Time Lapse

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One of my first photos, 1966 with my mother and older brother, Lee.

One of my first photos, 1966 with my mother and older brother, Lee.

My life today...

My life today…

Oh to be able to see a time lapse of your life! Recently, someone I knew from “my old hometown”, posted a video of a rose blooming in a time-lapse segment. Just a little over a minute long, I sat spell-bound as I watched. Here… lemme share a little spell-binding:

So consider yourself bound by a spell!

Erm…

Moving on…

When I think back over my life, I know that at no point did I foresee who I would be in 2014. I had no plans for a traumatic brain injury at the age of 6. I didn’t put down “late-deafened adult at 25″ as a life goal. I never had a hint that I would deal with Meniere’s disease on a daily basis.

There are few things I desire in life. I feel blessed in what I have. However, if I had to explain a “main theme” on my “Bucket List”, I would have to say my heart’s desire is a slow build to real beauty. Just like the rose bush above in that my imagination could not capture what was to come AFTER TIME.

What I think is beautiful today is not at all what I thought was beautiful at 6 years old, 16 years old, or 46 years old. Outer beauty is fleeting and temporary. Outer beauty needs a number of “props” just to pass as beautiful. Things like make-up, proper lighting, staging, and other “props” that are not really a part of the person. Now that I’m 48, beauty is truly an inner kind of spark.

A friend of mine, Deborah, celebrates a birthday today. She is one of those “slow build to beauty” kind of people. The longer I know her, the more her beauty is revealed to me. She has a heart for people and a passion for making a difference.

Just Because You have Broken Parts, Doesn’t Mean You are BROKEN

Years ago when I decided to embrace who I was, life became easier. I stopped trying to hide how I dealt with challenges and decided that being REAL was much more nurturing for my inner Denise.

My ears don’t work without the aid of bionics. My balance causes me to fall – a lot. My most “frequent” view is staring at the sky while I “get a grip”. (Hey! At least this means I get outside a great deal!). I may have broken parts as a person with disabilities, but I am not broken.

Neither are you. Do you live with disability, chronic illness, or life-changing diagnosis? You may have broken parts but you are not broken. Some of the most courageous people I know are folks who live with challenges. If we could look at a time lapse of your life, what would it show?

Sure. We would get some indication of dealing with tough times. We would see wounds. We would also see numerous victories. I’m fairly certain we would see a slow build to beauty, however. It helps to take a step back and look at the big picture from time to time. After all, living with challenges can cause a person to get bogged down in “today” and just surviving. May each of us remember to review our time-lapse life and celebrate the beauty.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

“I’m Fine” = Code for …

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Sometimes you just need to lay down, close your eyes, and hug your dog.

Sometimes you just need to lay down, close your eyes, and hug your dog.

“Hey Denise! How are you today?” 

“I’m fine! How about yourself?” I cheerfully chirped in reply.

Exchanged in 15 seconds as we crossed paths and headed in opposite directions…

It is considered common courtesy to exchange greetings or acknowledge another – even in passing. What has become habitual to say really isn’t very good English if you think about it. It isn’t very specific, is it? Not, “How are you feeling today?“, “How has your DAY been so far?“, “How many people have you slugged today?” Instead, “How are you?” What does that actually MEAN?

Don’t get me wrong. I think we should be courteous to one another. In my opinion, it is a way to show respect and regard for other human beings. Before you feel defensive, please know that I do this too! It is a habit and habits can be hard to break. I will tell you, however, that I AM trying to change this “good habit”. I want to ask “How are you today?” only if I have the time to stop and HEAR how you really are doing today. The expected response is almost rhetorical. “I’m fine.” I was involved in a small group discussion this week about this topic. One friend said that “… people don’t even stop to really hear your response. I don’t get from them that they CARE“.

The fact of the matter is, “I’m fine” could be code for a number of things. Worse, it may just be an out-and-out lie. Oh sure, folks aren’t TRYING to be deceptive. The response rolls off our tongues automatically. “I’m fine” might be code for:

“I’m terrific! I feel great, look great, and believe that – heck… I’M GREAT!”

“I’m just so-so. Thanks for making me think about it and respond though.”

“I’m broken.”

“HELP ME”.

My Mouth Says “Fine”, My Expression Says HELP

This weekend I was on Howard Community College’s campus for the MDCAP (Maryland Consortium for Adjunct Faculty Professional Development) conference. During one of our breaks, I took Chloe outside to “do her business” and to sit in the sun for a few minutes. The “quad” at HCC sits in the center of a number of buildings, with a beautiful brick walking path that breaks up the area with various green spaces throughout. I found an unoccupied bench and sat for a few minutes just enjoying the sunshine and autumn breeze. Across the quad, a young woman sat with a stroller and a kiddo. An open book was on her lap and she did her best to keep an eye on the toddler while obviously trying to read or study at the same time. On a bench about 20 feet away sat another young woman. She hunched over her phone and the tension just seemed to roll off of her.

The child looked to be about 3-years-old. The kiddo skipped over towards the young woman and watched silently for a minute. The little one said, “Hi! How are you?“. The young woman looked up briefly and said, “Hi! I’m fine“. She went back to texting furiously.

The little girl continued to stand there and stare and broke the silence by finally saying, “You don’t look fine. You want my rocks? They are really pretty!” She dug in her pocket and pulled out what I guessed to be rocks (I’m brilliant that way). She sat them down on the bench and stepped back as if to let the young woman know they were all hers now. And weren’t they the prettiest thing?

The young woman got a little choked up and said, “Thank you! I’ll keep them forever and ever!” The little girl shyly scuffed her shoes on the sidewalk and then very “spur of the moment” reached over and hugged the young woman. The mother called the child back over – for she’d finally noticed her little one was hugging total strangers. I watched as the young woman took a photo of the rocks with her phone and then carefully put them in her backpack.

You see? This little girl looked pass the words. She KNEW this young woman was not FINE. She stuck around long enough to care. She intervened. She shared. She hugged.

A Challenge

It’s great to be polite and it is expected of intelligent, caring people who understand proper niceties and etiquette. I’d like to ask you to change one thing, however. Let’s stop asking “How are you?” Instead, make a comment about the day if you only have time to greet and walk on. Something like “Hello! Pretty day, isn’t it?” Better? “Good morning!” “Hello! Nice to see you today!“.

On my lunch hour today I received a text from a good friend. “How are you doing? Really.

I knew I could take the time to really say how I was doing – and that she cared. Take the time to do more than greet when you can. Look for the code words. Share your rocks. Hug someone.

In the end you “broke the code” and unlocked the “secret”. Compassion.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Image

Sometimes? All You Can do is LAUGH

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chloe hug

You’d think by now hound dog was accustomed to me bustin’ out into peals of laughter. I’ve done it often enough, after all! But I still take her by surprise sometimes!

I had a “Murphy’s Law” kind of day just recently. One of those days where if something COULD go wrong, it WOULD. Some interesting facts about Murphy’s Law and where it all began, visit this link. “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong”.

Chloe and I were walking one evening and the weather was DIVINE. Hardly any clouds, low humidity, and I had a “pep in my step”. For once, my Meniere’s disease was allowing me to walk at a pretty good clip with very little weaving. When I walk, I talk to my dog. Chloe would probably freak if I took a walk and was totally silent. It helps her pay attention to me, and I throw her name in there from time to time. However, sometimes I’m just…

Yackin’

Yup. Just talkin’ about anything and everything. It helps me to think out loud and I tend to go on and On and ON. I actually said out loud, “Wow, Chloe. Look at how easily I’m walking this evening! No wobbles! Moving along at a good rate! I’m smokin’!

