I woke up earlier than any of my relatives this morning, and showered in a house full of slumbering Thanksgiving guests. Quietly. Perhaps. I walked very, very slowly to the shower. I put my hand under the tub spout before turning the water on, because I know water directly hitting a hard surfaces makes a loud, loud noise -- people have told me so. I closed the door before turning the fan on, laid the toilet seat down slowly instead of dropping it -- it's a constant thoughtfulness.

I have no idea if that was a quiet shower, and I hope it didn't wake somebody up.

When the world around you doesn't give you feedback, and the best gauge you have of your own noise level is frustration on the faces of the people near you, then sometimes you tiptoe through the world. It's like walking near the edge of a cliff with your eyes closed; you shuffle your toe out, tap it gingerly, and then place weight. You walk slowly, and not without a sense of fear.

See, people don't generally tell you things make noise -- they don't assume you're deaf (even if they know you're deaf); they just assume you're rude. Sometimes they keep quiet about their frustration for weeks, months, even years -- it just seethes underneath the surface, and you don't know. I type loudly during quiet thinking breaks in class, constantly rustle books and papers in the chapel, and make munchy-slurp noises when I eat with gusto. Until my twenties, I didn't know those things made noises. (Or that people can hear noises from inside bathrooms. Talk about retroactive mortification.) People just sat there and waited for me to figure it out, but I never could, because I'd never heard the things I was supposed to figure out were "loud."

It's not that I'm not thoughtful. It's just that I can't hear. I've learned by rote that many things make noise, and when I'm trying to be quiet (which is often -- if I'm in a meeting, class, library, place of worship, or a home where people are winding down for the night), I do my best to monitor all of them. This takes cognitive effort, but it's what I do to be polite.

I started laughing several months ago when I realized how anxious this was constantly making me. I decided to stop being anxious. This involves habit reversal training, and takes time and effort -- y'know, first be aware when I'm anxious, then stop the anxiousness, then start the desired behaviors of muscle-relaxation and so forth... it's still a semi-mechanical process at this point.

I'm still thoughtful -- I'm still careful, I still take that effort -- but my baseline expectation is no longer "I am a hearing person!" (which results in feeling like I've Failed Humanity by not realizing the microwave beeped). Now my baseline expectation is "I am a thoughtful deaf person!" (who offloads awareness to nearby hearing people who are willing and able to act as my interrupt-switches, and appropriately responds to the feedback she can get) and this is... far, far more relaxing.