ai·suh·lei·shn aka isolation

Staying true to my decision to pick a challenge for each month, I decided to start developing a fitness routine for February.

Growing up, I was never considered a “sporty kid” – I was more “that deaf kid” and then later on “that arty druggie deaf girl”. It didn’t help things that I was often pulled out of gym for speech therapy (a pointless effort as I could barely say the alphabet correctly no matter how many years we spent working on that). Later on, I’d be pulled out of gym to spend time with someone I would say was my helper. You see – when deaf kids grow up attending public schools with no program designed for them, we usually had a teacher (that could sign) assigned to check in with us. They’d see how we were doing and offer assistance with understanding assignments if needed. Mine maybe came once a week and it was mostly during gym until high school where we could actually set a specific block for this. However being taken out of gym was just fine with me.

Gym was always a weird experience. Picture this: you’re trying to play floor hockey with a bunch of hearing kids that you can’t understand while trying to keep an eye on your interpreter just in case something is being said. A bit much eh? I was a huge daydreamer – often staring out into the distance while I’m supposed to defend the soccer net. In fact – I just had to google “soccer gate thing” to figure out what the net was called. I was also not graceful – I’d end up hurting myself sometimes. An especially memorable example would be when I flew into a wall after tripping during dodgeball. I ended up with a sweet black eye that really helped complete my halloween costume.

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I out-Pippi anyone who has ever done Pippi Longstocking!

My helpers didn’t really do much when it came to assisting me with my assignments as I was usually doing fine. They were more of a social opportunity for me. As a deaf kid – I grew up with very little access to folks who could understand me unless I wrote or had someone to interpret. I’d take advantage and spend these times chatting about life with my helpers. In junior high, I especially made a point to borrow their laptop to write horrible poetry which they would print out for me.

Without the “time to go hang out with my helper!!!” excuse – I had to start attending gym classes regularly in high school. Most of my experiences were cringe-worthy. I was not an athlete in any way. Team sports gave me anxiety. Some of the classes were cool (yoga classes anyone?!) but I never really ever once felt excited about gym classes. I also had a very real fear of flying balls… so yeah.

I would say the first time I started to feel really into anything that could remotely be labelled as exercise was when I fell into love with riding a bike. Around twelve years ago I adopted this sweet Raleigh bike from a co-worker at Traveller’s Inn where I worked as a housekeeper. I called my bike Slim Bob. From there on – I would ride everywhere. I’d even go out just for the sake of exploring with my bike. As a result – my body started to transform. I felt strong. I felt brave. I felt free.

Slim Bob + 27 year old Zoée: A Love Story

But I barely even knew how to stretch until about four years ago. I started dating my latest ex who at that time was going to crossfit. Fitness was a huge part of her life… which was admirable but completely foreign to me.

I am a believer that we all learn something from every person we date (and friends too). With my latest ex, it was definitely about the power of listening to our bodies. I grew up pretty disconnected from my feelings and feelings tend to burrow their ways into parts of our bodies… so I ignored my body as well. Through my ex – I learned how to stretch, various types of strength training exercises, and listen to the cues my body was giving me. I spent the next few years learning via youtube videos on and off (auto-captions are crap but I made do with what I could access).

As Feb started to unfold – I continued to develop a routine of strength training and cardio. It felt really good to move my body. To see that my body has developed muscle memory so even if I didn’t do squats for months, I could easily get back into it because I understood how it should feel. I managed to keep this up for the whole month and into March.

It’s a good thing I got started because it then felt pretty natural (and essential) to keep working out as we hurled into a dystopian world! Which brings up something I’ve been thinking a lot about.

This social distancing thing? It’s not earth-shattering for me.

As a Deaf person who grew up as a solitaire in public school meant that there was always this wall between us. Only a few people at school could sign due to me teaching them – which was great but it meant that they weren’t fluent. I was always shifting from a channel to another to match people’s signing abilities. I’ve gone through years where I did not sign with a fluent signer (including my early adult years).

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A sea full of kids who I can’t understand? Sweet, sign me up!! Also spot the hickey 15 year old me was sporting?

The other month, a friend of mine asked me if I felt like I experienced language deprivation growing up (a common occurrence for deaf kids who are denied sign language during age 0-5). I thought about it and decided no – my mom worked very hard to make sure I had a strong language foundation in writing and signing. I was signing by the time I was one year old. But I would definitely say I experienced a form of communication and social deprivation.

I was 19 years old when the world became so much bigger overnight. Why? The internet became a part of my life.

I was finally able to easily meet new people! We were all mostly using the same form of communication: text. I at first met people through AOL chat rooms, then yahoo clubs (I ran a very successful fan-fiction writing club about the teens from Days of Our Lives if I may say so), then myspace, and finally livejournal. That online blogging platform changed my life for the better and I mean that. So many of us were opening up with each other. Talking about our childhood, our everyday experiences, our struggles, our joyful moments – we shared it all. We comforted and cheered each other on as the years went by.

