Since my last blog post in 2020, I moved out of Boston then moved home to North Carolina then moved back to Boston for a summer then….moved back to North Carolina again then I finally made my way to the District of Columbia in late 2021. Surprisingly enough, I’ve made a few adventures and I’ve compiled 5 things to do in DC and honestly? You can do it all in one weekend.
1. library of congress
If you want to feel like Harry Potter in the Hogwarts library, this is it. Takes about an hour-ish to get around and you can see the reading room from the mezzanine. Heads up – while it is free (!), you have to book in advance so go plan your visit here!
2. Kayaking in the potomac
I am a big kayak girlie but it has to be on calm waters and this was p-e-r-f-e-c-t. There are multiple locations you can kayak off of in Georgetown – we did Key Bridge Boathouse. It’s $18 a kayak/per hour so book your kayaks here and go for a nice lil’ lunch after. I can totally recommend Stachowski’s.
3. Planet word
If you’re a language whiz, this is your heaven. Super interactive and takes about 1.5 hours to get around. Plus, you can practice (and record!) Obama’s or Oprah’s speech. This is another free museum and you have to reserve a pass in advance so go plan your visit here!
4. picnic on the mall
This isn’t new and everyone does it and there is truly nothing better than ordering your favorite pizza (mine is A Baked Joint’s which offers pizza from wednesday through saturday from 5pm to 8pm), grabbing your picnic blanket and catching up with your high school best friends on the mall during golden hour.
5. hirshhorn museum
Another Smithsonian gem! Depending on your interests, you can spend a couple hours here or more. It is free but if there is an exhibition like the Yayoi Kusama Collection, hop in line at 9:30am on the day of so you can get your timed passes. Side note: the line may be very long but I promise it goes by so fast.
Here’s a bonus one if you’re still here
☆ monuments at night
There is something uniquely special about visiting the monuments at night. It is the most magical thing to sit on the steps of the Lincoln and look out to the Washington Monument glistening in the distance. Or chatting with your best friend under the inscription of the Gettysburg Address in a nearly empty and quiet Lincoln Memorial. It is free and it is freeing. I feel really lucky that I get to share this with the best people I know.
got a recommendation for me? let me know your fav spots in the district down below!
Back in 2017, I wrote the first of many blog posts on my experiences as a deaf graduate student and it was the first post that resonated so deeply with everyone – folks from hearing, deaf, Deaf and hard of hearing communities, one of which was Keerthana. Through Instagram DMs, we connected immediately, sharing identical sentiments of how affirming and wonderful it is to see and know another brown woman with hearing loss.
Internet friends turned into real life friends and thought partners. Within minutes into having this conversation, Keerthana and I joked that this interview could easily turn into a 4-part series. There is so much to learn from her and I’m so happy to debut the Hearing Together Series with her.
Keerthana, tell the people who you are!
My name is Keerthana (Kheer-thuh-nuh) and I am a second generation Tamil-American and the eldest daughter of immigrants. One of the earliest things that defined me was my hearing loss – I wasn’t diagnosed until after I started first grade in the United States in 2001. Growing up, I always thought community meant identifying with people who looked like you, but I learned it was much more than that when I failed a school hearing screening test. This very much shaped my identity as a hard-of-hearing Indian American. I only recently claimed my identity as disabled as well and I am still learning what that means.
You’re an audiologist! What made you want to be an audiologist?
I didn’t consider this as a career choice until college. I always knew I wanted to have a career that effected change, but I didn’t know what shape it would take until I enrolled in a doctorate in audiology program. In contemplating this as my career choice, it led to a subconscious internalization of my own life. If I have hearing loss myself, then how would I be able to do this job, even more so when I, myself, knew what the job would entail?
I once had an experience when I visited a deaf and hard of hearing school in the country where I am from and the lady there said, “Oh you didn’t tell me you have hearing loss. We can’t have you work today.” It made me feel confused. That experience made me think about what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. I didn’t realize how much that experience impacted me in terms of seeking community.
Even through that, I became an audiologist. I am coming up a year in New Mexico as an audiologist who works with kids and adults, and I love it more than I thought I would. A fellow audiologist with hearing loss reminded me that even though I may share my hearing loss diagnosis with my patients, their experiences are still their own. With that, I may not fully relate to their struggles and joys, and it helps me to keep in mind that disability communities are not a monolith, regardless of how they identify and/or if they wear a hearing aid, cochlear implant, etc.
Let’s dive into the communities within hearing loss. Last summer, you shared an Instagram story outlining the 3 different communities – Deaf, deaf and hard of hearing – and it was not something I was familiar with. Can you share the importance of this language and how you identify?
In graduate school and after reading the book Disability Visibility by Alice Wong, my identities shifted slightly but meaningfully from ‘hearing-impaired’ and ‘differently-abled,’ to ‘hard-of-hearing’ and ‘disabled,’ as I realized it is important to emphasize the impact that hearing loss has on my life (‘hearing-impaired’ is now considered to be outdated and ableist terminology), while renouncing the stigma that exists with having a disability, particularly in the South Asian community. It wasn’t until I met you that I met someone who is brown and identifies as deaf, but I’m realizing even to this day I know very few brown d/Deaf people.
