Tereza Galastyan, 17 years old, Poti

,,I was 11 years old when I noticed that my family members were telling me something, but I was asking them confusedly – ‘’What? What did you say to me?’’
My hearing was getting worse and within a few months, I was already having a hard time hearing from afar. When I talked to people, I would get close, so that they wouldn’t notice it and to avoid an awkward situation. At first, I didn’t want to admit my problem, I didn’t want to believe that such a thing was happening to me – at that age, it was way too difficult for me.
I started having hearing issues at the end of 2014, and I went to the doctor for the first time in 2017 – I wasted three years. I regret it now because I could have taken preventative measures. I went through all kinds of research and was diagnosed with bilateral neurosensory hearing loss – third, the worst degree. Even though a computer audiogram shows that my hearing is alright, I still can’t understand words and that terribly limits my everyday life. The biggest obstacle for me is that I can’t understand words, I can’t separate them from each other, but I can hear sounds. When I was diagnosed and we found out everything about my disease, we applied for funding from the state – they funded a standard hearing aid, which was put in my right ear, but I couldn’t stand it, so later I put it in the box and send it back. It wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t making my hearing better either.
Until 2019, I no longer used the hearing device. Of course, the hearing problem was still bothering me, I had to say no to having a job, communicating with people, or talking on the phone… the last time I talked on the phone was in December 2014. In 2019, I started fighting for my rights; I saw that my family didn’t have enough funds to finance my exams, and, at the same time, to buy an expensive device. I hoped people would help too because I had seen many times how a person was able to achieve something with the help of others. I wrote a detailed post about my situation and posted it on the Facebook page of my city. A few days later, a mysterious person called me, who wanted to help me and asked to keep his identity a secret. He funded my examinations and bought a device for my right ear, which costs about 1600 GEL. After examinations, I started wearing the device, but It was still not the best situation – when a person has bilateral hearing loss, wearing a device on one ear isn’t comfortable at all and also, hearing is still not complete, since the sound should come equally in both ears. At first, I had a hard time getting used to this device, the sound wasn’t natural and sometimes I felt like a robot. In April of 2020, that person contacted me again and offered to help me again, or rather forced me to agree to accept help. Of course, I was already feeling awkward, because he also paid a lot of money for the first time for me, but I realized that I wouldn’t be able to buy the second device on my own for a very long time.
At this point, the left ear is almost useless, I can only hear about 10%. The right one is still okay and hopefully, it will last a few more years. Unfortunately, regression continues, and, what’s the most horrible – restoring the hearing won’t be possible, nor will medicine be able to stop the hearing impairment. I hope there will be something new in the future that will help me with it.
At first, my situation was very hard for me, I couldn’t dare to get out of my shell, no one could calm me down and I was always in a bad mood. After some time, I started looking at it with black humor and called myself ‘’a retired old woman’’ – I have a pension, my hearing is impaired, I love crosswords and I just need a dental prosthesis to become be Grandma Teresa, I joked. Nowadays, I got rid of most of my complexes and I’m not ashamed to talk about my hearing problems. However, there are still days when I get tired of my health issues and generally, of living this kind of life. But I have to admit, despite everything, I’m grateful for what I have.
I changed four schools, but I couldn’t find my place – I was bullied everywhere: at first because of my nationality, name and last name, then also because I grew up without a father. I was even beaten by boys from my class, they laughed at me and spread rumors. When my hearing got worse, I couldn’t even understand teachers’ questions and I was embarrassed when they repeated what they said, at which point my classmates couldn’t stop laughing. Back then all of it was very emotional for me. When the lesson was over, I would cry on recessions alone – no one can understand how you feel when you’re in such a situation, even though you have the greatest desire to hear everything they hear and live exactly like them. Even my teachers used to say something that would break my heart. Later, I moved to another (and last) school, where my classmates and teachers welcomed me warmly. I told the teachers on the first day that I had hearing problems and I hoped that they would give my classmates the right information about me, since, with me there, it would be a slightly different environment. Finally, relationships with them didn’t work out – it was very common for them to smile in my face and spread rumors behind the back.
At the school where I study now, I only have a close relationship with one person, who has become my ears and my eyes – when I don’t understand something, she writes for me and that’s how I communicate with the rest of the school. For other classmates, I’m a regular classmate. When I need any help with the school affairs, then I have to face the annoyed and irritated faces of my classmates. Teachers know that I have a problem and they really try to help me, however, the environment is not in an order that would make me feel complete.
Unfortunately, in Georgian schools, there is no adapted learning format for people with disabilities. I mostly communicate by writing and when it comes to the lesson explanation process, it’s hard for me to be involved. All deaf people are different, some of them can understand words, but aren’t able to understand sounds and vice versa. In my case, it would be a full-fledged environment if there was an option to communicate in written form, or in the form of presentations, with slides. Teachers are focused on other pupils and it is very heartbreaking for me. When the teacher knows that there is a pupil in the class who needs special attention, and she spends all her time with others, and, in fact, explains the lesson only to them and doesn’t care about you, it makes you sad and it also kills any motivation. However, I don’t mean that the teacher should pay attention only to the person with special needs. No – the more attention is paid to this person, the more that person will feel awkward; it’s better to just provide at least an environment of support. For example, a sign language teacher, or using the written form; and, as there are special teachers in lower grades, there should also be one for those in upper grades for pupils who have hearing and other problems.