Chloe gave me this LOOK. Almost as if she anticipated something going wrong after that lofty observation. Within 30 seconds (I kid you NOT), I stumbled on an ornery piece of elevated sidewalk and opened my mouth to shriek (for I do precious little QUIETLY) only to have a bee swoop in my open mouth as I began to fall into a nearby bush. So here I am choking on a bee, trying like crazy to spit it out while being impaled on various twigs and branches of a bush… a ROSE bush – wouldn’t ya know? So thorns grabbing me everywhere. Worse, it was damp earth under the bush thanks to recent rains so when I connected with the ground there was a obvious squishy sound and splat as my hip, knee and foot connected. So there I lay in the mud INSIDE a bush, choking on a bee, covered in thorns, desperately trying to hang on to my leash because Chloe was …

OUT THERE

SOMEWHERE

outside the BUSH.

I laid there a minute trying to go through my Meniere’s “play list” that automatically begins playing after I fall.

It’s a cute little jingle.

I’d share the wonderful lyrics with you so that you can sing along… but frankly I can’t carry a tune in a bucket and it’s one of those songs one whines and sings to oneself. So anyway… I run through the steps.

1. Am I dead?

2. Is anything broken?

3. Where is Chloe?

4. Can I move?

5. Do I need help?

So I was able to answer, No, No, *POINTS – somewhere outside the bush*, Barely, Yes.

I tried to turn to see if I could reach my bag. You know… the one with my cell phone in it that I carry in case of emergency? I can see it just out of reach out *there* near Chloe’s legs.

So… I asked Chloe to fetch the bag for me. She grabbed it up and ducked down to look under the bush at me. What she saw, made her drop her jaw and the bag tumbled back to the ground. Crap. Now my phone is laying outside the bag. So I tell Chloe to “fetch phone” – which is actually easier for her to do as it is something  she does several times a day. She grabs the phone, looks down under the branches again to where I lay and squirmed to reach my outstretched hand to give me the phone. Success!

Only… the phone is dead. That’s right, I carry around a phone with a dead battery on walks because it is SO helpful to do that. *rolls eyes*

So I decided that I needed to get out from under the bush. Easier said than done. I’m hung up, slightly injured, dizzy, muddy and on the verge of crying. Not a good combination. I thought, “Oh my gosh. I’m going to have to lay here until somebody walks by to help. How embarrassing! How will I explain this?” I didn’t have to lay there very long before I noticed that Chloe was now snuffling at my hung up hoodie sweatshirt.

TUG. YANK. R…I….P! Unbelievable! She tugged me free!

I rolled to one side to get out from under the bush and was wise enough to sit there a minute. Chloe plopped down and waited for me to “collect myself”. I fall SO OFTEN, if I am able to just go down without hitting my head I consider that a coup. So I checked out all my scratches and now torn clothing and thought that – heck. It could’ve been worse. It HAS been worse. So I started to laugh. Sometimes? All you can do is laugh. Chloe looked at me and just panted and “grinned”. It’s not the first time I’ve sat laughing covered in mud and trying to find the wherewithal to get up and keep going! (Likely won’t be the last time either!)

Can You Laugh at Yourself? Should You?

If you live with an invisible illness, have a disability, or a chronic condition, it can be helpful to learn to laugh at yourself. A great little article about the benefits of laughter can be found HERE.

But if you don’t believe in the power of endorphins or social connectedness, you still should learn to laugh at yourself. At least… that is my opinion. Here are some reasons I have learned to laugh at myself:

1. If I am laughing, it can reduce anxiety that others may feel when my disability pops up and causes me to do something like fall, mishear something, or other “Denise blooper”. Does it matter if someone else’s anxiety is lessened? Well… I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable around me. If I can laugh at myself, hopefully they will learn that I take who I am and my new “life parameters” in stride and am fine with it.

2. It reduces MY anxiety. Endorphins are real. It’s not some kind of borg nanotechnology that only re-routes and fixes sci-fy actresses. I FEEL BETTER after laughing.

3. If I laugh, it really helps me accept myself – just the way I am. You can’t change the unchangeable. I’m a klutz. I’m going to fall. As long as I’m in one piece and don’t have any odd bits of bone poking out anywhere, (Yeah, I know. Right?) laughing at myself helps me just accept what happened. It is MY WAY of embracing my flaws. This is who I am.

3. It helps me put things in perspective. While cackling like a hyena, I can take stock too. My little “jingle” may re-play. Some deep breaths – a mirthful hiccough or two, and I’m good as new!

4. Laughing helps me de-stress. Likely I’m laughing because I just did something that COULD cause me stress. (What if someone saw? Bet this mud will NOT come out of my jeans! Chloe tore my hoodie! I’m never walking again! As a matter of fact I’m just going to sit here on the sidewalk and feel sorry for myself! I’m going to stomp on my phone – when I finally get up. I hate my life! I want my mother… ) Laughing… de-stresses me. I can feel the tension roll off of my shoulders.

So I do believe “laughter is good medicine”. But…

There are perfectly good reasons to take the time to CRY too.

Or Scream.

… but those are best left for another writer to touch on! ;-)

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

By Association…

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by association

You’re gonna think this is off topic. Hang with me, I promise this is a “typical Hearing Elmo” post.

I’m turning in my “Christian” card. 

I’ve been so aggravated with “Christians” over the past month, that I decided to shred my “card”. Being a “card carrying Christian” doesn’t mean anything anyway.

It matters how you live and Who you put your faith in… at least that is what I believe. Sometimes I get extremely annoyed on FaceBook. But…

I stay because the disABILITY community is alive and well, thriving and connecting on FaceBook. In the last month, however, I have seen folks post a couple of things in the name of God, that made me shred my card. Carrying a card doesn’t mean squat. I’m going to live what I believe and ignore some folks that choose to make the “real deal” look bad.

1. The suicide/death of Robin Williams

Some things I actually saw posted:

“Shame on Robin Williams for causing such grief and forcing his family to shoulder this for the rest of their lives. No way is he in Heaven”.

“A Christian cannot commit suicide. It keeps them from Heaven. Guess we know where Robin Williams is”

“It’s is so sad he (Robin Williams) didn’t get help for his depression. Had he known God, that would have helped”

“Disgusts me! Suck it up and be a man. Seriously, the coward’s way out”.

All these from folks who regularly post things making it clear their faith-based beliefs. Yet this erases all of that in my opinion. They only show their stupidity (I mean… try doing some real research on what clinical depression is, would ya?) and judgmental attitudes. Yeah. That will win others to Christ.

2. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Some people who have made it clear what “card” they carry when it comes to personal beliefs and faith, reported that they could not accept the challenge because ALS research conducts stem-cell research. It doesn’t seem to matter that stem-cells can be harvested from a number of different procedures – only one that is from embryos. Couples with frozen embryos can:

  • simply discard the embryos
  • can store the embryos indefinitely at their own expense
  • can give the embryos to other infertile couples. (More information about that option is available through the RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association)
  • can donate the embryos to general research or stem cell research (CIRM, 2014).

Stem cells can also come from adults, however, and umbilical cords of newborns. Scientists and researchers have even learned to induce pluripotent stem cells – alter adult stem cells to have the properties of embryonic stem cells (Mayo, 2014). But wait, let me guess. You have issues with genetic research, too?

Let’s say stem cell research goes against your personal beliefs and world views. So you do not support infertile couples seeking help in order to conceive? So if stem cell research is done and embryos are used… and a cure or viable treatment is found for diagnosis such as: spinal cord injuries, type 1 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, stroke, burns, cancer, osteoarthritis, and ALS (Mayo, 2014), you would not participate in this treatment or cure if diagnosed with one of these, right? Or, if someone you love is diagnosed with one of these debilitating diseases you will let them suffer? Do you know how many relatives I have that would not be alive if not for diabetes/insulin research?

OKAY!

Ok.

ok… I will calm down. After all, you are allowed your opinions and biases. This IS (still) a free country. But I don’t have to buy into that, nor drink your proffered kool-aid. I read some posts about rejecting the ALS Ice Bucket challenge that made me weep.