Additionally, when considering identity-first language, calling someone deaf when they identify as Deaf, or calling someone hard-of-hearing when they identify as deaf, can have deeper ruptures. It is equally important to acknowledge the economic privilege of being able to hear like being able to afford several sets of hearing aids and undergo cochlear implantation, as healthcare insurances unfortunately do not view these devices or procedures as medical/essential but rather, cosmetic/elective.
With this identity-first language, how does that influence your work as an audiologist?
Working as a hard-of-hearing audiologist, I have to be mindful of my own experiences vs. that of my patients i.e. where is the fine line between empathy and projection? As someone who has a hearing aid and a cochlear implant, I found myself connecting with my d/Deaf patients, who often times have or rejected an implant for themselves, in a more personal way compared to other patients. While my parents made the decision for me to get hearing aids at the age of six, my decision to get a cochlear implant at the age of 23 was one of my own accord. The takeaway here is that communication is essential, regardless of devices. I try to emphasize to my patients, particularly when young, that you can have hearing aids or a cochlear implant AND still learn/use sign language, and it it not mutually exclusive.
However, sign language and cochlear implantation continues to be a touchy subject in our field. The Deaf community stands by deafness not being something to “fix” like with a cochlear implant, per the medical model of disability, but then there are deaf people who may not know sign language because of, per the social model of disability, a lack of access to technology and sign language classes, for example. Even with this idea of ‘normal hearing,’ you can have normative hearing levels but normalcy is so subjective.
For example, my hearing post-cochlear implantation improved from a severe/profound hearing level range to normal/mild hearing level range, but I do not have (nor have I ever had) ‘normal hearing.’ Since I do not identify as d/Deaf, I highly recommend reading Sara Novic’s fictional novel entitled True Biz. The story is set in a Deaf boarding school, where you see various families and backgrounds enmeshed in this larger commentary on Deafness, disability, and community (and the best part – there are sign language glossaries & historical tidbits interspersed between chapters!).
The last thing I’ll say is that growing up, I was so fortunate in having strong support systems inside and outside school, peers and teachers alike, to aid my family and me in a new journey of ours. Similarly, in graduate school, I lucked out with the best cohort and advisor team, who were there for me before and after my surgery, and I even had my cochlear implant turned on by one of my classmates!
When focusing on the communities at large, by no means do d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing people exist in isolation, but having a disability can still feel physically and emotionally isolating, regardless of age.
I share that to say that my disability rarely existed as a means of exclusion, only as a means of agency and empowerment, which is a rather idealistic reality.
What is a question you wished I asked you?
I’ll answer this as what I wish people knew about disabilities, which is to simply ask and not assume, and I’d rather have you over-accommodate than under. The number of times my coworkers have asked me if I can hear them okay at a party (and moved if not!), people in my life turning on/requesting captioning without my asking, and my fellow grad school cohort asking our professors to use the damn microphone because no one’s voice is loud enough, including my own – it’s the little things. Everyone can do something; you just have to ask.
And that’s a wrap on Hearing with Keerthana. Before this conversation, I wasn’t aware of the social and medical models of disability. A year ago, I wasn’t familiar with the language used to describe the different communities within hearing loss. By having the understanding and language on how to identify ourselves is what helps us communicate with the world and with ourselves.
When we first met for breakfast on a snowy morning in Boston nearly 4 years ago, she noticed me adjusting my implant and it was such a small thing but it felt like that this secret only her and I both knew and it felt safe.
Thank you, Keerthana.
 Sarah Buder & Rose Perry, Ph.D. The Social Model of Disability Explained. April 2022.
 Medical and Social Models of Disability. Office of Developmental Primary Care at the University of California at San Francisco. September 2022.
and it’s good to be back in this corner of the internet. There is so much I am excited for with this blog, and it is this right here. When I chose to rebrand the blog in December 2020, this series was not anywhere close to the plan because I did not want to be known as “that deaf girl with a blog” – that was until I learned that it is not my narrative to control. Besides, it was far more important for me to learn, to understand, to write, to share and to see myself reflected in a world that has such a little representation of deafness.
My goal for this series is not to educate others about the deaf experience but rather to cultivate a safe space for those who need it. If I am being totally honest with you, I am writing this for 9-year-old me.
I am honoring all the best parts of myself in this blog, and I would be remiss to not honor what younger me needed too. When we were in elementary school, my best friend wanted me to come over to her house so she could show off her new pool. I went home and I googled, “how to swim with my hearing aids” (spoiler alert: you don’t, Sita) There was so much I wanted to know and so much I wanted to ask. I was overwhelmingly curious about how to show up as hearing as possible, to fake it till I made it – so I turned to the internet.
I am supremely aware of the complexities and nuances of hearing loss because I constantly find myself suspended between two worlds – one of sounds and one of sheer silence. I grew up in a predominantly hearing community where I was the only deaf person I knew, which inevitably led me to thinking my experience was THE deaf experience. It wasn’t until the last few years, I met people, now friends, who identify as deaf, Deaf, and hard-of-hearing. While you will likely not find a blog post on swimming with hearing aids, you will find stories on not only my experiences but theirs too because deafness is not a monolith – it is wide and vast – and we each carry stories that have shaped how we move through the world. With each story, I can’t help but think the impact this would’ve had on younger me so there is no better time than now to carve out a digital space for these stories to be seen and heard – no pun intended
When I first wrote this post, I was on a flight back to North Carolina from Boston and I was going back and forth on the name for this series. What is the point here? What is the message I want to convey here? As my eyes welled up with tears, it all clicked for me on that short flight home in the summer of 2021.
