Vera Brearey: What I’ve given up due to my deafness – and what I’ve discovered

Posted on July 26, 2016

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Most of the time I look for ways to continue doing what I’ve always done.  As I say on my blog: “determinedly carrying on, doggedly trying not to let my ears stop me doing stuff”.  On the other hand, sometimes I decide that it’s better for my sanity to give up on something.

That can be a tough decision.  I used to like going to the theatre occasionally but as my deafness progressed it became harder and harder to understand what the actors were saying.

I coped to begin with.  I would buy tickets for seats near the front that maximised the chances of hearing and lip reading.  I would go to plays where I knew what was going to happen.  (Romeo and Juliet anyone?  I might miss some of the dialogue but I knew the plot).

I would book for things where great visual content was the main draw – the puppetry in War Horse, for example, was so astonishing that the fact I couldn’t follow the dialogue didn’t bother me so much.  But eventually I found it too depressing to sit there for three hours not hearing stuff.

I explored captioned performances and was optimistic that this would be the solution, given how much I enjoy subtitled TV.  But they didn’t work for me.

The problem I found was that I couldn’t read the captions and watch the performance at the same time, which I can with subtitled television.  Either I was following the script or watching the actors but I couldn’t do both.

Actually, I’ve puzzled over why my reaction to captioned theatre was so negative when other people with hearing loss love it.

Perhaps the answer partly lies in the degree of hearing loss.  In a recent post on her blog Living with Hearing Loss Shari Eberts talks about loving captioned performances because she can flick her eyes to the captions (at the side of the stage) whenever she misses some dialogue.

The captions lag slightly behind the performance so she can get a quick bit of help and then go back to the play.  But nowadays I can’t make sense of ANY of the stage dialogue so I find that I have my eyes glued constantly to the captions.  I might as well sit at home and read the script.

Perhaps the problem lies in where the captions are.  On the television, or a DVD, the captions are at the bottom of the screen.  The same thing applies at the cinema, or it did at the one film I have been to in years (Star Wars in 3D, at Christmas – even in 3D the subtitles were perfectly clear and I comfortably watched the whole thing, just as if it was a TV programme).

But at the theatre the captions are off to the side, at least they have been at every performance I’ve tried.  Perhaps THAT’s the problem.

Anyway, whatever the cause of the problem, I tried, and tried again, but it was miserable.  There are few things as depressing as sitting in a theatre trying to have a good time and failing, and feeling very deaf.  So I gave up.  Let it go.

On a more trivial level, I made a similar decision about a very popular local archaeology day (archaeology is a hobby of mine) where people give short talks on a variety of topics.  The community archaeology group I belong to has a winter programme of talks in a different venue, and we set things up so that people with hearing loss can cope.

I make sure that I get a seat in the front row, near the speaker.  We leave the lights on (you can’t lip read in the dark).  The room is fairly small and carpeted (no echo effect).  There is a good loop system and we know how it works – it’s amazing how many venues don’t realise you have to switch them on.  I manage fine.

But other venues can be much more difficult, even with sympathetic organisers who do what they can to help.  The event I’m referring to is held in a massive echo-y hall.  Even in the front row, on loop setting, with the lights on, I struggle.

People with hearing loss will know what I mean when I say that sometimes it is such hard work understanding speech that all meaning is lost.  It is as if the brain is working so hard to make the noises into words that there is no brain left to make the words make sense.  It was like that.  Give up.  It’s only one event a year.

It’s a dilemma though, because life would be pretty awful if it was just about stopping doing things you enjoy. Sometimes it’s right to refuse to give up – to find a way to make things continue to be possible.

If that fails (like it did with me in the examples above) it can help to find new things to act as replacements.  A recent enthusiasm of mine is for contemporary dance (watching it, I hasten to add, not doing it).  The BBC had an excellent series last year, a competition for young dancers in various styles – ballet, contemporary, hip hop and south Asian.  It was fantastic.

I’d also loved, a couple of years ago, seeing Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, with the male swans.  (It was so extraordinary I went twice).  So I’ve set myself the task of seeing some more productions, the most recent of which was BalletBoyz at Sadler’s Wells.  Not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but I’m loving it.  I can’t hear the music properly but that doesn’t seem to matter, the visual impact is so extraordinary.

I think that’s the answer.  Sometimes you have to decide to abandon things, for your sanity’s sake, but you also need to make sure to have some new enthusiasms bubbling away to fill the gap.

Any other suggestions anyone?

PS Please don’t let me put you off trying captioned theatre performances.  Lots of people really love them.

New to blogging, Vera started morethanabitdeaf.com in February.  In it she talks about her life with hearing loss – first diagnosed in her early 20s and deteriorating steadily since.  Early 60s.  Retired.  Lives in a village in Yorkshire with husband, dog and cat.  Resolutely ploughing on, trying to see the funny side.

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Posted in: Vera Brearey