Yesterday I did something that's been on my agenda for a while: attended a local social gathering for Advanced Bionics' Bionic Ear Association (BEA), which seeks to connect and provide information to a network of CI users and candidates. In my area, these meetings take place every three months or so, and now the beginning of summer (read: a time in which I'm no longer tied down with being a full-time student! hooray!) has provided me with the perfect opportunity to branch out and meet other people with CIs.
In a way, what happened when I walked into that room wasn't entirely unexpected. I was the youngest person at the gathering by far (several decades at least), and one of the only ones who was prelingually, congenitally deaf. I was the only one who had gotten her CI after twenty years of deafness. Most of the other BEA attendees were fifty or older, people who had lost their hearing gradually or suddenly over the course of their lives. As such, of course, their CI stories were far more successful than mine. Having an established auditory memory, having prior experience with hearing, having been assimilated into the hearing world (rather than feeling like they had always hovered about its boundaries, as I have felt) - all of these factors had made a world of difference for their lives post-implantation. I had a bit of a sinking feeling as one older gentleman, looking and sounding and behaving almost entirely hearing save for the bilateral magnets on the side of his head, told me about using the phone perfectly by the third day after activation. The third day? The third day after my activation, I was about ready to put a bullet through my head! It was a rocky uphill trek through territory I had never before known or experienced. It was not, by any means, a gratifying return to skills long since lost. The gratification has only emerged slowly.
Still, there was a small - very small - subset of other early- or congenitally-deafened people at this BEA gathering, including one who currently wears hearing aids but was considering a CI. These people signed (whereas the later-deafened people did not), and I sat with them and chatted for a bit. Of course, as often inevitably seems to happen in groups like this, the conversation turned to the question of identity. Groan. One woman (who, I could tell immediately, was strongly culturally Deaf) turned to me and asked me which group I identify with, post-CI. Other people had said, "Oh, definitely still Deaf" or "Hearing!", but I sat frozen for a second before tossing up my hands and signing, "I don't know." I certainly did not consider myself Deaf a year ago, and do even less so now. But I'm still far from identifying with hearing people sometimes. I'm just happy with resisting categorizations, however much other people seem to like them. They make introductions easier, but otherwise they don't come to much good. Still, I was a bit haunted by the recurrence of that question, one year later (or twenty-one, depending on how you look at it). Who cares, I suppose.
All in all, meeting and talking to such people was a breath of fresh air in the sense of sharing common hearing experiences, but it also emphasized to me how very different each individual's journey with the CI can be. Personal history and intrinsic factors figure into the equation more than some people think. But chin up. I survived those chaotic first months. I am not hearing, nor will I ever be, but I'm doing so much better than I was one year ago. Yes, a cloud of doubt about my ultimate future limitations still hovers over my head - a cloud that seemed to loom a little bit closer after yesterday. But comparison to others is never the way to go for anything. This is my journey, and I'm going to make it on my terms and to the best of my ability.
Enough internally-conflicted talk. My one-year remapping is tomorrow, and that's a cause for celebration. From electric shocks to hearing and learning and experiencing and (!!) understanding, I think I'm going to walk around with a grin on my face all day.