By Beth Walters
CN: Disability, hearing loss,
anxiety, depression, counselling
“But do you not think, perhaps, that the types of care and support you had as a child, necessary because of your hearing loss, may have shaped the way you receive or perceive care today?”
I shifted around in my seat uncomfortably, turning over the words in my head. It sounded like a sentence I’d usually dismiss as ‘psychobabble’ as part of the uneasy skepticism I brought to every single one of my counselling appointments. But something resonated. I took advantage of that infuriating trait of the counsellor, the ‘waiting-for-you-to-speak-first’ silence and thought slowly. I remembered the chaotic primary school classrooms that made hearing nearly impossible, and the wind whistling over the school yard which made forming break-time relationships an uphill struggle. But most of all I remembered Ms Chamberlain.
As a small child, anxiety pervaded my life. As a result of my hearing loss, I had a nominated mentor in school. Increasingly the line between my hearing issues and the distress that may or may not have been a result of that became blurred. I remembered years of my mum taking me straight to Ms Chamberlain before school, where I would have a ‘Ms Chamberlain morning’ if I was feeling wobbly. This dialogue, me saying to my mum I was distressed and needed a ‘Ms Chamberlain morning’ was supportive, and reliable. She was always there, and more often than not my ‘wobble’ would be over before registration finished and I went on to have a normal day.
“Increasingly the line between my hearing issues and the distress that may or may not have been a result of that became blurred.”
Year five and six saw fewer and fewer of these mornings, and the only way seemed to be up. Not so. In preparation for moving to secondary school, I gained a new mentor. Brutally efficient, and definitely beneath it all, caring, Mrs Moore became my line of contact. I never had issues asking for help or admitting distress, until one conversation when Mrs Moore said, “And no more Ms Chamberlain mornings and cuddles, eh?” Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t immediately react to this and become troubled as a result. The care was still there if I needed it. But, sat in the counsellor’s chair, this was the first event I could pinpoint as telling me “your distress is too much”.
My case is an exaggerated one. The necessity of care for my hearing to ensure I was included and supported in education was something I am so thankful to have been in a privileged position to have always received. The biggest impact of my counselling and rumination on the subject has been the realisation that the care models we see and receive as a child can have the largest impact on how we care for ourselves, or seek help as adults. In no way do I blame one throwaway statement for some of the moments that have made it difficult for me to ask for care, but the worry of asking for ‘too much’ is one that hounds me still today, and left me emotionally vulnerable in a relationship where emotional needs became manipulated and confused.
I am not one to arbitrarily draw links between correlations and causations and say “this is why”, without any real evidence. Some specific digging for studies found me some interesting statistics, in individuals with excellent hearing, there was a 5% incidence of anxiety and depression-related disorders, whereas individuals with “a little hearing trouble or greater hearing impairment” reported nearly 11%. These examples are specific and perhaps self-indulgently tailored to my own circumstances. But the same holds true of all disabilities, those with a disability or impairment of any kind are simply more likely to experience mental health problems. My observations are only empirical, I have no way to directly prove that the presentation of care and support in disabled individuals could be a contributing factor to their mental health problems.
“The worry of asking for ‘too much’ is one that hounds me still today, and left me emotionally vulnerable in a relationship where emotional needs became manipulated and confused.”
I certainly think my own issues would remain even if I hadn’t been sent mixed messages from professionals. What may have differed, is my feelings about receiving help and admitting difficulties. In situations where I already claim help for hearing-related reasons, I am reluctant to ask for further help for any anxiety or depression-related issues. An example is my lectures. I am given an enormous amount of support to help access them, from notetakers to recording software.
But on days when my anxiety manifests socially and I feel unable to sit in a room full of people, with few options of ‘escape’, physically going to a lecture feels unbearable. As a result, I feel guilty to have been given access to excellent support for hearing-related reasons in lectures, but unable to admit to those who might be able to help me that my anxiety sometimes stops me from receiving the benefit of this. A catch-22 of sorts, and the reason why I feel it’s paramount that alongside inclusivity education for disabilities, education needs to be given on the associated mental health risks that are often present. Rather than mental health issues feeling like the step ‘too far’ in receiving help for those with disabilities, they should be anticipated and destigmatised.
Crucially, this provides a lesson for those without disabilities too. How you have seen care, and received it, will affect how you perceive it now. It’s a long track of unlearning that you are ‘too much’, but it’s a worthy road towards your necessary self-care.