I mean I cried buckets (though not ice buckets).

Because people who have this disease or love someone who does may have seen your post. And heard your excuses.

Hey. Most of us have limited incomes and must choose what we do with our discretionary monies. There are only a handful of places I give to each year because they are causes and non-profits that I am passionate and convicted about. If you choose not to accept the “challenge” that is your choice. Maybe say, “sorry, I give to other foundations/charities but I salute those of you who are giving to ALS”. Just please don’t make excuses about why you aren’t going to give to the ALS foundation and say it is because of the “card” you carry. Worse… explain that you are going to give your donation directly to a patient with ALS instead of the evil foundation. Because that person wants your money and not a cure.

Who Am I – by Association?

So all of this has made me think. (Can ya tell? LOL) Some of my associations I am very proud of and gain physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual benefit from participating. Others make me keep my distance though. I may even shred my “card”. It doesn’t change who I am – merely my associations. I am a person of faith, but I want to be transparent, compassionate, and a friend who makes a difference.

What are your associations? (Other than those that are faith-based)

I am associated with groups who have bionic hearing. I have a cochlear implant. Sometimes we disagree on “best company” or hearing health strategies, but we don’t judge or behave holier-than-thou. We agree to disagree when needed.

I am associated with groups with vestibular disorders. There are SO MANY different specific diagnosis that are vestibular disorders. Meniere’s disease is a fickle pickle. Few have exactly the same symptoms and triggers, and what program works for one may not do anything for another. However, we work hard to accept that “whatever works” for each sufferer.

I am associated with groups who advocate for the rights of those with service animals. Fidos For Freedom, Inc., radically changed the course of my life. I don’t agree with all training practices and at times am rubbed wrong by certain personalities. However, I proudly wear the mantle of service dog “mom”.

Yet at some point in my life I had to dis-associate with the culturally Deaf. My reasons are a long story, but it is my story and I shoulder the responsibility of that choice.

I chose to dis-associate with my undergrad alumni. Again a long story, but one I stand by.

I chose to dis-associate with people who don’t like Greek yogurt. They can’t be trusted.

These are my choices, and YES. I “get” that you have the choice to “dis” Robin Williams, individuals who took their own life, and depressed people who have lost hope. I respect your choice. Doesn’t mean I can and will choose to associate with you. I understand that your conscious will not let you give (one time or regularly) or support (by posting a video and challenging others) the ALS Foundation. But if you choose to voice that opinion and choice in such a way that it harms others, I don’t have to associate with you.

There are numerous organizations in our great country that I do NOT support because of ethical concerns and personal choice. But you will never see me posting things in a public venue something that may cause harm to someone else – even peripherally. I have the freedom to express my opinion one-on-one to close friends and my husband. Believe me… I do this regularly when my ability to cope with those who hate Greek yogurt overwhelms me.

Y’all? Go be nice to others. :-)

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

CIRM. (2014). Myths and misconceptions about stem cell research. Retrieved September 2, 2014, from http://www.cirm.ca.gov/our-progress/myths-and-misconceptions-about-stem-cell-research

Mayo Clinic. (2014). Stem cells: What they are and what they do. Retrieved September 2, 2014, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/stem-cell-transplant/in-depth/stem-cells/art-20048117

 

 

Watch Me

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Chloe and Lewis

Want to get on my last nerve? Enjoy listening to me Sputter as I desperately try to spit out a response? Want to see this kitty’s claws?

this puppy’s teeth?

this chicky’s – erm – umm – BEAK?

Then tell me I can’t do something. Heck, I’m not even the “first born” in my family! The birth order norm fairy forgot to send the memo when I was born – “2 of 4″. I can be a stubborn behind. Sometimes this is very, very BAD. But sometimes? Sometimes this is very, very GOOD.

Do you know that I credit my “can do” attitude to my hound dog? The fact that I can say, “Watch me!” can be attributed to the fact that I am partnered with an assistance dog from Fidos For Freedom, Inc.

Yes. Perhaps I would have found my courage without her. I may have discovered I am resilient on my own. I may have responded to a “Hey! You can’t do that!” with the response of “Oh yeah? WATCH ME!” by simply growing and maturing. However, I can exactly pin point the moment in time when I grew self-esteem muscles.

Chloe jumped into my bubble bath with me when my phone rang. Her hearing alert was so ingrained, she was oblivious to the water and naked partner.

Chloe jumped into my bubble bath with me when my phone rang. Her hearing alert was so ingrained, she was oblivious to the water and naked partner.

I was matched with Chloe in May of 2007. Shortly after that, Chloe came home to live with me and to do what she’d been trained to do. Alert me to sounds I could not hear. (Eventually she received additional training and skills to help me with my balance). I use to really enjoy bubble baths. This was before numerous concussions and worsening Meniere’s disease made the risk of drowning to real. Chloe was parked on the bath mat while I enjoyed that lazy bubble bath. I can’t tell you how startled I was to suddenly find my dog IN the bathtub with me and licking my face. My husband popped his head in the door and said, “Your phone was ring… ing. Ummm. Why is Chloe in the bathtub with you?

From that moment on, I knew I’d never miss a phone call.

… or alarm clock, or not be able to pick up something I’d dropped, or climb stairs safely, or know if someone was behind me in a store, and friends? The list goes on…

Watch Me

One of the early commands I learned was “Chloe – WATCH me“. Because I talk to my dog and would often say, “Chloe – look-it that squirrel, – or – look-it that bunny”, I learned NOT to say, “Chloe LOOK”. It would make her eagerly look around at whatever CRITTER I had seen before her! However, if I say, “WATCH me“, she looks right at me. She may cock her head and obviously listen for a command; much more than just meeting my brown eyes. However, she knows that “WATCH me” means “make eye contact – pay attention”.

Chloe actually tells me “WATCH me” as well. Chloe does it with her ears and head. When her head swings in a specific direction and her ears go up, I :  1) look at her and pin point where she is looking/listening, 2) turn to look myself. It may mean I need to step out of the way of something or someone.

Not LITERALLY

“WATCH me” doesn’t always mean literally, however. I was so cracked up at a meeting I attended recently. I was seated next to a person with low vision. We were in between speakers and were visiting while we waited for the next session to start. About 10 yards away, I noticed this man and lady plug up a power strip and run an extension cord over to their row in the auditorium. I interrupted my friend and said, “Hang on – they can’t do that! I’ll be right back. Watch me!

I stood up and walked over to the couple now fussin’ with how the cord should lay across the aisle. I put Chloe in a sit/stay and said, “Oh I’m sorry. You can’t put that cord there as there are a bunch of us in this area who cannot navigate safely with it stretched across the aisle“. They looked at me with a startled eyes and then around me to the section I was sitting in. I could tell by the dawning comprehension on their faces, that they spotted the service dogs, walkers, scooters, and canes.

Ooops. Sorry about that!” and they worked together to pick it up and roll it back into a nice handful of cords and plugs.

I casually walked back to my group and my friend said, “I saw that! Fist bump!” and she held up her fist for a “you go girl” moment.

Then it hit me. When I walked away I had told my friend with low vision, “WATCH me“. When I returned she said, “I saw that!” I started laughing. Not the kind of southern girl lady-like giggle. Oh no. I was hee-hawing. I managed to snicker out loud in between SNORTS what I had said – and what she had said. I nearly laughed myself into the floor. Yup. The kind of laugh where I had tears of mirth running down my cheeks and very unladylike hiccoughs to boot. My friend was laughing just as hard. She said, “We’re a pair, aren’t we?

You “see”, my friend? You don’t have to have 20/20 vision to be able to WATCH ME. You can pay attention with your eyes, your ears, or your hands. You can pay attention with your heart. You can pay attention – by PAYING ATTENTION.

It’s a focus.

It’s an attitude.