Through the internet I was also able to connect with other deaf people! Such as my pal lkvy – who is one of the rare people who still has a blog today. While discussing how social distancing doesn’t feel all that shocking as Deaf people who experience communication isolation in the first place anyway – she said:

“My blog is my way of sharing my thoughts (and personality) with others, since I don’t have the luxury of starting up a conversation – or participating in them – when I’m out and about. You know how that is!”

There’s this interesting contrast of how people experience me. On the internet, non-signers are able to access my thoughts and personality more than they could if they meet me in person, especially in a social setting. I like to think that I’m an entertaining person. I really like making people laugh. I like to dig deep with people. If I’m feeling really comfortable – it can be hard to shut me up. However, when non-signers first meet me in person – you know how they usually describe me?

“She seems nice and quiet.”

It always really bugs me when people whine about how much the internet has ruined the ways we interact with each other. It just shows me that they have never experienced something remotely close to what I have. The internet has some problematic aspects, absolutely (although one could argue that it’s more how we use it that is problematic) but it also means so much to folks who experience social barriers in one way or another.

I mean – look at this fresh-off-the-streets 19 year old Zoée embracing her computer like a friend!

I worked very hard to get where I am now. I’ve created this little community full of amazing people who sign. Some fluently, others not. Some Deaf, others not. I run into people I don’t know but can sign with because of Queer ASL. I consider myself to be at the best time of my life when it comes to in-person communication access.

I’ve talked about this to a small variety of people. Deaf people (most specifically Deaf people who have dealt/still deal with communication isolation – I do feel like Deaf people who grew up surrounded by Deaf people and mostly only socialize with Deaf people are a little bit different), disabled folks, mentally and/or chronically ill folks, folks with childhood trauma etc… and they all agree that they have been feeling similarly in one way or another.

It feels like we have been in training all these years to be able to deal with something like COVID-19. It absolutely feels strange… but familiar?

I watch people grappling with the feeling of not being able to socialize with people while out. Being unable to attend social events. Having to awkwardly negotiate with people at grocery stores. To feel anxiety around people and sense their anxiety about you. To turn to the internet for connection with others. Having to learn how to sit uncomfortably with the feeling of unpredictability. To wonder what the future holds.

These feelings are things I have felt for most of my life.

With that said though – the one thing that has stood out for me are these masks. I can’t rely on lipreading as a mode of communication but I do like seeing people’s faces fully. It helps me to figure out the overall vibe – are they frustrated? Joking? Inquiring? These masks are now making people total mysteries for me. I’m also unable to smile and express myself a bit to non-signers.

I also see everything shift over to online during this time. Workshops, classes, panels, support groups, book clubs, etc. Virtually almost every single thing I see on the internet, that people are starting up during COVID-19, is inaccessible to me as a Deaf person as it’s all in video/audio form. It’s disheartening when the internet, more and more, transforms into a world that mirrors life outside the internet when it comes to access.

I sigh and focus on what I can control. This is all I can do and this is all I have done in this life of mine. I tend to my plants. I feel my muscles grow as I keep developing my fitness routine. I reach out to friends and feel joy when they reach out to me. I attend my therapy sessions (online now!). I spend time plotting a majestic balcony garden. I sit with myself – exploring my feelings and thoughts. I stay mindful of how I still have a wealth of access, and the fact that I am overall feeling mostly okay is due to privileges I have as a white, sighted, literate (etc) person who still has a job. I feel gratitude for my life and hopeful that perhaps these new experiences around access, that we are all experiencing in our own ways, will lead to a more compassionate and empathic world.

Solitude, my little friend – you’ve been around for most of my life in one way or another and this is just a new face of yours.


2 thoughts on “ai·suh·lei·shn aka isolation”

  1. Here’s a sprinkling of random comments:

    There was internet on THAT computer?

    Wow, we had a lot of shit on that fridge.

    You called them helpers! PE was the only class they could pull you out of? Music? French? Were your PE teachers also assholes?

    I have a challenge for May: watch a sport you know nothing about–like cricket or running–on YouTube, then write a post describing how the sport is done. It would be hilarious to read.

    I’m still pretty clueless about sports.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not only there was internet on that computer – it was where I learned how to CODE! Kinda apropriate no?

      I only did music for grade 4 and I cannot recall if they ever pulled me out of that… it’d make sense if they did. But I really do not recall ever missing a music class! For speech therapy, I got pulled out of random class stuff but being pulled out to spend time with my helper was always pretty organized. Maybe they watched me in gym one day and took pity on me???

      PE teachers for high school…. yeah they weren’t the best. Most teachers at that junior high school were pretty problematic actually. Only a few were teachers who geniunely cared about their students. My favourite was Mr Savage, our welding teacher told all the cool kids to stop making stupid cigarette ashtrays, Mr Haylett our librarian slash English teacher who rode a motorcycle, and Mr Mann, our chemistry teacher who….. had cool poofy hair and loved his dog very much…? They were the best. The PE teachers… I don’t even remember their names so that says something.


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