When to Say When

When to say when . . . I think it is safe to say that we all, as human beings, have faced this issue at one point or another. Whether it it’s struggling to figure out when to tell someone you like them or when to tell the waiter to stop pouring cheese on your pasta, trying to nail down the art of timing is Rubik’s Cube of life. Or maybe that is just me. Either way, I have a constant, on-going when-to-say-when issue in my life.

As a deaf individual, trying to figure out when to tell someone you’re deaf is the most confusing thing on the planet. It has gotten to the point where I roll my eyes and laugh at the absurdity of the situation. But before I explain what I mean by that statement, let me fill you in on the situation itself.

Close your eyes and imagine you’re me. And if you don’t want to be me, just close your eyes and imagine you’re deaf. Got it? Good. Let’s say you are a mainstreamed deaf individual. That means a slight accent or lisp because you can’t say your “s” sound very well, or a slight nasal overtone to your speech. It also may mean you say “what?” occasionally. And in noisy places, people of both sexes may think you are thinking about kissing them when, really, you’re just trying to read their lips. Primarily, it means that despite all these traits or quirks, your deafness exists on that gray boundary between detectable and undetectable to your average human.

Now imagine that you are meeting someone for the first time. You shake their hand, you introduce yourself, you chat with them. The conversation goes pretty well. You hear about 97% of the conversation, but thank goodness, in today’s zoned out, sleep deprived age, saying “what” at some point in the conversation doesn’t result in your new acquaintance realizing that you are, in fact, deaf. Let’s say you guys exchange phone numbers and promises to meet up later.

This moment can either blossom into a friendship, or not. But if it does, and you guys start getting closer and hanging out more often, you might start wondering: does (s)he know that I am deaf? Should I say something? Does it matter? You play out two scenarios: you suppose that you could have introduced yourself and said “hi, I’m (insert name). Sorry if I seem like I can’t hear you very well, I am deaf.” That isn’t really a bad option, but it is kind of straightforward, and it can lead to the new acquaintance being confused or a bit taken aback. Or not. It depends on the person. But it is a toss up.

Conversely, you could become friends with said person, texting and hanging out regularly. And maybe, just maybe, five years down the line, you can slip in the fact that you have been deaf the whole time.

Okay fine, maybe five years is dramatic, but you get the point. Whether it is a week later, or whenever an appropriate time arises, you somehow feel that your timing is a bit too late. Once you have established a friendship with someone, the common reaction to revelations of this degree is incredulity. Sometimes, and I have experienced this, the friend gets offended that you didn’t share with them sooner. Sometimes it is completely fine. Another toss-up.

I, myself, have not yet mastered the fine art of when to say when. I always do my best to find the right moment. If that is a couple seconds after introduction, then so be it. If that is two weeks later, during a 2 a.m. chat, that’s cool, too. If it is five years later — well, fine, that never really happens. I have come to realize that there are situations where it is important to be upfront, like in classrooms (always let your teacher know you are deaf. Always), or at meetings, or in loud places, like football games. There are other situations where it might not be so important.

When it comes to making friends, I am absolutely watching to see how people react to the news. What I have found is that most people are not fazed. They shrug and say they are happy to help me with anything I need, and sorry, they still want to be friends. Nope, being deaf doesn’t change anything at all. I’ve come to realize that the timing is a matter of personal preference for me. Just like a random person wouldn’t come up to me and start spilling their guts, I don’t need to go around trumpeting my deafness. No one says, “hey, red flag, you may not want to be friends because I can get really anxious about things” so I don’t need to say “hey, I’m deaf so I’m sorry if that complicates things.” When you meet someone, you embark on a path of getting to know them. For those who met, are meeting, and will meet me, part of this journey will involve me telling you, if you didn’t already know already, that I am deaf. I am sure that my journey meeting other people will include me learning things about them, too. Same difference.

The irony of my general over-thinking of this whole dilemma is that I am not a closed person, nor am I ashamed of my deafness. Ask anyone who is close to me — when I share this trait with you (and if you’re still interested in hearing more), I will share with you my story. I will explain the biology and science of deafness. I will show you youtube clips of people getting their hearing aids or cochlear implants for the first time. I will answer all of your questions. For me, the only trouble is that one tiny little bump in the road — WHEN.

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16 thoughts on “When to Say When

  1. This is really well written and adds to the sensitivity we can all improve upon. I was wondering if this conversation leads to humorous encounters. I would expect most people to be more interested in you and your uniqueness.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautifully written. I have a close friend who introduces herself as “hearing-impaired and I read lips.” If she did not say so I would not notice anything out of the ordinary. Keep it up

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You don’t know me, Shayna, I am friends with your mom- but wanted you to know I am so impressed with your openness and honesty. This “when to say when” is appropriate for so many situations! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mary Lou! Thank you so much, I really appreciate it! It is so interesting — I was sharing this dilemma with some friends of mine and we all realized it’s a pretty general issue for us humans! Thank you for reading 🙂

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  4. After I read this post, I told your parents how much I loved it. First, I love the perfect conversational tone — the reader relaxes into the story. Second, I love the connection between the particular (your experiences telling people you are deaf, and your musings about that) and the broader human experience (all of us have some hidden attributes that we have to decide when and how to share). Your dad and I had a talk about med school and I told him that I think writing is an important skill for physicians. I have known at least three women who went to med school with humanities backgrounds and strong writing skills. They all flourished. The youngest just finished her ped residency at Yale and is a new mom (I’ve known her since she and my daughter were in pre-school). Some of my favorite writers are Oliver Sacks and Atul Gawande. The ability to write long form narrative prose carries us far in life.

    Thank you for this glimpse into your world.

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    • Wow, thank you so much for the kind words! I hope to always be able to write, even as a doctor, and I look forward to future opportunities to do so. I am so inspired by all of the young women you speak of and I am even more excited to be on the journey to becoming a doctor now. I will have to check out the two authors you mentioned. Thank you so much for your support and your comment, it means a lot!

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  5. Pingback: Gap Year Musings | Earplug8

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