How I Yearn For Solitude
An apology to my relatives on the pain of my skills deficits, and confessions of a hearing-impaired introvert.
I’m hard of hearing. I was born that way. I’m deaf in one ear, partially deaf in the other. I have a problem with my eustachian tube in my right ear. That ear just doesn't hold the pressure when I’m eating or chewing something. When my one good ear loses pressure, I lose something like 40% of my hearing.
My mom and my brother are here visiting. My brother has a small dog, too. I admire the dog for the fact that even though she has a tiny brain, she knows what love is. My family knows what love is too because somehow they deal with me.
In a gathering of my family, I’m at a disadvantage. With multiple conversations going on at once, I am unable to parse multiple voices and separate out the one I want to hear. So I drift off into space.
In moments where I can have a conversation, at least I can hear my voice, so I tend to monopolize the conversation so that I can know what is being said. This isn’t to say that I’m not interested in the other person’s disposition. It’s that I’m afraid that if the other person talks and I didn’t hear what they said, I might have to ask them to repeat themselves. Nobody likes to repeat themselves.
Often I feel overwhelmed so I retreat, I drift off into space, deep in thought. My body is there, and I’m looking at you, but if I can’t hear you while you’re talking to someone else, and I’m afraid to ask you to repeat yourself, I’m gone. I’ve left the room. I’ll be back, but I’ll wait for things to settle down. I’ll wait for an opening.
I’ve spent much of my adult life living alone. I’ve spent much of my time as a kid, alone. When I was a kid, I used to pop my ears to make them work better. One of my friends used to mock me for popping my ears. He didn’t know what I was doing and I really didn’t know how to explain it to him.
My dad used to ground me for not doing my homework. I found a way to be alone. I moved out of my childhood home unmarried. I lived in apartments, rented rooms, and had a few roommates, but even then, I was alone. I read books. I messed around with computers. I went on walks. I found something to do with my time.
When I got married, there were a lot of adjustments to be made. I had to learn how to live with other people again after about 20 years of living alone. My wife is the great organizing force of my life. While I was at work, she rearranged the furniture, organized every room, and put everything in a good place. I was in a good place. I had someone other than me to care for. I had someone else to talk to.
My wife speaks Vietnamese as her native language, so she exaggerates the syllables of every word of English she speaks. She doesn't mind repeating herself because that’s practice. Well, that’s true unless we have a disagreement, and then she might not repeat herself, even when asked to do so. But when she speaks to me, she makes an effort to speak clearly. She understands that I wear a hearing aid for a reason.
Now I have kids. My eustachian tube is much worse than before. Sometimes my ear feels like it’s underwater and my voice sounds like my head is underwater. This happens more often now. My kids have to come to speak right into my ear to get my attention and to get their point across. They have adapted to me and they don’t seem to mind adapting to me.
So it is that I’m going to another gathering today. I will be with even more people knowing all that I know about me. I am painfully aware that not everyone that I know and love know what I know about me. They may not understand me, but I know that they love me when they repeat themselves. I know that they love me when they speak clearly to me. In those times, I try as I might, to stay in the room.
A long time ago, someone told me that hearing-impaired people go inside for peace. They don’t usually seek comfort from something outside of themselves. I know this to be true for me. I can hear my own voice with perfect clarity, perfect diction. I write because I can hear my voice with each word that I type. I know that I won’t have to repeat myself. I know that I won’t be interrupted like while I’m trying to figure out what the other person just said. I don’t have to worry about pausing while I gather my thoughts. Nobody cuts me off while I’m writing. Writing is where I go for peace.
Group conversations are very challenging for me. I have to exert a great deal of discipline just to carry on with the conversation. I have to be completely focused on the other person while being an active listener. I have to overcome my fear of asking other people to repeat themselves. I have to allow other people their impatience with me if they’re repeating themselves for the 3rd or 4th time. I don’t take it personally, I assume that such impatience is a skills deficit and that it has nothing to do with me.
So if you know me, if you see me, if you talk to me, know that all of this is going on in my head. If I’m eating, my ear is underwater. If you speak to me and I don’t see you, I didn’t hear you. If I can’t see your lips when you speak, plan on repeating yourself, or be proactive and get in front of me. If you have a question, set up your question with context so that I can better understand what your question is.
The difference between conflict and peace is understanding. Indifference is painful. If it was worth the effort to say it once, it’s worth the effort to say it again. Speak your mind, clearly, distinctly, while projecting your voice. If you want to know what I think, make sure I heard you so that I can respond.
I’m not fond of solitude, but solitude is familiar to me. Just know that my tolerance for other people has more to do with my inability to hear other people than the joy of being with them. And know that I’m still working on that.