t been for a very long time. But writing is one thing that, luckily, I can still do.  I really connected to the last piece that Denise wrote because I am right there, right now. Alone and isolated.  I don’t go out much at all, especially by myself.

In brief summary, my name is Melissa, I am a late-deafened adult, 32 year old female, married for 9 years (to an amazingly understanding husband), mother of 2 beautiful girls, ages 3 and 5. I was first diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease in my left ear when my oldest was 4 months old. I woke up one morning and could not hear anything out of my left ear and I was so dizzy I couldn’t even sit up straight in bed. About two years ago I joined the ranks of the Bilateral, but am lucky to only have moderate hearing loss in my right ear.  I wear an obscenely expensive digital hearing aid in my left ear (sometimes) and I need one in my right ear, but just can’t afford it right now.  I am not Deaf enough to qualify to be a member of the Deaf community where I live, and I am apparently “wrong” for choosing a hearing aid. But I can’t hear enough to qualify for the Hearing World anymore either.  I feel lost in limbo. I simply belong nowhere.

Why It Can be Difficult

I used to enjoy simple things like shopping, (especially shoe shopping) but now I avoid shopping trips as they make me nervous and, frankly the last time I did go out, (to my favorite shoe store) I literally knocked over a little old lady who was standing directly behind me.  I didn’t know she was there, couldn’t hear her or sense her at all.  I backed up from a store display to get a better view and plowed that precious little woman straight into a mannequin.  I was so embarrassed, I apologized profusely as other patrons helped her up and glared at me like I was the devil incarnate.  I left the store and haven’t gone back since.

At work I hide in my cubby hole of an office (it’s actually the records closet and my office).  Once upon a time, I was a 911 dispatcher, and I was really good at it. I did that for nearly 8 years, before my hearing loss reached the point where I can no longer do that job safely.  I was lucky to not have been let go, and I am now relegated to some sort of mish/mash office manager and dispatch supervisor. I know I am unbelievably blessed just to have a job, but I avoid even my coworkers now because most of the time I have no idea what they are saying, so I just nod my head and try to wear my neutral “yes I understand” expression, which is a big fat lie.  I have a strong aversion to my work desk phone.  It’s set as loudly as possible, yet I still have to ask people to repeat.  (My employer is working on getting me a CapTel phone, but our system is slow as molasses). Sometimes, when I see a number from someone I know I have a particularly hard time understanding (ahem –soft spoken females like me), I just let it ring to voicemail. I have found I also do this at home, and on my cell phone.  Although to be fair, half the time I really can’t hear them ring, or –at home anyway- I hear it but can’t find where the “ring” is coming from.  (Usually I’m hoping it’s a real sound and not just a figment of my broken cochlear nerve as I frantically search room to room looking for my telltale “flashing strobe light” phone.)

Recently a group of female friends (ok coworkers and coworker’s wives – I don’t really have a lot of friends anymore) went out to dinner and a movie and actually invited me to go along.  I really wanted to go, I wanted to be with other people and I really wanted to see that movie!  But I remembered that previously, I had a difficult time asking for, receiving, and setting up the captioning device at that particular theater and I’m not going to pay $15.00 to see a movie I can’t “hear/read.” Keep in mind if you are new to the whole captioning thing, you can ask for it, but that doesn’t mean the minimum wage paid teenage employee has any idea what you’re talking about. I dreaded the embarrassment of going through the captioning device thing again, especially in front of others. Also the chosen restaurant was a loud, noisy Mexican joint with great food and a fun ambience, but a terrible place for even the highest quality hearing aid to make a difference. So I lied and said I had no one to watch my kids. Can you say Avoidance?

I rarely get invited anywhere nowadays and subsequently lost a number of “friendships” because of having to cancel last minute because of my lovely vertigo spells. Apparently, “Sorry I’m too busy hanging on to the floor for dear life and vomiting to go out tonight,” has a limit on the number of times it can be used as a forgivable excuse.

Trying to Find the Positive

There are good things about losing your hearing, really there are. If it’s really noisy and I’m trying to sleep (like my neighbor and his oh so noisy garage band at 10 pm, or the neighborhood dogs howling for no reason at all) I can sleep on my good ear so I can’t hear anything.  If I have a migraine the hearing loss is actually a relief.  I can sometimes pretend I didn’t hear something if it’s something I don’t want to talk about.  (I think my husband has figured that last one out, drat.)  When my daughter(s) start whining/throwing tantrums I can literally turn my deaf ear to it.  Although they have also figured that out too.  I really try to appreciate the few sounds I can still hear, now more than ever. I try to imprint these sounds upon my memory so that I never forget – the giggling laughter of my little girls, my husband whispering “I love you” in my good ear, the melody of morning songbirds, and the relaxing sound of ocean waves.

