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I drive my family crazy sometimes. I have psychology on “the brain”. Things I’m studying, things I’m teaching, things I’m thinking about (the dreaded dissertation looms after all), I tend to talk about. I mean a lot. Even when you don’t want me to.

Spring is a busy month for Hearing Elmo. For some reason, lots of folks tune in and contact me. I love to write (even email responses) so I don’t mind at all. To me? This is what Hearing Elmo is all about. I’m glad to be a small part in helping to raise awareness about invisible disAbilities and chronic illnesses. I learn SO MUCH from so many of you who write. So thanks! :-)

Lately, I’ve had a lot of conversations both email and face-to-face with folks who are struggling with bad thoughts. Thoughts about strangling someone.

Even though it’s deserved.

People with disAbilities or chronic illness are often judged. Sometimes it’s a first impression. Sometimes it is by someone who knows better. I want to cover both today. In psychology we call this the “Fundamental Attribution Error”. Lilienfeld, Lynn, Namy, and Woolf (2013), explain that the fundamental attribution error “refers to the tendency to overestimate the impact of dispositional influences on other’s behavior. By dispositional influences, we mean enduring characteristics, such as personality traits, attitudes and intelligence. Because of the fundamental attribution error, we also tend to underestimate the impact of situational influences on other’s behavior” (p. 501). It’s that last part I want to talk about in this post.

People with Disability or Chronic Illness are Misunderstood

If you are reading this post you likely have some connection to invisible illness or disAbility. Perhaps your condition is not invisible at all. You may live with personal challenges.

easter 2014

Easter Sunday I came home from church with husband and hound dog and went downstairs to work. After about 20 minutes I came to the realization many of you do each and every day. I was wiped out. I knew I would get far more work done if I went upstairs to take a nap. Some folks call these “power naps”. Me? I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I need naps sometimes because I have Meniere’s disease and hear with a cochlear implant. I’m 47-years-old. I get tired. I get tired a lot! So trudging upstairs I passed my husband in the family room and said, “I’m going upstairs to take a nap“. I stood there a second to see if that elicited any reaction.

Now Terry has been married to me long enough to know that if I actually say I need a nap, you better let me take a nap. No smart remarks. He only said, “Be sure to close the blinds or Chloe will bark at every little thing“. I’ve “trained him well“, yes?

But it isn’t easy being the significant other of someone who has a invisible illness or disAbility. When Terry first married me I was only unilaterally deaf and no balance disorder to speak of. Fast forward 28 years and I am now at a point where I can still do a lot. I have dreams, goals, work hard, am a wife, mother, mentor, teacher, student and writer… and I take naps.

I have been out and about before running errands or just shopping with my best friend – Terry Portis. I have out of the blue said, “Ok. You need to take me home.” The last time this happened we were going to a super Target. We had just parked in the parking garage and Terry started to get out. “Ok“, I said. “You need to take me home“.

He stopped and looked at me. After a long pause he asked incredulously, “You mean… now?

I looked at him eyeball to eyeball (which can be uncomfortable with the risk of losing your contacts – but I needed him to know I meant business). “Now” I responded.

So we went home. Sometimes when I “run out of gas” I do so very suddenly. There can be little warning. You could make me push it and we’ll both risk the reality of a major nosedive in “Lawn and Garden” with mild concussion and concerned gathered crowd to show for it. (Clean-up on aisle twelve…)

None of us ask to develop acquired disAbilities. No one prays for a chronic illness. People we know and love may get peeved at us that we require more rest than we use to need. Part of it may be that they miss doing things with you that they use to be able to do. My husband loves Target. But sometimes? Well sometimes you need to take me home and do it NOW. That can be hard.

So those of us who have the chronic illness or disAbility need to be understanding too. But… don’t be afraid to talk about it. One of my favorite “opening statements” for a heart-to-heart conversation begins like this:

“When you say (or do) _________________ it makes me feel like _______________.”

It lets the people I care about know that it DOES bother me when they say or do something – not seeing the whole picture. They don’t understand the situation well enough to get why I behaved a certain way or responded a certain way. So I need to remind them. That’s OK.

If you are the “significant other” – try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. You don’t want to really know what they are going through for that would mean you’d have to share the disAbility or diagnosis to really get it. What they are going through is really… REALLY…

HARD.

But you know what? They can get through it because you are there to help them, encourage them, and cheer them on! (So don’t forget how influential you can be, OK?)

For Those Who Don’t Know me

Several times a year someone who doesn’t even know me will say something that I almost come unglued about. I have one of those moments where I want to strangle someone. But in most states that is still against the law…

Costco, October 2013: I was in the meat section trying to decide how many crock-pot size meals I wanted to make in the next couple of weeks when I heard a woman about 3 feet away say, “Oh MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!! A dog, in the meat section. I’m going to complain to the manager“.

I turned around and saw this woman standing there with hands on hips and an embarrassed husband standing next to her. Well my friends? Sometimes good sense just rushes right out of my head. I pointed my finger in her face and said, “This is a service dog. I am late-deafened and have a balance disorder. This dog has picked up dozens of things for me since I’ve been in this store for the last 20 minutes. You shouldn’t judge what you don’t know. I’d rather have disAbilities than be stupid. You can’t fix stupid“. And I walked away.

Amidst applause. For it seems we had drawn a crowd.

Yet I will be honest with you. More times than not I do NOT get to say something pithy and intelligent. Sometimes my heart is broken. Sometimes I walk away crushed. Sometimes I strangle people. (Ok, maybe not but I may FEEL like it).

It can be really hard when people judge what they don’t know. After stumbling into an end cap at a store I had a person jest, “Little early to be drinking, isn’t it?” I could get mad and “let it rip”. Or strangle. Cuz yeah I’m a little sidetracked by how satisfying that would be right now. But folks don’t know me. They don’t know my reality, or my day-to-day situational influences that have me moving, responding, and requesting naps. Then I have to make a decision.

A) Strangle them

B) Scream at them

C) Walk away. It isn’t worth it.

“C” is the best response most of the time.

———

Do you get tired easily? Does fatigue trigger headaches, body aches, and brain fog? Do you sometimes just need a NAP? People may not understand that. They may think you are being lazy. They may think you should try harder. They may need strangled…

… with the truth. So tell them!

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., Namy, L. L., Woolf, N. J. (2013). Psychology: From inquiry to understanding (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson Publishing.