Did you know Butterflies are deaf? They flit about, going from flower to flower, gathering and spreading pollen and nectar. Yet they cannot hear. The term Social Butterfly is applied to people who go to party after party, talk to person after person. They are confident, they laugh, they talk, they join conversations seamlessly, and are the Belle of the event. They flit about, much like Butterflies. Unlike those beautiful Butterflies, however, they can hear; so the term Social Butterfly seems rather ironic really. Perhaps they are more like Social Hummingbirds.
I like people, and I sometimes chat up a storm everywhere you see me, much like a Social Butterfly. I am not, however, a Social Butterfly in the true sense of the word that we mean it. Sure, I went to dances, and parties, and other social events. Sometimes I wasn’t given a choice, after all, family events are mandatory, especially when you’re not an adult. I didn’t and still don’t, always these enjoy events, because of the underlying effort it takes to appear like I am, as if I am having no trouble following things.
I can imagine the blank stares my friends and family must be giving me as they read this. Contrary to all appearances, social events stress me out, even when it is just family. I fake it. Yep. I do. I make myself do these things, and always have, because I didn’t want to be isolated, or a recluse. Being Deaf in itself is isolating enough.
Still staring at me, are you? You ask, “What about the school dances? What about the weddings? What about the parties and gatherings? What about family reunions and other events?” “What about when we went out downtown to the bars?” “What about the parties you invite us to?” “You always talk to us, and other people”.
I can just see the questions flying at me. Sorry folks, the truth of the matter is, many of these things stress me out. Don’t get me wrong, I do for the most part end up enjoying myself, but it isn’t easy to let go of my hang ups or cope in these situations. I do these things to keep from being isolated more than I already am, for my husband, for my children, and for my family. No matter the effort I put in, or the solicitation of friends and family, I still often feel isolated anyway, left out, and wondering why I came.
It isn’t easy to follow conversations in a group setting. I often fade out and just watch, lost in my own thoughts. I am a people watcher, these kinds of events lets me do that. Unfortunately this makes people think I am aloof, snobby, ignoring them. The reality is, often I don’t hear them, or my attention isn’t there (sometimes my brain checks out even when I do listen), or there are too many distractions, including supervising my children. Plus, unless they knew me well, people don’t realize that I am Deaf and therefore they must get my attention before speaking. Nor did they know I rely on lip reading to follow conversations. Heaven forbid I respond incorrectly, which makes me feel more awkward and unhappy.
People move around, cover their mouths, and get in my line of sight. Multiple conversations, music, and screaming children compound things even more. Even a simple family gathering is stressful as my attention is usually on my kids and I get lost easily in the conversations around me, even when I appear to be following it. People don’t realize how exhausting it, is to listen all day, and when surrounded by noise, and people, it quickens the fatigue factor. Speech comprehension is WORK, and doesn’t come naturally to me. I miss even one word, and if it’s the key word in that sentence, immediately I am lost, and with a noisy background or a busy event, it’s an inevitable conclusion that I will miss something. It’s that simple.
“But you’re always dancing, smiling, laughing with us”? I dance because I love music, and it allows me to not have to talk, or try to focus on a conversation. It is a stress reliever, and helps me to relax a little. Of course I am smiling and laughing, I had no idea what you said so I am just doing the same thing you are, which is smile and laugh. By the way, having a drink or two helps me fake it, since they release inhibitions and helps me cover the fact that I am having trouble following things. The catch is, if I have more than one or two drinks, you can forget about me even comprehending one little sentence.
There are times though, that my friends and husband do notice that I am not enjoying myself, or feeling stressed. In the past, they were careful to ensure I knew what the topic was, or that I wasn’t left out. Now, however, it seems they think I can follow things better, especially with the implant. “Relax!” “Listen!” “You’ve got to pay attention!” “Have a drink! You never drink!” “You never have fun!” I am told. Worse, more often than not, I am abandoned to fend for myself or supervise my children.
“Thanks guys”, I think. Now you’ve irritated me, and compounded the issue. And you wonder why I seem stressed, upset, and snappish, sometimes even before we get there or immediately after I arrive. My comfort level at these events is lost, gone, when I am left to my devices, or being told to enjoy myself. I am not dependent on my spouse, my family or my friends to enjoy these things. However, I ask them to please understand how much effort it takes to follow conversations with a noisy background and minimal lighting. Or how lonely it is to be left at a table, or abandoned while in the bathroom when you (all) go talk to someone. It makes me feel as if the effort to talk to me is too much work, to include me, or that no one wants to be around me. Even when I do know the other people, I am still feeling left out. No one thinks about my need to lipread, to have less noise in the background, or better yet, the ability to leave my kids with someone so that I have one less distraction on my mind.
The last time someone made an effort to show me what I missed was at the last wedding I attended. My brother in law went up to the maid of honour and requested a paper with the song she sang. Just so I could read it afterwards. That shocked and pleased me at the time, as while I recognized the tune it was set to, I had missed all the words. Then I was a little upset, because my husband didn’t think of it, when in the past he would have done just that. That action though, was the only effort that night made to help me follow what went on. Those are the kinds of actions I appreciate and they don’t take much effort, just a little thought.
I have made progress in the past year. Little by little, slowly but surely, I do better in social situations. However, the successes I do have does not mean I don’t still need help, or patience. Or most of all, that comfort zone of having friends, family and loved ones care about whether I understood something, or was enjoying myself. It’s tiring trying to be on point through four hours of bad lighting, noise, music, people, and other distractions, and even worse when its late in the evening, and I have run out of any energy to focus. Sometimes I think I would like everyone to wear ear plugs all day, then go to an event, and see just how much work it is to hear, to listen. If it’s hard for you, the hearing person, imagine how much harder it is for me.
This is one reason I chose to get the cochlear implant, so that one day I can hear a little more, a little better, and not feel so left out. The Auditory Verbal Training will help make that a little more effortless, and maybe more of an enjoyment, than a chore. I am hopeful that I can enjoy these events more, particularly since I have two more weddings to attend in the next year and I am already stressing over them.
So as we approach this month’s holiday celebrations and parties, please be considerate, supportive, and thoughtful of my needs, and others around you. Don’t assume that because I am flitting around like a Social Butterfly that I am enjoying myself, or not stressed over the conversations, or that I don’t need a little support, or help from time to time during the event. This goes for family too, because I think sometimes they forget that I am Deaf, that I still need accommodations, to lipread and space to step back and give my ears and brain a rest. Think of others like me, that may be there, Deaf or not. You can’t judge a book by its cover, so look at the people who are there, and think to yourself, is that person enjoying themselves, or is there something I can do to brighten their evening?
So maybe the term Social Butterfly is appropriate after all.
I am Social when I want to be.
I am Deaf.
I am a Social Butterfly in the grand scheme of things when I am comfortable, and the situation allows me to be.
However, I just might be enjoying myself, or I am just faking it, to make everyone I love happy, so they might enjoy themselves more.