Arthur McWilliams – Deaf Anxiety
Hey, everybody, it’s Artie. And today I would like to talk about my anxiety. I believe that everyone who struggles with anxiety on a daily basis has a very specific relationship with their anxiety. It’s not the same for everyone. I think it’s very well worth noting the anxieties among some deaf and hard-of-hearing people and people with auditory processing disorder. For many of us it is a lifelong thing.
My anxiety is very much connected to my hearing. Every day when I step outside the front door I immediately put up a wall. I use my earphones to deflect sounds from the outside world that I wouldn’t be able to hear. The idea is if people see that I’m wearing earphones then they can’t get mad at me for not hearing something in my environment. I feel very awkward walking around without music because that means that I have to be much more alert. I feel as though I’m always being watched. If I miss something people will look at me and go, “Why doesn’t he respond?” In those moments I know that I’m overthinking it. And I know that I’m being paranoid. But I can’t shut it off. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder and scanning the room that I’m in to make sure that I don’t miss anything important. And it’s really exhausting.
One major difference between hearing people and some deaf and hard-of-hearing people and people with auditory processing disorder is the privilege aspect. The ability to relax knowing that if anything occurs in your environment you’ll be able to hear it. I do not have that ability to relax. I feel as though I’m always on edge and I’m constantly pondering all the different situations that could arise that would require me to have to strain myself in order to understand what is going on. Not to mention all the things I have to dismiss because I can’t devote that kind of time and energy to every little thing. A lot of audial information just gets sacrificed. Not knowing something gives me even more anxiety. And sometimes that makes me feel like a failure. Especially when the conversation was happening right beside me and I didn’t hear a word of it. I put a lot of pressure on myself on a daily basis to compensate for what I can’t hear. When I didn’t hear something I tend to obsess over it. It gets me really down.
The hardest thing to remember is that it’s not anyone’s fault if you don’t hear or understand something. Obviously deaf and hard-of-hearing people are meant to exist because we’re here. It’s just frustrating sometimes that there are not enough of us to make the world really take us seriously and realize that we need to be respected and accommodated. We can’t be put in situations that demand that we have full hearing. We can’t be seen as second class citizens or unable to fend for ourselves. I think it’s the cultural misconceptions of deaf people and the difficult situations that we are placed in that make me overwork myself. The anxiety comes from so much uncertainty. It’s never being certain how loud something actually is. How loud you actually are. It’s constantly questioning if you heard something right because sometimes your brain just scrambles everything around.
It’s the constant lack of accessibility. The pressures to pretend that you’re a hearing person and not realizing that is exactly what you’re trying to do. There’s so much doubt and fear that it’s perfectly understandable when somebody says, “Look, this is just so overwhelming.” It is. And to get up every day and do it all over again. I mean, give credit where it’s due because it is really freaking hard. I want people to take the time to listen to these conversations. I want us deaf and hard-of-hearing people and people with APD to talk more about this. Obviously not everyone struggles with the same thing but I do believe that “deaf anxiety,” if I can call it that, is a real thing. And it comes from lack of accessibility and lack of awareness and years of harmful stigmas directed at people like us. I’m saying that it is time to put an end to all of that. None of us should live with so much anxiety over who we are.
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