By Chelle Wyatt
Finding your people.
Hearing loss can be lonely. The world feels against you, sometimes your family too. It’s a deep, dark pit of quiet (and tinnitus). If you’re lucky, you wander across a support group like the SayWhatClub and start to feel a little less like a freak. You begin feeling at home with a bunch of new friends, making meaningful connections.
After another big hearing drop in 2009, I re-joined the SayWhatClub. Six months after being on the list, someone asked me to volunteer. I hadn’t thought about it, but why not? It wasn’t like I had anything else going on. I had just quit doing hair after 20 something years because I was deaf in noise. My self-confidence was at an all time low. I was cleaning a few houses (not much hearing involved with cleaning), and I had nowhere else to go so yes, why not give of my time.
Point 1: Volunteering opens up other worlds, the 2nd phase of leaving isolation behind.
I became a list representative for a SWC email list. I was introduced to another part of the organization, meeting more who were hard of hearing and gaining new friends. Friends were important because I’d already lost a few because of my hearing loss (I couldn’t “chat” endlessly on the phone anymore). I appreciated my fellow volunteers just as much as I did the others on my email list and over time, one of those volunteers became a very good, dear friend. SWC became my safe place for communication, it’s a written world with no hearing involved.
Point 2: It kept me busy and stopped my negative thinking cycle.
Being a list rep gave me back some of the responsibility I had been missing. I popped into email often to make sure the list was moving along smoothly. I welcomed new people to the list, trying to make sure their questions were answered hoping to pass on the same sense of home I felt. Occasionally I helped settle differences of opinion, in the spirit of teamwork. It kept me busy and kept my mind off my own troubles.
When the SayWhatClub held a convention in town, I volunteered for that too. I enjoyed being a part of building the con and putting faces to names, gathering more friends in the hearing loss world.
Point 3: Volunteering for SWC gave my own hearing loss a sense of purpose.
Over time, my hearing loss became less of a burden and started to feel like experience to share; on the email list, in the List Rep committee, conventions and writing on the SWC blog. I became a professional full time volunteer, I joked, as I became the List Rep chair. I was reaching out more into the hearing loss world for convention purposes, meeting more people. My self-confidence built back up. I was far from isolated and my hearing loss was asset in this world.
Point 4: Learn new skills while volunteering.
While stepping into my roles, other volunteers with experience supported me along the way. I wasn’t sure about being List Rep chair but the former chair was on hand to answer questions and offer advice when needed. The same with the convention committee, I knew nothing coming in but had the will to learn. I learned to reach out further into the hearing loss world, looking for guest speakers and sponsors. It was all valuable experience and I learned to be a leader again.
Point 5: It looks good on the resume.
A local part-time job opened at the state Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center as a Hard of Hearing Assistant. The job required teaching classes and giving presentations on hearing loss. I almost didn’t apply for a few reasons. I thrived in the online world. Also, I was still trying to find my way back into doing hair, clinging to my old life, should I give up on that? What the heck I decided, maybe I could do both hair and hearing loss part time so I applied.
Which required writing a resume, the first in a long, long time. Adding information to the resume made me realize I had more experience than I thought, thanks to SWC. I learned I could organize events. During the two years I was off from doing hair, I built new skills and worked well with others. Because I hadn’t been idle, I got the job. I worked part time for 5 years, and in January 2018, it became a full time position.
The hearing loss world gave me a place to belong. I found my tribe, across the United States and right here in Utah. I never would have pictured myself ‘here’ nine years ago when I was struggling after another big drop in hearing. And ‘here I am in a whole new life! I have let go of doing hair almost entirely. Now I embrace the hearing loss community. This is where I belong, and SWC helped me get there.
I encourage others to volunteer, especially if you’re in that pit of isolation. The SayWhatClub emphasizes the benefits of volunteering in its Mission Statement. We understand that helping others reduces feelings of isolation, frustration and despair, while enhancing feelings of self-concept and optimism. Open yourself up, and see where it leads. Other SWC volunteers will support you in learning new skills. What do you want to learn? Where might you go? There’s lots of opportunity in SWC.
Some areas SWC needs volunteer help
- The SWC website committee needs people to keep the webpage current by checking links and editing pages.
- Help the Hospitality Committee welcome new people into SWC who inquire on the website.
- The List Representative Committee could use help on the Facebook groups, and if you’re on an email list already, inquire if they might need help. Two of the lists are looking for new List Representatives.
- The Social Media Committee is looking for people to help with the main SWC Facebook page, making memes for SWC, writing on the blog, and would love to have someone make our Twitter account active again.
Remember no experience required, just a willingness to learn.