Because what I keep learning through these experiences is despite how lonely it can feel, I am never experiencing it alone. I think of all of the support systems that have held my hand through every season of my life – it is my family, it is my interpreters, it is my friends, it is my colleagues, it is the stranger I locked eyes with in line who helped me get a burrito when I couldn’t hear the server. It is the manager who bought clear masks for the whole team so I could read their lips clearly. It is the best friend with a pool who knew to swim close to me so I could feel the vibration of her voice when we played Marco Polo. I never do it alone. We never do it alone, so I bring you…
The Hearing Together Series.
Over the last two years, I have listened to so many stories that have left me feeling understood – stories I wish I had found on the internet as a 9-year-old. I never knew just how healing it would be to finally have the language to articulate my own deaf experiences. This, alone, shifted my fear of being known as “that deaf girl with a blog” because perhaps I can be known as someone who made another little deaf girl feel less alone in the world, even if it is just me.
And to you, my friend. I am so grateful you are here and I cannot wait to share more with you soon. If you have an experience you want to share with me, please let me know here – I would love to hear from you! If you have a friend or know someone who is looking for somewhere to feel seen,
As we hung in limbo between Christmas and New Year’s, I felt this pull to reflect on the year so I connected with a few friends and family and now, I want to share it with you.
You’ve heard it and you’ve read it but I’ll say it anyway, it has been a long year for all of us. It was filled with trials and triumphs, pain and joy, life and loss, love and heartbreak and waiting, lots of waiting. Sometimes I feel as though I am still on pause from March 2020 and I am waiting for the green light to return to the world. Then I catch myself and ask what does it mean to return to the world when there is still life to be lived right now? To press play for the slow and quiet moments too? For me, this reminder alone has allowed me to bathe in the fulfillment, clarity and intentionality of this year.
While this is the first time many, if not all, of us can say we collectively shared a life-altering event together, it is unfair to say we all had the same experience throughout this pandemic. A quote that was echoed through these conversations goes, “we are all in the same storm but we are not all in the same boat.” It is unknown who the author is but they beautifully and painfully conveyed the racial, linguistic, financial, health and geographic inequalities of this pandemic.
As I waded through the challenging waters of this year with friends and family, many themes came up and one of them was how much we surprised ourselves this year. Whether you are an extrovert or introvert, we naturally hold spaces for connection so we build routines and structures to fulfill said connection. That might look like an 80 year old woman who goes to yoga everyday to share the pretty flowers she saw in her garden that morning or a millennial who lives alone in a city and looks forward to going to work with her exuberant colleagues. When March 11th came and rattled the world, we were forced to relinquish our routines and structures for what was supposed to be two weeks but turned into 10 months. Yet in spite of it all, we still found connection through Zoom and FaceTime calls, through social media, and through the little stories strangers crafted in the mail. We still found different ways to seek connection in the face of uncertainty.
And then we had all this time for ourselves too. Whether it was mentally, physically and/or emotionally, we unveiled a layer of strength we didn’t know we had. As chapters were unexpectedly closing and opening, we learned to offer ourselves the closure and celebration alike.
In one of my previous posts, I wrote about my experience with anxiety attacks on the train during my first year in Boston. I was on the brink of a milestone then the pandemic happened. As small as it might sound, I wanted more peaceful rides to outweigh the hard ones in a city I came to adore and I was finally at a place where I could take that 45 minute commute in peace. Maybe life has a funny way of presenting new challenges to build resilience in us.
While I was privileged to have boarded a safe and steady boat, I still faced challenges along with many others and I am pleasantly surprised with the strength I gained since March. We are learning that relationships and friendships can withstand distance. We are learning to reshift our sources of satisfaction outside of work. We are learning patience in an age that demands answers now. And the best one? We are learning we can do hard things.
In the 30 conversations I had over the last 48 hours, the word loss came up several times because everyone lost something. A curious child lost precious time to socialize with other kids. A growing teenager lost a year of high school. A college-bound student lost their first year of freely launching into the world. A beaming couple lost the chance to celebrate their marriage on a crowded dance floor with everyone they love. An aspiring first-generation medical student lost a chance to don their white coat in front of their proud family. A rising entrepreneur lost their business. A young family lost their home. A grandparent lost a year to craving connection in isolation. While these events may have have been adjusted in a different way or put on hold for next year, it doesn’t account for the insurmountable loss of the people they wanted to share these experiences with.
Because above all, the families of 1,795,775 million people lost a loved one/ones. Everyone had big plans and they planned to spend it with loved ones lost. There is no way we can fully and wholly understand the pains of each individual but we can open our hearts, empathize and support one another and sometimes, that looks as simple as saying, “I am here.”
Lastly, many of these conversations came down to the central theme that is, there is no normal to return to. Normalcy is comforting and in March, it was all we wanted. As part of a generation that thrives off of instant gratification, it was difficult to understand and process that the pandemic wasn’t going to end tomorrow. Even as adaptable beings, it was overwhelming to see the country on fire and see that things kept happening and happening and happening. Eventually, we learned it would take time and patience and science and a great act of love to heal.