One of my favorite quotes (in the opening picture above) is by C.S. Lewis: “Every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, which will turn the necessity to glorious gain”.

I recently had someone take me to task for self-identifying as a person with disABILITY. She argued that I was basically admitting I was unable to do something. I thought, “Well how wrong is THAT?”

Every person I know who lives with disability is actually someone who has learned how to do something IN SPITE OF challenges. You find a new way to do something. You learn how to do things safely even though it may not be the way a task is done by most folks. Perhaps you have assistance because of a device, service dog, or have simply learned to ask for help.

Yesterday while on campus, I needed to drop something off at the Disability Support Services office. My balance was “good” yesterday, so I exited a door that actually opened into a courtyard that had stairs bordering the perimeter. I felt confident to go up the 20 some odd stairs with Chloe. When I reached the top, an employee was standing there with big eyes, having seen me take a slow but steady climb to the top.

Hey!” I said cheerfully, and stepped around her. I looked up and was startled by a mass of people coming out of the gymnasium towards me on a very narrow sidewalk. I looked for an alternative path and spotted a way around through the mulch and picnic area.

Sensing what I was about to do, the lady beside me said, “Maybe you should wait“. I know she meant well. I felt no criticism, nor did I feel she was talking down to me. But… I was in a hurry, and I was having a good balance day. I had my service dog right beside me.

So I responded, “Oh, I’m ‘good’, no worries…” and proceeded to carefully pick my way around tree roots, pine cones, mulch and twigs. I didn’t retort, “WATCH me“, but if one could interpret the courage and attitude from my squared shoulders and confident stride, you would have “read that” in my departure.

Chloe and Fidos For Freedom were the “shot in the arm” I needed to become confident and independent. You may have found your own way to adapt. Having a disability does NOT mean you cannot do something. As a matter of fact, chances are if you tell someone who is differently-abled they cannot do something, you may discover by the set of their jaw, the determined look, and confident square of their shoulders that they most certainly CAN. Their body language screams,

WATCH me“.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Recurring Dreams… Life Goes On

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One of my favorite chapters in “Introduction to Psychology” is the one where we study dreams, sleep, and the subconscious mind. Everyone dreams – though you may not always remember your dreams. If you have furry family members, you’ve learned that even pets dream. I’ve seen evidence of REM sleep in dogs, cats, hamsters, even cows!

Very likely, if you do remember a dream it is because it was a bad one. Or, you may remember it because it is a recurring dream. Interpreting dreams is tricky. Yes, yes, I know! Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Daniel, and numerous others in the Bible made it look easy. It really is NOT that easy. If you have dreams that are bothering you, or have recurring dreams, don’t be afraid to talk about them with someone you trust. It can be a friend, counselor, or peer with a supportive role in your life. However, just remember, YOU are the expert on your dreams… they are YOUR dreams. Tartakovsky (2011) explains that there are indeed some universal symbols in dreams, however what those symbols mean to the DREAMER is what really matters. Someone else analyzing and interpreting the dream on your behalf is very likely inaccurate. In spite of knowing WE are the expert  when it comes to our dreams, recurring dreams usually end up making us “talk out loud” about what we are dreaming. Because you dream this dream OFTEN, you start thinking about it when you are awake. Most dream analysis experts agree that “recurring dreams reflect feelings and awareness that have not been successfully resolved in our waking lives” (Psychology Campus, 2004-2008, para. 4).

My Recurring Dream Had a Specific Trigger

I (like many of you) have a recurring dream and it always follows the same conscious scenario. Every time I fall and actually sustain an injury, I can guarantee I will have the same dream. I actually call it my “falling dream“.

Yes.

I do understand that by anticipating the dream, I am likely precipitating the dream itself. I get that. Now before you jump to conclusions, my dream isn’t about falling. Heck, I do enough of that in my conscious activity! I certainly don’t need it to happen in my subconscious mind – grin!

After a fall, I have a dream where I’m walking in a busy location with people everywhere, and all of sudden I’m frozen and cannot continue walking. Perhaps even more telling, my service dog, Chloe, is also frozen mid-step. Everyone around us continues to walk, talk, and move. Sometimes in the crowd I recognize people from my family, work, church, etc. Most of the time the faces are strangers, however. I can “hear” myself in the dream screaming (of course my mouth is not moving), “Help me! I can’t move! I can’t speak! Why aren’t you helping me? Can’t you see I’m frozen?”

So… yeah.  Please have fun with that and if you feel like commenting or emailing me what YOU think this probably means, go for it! I’m always interested in other’s opinions. Because the dream always follows a significant “Denise fall down – go boom” moment, I think I have this one figured out. I’ve had this same dream for over 12 years. The only thing that has changed in the dream is the addition of Chloe, my service dog. I was matched to Chloe in 2007. Goes to show the significant impact a service dog has on their person that she ended up in a recurring dream. <BIG GRIN>. Another change in the dream occasionally happens… but I’ll get to that later! <wink>

I believe this dream “for me”, means that I recognize that my “new normal” has an affect on ME, but not so much others. All the feelings, fears, bruises, even shame, is something I deal with in being differently-abled. However, it isn’t something that impacts others. Ever want to scream at the world to stop a moment and acknowledge that…

DARN IT. I’m dealing with this! Don’t you see? 

or

DARN IT. I suck at this! Don’t you see? HELP!

Life goes on. That’s hard, isn’t it? Isn’t it frustrating when you are sucker punched with a personal crisis of some kind and life just goes on as usual for everyone else? Worse? Life goes on for YOU!?

You lose someone close to you and crap. Life goes on.

You receive a diagnosis that will change your life. This sucks but life goes on.

Someone you trusted betrays you. It hurts but life goes on.

A progressive illness progresses. You adapt and life goes on.

You are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Life goes on.

Simple Acknowledgement

Most folks who live with invisible disability or a chronic illness will tell you that it is hard for them to share with others when they are struggling. This may be because they always seem to be struggling and figure everyone around them is sick and tired of hearing about it. We don’t want to be labeled as a “bellyacher”. Maybe you only rant to someone close to you. Perhaps you write. Maybe you pray. You may have some type of “release” that allows you to vent.

Sometimes my frustrations get the best of me and I bellyache out loud. However, most of the time I keep it quiet or at most confide in a trusted friend who “gets it” on a level that others cannot. I have a friend with MS who once told me, “Denise? I always feel like crap. I can’t respond to ‘How are you today?‘ with, ‘actually I feel like crap!‘. So I respond the way all of us respond, ‘I feel great, how are you today?‘. I can’t respond truthfully. People who do not have MS cannot understand what it is like to wake up tired, go to bed tired, and hurt all over each and every day. So I lie and say, ‘I’m great! How are you?‘ I don’t think this makes me a liar. This is how I convince myself I’m OK. I try to convince others I am.” 

You know? I don’t know very many people who live with significant challenges who want someone who will allow them to dump for hours each day. Griping for hours on end does not help physically, emotionally, or mentally. Most of us learn early on that perseverating on the negative only provides the ingredients for a significant meltdown. It is HUGE, however, to know we have a trusted peep or two that we can say, “Today is a bad day, but I’m going to be OK“.

Most of us simply long for a quick acknowledgment. Perhaps a short hug. I have a friend who has a seizure disorder and lives with chronic fatigue and pain whom I see about once a week. Like most folks, when we greet we say, “How are you doing?” I know this person well enough that both of us can say (on a day things aren’t going so well), “I’m not doing that great today, but things can only get better“. Or, “I’m not doing that great but I’m OK. Tomorrow will be better“. A pat on the shoulder and an understanding hug goes a long way. My friend doesn’t want me to grab her hand, drag her over to the side, and make a big production out of her “horrible, no good day”. If I say, “I’m thinking about ya“, or “How can I pray for you today?“, that is enough. You can see some of the tension roll off their shoulders. Simply acknowledging another’s pain or distress is A BIG DEAL. Salovey, Brackett, and Mayer (2004) call this empathy or emotional intelligence, and one can grow their EQ (emotional intelligence) simply by learning to acknowledge someone else’s feelings. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming. As a matter of fact, here are some great tips that will grow your EQ and help someone else:

1. Remember – and follow up.

Did someone tell you that they were having a rough day? The next time you see them ask them how they are doing NOW. By simply remembering they were going through a tough time and you care enough to follow up is HUGE.

