I learnt a new phrase recently: ‘deaf anxiety’.
After reading and learning more about, I realised that whenever I get anxiety, it is mostly likely because of my lack of ability to hear. And the more I read about it, the more I realised that it resonates with me and it’s definitely a thing.
It also made me aware that it’s a topic that we should be talking about more often, and this is why I decided to open up about it.
You can listen the podcast…
…watch the video version below…
(If you can’t see the captions on moble, click on the title of the video to view it on YouTube and then click on ‘CC’ to turn it on).
…or read on below.
When growing up, I taught myself to do many things in my community of able-bodied people, just so I can blend in:
- The correct way to pronounce certain letters and words.
- Analyse the environment to see if I can work there.
- Focus all the time so that you don’t miss anything.
- Find out when is the best time to use a phone.
- Work out whether that person will understand me or not.
- Work out what the hell that person is saying.
I can go on.
Not only I had to blend in and act like a hearing person by doing all of the above, but I also learnt to combine that with some fake smiles, nodding and laughter along the way.
There we go…now I’m doing it right.
(Meanwhile, I’m findig it difficult to breathe, your heart starts beating faster and you feel all tense inside)
That is how I managed to blend into a community of able-bodied people and to pass as a “normal hearing person”.
Society is constantly asking me to take a test and I must pass it if I want to be part of it. So I need to be on my toes if I want to pass that test.
Failure was a scary option for me, but that does happen and it makes you feel like failure.
But that’s OK, because I then remind myself that I get to take that test again…
In my head, the worst thing for me to do is to make other people go out of their way. The idea of doing that…well, that’s just plain damn rude, isn’t it? How dare I do that?
Forget hearing privilege – I should always be grateful, serve others, respect others and help others.
“So don’t forget”, I say to myself, “always put their oxygen masks first before putting your own on”.
I am making things difficult for myself by keeping quiet and not interrupting other people. But that’s OK, because I’m being polite and that’s how we should treat our fellow citizens.
So let’s ignore that tense feeling around my heart, and battle on.
(Literally after writing the above, I had to stop and take a break. No wonder deaf anxiety is not talked about often).
What is Deaf Anxiety?
Deaf anxiety is a term that applies to those who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing, and have gone through a moment in their lives which has triggered anxiety as a result of their inability to hear.
I watched the video on this topic by Deaf activist Arthur Clayton McWilliams IV (also known as Artie Mack). As far as I’m aware, he was the first person to have coined the term ‘deaf anxiety’, and you can you watch the video below:
It really spoke to me because it’s relatable in many ways. How I started this post is an example of what goes through my mind at any particular situation.
Anxiety is a complicated subject and everyone has their own reactions to it. It can also apply to anyone at any time.
Deaf anxiety is different though.
That inability to hear in a hearing world can trigger emotions that I used to struggle to explain…until I heard the phrase ‘deaf anxiety’.
Now it makes sense to me.
And if Artie’s and my experiences are very similar, I’m willing to bet that there are hundreds of thousands of people who feel the same.
Artie has his own challenges that he deals with and some of you might be able to relate.
Like having to be on high alert all the time so that he’s aware of his surroundings. Or the feeling of constant uncertainty. Or wanting to be heard but is ignored.
Day after day after day.
When visiting audiologists and looking at all the pamphlets that are available to read, I’ve never seen anything that talks about mental health for D/HH and the topic of deaf anxiety.
I’ve even come across a number of medical journals that touches upon similar subject. One research in The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education has found that:
And I even spoke about the very close connection between mental health and deaf in a podcast (transcripts included).
Despite what some people might say, I’m not making it up.
It’s tricky when the Deaf community talks about ‘deaf gain’ as they look at it as a positive thing, hence why they don’t like to use the term ‘hearing loss’, as they haven’t lost anything. They’ve gained more than lost.
But when you are in the middle, between the hearing and deaf world, it’s a confusing place to be.
What Can Trigger Deaf Anxiety?
It’s worth noting that everyone has a unique relationship with anxiety, regardless of whether you are deaf or not. But like how Artie has mentioned in his own vide above, mine is pretty much linked to my hearing/deafness.
If you have watched the video above, you know what triggers it for Artie. But not all D/HoH people goes through the exact same thing.
So rather than make assumptions on what triggers it for everyone, I’ll give you some of my own personal examples of when it does trigger:
- when the phone rings
- when I’m going or attending social events
- if I’m wondering whether that person will/can understand me
- when wanting to talk to someone in a noisy environment
- when someone is talking to me in a noisy environment
- when surrounded by people in noisy environments
- the anticipation of expecting someone to talk to you
Unless I cut myself off from the world, they’re not exactly avoidable. So I have to learn how to deal with it.
How I Deal With Deaf Anxiety?
Again, everyone has their own ways of dealing with anxiety. But here are my ways:
1. Put my headphones on
With headphones on, I don’t have to worry about communicating with anyone, there isn’t a need to be fully alert by listening hard all the time, and hearing people can’t get frustrated with me if I don’t hear them.
