Recently, a patient and friend of mine shared with me the dilemma of his hearing loss and the effect it is having on his quality of life. He confided that feeling left out of conversations due to his inability to hear every word caused him to feel disconnected from his friends and family and prohibited him from engaging with others in the way that he wanted. He explained that the extra energy required to carefully decode conversations by focusing on facial expressions, lip reading and extrapolating from non-auditory cues frequently left him feeling fatigued, both emotionally and physically. He felt lonely from the divide: “I don’t feel like I fit into the hearing world, but I don’t fit into the deaf world, ether. Where do I belong?”
Ironically, feeling disconnected is a universal sentiment. Most of us feel like we “don’t fit in” for one reason or another during one or more episodes of our lives. Perhaps conquering this perception is yet another one of life’s challenges that causes us to grow and adjust in order to have “more” at the other end of the ordeal. Perhaps this super knowledge allows us to be more sympathetic, empathetic, patient, kind and caring because we can more easily connect with others who have had or are having an isolation hardship.
Oftentimes we feel more disconnected as a result of our inaction rather than from the effect of someone else’s actions. For example, some people with hearing loss may typically not ask those around to repeat what they had said because of not wanting to be a bother or a burden on the conversation. Instead they may sit smiling and even laugh on cue to display that they are hearing like everyone else. Connectedness, though, is the product of sharing and communicating. Usually those connecting within a group benefit when everyone contributes to the conversation. If someone chooses to withhold their communication for any reason and they do not share their experience, thoughts and feelings, then the whole group is lacking for that person’s input because that individual is just as cherished and enjoyed as everyone else in the group.
Even if a person doesn’t have the gift of all five senses, he can connect with fewer. Albeit a more difficult task, it’s well worth the effort. For example, Helen Keller as a child only knew how to communicate by acting out. She tried so hard to communicate that she was considered to be an unruly dolt. When she was given the tools to communicate appropriately, her genius was revealed and so many people have since benefitted from her persistence and having survived a terrible misfortune.
I believe that people tend to be much more aware of their own impairments or shortcoming than others are critical of them. We tend to focus on what we can’t do rather than what we can do. Others are much better at seeing our strengths and what we have to give because they are looking for the attributes in us. Everyone has imperfections but if we look for others to connect with who don’t have the same ones that we do, we can then be stronger by association. So, the answer to, “Where do I belong?” is “You belong where you are.” You are with the people who love you and will always want to connect with you. You will continue to meet people who find you absolutely delightful because who you are doesn’t depend on your hearing acuity. Perhaps communication is more difficult than it used to be but the expression that “nothing in life worth having comes easy” always resonates truthfully.