Q is for Que dijiste?*

*Spanish for ‘What did you say?”

By now if you’ve been reading this series I hope you have an understanding that some types of anxiety are like permanent fixtures in your life. I’d like you to consider that for some people, anxiety is simply part of their internal operating system, sort of like Windows on a computer. It’s hardwired into the machine and unless you are really savvy, everything you do on the computer is filtered through that system.

Photos from our trip to La Paz in 2012.

Photos from our trip to La Paz in 2012.

Ever notice that there are times when your computer slows down and starts to do odd things? It takes a long time to open a new page, it gets stuck loading your Facebook feed, you get the Google ‘Aw Snap’ message? That’s usually because there is something running in the background that you are unaware of, something that is using a lot of the computer’s resources that keeps it from functioning optimally. When that happens, your computer can begin to be frustrating.

Anxiety is just like that. When there is a chronic, underlying issue that takes up a lot of psychological or physical resources, anxiety tends to interfere with optimal functioning even more and those ‘background applications’ make anxiety worse. This ‘background application’ could be chronic pain, or a health issue. It could be a set of belief systems that contribute to your internal anxious thinking.  It could be chronic job stress or an inability to focus and pay attention (such as in Attention Deficit Disorder, which is a real thing).  For me, the background program that sucks up a lot of my resources, creates stress, and therefore makes my anxiety more difficult is my considerable hearing loss.20120408_10

Remember that anxiety exists in the system of your entire being: the mind, the body, the spirit. It works like ‘trickle down economics’ is supposed to but doesn’t: If one part of the system is in a state of tension, it causes tension in the other parts of the system. And what happens when there is chronic tension? Amy G. Dala sits up and takes notice. (Remember, we are really simplifying here.) Pretty much anything that makes a person feel more vulnerable in the world is food for anxiety.

Hearing loss is the invisible disability. Invisible to others, that is, because I guarantee you that people who have it don’t ever forget it’s there. Consider the following conversation, which I am making up but which is also completely plausible. The place: a gathering of cruisers where we are the new people. There’s a lot of background noise and many conversations going on at the same time.

Cruiser to me, talking over the noise: How was your passage?
Me: Massage? Yes, that would be great! Do you know someone?
Cruiser: No, PASSAGE? Were there any storms?
Me: Warm? Yes, I find it downright hot here. I imagine we’ll get used to that, but the humidity is killing me.
Cruiser: OK. (trying another tack and moving away just a bit) How long do you plan to cruise?
Me: Oh, this bruise? That’s just where I knocked my arm against the corner in the galley during a bit of a rough patch. It looks worse than it is. Just part of living on a boat.
Cruiser: I think I hear my mother calling. See you later.

Ah, it would be funnier if it weren’t also true. Emily Litella, anyone?

What that cruiser might think she is witnessing is a daft woman who can’t seem to answer simple questions or follow a conversation. Maybe she is thinking, “What’s wrong with this woman? Isn’t she listening to me?” What’s really happening is that I will be focusing almost all of my internal resources on hearing and understanding what she is saying. Because of the background noise, I will be watching her lips and trying to read them. On the whole, I will just be attempting to fit in like a normal person. And that will take a great deal of my energy.

I’m very good at telling people that I don’t hear well, but I cannot always count on others to speak up or look at me when they talk. Why should they have to remember to treat me any differently than they treat others? Always having to ask for that gets to be its own level of exhausting. The constant straining to hear and understand, the constant decoding of words and matching sounds to known language,  is a background program that runs continuously until I take my hearing aids out at night. Blessed relief. You know what’s a good day for me? A good day is being alone at my house with no one to listen to. I can completely relax. You can see how that would begin to interfere with all kinds of things. 20120408_15

What does all this have to do with Spanish? Just this. It’s already hard enough for me to decode language that is my native tongue. Many times, by the time I’ve figured out what the person is saying to me, they’ve already moved on in their own mind to the next thing. Ever notice that when you have to ask someone to repeat a joke it’s not as much fun for them the second time around? It’s just not worth asking. There’s that fleeting look of irritation that is completely unconscious in people, but I notice it. It makes me feel bad for having to ask. If it seems unimportant, I’ll just pretend I understood and move on.

If someone is speaking words that have no template in my brain because they are literally foreign to me,  it’s going to be that much harder for me to figure out what they are saying. You know what? I’m not looking forward to that.  To me, it just feels like one more way that I’m going to be depending on Mike: he has preternaturally, disgustingly good hearing. He can hear a owl hoot from across town. Do you know when the last time was I heard an owl hoot without trying? I forgot. That’s how long.

So the continual psychic drain of personal issues that are chronically running in the background of your being contributes to tension in the body, and that sends the message that all is not well. Amy G. Dala sits up and takes notice. That’s the take home from today’s blog post. If you have anxiety, think about some of your background programs and ask yourself if and how they may be making your anxiety worse, especially if they are the kind that make you feel vulnerable in the world.

In my case, Mike and I will take a language class when we get to Mexico. We understand that there is a good one in La Paz that many cruisers have recommended. I’ll have my phone with a translation app as well. Maybe flash cards I can whip out when the going gets tough. If worse comes to worse, I can wear a T-shirt that says, ‘Just speak slowly and clearly, in English.’ Or maybe, “I’m not really a bitch. I just can’t hear you.” Too much? Ok, maybe not, then.

