Isn’t the English language crazy sometimes? Did you know that it is actually one of the hardest languages to learn? (Oxford Royal Academy, 2014). Since most who are reading this likely know and use English as their first language, that may come as a surprise to you. We bellyache about how difficult it is to learn Spanish, French, German, etc., because most of us were born into English speaking households. Yet, many scholars argue that English is quite difficult to learn.
Take homophones for example. “Butt” can mean to “be adjacent to” or it can be your hiney, your buttocks, your butt, your behind, your gluteus maximus, your CABOOSE. Talk about confusing! You have to look at words in context to figure out the meaning. Then… we have acceptable shortened versions of words. For example BUTT is an acceptable, widely used word in the place of BUTTOCKS. However, BUT is not short for BUTocks. As a matter of fact, that isn’t a word! Add an “e” to BUTT and it even changes the pronunciation of the word. Now it is BUTTE (pronounced \ˈbyüt\). However, you don’t ever add an “e” to BUT. The word BUTE is not a word (unless you mean the derivative of the medical word phenylbutazone). You just ran screaming from the room, didn’t you?
Get it Right
But ya know something? Sometimes we use words and think we know what they mean when we do not. It is my opinion, that those of us who live with disability, chronic illness, or invisible diagnosis, should know our own SELF very well. I have Meniere’s disease and am late-deafened. I sought to learn everything I could about both conditions. When I later developed extremity peripheral neuropathy, I learned all I could about this condition as well. However…
I cannot expect everyone I meet to be experts on what is wrong with ME.
Aren’t we guilty of that sometimes? Heck, even with our loved ones we really can expect too much from them. So we have to be careful about our expectations. If I tell a colleague that I’m late-deafened and they respond with, “Oh… OH! I know some sign language!” (and they start to slowly and painfully finger spell their name)… don’t have a COW. (Besides… that is just MESSY!) Not everyone knows that the vast majority of people with hearing loss are late-deafened and do not use ASL. Try gently educating instead.
I told a student who was walking down the hallway and then into an elevator with me, all the things Chloe does for me. She asked about my condition, so I tried to explain Meniere’s disease in layman’s terms. When we exited the elevator, she helpfully took my elbow, and said, “Here… let me help you“. I stopped (after making sure hound dog and my bags were on the right side of the closing elevator door) and dug in my heels. I looked at her in astonishment. I had just walked down a hallway with her, wheeling my bags behind me and juggling leash of faithful service dog not five minutes before! After helpfully disclosing and explaining Meniere’s disease now I’m incapable of walking on my own? Because I knew she meant well, I didn’t scream, spit, or throw a hissy fit (*pats self on back for rhyming so nicely right there*).
I said, “I can walk on my own. Chloe helps me“. She stared and then said, “But… But you are WOBBLING“.
I cheerfully retorted, “Yup. Welcome to my life!” and walked off.
Everyone’s an Expert!
Another problem you may encounter if you have a long-term or permanent diagnosis, is that helpful folks sometimes act “the expert”. I’ve tried to explain that I am late-deafened and hear again with a cochlear implant, only to be interrupted by the person exclaiming, “Oh yeah. I have to turn the volume up now that I’m in my 40’s!” (I’m like… whaaaaaa…?)
I told an employee of my favorite grocery store a little bit about Meniere’s disease. Chloe and I always meet him stocking bread in the same aisle almost every week. After hearing my brief explanation of Meniere’s, he said, “Oh yeah, I walk into things after I’ve been drinking even just one beer!” I stood there trying to determine if my brain heard what I thought it heard. Ever been taken by surprise before and your mouth just blurted out what you were thinking before you had a chance to filter it through your state-of-the-art “Maturity Meter”?
I said, “That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard“. He stared and then stomped off. We only see the tail end of him leaving the bread aisle when we go to the store now.
All my buddies who are late-deafened joke about this response after telling someone that they are late-deafened: “Oh yeah, I have an aunt who is death“.
Rest in peace, auntie.
Cut ‘EM Some Slack
Just as our English language can be confusing, so can your explanations of who you are to others. Even invisible conditions such as mental illness are so misunderstood. Many folks who try to explain a mental illness diagnosis are then treated like:
1. Fragile porcelain that may break under pressure
2. They are suddenly contagious
3. They are more dangerous than Freddy Krueger
All we can do, is do our BEST. In the end, we need to work hard at trying to understand that others – even those who may care about us the most – may not completely understand your new normal. That’s OK. A healthy acceptance and ability to BE GOOD TO OURSELVES is not dependent on the understanding of others.
©2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal
Oxford Royale Academy (2014). Why is English so hard to learn? Retrieved on October 27, 2014, from http://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/learning-english-hard.html