“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”
—My new favorite phrase.
Talking has always been my strong suit. Whether you’re a life-long friend or total stranger, I love meeting new people and hearing about their lives. People have always said that I posses a special talent for getting others to share their story. It’s also one of the reasons I pursued a career in therapy.
But now, one of my greatest strengths has become my biggest insecurity.
It still feels strange [even after two years] to ask people to repeat themselves or feel so dependent on my husband in certain social situations.
I can’t engage and be fully present when I’m so focused on deciphering what someone is saying.
I usually don’t have a problem at home, especially with voices I’m familiar with hearing. While traveling, though, the combination of jet lag, sinus trouble, and strong accents, makes it very difficult to hear.
I’ve also had the unfortunate luck of getting sick during almost all our trips, which can make even a healthy person’s hearing momentarily decline.
When I’m exhausted, my brain is so busy trying to stay awake that my hearing is usually the first thing to drop. It also tends to ramp up my tinnitus [the ringing in my ears], which makes it even harder for my brain to focus and tune out the sounds.
Traveling has challenged my patience with my hearing and has led to more than a few frustrating moments. [Even the most patient person would get annoyed after being asked “what” five times in a row—my poor husband.]
Thankfully, my husband is used to my pleas for repetition. But when I’m talking to strangers, my first thought is always: they’re going to think I’m dumb.
That may be an unfair judgment, but it’s a reality that many hearing impaired people face every day.
Traveling has also helped me realize that as uncomfortable as I may feel when asking a stranger to “say that again” three times, they are almost always kind and accommodating. I’ve also gotten in the habit of adding, “I’m sorry, I have a hearing problem,” and that usually encourages them to speak louder.
During our recent trip, most people spoke English in both the UAE and South Africa [read about those trips here and here]. Usually, finding English speakers abroad is a relief. But for me, it means people assume I’ll be able to understand everything they’re saying, despite their heavy accents.
On our way home from South Africa, we had a 20-hour layover in Dubai, which made our ticket prices cheap, but also meant we had an awkward amount of time between flights.
My husband decided to use that time the way all theme-park aficionados would: by going to a water park.
I, on the other hand, opted to get a hotel room and try to sleep [I can’t usually sleep on airplanes anymore since I’m hopped up on steroids].
We landed at 7:00 am, but unfortunately, the hotel wouldn’t let us check-in until 9:00 am, which was the exact time my husband had a podcast interview with one of the managers at Atlantis’ Aquaventure water park.
So, I would be on my own at check-in. Normally, this would be no problem, but after not sleeping for 48 hours and recovering from a cold: it was a struggle.
Since it was early in the morning, the guy at the lobby desk was speaking particularly quietly and had a very heavy accent. Something that is usually quite simple turned into a very awkward back and forth of “what” and “sorry one more time,” where I couldn’t help but feel like I was offending him a little bit.
Eventually, I was able to get checked in. As I settled into my room, I kept thinking about why exactly that situation had made me feel so uncomfortable.
Is it the fact that I no longer feel confident in being independent? Is it that I’m afraid I’m offending people because they have an accent? Or is it because I think people might be questioning my intelligence?
Honestly, it’s probably a combination of all three.
As frustrating as my hearing problems are while traveling, I’m grateful that I have this time abroad—forcing me to accept feeling uncomfortable.
Even if you’re perfectly healthy, traveling still has a way of stretching your boundaries—whether it’s the different food, the jet lag, or language barriers, traveling transports you beyond your comfort zone and forces you to adapt.
So, as much as I try to avoid inadequacy-inducing situations, I’m learning to appreciate those moments as practice for when I eventually lose all of my hearing.
I’m also learning to appreciate my husband for being my “ears” while we travel—despite my efforts of independence.
Traveling is even teaching me to allow a little grace for myself. I’m not perfect, and it’s ok to feel embarrassed or frustrated. Everybody has something, and this just happens to be my thing.
But eventually, it will feel more normal.
[And maybe traveling will help me to reach that feeling of normalcy a little quicker?]
I also know that I can’t always expect other people to be kind or understanding about my hearing problems. I’ve been lucky so far, but I’ve heard many stories from other people who don’t always get the best reaction from strangers [or even loved ones] when they can’t hear them.
And that’s ok too.
People aren’t perfect, and you never know what they might be dealing with in their own life. As much as we have to give ourselves grace when we feel like we’re falling short, we have to share that grace with others too.
It’s also important to stop letting our shortcomings [or what we think are shortcomings] be our constant focus.
I would hate to look back on our year of traveling and only remember the challenges. Instead, I’m going to remember how much God has taught me, the ridiculous stories we have to tell, and the amazing adventure I’ve had with my husband.
If you want updates about our travels, subscribe to my blog to receive posts directly to your email. And if you want to keep up with us daily while we travel, follow me on Instagram at beingpositioned or Facebook @beingpositioned!