2. Send a card.

My life has dramatically changed in that most of my correspondence is electronic. I buy one book of stamps each YEAR, when I use to buy that many stamps each month. However, I do shop for and keep inexpensive cards for “other” occasions (in other words, not birthday or anniversary), so that I can send a card off to someone who let it “slip” they are going through a tough time.

3. Follow up with a text.

It takes 10-15 seconds (depending on how many thumbs you have), to send a quick text. If you’ve limited time, don’t text an open-ended question. Just send off a quick, “Wanted you to know I’m thinking of you today and hope your day is better“. It doesn’t take much time and it likely means THE WORLD to that person.

A Significant Change in the Dream

Ok. I explained earlier that I do have one specific change that happens in my dream and over the years I think I have this figured out as well. Sometimes when I am “frozen”, a person or persons do come up to ICE CUBE Denise and Chloe, and try to help. Guess what? These are usually people I’m thinking about consciously, who are also going through something significant. For example…

I had this dream this past week after a fall on the deck. The injury was significant enough to warrant a doctor’s visit, x-rays, and a cancelled trip. I have been thinking about and praying for two specific people, both of whom showed up in my “falling dream”. One had surgery last week, the other is looking at surgery in her future. Both came and patted “frozen Denise and Chloe” and told my icy self that “everything would be OK”.

You know what? Having a support group MATTERS.

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It doesn’t mean that you need to join an organization (although there are benefits to doing so). It does not mean you need to find a group in which you stand up in a circle and say, “Hello. My name is Denise and I have invisible disabilities“. However, there is significant HELP in having a person or two who GET IT.

A tribe.

People who understand where you are coming from when you experience your life – your “normal”.

Thankfully, it is fairly easy to find those folks. The Internet has opened the door to really connecting with others who are like-minded, live what you live, and provide support simply because they truly GET IT. Maybe you have a friend or confidant who is that support for you, but they don’t actually share your diagnosis. But folks? Everyone has something. Life is hard. We all have difficult times. The two folks who showed up in my “falling dream” last week do not share my diagnosis. They do share living a difficult life but PERSEVERING. That’s why these folks show up in my dream. Support makes a difference.

You can be that kind of support. It will grow you. It may be time consuming at times. You may find a reciprocated “shoulder”. You may not. I don’t know about you, but at the end of my life I want to be the kind of person who patted a few ice cube people. I want to be that person who tells someone THEY matter. What they are GOING THROUGH matters. One of my dream goals is to eventually see a puddle under every person in my crowd.

Because we all deal with something.

We can help each other to thaw out by caring, listening, hugging.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal 

Psychology Campus (2004-2008). The possible meanings of dreams. Retrieved August 11, 2014 from http://www.psychologycampus.com/dream-psychology/

Salovey, P., Brackett, M. and Mayer, J. (2004). Emotional intelligence: Key readings on the Mayer and Salovey model. New York: Dude Publishing.

Tartakovsky, M. (2011). How to Analyze Your Dreams (And Why It’s Important). Psych Central. Retrieved on August 11, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/how-to-analyze-your-dreams-and-why-its-important/0005975

Turn On Date

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Elmo bling

One of my favorite discussions to have with people who have chronic illness, invisible or visible disabilities, or living a “new normal”, is sharing stories of how their adopted vernacular throws others they communicate with for a loop. We probably all have stories to tell. If your life is different because of a surgery, technology, or diagnosis, you may be using words and phrases that confuse and irritate folks who don’t live a similar life. I try to be careful and take a quick look around at WHO I’m talking to when having a conversation, but that is after really screwing up a lot in the early years. Here are some of my more memorable screw ups:

Your Turn On Date

Johns Hopkins sends folks my way when they are considering a cochlear implant, especially if they have Meniere’s disease as well. I have learned that when talking to someone new to the idea of cochlear implants, you cannot talk to them like someone who has already had the surgery. Cochlear implant peeps throw around terms that make perfect sense to US, but not so much to others. Case in point: I met with a lady with Meniere’s at a library who was investigating cochlear implants. At some point in the conversation I said, “Now the date you are turned on, you need to have a designated driver if possible. Everything will be so strange and you may not be able to drive safely if you don’t have someone to drive for you after you are turned on“.

Her eyes got big and she paled. She stuttered out, “Wha…wha… WHAT!?!?” I’m savvy enough to figure out by the way she answered that she didn’t understand my terminology. I thought I’d clear it up but succeeded in only making it worse…

Yes, when you go to the audiologist and they turn you on…” I stopped. Seeing her dropped jaw will silence me. I backed up and tried again, using “activation date” instead of “turn on date”. Do you know something? Unlike others who meet with me, she never followed up with post-surgery emails or meetings! <BIG GRIN>

I Lost My Ears

I had only been activated 8 months when I lost my ears. Now for CI folks, they get that when we talk about our “ears” we are talking about the external technology… not about our “listening appendages”. I was in a super Walmart, looking for a very specific jar of dill pickles (because yes… I’m that picky), when my cochlear implant – which has a magnetic coil to keep it on my head – flew off my ear and into the pickles.

Had I stayed still and searched the immediate jars I would have found it right off. As it was, being new to “hearing again”, I immediately stood up and screeched because my world had suddenly and completely gone SILENT. An older lady shopping amongst the same shelved pickles looked at me strange. I nervously picked up jars of pickles looking for my “ear”. The lady came closer and joked, “Are you pregnant?“. I turned to her with big tears in my eyes which made her come closer and immediately quite teasing me.

Are you OK?” she asked kindly. I looked at her and wailed, “I lost my ear! I can’t find it!

She looked at me bug-eyed and walked away. Quickly.

Thankfully I found my CI attached to the metal lid of some nearby olives. No wonder I couldn’t find it amongst the pickles.

I’m Not Turned On

When we lived in another part of Maryland, we use to have to drive a long way to go to church on Sunday. We actually went into another county to do so. Normally my family doesn’t listen to the car radio because they know that I’m totally incapable of tuning out the radio and hearing just the conversation. However, on longer trips, I often say, “I’m turning my ears off” so that they can listen to the radio and they know if they need me they only need to tap my shoulder. In truth, it is nice being able to sit in “total silence” from time to time. It is certainly conducive to “deep thinking”.

So one Sunday on our way to church, I gave the family heads up that I was going silent on purpose. I must have moved from “deep thinking” to day dreaming. We got to church, got our stuff out of the car, and Terry and I waved goodbye to the kids as we headed over to the building where we had small group Bible study. I’m still deaf at this point and I couldn’t tell ya if Terry was talking to me. I know my mind was somewhere else – that’s for sure! We went into the classroom and sat down at the big table. Some other couples were already there. One of the ladies leaned up so that she could see around Terry and said something. It was then I realized I still hadn’t turned my cochlear implant back on. “Oh! Wait, I’m not turned on!

I reached up and punched the correct button and looked around at a bunch of stunned faces. Terry was actually embarrassed. (If you know Terry, you know he rarely gets flustered). A few who caught on a little late began to snicker. Me? Well I thought it was just HYSTERICAL. So I managed to get out in between laughs, “Oooops. I need to find a better way to say I don’t have my CI on“. Terry quickly said, “Yes Denise. Yes you do!“. It took a number of months for me to live that one down.

Remember Your Audience

Do you live with a chronic condition or acquired disability? Have you become an expert in navigating your “new normal”? Can you “talk shop” with the rest of your population?

