My Chain-lock Heart, Writing, and Blocking Out the Noise

A few days ago, I came home and tried to enter the front door of my private apartment. Already inside the building.

However, when I tried to open the door, it jammed with a rattle. I forgot that I had put on the chain lock inside.

(Don’t worry, I have a back door!)

This is my life. I forget which door I locked, and sometimes have to go to the backdoor. Sometimes I locked that one instead.

I don’t always put it on, but I often do. And I tend to forget. I don’t have a great short-term memory.

Consequentially, I spent a lot of time re-tracing my steps– but my life is never boring!

And that moment, jamming against the chain lock,  is an apt metaphor to describe my life– in a few different ways.

Let me just tell you that I live in a small, safe building. I don’t even *need* a chain lock. But I’m hyper-vigilant about safety nonetheless.

I don’t let people in. It takes me a long time. And truthfully, many people run out of patience– especially in relationships.

Luckily, those who care develop patience with me. And that stability helps me to relax.

Love helps us to become patient.

There are a lot of aspects of my life that are uncertain– it’s hard for me to feel secure about most anything.

I have a severe hearing-loss. Truthfully, I think that’s a major part of why I’m a writer.

I function very well with it. Most people would never guess.

It takes so much energy for me to be fully engaged in what’s going on around me that at a young age, I adapted to the frustration by spacing out and dreaming instead.

I do much better with one-on-one conversations– but group situations like school, Mass, meetings and large gatherings can be very intimidating. There’s an influx of noise, and I have a hard time knowing from which direction. So to take breaks from interpreting all these incoming sounds, for short intervals I tune out the world, and focus on something easier– a book. Or I find solace by directing the conversation toward a blank paper- and channeling my thoughts that way.

Writing is how I hear myself think. I’m able to block out all distractions and completely focus– and that’s a huge relief. It’s also a harmless way to keep myself occupied without being disruptive to anyone. I often enjoy going to eat alone at restaurants, bringing a journal or a book. Servers like me because I don’t demand anything of them, and they don’t rush me. Everybody wins.

Some people do this with music– they’ve always got their headphones. They channel their feelings into an instrument.

I choose the alphabet over a musical scale. I wish I understood music– but it’s mathematical. I get frustrated easily. Maybe some day I’ll try and tackle it, but for now I like sticking with what I know.

I was a prolific note-taker in school. I learn by writing, and then re-reading what I’ve written. I also became the best note-writer of all time! Like any typical kid, my attention wandered and I instead wanted to chat with my friends. But for me it was easier if I wrote notes- and we built conversations that way. I wrote missives full of all kinds of details, folded into impossible shapes and contrived origami-like patterns that could never be restored once opened.

I would nudge my best friend and whisper, “Meet me at the pencil sharpener.”

We had nicknames, and stupid codes– because a gossipy girl in our class was notorious for breaking into people’s backpacks and cubbies to STEAL notes. Nobody trusted her, so she found her own ways to keep on top of gossip. Or she would “find” them on the floor. It was our way of encrypting our secrets, though it failed.

And of course! Notebooks. I still have some of them.

Oh yeah– back to my hearing-loss. I am a woman of tangents! Forgive me. Sometimes I forget and repeat myself.

I write because there’s no disputing words on paper– it’s like math. Absolute.

By re-reading what I wrote, I verify that’s what happened at that moment in time. Sometimes it helps me to avoid redundancy or making the same mistake twice. It helps me to keep track of things, and make sense of my life.

When having a conversation via text or on paper, no one can say, “I didn’t say that!” It’s right there. Words on paper are something I can trust. They may dispute the meaning if they don’t like my reaction, or they may have lied– but they are at least accountable for the words they chose. I can’t control the rest. I try to take people at their word, and if they’re not honest that’s their problem.

And not everyone trusts us with the real information first. You have to know the person to decide if they’re being honest. Some divulge more truths as they get to know us.

Everyone has defense mechanisms– we all have a chain-lock of some sort.

That doesn’t make us bad people. It just means we all grow up with different fears, and different ways of coping.

But half the time what I think I heard isn’t what was said. I have to spend a lot of time guessing, hoping that I’m right. Because if I asked for clarification every time I needed it, people get annoyed. So I learned to pay really close attention, and fill in the blanks most of the time by context clues. Most of the time it works like a charm. That way, most of the time no one even notices and it saves me a lot of time. I’ve also had a lot of speech therapy and lip-reading classes– so most people never know about my hearing-loss unless I tell them, or they see my hearing-aids. Right now, they’re broken and getting replaced– so I’m struggling to compensate. But I’ve assimilated well enough that most people never notice my “accent” unless they know someone who’s hearing-impaired, or they have studied speech pathology.

If anything, most people think I’m from another country or state, which is hilarious. I like to have fun with them a bit.

“Where are ya from?” they ask.

“Here,” I dead-pan. Or I might say, “Kansas.” (It’s true! But I’ve been living in Illinois for over 20 years.)

They usually look at me oddly, but accept that answer. Cracks me up!

I don’t want to be treated differently. I don’t want anyone pitying me. But I do like to educate people, and hope that others may relate and feel less ashamed of their own insecurities if I reveal a few of my own and admit I’m not perfect first. Maybe I can help them understand how to better interact with someone else facing the same challenges, with more patience.

I suppose I adapted that way because asking for things to be repeated in the past has gotten me a lot of negative reactions. People assume I’m dim-witted or not paying attention. When it’s vital or I feel comfortable enough, I DO ask for things to be repeated and clarified. The people who know and love me have learned to anticipate this and watch my reactions– they recognize that look of panic when I feel stumped. Often they will gently repeat what they said without my having to ask, which I deeply appreciate.

They know to make direct eye contact, enunciate, and not cover their mouths or speak to me from another room or when they are too far away. They don’t speak overly loud or slow– just normally. But they speak in a manner that’s considerate of my loss, and in return I pay as much attention as possible. I look right at them, which makes some people uncomfortable– they think I’m staring.

I’m not– I’m trying to read your lips, so I don’t have to ask questions. I like to be as independent as possible, and hate asking for help.

My trust is earned slowly– and that’s healthy. That’s being protective of yourself. That’s also a product of being an adult, and having made the mistake of opening the door wide without thinking–and getting a nasty surprise.

We learn to be guarded, to wait until we deem it safe.

When I’m ready, I open the door in my own time.

And sometimes, I even invite people in.

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