your warrior spirit lives on

screaming at the moon
in the middle of the day
but as long I can see it
I know I’ll be okay
I’ll be alright
the cure – out of mind

This post I meant to publish a long time ago .. the daffodils I mention below are long wilted .. I have been blogging recently on a tumblr page – to collect my photography and words I like. I enjoy the immediacy and the shortness of the posts. But I’ve been thinking about this space too, poor neglected space, and I have posts planned for the future – you can expect..

…(woefully out of date) recipes
…my pecha kucha experience
…more honesty in my writing
…something about slacklining
…an updated music page!

this is where you’ll find me
if you come looking
dudley benson – on the shoulders of the earth

I think that stories and dreams are like flowers in vases. Sometimes they stand in the vase, in your mind, for weeks on end, still as strong and sweet-smelling as when you first imagined them, when you first picked them. Sometimes they wilt before you expect them to, petals dripping on the floor, details melting away into the depths of subconsciousness, to the part of your brain you cannot willingly reach.

Next to me eighteen daffodils sit in four old milk bottles. They are all wilted, some more than others, but I can’t yet put them in the compost because there’s something about their strange, leafy smell as they wilt that I love. They remind me of all the stories that stay in my mind, sentences forming in my mind as I walk during the day and later escaping me.

It’s time to tell some stories.

After writing and re-writing and coming back to this post again and again, it’s finally ready. I feel like I need to warn you before you start reading that it’s not a short post today but a long one, and a personal one. If you like, make a cup of tea and have a read, but also feel free to click away if that’s not what you’re after.

ghost, ghost
i know you live within me
neutral milk hotel – ghost

The first time I told this story properly, to people I did not know, I was 23. It was night and I was sitting on a rooftop in Udaipur, a city by a manmade lake in India. There was a fire crackling between us and we moved our chairs often to get out of the way of the smoke. Three special people heard one of the most personal stories I have to tell – something about myself that not many people know, despite perhaps knowing me well, or for a long time .. and since that first time, I’ve told more and more people, each time becoming a little easier.

But I haven’t told it here..

In New Zealand when you attend primary school every few years all children have their hearing and vision tested. The first time my hearing was tested at school showed a hearing impairment and I was sent to an audiologist. Many tests later, blue putty injected into my ears to make moulds, I was fitted with a pair of hearing aids.

For the next twelve years, those hearing aids were the bane of my life. As you grow up and figure yourself out, lots of young people go through a stage of wanting to fit in, to be accepted. The day I got hearing aids, I had something that set me apart, something to hide, something that remains understandably difficult for those with perfect hearing to understand.

In primary school I was made to wear them every day. I grew my hair long to cover my ears so people would not notice, but they still did. I became the girl with ‘bombs in her ears’, the girl who people would whisper ‘can you hear this?’ to, the girl who if she said ‘what did you say?’ was told to turn her hearing aids up. The most frustrated I can remember being at high school was when I missed something in class and asked someone for clarification, and another girl said “well maybe if you had your hearing aids in you would’ve heard it.” She had no idea.

When I went to high school I began to hate my hearing aids, frustrated with their fussy, sensitive microphones that magnify every single sound. If there was wind, I would hear radio static from my hair blowing against the microphone, usually accompanied by a high pitched screeching sound. Sometimes they would just beep really loudly in my ears for no reason. My ears would ache after long days with plastic behind my ears.

Most days in high school I would wear my hearing aids on the way to school, to appease my parents, and remove them as soon as I was on the bus. For years, they battled to get me to wear them more consistently, and I tried to make them understand why I wouldn’t.

The reason why not is simple. And it wasn’t because I didn’t like the way they looked.

 As much as they might try, modern technology cannot replicate the job of the natural ear in hearing. My first hearing aids were skin coloured and sat behind my ear, connected to a clear plastic mould that fitted inside my ear. The microphones are located on the part of the hearing aid that sits behind your ear and transmit sound into the inner ear through plastic tubing that runs through the plastic mould. Essentially they make every sound louder.