Just joined us for the A to Z Challenge? Want to read all about anxiety from the very beginning? Sure you do. 




18 thoughts on “Q is for Que dijiste?*

  1. Not being able to hear well must be very trying. I’d probably get angry at really trying to hear someone when it turns out to be something very unimportant. I like the t-shirt though – I think it’s funny and gets the point across!

  2. We have a similar issue aboard. David used to play drums in a band and has a difficult time hearing out of his left ear but doesn’t want to get hearing aids (such vanity!). I often find myself relaying things people say to him (he can hear me better than most people because of the tone of my voice) or letting him know when there’s a new noise on the boat.

    • I understand his hesitation on getting hearing aids. It was a very emotional thing for me when I first started wearing them. Suddenly I felt very old. I’m not sure why, because people of all ages have hearing loss. But I cried like a baby. Still, not being able to hear and understand Mike was not a good thing and it was interfering with my work and everywhere else. I chose the kind you can’t see, and my hair hides them anyhow; a benefit of long hair. Most people don’t know I wear them. Interestingly, I still hear low tones very well and, in fact, probably pay more attention to them because of that. So I can hear differences in how the engine is running sometimes before Mike does. We all have our strengths!

  3. I hadn’t really thought about the difficulty of understanding someone speaking in another language if you have hearing loss. That would be incredibly difficult! On a side note, have you see the Spanish for Cruisers book? It looks like a really good resource with all sorts of cruiser-related vocabulary.

    • Yes, I have seen that book and just now I can’t remember if it’s one I’ve already bought, or if it’s on the ‘to buy’ list. But for sure we will be getting it before we go.

  4. Thank you Melissa. I too have a severe hearing loss and have had all my life. I got my first hearing aids at age 28. Your expression of what it is like and the anxiety expresses my experience perfectly. My hearing is considerably worse now than it was when I took Spanish in highschool and in college. Even then I could not accurately hear certain sounds in the language. We are so blessed to live in a time when technology gives us options for translation.

    • Hi Kathleen! I actually thought about you as I was writing the post, wondering if you experienced things the same way I did. I didn’t know your hearing loss was so long term. You are right, though. We are very blessed to have all the technology we have now for both hearing and for translating.

  5. I’m just beginning to notice the “edge” coming off my own hearing – the natural result of working in two noise-intensive careers (aviation and agriculture), even WITH proper hearing protection. So in a small group with no background noise, no problem, but add a TV or fan in the background and it’s a different story! I feel that frustration! But it’s also made me much more aware of other folks ability to hear me, and what I can do to make it easier to communicate without making a big deal of it.

    • I agree. I am much more aware of other people’s ability to hear now as well. I hope yours doesn’t progress. Mine is genetic, from my father. Thanks, Dad. Couldn’t you have passed your perfect teeth to me instead?

  6. I joined the hearing aid crowd about 15 years ago, and it hasn’t gotten any better. Too many years of ships and shipyards. Like you, comprehension is difficult, especially in noisy areas. Last winter I got some sort of virus in the channels of my right ear and am for all practical purposes deaf in that ear. Hopefully, I will avoid the problem in my left ear. I’m still trying to train Elsie to keep on my left so I can hear her. For get it when I am driving and I am stressed by traffic. I don’t envy you trying to learn a new language, especially Spanish with all its regional dialects and accents.

    Steve H.

    • Wow, I wonder what kind of virus did that? I hope for you that you never get it in the other ear. My hearing loss is genetic and I truly hope it does not progress. I’m thinking in Mexico I’m just going to have wing it as much as possible. I’m musically inclined, so I’m hoping I’ll pick up on cadences quickly. Cheers!

  7. I had the opposite experience last summer, where plugging my ears saved me from a very stressful day. We were offshore and the wind was building rapidly. It started howling through the shrouds and we reduced sail. The forecast didn’t have anything menacing in it, but I was getting very stressed (past traumas from surprise storms?). I was at the helm and did something I almost never do – I decided to put on some ear pods and listen to music. My stress level went down IMMEDIATELY. I don’t think it was my choice of music that did the trick (Best of Seal). Without the sound of the wind to trigger my anxiety, I looked around and realized that the boat was well balanced, that the conditions were not that rough, and that we were, in fact, sailing along at a nice comfortable clip. I don’t like plugging my ears when we’re sailing but it beats being stressed.

  8. Excellent! Very nice example of past bad experiences coming back to haunt you and something concrete to do to calm the brain down. I love it! I do think that at times my lack of hearing is a benefit, although I don’t always realize it until after the fact. Noises can be very overstimulating to the entire system. Good work!!

  9. Sounds like you need a visit to (good) audiologist….

    “Se Habla La Paz” is the good language school in La Paz. Check out/contact Jess & Josh on Oleada (blog: Sailing for Climate).


    • I’ve been to several audiologists over the years. The hearing aids are a result of that. It is what it is. No hearing aid can completely replicate the natural ear. We do plan to go to the Spanish school in La Paz.

  10. Dan’s got hearing loss too, and it has certainly made it difficult for him to learn Spanish on the tall ship we work on. He’s been using the Duolingo app with earmuff-style headphones that work with his hearing aids, and says it has helped tremendously with understanding the words.

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