A Hearing Loss & Late Deafened Blog

I Live In A Friendly Neighborhood. . .

In Deafness, Hearing Loss on May 20, 2008 at 8:04 pm

Lately I’ve been enjoying getting ouside now that it’s spring.  I have been walking in my neighborhood and also on my lunch breaks while at work.  I love the way the air smells on a warm day after a good rain.   

What’s bothering me is the comments people make.  I know they’ve said something, but I can’t hear what.  Often they will say something from across the street, or while they’re working in their own yards, so they are too far away for me to see their lips and tongue very well.  I know from experience if I tell them I’m deaf, they will only shout louder.  Which won’t help.  Because I speak, it’s hard for others to grasp the fact that my hearing is really THAT bad.  When I’m in my own neighborhood I don’t even wear my hearing aids while out walking.  They get too sweaty and itchy.  I hate them.

I suppose I could stop, walk over to whoever said something and tell them my life hearing history, but these are people I may never see again.  On my lunch hour I’m pressed for time, and I’m trying to get a good twenty minute walk in.  In my own neighborhood, without my hearing aids, it would be virtually impossible to carry on any kind of conversation with a random person whose voice I’m unfamiliar with, unless I’m close enough to really study their lips.  This would mean stopping what I’m doing, crossing the street or getting up close to a stranger in their own yard.  It’s just not something I want to do.  So I usually smile and go on my way. 

Of course I don’t know what they’ve said and that bothers me.  Maybe it wasn’t friendly, or maybe they’ve asked a question.  So the smile would be inappropriate and I would appear weird or rude. 

I remember years ago when I used to run, I could still hear people from across the street.  It was fun.  I met people that way. 

Sometimes, I miss that easy exchange with neighbors and people on the street.  This is the crux of late-deafness.  Being social once required no effort.  Someone said something and you’d hollar back.  Now I have to stop and explain, “Sorry I’m deaf, what did you say?  Let me come a little closer so I can see your lips. . .” and after that the joke has faded.  I walk away feeling I’ve shared something inappropriately personal with a virtual stranger.  It’s an awkward moment.  The other person was only aiming for a little bit of good-natured banter.  I’ve never figured out how to handle this gracefully. 

  1. Kim,

    What a perfectly beautiful (in its accuracy) summation of what I (and I’m sure others) go through daily.

    For those who can hear easily (and back when we were among them), there’s a social cement that bonds us with others – even strangers – when we’re able to carry on light and easy conversation, which is always the first step of the dance that brings us together as friends, and sometimes maybe even more. And for me, much of the time, it’s gone – and clearly from your post, you feel the same loss I do.

    I’m praying that my first hearing aids (I get them May 30) will at least partly fix this for me, but I can’t hope for too much, I know.

    Thanks for letting those of us who share this with you know – we’re not alone in our grief.

    Paul S (AKA: LifeWrecked)

  2. Kim,
    I avoid the neighbors too for the same reason. I see some of them when I’m on the riding lawnmower, with my aids turned off or taken out altogether. We usually exchange rfiendly waves, but I dread that someone will say something to me. I avoid gardening on one side of the yard when the neighbors are there on the other side of the fence and hedge. I can’t hear what they say, so I don’t give them a chance to say anything.

  3. Oh my gosh, can I relate to this! I’ve never been close to my neighbors for this exact reason. I can’t shout over the fence…I have to actually go up to the person to read their lips. (This means going down two flights of stairs from the decks to the yard and then across the yard.) If I know my neighbors are outside, I usually don’t go outside at all!

    Nobody in the neighborhood knows I’ve gone completely deaf in the past month — they all think I’m still hard of hearing. The only neighbor we usually talk to is one that we see when we’re out walking, and I imagine we’ll let him know the next time we see him (and he’ll pass on the word to everyone else). But like you said — this involves stopping our walk to go up to him and chat. No passing pleasantries here! 🙂

  4. I’m looking forward to getting out and walking in my condo neighborhood this spring and will carry my notepad with me…if another resident speaks to me, I plan to go up to them and introduce myself and that I live nearby.

    Connecting with neighbors is difficult for Deaf people, but it is a necessary beginning to taking one’s place in the community. For Deaf parents, it is vital because this is the community that is raising their children.

  5. Kim,

    Ahhh, I know only too well what you describe… that wanting to be a participant in something so simple. Something that hearing people take for granted. Something that we probably took for granted when our hearing level allowed us to enjoy such casual pleasantries spoken in passing. If anyone figures this one out, please let me in on the solution, as I hate that I appear weird, rude, snobbish, etc. to some, at times.

    I have seen those looks on people’s faces… they have said something that I haven’t heard from afar, causing me to walk toward them to get a repeat, and then once I tell them I had to get closer in order to read their lips, the sometimes pitiable look that follows.

    Then there are those who have a limited comfort distance, and moving closer to them, close enough to read their lips, seems to impede upon their personal space. They back away at your approach. And, as you say, Kim, the moment seems lost and the flavor with which their comment was delivered has faded. An awkward moment for sure.

    And so, as you, I just smile…

  6. Oooh, I avoid neighbors too. A one-on-one conversation with a neighbor is great. Casual conversation from across the street is out of the question. My husband used to always comment on how quiet I got when a bunch of neighbors gathered to chat. Now we think maybe I was just struggling to keep up with what everyone was saying!
    P.S. Paul, Good luck with your first hearing aids. Be sure and let us know how it goes for you!

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