There have been a wide range of events that drastically changed the way we move through the world, from the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 to 9/11 to today’s pandemic. Recognizing that when these events happen, it is vitally important that we learn from them and shed the layers that didn’t work to make space for a new one.
As we stand at the doorstep of a new year, I hope you are already proud of yourself right now. I hope you know that you are surviving a global pandemic with no road map and that is remarkable in and of itself. I hope you are able to unearth your child-like wonder as we safely revisit concerts, conferences and countries when the time is right. I hope in 2021 you gain something special for yourself whether that is a new hobby, a new love, a new job, a new routine, a new house or a new city – whatever it is, I hope it is something good.
Lastly, I hope you take some time to reflect on the hopes you have for 2021. After all, hope is the best thing we have.
In January of 2000, a fearless six year old girl would get her first cochlear implant – oblivious to what all this would mean. This would be followed by many years of speech therapy, lost batteries, speakers and microphones in classrooms, listening fatigue and stubbornness. In May of 2019, a resilient 25 year old woman would get her second cochlear implant – a little more familiar with what all this would mean. This would be followed by cool gadgets, newfound efficiency, crisper sounds, lots of patience, boundless gratitude and joy.
For those who are wondering, “Sita, if you already have one, why did you get another one in the exact same place?”
Take the iPhone 4.
You’ve got the home button and the wide 30 pin USB cable charger. You’ve had that for years while all your friends have the iPhone X, but you don’t care. It works and it does the job, right? But now you’ve broken that wide 30 pin USB cable charger and you look everywhere to buy a new one – except they don’t sell those cables anymore (okay, so maybe they still sell them on Amazon but for purposes of this story, let’s pretend they don’t!) It’s outdated, it’s old school, and no one uses them anymore but you do! So what do you do? You have to buy the most modern device, maybe the iPhone X.
What was internally in my cochlea was the 2000 version (iPhone 4) – old and outdated – and if my external device (the 30 pin USB cable charger) broke, there’s no longer one that is compatible with the internal device. Instead of waiting for it to break since it was reaching 20 years old, my family and I took proactive steps to get my surgery and rehab done this year. Therefore, sharing my story wouldn’t do justice if I didn’t let you in on the hard work and love my family has given me.
You see, it is we that did this together because none of who I am would exist without their strength, support and resilience. It is my mum who drove me to speech therapy every week – an hour each way – for years and who fought for me to have the same rights as my hearing peers so I could be just like them. It is my dad who worked hard and educated himself over the years on all the technology behind these devices so I could have the best ones. It is my grandmother who patiently introduced me to music so I could hear all things beautiful. It is my sister who stood up for me time and time again so I could have friends too. It is these four who have raised me to live a life I’m so proud of.
There is no history of deafness on either side of my family, so we created our own road map and collectively learned ways for me to actively be a part of this world. When you are a little kid, you can’t see the future. But when you have a good family, they see the future for you and that couldn’t ring more true for mine.
So I came out on the other side with an iPhone X and patiently waited to get my new “charger”. I wear a hearing aid and a cochlear implant so during the two weeks I was healing from surgery, I wore only my hearing aid. It’s like pressing your ear against the wall so you can hear your favorite movie playing in the next room. You can hear it but it is soft and dull. When I wear my cochlear implant, it feels like someone has just opened the door and asked me to join them as the crisp voices of my favorite characters’ filled my ears.
After two weeks of healing, I returned to UNC to get my cochlear implant programmed or as we call it in the audiology world, it was activation day! I was filled to the brim with excitement because I was ready to feel whole again. Slowly, the sound came which was a sign that the surgery was a success but it wasn’t the sound I loved for nearly 20 years so naturally, I was unhappy. It wasn’t a reaction you see on Facebook with happy tears because this was the second time and I was expecting it to feel like I would be returning home to my body. It felt empty and everyone sounded like a child or that they had just swallowed helium. Nonetheless, I was in the presence of intelligent audiologists and I reminded myself this was just the beginning of rehab – how do we make this sound the best it can possibly be?
It is important for you to know that I worked hard for this. I worked hard for years and years to achieve the level of hearing and speech I have today. I worked hard to read people’s lips in times of distress. I worked hard to look past the insulting comments because they do not know my story. While I had a few concerns about my surgery, I was more concerned about what rehab would look like especially given I had just moved to a new city where I was still building my community.
“Wow, you’re really quiet.”
“She’s just really shy.”
“You don’t speak!”
“She doesn’t say much, she just nods.”
During this rehabilitation period, my life didn’t stop. I returned to Boston and continued to build my life while taking monthly trips back to Chapel Hill for post-op follow-ups. These are things that were said to me when attempting to meet new people. I imagine my closest family and friends laughing as they’re reading this because if you really knew me, you would know that I am the farthest thing from quiet. I am outgoing, fiercely loving, enthusiastic, annoyingly talkative and deeply inquisitive. At times, I ramble with inconclusive thoughts, I speak too loud, I sing and dance with no rhythm and I have random bursts of energy.
I don’t know you yet but I want to! Part of my adjustment period is slowly increasing the volume of my cochlear implant without overwhelming my brain. The difficult part about meeting new people is not only do I have to build a relationship with their voice but I have to decipher it from the outside sounds, especially if we meet in a loud place where I cannot control the environment. Imagine if everyone and everything – from the person you are talking with to the blaring music to the noisy air conditioning – are all at the exact same high volume. That is what it is like for me so I struggle between pulling away and leaning in because I am a social being. All this to say, I am still adjusting my cochlear implant to match the life I have.