It’s hard to remember that just because WE understand what we mean, others may not. We tend to use words and phrases that become a part of our vocabulary. Try to pay attention to your audience. A good advocate learns to do that. You may have to deliberately choose to use a different word or phrase if no one really connects with it but you. For example, I had to stop referring to my bright purple cane as “my third leg”. I’m fairly naive and had no idea the shocked looks were from folks who had heard that phrase in a completely different context.

In order to really educate and advocate, you need to use terminology that the general public will understand. You may think a word or phrase is very obvious, but others may not ever hear that word in conversation. I was trained at Fidos For Freedom, Inc., to know how to advocate for accessibility with my service dog. The trainers didn’t tell us, however, that not everyone in the general public knows what the ADA is! (Thankfully, they also equipped us with great little brochures and handouts with the law explained on them).

Fibro fog” may only mean something to other folks with fibromyalgia. “CFS zombie” may only be a phrase others with chronic fatigue syndrome use. HoHearies can be figured out by most of the population, but is only self-identified by those who are hard of hearing. The general public may even make incorrect associations just because they don’t understand your chosen words. I had no idea anyone would ever think “tinnitus” was something caused by a cut from a dirty tin can.

You are a more effective advocate when you “consider your audience” and appropriately explain symptoms, treatment, and diagnosis. The goal is to educate after all. If you only succeed in confusing those around you, you haven’t really helped to educate.

What’s REALLY fun is when those closest to you start to confuse others as well. Terry often asks if I “have my ears on” now.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Folding Fitted Sheets and “Good ‘Nuff”

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My newlywed daughter bragged to me recently that her husband can fold a fitted sheet. Pressing for details I found out that he evidently can fold them where they are laying flat.

… like they just came out of the package.

… making Martha Stewart proud.

I think I hate him (just kidding…)

I’ve seen various videos, blog posts, articles and pictures explaining how to fold a fitted sheet. I once saw a 5 step-by-step diagram of how to fold a fitted sheet on a beautifully laminated bookmark.

Because evidently we worry about that while reading…

Evidently a newly laundered fitted sheet can look like this after folding...

Evidently a newly laundered fitted sheet can look like this after folding…

As a student and professor of psychology, it is fun to “look back”. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I definitely had OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) as a kid. I’ve given some examples of things I would do to help me feel like I was coping and controlling in class before that made jaws drop. OCD can look different lived out in different people. For me, it meant ordering, organizing, labeling, etc. I had a full-size bed growing up with bright yellow “sunshiny” sheets. I’ve often wondered how that young, OCD Denise dealt with folding fitted sheets. Because you see? I can’t. 

Fold fitted sheets I mean. I must have gotten around that by only having one pair of sheets. When laundered, they went right back on the bed.

I’ve come a long way from that OCD Denise. Now some of you who know me WELL are saying to yourselves, “Honey? You’ve still got a long ways to go!”

But to give you an idea about how far I’ve come, look at the fitted sheet I folded this morning straight out of the dryer. As a matter of fact, I have my very own 5 step-by-step instruction guide:

photo-3

 

1. Remove from dryer and hold up high to avoid pet fur.

2. Shake to allow dryer sheets to fall to the floor.

3. While holding up high, match corner to corner.

4. Fold.

5. Admire work. It ain’t purty. But it’s GOOD ‘NUFF.

Stacked in a linen closet, it does not take up anymore space than one folded perfectly. At least… that’s what I tell myself. You see? I had to learn something. Sometimes you pat yourself on the back, murmur, “Good job!” and go on to something else. It’s “good ’nuff“. The sheets are clean, stacked neatly and await being put in use for the next time I change the sheets out.

Allowing a Fitted Sheet to Rock Your Boat

So when do you determine by reviewing your priorities, when to keep at that “fitted sheet” or when to determine it’s “good ’nuff”? Only YOU can decide.

I’m pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology. I’m over half-way through and doing well. However, now I’ve reached the detailed statistics phase. And folks? I haven’t had statistics since the 80’s and long before the sophisticated analysis softwares were available. This past week I hit a wall. I mean that both literally and hypothetically. I have been staying up really late reviewing videos and media, reading, Reading and doing more READING, learning SPSS and writing like crazy. As a person who lives with invisible disabilities that include post-concusive syndrome, hearing loss, and Meniere’s disease, I require 8-10 hours of sleep each night just to live a “normal for me” day. I’ve not been getting that. I’m almost cross-eyed with fatigue. So this past week, falling more than usual as a result of that fatigue, I walked into my husband’s home office, showed him a new bruise from hugging a wall with ridiculous and unbridled passion, collapsed on the floor and bawled my eyes out. Do you know what my very wise husband reminded me? “You may not be understanding all of this. Just keep plugging away. By the time your dissertation is complete you will look back on this and realize you are very knowledgeable about your research and understand it well. For now you are doing ‘good enough’ and passing. You don’t need perfection at this stage“. Sometimes we have to “let go” of needing something to be perfect and accept that it is “good ’nuff”.

This past week a lady who has admired Chloe several times sat behind us in church. She leaned up and said something and honestly? I caught about 10% of what she was saying. (In case that doesn’t sink in, I was missing 90% of it <big grin>) I already had my cochlear implant on a special program to utilize the hearing loop in our auditorium. I’m one of the first people to tell folks new to hearing loss, “Don’t fake your way through a conversation“. However, it was obvious she was just saying something about Chloe again. She had a smile on her face, and I was set up to hear through the loop, not someone sitting on my “non CI” side and behind me. So I smiled and nodded my head and turned back to the front. Yup. Poor form on my part. But…

I have learned that if it is important and I responded with a smile inappropriately, someone will respond with a shocked or hurt look, confusion, etc., and I can hasten to explain I wasn’t hearing well. I didn’t see any of that on this lady’s face. She smiled, I smiled, and I determined then and there this “fitted sheet didn’t need to be folded perfectly”. For a few minutes I sat there thinking, “I have no idea what she just said!” I re-analyzed what I saw on her face, her indication of Chloe in a perfect down/stay and sleeping at my feet, a returned smile and decided, “You know? This fitted sheet (conversation) is not folded properly, but it is good ’nuff“! I brought my attention back to the service and felt OK about my decision.

This past Saturday, a fellow client from Fidos For Freedom rolled up to me in her scooter with service dog at her side. She has been with Fidos longer than I have and I consider her a friend and mentor. Another friend of mine and fellow client, Cara, is taking ASL (American Sign Language). She has been practicing her ASL with me during trainings. She is doing great (You rock, girl!). Cara noticed that I was talking to this other client who at times is hard to understand – especially when you have a hearing loss. Cara stopped behind the lady I was talking to and I know she was hesitating to see if she could interpret for me. I wanted this fitted sheet folded perfectly. I said, “I’m not catching what you are saying“. No faking nor presumptions on my part. This fitted sheet needed folded the right way because it was important to me. I love this lady and wanted to “hear” what she was saying. So she got out her little electronic board and began writing. It was what I needed to “hear” too. Cara waited long enough to see if I was “getting it” and then went on her way. I continued to communicate with this lady and left that conversation encouraged and with some great advice. I needed to hear her. I worked to hear her. She worked to communicate with me. Good ’nuff, wasn’t good enough. I needed to communicate 100% effectively with her. So… I did.

Living with invisible disabilities or chronic illness means that YOU have to decide what your priorities are and when to determine a task is “good ’nuff”. Only YOU can determine when you need to make sure something is accomplished to your satisfaction – to your personal standards. There are things you will decide to do that require work. It may mean you use up all of your reserves for the day. If you are into the “spoon theory“, you use every single one of your spoons. There are other things that happen during the day that result in the decision that, “this is good enough”. The worst thing you can do is stubbornly work at folding a fitted sheet that belongs to someone else. Worse, you allow someone else to bully you into re-folding one that you already decided was “good ’nuff”.

