Sunday, 14 July 2013

Just Call me Ariel


I went to school in Canada, and I don't recall prom being a big deal. We had another dinner/ dance that a lot of people went to, and graduation but prom wasn't a thing... not a big deal and certainly not something that most of my friends went to (if indeed my school even had one! I can't remember).

I went to my first prom in England, at another school that I was teaching at, two years ago. It was glorious. The hair, the makeup and the dresses. The big, colourful, and blinged out dresses. I also remember a great deal of orange skin, as fake tans are very in these days. I stayed and had a good time and just remember thinking how very different my school experience was.

This time around, I went with a few friends for only an hour or so. We wanted to see the students arriving and have a drink but not spend the entire night. There were less fake tans (probably as it's been very sunny lately and so lots had real tans... and burns...) and plenty of nice dresses, but still lots of sparkle and fanciness. Some kids even arrived in an old red double decker bus! That was a lot of fun. It was great seeing students again and to see them so happy and looking so grown up.

On the way home, we started talking about this blog. I explained why I wanted to write and we mused on possible topics. One that came up was the time I lost my voice. It was a pretty odd event and, on reflection, an experience that taught me a lot.

During university, at the very start of the year, I got a throat infection that moved down into my esophagus. This caused my throat to swell and so it was off to the emergency room for me as I couldn't breathe. They gave me some medicine which helped me breathe and sent me home when things had settled. The next day my throat was really sore, and I couldn't speak, but I figured things would come back to normal when the infection cleared up more. A week later, I felt much better but still could not speak. It was as if I was Ariel in 'The Little Mermaid' and some evil seawitch stole my voice.

I'll spare you the details, but after one horrible specialist and one really helpful one, I was able to get a diagnosis and start voice therapy. After almost four months, and hours of vocal exercises, I was finally able to talk again! I was so happy. I remember feeling as if I looked different, and that everyone (even strangers) should be congratulating me on being able to speak, even though it's a pretty basic thing that most people can do with ease. Ordering a coffee caused me extreme joy... because... because it was so normal. It was so easy. And after four months of struggling to do the most basic things, such as ordering a drink, it was a relief to interact in a very normal way.

The months I lived without being able to speak were very weird. It was also very enlightening. Whenever I wanted something, like a coffee, I had to write down my order. Some people just stared at me and then got what I ordered. Others tried to talk to me and then were very awkward when I just smiled back. Some openly told me that I was being difficult by writing things down and "why don't you just tell me? I don't have time to read everyone's orders". As if I was deliberately trying to make their lives more difficult and that I could communicate verbally but wanted to be lazy or demanding. Those were the times that I really wanted to scream. Scream at them that it wasn't my choice! I wasn't trying to be difficult! I just wanted a drink! Those were the times when I wanted to rant about people with disabilities being treated fairly and with respect. What about those who are deaf or mute? Those people who would never be able to verbally communicate?

I learned very quickly that some people either do not know how to act around someone who is different, or can be openly hostile to those with differences or disabilities. Not all disabilities are visible and a lot of people didn't seem to either understand that or know how to deal with it. Plenty of people treated me as someone who was mentally delayed or that I had a low level or intellect, as if my vocal chords had something to do with my intellectual capacity (and yes... I know... there are lots of jokes that could be made here!).

During this time, I had to carry around a note, to explain why I couldn't talk... complete extra work in my courses to make up for the participation mark and completely adapt the way I did things. I would hang out with friends, and while most of them were really good at including me, I often felt like an observer as I couldn't join in on the conversation or impart any of my famous humour and wisdom (hahaha...). It was in a word: difficult.

I am very grateful every day that I can speak (although I'm sure not everyone is happy that I regained my voice!). It means that I could work in the career that I wanted to work in. It means that I could continue to communicate with my friends and family without everyone learning sign language, but it also means that I am not judged, mistreated or even yelled at, for something that is beyond my control. I respect and admire those who do have to live with any sort of disability; especially those who may come up against any rudeness or hostility. When I could not speak, those who I felt the most comfortable around, were those who weren't afraid to talk about my issue, who took it seriously but never pitied me or let it change the way they acted around me. Those who were understanding and accommodating but knew that it didn't make me helpless or hopeless. I love my family and my friends and am so thankful that I had such good ones to support me during my silent months. Although... if you ask my Dad... he'd tell you it was a great four months!

This experience taught me a lot and while it was difficult, it was part of my weird and wonderful life.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness. I remember this back in uni! Can't believe how long ago that was...