Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Bright Side

I like to think I am an optimist… that I try to see the good in even the bleakest of situations.  However, when I’m in a Dayquil-fueled fog accompanied by head-buzzing misery, I struggle to see the bright side.

Prior to Thanksgiving, I caught the dreaded stomach bug.   A week later I replaced my condition with a never-ending sore throat and sinus headache.  I’ve had two colds since my surgery, and both times, it seems my cochlear implant’s functionality is compromised during cold and flu season.  For me, a simple cold now coexists with head pressure surrounding my implant site, and more annoyingly, a constant buzzing that remains ringing through my head regardless of whether I am wearing the processor or not.  That’s right; even when the implant is OFF, I still hear noise—a condition common to people with cochlear implants known as tinnitus, also known as “ringing of the ears.”  Some people have this without being hearing impaired or having an implant, and it’s my understanding that deaf or not, it sucks for everyone. 

Additionally, certain noises seem to be even more obnoxious than normal when I’m sick.  Head-buzzing is one of them.  Another is the high pitch squeal of Claire’s screams when she plays with her brother.  This has always annoyed Jeff, but pre-surgery, I was oblivious to its occurrence.  Well, I hear it now and OH. MY. GOD.  Little girl screams are the WORST. 

As you can probably tell, I’ve been grumpy, and though I should probably focus on my blessings during this most-wonderful-time-of-the-year, I admit I haven’t been feeling very thankful.  I thrive to hear voices, after all… clearly and effortlessly; I didn’t get this surgery to hear squeals and buzzes.  And so, I’ve spent the last few weeks pretty pissed off toward my cochlear implant progress.

Today, however, and in more ways than one, I was lucky to see some light.  It appeared during an all-day training held in a large, hotel banquet room.  The majority of the training was lecture-style, and the speaker was great—charismatic, interesting, and to my luck, he spoke loudly and clearly.  Even better, I realized I didn’t have to work to understand him… that is, until I slid my processor magnet off my head to see what he would sound like without the implant.

He wasn’t clear.  And he wasn’t loud.  I had no clue what he was saying.

It would be a disservice to the implant not to acknowledge its value to me when I’m attending presentations and lectures.  In that setting, and with the right speaker, it is working.  Upon realizing this, the room brightened.

The training, incidentally, focused on cultural diversity and social identities, and considering my 23 years of experience with a disability, I felt I could contribute to the discussion.  After sharing some of my story with the participants, one woman added that when she first heard my voice, she wanted to know “where my unique accent was from.”

There it was—the reaction to my speech that I try to make sound as normal as possible.  Sometimes I get the “Where-are-you-from question,” and other times, and especially from kids, I get the frank “You-talk-funny” statement.  On occasion I’m asked if I have my tongue pierced.

Then there’s my favorite-- when a daycare parent once looked at me inquisitively while I spoke and then commented, “You’re so exotic.  Where are you from?” 

To which I replied, “New Jersey.”

If ten years ago, a colleague had pointed out I talked differently in front of 50+ professionals, I most certainly would have been embarrassed.  I might have cried.  And I definitely would have wanted to wring that lady’s neck for spotlighting the fact that I was different.

Today, however, there was no bitterness.  I realized she wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings, but that she was curious—that’s all.  Just. Curious.  What a difference from a decade ago…  Hell, even a year ago!  My progress in self-acceptance continues to surprise me and truly brighten my days. 

I realized today that the bright side is there, but it is my choice whether or not to let the light in.  Moreso, when the journey seems foggy and dark, it is up to me to remember those moments of brightness.  During the 2012 holiday season, my first Christmas with the implant, I choose for my days to be merry and bright.   I wish the same for all of you.