It’s almost like a safety net for me.
But it also makes me feel as if I’m being unsociable, and that’s not like me. So I don’t wear it all the time unless I need to.
It’s not a quick fix but this is what I do before answering phone calls (depending on who is calling) or when entering a noisy environment.
If someone close to me calls me, I rarely hesitate to answer or to go to them (‘rarely’ being the keyword).
But if it’s someone I barely know or don’t know at all, I sometimes need a moment to get ready mentally before interacting with that person.
3. Create a Suitable Working Environment
The huge benefit for running my own business is that I get choose my working environment (which is my home office) to how I like it and to allow me to the job efficiently. It is set-up in a way that makes it easier for me to deal with those challenges.
If I was in an employed job, I would attempt to do the same and if the employer can’t accommodate, then I will have to seek employment elsewhere.
I know that’s not option for everyone and can relate when your employers are not very accommodating.
I know I’m very lucky that I have the option to fully customise my working environment to suits my need.
4. Create a Suitable Home Environment
At the same time, home comfort is important to me and I get to control that too.
I’m not talking about having fancy electronic gadgets and beautiful interior design. It’s about the simple things like having good food, comfortable furnitures, clutter-free environment, warm house, hot water and feeling safe.
Whatever you need to make it a safe haven.
It took a while for me but I am incredibly lucky that I get to have that and share that with my wife, Claire.
I’m a big book nerd and I’m proud of it. But there is no doubt in my mind that books have helped to shape me for who I am, gain new skills, to be a better person and to handle life’s difficulties.
Sometimes, I want to get lost in another world and read a fiction book. Other times, I get curious about a subject (I love to read about the food industry).
But most of the time, I enjoy the learning aspects of it and especially enjoy reading books that opens my mind and to learn something that I can apply in life.
For example, it could be to learn about how to manage stress, communicate better, connect with people, build the life I want, growing my business, let go of a particular fear…anything that can help me in some way.
With a really good book, I’m always at peace. But equally important, books are one of the best investments for my mind and lifestyle.
6. Being Self-Aware & Mindful
During the process of reading, I got really interested in the topic of self-awareness and mindfulness.
You know the feeling of going through the motion, not realising what you are doing at that moment, where you are, how you are feeling, not aware of your own abilities.
Being present is something that I’m learning to do. It’s about focusing on the what you are doing right now instead of constantly thinking about the past or the future.
It’s a no brainer that exercise really does help, and for me, that includes football, golf and yoga.
So when I’m injured, I get frustrated.
But even going for a walk and taking in fresh air can also help.
8. Avoid Attending or Leaving Early from Social Events
This is not an ideal but it’s there as an option for me.
There are times where I have no option but to avoid certain events, like a conference after-party, work events or a social gathering at a bar.
Sometimes, I muster up enough energy to attend and put up with it as mucha s I can but more often than not, I leave early.
It could be for various reasons and concentration fatigue is a big one.
What is it & How Does it Affect d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing People?
But there are other ways to enjoy an event, and it doesn’t have to be at a noisy bar where you have to shout to the point where you will lose your voice.
It may sound like I’m being unsociable but there’s nothing sociable about not being able to communicate with other people.
I realised I’d rather focus on myself more if I want to be able to handle what life throws at you.
Hence why it’s important to put on the oxygen mask first.
9. Be Selfish
If you don’t look after yourself, you’re not helping yourself and anyone else around you.
As much as I’d love to be able to do everything that a hearing person can do, I know that I can’t and I have to accept that.
Knowing your limit, as difficult as that may be to accept (and believe me, I totally understand how difficult that may be) is an important first step to acceptance.
Then after that, it’s about being selfish and making things work for you.
I can’t control what’s out of my control, but I can control what’s in my control. And that’s where I prefer to focus my energy on.
And with the right support around you, you are better able to handle anxiety attacks.
If you don’t feel like you have that, get in touch with me.
This post wasn’t the easiest for me to write about. But I know from previous experience that writing about tough topics like this allows other people to feel less alone and to make them aware that you’re not the only one going throughthis.
And I really hope that it has helped you in some way.
Because having to take exams every day is hard work, especially if you are at a disadvantage of going through something mentally.
But there are ways of dealing with it and I urge you to find a way to help you. It can change your life.
Two questions I want to ask you:
- Can you relate to the experience of having deaf anxiety?
- Even if you are not deaf and you go through anxiety, do you relate to this post? And in what way?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below (and there are so many amazing comments if you scroll down).
And one final thing, if you do feel overwhelmed, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to those close to you.
There’s no shame in doing that.
Latest posts by Ahmed Khalifa (see all)
- ‘El Deafo’ by Cece Bell – A Fun Graphic Novel of a Child Wearing Hearing Aids at School [Book Review] - January 22, 2020
- ‘Making The Arts Accessible by Captioning Live Events’ – with Melanie Sharpe, CEO of Stagetext - January 21, 2020
- What is Lip Reading / Speech Reading Like for Deaf/Hard of Hearing People? - January 15, 2020