I have a great relationship with the director of my school. Sometimes, we just sit in his office and talk, discuss general topics, and write ”memoirs” for each other. I love talking to him more than I do with my classmates, I can’t find any things in common with them. I haven’t gone to school regularly for the last two years, since I don’t understand the explained lessons anyway. Therefore, I study the subjects on my own. If there’s something unclear, I use the internet, books, and competent people. I missed school very often because it no longer made sense for me to go there when I could actually take care of myself at home, and plus, I could be busy with other things too. Despite everything, I still manage to study well and I try my best to find all useful information.
Even with so many problems, I still love school. Or rather, I love small talk in the corridors during lessons, and I love talking to the teachers during lessons or recessions.
The first job
When I was 16, my classmate died. Suddenly, everything stopped, it was a huge tragedy for all of us. I started having hallucinations, I could hear some weird sounds and I really wanted to change the environment somehow, because I was sitting at home all the time and couldn’t do anything.
I decided to start working, but I couldn’t work in restaurants or shops, because there I could need to interact with people, which I wouldn’t be able to do – I wouldn’t understand what the customer would say. Finally, I came up with an idea – why not be a housemaid? I could do that job well and at the same time, I’m a person of much disciplines – I can’t stand a mess. I posted in the Poti group that I would clean apartments, houses, or ordinary spaces. On May 26th, 2019, for the first time, I got paid for my work. So, I collected the money, and I was able to go to the camp for the first time, then to Tbilisi… I worked physically from morning to evening and was all sweaty. However, by December, I was already exhausted. Working physically is harder for me now. For the hearing impaired people, physical activity is difficult, since the stress effects worsen the hearing.
When I started working, people (including my peers) said that at the age of 16, I should have had more ambitions and interests, but no one knows what was going on in the world of a 16-year-old girl. First of all, I started working because I needed to change environments, and also, I no longer wanted to be dependent on my mother’s finances. I don’t like it. I rather prefer helping someone out there. Also, since I have the strength to work, why should I sit and wait for my mother to give me money, so that I can buy something for myself? I refused and it has been almost a year now since I’ve been fulfilling all my desires and needs by myself. This is really more enjoyable for me. At that time, I was a volunteer in my city and also in the ‘’Believe’’ foundation, I was managing the intellectual game ‘’What? Where? When?’’ in the school and tried to participate in some projects; I was developing myself.
I couldn’t find a suitable job. Here in Poti, nothing is happening. I want to find a job, where I have less contact with people, with customers. I want to write and create something, where I can use my intellectual abilities, which I know I have, but at this point, I don’t know where to use them and I’m still working physically. However, even this job isn’t stable and I really hope something will appear in the near future, especially since I’ll become a student soon and I’ll have more needs.
This is how Cinderella Eli (Tereza) was born.
Let me give you a simple example – on the street or in shops, I have a feeling that others don’t have information about people with hearing impairments. Often, when I don’t understand the price and ask to repeat, they look at me with an annoyed face. Then, I already have to say that I have an issue and don’t understand well and that they should write or tell me louder. But they still don’t like it. It really pains me and makes me feel that I don’t want anything anymore. Once, one of my relatives told me that there is no point for me to go outside, or to go to a university since I still won’t understand anything and I won’t be able to study. I still don’t know how I stayed calm, but I can’t let it go and will never have anything to do with that person again. It was really very heartbreaking.
Society has no information about people with special needs, they don’t even know how to talk with them. I think there should be public trainings, where organizations can spread the information. Also, people aren’t interested in either. The society is very indifferent, chooses the neutral position towards such people, and doesn’t try to help or to give a hand. Some even bully them.
There is no help from the state either, they financed my hearing device and that was it.
I found people like me in April – there’s a closed group on Facebook, with people with hearing impairments as members. Here we share our diagnoses, recommendations, and sometimes funny stories that happened to us. I only had contact once with a deaf person and I have to admit, it was very difficult for me. Suddenly, I understood how other people felt when talking to me.
In general, I’m not a material person. My dream, first of all, is to find a suitable job that won’t require physical activity, because it’s already strongly affecting my spirit. When I find a job, I can make my small wishes and bigger dreams come true.’’
Author: Nino Gamisonia
Photo: Nino Baidauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili
The project is implemented with the support of UN Women and with the financial support of the Joint Fund for Sustainable Development Goals, within the UN Joint Program – “Transformation of Social Security for People with Disabilities in Georgia”.
The views expressed in the publication are those of the author (s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations Women or the Joint Foundation for Sustainable Development.