The Unspoken Sides of Sensory Loss or Diversity (MHM)

Let’s try how this mental health Monday theme would work occasionally. Especially since it’s apparently mental health month now in US (among with hearing loss awareness week in UK and GAAD, global accessibility awareness day later this week). So, the unspoken sides of sensory loss or sensory diversity… does that sound too cryptic?

Lots of my deaf, blind, deafblind and also neurodivergent friends (in one or more of those categories) have openly talked about their depression growing up or just living in the past few years.

In lots of books about psychology I’ve listened to they list sensory loss as typical causes for depression. Understandably. If someone was happy with their life as a sighted person, the change to having to do pretty much everything can be radical and frustrating. And many deaf people struggle with others not understanding the communication barriers, when all their friends and family are hearing and don’t seem to be aware of any of the life’s difficulties. Or if you were a deaf person well adjusted to your signing world and then had to learn to live blind. Or any similar combo. Or if you just got gradually angry and upset as an older person struggling with cataracts and gradual hearing loss (in which case you’d probably also be misdiagnosed easily with dementia). Or some sensory differences, with atypical sight or hearing, even going thru regular mainstreamed childhood and school years can be a thing of struggles. Bullies attack those that are different, so being one of those kids that can’t see what the world looks like to the others, or the one with the ugly beige hearing aids, or the one with a limp… those all add up.

Bullying. There, let me say it again. It also affects the life of many neurodiverse people. I’ve known many autistic people who were severely bullied by people around them, and several dyslexic people hated the school because of being bullied because the school was hard. Add all the invisible and less obvious disabilities in this. The kid who never could catch the basketball because of no 3D perception, those with math problems, an ugly handwriting and so on.

Traumas and PTSD are also common thru life with the same groups. It’s easier to get the attention of the thugs when you can’t see around you. Or to attract the wrong kind of relationships, workplaces with weird and unhealthy relationship dynamics and so on. Plus of course some of us lose the sight or hearing (or have it altered) suddenly or in environments that can cause or worsen PTSD. Head injuries, strokes, hospital traumatic experiences, side effects of other treatments etc. And sometimes the causes can be underlying for years. Sometimes these all add up.

A deaf friend told all mental struggles aren’t talked about in the deaf community. Everyone pretends things are ok. Which sounds odd to me, knowing the deaf can be direct in so many other things (like commenting on people’s weight gain).

In the blind community the depression issues can be sometimes more openly talked. But then there are all the specialists that ASSUME too much, which can make it frustrating. Assuming everyone who goes thru something would have the same kind of issues, like depression, just because of sensory loss. That makes me mad. It doesn’t take into account that people adjust differently, and maybe they don’t mourn or care about the same exact things the specialists think. Like maybe losing the ability to drive isn’t that groundbreaking and doesn’t feel like loss of independence to you as driving never meant or felt like independence but prison to you.

Partial sensory loss can be equally frustrating, especially as those issues often go invisible. And neurotypical (with which I mean non-autistic, or non-adhd etc, people with typical wiring of brain) people without disabilities are very uncomfortable talking or even listening to about those issues. You’re supposed to be quiet about them. Or if you talk, prepare for many of your friends and family to just walk away. Even if you don’t talk about your negative issues dealing it, but just want to share the joys when you’ve discovered something really cool. Like if you find really cool hearing aids and are excited you can enjoy music better or understand speech. Or when you discover that despite some usable sight, audio described movies can be such a blessing as you don’t have to guess who’s on the screen or what they do or what kind of facial expressions they have. Believe me, neurotypicals without disabilities can be very uncomfortable with anything relating to disabilities, even when it’s about highlighting how some technology makes life more accessible.

So many things can be uncomfortable until you find your own peer groups, people who have gone thru same kinds of things and that you can talk freely about some specific issues.

Some of the I think unspoken or silent things about blindness related issues have to deal with low vision. When you have some usable sight, or what you can see changes variably daily, and people don’t notice, recognize, or remember of the adaptations you might use. And some of the things I’ve realized sound scarier to people who haven’t gone thru them: not being able to recognize people from the visual cues or faces, not being able to see facial expressions or body language, and especially sometimes seeing something but other times being in complete darkness with no cue of any visual aspects around you. As workarounds to those everyone needs to find their own. I’ve started warning people I don’t recognize anyone so please tell me who you are and where you know me from when we see again, especially if in any other location. Missing the facial expressions is weird as I realize that despite studying them from books as a kid, I never really had that good eyes (or that much of non-autistic wiring) that I would have been able to interpret them properly. So I kind of already learned to rely more on people’s voice. And when asking for walking directions to some building or room, people might realize that not everyone drives.

I used to hate fall and winter. The days would get shorter and it was always so dark. Now I enjoy the darkness. “Sighted people can’t see in the darkness either”. There are all sorts of lamps that can help, and canes when those fail, and for indoors, brighter lights. I’m comfortable not relying on being able to do things with sight only, so the dark side of the year is just pleasant darkness now.

Despite the not really having relied on facial expressions it still sometimes gets me. People can see me and my expressions. So it feels like just having to wear masks outside home. What if others just used their voice better, and expressed their thoughts with more clarity in words? Having some more word loving neurodiverse local friends would be lovely.

If someone shares you their life stories, listen and respect. So many stories can be difficult to share. All disability stories run deep and area always personal.

I was trying to capture more thoughts of darkness, but my aspieness in writing wins over today, as you can probably see/hear from my observations of sensory features. (Very practical that assistive technology fits in so called special interests now) I must have got all that out of my system, as I’m happily writing with a warm kitty on my lap, getting ready for a longer run under the sun…

There is also the side of sensory issues that can be surprisingly pleasant. Like being able to switch off your hearing if you wear hearing aids, or learning to laugh at the blind moments, or to highlight some of your autistic sensory super powers. It’s like sometimes it’s still perceived weirdly if you talk about your new skills or passions when they somehow interfere with or rise from sensory issues. Here some of my sensory confessions: I love learning to rely on the sense of smells too. So much a nose can detect, but it needs a lot of training and fresh air too. And having learned to read my dots is beyond eye-opening so to speak: not having to ever bother about relying on insane reading glasses (I’ll happily try to use magnifier app on the phone or just ask someone to read whatever I can’t, or will ask for the menu specials). No more weirdness of having to explain how much sound means etc.

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