When They SHOULD… but they DON’T

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support

Do you know the #1 topic of emails to Hearing Elmo (or face-to-face for those of you who know me personally) is support or the lack thereof? I have not met a single person with acquired disability, chronic illness, or invisible condition that took on their “new normal” by choice. We need support.

People need other people. I don’t care if you are an introvert and “loner”, or a gregarious, extrovert. All of us need human connections to some degree. I hypothesize that those of us who live with acquired disability, chronic illness, or other invisible condition may need solid, supportive relationships even more than those who do not face daily challenges. Coping is TOUGH stuff, and geesh… don’t I hate we don’t burn calories for all the work we put into COPING? In psychology,  we have a special term for how important our relationships are to adjustment – psychosocial adaptation. Bishop (2005) explains this better than I could: Psychosocial adaptation “may be conceived as a process of responding to the functional, psychological, and social changes that occur with the onset and experience of living with a disability, chronic illness, or associated treatments” (p. 6). There is a ridiculous amount of research on how important relationships are to an individual’s psychosocial adaptation. Intimate relationships are imperative to the quality of life for individuals who are differently-abled. All very interesting STUFF, in my humble opinion, but not at all the goal of or intended topic of this post.

Intimate Relationships

When we hear the word “intimate” we may think of sexual expression. Maybe we think of fancy-smancy underwear. (So aren’t “we” the weird ones?). Intimate relationships are interpersonal relationships that are physically OR emotionally intimate. This means that we can have close friends or family members who have an intimate personal relationship with us in that they know us very well. We have let down our guards at some point and shared things with them that others have no clue about nor care. Yes, intimacy is often physical as well, and those of us who have a physically intimate partner in a spouse or significant other, count it a major blessing to also be a friend to this individual.

Our expectation of our intimate relationships is “through thick and thin” (and I don’t mean WEIGHT). We expect these folks to love us on our good days and our bad days. We know we can belly-ache to them and they won’t think less of us. For those of us who took traditional vows, we put a lot of faith in “till death do us part”. These folks know us – and love us anyway.

When acquired disability or chronic illness enters a life unexpectedly, we rest in the knowledge that our spouse or significant other, and intimate connections with friends and family members will strengthen us and help us adapt. We have this HOPE and expectation, yet so many share with me that they were let down by someone they had counted on to BE THERE for them. Some of you have even had to deal with broken relationships. Others may have partners and friendships that have stuck like super-glue, but you cannot help but feel as if you are a burden and that these folks feel “stuck” with you.

Perhaps someone shared with you that they get tired of how tired you are. Maybe they shared or insinuated that life with you sure is HARD. As if things weren’t hard enough, someone you depend on is tired of your diagnosis too? Thanks so much for that…

I know. Not a single person reading this post hasn’t at some point wished they could have just ONE day of normalcy. “If I could just have 24 hours of normal, it would re-set my gripe-o-meter box”, shared a long-time reader. Yup. I get that! So for someone in our intimate circle to complain that they are tired of all that WE are tired of? It’s enough to make you want to spit. Or hit someone. Or SPIT while HITTING someone…

So what do you do when you realize that those who support you are having trouble supporting you? I have three tidbits to share.

1. If the Shoe Were On the Other Foot

Please don’t lash out and tell your significant bozos (cuz at the point you are mad at them for their lack of support means they have morphed from close relationships to close BOZOS), that if things were “the other way around” you would TOTALLY be there for them – ALWAYS.

This, my friends, is impossible to prove. YOU are the one dealing with a significant, life-changing diagnosis. We don’t know how we would react to “the shoe being on the other foot”. Criticizing and attacking another by insisting we would support and behave differently is not fair, nor is it justified. There are numerous studies that support that stress and anxiety can be vicarious experiences by those who support people who are struggling.

I believe one of the very best things we can do for those who support us is to acknowledge up front that WE KNOW THIS IS HARD ON THEM TOO.