Are you one of those (annoying) people who can fold a fitted sheet perfectly? Well:

If-you-can-fold-a-fitted-sheet

 

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

False Coping Skills and Elephants

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Hound dog knows when I’m “finished”

Ever wake up just feeling completely whipped?

I feel like I’ve developed GREAT coping skills. After all, you either learn to cope or you’re “done”. So the options are pretty clear cut IMHO. Two coping skills I learned early on in adjusting to my “new normal” as a person who is “differently abled”, include:

1. Start each day new. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow will come without my worrying about it now. Handle today and today only.

2. Stay busy. Staying busy helps to keep your mind off your troubles and focus on the here and now. It can be busy-ness towards important things, or even the mundane.

The second one I use a great deal, but I’ll be honest. It isn’t exactly a HEALTHY coping mechanism. I don’t do well with a lot of down time. A perfect day for me is getting up (safely – believe me, it can be hard when you have a balance disorder and go VERTICAL for the first time that day), taking my dog for a walk while planning my day, re-enter the house in high gear without stopping until bedtime.

Yeah. Not always healthy. The problem with staying BUSY in order to cope is that it is a false kind of coping. This type of coping skill isn’t actually a coping skill at all. It is called avoidance. And friends? I do this really well. Some of you do too. (You know who you are…)

Staying Busy to Avoid

Do you “do busy” really well? It may be time to stop to discover WHY you stay so busy. Do you strive to remain busy to avoid unpleasant thoughts, actions, environments, even people? Don’t confuse healthy boundaries with avoidance. One is – well… HEALTHY. The other? Not so much. As a matter of fact, avoidance can lead to a number of physical and emotional problems. Psychologists have recognized avoidance for what it is for decades now. Yes, in the right context it can be healthy. But it is easy to AVOID to the point of harm. Spira, Zvolensky, Eifer, and Feldner (2004) explain that being busy to avoid our problems is actually a predictor of panic disorders. You see? The problem with staying busy to avoid something is that eventually you really will run out of things to do. Worse? Your body physically screams, “ENOUGH ALREADY!” and shuts down.

I am finishing up the last of numerous classes in my doctoral work and have already begun the very long process of dissertation study. This work keeps me really busy and it is work I actually enjoy because psychology is what I “do”. I work part-time as an adjunct professor and this helps to keep me busy. I love my work, love my students, and love to teach. The problem with working as part-time faculty at a community college is that it is impossible to predict how many courses you will be teaching semester to semester. For example, I taught the first summer school section, but not the second. I used the extra time in the beginning to catch up on some of my own school work and to do some “Spring cleaning” that had been long delayed… seeing as how it is SUMMER. These past few days though I’ve found I have had some down time. *grimace*

Forced Mindfulness

When I am forced to the point of literally running out of things to do… even for just a day or so, I find it debilitating.

Scan 3

Whoosh.

(Hear that? That was the air being sucked out of my lungs when the elephant in the room finally sat. On. My. Chest.)

I don’t do “mindfulness” well. I’m learning though.

Brown and Ryan (2003) explain mindfulness as being AWARE and ATTENTIVE. Let me explain on a more personal level and maybe you can “see” yourself somewhere in this:

Avoidance:

My new normal of hearing with a cochlear implant and living with a balance disorder is not easy. I’ve adjusted. Only to have to re-adjust. That’s OK. I’m flexible. Most of the time.

I work at a job I love and navigate life safely with a service dogMost of the time.

I am optimistic, cheerful, can poke fun at myself and enjoy busting my butt to help others. Most of the time.

I’m very busy and drop exhausted into bed each night and sleep well. Most of the time.

I have taken control of chronic depression and don’t let it control me. Most of the time.

I don’t feel sorry for myself. I like me. I recognize that I am doing well. Most of the time.

Truthfulness:

My new normal of hearing with a cochlear implant and living with a balance disorder is not easy. I’ve adjusted. Only to have to re-adjust. That’s OK. I’m flexible. Most of the time. 

Some days having a CI and Meniere’s disease sucks. I don’t hear perfectly. I feel left out. I’m tired of falling. I’m tired of running into things. I hate long-sleeves and high collars since they only hide bruises. I’m tired of adjusting. I’m going to cry. I’m going to scream. I may swear. 

I work at a job I love and navigate life safely with a service dog. Most of the time.

I love my job but it is really hard when the hallways are crowded. It can be overwhelming to have to rush from one side of campus to another. Crap. It’s raining? Really? *waves white flag*

I am optimistic, cheerful, can poke fun at myself and enjoy busting my butt to help others. Most of the time.

Sometimes I want to change my “… I’m fine, how are you?” to “I’m having a sucky day. And frankly? I don’t care how you are doing if you want to know the truth!!!!”. I’m going to have to ask for help. After all, Chloe cannot 1) retrieve a bag of dropped potatoes in the grocery store, 2) pick up that tiny paperclip without risk of swallowing it, 3) get the umbrella I dropped in a puddle without getting really muddy, 4) tell me EVERYTHING WILL BE OK.

I’m very busy and drop exhausted into bed each night and sleep well. Most of the time.

I can lay in bed and worry. 

I have taken control of chronic depression and don’t let it control me. Most of the time.

It’s hard when I have to “own” the knowledge that I will always “deal” with depression. 

I don’t feel sorry for myself. I like me. I recognize that I am doing well. Most of the time.

uh-huh. Ri -i -i -i -i -i…ght.

So yeah, sometimes I’m forced to pay attention and be aware. How is that helpful? Well, for starters attentive awareness facilitates choices of behaviors that are consistent with my needs, values, and interests (Brown & Ryan, 2003). It is healthy to really navigate personal feelings, thoughts, and even pain. David Cain wrote about mindfulness in a way that really “stuck” with me. It changed the way I view “forced attentive awareness”. Check out this great article, “How to Make Mindfulness a Habit With Only a Tiny Commitment“.

For me, mindfulness means being truthful with ME. I am learning to be mindful even when I am super busy. I do this because there will be days I am NOT busy and I want mindfulness to be an invited friend instead of unexpected guest. As a person of faith, it is also super helpful to be frank with God. In doing so, I am actually able to recognize false coping skills that in the long run are not healthy for me.

I’ve heard some folks say, “Oh golly. I can’t go there and allow myself to FEEL. You don’t know what I’ve been through“.

No. No I don’t. But I do know that pretending those feelings don’t exist do not change the fact that the elephant is THERE. At some point in time it’s gonna sit. On your chest. You won’t be able to breathe.

Be Mindful of Your Pachyderm

It is healthy to habitually and mindfully pay attention and be aware of what and who you really are. What are your struggles and successes? Where have you been, where are you now, and where are you going? Who is helping you get there?

What is really hard for you? What have you learned to do well? What do you need to change?

WHO ARE YOU? 

Don’t pretend that being mindful is the same thing as having your mind full. The latter is just another form of busy-ness on the cognitive level. Be attentive. Be aware. Do this with enough frequency that you can be mindful each and every day – for even just a few moments. I make it a priority to be mindful for a longer period of time – like a whole DAY, at least once a year.

But the elephant “sat” without invitation for me this past week. It took me by surprise. That is going to happen. However, if you’ve practiced mindfulness, you are going to discover…

YOU CAN BENCH PRESS AN ELEPHANT.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Brown, K., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology84(4), 822-848. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.84.4.822

Cain, D. (2013). How to make mindfulness a habit with only a tiny commitment. Rapitude.com. Retrieved July 20, 2014, from http://www.raptitude.com/2010/03/how-to-make-mindfulness-a-habit-with-only-a-tiny-commitment/

Spira, A. P., Zvolensky, M. J., Eifert, G. H., & Feldner, M. T. (2004). Avoidance-oriented coping as a predictor of panic-related distress. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 18(3), 309-323. dii: 10.1016/S0887-6185(02)00249-9

Everything you ever wanted your audiologist to know…

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Hearing Elmo always welcomes guest authors. Although this site is a place of information and support for all types of disabilities and invisible illnesses, once in awhile an author has a very specific “hearing” topic. I know few individuals with more consumer experience with hearing loss advocacy and support than Judy Martin. She is my friend as well and fellow “heartstring” (a long story). If you have a good working relationship with your audiologist, this is a great article to pass along! 

