Emily Howlett: Life has its own ice bucket challenges – look after each other this Christmas

Posted on December 19, 2014

A few years ago, a friend of mine decided to get married. As part of the celebration of impending nuptials, I was sucked into a large, loud, pink and glittery group of females that descended upon the nearest day spa with glee. Well, I tried very hard for ‘glee’; I reckon I probably topped out somewhere around ‘reasonably cheerful’. I’m not great with glitter. Or pink. Or people.

However, despite my best efforts to remain miserable, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. I might have been the only deaf person in the group, but I was with friends who I’d known for years; the kind of friends you can rely on to tell the staff you’re not actually deaf, just rude. Or foreign. Or both.

I remember that I was at a really positive time in my life. There were Good Things happening all over the shop, and the future was looking so bright I’d bought shares in a sunglasses company.

I’d spent the morning dunking people I loved into Jacuzzis, accidentally disturbing the Feng Shui of the aroma room with my ‘uncontrolled energy’ and falling asleep on a water bed in a pile of pink, glittery limbs. It was pretty good being me; in fact, in retrospect, perhaps I felt suspiciously close to glee after all.

And then.

And then I walked into one of the treatment rooms. I was feeling confident, chilled so I went first. I didn’t hear the little countdown. I didn’t hear the yells of my friends behind me. And, suddenly, I was chilled in a whole other sense.

A huge, endless torrent of iced water cascaded down over my head. I was blind, deaf and absolutely (insert profanity of choice here) frozen. It was that kind of cold where your brain just stops working and thinks of nothing beyond, “This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong.” The shock literally took my breath away.

The water finally stopped, fading away to a little trickle tip-tapping me on the shoulder. My friends were upon me instantly; some to gloat, some to have hysterics and some to actually check if I was alright.

A couple freaked out almost as much as me; they thought I’d gone mad, or broken, or some other alien thing they didn’t recognise and couldn’t deal with. Entirely understandable, but also, ultimately, entirely unhelpful.

But, at first, no matter what any of them did, I just didn’t register them. I couldn’t focus. I’d been hit so hard, so unexpectedly, that nothing made sense apart from, “This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong.”

And, being deaf made it harder to break out of the sudden isolation; nobody could yell in my ear and snap me out of it. My frozen brain couldn’t even work out their body language, never mind their words. All the information was coming through crooked; distorted by the protective walls that had slammed down around my thoughts.

Of course, gradually, I realised the onslaught had stopped. By realising, I started to respond. By responding, I allowed my friends to help me, to warm up and to get my brain working properly again.

Things started to creep through the walls; still confused at first – why am I in here, that body language is not matching what you’re saying, is that actually a Buddha riding on a donkey – but making more and more sense until, soon enough, I was back to some approximation of normal.

Though I was a little wary for the rest of the day, time and comfort and just carrying on brought me full circle and I eventually realised it was just a bad moment in an otherwise brilliant day. It turned out to be a great perspective to have afterwards, but it didn’t help me in that moment. My friends did.

It sounds very dramatic, doesn’t it? Or maybe it sounds melodramatic. It doesn’t really matter how it sounds to you; I lived it and I experienced it this way.

But, that’s what life does sometimes. Life doesn’t care if you can explain how you feel. Life doesn’t care if you’re doing really great or really awful; if life wants to dump a massive bucket of iced water on your head, it will. Your brain might seize up with shock, or it might start firing out the wrong things.

You might really, really need to ask for help and not be able to get one word out. Even when the whole thing stops, you might just stand there for a while, blinking, wondering what just happened and checking if all your limbs are still attached.

But, you’ll be fine. Please, do trust me on that one, however unlikely it should seem. It will take time, which could be seconds, minutes, weeks or years. It might involve some serious effort, and learning to care for and trust yourself, but ultimately, you’ll warm up again.

If you’re lucky, your friends and loved ones will be there with a towel, even if they do laugh at the look on your face first. If you’re very lucky, they might even know where to get hot chocolate.

Talking of hot chocolate, it’s nearly Christmas, you guys! Christmas is amazing, even for a miserable old coot like me. At Christmas, I am great with glitter. I am great with pink, and red and green. I am even great with people. Sometimes.

And, in the spirit of being great with people, I hope you all have an amazing festive season. I hope you cherish your loved ones and make each other happy and, ugh, full of glee. I hope you get no ice water dumped on your head, literally or figuratively.

And I hope you notice when the present someone needs most of all is a warm towel.

Big Christmas squeezes to you all.

By Emily Howlett

If you are feeling low or would like to talk to someone this Christmas, or any time, you can contact any of the charities or support groups below. You’re not alone.

Samaritans : http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

(including email contact details)

Mind : http://www.mind.org.uk/?gclid=CMrX_efQysICFfTJtAodERQAeQ

(for urgent or ongoing support) 

Deaf Hope : http://www.deaf-hope.org/

(for people experiencing domestic abuse)

Sign Health : http://www.signhealth.org.uk/

(mental health services and support for Deaf people)

Emily is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and teacher. Emily is co-director of PAD Productions and makes an awful lot of tea. And mess. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie. She tweets as @ehowlett

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