But hearing losses aren’t simplified or fixed by increasing the volume of the world. My particular hearing loss is in the high frequency range which means I often don’t very hear high pitched beeping or buzzing or white noise. It also means that speech patterns, particularly the beginning or endings of words, can be difficult to interpret as the majority of these are high frequency, or have high frequency components to their sound.

To make up for my hearing loss and the fact that I didn’t often wear hearing aids, I adapted. I learned to lip read and to concentrate on my teacher, often sitting near the front of class. When I was younger I remember reading somewhere that lipreading wasn’t something you just picked up, it had to be learned. I completely disagree – I learned shapes of words and how people form words and sounds with their lips. I learned to anticipate sentences, to put things together in context when I haven’t heard every single word that makes up the sentence. Over the years I’ve gotten better and better at doing this, to the point where it’s not immediately obvious that I have a hearing loss. This wasn’t the case in primary school.

My primary school teachers were told about my hearing loss. This resulted in a lot of them speaking slowly and loudly to me, as if I were stupid; yelling at me across a classroom to get my attention, singling me out even further than I already felt. Members of my family say “Back when you were so deaf you couldn’t hear us if you weren’t looking at us”. My hearing hasn’t changed in that time – which just goes to show the power of the brain to adapt to such situations and learn to concentrate.

These days, I don’t wear my hearing aids, because the advantages they offer do not overcome the significant disadvantages of wearing them. It’s not a cosmetic reason – my last pair of hearing aids are bright blue and are only visible from behind my ear. Despite not wearing them, my hearing loss is not noticeable to most people, who are usually surprised when I tell them this story. It’s only sometimes when I am tired and don’t concentrate so well that I am aware of missing sounds, and some of my good friends notice when I say ‘yes’ but haven’t actually heard them. I usually watch movies with subtitles when I’m watching them by myself as it’s nice not to have to concentrate just to understand what the characters are saying.

For a long time, I struggled with my identity in terms of having a hearing loss. There is a strong and supportive community of Deaf people, and those with hearing losses are often attached to the end of them – the Association for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired. People like me who are pretty high functioning struggle to not feel like a fraud receiving awards and/or scholarships that are designed to support both those who are profoundly deaf and those who have partial hearing losses. The majority of people wearing hearing aids are the elderly. I didn’t have anyone else I knew in my situation to relate to. Nobody understood why I wouldn’t wear my hearing aids regularly – my parents certainly tried but ultimately you must be a person who needs to wear them to truly understand how difficult they can be.

When I finished school I got the chance to meet some people my age from the Wellington branch of the New Zealand Federation of Deaf Children (also covers those with partial losses). I felt like the biggest fraud ever. There were four year olds with cochlear implants, a girl a year younger than me who got meningitis as a baby and had been deaf ever since who signed and talked to me.

After that humbling experience I began thinking about my hearing loss in a different way. It’s taken me a long time (six years) to fully elucidate those feelings, but I became grateful for the way my ears are, instead of ashamed. They have allowed me to cultivate my ability to lip read, to concentrate, to be more observant of people’s speech and mannerisms. I may not be the girl with bombs in my ears any more, but I accept that one day I may well be again. And I’m more than okay with that.

The message to you, reading this, having got all the way to the end and knowing more than you might want to know about me? The importance of clear speech and correct¬†pronunciation. My mum will read this and sigh and think “I’ve been telling her this for years and she only just gets it now…” but I know she’s right (even in Facebook conversations with Mum I can guarantee if I type “yeah” the response will be ‘say yes not “yeah”‘ .. love you, Mum).

Take care with your words when you speak them. Speak clearly and with confidence. Make and maintain eye contact with the person you’re speaking to. Correctly pronounce the ends of your words. Don’t cover your mouth when you speak. You never know when a person with a hearing loss might be listening …

and the last ones will remember us
just like any dream
hammock – gold star mothers

title from xavier rudd – spirit bird

9 thoughts on “your warrior spirit lives on

  1. Thank you so much for having the courage to post this. Tessa and Kelly have a sight problem, and this really helps me to understand why sometimes they don’t want to wear their contacts or glasses. I’ve acted the same way about that as your parents did about your hearing aids, so I’m very glad to have your perspective. Thanks again.