I can actually swim in real life, (well I could swim once anyway), but as for living the new life of a Deaf/ Hard of Hearing person I am barely hanging on to my flotation device.  Denise always manages to end her musings on a positive note, so I will try my best.

I hate feeling sorry for myself.  I hate being depressed.  I hate hating everything. I can’t stand people who constantly whine and throw pity parties for themselves. I certainly don’t want to BE one of them. I’ve always been of the mindset that if you fall, you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and keep going.

I know that I am lucky not to be dying from some terminal disease, I am just going deaf and I’m dizzy most of the time.  I know, rationally, that I just have to learn to adjust to my “new” normal. I just don’t happen to be particularly impressed with what my new normal is, or what it may be in the future.  So I’m angry sometimes.  Well, really more like awfully T’d off. And I am actually annoying myself with the unnecessary amount of negative energy that I am producing.

I try to remember that the good Lord doesn’t give us more than we can handle. But God apparently thinks I have the strength of Hercules or something, but I disagree.  Grrrr.  I get so mad at myself, at what is happening to me, and I’m mad at being mad.  I don’t like mad people!

I suddenly have a great amount of sympathy for that poor dog that continues to chase his own tail in circles.

I might be barely hanging on, and I can’t hear the people who may be shouting at me –trying to help me, but I’m not giving up either.  I’m pretty good at the doggie paddle, so I will keep on paddling, I just don’t really know where I will end up. I try to keep a sense of humor about all this when I can, although, sometimes others (fully hearing or truly Deaf) kind of miss the point.

I truly believe that where there is humor there is laughter and laughter spreads joy.  And one can still laugh even if you can’t hear yourself do so.

One of my favorite quotes is by Gustave Flaubert –

– “One can be the master of what one does, but never of what one feels.”

At this point in my journey, I know my future is up to me and my actions will determine what is next, but I just feel lost at sea- drifting somewhere, and I don’t even have any oars, or a decent GPS system to help me navigate.

Salud and good luck on wherever you are on your personal journey.


© 2012 Hearing Elmo

Decisions, Decisions…

For a totally unrelated reason, I was reminded this week that my husband cannot swim. I hate it when a discussion brings up old nightmares about the topic too! Goes to show how much our subconscious is at work… especially when sleeping. Anyway, this conversation about the fact that my husband cannot swim had me dreaming about one of the most terrifying events that led up to my banning him from going into the ocean.

The year was 2001, and my family and I were in Siesta Key, Florida. Terry was taking some classes to finish up his doctorate. Always nice when degree completion requires on-site classes in Sarasota, and you can time it where the whole family can be dragged down with you! Terry wasn’t getting much rest and relaxation. Going to class all day and putting the finishing touches on his dissertation were exhausting. At night he was glad to just catch whatever sunshine was left in the day and rest on the beach while I corralled the kids into a distance I could easily manage their activities.

I’m not sure what prompted a non-swimmer without a life vest to decide to get on an inner tube, launch one’s self into the ocean, and drift off to sleep. He swears up and down he had no idea he’d drift out to sea. After all, when he got past the breakers and could just snooze, the ocean was calm and serene. I’m the one with hearing loss (a fact I’ve made plain on this blog). But exhaustion and FREAKIN’ DISTANCE FROM SHORE will dissipate sound waves and keep someone from hearing shouted warnings; even from hearing ear-drum piercing screamed warnings. That’s right. Picture me on shore with kids, jumping up and down, screaming warnings that a riptide had caught him and he was oblivious to the danger. I remember thinking, “he has the room key around his wrist so I can’t even get into our condo and have one of the kids call my parents to let them know Terry drowned”. Morbid, yes? But I knew Terry could not swim AT ALL. The man cannot even dog paddle (something Chloe has told me since that she’s a little embarrassed about actually).

We may not have been able to attract Terry’s attention, but we did other folk’s. Soon a small crowd of people were whistling and hollering for “Terry!” A man, likely a native, stopped close to me and said something. I could hear the rumble and pitch of his voice. I stopped screaming long enough to sputter, “I have a hearing loss and have to see your face to hear”. So he touched my shoulder to get my attention and said, “He can’t swim? Want me to go after him?” I looked out at my still sleeping husband and agreed immediately. “YES PLEASE!!!!” (At least I’m polite...)

So the man went after my husband. He must have been shouting as he swam, because when he got closer to Terry, I could barely make out that Terry finally woke up. I saw a flail of hands, legs, and arms and prayed he’d hold on to that inner tube! The rescuer had started further up the beach to Terry and I think the tide and his strokes eventually got him safely to Terry’s side. He must have given him instructions to kick, which he did as well along with some steering, and eventually ended up on shore about a mile from where we all started. The small crowd of people had followed the kids and I down the beach. Some kind soul had picked up our things and carried them with us, knowing I wasn’t cognizant enough to even do that.