Six months later, I am falling back in love with my new modern hearing. My family and friends sound like the way they should. My favorite songs now have a crystalline depth I never knew existed. My batteries last 60 hours, instead of 4 hours. I still want to increase the volume which is a good sign – indicating that my brain is adjusting well and saying, “more, more, more!”
As the sun sets on my 25th year, I am reflecting on the last two and a half decades of my life and the gifts I’ve received along the way. You see, the world isn’t designed for you and me but the community we foster for ourselves makes it so special and easier to navigate. I’m reminded of this beautiful community when I think back to how I fainted in the car shortly after my surgery. I woke up in fear but I quickly learned that it was gift to wake up in the comfort of my sister’s arms, to wake up to my father calling my name, to wake up to a kind stranger resting a cool towel on my forehead, to wake up to flashing red lights rushing to give me medical attention on the side of the highway – to just wake up to love wrapped so tightly around me. All of this is not lost on me. I get goosebumps thinking about how lucky I am to have so much love in my life combined with an incredible access to healthcare in an immaculate facility, no less.
As someone who consistently practices gratitude, I have never been blind to what my family has done for me my whole life. I had people in my life who knew there was a world out there for me to hear and that I deserved to be a part of it. Therefore, they granted me both the financial and geographical access to the finest healthcare and surgeons, nurses and audiologists in the nation. So going through this experience as an adult made me reflect on how all of this is so much bigger than me which I hope is reflected in this blog post.
I leave you with this – my adversity is my greatest strength and I confidently believe it is what brings so much color to my life. Think about it, the Earth has been around for 4.53 billion years and I somehow got lucky enough to live in a time where a group of brilliant people created a tiny, yet mighty device that allowed me to move through the world with independence, courage and joy. Make no mistake, that is a gift.
Year 26, I’m so excited to see what you are all about!
On Valentine’s Day in Boston, I woke up on the floor of the train to two kind gentlemen asking me, “Hi, do you know your name? Do you know where you are?” And no, it wasn’t the start of a cheesy pick up line because I had just fainted on a crowded train at Hawes Street stop during my morning commute to work.
There’s a blurred memory of loud gasps, rushed paramedics and police officers collecting information from passengers but the one thing I so vividly remember was the iced water one of the men offered me – it’s frigid coldness rushing through my body, reminding me that I am awake and I am alive.
While fainting on crowded trains turns out to be somewhat common in busy cities, it is not the first time I’ve passed out, albeit, it has been 7 years since my last episode with my parents catching me each time. Once the paramedics let me go, I hopped on another train and continued my commute to work. Little did I know, that it reignited the terrifying anxiety I experienced in the years prior. I thought I said goodbye and good riddance to anxiety in 2016 when I realized that I could attend AND enjoy rooting for the Dawgs in a chaotic football stadium with 92,000 die-hard Georgia fans. But it came back and it came back with vengeance.
I started experiencing severe anxiety attacks on the train – daily – sometimes, hopping off on the next stop when home was still 12 stops away. Frantically texting my boss that I’m going to be late at Fenway Station, less than two stops away from work. FaceTiming friends in distress. Biting my nails. Pinching myself. Shortness of breath. Pounding heart. Crying. “I need to get off and I need to get off now.” What is the worst that could happen? You’re fine, just breathe. No, I think I’m seeing stars? Is it happening again? Am I going to faint? Breathe – she looks nice, is she going to catch me if I fall? Oh wait, this is my stop! Okay, good – you did it, Sita, you’re okay now….you’re free.
These daily attacks were physically draining the energy out of me so it led to spending a lot of money on Ubers and Lyfts but it saved me. It is not easy for me to justify it to other people when public transport would be less than $5 a day but it wasn’t for other people. It was for me so I could feel safe in a new city, alone. I can recall several times when I’ve climbed into the backseat of an Uber right at the height of my anxiety attacks and felt my heart returning to its normal rate – reminding myself that I’m okay. I AM okay – I was always okay.
The thing about anxiety is that it doesn’t know when to stop because it thrives off of your fear so it followed me to work – a new, exuberant and supportive place where I knew I had no reason to feel anxious but sure enough, it was sneaking into the one of the safest corners in my life. Then it invaded my sleep. How did a fainting episode on a train 20 minutes from my house lead to me having an anxiety attack under the covers of my bed in my own home?
At this point, anxiety created a deep ripple effect in my life and it was debilitating and relentless. In moments I felt hopeless, I turned to my family and friends. When I shared my frustrations, they responded with their own stories battling with anxiety. Their boundless love and support gave me the strength to try again and to start at the root of my anxiety – the train.
I’m not writing this for you to read at the end that I’m “cured” because anxiety doesn’t rest but that it is teaching me new beautiful things about myself every day. As someone who has leaned into medications, therapy and many at-home remedies, I’m still leaning into new ways to cope with my anxiety.
1.) I wake up an hour earlier to catch a train with open seats
2.) I forgo my coffee before my morning commute.
3.) I FaceTime my mum before I head out for the train because talking to someone who accepts and celebrates all of me fuels me to go out into the world with confidence.
