Too many gems in this city so here’s another roundup just for you!
1. National Postal Museum
A Smithsonian GEM! Located right by Union Station in NoMa, you can learn about how letters travel, the history of the U.S. mail delivery system and even create your own personalized stamp. Like every Smithsonian institution, it is free and rich with content. Plan your visit here and don’t forget to grab your stamps at the Post Office on your way out! Price: Free
2. So far concerts
Now listen, between the intense crowds and flashing strobe lights, concerts have never been my thing BUT SoFar Concerts bring a level of musical intimacy and suspense that is unlike anything I’ve seen before. When you book your ticket for the date and time near you, you won’t find out the address until the day before. It might be at a local venue or in the living room of a DC rowhome – either way, you’re in for a fun night amongst friends and 3 different acts of talent. Originally started in London, they have spanned all over the globe and in DC, there’s pretty much one in every single neighborhood. Go book your tickets here! Price: $20-30
3. John F. Kennedy Center FOR THE performing ARts
Wanna catch a show? Check out what’s playing here and make an experience out of it by perusing through the new immersive exhibit that opened in September 2022. Get there about 30 minutes before your show so you can walk around the exhibit, learn more about JFK’s support of the arts and get a glass of wine or snack before curtains up. Price: Ranging from $50-$100 depending on seats (Exhibition is free!)
4. KARAOKE NIGHT at WOK & ROLL
Oh karaoke nights ♡ I grew up with karaoke parties in our home where all the aunties and uncles came together to hover over a thick binder of songs, pick a partner and sing vibrantly into the mic. Trading that binder for a digital selection, I was lucky to have this experience with my friends for my birthday. Located in the center of Chinatown, you can sing your heart out at Wok & Roll with food, drinks and a great selection of best hits. Price: Depending on room size and length of time, see here for price list. Either way, make sure you book ahead!
5. National Gallery Nights
NGA NIGHTS ARE BACK, DC! Held at the National Gallery of Art from 6:00-9:00pm on the Second Thursday of the month, this is such a special treat to dress up, explore the gallery and enjoy the live music. They release the tickets one week before the event so tell Siri to remind you! Go snag these tickets here! Price: Free
Here’s a bonus one if you’re still here
☆ Open mic Nights
Ever the sucker for an open mic night! I dabble in spoken word poetry from time to time and I’ve loved every opportunity to be on the stage, sharing my stories. If you’re a poet, a singer or a storyteller, give it a whirl and share your craft with us! From Busboys & Poets to BloomBars, you can find more on EventBrite by searching open mics. Price: $5 – $10
got a recommendation for me? let me know your fav spots in the district down below!
I remember the first time I saw a comment about my voice. It was just one comment at the time. There were so many positive words yet my brain gave me tunnel vision to that singular comment. What did they mean by that?
If there is anything to know about me, you must know that I love making coffee. I love all the different flavors and aromas that emerge from brewing it in a aeropress or a moka pot or a pourover. I love learning and practicing how to make a cortado or affogato or café au lait. I love trying my hand at latte art yet never quite getting the swirls just right. On a random evening in November 2020 in my parents’ kitchen, I started sharing it with the internet through short TikToks under the name, @acaffeinateddesi — adding to my very long list of quarantine hobbies.
As a millennial, I had very little understanding of how this app worked yet my videos garnered so much attention that I had a brief stint of virality and I was swimming in it. The videos traveled to the Netherlands to India to a little town in Oregon and it was so new and exciting. It felt like I was building a virtual community in the midst of such intense isolation but the internet has its limits. With virality comes the comments and it wasn’t about coffee.
I’ve sat on these comments for over a year, nearly two. Admittedly, it has taken up brain space and I’ve come to learn that it’s because my voice told them about me before I got to. It’s because I was no longer just a girl who was enthusiastic about making coffee. It’s because I have spent my entire life fixing this voice so at what point did I fail?
I continued to ignore them yet they kept pressing on. It didn’t matter what I talked about – they were fixated on my voice, debating with each other in the comments on what could possibly be wrong with me.
While the comment section is brainstorming about my voice, I am reminded that this voice is led by another voice that lives inside my head and directs me at every interaction.
“Sita, don’t trail off”
“Sita, be clear”
“Sita, slow down!”