2. Engage in Active Listening

All relationships benefit from active listening. Active listening was made popular by psychologist, Carl Rogers, in the 50’s. Many different counseling approaches now incorporate active listening to engage in good communication. One of the best descriptions of active listening that I’ve read can be found HERE. It is five WONDERFUL pages of all that is Active Listening. So I’m not going to take the time to explain it here and instead am giving you a “homework assignment” <wink>.

3. Yes, They Should. But… They Don’t

I cannot boast of 100% supportive relationships, nor brag that I’ve handled my own acquired disabilities with grace and diplomacy. Even though I’m in a “good place” right now with numerous supportive relationships, I have been disappointed by some of my relationships, and have even lost some folks along the way.

It hurts.

The biggest mistake one can make in shouldering all that encompasses living with significant challenges, is trying to do it alone. You are not alone.

For one thing, you are reading THIS. I care.

The Internet insures that we are NOT alone. The Internet is accessible to even those with significant challenges. If your intimate relationships and friendships have let you down, please know that you need others. Find them.

Places you can find support:

1. The newspaper: Many list various support groups and networks available for numerous types of challenges and health issues.

2. Churches: Many have support groups and networks available to both members and non-members.

3. Libraries: Many have community services bulletin boards (both physical and on-site, as well as electronic) that list numerous support groups.

4. Online forums: One only has to “Google” their diagnosis to find numerous avenues of support online. One great searchable database can be found HERE.

5. National non-profit and for-profit organizations: Most diagnosis also have organizations that provide education, advocacy, and support at the local, state, and national levels. Search the Internet for organizations that provide resources for your specific population. Many have support networks as well.

6. FaceBook and other Social Media Outlets: You’d be surprised what support resources are available on FaceBook. Many are closed groups as well as have confidentiality tenants of membership.

7. Start your own: I’m not a big fan of “wiki” anything (I suppose it is the teacher in me), but I have to admit, WikiHow did this up right. Check it out HERE.

Cut ‘Em Some Slack

Finally, I’d be a poor advocate if I didn’t give you heads up that people are going to disappoint you. Forgive them.

You are going to have a really bad day and need all kinds of support, practically draining those around you DRY. Dehydrated people can lash out. Forgive them.

You will struggle with having to live your life yet another day – so very tired of it all. Someone will point this out. Mock you. Complain about you. Forgive them.

Someone will try really hard to support you and come up short. Their personality or own needs simply do not allow them to be exactly what you need them to be. Forgive them – and support THEM.

You are going to have the kind of day where you are just done with EVERYONE. You burn your bridges, isolate yourself, and find yourself very, very alone. Forgive yourself. And rebuild.

Denise Portis

©2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Bishop, M. (2005). Quality of Life and Psychosocial Adaptation to Chronic Illness and Acquired Disability: A Conceptual and Theoretical Synthesis. Journal Of Rehabilitation71(2), 5-13.

Rogers, C. R., & Farson, R. E. (1957). Active listening. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company.

Change and Control

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change for the better

I’m not a big fan of change. So when faced with a year that is sure to be chock-full of change, I can feel a little overwhelmed. Ok. That’s actually not true.

I can feel freaking terrified, sick to my stomach, near panic attack, bite my nails to the quick, SOMEONE LET ME OFF THIS MERRY-GO-ROUND called life screaming, “abandon ship! abandon ship!”

I’m not even a spontaneous person. My family knows not to ever throw me a “surprise” party. To me ordinary is extraordinary. I just hate change. For me, it’s all about control. That’s right. I’m a bit of a control freak. There is an upside to being a control freak. I am very organized. I’m punctual and responsible. There are, however, all kinds of negative things that come from being a control freak and refusing to accept change too.

I had fairly significant OCD tendencies throughout my childhood and into my early 20’s. As a teen, I developed bulimia nervosa after facing my first big change moving away from home to go to college. Emotionally, I drove some people bananas with my need to control and drove some people AWAY as a young adult.

