A Silent World: A Hearing Impaired Life

I feel like an outsider when in a work situation sometimes, where I think, ‘I wish I knew what the depth of the discussion where they’re asking me to contribute. I feel like an outsider when I’m trying to balance my working life with the demands of my disability, regarding I’ve got concentrate, I’ve got to lipread, I’ve got to listen all day long. I feel like an outsider when such a simple thing as ordering a coffee becomes a bit complicated because someone doesn’t know how to cope. I feel like an outsider sometimes in my family. I’m the only deaf person in my family. But I don’t feel like an outsider when I meet people who’ve been through the struggle.

My name is Lisa Margaret Cilchrist, I’m thirty-three years old, and I was born profoundly deaf in both ears. Look, Julia, I’ve written some blends on the box, do you think you could… It was the end of the world, it was. There’s a grieving process associated with establishing that the child you thought you had is not the child that in fact, you have. Then we started to check back, and we saw photographs, for instance, where she would be straining to look at someone’s lips. She grew up in a world where she assumed everyone didn’t hear anything and the way we communicated was reading lips. When I was going to school, it was very trial and error. If I made a mistake the social consequences were incredible. Lipreading people’s insults or discussions about me from across the playground, knowing that people were saying something about me; it’s profoundly alienating because I’m such a people person and I love being around people. For me, I have this amazing close family and people who care about me, and then just making my way independently was just god-awful. And that was a trigger for why I got my first cochlear implant just before I turned 21.

They turned it on, and I went, ‘Jesus, f***, that’s noisy!’ And the audiologist and mum were crying ‘yes!’ and I’m like ‘what the f*** is this?’ And so I’m like ‘turn it off’. If you go through periods of isolation and bullying it’s easier to turn the hearing aid off if you want to rest from the conversation and the noise to regroup and then think ‘how am I going to tackle this situation?’. I’m slack, I just pull it off, go like this, it’s off, and I’m off the air. I’m immediately going back to looking at my visual surroundings and using that skillset that I have. The main thing that it did was it allowed me to blend in to be able to put my iPod on and go out in my gym and go for a bit of a run and then do situps and pushups and whatever, like everyone else in the gym, I’m doing my speech therapy training at the same time, and listening at the same time.

It’s taken me, what people achieve in three or four years when they are babies to four years old, it has taken me 33 years to get to that point. I know it means that I’m behind my year group and I’m behind in what people expect with my CV, I’m behind in what people expect of my professional development, but people don’t exactly make it easy either. I am a deaf person. It’s called a disability because you are at a distinct disadvantage, socially, and it’s up to the rest of the community to go, well, how far are we going to go to help that person? Deafness is the hidden disability you can’t see that someone is deaf, so that’s why people don’t accommodate it. Since I finished high school, the number of jobs that I’ve held would be probably 25 to 30 jobs. It’s like going to a new school every six months. And it’s profoundly alienating because you want to get settled but you can’t. It’s not what I envisaged when I left high school because my understanding of anti-discrimination and equal opportunity was that that was running in parallel with businesses developing the back end processes to make it possible for me to integrate.

Høreapparater

I don’t know why we got forgotten. My hearing and my listening and my speech – that was done and dusted when I was four. But the social impact has just gone on and on and on because we haven’t quite gotten our act together on it, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t. When I was nine, I learned that being deaf was always only ever going to be a part of my life. It doesn’t dominate. It has a massive influence, and it shaped how I react to events, and my resilience, and mental toughness, but you can’t just sit on that and only restrict your life experience and your understanding of what it is to be human on that. You need to look at all the other aspects of who you are as a person because that’s what makes dealing with the hard parts of being deaf bearable. Because you realize there’s so much more of you than just that. That’s always been my approach. That’s why I’m tough as I am..

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