Late deafened people grew up hearing. Oral language is their main method of communication. They were no different to anybody else in their social and career circle. So when deafness came on, often gradually, as a fully hearing person they had no experience of it and didn’t have the skills and knowledge to cope well.
Take Jack. At first he didn’t even know he had a problem. Among friends, it was a joke…’he can’t hear us’ but he was still included. As his deafness progressed he got by with a little help from friends and a modicum of lip reading. But slowly he was left out. His friends tired of trying to keep him up to date and Jack got sick of asking what was being said. Even within the group he had become isolated. More and more it became embarrassing to be with his friends and slowly he started avoiding places where they gathered in groups. Eventually, the friendships dwindled with just an occasional email to keep him in the loop. He had just about disappeared from their radar and his isolation had become complete.
Without input from those around him, Jack became introverted, focused on himself and thought too much about what was happening to him. It led to depression which worsened until he wasn’t himself and even if he had met up with his friends they wouldn’t have recognised him.
Jack’s story got me thinking about isolation and I remembered that one of the worst punishments for misbehaviour for those in prison is solitary confinement. Even our law and order system recognises that isolating people from others is a terrible punishment. Some prisons have thick walls so nothing can be heard. Prisoners in isolation do not receive television, radio or have newspapers or books. When the lights go out there is nothing but thick deafening silence. Many of those held in these conditions develop tinnitus. With nothing but their own thoughts to pass the time, depression sets in and symptoms of mental illness often appear. It’s intended to break the will of the detainee so that when he’s released he will be socially compliant.
So much of that sounds familiar. Jack became cut off from all the ways of communicating with people and sank into depression from which he didn’t have the strength to lift himself. Those of us who have gone deaf in later life often feel in some ways punished because of our social isolation. Just like Jack or a prisoner in solitary confinement we have too much time to think, with only ourselves for company. It is no wonder that depression becomes our companion. Early treatment is essential if we are to retain our self esteem and connection to the world.
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