If you believe everything happens for a REASON and that there is a life lesson to be learned in everything that occurs, one could hypothesize that my developing acquired disabilities was the best (worst) thing to ever happen to me! My hearing loss began at the age of 25 and was a progressive loss. I wasn’t completely deaf until the age of 32 so I had a long time to adjust and cope. Meniere’s disease was diagnosed at the age of 35, though I suspect I had it from my early 20’s. It, too, became progressively worse over time; in part, because of multiple mild concussions. My health issues forced me to change. To remain independent (something I discovered was extremely important to me), I found that I had to work hard at adapting. I had to embrace change instead of shy away from it or pretend it wasn’t happening.

Living with acquired disabilities means something CHANGED. You have to adjust. You have to make choices about how you will cope and how you will treat the diagnosis or disorder. You have to determine how you enlist others to assist – if at all. What adaptive equipment or technologies are available to mitigate the disability? How are you going to mentally and emotionally adjust? (For acquired disability or illness never occurs without having an impact in other areas of WHO you are…)

At the age of 48, I have lived more of my life adjusting to my new limitations than I did to living in a relatively “worry free” life. Here are some things about change that I have learned.

1. Take notice of changes.

This means you have to really get to know yourself. Habitually take your own “pulse” and see how you are doing. Make note of the readings on your “tension thermometer”. How are you sleeping? How are your relationships?

You don’t want change to take you by surprise. One must deliberately brace and expect changes. Be on the look out. Identify health (or mental health) changes.

2. Accept change with a positive attitude.

You cannot stop change, nor control it, but you can change how you react to change. We’ve all see the serenity prayer before. For those of us with acquired disability or illness, however, following these words of wisdom can be very freeing.

God … grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

3. Learn to relax. 

Even up-tight control freaks can learn to relax. One of the most important things I learned in vestibular rehab was how to relax when falling. We naturally stiffen up and become tense when we are “on our way down”. I learned to relax my leg muscles so that I immediately dropped to my caboose instead of falling like a tree cut off at the base.

I have also learned to take “me time” every single day and refuse to feel guilty for taking the time to do so. It may be something as simple as looking through a friend’s collection of photographs. It may mean some personal journal time. I might choose to read a good book – that has nothing to do with psychology or my dissertation. I may burn my favorite candle while cuddling with my assistance dog on the floor in the dark.

4. Ask for help.

It took me so long to learn that it didn’t make me weak to ask for help. I chose to be partnered with an assistance dog so that I didn’t have to ask for as MUCH help from other people. In spite of this life-changing decision, I still occasionally have to ask for help. When I do, I don’t apologize first.

“I’m sorry to have to ask you this, but could you help me? I’m so sorry. I hate asking for help, but do need your assistance. I’m sorry I’m bothering you!”

Please don’t ask for help like this. It’s rather pathetic, isn’t it? Yet, we tend to react to even THINKING about help as if asking is something to apologize for when doing the asking. Honestly, most people are glad to help.

If you really have problems asking for assistance, at least learn to ask others “how can I do this task independently?” Brain storm with OTHERS what you can do to remain independent. I have run completely out of ideas about how to do something safely, only to discover through someone ELSE a “brilliant” work-around.

5. You are changing, but you are still You.

Frankly, all of us change as we grow older. The changes may occur physically, emotionally, or mentally. Yes, change may seem more difficult when it occurs as the result of acquired disability or chronic illness, but ya know something? You are actually stronger for it. You had to adjust and perhaps been forced to make changes. The core of who you are does not change. We tend to fear that being “disabled” becomes our new identity. No one signs up for that, and it is never chosen. So when it happens… know that who you are hasn’t changed. If anything you become a better version of you.

One of my favorite quotes about change was written by John Eliot. “As soon as anyone starts telling you to be “realistic,” cross that person off your invitation list.” We can’t avoid negative people. They will cross our path. They will see our being differently-abled as license to give-up and quit. They’ll tell us to be realistic and stop aspiring for “more”. You may not be able to avoid these morons people, but you don’t have to hang out with them on purpose.