4.) Instead of fighting and resisting the oncoming anxiety, I force myself to pause and listen to what is happening. I check in with my senses as a way to come back to the present. What do I see? People. What do I hear? The intercom, “Next stop, St. Mary’s Street.”. What do I smell? Oh geez buddy, someone forgot to put on deodorant this morning. What do I feel? My skin. What do I taste? My Cheerios!
5.) I’m not sure why this one works for me but I wake up every morning by telling myself that today is going to be the best day of my life and I can’t wait to see what it brings me.
Even through my dark periods of anxiety, I still found lots of joy in the city. I reconnected with old friends. I celebrated new friendships. I embraced every snowfall with wide open eyes. I watched my street turn from winter wonderland into a bright green forestland with orange and purple flowers blooming through. I ice-skated like JVN in Cambridge. I danced in the sun alongside a group of strong women in Jamaica Plain. I gazed at the luminous orange sunsets that shined between the buildings in Back Bay. I rooted for the Boston Marathon runners as they jetted through Brookline. I kayaked in the Charles River. I discovered the beautiful northern beaches of Massachusetts. I laid on the lawn by the harbor and watched the 4th of July fireworks. I drank wine on the patio and laughed until I couldn’t breathe (in a good way, for once!) Part of battling with anxiety is fighting to infuse pockets of joy into my life because I want to remember this stage as a happy and joyous one. And I do feel abundantly happier and stronger and freer.
As a Southerner from a small town, I think public transport is such a neat thing and I’m slowly getting back on the train. I celebrate every ride I take – joyfully sharing with my friends, “I took TWO trains to Cambridge today!” But on my hardest days, I still get eye rolls and deep sighs when I choose to Uber over hopping on a crowded train. Then I remind myself that this is my way of honoring my body which quickly turned into a practice of self-love. When I do find the strength to catch the train in the mornings, my heart sinks a little bit when I reach Hawes Street stop but it also sings with joy when I make it all the way into the city. When I emerge out of Hynes Train Station into the brightness that is Boston, I am physically smiling and humming with joy to myself – actually feeling like that “perfect city girl” in the opening credits of a movie, stopping by to pick up her iced coffee, maybe a little too often.
I share this because in a world of filtered photos and funny memes, it is so easy to join in and post a picture of me smiling and “loving” life as a twentysomething in the city. While I have taken a liking to Boston, it didn’t come without a price. I’m a firm believer in silver linings and that there is one in every situation. For mine, it is that anxiety is a teacher – a mean and vicious one – but a teacher, nonetheless. Through these lessons, it is teaching me to be a more compassionate, more present and more empathetic person.
To Sita, I’m proud of you for giving yourself grace and patience as you fight through the fogginess of anxiety. I’m proud of you for choosing yourself first and asking for help along the way. I’m proud of you for trying your best every single day so you can fully experience this stage of your life. You are resilient, you are courageous and you, oh you – I am just so proud of you.
In other news, I got a new cochlear implant! And it is incredible but that’s a post for another time 🙂
Two Julys ago, I took a leap of faith and uprooted my life to the all-American college town bounded by Lumpkin, Broad and Jackson Streets known as Athens, Georgia. That leap of faith was the best leap to take because it gave me a degree in a profession I whole-heartedly believe in, an incredible circle of friends and a set of invaluable lessons. And those lessons? Well, if you are interested in what it did for this 24 year old mind, here you go!
1. Advocate for yourself
I think I am not the only one who believes this is the theme song to our 20s. For me, I grew up as the spoiled deaf kid with a team of unfailingly generous advocates who fought for me to have a community that was accessible, inclusive and supportive – all without me knowing. And I say that because when I moved away from my stronghold, I was constantly reminded of my downfalls because I didn’t have my team standing behind me – advocating for me. I quickly learned that I had to fight for my community which meant teaching things to my peers, my bosses and my professors. Then of course, there were ignorant ones along the way and by glory, I am thankful for each and every one of them because they gave me the gift to advocate for myself by myself.
2. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness
This is not meant to contradict with advocating for yourself because it is just as equally important to know that help is there if you need it. I am not speaking as just someone who has a hearing disability. I am speaking as someone who struggled with biostatistics, who battled with anxiety, who didn’t know what to do with a flat tire in the middle of a thunderstorm at midnight (special thanks to Quynh & Angela!) and so on. The crazy thing is we have all become so accustomed to believing that no one wants to help us when in reality, they do. We are all on the same team and we are rooting for each other to succeed because even if you’re Beyoncé, we have all needed someone to help us through adversity. I think Michele L. Sullivan says it best.
“We all need help throughout our lifetime, but it is just as important that we are part of other people’s support systems. We must adopt that way of giving back. We all obviously have a role to play in our own successes, but think about the role we have to play in other people’s successes, just like people do for me every single day.” – Michele L. Sullivan
3. Hold yourself and the people you love accountable
In Sheryl Sandberg’s most recent book, Option B, she shares, “I learned that friendship is not only what you can give, it is what you are able to receive.” In the spirit of growing, I think accountability is the best thing you can give and receive in relationships because we all know what it takes to push each other to become the best version of ourselves. And I feel lucky to have family and friends who hold me accountable in all areas of my life – in academics, in work, in faith, in health, in kindness and in service – and that is a really good community to have.