“Sita, be articulate”
“Sita, don’t mumble”
“Sita, be normal – don’t let them figure it out”
And even then, they figured it out. It’s like they caught me in this act when they say, “I detect a speech impediment – you’re deaf, right?” and they’re so proud of themselves for solving this riddle as if that had anything to do with coffee but I digress.
Between “I knew you weren’t from here. You don’t look American” to “What is wrong with your voice?”, I find myself so othered on both ends of my own identity. Being a deaf South Asian American means constantly working to belong. It is the very thing, if not the thing, that led me here because I worked hard to belong here.
There came a choice. I could keep letting these comments sneak in or I could let them in through the front door – and I let them in. I cracked the door wide open by sharing my deaf experiences, one by one. And for the first time in my life, I met people who shared the same experiences as me, who found a part of themselves in me, and who, without needing further explanation, resonated with me.
The comments changed. These responses expanded my world 10 times over. It changed the way I view myself because it made me want to build a space where I make sense, like this blog. The internet is a sorely complicated place, I know – but I also believe it can be a lovely place if you let it.
I am supremely aware of my voice, far more than I need to.
And it’s because I have spent my entire life making sure my voice still fits the ears of hearing people.
I spent hours and hours throughout my childhood with numerous speech therapists and pathologists working on my upper end of the speech banana. I signed up for speech clubs and contests all throughout grade school. I became student body president in high school because I wanted to give weekly speeches every Wednesday at our school wide assemblies. I joined Toastmasters to continue to perfect my voice well into my 20s. I participate in open mics to allow myself the gift of hearing my voice echo in a room full of strangers.
It is not lost on me how much effort I put to make my Ss and THs so strong and so clear that when I say my name, I know I delivered it and I delivered it well. I know because I can hear the sharpness of those high frequency phonemes that sits at the beginning and middle of my name and then, I quietly celebrate as I feel my entire body rising like it’s smiling.
Because I am so aware of what a labor of love it took to get this voice.
So why wouldn’t I show it off at every chance I get?
And the world turned for me. One month ago, I celebrated 29. The last year of my twenties, the end of a decade so will you come take a trip down the birthday memory lane with me?
20, I’m driving in my red Honda CRV down I-95 South to my hometown where my mum has yellow polka dot balloons waiting for me on the lawn of my childhood home. You know it is 2013 when you find a girl decked out in chevron and brown riding boots – she’s doing alright.
21, I celebrated (and saved) my first glass of red wine with my parents in my hometown at Luigi’s, giggling and sipping and taking in every bit of advice of what it means to be this age.
22, it is my last year of college in Buies Creek and I am sipping on a margarita in MiCasita’s with my best friends singing, “I don’t know about you but I’m feeling 22” all night long
23, I’m a newly minted Georgia girl skipping and celebrating and dancing through Downtown Athens with new friends and I distinctly remember being the happiest I had ever been at this age
24, I’ve found my footing in this classic college town as I rung in another year on the rooftop of Georgia Theatre and beamed when everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me in Waffle House in Downtown Athens. Oh and I also bought a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts to commemorate this age and rang the Chapel Bell on UGA’s North Campus. Geez, I loved this year.
25, my quarter life crisis came right on time because I am suppose to have everything figured out by this age, I’m told. Silly silly me, go relish in your new degree and know that big things are coming soon – just be 25, Sita.
26, I’m right on time and feeling so proud of the life I built in Boston yet I snuck away further up north to bask in the crisp air on the coast of Maine with a friend that makes me laugh till my belly hurts
27, I’m desperately craving connection and community after months of isolation and social distancing – a new vocabulary we’ve adopted this year – and this day just so happens to land on THE Presidential Election night so community was ever so essential. After multiple tests and nose swabs and quarantining, I got to ring in my late twenties with a special group of people on a rooftop of the prettiest Airbnb in the South End all whilst taking in the best view in all of Boston.
28, I left New England for a new city and found myself celebrating another year on another rooftop of a house that would soon become the safest place I know on this side of the District
I always say that I every birthday should be filled with all of your favorite things and it was – a massage, a SoulCycle class, Mediterranean food, sunflowers and topping it off with karaoke night with the best people I know in the District of Columbia.
Yet sometimes I still feel like I’m 26 or that I should be 26 long before a virus took over our lives, stealing so many pivotal moments and opportunities and memories. We were all robbed of something during this time. But you know what else? I have time – I have plenty of time.
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.”