So I gear up for a big year of changes for me. I’ll be finishing up my coursework in school, retiring my assistance dog, and face some possible surgery. Those all seem so darn negative, but there’s always two sides to every “coin”. My dissertation awaits – and geesh, but do I love to write or don’t I? I’m retiring Chloe, but I have my close-knit Fidos For Freedom family and friends supporting me with a successor dog eventually entering my life. I hate surgery, but really look forward to getting to the bottom of some of the neurological issues I’ve been having. I can identify and sense these impending changes with a weird sort of relief. I have discovered that change can be good. Relinquishing control can be freeing.

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Cats Get a Bad Rap

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CatAndMirror

I love dogs. However, I do love cats, too! I don’t currently own a cat which is just weird for me. Cats have a bad reputation though, don’t they? Think of the phrases we use about cats:

1. Tom-cattin’ around.

Males (or even females) slinking around at night looking to get some-some. (Jus’ tellin’ it like it is, folks). Apparently the name of said feline is also Tom.

2. Caterwauling

This is usually a female cat screeching and yowling around while in heat. It is used to describe humans at great risk to the idiot males who determine it would be funny to do so.

3. Like herding cats

This is impossible. They don’t run in herds so aren’t we the stupid ones?

4. Let the Cat out of the Bag

This means to tell a secret. Frankly if my cat was ever in a bag it would not be a secret. The whole house would know. If you don’t understand, you’ve never owned a cat. They are either playing in it by choice, or stuck in it due to HUMAN error.

5. Cattin’ around

Similar to “tom-cattin’ around”. To wander aimlessly looking for entertainment – usually resulting in feline delinquent behavior.

6. Fat cat

Evidently this means loaded, or very rich. I do NOT use this phrase this way.  At the time I was talking to an overweight cat.

7. Curiosity killed the cat

Cuz evidently even though it 1) looked dangerous, 2) smelled dangerous, 3) sounded dangerous, they couldn’t help but investigate anyway. Which leads to #8

8. Cats have nine lives

They get killed a lot. Or, at least do really stupid things that almost result in their demise.

9. Cat got your tongue

Ewww. Just ewww. Yet, it means speechless. This happens to me a lot. *rolls eyes*

10. Cat walk

To walk with splendid balance and grace with a sexy little swing of the hips. Evidently models walk on this. Perhaps cat calls came from this practice.

Cats can be pretty special critters though, and even better fur-babies. They sure get a bad rap, however. People seem to either love ‘em or hate ‘em. I find few who are indifferent. I’ve met some pretty special cats that behaved very un-cat like at times. And frankly? I’ve had some cats climb up in my lap and allow me to pet them while they purred my cares away more than once. They can be extremely intuitive.

People with Disabilities Get a Bad Rap

I don’t like identifying as a person with a disability. It is the language used by the laws that protect my rights as a person with unique challenges, however, so I accept the “label”. Folks with disabilities get a bad rap though.

Here are just a few of the things I have heard:

1. We complain. A lot.

Evidently about anything and everything; but mostly about our disability. I mean… it’s as if we live with it 24/7 or something. Pretty lame, aren’t we?

2. We are lazy.

In the decades I have mentored and worked as an advocate for persons with disabilities, I believe one of the toughest diagnosis is that of CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). There are some other diagnoses that are closely related in which the primary symptom is extreme and debilitating fatigue and/or pain. It hurts to do anything. So sometimes, complaints just slip out of the mouths of these brave people. Maybe curse words too, but STUFF SLIPS OUT. It is very, very difficult to live with one of these diagnoses and I admire these folks. I do.

3. We are extremely dependent.

Most of the people I know who are differently abled – work very hard at learning to do things DIFFERENTLY so that they can remain as independent as possible. If you knew how hard it is to ask for help you’d never roll your eyes at a request from someone living with chronic illness or disability.