4. When in politics, respond with love
Many of us grew up with the notion that politics is not meant to leave the walls of our homes. In 2018, I think the conversation has shifted towards how to handle politics in company rather than shy away from it. It is easy to enraged or passionate when it comes to issues like foreign affairs, social injustice or healthcare policies but I’ve learned that aggressively arguing with one another makes it hard. As one who has cultivated friendships from all areas of the political spectrum, it has become increasingly important to me to listen first. When we create a space that allows everyone to share their story, we see them before their political party and that gives a healthy perspective especially in friendships. Now I got a Master of Public Health so I am in no way a master of this but it has shown me that when we respond with love, we understand a little bit more about the people we love and that of course, there are two sides to one coin.
5. Find the silver lining (my favorite one!)
This quickly became a recurring line of encouragement between my friends and I as we fought through the challenges of grad school. Whenever we found ourselves in difficult situations that demanded the best of us, we challenged each other to push away the dark clouds and find that silver lining. For example, we were all comrades in an on-call rotation where we were the point of contact for three communities of 2,100 undergraduate students and we got calls about fire alarms, sexual assault, suicide attempts, underaged drinking and substance abuse. We were presented with a challenge to turn a crisis into a resolution and to help our students reach a sense of calm in the midst of chaos. Our silver lining is that we came out of each call as stronger people who knew a little bit more about managing crisis, handling conflict and helping people. When we chose to find silver linings, it became our way of saying yes to a challenge.
That’s five lessons and I still can’t believe I was lucky enough to have this adventure. That flagship university that nestles in the middle of the hills in Georgia pushed me out of my comfort zone in the best of ways and the worst of ways and I loved every minute of it. As for the next adventure? Well, I’ll leave you with the words of my all too favorite How I Met Your Mother character, Lily Aldrin, “You can’t design your life like a building. It doesn’t work that way. You have to live it and let it design itself.”
A couple months ago, I had an unusual experience at the TEDxUGA conference. I requested to sit in the front row of the auditorium so I could read the lips of the speakers. Upon arriving, I met two sign language interpreters for a wonderful deaf man. When the lights started to dim, we took our seats and they began the conference with a video…without subtitles.
To the left of me, there were all these hearing people who were effortlessly listening to every word of the video and to the right of me, was that man who was nodding in agreement with the help of his interpreter. Even as I’m writing this, it seems so trivial. Why was I so worked up about this? It was because in that moment, I was stuck between two worlds. I am a person with a hearing aid and a cochlear implant who isn’t fluent in sign language and piecing together with whatever words I managed to grab from the video. I am deaf but I am also hearing. You can’t say one without the other.
I just finished my first year of graduate school in the Master of Public Health program at UGA. Remember this blog post? Well, change came like a hurricane.
And it was hard.
It wasn’t so much that people tested my strength as it was myself. I’ve always been open about my hearing impairment, in fact, I embraced it. Then I entered into a new territory.
After a professional referred the faults of my hearing impairment as a “glitch”, having my cochlear implant yanked out of my ear and missing projects that were assigned verbally by my professors, I scoured through the Internet to find books on how to handle disability in higher education, in the workplace and in my personal life. Then I spent late nights wondering what career would be right for me. What job could I pursue without my deafness getting in the way? Would my clients hang up on me after consistently misunderstanding them over the phone? Would I have a boss who has pity plastered all over their face when I inform them of my disability? Would I be lucky enough to have co-workers who don’t get frustrated when I ask them to repeat what they said?
Or would I be tucked into a corner with just paperwork because they find that to be the easier way? If you ask me, I want to be in a place where I can shake hands with the world and be unapologetically myself.
While I was challenged mentally, academically and professionally this year, I also grew in those areas. I’m convinced that the universe doesn’t give us hardships without silver linings. My silver lining is that despite everything, I can hear. I am one of the lucky ones to have parents who saw it fit to give me ears. I have two amazing pieces of technology that makes me feel like a superwoman every morning when I wake up. I am part of a fierce generation who is shaking up the narrative that the deaf can hear and we are here to stay.
I mean, how’s that for a silver lining?
The best thing here is that we are all learning. We’re learning there is more than one way to hear just like there is more than one way to communicate. We’re learning to diminish our ignorance and become more innovative with our solutions. We’re learning to turn our frustrations into a learning opportunity.
Like when children, being the honest and curious little humans that they are, point at your ear and ask, “What’s that?” You bend down to their level and you show them your “toy”. Before you know it, more children start to gather around you and their eyes beam when they see how the device magnetizes to your head. Curiosity fills them as they gently try to wrap it around their ear only to discover that it doesn’t work on them. Then they think you’re the one with superpowers and scream, “That’s so COOL!!!”
Last summer, my beautiful best friend, Brianna, told me about a place in Israel. She shared with me all the courageous mamas and the brave children who came from all over the world to get life-saving heart surgeries. It was with love in her eyes that convinced me to travel 6,000 miles across the world to open the doors to the home of Save A Child’s Heart.
And it was incredible.
As a live-in volunteer, I shared a 9,687 square foot home with Kenyans, Ethiopians, Tanzanians, Romanians, Nigerians, Israelis, Americans and Australians. And we were all here for the same reason, to literally save a child’s heart. These children ranged from 4 months to 24 years old, all battling with congenital or rheumatic heart diseases but you would never know that based on their joyous and lively personalities.
