I didn’t realize how isolated and alone I had let myself become. When I moved to Indiana, I knew it would be tough to make friends and develop any sort of social life. Starting over in a new place, knowing only my parents, having a very isolating job in a basement, and with a profound hearing loss was not the best situation. In Colorado, I had tons of friends from before my hearing loss and because of my hearing loss through my association with Phamaly. Going from all that to nothing was terrifying.
The Internet, of course, has been my savior these last 6 years – I met my husband, I got closer to my friends from old online communities, I reconnected with high school friends, I met some locals who use similar software. But outside of my husband, I never felt like I’d met anyone here that I was really close to. I got really comfortable spending evenings alone while Ed worked.
The two of us would often go out with his friends – eventually my friends too, but I still always felt isolated and alone even in groups of people. Conversation moved too fast, by the time I figured out what was being talked about and had something to say, everyone else had moved on. Games were played where I felt I was a burden if I had to ask for special treatment to help me play, so I just didn’t join in. People tried, they asked me questions, I’m pretty sure half the time I didn’t even answer because I didn’t realize they were talking to me. I just accepted that this is the way it is, I have my Internet people – my “imaginary friends” as my ex called them – and that was the way it was always going to be. Once I got over the anxiety about it, of course…as if one is ever really over anxiety.
I dreaded social events. Going to a party? The idea often made me want to just curl up and hide under the blankets. A group lunch at work? Surely I have too much work to be able to go to that, right? I’m an introvert, and shy, so social events are already a stress for me. Add in hearing loss and it’s 10x worse. But I went. I wanted to go and at least try. I wanted to support Ed, or my coworkers, and be there. I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me for sitting at home by myself. So I always went, usually bailed early, but I went. Sometimes even had fun, but the majority of the time it was smile and nod and laugh when others laugh. Pretend I know what’s going on.
Suddenly my world has changed. I’m 180 degrees from the person I was just describing. We went to a wedding over the weekend and I had a great time. I was able to have conversation with people – even seeking out people I had never met before for conversation – without Ed helping me or “interpreting” for me. There was no pretending that I was following what was being said – I actually was following. It was an enlightening time for me. Our friend Kelly and I were talking (we might have finished a bottle of wine by this point) and she mentioned that she had thought I didn’t like her because of the way I acted. Which is so far from the truth because I think she’s awesome…I just couldn’t have conversation with her. It didn’t ever occur to me that people may have thought I was being aloof because of dislike or disdain rather than because I simply didn’t have a clue what was going on. I’m very glad I cleared that up with her. I feel much better and feel like I can really start calling these people MY friends and getting to really know them rather than them being OUR friends/Ed’s friends that I tag along with sometimes. (Additionally at this wedding was the bride’s sister, who also has a hearing loss, but that is a story for another time.)
This week I found myself sick and had to stay home from work, and I’m really disappointed that I missed a big group lunch to say goodbye to a coworker. Like, really disappointed. A situation I would have dreaded in the past, I’m sad about now. Today I was happy to join another group lunch and be able to participate and be engaged in conversation – in real time, not 5 minutes after everyone else had already moved on to another topic.
My nonprofit is having a big event in a couple of weeks where there will be big name donors and a bunch of important people I’ve never met before. Not only am I looking forward to it, I’m excited about it. I can’t wait to talk to people about what a huge difference this organization has made in my life.
I feel like I’m starting over as a new person. I’ve suppressed myself and hid in corners for so long that I’ve got a lot of fire built up in me and I’m ready to go. And I can hear it burning.