January 28 was Mental Health Day.
Many people around the world suffer from various mental health disorders, like schizophrenia, anxiety or depression. I suffer from occasional periods of anxiety and depression, and the fifteen months post surgery was definitely difficult for me. I re-read my earlier posts from that time and it hit me so hard how emotional I was, how depressed I was at times. I didn’t write for a good while, and the reason for that was a series of difficult events after returning to work from maternity leave.
The first few weeks before returning to work was a big adjustment, I was up and down like a roller coaster. The biggest issue for me was accepting the loss of the residual hearing, and while I knew I would, I was unprepared for the funk I went into over it.
My experience in the first six months post activation was a mixed bag of support from family and friends, and pressure and unrealistic expectations from my employer and some of my friends. The highs were overshadowed by a lot of lows in the first six months after activation. I experienced regret, frustration, impatience at my progress, and pain and hurt when family and friends weren’t understanding the process. I lost my job, and it led me into a pit of depression for about four months. My employer had made me feel worthless, incapable of doing my job, and my confidence in myself disappeared.
I knew in my head that I wasn’t those things but my heart and emotions ruled for a time. For the first time in my life I felt disabled, unable to work, or function in a hearing world. I actually didn’t wear my processor as much, feeling like it was the source of my problems. My progress halted somewhat because of that.
I had some support from my husband, who understood that I was experiencing something new. He was in his own job hunt as well for the second time, and we both were struggling to keep from getting too deep in our own depression.
Then I returned to work for two months, for people that meant dearly to me, and knew my worth, and this turned out to be the catalyst for my return to good mental health. They validated my skills, my expertise, and boosted my confidence.
Depression is a common health issue amongst Deaf people because of the isolation they often feel and experience. Deaf people often struggle with their sense of self, self esteem and worth, and place in the hearing world. Many feel isolated from everyone, even their own families, and often have little support around them. They often don’t feel heard by their families and friends when they explain what they need from them.
One of the most common signs of depression is withdrawing from the world around them. This is also a typical coping strategy for Deaf people, as they often choose to be alone, not socializing, and minimizing contact with others; so not only are Deaf people isolated by the hearing world around them, but they also isolate themselves from even the Deaf community. They do this to ease the frustrations they feel, and because of their lack of self esteem, thinking it would just make their life easier to deal with. The reality is, it adds to the depression. When one has hearing impairment, even a mild or moderate loss, it is even more isolating not fitting into either world completely. Sometimes people, Deaf or hearing, think it is better to be alone, than to try to fit into the world around them.
The process of qualifying for the cochlear implant and the days, weeks, months leading up to the surgery, the activation, and the process afterwards is particularly stressful, filled with highs and lows. It varies for everyone, and the families, friends, and co-workers need to be supportive, even if they don’t understand why we are suddenly weepy and depressed. In a sense, the whole process puts us on a bipolar roller coaster of emotions.
Families, friends and employers need to understand that the cochlear implant isn’t an instant fix, that there is a lengthy process for several years for us to fully gain the potential of the cochlear implant. When families stop using sign language, or dropping all methods of communication strategies, particularly after the activation, they are actually adding to our stress levels in doing so. We still need the sign language and we still need those communication strategies while we acclimate, and train our brains. Auditory verbal therapy and rehabilitation is a long process and for adults, it’s done on our own, with no guidance. For those that only wear hearing aids, or do not have hearing aids because they can’t afford them, or they aren’t effective enough, it is very difficult to battle the emotions that come up.
By dropping all avenues of communication and expecting us to understand instantly as a hearing person, you are affecting our mental health as well. It is very depressing to realize that you can’t count on your family for support.
I still struggle occasionally with my confidence and my frustrations over my job hunt, and with the changes in my hearing. I’m gradually coming to terms with being nearly totally deaf, and my main worries are my safety at night when I am alone.
Important to note:
Deaf Children and even teens can suffer from depression, lack of self esteem, and insecurity. They are often bullied, isolated from their classmates, and have few friends. Even those with an apparent social life, circle of friends will have bouts of depression, and self esteem issues. As parents, even with hearing children, we must be aware of this and keep lines of communication open. What we see isn’t necessarily the truth, because even children and teens can present a false front so as to not worry their parents.
It us important to expose Deaf and HOH children and teens to both the hearing and Deaf communities. It is important they learn to communicate with people from both worlds, so they can have a sense of belonging and comfort as they grow into adults. The hardest part for me as a child was the fact that after grade three, I was the only Deaf or HOH child in the school. My parents divorced at that time and I moved around from city to city with either my mother or my father. I have some Deaf friends, that I am in touch with, but my relationships with them is based on common experience at the first school I ever attended.
Role models like Derek Coleman, Marlee Matlin, and others in the community need to be more visible to the community and world at large. These role models can help all children and teens, deaf or hearing, see their own value, and own possibilities, and help them strive towards reaching their dreams and goals.