Every mama and child that walks through the gates of the SACH home carry a story with them and it was the stories that stayed with me.
Faith, a little girl from Kenya who was abandoned by her parents and taken in by her aunt only to be starved and abused for years before a woman, who she now calls mom, rescued her. As if she hasn’t battled enough in her four years, she was diagnosed with a type of congenital heart disease called Tetralogy of Fallot. But, this little girl is a force of nature with a smile that makes you feel grateful to be alive. We all joke and say that, “it’s Faith’s world and we are all living in it.”
Barira, 5, and Yirda, 9, are both kids from Ethiopia who made their 1,500 mile trip to Holon, Israel without their family. Imagine being that young and traveling to a foreign country to get open-heart surgery without the physical comfort of your parents. However, they both gained 20+ siblings and mamas to fight and celebrate this journey with. With a tremendous amount of bravery and a fearless personality, they’ll both soon be going home to their families with a fixed heart.
And there’s Zena and Muqadam, this mama and son duo from Tanzania who have both captured my heart from day one. Muqadam dances to the beat of his own name, he gives kisses on your hand like a true gentleman and he loves his beautiful mama. At 2 and half years old, he’s already spent half of his life in the hospital. Muqadam battled a stroke at one year, leaving him half paralyzed. Shortly after, he received surgery to close a hole in his heart which led to getting tracheostomy. And today, this little boy amazes all of us with the way he loves and his mom is clearly her son’s biggest fan.
In a world where we are constantly reminded of our differences, SACH challenges that by being an organization that is not divided by race, religion, politics or gender differences. In my two short weeks, I quickly realized that life in the SACH home is how life should be everywhere. There was a woman who greeted me every single morning and every single night with a warm smile and a big hug yet I’ve never carried a conversation with her. She is a Muslim woman from Ethiopia who speaks Amharic and I am a Hindu woman from United States who speaks English. In spite of our differences, it was the language of kindness that brought us together. This is a home where gestures speaks louder than words, where we celebrate successful surgeries with a dance, and where love never runs out.
On another note, with this being my first time in Israel, I had the chance to explore the Holy Land and to put it simply, it was magical.
From the golden historic sights of Jaffa to the bustling nightlife that thrives in Tel Aviv to the feeling of peace in Jerusalem to floating in the Dead Sea at sunset to the whimsical view of Ein Gedi from the mountains, it is easy to say that Israel charmed me. Although, my biased opinion leads me to believe that the best kind of magic lives right in the home of Save A Child’s Heart in Holon.
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I don’t know if this blog post will ever fully express just how incredible this experience was. As I get older, I like to think I am becoming more mature, independent and stronger. Yet at 23, I can’t say I have half of the maturity, bravery and resilience these mothers and children show everyday. I can’t think of a better word to describe these children other than they are warriors, little but fierce and brave warriors. I still can’t believe I was lucky enough to be in Israel in the presence of all these people.
As I left the gates of the Save A Child’s Heart home with sobbing eyes, one of the older kids wiped my tears away and left me with a message.
“Always in ma heart sita”
And to Ferdinand, Bikambo, Khadijah, Muqadam, Denis, Rose, Faith, Kennedy, Sandra, Sean, Mariamawit, Wengalawit, Rewany, Tigest, Mati, Milkias, Yirda, Betamaryam, Barira, Kalid, Neftali, Chikamma and Raphaella,
A couple weekends ago, I traded my red and black for the colors of my alma mater, the ones that make my undergrad look like Halloween all year and the ones that Georgia fans despise. Nonetheless, it’s the colors that I know and love. With Athens in my rearview mirror, I had a full tank, a happy heart and a cup of black coffee to take on the 359 mile journey to my sweet homecoming in orange heaven.
My orange heaven is in this town, this quaint little town that sits in the middle of the vast open fields with hidden gems tucked away at each corner. My university wraps itself around Buies Creek, where the sunsets are as orange as you can possibly imagine, where the Fighting Camel is proudly our mascot, where we grace starry nights with bonfires, and where the back-roads will take you all the way home.
This is Campbell.
I haven’t been gone long but it feels long enough for the memories to come flooding back to me. It was like coming home to the girl who found herself with the help of the best people she’s ever known. And you wouldn’t believe these people, they’re the kind who will stick out their hand to pull you out into the sun. So I spent the better half of my Saturday reconnecting and wrapping myself in all those familiar warm hugs and the other half, just grasping the reality that I was here. I could tell you all the fine details about homecoming or I could tell you that for me, it was entirely filled with happiness, gratitude and love-so so so much love. Then the day slipped out of my fingers because I found myself glaring right at the cusp of that orange sunset, suddenly wishing I could buy a little more time and stay here for awhile.
This is the place where I learned that you can be fiercely different in a world that wants you to be the same. The beauty of attending a university of 6,000 camels is that you are not just another number. You are a part of this community and you are integral to the growth and representation of this university. We know your name, we know your contributions to this place and the best part? We won’t forget.
Now, everybody loves to say that their university is the best university in the world and that is the way it should be. You should have that kind of love and pride for your alma mater, for the place that shaped and molded you, for the place that knew your potential before you did, for the place that opened the doors to your future and for the place you owe a huge debt of gratitude for the person you’ve become.
So how happy am I to have this place? That’ll always be there to welcome me home?