Everything you ever wanted your audiologist to know . . .

Late last year, the Florida Academy of Audiologists (FLAA) and the Hearing Loss Association of Florida (HLA-FL) formally agreed to a partnership to encourage a fuller understanding of each other. Articles are planned for each other’s newsletters; Noel Crosby, my counterpart in FLAA, suggested my topic describe what consumers would like their audiologists to know.

– Judy G. Martin, Immediate Past President)

As I stand in front of my imaginary class, I’m aware that all the people in attendance have some degree of hearing loss. Some use hearing aids, cochlear implants or assistive listening devices. Many proudly display their multi-colored devices while others are more discreet – each according to their needs, wishes, or personality. We are brought together by one commonality, though, the desire to hear better. For some, it is an old journey, and for others a newly-begun one.

This class may be the figment of my imagination, but it is filled with real people from around the country. Inspired by one person’s remark of what the perfect audiologist would be like (thank you, Paul), I ask “students” to discuss how their provider could be the most helpful as far as their hearing loss is concerned. (Of course, we would be willing to know how we can be the perfect consumer, a subject for another time.)

Paul, from Michigan, speaks up first and says his idea of perfection would be the audi who is knowledgeable about Hearing Assistance Technology (HAT); about the t-coil and the ways it can be used; and at least some familiarity with Bluetooth and FM; and where to find products to assist with telephone, cell phones, TV, meetings and communication. If a hearing loop is set up in the office, he would be able to hear the receptionist. If not a loop, then a willingness to let him make and confirm appointments via e-mail. This perfect person would be compassionate and willing to share information about the ADA, hearing loss groups, and hearing loss counselors. Many first-time hearing aid users are at the beginning of a scary learning curve and in a vulnerable position. And finally, he or she could be proactive in helping him to understand the fitting and adjustment process.

Jimm, who lives in New York, has a short and sweet idea: his audiologist would make the perfect earmold!

Having a receptionist who doesn’t whisper is the fond wish of Betty, from Delaware. Soft- spoken office workers, or those who don’t face the patient, strike terror in the hearts of those with hearing loss. Hearing loss-related news and magazines (especially, ahem, the HLAA Hearing Loss Magazine) would be quite beneficial when placed in the offices of audiologists and ENTs.

Sarah, Illinois, agrees that hearing loss information and magazines are so important in addition to helping find outside support groups. She also wishes that audiologists were affiliated with HLAA or a local chapter. Sarah suggests that attendance at an HLAA Convention would be beneficial as it is totally patient-oriented, in that everything is seen from the viewpoint of the consumer. She believes a little more explanation of what to expect when purchasing a hearing aid is something that would be helpful to her or knowing the importance of adjustments. (A journal kept by the consumer would be helpful here, making notes on what noises are bothersome, which need to have volume increased or decreased.)

Making sure that every hearing aid, unless it’s too small, leaves the audi’s office with a manual t-coil included. Since the t-coil can at least double the benefits of the aid, Germaine, a resident of Florida, says it’s important it have a volume control. Automatic volume control works well in many cases, but too often the experienced user wants and needs to override the control – a combination of both would be good. All that said, since t-coils are used with phones, both landline and cell, looping technology, FM, Bluetooth and other assistive listening technology, no self-respecting hearing aid should leave home without it. She hopes that the hearing instrument provider’s office will have copies of HLAA’s consumer checklist for purchasing hearing aids.

Laura, in New Jersey, agrees and also wishes that the importance of manual t-coils be uppermost in everyone’s mind.

Jennifer, from Pennsylvania, wishes the idea of hiding hearing aids was not promoted because it adds to the perceived stigma. Advertising which promises invisible hearing aids works at cross-purposes with HLAA’s mission to provide awareness of our invisible disability. She also thinks that more familiarity with the BAHA device for persons with single-sided deafness will guide those for whom the traditional aids won’t work.

Richard, who resides in Florida, believes a high number of hearing aid consumers are not conversant in discussing or understanding their own audiograms. Much of the relevant information available is written on a level beyond the comprehension of some consumers. Perhaps a brochure or flyer could be created to explain to all so they would understand their own degree of hearing loss and become audiogram literate!

From Montana, Tamie seconds the motion that professionals be educated about the importance of t-coils. She reached that conclusion when a new audi in town donated headphones for those with hearing loss to a local live theater. They were the kind which required the removal of one’s hearing aids.

Audiologists provide an invaluable service in the treatment of hearing loss, says Ed from Florida, but he wishes there was more proactivity in the education and advocacy process. It would be so helpful for the audiologist to initiate a discussion about hearing loops, captioning, cell phone usage or the Hearing Loss Association of America. Suggesting to new patients, who obviously need support, that they try a local HLAA chapter would help eliminate much bewilderment. It would be desirable for audiologists to take the lead on important advocacy missions such as being the first to install a loop in their offices. He goes on to say that since so much of his support comes from HLAA and other outside sources, he wishes treatment could be seen as a team sport because so much support is needed.

Also from Florida, Joan thinks audiologists could tell patients they need an aid large enough to accommodate t-coils even though the user may think differently. Spending time explaining why this tiny device is so important and how some of the applications of the t-coil will benefit the user is greatly needed. Hearing in noise and recruitment are two major problems professionals can explain in laymen’s terms even before the patient is troubled by them. If audis sell equipment such as FM and Bluetooth systems, it is imperative they be able to instruct patients in their effective use. Finally, Joan wishes that professionals would tell users about HLAA and the availability of a local chapter. She doesn’t believe that any audiologist today is unaware of the value of support groups for their patients.

Judy from Ohio said her ideal audiologist would keep current with the latest news and devices. She suggests joining a consumer online forum to learn what’s on the mind of people who have hearing loss. Judy sent her hubby (a newbie) off to have his hearing tested and when he inquired about t-coils at her behest, he was told that “they are not being used much any more because people are getting away from that.”

Cheryl, who lives in Florida, takes a different tack and says consumers should realize it takes patience and perseverance to use a hearing aid and a good result comes from numerous adjustments. Hearing aid users should not put their aids on the shelf or in a drawer as they need to be used daily. She also believes the consumer should know about the t-coil, how it works and where it works.

California resident, Cindy, hopes the high cost of her devices would include minor technical service, adjustments and guidance for a specific period of time. She would appreciate the audis being knowledgeable about the products they sell and being able offer instructions about warranties. She’d like it if the professional would listen to her, ask her questions and know that, in her eyes, they are as important in her life as her primary care physician or her eye doctor. After being successfully fitted, Cindy would like repairs to be made as quickly as possible even if returning them to the manufacturer is required.

Programming aids according to the user’s needs and real world feedback, not factory- recommended settings, is the wish of Tamara, who lives in Texas. She hopes they will take the time to share their knowledge about t-coils and the less expensive non-proprietary assistive listening technology. Further, she would like to be instructed about financial assistance, payment/ financing options and government assistance programs. To her, it would be extremely beneficial to offer listening therapy, living-with-hearing-loss classes, education for spouses and family members in addition to giving advice on support groups which would address the social and emotional factors.

My imaginary class ends on a high note with everyone agreeing that hearing loss professionals cannot be all things to all people. They believe that most audiologists are already well-rounded in their knowledge and possess a willingness to help. These suggestions are offered in hope that they might help fill in the gaps.

by: Judy Schefcick Martin

 

 

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