“Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people.”
~ Helen Keller
I grew up with the understanding that “deaf” meant you can hear nothing while hard of hearing meant diminished hearing ability – even if you couldn’t understand speech, but could still hear sounds, you were hard of hearing. After going deaf (by my definition) in my right ear, I joined several online deaf communities. I was surprised to learn that a lot of people who consider themselves deaf, still wear hearing aids and can hear some sounds.
There is a huge difference between hearing some sounds and hearing nothing at all. I have journeyed down the road from moderate to severe to profound hearing loss and now reside at total deafness, so I can say I’ve experienced life on both sides of the fence.
It’s hard to describe what being deaf is like. For a hearing person, there really is nothing you can do to experience total deafness. Sure, you can plug your ears, but you can still usually hear some sounds. You could go into a soundproof room, but you’ll still hear the sound of your breathing and your heartbeat or the rustle of fabric as you move. So while you can experience how it feels to be hard of hearing, I don’t think a hearing person can truly understand being deaf.
Since losing all my hearing, there have been moments when I feel almost claustrophobic – like all the walls are closing in on me, an almost suffocating sensation. I feel like I need to escape the silence but I can’t get away. To be fair, my silence isn’t nothingness but instead a massive, constant roar of tinnitus. Maybe being deaf wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have the constant roaring. I find myself either longing for pure silence or any sound that could drown out my roar.
My cochlear implant has been my saving grace. I cannot imagine not having the ability to simply hook up and hear when I want/need to. It has brought back my sanity. Before my right implant, I still had a small amount of hearing in my left ear. Not enough to really help me communicate, but there was still some access to sounds. Now that both ears are “dead”, I only have access to sound through my single cochlear implant. The issues I have been having with my processor these last couple of days have forced me to face the reality that I will always be deaf. I depend on a tiny, miraculous piece of technology to pull me out of the world of silence that I am in. Because of this, I have an even greater desire for a second CI, even if only as something to fall back on. With only one, if/when my processor doesn’t work or if my implant fails, I will be unable to break the silence.
There is a big controversy in the deaf community over CIs, particularly relating to implanting children. They view a CI as the hearing world’s attempt to “fix” those in the deaf community and they see it as a threat to their whole culture and way of life. While I can certainly appreciate that view; for someone like me to be cast into the silent world with no connections to the deaf community, it is extremely hard.
I know limited ASL, but where I live, no one else speaks it. So while it’s wonderful to have that second language, it is utterly useless in my everyday life. Sure, I could encourage my family to learn it, but there is still no deaf community for me to be a part of where I live.
It is not about being broken and in need of fixing, but the ability for me to be a part of my community and enables me to reconnect with the people in my world. My cochlear implant is a lifeline to the world of sound in which I live.