Thought processes are like habits, and sometimes they can be counterproductive to our happiness. We all have thought processes that, at times, make us feel stressed, anxious, unworthy or depressed. I call these “thinking traps” because, once we drop into them, it’s so difficult to get out.
There are two thinking traps that hard of hearing and deafened adults often develop. The first is the habit of not being realistic about limits, or lack of limits, caused by their hearing loss. The second is the tendency to look backward and compare current experiences with past experiences. At holiday time, these two thinking traps seems to be even more prevalent, and more of a hindrance to us.
When the holiday season begins, even sometimes long before, some of us hard of hearing or deafened people start planning activities as if we were still fully hearing people. We want to do all the things we did in years past – go to parties, dinners, family events – and be able to communicate easily without having to make any special efforts to understand the conversations around us.
This is where thinking traps lead us to disappointment. Instead, if we plan our activities carefully, keeping in mind some basic communication strategies, including the need to be rested so that we can communicate more easily, we will enjoy the quality of our holiday socializing, rather than the quantity.
The first step to careful planning is to set priorities. No one can do it all. We have to look at all the options and choose only those we really want, and say “No, thanks” to the others. We have to pace ourselves. That means we probably shouldn’t try to go shopping, then to a big luncheon, then a party that same evening. The social events are sure to be frustrating if we are exhausted. So, be kind to yourself and choose one or two.
Then when you are at a social event, give your eyes and/or ears occasional rests. Conversations, as delightful as they are, are hard work for us. All our senses are on “full power” and they will start to revel if we overwork them. Find a quiet corner, and take three to five minutes to relax, breathe deeply, and get yourself in a positive frame of mind before returning to visit with family and friends. You may think finding this corner would be very difficult at a crowded social event, but I know where you an almost always find a private spot: the bathroom! An added bonus is that no one will ask you where you are going or why!
Careful planning also means setting realistic goals about your ability to understand. And the only way to do that is to stop comparing your abilities of today with your abilities in the past. We must learn how to focus on enjoying other things.
One woman in my current coping skills class reported that she had a much more enjoyable Thanksgiving Day dinner when she stopped trying to hear conversations, but, rather, focused on watching how nicely her grown children related to each other and how beautiful and sweet her grandchildren were. Another woman said she focused on how well prepared the food was and the beautiful holiday table setting. She discovered that she had been trying so hard to follow the conversations that were going on that she hardly knew she was eating.
In order not to feel isolated or left out, each of these women was careful to make a special time and place to talk to family members in a quiet corner, one at a time.
A severely hard of hearing man in the class takes another approach – he always volunteers to be the bartender. Then, as he passes out drinks and appetizers before dinner, he chats with each person, one to one, and is a help to his wife at the same time.
We also need to remember not to impose unnecessary limits on ourselves. Just because we can’t hear the music, we don’t have to sit home feeling lonely while the rest of the family enjoys the annual “Nutcracker” presentation. We can still enjoy the dancing, the costumes, the action, and the people in attendance. We may not be able to hear the liturgy, music, and chants of our religious services, but we can still share in the feelings of wonder, worship, and friendship that we’ve always enjoyed in our holiday religious gatherings.
If we limit ourselves too much, we become isolated and lonely. If we over-extend ourselves, we become frustrated and stressful. If we compare past capabilities or situations to our current ones, we open ourselves up to depression. None of these feelings is in keeping with the holiday spirit! By setting realistic expectations and not comparing current holiday situations with past ones, we can be more positive and patient. We’ll be able to be more at peace with ourselves and with others, not only during the holiday season, but all through the year as well.
If you find yourself feeling frustrated, stressful, or depressed frequently, I suggest that you get some help – take a coping skills class, join a support group, or see a counselor. Give yourself this gift for the New Year: take some action to learn how to live a better, fuller life as a person with a hearing loss.
This holiday season, as you light a candle on your table, on the menorah, or at the altar, take sustenance from this rich symbol and its visual beauty. Let it seep into your being and feed your spirit. And I will light a candle with the wish that you will have a season of peace and joy.
By Edna Shipley-Conner