Elisabeth McDermott: When I want to switch off, I close my eyes and turn my head away. Is that ok?

Posted on October 24, 2013

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 10.30.54I’d like to throw this topic of conversation out there. I am aware I may very well get a backlash from some people – but I’m hoping I’ll get some support too.

In the summer, I was out at a BBQ for work. I had started a new job, and was just getting to know the people I work with, who are all hearing.

I was chatting away to one of them, a loud Canadian, when the conversation turned to bungee jumping and skydiving. I was saying that I wanted to do both about 10 years ago when I was travelling but I didn’t (money, time, doing other things).

Now that I am older I am more fearful of doing either activity, probably because in the last 10 years I have seen and read enough about the things that go wrong.

This Canadian girl was of the opposite view: “Why not, what are the statistics, just as likely to get run over by a bus tomorrow?” (not referring to my deafness of course!).

I felt it was getting morbid and I didn’t really want to talk about it, or listen to her talking about it anymore….then the conversation changed abruptly, and she said in a perfectly non-confrontational tone: “Can I ask you something? How much can you hear?” I then explained my profound hearing loss and that I need to lipread to understand every word she said to which she replied:

“So, why do you close your eyes when you speak, when you interrupt me?”

I was astounded! Firstly, I didn’t realise I was interrupting her. Much less closing my eyes. So I apologised for interrupting. And for closing my eyes.

Then I said, “Well actually, come to think of it, I really didn’t want to continue that conversation so I felt that was my way of withdrawing from the conversation in the same way that a hearing person might “switch off.” She was a bit more receptive to that.

Why do I do it? Maybe I’ve adopted that trait because I am very similar in many ways to a hearing person in my mannerisms and responses – perhaps stemming from confrontations/arguments within my hearing family, I feel.

But sometimes it’s more simple – I just don’t want to listen. Is that not OK?

Why do we have to be made to listen ALL the time? In a lecture, the lecturer looks at you and you always have to be looking at him/her or your communication support worker/lipspeaker/interpreter, otherwise you’re seen as not listening, yet hearing people can fall asleep in lectures (at which point they’re definitely not listening!).

I felt after that confrontation with the Canadian, I had to focus on her more in case she thought I wasn’t listening. But I felt that was unfair.

How is it that when I am talking to a hearing person, and if I appear to be boring them, or they’re not listening to me, they can be looking at their phone, or they’re looking over my shoulder, or around at their surroundings, or even worse, listening to the conversation next to them – you see them smile and it’s not because you said something funny, it’s because the person on the table behind or next to them said something funny – and that’s ok?

Do I challenge these people who do this? Yes, in my family I say: “Excuse me that’s rude!”, but my family say to me, and I hate this: “You’re using your deafness”.

Why can’t they say: “You’re not listening to me, that is rude,” which I feel is much more acceptable, rather than using “deafness” as the tool to not listening?

Because yes, sometimes we don’t want to listen – just like hearing people don’t want to listen – and aside from physically excusing myself from the room (which I sometimes do), eye closing and turning the head away is the next best thing.

After that recent episode, I think I am going to have to adopt some other strategies – such as saying: “I really don’t want to talk about this anymore, let’s talk about something else.” Or deftly steering the conversation away to something else, or excusing myself, going to the loo and then coming back and hopefully starting another conversation, or joining in another conversation with someone else.

Ironically, a dear deaf friend of mine said to me today. when I told her this story. that when was struggling at a BBQ in the summer, someone said to her: “Why are you staring?”

We can’t win, can we?

Elisabeth (Lizzie) is a 34-year old profoundly deaf physiotherapist from Leeds-Glasgow-Guernsey-London with a keen interest in Deaf Sports (physio for GBDWF, European Deaf Championships, Bulgaria, 2011) and Women’s Health (mostly pregnant women:) She is working in London from September 2013 and aims to get involved with Deaf Sports more. Lizzie enjoys travelling, snowboarding and spending quality time with friends and family.

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