An In-Depth Story about One of My Disabilities…Part 1

My paper copy In-Box is always overflowing, much of it with now useless stuff. Recently I decided to clean it out. That’s when I came across a copy of a March 2013 post from my friend Bob Lowery at satisfyingretirement.blogspot.com. The post was an interview about my life as a deaf person. As I scanned the copy, it came to me that I have never gone into that much detail on my own blog here at RJsCorner. So, I thought I would just pull a copy off Bob’s site and present it here.

As it is WAY longer than my usual 500 words, I will give it to you in two consecutive daily posts. 😎

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Dealing With a Real Life Disability RJ’s Way

I am lucky to have RJ Walters as a regular reader and commenter on satisfying retirement. He is a  prolific blogger, maintaining several different blogs on a regular basis. He is well read, thoughtful, and not afraid to voice his opinion when something strikes him as silly, dumb, or dangerous.

In addition to all of that, RJ has a disability: He is deaf. Importantly, RJ is deaf but in no way does that define him. As we age many of us will face limitations on our health or well-being. I thought it would make for both an interesting and educational post to ask RJ some questions about his condition, how he deals with it, and what he can teach us about diversity. I found his answers insightful and motivational. I trust you will, too. 

1) You once said to me, “I am just a guy who is deaf, not a deaf guy.” In your mind what is the difference? Is it one of attitude or acceptance?

Let me start this answer with a question. Who are you? The answer to that might be “I am a Christian”; “I am a husband”; “I am an engineer”; “I am a father”. Your first few answers show primarily how you identify yourself. For me “I am deaf” would come pretty far down the list. When I do mention it I say “I am deaf but that is not who I am, it only an obstacle I face on a daily basis”

Some people, particularly those who are born deaf, often associate primarily with other deaf people. Those type of deaf people identify themselves as being part of the Deaf culture (with a capital D). I am deaf (with a little d). I seldom am around other deaf people instead I choose to live primarily in the hearing world. It is not that I don’t accept my deafness (it is impossible to not do that) but more of how my deafness doesn’t control my life.

2) How long have you been deaf? What caused the condition to start? How did you react and deal with the period when your hearing was slipping away?

I could fill a book with answers to these questions. I started going deaf in my early college years in the mid 1960s. My conditions has a long medical term but is basically that my cochlea have filled with cartilage replacing the liquid there that is critical for balance and hearing. It is supposed to be inherited but I can’t find anyone in our recent family history who was deaf. Go figure…

My hearing slipped gradually away between the time I was about twenty until I lost it all at the age of forty-two. At first it was only in one ear and I managed to easily cope. It bothered my roommate in college more than me. You see, I worked my way through college in a dormitory cafeteria. One year I ran the breakfast meal and had to get up every morning around 4:30am. When I ended up on my right side during that magical hour I never heard the alarm going off. My roommate had to jump down off the top bunk and shake me to wake up.

When I started losing my hearing in my good ear things started changing rather dramatically. I wore varying strengths of hearing aids for about fifteen years until they were no longer effective. During the last year I would wake up every morning and put in my hearing aid to see if I could hear that day or not. It was a guessing game. That was the most stressful part of my life. It was almost a relief to finally lose that last shred of hearing.  

3) How has the loss of hearing effected your retirement in terms of relationships and friendships, your marriage, what you choose to do to stay active and involved, like being involved with the soup kitchen?

My retirement years came more than twenty years after complete deafness so not a lot changed. But, like most I suppose, when I retired I went from being constantly around dozens of people everyday to primarily just my wife and I. That is a shock for many of us but it was a double whammy for me. Casual friendships are simply not easy, I might even say nearly impossible, for a deaf person in the hearing world. Chit chat is a normal part of most people’s lives and it is usually the beginning stages of friendship. Without it making friends is hard work for both me and my potential future friend. I’m not saying they don’t happen but they are rather rare. So, when I am asked what do I miss the most about not being able to hear I surprise many by saying I miss chit-chat. 

When I proposed to my wife more than twenty five years ago I told her I would very likely be deaf in the not too distant future and would understand if she refused my proposal. Instead she simply said “well then we better get started learning sign language”. I broke down in tears with her response and we did indeed get started learning signing soon after we were married. 

As far as [my volunteer work at] the soup kitchen goes I kind of fell into that in various degrees. At first it was doing the dishes and then that progressed over the years to doing all the meal preparations a couple of days a week. The friendships with the staff there was an ongoing process. Most there, both volunteers and customers, know I am deaf and over the years we have broken the communications barrier with hand written notes, gestures and whatever it takes.

That in deaf circles is known as “Total Communications”;using whatever is best for a given situation. There is one friend who comes often for lunch who knows some sign language. We always have a little chat; that means a lot to me and I think to him also. 

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Look for the rest of the interview in tomorrow’s post

2 thoughts on “An In-Depth Story about One of My Disabilities…Part 1

  1. Believe or nor, that 9 year old blog post, buried deep in the archives, still gets a few hundred reads a year. Your story and approach to what life has given you remains an inspiration to many.

    Like

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