What is it like to be deaf under lockdown? Might our experience as deaf people, strangely, give us some advantages? And how could these advantages benefit everyone looking for ways to handle life under lockdown? Here are five reflections and related tips.
#1. Isolation is a bit easier if you are used to it.
Deafness can bring social isolation. This is not something you would wish for, ever. But it can be your reality as a deaf person especially, paradoxically, when surrounded by others who can hear each other with ease. You are unlikely to get jokes people tell. You need clues to catch up with conversations. You have to be able to stay calm and not get frustrated when this happens.
#2. You can appreciate solitude.
A corollary of #1 is that when you cannot rely on understanding others, you get a lot of practice at being self-reliant and valuing time alone. Getting comfortable in your own company is part of this. Solitude is being alone, ‘often by choice’ (according to the Cambridge Academic Content dictionary). It is therefore different from loneliness which is a negative feeling. In solitude you can focus on the self; in loneliness you focus on the lack of others.
#3. Problem-solving becomes second nature.
As more than half of English sounds are not lip-readable, deaf lipreaders get a lot of practice at making educated guesses and applying problem-solving strategies to understand what people are saying. When you get a lot of practice at something you get better at it.
#4. We have already got used to using video for communication.
When you cannot make a phone call, a video call such as on WhatsApp or FaceTime to someone who can communicate accessibly is a great alternative. If you sign, this makes life even easier, but clear lip patterns, facial expression and helpful gestures can all help. I once held a FaceTime call in BSL with a friend while on a busy tram (remember such journeys?). Finding somewhere to prop up the phone was the greatest challenge. When I had finished the call, I realised half the tram was watching what was happening with fascination!
#5. You know that you need others.
I have long believed that needing support as a deaf professional simply reminds us of what we all need as human beings. When colleagues have said ‘It must be a bit of a nuisance to need a support worker (lipspeaker) for meetings’ I reply, ‘Quite the opposite- I love having another person with me – knowing I have the support of another human being.’ Until lockdown, we may not have appreciated what a difference other people make to our lives; now we can.
So how can this help you?
The main things are patience and practice. As Angela Duckworth explains in Grit – Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success, it is deliberate effort, and enjoying the process which are important, rather than a total focus on the outcome.
Taking the 5 points above, try the following:
- If you haven’t experienced isolation much, it may make you feel that your life is out of control. So, try asking yourself regularly, ‘What can I control?’ Set aside the ‘But I can’t…’ voices which may come into your head. By answering the positive question about what you can control, you may set a course for yourself which if you follow it, you know will work.
- Solitude allows you to adopt a slower pace. If you are used to a high-octane, pressured environment, it may take time to get used to this – adrenaline is addictive but too much cortisol is damaging to your body. Writing down, or recording in some way, what you observe about yourself and your situation is a good way to start this process, especially anything you appreciate. Try asking yourself questions such as ‘What have I learned today?’ (even tiny things count) and ‘How have I helped to make someone else happy?’.
- It is natural to feel frustrated when the way we normally do things is suddenly shut down. But barriers provoke ingenuity and creativity too. Ask yourself ‘What could I do with the resources I have?’ or ‘What approach to this problem have I not yet seen?’. Another excellent question is ‘How else could I think about this?’. Don’t worry if the answers don’t spring to mind straight away. Let the questions ferment when you are not actively seeking the answers, and you will be surprised at the creative ideas you can come up with.
- If video conferencing feels alien and uncomfortable, avoid thinking of yourself as being ‘filmed’ (our social media culture doesn’t help this). Try visualising yourself around a table with the people on the call and behave accordingly. If you don’t like watching yourself on video (who does?), think of your video image as just another person in the group. Also try the contrastive technique – imagine for a few moments if the system totally shut down and you had no option of hearing or seeing these people at all (deafblind people have to handle this reality every day)- can you appreciate more the ‘version’ of them that you are offered?
- Try seeing the challenge of not being able to meet other people as a gift in disguise. Under lockdown you now know that you do need other people – their help and support. This is an important area of the training work we do with Result CIC: asking for help. Most of us are not particularly good at it. We often think it’s better to soldier on valiantly. Yet being able to ask for help is not only one of the best strategies for you to make progress, it also helps the person you ask too and creates a bond between you.
In short: give yourself time, recognise the things within your power, keep perspective and value what others can bring you, even if only via a screen.
I hope these tips are helpful and I welcome your feedback.