Drifting Off

A very popular topic for writers who discuss acquired disabilities and chronic illness, is social isolation. Isolation does not happen all at once. It is a gradual process; a series of small decisions and choices that eventually yield a self-perpetuated aloneness. We become “deaf” to the shouted (and well-meaning) warnings of people around us. Can we be rescued? Will we even allow a “strong swimmer” to intervene?

For people with hearing loss, isolation is almost a part of the process of learning to live with it. I know few people who are late-deafened that did not have at least a short period of self-imposed isolation. Why? Well experts have said of the late-deafened, “They no longer felt they belonged in the hearing world, and neither did they belong in the prelingually deaf world. Onset of deafness had left them in a twilight zone between worlds and had robbed them of their identity” (Barlow, Turner, Hammond, & Gailey, 2007, p. 442). Other acquired disabilities can produce the same isolation, however.

Physical difficulties can prevent people with a mobility impairment from creating social networks. Even the weather can keep some folks with mobility issues away from others. If you have a power wheelchair or scooter, you do not want to go out in the pouring rain or blistering heat. Despite the intentions of the ADA, not all places where friends get together are accessible. Whether you are born with some limitations, or acquired them later in life, disabilities or chronic illness may result in feelings of loneliness and isolation, and a lack of access to support information (Matt & Butterfield, 2006).

Not As It Seems

Not all decisions to RSVP to invitations with a “No, thank you” are because of isolation, however. Friends and relatives need to understand and trust that sometimes? Those “no’s” are not a pity party nor decision to pull back. I don’t go to pool parties. I have technology that cannot get wet and a husband who cannot be in the heat because of having one kidney. (And have you picked up yet that THE MAN CAN’T SWIM?) Sometimes there are very legitimate reasons for declining an invitation. A person may not be able to do evening gatherings because they have legitimate needs for an early night. Folks with disabilities and chronic illnesses often require more sleep than the average adult. It is not always possible to nap the afternoon before in order to go to some evening “shin dig”. Some people have to offer late apologies to activities they had planned to go to… but they have a “flare” when it comes time to prepare for an outing of fun and fellowship. The weather gets the final say for some of us. I can agree to go to a “Girl’s Night Out” a week in advance, only to have a weather system move in to where I can barely move in an upright position.


I have also fudged about going to things I really could have had I really wanted to attend. Sometimes we say “no” because that is



We have to learn to police ourselves and ask ourselves some legitimate questions when our first impulse is to decline an invitation.

Social Networks

Nothing gets on this female’s nerves more than when I hear someone ‘pooh-pooh’ social networks like FaceBook, My Space, Blog networks, online support groups, and message boards and forums. I have heard holier-than-thou folks spout that these avenues “aren’t real people” and therefore are not “real relationships”. Drs. Patricia Obst and Jana Stafurik refute this much better than I can. “Online we are all able-bodied“. Online there is a “psychological sense of community and social support found through membership of disability-specific websites” (Obst & Stafurik, 2010, p. 525). These researchers looked at 160 different individuals who had various disabilities or chronic illnesses. “Results indicated that users did receive moral support and personal advice through participating in such online communities. Further, results indicated that online social support and feeling a sense of community online were positively associated with participants’ well-being in the areas of personal relations and personal growth” (Obst & Stafurik, 2010, p. 526).

I am always thrilled to have guest writers here on Hearing Elmo. (Interested? Email me at This forum has provided information and support to individuals “living it” and to family members and friends for information. I have been invited to write in other forums and welcome the opportunity. Ever heard the phrase, “dissemination of information”? The Internet makes us equal. It provides an easy, inexpensive way to find support, learn, advocate, and connect.

It can also serve as an avenue in which a warning comes through loud and clear… even to those of us who are late-deafened.

Are you avoiding outside activities?

Are the reasons you are doing so legitimate?

Are you connecting with others?

Are our decisions prompted by necessity or the result of anxiety, depression, and an attitude of giving up? These are important questions to ask ourselves. Please don’t find yourself adrift on an ocean with the shore out of reach. Ask for help. Discover a hero swimmer on their way to rescue you.

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Barlow, J., Turner, A., Hammond, C., & Gailey, L. (2007). Living with late deafness: insight from between worlds. International Journal Of Audiology, 46(8), 442-448.

Matt, S. B., & Butterfield, P. (2006). Changing the disability climate: Promoting tolerance in the workplace. American Association of Occupational Health Nurse, 54, 129–134.

Obst, P., & Stafurik, J. (2010). Online we are all able bodied: Online psychological sense of community and social support found through membership of disability-specific websites promotes well-being for people living with a physical disability. Journal Of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 20(6), 525-531. doi:10.1002/casp.1067