About a year ago, I wrote about going up to Chicago for a Debbie Gibson concert and all of the social anxiety that surrounded me due to my hearing loss, how I almost didn’t get in the car because of it. Today I have a new story so far removed from that I find myself wondering if I’m even the same person I was even just a year ago. Since this is actually a blog about my hearing and not my rock star life, I’ll really try to keep it related to that… maybe.
The isolation one experiences with hearing loss can be absolutely devastating. You can be sitting in a room feel of people you love, and who love you, and still feel lonely and completely out of touch. You can start to live inside your head. Or if you’re like me, online. I’ve always had communities of online friends, it’s something I’ve gravitated towards since the days of text-based bbses and usenet groups. So when I lost my hearing, it was a natural thing to make friends online, sometimes over doing so in person. It was easy for me to communicate – the “deaf” barrier wasn’t there anymore. But neither were any of the other senses and things that can only be done in person – seeing, touching, laughing, crying. It was still isolating and lonely, no matter how many close friends I had.
Back in May, I spontaneously decided to buy a single VIP ticket to the “Ladies of the 80s” show in Allen, Texas, for October. There was something that just said to me “do it”. Lisa Lisa/Tiffany/Debbie Gibson – perfect for me. Tiffany was my last show before my cochlear implant was activated, and I’ve really wanted to hear her again since. I saw both Deb & Lisa Lisa last year, but felt that even a year after my activation music was still “new”. I wanted to hear them again. Turns out, these three crazy guys from the UK were coming over as well – and we started chatting on Facebook everyday, and even had some calls (which I wrote about last month). I threw myself into it and planned a gathering – this time not so spontaneous as the dinner last year that caused me so much social anxiety. What a difference this trip was! The whole thing was a whirlwind escape from reality, full of surprises, fun, and friendship.
I was coming right off of a trip to Orlando for my work’s annual conference, where I was immersed in sound basically 12-hours a day, having conversations with customers in crowded expo halls, presenting as an expert on online fundraising for small nonprofits, and even singing karaoke with a live band. I was exhausted, and exhilarated, and turned around to face a completely different symphony of sounds in Texas. I say it again – auditory fatigue is a very real thing. Even for normal hearing people, if you are surrounded by constant sound, it’s tiring.
When I got to Texas on Wednesday, I’m not sure what I was expecting. The whole vibe was different. Instead of the anxiety I felt last year, this group had a weird combination of excitement and relaxation going on. Which was perfect for what was about to happen – we were invited to be on a podcast, by the wonderful Buddy and Eddie, who were so sweet to me last year in Chicago.
A podcast? Are you kidding me? I’m deaf! I don’t do podcasts!
… would have been my response only a little over a year ago.
Last week? Sure! Why not? count me in!
I admit, I still don’t quite get the whole podcast thing. This one is the only one I listen to regularly, and that’s because they’re friends. I also don’t really get audiobooks, talk radio, or anything that is just a bunch of people talking without a visual component. I guess that’s what happens when one is deaf for 20 years and quite literally can’t listen to such things.
But fun it was. Not only was it hilarious, I understood every word that was being said, every joke, every glorious British accent. Even when Deb surprised us and came in to join in on the fun, I could completely follow what was going on and the conversations we all had when the recording was over. Never in my hearing life would I have dreamed I would be sitting across the table sharing stories with Debbie Gibson, and never in my deaf life would I have dreamed I would be understanding any of it. You can check out the podcast episode here: BookendBaldies – Episode #41
The next day – show day! – I was exhausted. More socialization at breakfast led to more sleep before more socialization. Being an introvert is hard enough, being a deaf introvert is that much harder. I had to take both my hearing aid out and implant processor off when I was alone to keep my head from spinning.
We had an amazing pre-show gathering. Buddy and Eddie came by, Debbie’s wonderful mom Diane came by, even Tiffany came and joined in with us for awhile. It was thrilling, and once again I was able to have actual conversations where I understood what the other person I was speaking with was saying. I don’t think most people understand how hard a simple one-on-one conversation can be in a crowd. People with normal hearing tune out background noise, those of us who don’t have that skill tend to hyper-focus on every sound in the room, not just the sounds that are important.
Then came a little much-needed downtime – and a shocking message from Eddie that a few of us had been invited to join Deb onstage that night! I’m just going to leave that experience as a crazy memory for now because it could be a separate post in itself (and may yet be).
I was able to walk in to this situation last week and be calm and confident and feel loved and relaxed from the very first moment – part of that was because of how all of us had already bonded together online over our shared passion, but part was because I knew I wasn’t going to miss hearing something. There was not a single moment where I felt isolated or lonely. I can honestly say I’ve never had an experience like this before, and I’m not sure I will ever again. My “online” friends, who are now so very real friends, made it easy. Thank you, you know who you are, I cherish every moment where we saw, touched, laughed, and cried together.