It takes 5 minutes for me to settle into a new environment. I’ll go through the process of sorting the sounds out until I figure out what I hear. It is like having a filing cabinet in my head: faced with a piece of paper, I look it over, analyze what to do with it and where it can go. When I know what it is, I attend to it with interest or toss it aside and move on. That is the irony with sound processing in my head. Listening is a learning experience every day.
If I don’t understand its meaning, I cannot let go. I’ve got to know what it is, and when I do, yes I’ll function better thank you very much. I am easily distracted with new sounds and will attempt to understand where they are coming from.
When I know, then it is simply filed away and I can move on. Once I become familiar with a specific sound, especially speech, I am comfortable and able to decipher it with more fluidity. I have been in places where I can be very uncomfortable – for example, and most notably, the famous and very Canadian Tim Horton’s. Every Canadian knows what it is (leave me comment if you are Canadian and do not know!). It is a franchise that sells donuts and coffee, but it has its own unique energy … and sounds. Though it is not a place I frequent, I’ll once in awhile satisfy my craving for a plain old-fashioned donut with a cup of steeped tea. When I am there, I find myself caught in a struggle: ESL youth at their first job, being trained as cashiers, are visibly challenged by the demands of customer service. I’ve been there too; I worked at a bank for a few good years just to get my fears of interacting with the public out of my system. I even had a subconscious desire to educate the public about deafness, to make them feel less afraid, to realize that we could be approachable! A little sign at my cubby announced, “I am deaf, I need to read your lips.” Maybe that doesn’t appear approachable. *grin* I have memories of witnessing expressions mouthing a “whoa” or a stare of confusion would meet my eyes, as if I was something from outer space (at least outside their box). I’d greet them gently to reassure them and it usually worked. I admit I had the irate customer yell at me every once in awhile, telling me gibberish I could not understand. I missed the words, but the body language told me I had no right to be there to deal with their accounts, leaving me weakened, confused and crumbled into the dark corridors of my wicket. Reassurance by kind staff let me know the customer was out of hand and that I was alright, still doing ok (as long as I’m balancing debits and credits at the end of the day in spite of unbalanced tempers).
In my experience at Tim Horton’s, I am one of the customers that they might dread, on the other side of the counter from where I used to work, in occasional fear. I stall them and stir them and make them anxious when communication isn’t connecting. They ask such simple questions I cannot understand. “Milk or sugar?” “Here, or to go?” I answer back with “hmmm?” “pardon?” “what was that again?” maybe once, maybe twice. What they say is much too fast and automated for my slow and processing mind. I feel best when I leave with a smile, hoping they have learned how to do it “better next time,” or maybe something more meaningful in the mystery of human interaction. I also hear them a little better by the time I leave, having observed their strong accent another time or two while awaiting my order. If the line of customers isn’t too long, I share a bit about my hearing loss, even my new device, and their response usually expresses enlightenment in a spirit of warmth. They show relief, understanding, and perhaps even share of having a relative or acquaintance who cannot hear. Our experiences are nearer to one another than we often expect, and there is something rich and more meaningful to the 5 minute settling in than meets the ear.