    • No problem, Viv. I have to say I only started to wear my glasses full time when my vision was bad enough that I needed to ….which was once I got to be a senior in highschool ! lots of love to you and the family xxx

  2. I think that your ability to anticipate sentences, to understand the context to understand the words, and to read people’s body language has given you a unique talent Georgi! I’ve thought this for a long time. You draw so much more from a person than the words in a conversation. You may not be able to hear as well as other people, but you listen much more than them, process what they are communicating, and embellish it. Most people just stop at hearing.

    I remember the first time I realised the extent of your hearing loss. It dawned on me that must be why you always appeared so interested in what I had to say!! (Sometimes I was just talking smack, as I often do, but you still came and listened, unlike anyone else!!) Indeed, your way of looking at a person while they are talking makes them feel unique and special. I often wish that I had better listening skills, and more than that, a better appreciation of what other people are communicating to you and why.

    You probably wouldn’t be such a fabulous poet, if you had not become an expert on the nuances of conversation, thus human nature.

  3. i remember the first time i “worried” about your hearing….i did the “mallowpuff” test. you were about 3, maybe 4 and standing behind you offered “mallowpuffs” to the kids – you will remember there were always plenty (of kids, and sometimes mallowpuffs) and you continued doing what you were doing, oblivious to the other kids running over, and to the offer. One time at the hut i took you to the doctor in masterton – your dad and i were both worried about you having an ear infection, clearly you werent hearing everything – and as you know that was a trek…all the kids into masterton and out again – the dads were pruning pine trees. that time you were prescribed antibiotics. i think you have done amazingly at adapting and learning to live with yourself. others would do better if they had to work at that themselves. grandma has been more vocal about how irritating and difficult and intrusive hearing aids are, she hates eating with them in, she hates when lots of people talk at once, she hates the sound of cartoons on TV and when the noise gets too much she “tunes” out. a bit like when you are having to concentrate on a conversation in french and then your brain stops listening after a while, it is hard to tune back in.

    good for you georgi, you have grown into a marvellous young woman and whether you like it or not are a great example of “overcoming” (is that the right word – not really…neither is compensating”) personal difficulty. we all have one, some, more and life is all about accepting you are the way you are. may not be deafness, may not be physical, may not be visible to the naked eye…and “people” in an ideal world would cultivate acceptance of difference and inability, no matter what it is.

    the world has more growing to do than you do!

    • thanks so much for this, jenny. I agree completely, especially with the last paragraph. everybody has their difficulties even if they may not know it yet .. I got a little bit teary reading this! xxx

  4. A very brave post Georgi-gina. You thoroughly deserve all the lovely comments written above, not only for your bravery but for the eloquence with which you tell your story. Funnily, despite all the time I have spent with you, I frequently forget this wee detail about you (that you have a hearing loss). Upon reflection, I see now that your need to pay attention to the small details so obviously attributes to your wonderful ability to gain insight from a situation, to strip back layers of conversations/personalities/interactions. What a gift!
    I so often enjoy your wonderful blog posts, but never get around to leaving a message, a footprint of me having been here. I apologise! But please, keep ‘em coming! xx M

  5. Wow, I never before considered that there could be downsides to wearing a hearing aid – and they sound really significant. Thanks for sharing. Kellie xx
    PS What an amazing comment by Maria too.

  6. Oh Georgi, wow. I’ve had this post sitting in my inbox waiting until I had the time to sit and read it. Ironically, I hadn’t opened it so didn’t know it was a long one! I’m so glad I waited, and so glad I read.
    What skills you have! Anyone I’ve ever met with a variation in one of their senses always talks about the heightening of the other senses – in your case I can just imagine your powers of observation going over drive!
    xo

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