By Michele J. Bornert

Isolation. The word alone seems to create this overwhelming feeling of doom, doesn't it? Webster defines isolation as a noun meaning, "The state of being set apart from others; seclusion." Yep. That about sums it up. If there was one feeling I experienced when I became deaf, it was definitely isolation. No longer hearing, yet not culturally Deaf. You know the scene. And, of course, if you're not "deaf", but hard of hearing, that only intensifies the feeling. Not 100% comfortable among those with no hearing loss, but still have enough residual hearing to use the tools of the hearie, such as the telephone and an occasional, yet frustrating, uncaptioned movie. I have to say that in some ways I had it easy. I mean, when I became deaf, everything went. Couldn't even hear myself scream if I tried (and believe me I did…often). There was no question of whether I had "enough" hearing or a "substantial" hearing loss, and all that other jargon they throw at you to make them sound like they know what they're talking about. So when the subject of identity came up, at least I knew where I did not fit in. But isolation is not only a whole different ballgame; it's a whole different sport! A three-man sport, if you will, involving you, you! On the contrary, if you look close enough, it involves pretty much everyone you encounter in your daily life. How so?

Well think about it. You're at work. You become parched. So you get up and approach the water cooler. Around it is the usual clique dishing out the daily droll of gossip and complaints. As you get closer, you give your most sincere smile--a smile that's a cross between Carol Channing and the Crest toothpaste model. The people in the group notice you coming their way; their eyes widen as they glance amongst themselves and try to emulate your enthusiastic grin. Then, quicker than you can adjust your hearing aid to meet the room's needs, every one of them runs for the hills (and if they can't find one, they'll improvise, I assure you). You're left alone with a cup of water and a vague feeling that you might need to switch deodorants if you want to keep your friends.

Or how about when you're at home. You're taking care of the litter and you think you see the phone signaler flashing. You look at it, but then you blink and you're not sure if maybe it flashed when you blinked and you missed it. So you stand there with your eyes glued to the light. Your eyes become so dry that they start to water, but you're determined to keep them open long enough to make sure that that light isn't flashing. Just then you see it flash! Yes! You were right! You run for your TTY or amplified telephone only to be five seconds too late. But don't you fear. They'll call back. And when they do.... "Did I just see that light flash?" It starts all over. You spend your days completely paranoid, because you just don't have enough signalers around the house. Some days you wonder why no one ever calls anymore. Other days you wonder if there's a special kind of tape you can buy to keep yourself from blinking during the day.

How about your partner's company party? You're dressed up to the nines. You and your significant other sashay into the room. Your partner wants to introduce you to their boss, so you both approach the small circle of people drinking champagne and laughing politely at everything this man, who has a beard that would make Santa Claus look like he has a five o'clock shadow, says. You realize after a short bit of sleuthing that this man is the boss. He begins to talk with you, but, because of that Frito-catcher glued around his mouth, you haven't the slightest idea as to what he's saying. But you're a pro by now. Of course you still have that Carol Channing smile (you've even thought of patenting it). You nod politely and say, "uh-uh," "oh," "yes, of course," and all those little phrases that couldn't possibly get you into trouble....right? Your partner begins to appear quite visibly agitated and soon is dragging you to the car and muttering something about you sleeping on the couch. It's two days later that you realize that the boss had a bit too much to drink and you'd agreed to escort him to the quaint cottage he owns in Tahiti. Oops! Obviously your lipreading skills need some refining.

Or how about the block party your neighbors decide to throw? You bake your famous blueberry pie, put on something festive and march out to the tables to mingle with those who share your street. As you gather up the courage and enthusiasm to introduce yourself to those you've not yet met, someone mentions that you are hard of hearing, hearing impaired, or deaf…take your pick. Everyone freezes. Smiles abound. Everyone starts to nod, and just as you go to offer the person standing next to you a slice of your pie, you realize that the only one in your vicinity is the black lab that's been peeing on your tulips for the past six months. You make a new friend.

Of course, if you're like many with a hearing loss, your attempts to eliminate your isolation sometimes seem daunting. Sometimes you just want to throw your hands up and say the heck with it….nobody understands. Of course, you know that's not true. If it was, the Say What Club would not be the safe haven it's come to be for so many of us. Sure, we all have our moments, some more than others, where we feel all alone in this huge "hearing world" (as they like to call it). But there are 28 million people out there who can relate in some small and in some big ways. If only one or two of them lived next door…

Isolation. The word alone is enough to make me don mime makeup and black clothes, march out to the park and annoy anyone and everyone who approaches me. I must confess that I've done that--you have no idea how many people would give their right arm to punch out a mime. So…it didn't quite prove to be the outlet I was searching for. But hey, you can give it a try. If it doesn't work for you either, remember that, even though you are "set apart" from some, you're also closer to others than you were before. Consider how many of the people in the Say What Club you would have the honor of knowing and loving if you didn't have a hearing loss. We may be isolated in the big scheme of things, but we're also privileged to know that there are people experiencing the same things. If nothing else, it can help you appreciate things in life that you never took the time to notice before, such as how beautiful and peaceful the sunset is, the smell of the wild flowers that are growing near your home, oh, and how friendly the black lab that's peeing on them is.

Everyone will react and feel differently about their situation but I think that applies to just about every circumstance possible. So the next time you're feeling set apart, isolated, neglected, ignored, discriminated against, name your feeling, perhaps the best thing to do is not to accompany your boss to Tahiti, share a slice of pie with the lab with a weak bladder, or die of thirst because you can't stand the rejection. Perhaps you should sign on to the Internet, check your emails, send a post to SWC, call those in a support group near you, or just say to yourself, "Self, I want to spend time with you." After all, who will ever know you better?


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