Books of the Month: Deaf and Depression
Andy and Bernadette have been married for more than 23 years. That is longer than the Human Library has been in existence. They are one of very few couples that are also both Books on our bookshelf. If you are lucky you can read them when they are published at our events in the United Kingdom.
A Book about Deafness
Andy has been deaf all of his life but he does not see himself like that, “it’s just something that I learned to deal with” he says. He is a Book on overcoming obstacles and achieving success in life while dealing with a hearing disability.
He was the youngest of five children, so safe to say it was a full house which provided him with valuable life skills: “I picked up language quite well, it was a busy house”.
Parents Resisted Sending Andy to a School for Deaf Children
In the 1970s when he was five years old, the local authorities wanted to send him to a school for children that were deaf, which would entail that he was going to be away from home.
“My mom and dad were against it because they felt that I was a normally functioning kid”. Andy then had to take an intelligence test to prove he was just like a ‘normal’ child, and to the surprise of the authorities, he turned out to be quite intelligent: “I obviously did OK and ended up going to a normal school”.
Awarded by Lady Diana and Hired by Heineken
He was the first child with a hearing disability to go to that school, “And I did well” he adds. “Eventually I went to university and was given an award for ‘Young Deaf Achiever of the year’”.
The award was presented and given to him by the late Lady Diana, a day he will never forget:
“It was quite a big achievement getting a university degree despite being deaf”.
Andy later went on to have a 30-year career as a chartered Engineer in the brewing industry and latterly working for Heineken UK and this is where he first learned about the Human Library. He became a reader through work and after that he volunteered to become a book.
“Being deaf has its moments of frustration but for me, it has always been about your ability and not your disability”.
An Open Book about Anxiety and Depression
Bernadette’s story as a Book at the Human Library highlights her experience with anxiety and depression after being subject to bullying,
“I was bullied at work by someone who was working for me”.
Bernadette was working in HR and found herself in a difficult position, “so when working in Human Resources, where can you go to if you are being bullied?”.
The bullying went on for two years and had a severe impact on her mental health. Upon returning after a holiday, she found herself trembling with fear at the thought of getting back into the office:
“On my drive there my foot was on the brake and I was shaking”. She went into the office anyway but quickly became unwell, “I just said I think I’ve got jetlag, I am going home, I don’t feel well, which was all a lie”, she recalls.
After coming home, she rang up the doctors and they wanted to see her straight away, “that threw me off because I wasn’t expecting that”, she adds “So, I went to the doctors and cried and got signed off for a month. I was able to get support very quickly and spent 6 months as a day patient where I had therapy sessions”.
Despite her efforts to return to work, the bullying persisted, this time by a new perpetrator. Bernadette ended up taking a year off, seeking therapy and medication to help with her struggles.
The Human Library Experience
Before being published as a Book, Andy first became a Reader multiple times: “I work for Heineken and they were quite supportive of the Human Library, so I got to read a number of Books at different events, and I would come home and tell Bernadette all about it and about some of the Books that I read”.
Bernadette had been doing some work for Stockport Libraries on mental health and her own story with it. Then Stockport Library wanted to host a Human Library and was in need of Books to publish, “so I said come on, Andy, you know this” Bernadette says.
They arrived at the Book training expecting it to be a local version of the Human Library but quickly found that it was the real deal. Andy even recognised a Book that he had the pleasure of reading at one of the events through work.
In total, 8 Books were published at Stockport Library that day. “While we were waiting to be taken out by readers, we were reading each other’s stories and it was just a really joyous, positive and gorgeous day. We loved it, didn’t we?” Bernadette says as she looks at Andy. “Yeah, it was lovely to be in a room full of different storybooks and have the experience of listening to each other’s stories and becoming friends effectively through that”.
We Forgot How to Talk to Each Other
They both agree that the Human Library is an effective tool for challenging stigmas and fostering meaningful conversations. “It’s amazing how easily it can break down barriers quite quickly because it allows you to have a discussion about something and you also learn how to talk to people. I think we have forgotten how to.” Andy says and Bernadette adds, “I always say the conversations that you should be having are the ones you avoid and what the Human Library does, is that it creates that safe space where you can ask everything and you can make mistakes and that is OK. If you reduce the fear you automatically increase your confidence.”
Being married for 23 years has not always been a walk in the library, “we’ve had our struggles but we ploughed on and supported each other through grief, losing our parents and we just try to be open. Sometimes I quite happily want to run away”, Bernadette says with a smile, “but that is what marriage is about, it has its ups and downs, and our Books and topics are who we are. Ultimately, we just talk. When you are bringing up a family and consumed by chores and routine meaningful conversation can be forgotten because you’re so tired and just want to switch off”.
Being published as a Book has been a unique experience for both of them. Participating in the Human Library event has allowed them to challenge their own stereotypes and judgements of others. They found that the experience of being Books and being published has helped them to connect on a deeper level, both with each other and with other Readers.
“For me, I think this has allowed us to share a bit more with the family”, Andy says and continues “it makes you think differently and it does make you challenge your stereotypes when you meet someone who whether it is a disability or something hidden that you would not notice, it does challenge your judgement of people”.
Read our previous Book of the Month article about Daniel who sees his wheelchair as anything but a limitation.