Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Looking Back on Goals - Again

Lately I've been growing frustrated (again) by the fact that my listening progress doesn't feel like it's moving as fast as I'd like it to. This perspective challenge has been present all along with the CI (where am I going? how have I improved?), but it arises and recurs in waves. There are days in which I feel unbelievably optimistic, and others in which what I want hovers out of reach. About to graduate from college, I look out at the "real world" and all the things in it and often feel intimidated, since communication can still seem like a barrier. Of course, success is possible anyway, and I've gotten better at getting creative in the last few years, but the fact remains that some things are still not straightforward.

Yet, this morning, I had a session with my auditory therapist in which I voiced some of the above insecurities. In controlled situations, the listening progress is there, but it often feels slow. We talked a bit, and then she flipped back through her file and pulled out a piece of paper. On it were written my goals for the CI from a year ago, or maybe a year and a half. They were as follows:

1. Recognize more individual words based on sound alone

A million times yes. It really depends on the good old auditory memory, but the fact that I can now hear a word and know what it is, based on listening, is amazing.

2. Be able to have base-level conversations in quiet with a familiar voice

Yes. Although this often doesn't apply to the real world, I've known for a while that if I sit inside with either of my parents or someone else familiar, I will be able to hear, understand, and respond to the things they say to me.

3. Hear and recognize more high-frequency sounds than I used to

Definitely yes. It's astonishing, how much I've started taking them for granted.

4. Encounter fewer situations in which people ask me, "Did you hear that noise?" and I reply, "No."

Yes! I can't remember the last time this happened. More often, it's the reverse: people ask me if I heard that noise and I internally tilt my head and laugh and then say, "Yeah, I did." Like, duh, my CI is awesome. Or I actually do tilt my head and listen and say, "Oh! Yes! That's a cool new noise!"

5. Feel more comfortable and confident in a group

This is probably the only one for which my answer is "not so much." There are just too many variables, although various strategies have helped me cope better in groups than I used to - including knowing my limits and being able to engage and disengage as necessary.

Number five notwithstanding, these are all things that I found unimaginable two years ago. Looking back on that progress is empowering, even if, as my therapist pointed out, of course the goal that I'm always subconsciously thinking of, that I'm seeing around me, that I'm wanting each day, is to sit at a table with a group of smart, engaging, talkative hearing friends and understand their rapid-fire conversations and join in like a pro. But sometimes it's better to measure progress from the ground up. These are some hefty peaks scaled.

Reality check: achieved. For now.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Girl Walks Into a Bar...

Glass windows. Line of people outside, huddled under the awning out of the rain. Damp shirts and moisture-splattered jackets. What, we're going in here? Yes. Yes? Yes, do you want a drink? A drink? Um... Through the door. People smash in on all sides. Bodies everywhere. I need to step back, their faces seem pressed up against mine.

Oh, there you all are. I lost sight of you in the dim light. No, I don't think I'll put my jacket down. I'm fine. Is there music on, the way some of you keep swaying back and forth? No room to sway, but you're doing it anyway. But all I hear is the constant din. Noise, that's the only word to describe it, just noise. Some people at a booth are having burgers and fries, and I feel like I'm practically sitting in their food. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but no one apologizes in a place like this. I'm in all of your laps. The group bunches so close together we might as well all be standing in a closet. I wring my neck just to see the person standing next to me. The conversation spins faster and faster.

Laughter. Voices. All of it smashed together, a processed, ground-beef patty of noise. I can't pitch my voice just right to be heard over it. Assuming that it is possible to hear anything through this - I can't hear myself, can't hear anyone, and it astonishes me that anyone can. Oh hi, how are you. Every time I say something, you say what and I talk louder, practically shouting, and you tilt your head to hear me. I'm talking into the hole in your head, into your head and the pinna of your ear, not into your face, and it bothers me. Look at me. Watch my face. Someone asks if I want something - oh, it's food, some kind of food - and my hand raises in the sign for food and drink. Are you getting anything to eat or drink? But you don't know sign. Shoot. I shout again. How much easier this would be if I could just fingerspell and have you U-N-D-E-R-S-T-A-N-D. But I can't see anyway. Touche.

Neon signs. Television blaring. Advertisement swoops up for NCAA March Madness. Barista swoops in and out with drinks. Walls are a rose pink. I stare at the artwork. Most of it seems a touch raunchy, advertising drinks with suggestive names. Friends lean in past me to talk to each other. I've just shaken the hand of a guy whose name I keep missing. He's cute enough, but - no, never mind, not if he talks like that. Not a snowball's chance of understanding him. I'm weaving through the sheets of people. All of these vertical bodies, no room to be horizontal. My eyes hurt, and it feels like I'm squinting through smoke, but there's no smoke in here, only darkness. Yet the way everyone else talks seems so natural. What? Repeat that, please? Um, yeah. Okay. Everyone's laughing. What did you say? Never mind.

And, finally - you're heading out of here? Now? Can I go with you?

(How I feel when I go out to a bar with friends on a Friday night. What a wonderful college pastime. And my friends ask me why I'm boring and stay in on the weekends.)