4. We will never contribute to society.

Geesh. This is so, SO wrong. Most of those I know living with a chronic illness or disability are super busy working in their community. They “give back” at times to the point of going to far and doing to much. Everyone has a desire to be needed – to matter. This includes people with disabilities.

5. We are drama queens/kings.

I’m a bit of a drama llama. I prefer this term because I am crown-less yet recognize I, at times, spit for attention. But seriously… most of us HATE attention. We are trying to just “be normal”. We haven’t created our own song and dance in expectation of applause.

6. We are hypochondriacs.

The thing about long-term disability or chronic conditions, is that you become an expert on your diagnosis. As a matter of fact, at times, you know more than your doctor does. You have researched and investigated everything about your diagnosis and in so doing have learned about similar diagnosis or co-morbid diagnosis. We seek to understand it because we are trying to survive.

7. It’s all about us.

There are selfish people with disabilities and selfish people without disability. Many of us (just like you) work hard at making a difference for others. We actually hate the attention and don’t want it to be about us. We love being able to do even small things to help someone else.

8. We will die young.

Many people with disabilities live an average life span. But folks? They do so never ditching the diagnosis. This makes them WARRIORS. This makes them courageous. This means we could take some lessons from these people.

There are also those whose diagnosis mean their life span will be cut short. These people are still warriors. They simply have less time to prove it to you. So make it a little easier for them and stop judging and embrace their uniqueness. None of us are promised tomorrow. Even those without serious and permanent diagnosis could be gone tomorrow. Shouldn’t we all work to make a difference TODAY instead of write people off as if they have no future?

9. We don’t care about our health.

Yes. Some diagnosis make it really difficult to move, to exercise, and to live a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes people who are differently abled gain weight. But added pounds does not mean they don’t care about their health. As a matter of fact, most of us have learned that dietary changes, moderate (doable) exercise, and holistic approaches can improve the quality of our life. Don’t preach at us to become “juicers” or vegan, or organic shoppers. Don’t tell us to just get out and MOVE. Folks who live with a long-term illness or disability are often avid health nuts. They may not look it, but they work to keep things such as blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure in control. Please don’t judge.

10. We are disabled.

Being disabled does not mean not being able. We are very able. We likely just do things differently. We are still more LIKE you, than not like you. We feel. We love. We get pissed. We yearn to connect. We throw our dog’s ball and scratch our purring fur-balls. We are very able. If in doubt, get to know us and discover it for yourself.

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Cognoscente, Aficionado, and Cutting the Crap

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The bunny is currently resting...

The bunny is currently resting…

It may or may not be news to you that I am in grad school. Part of the program I am in requires academic residencies. I just completed another one on Dec. 27-30th and there are few things I despise more.

It isn’t because I don’t enjoy the workshops and expert speakers. I do.

It isn’t because I hate the schedule. It’s hard, but I can do it.

It isn’t because I am not learning anything. I am.

Academic residencies are very tough for me because a lot of blow-hards attend and I consider myself lucky to exit the residencies having met one or two people who ARE NOT.

I’ll admit it. I am a bit of a loner. It isn’t that I don’t LIKE people. I do. As a matter of fact, I love people. However, if I have 30 minutes to eat lunch, I’m not going to go to a crowded restaurant, nor stand in line for a turkey sandwich that costs $11.00 plus tax. I’m going to pack my own lunch, sit in a nearly deserted room at the next location of a required workshop, and work on my homework while I regenerate. (Did I explain I was part Borg?)

On Sunday, a longer residency day for me, I was holed up in a large room eating my lunch and tossing Chloe’s pink bunny while completing an essay on boolean phrases (aren’t I talented?) Unfortunately, by day two, other people are also figuring out these empty workshop rooms are great places to eat lunch. Some of these people are talkers. *grimace*

I suppose an “off vest” service dog playing with her toy, wagging her tail like crazy,  and huffing quietly to me so I’ll throw it again, invites spectators and conversationalists. Sometimes I really want to PLAY DEAF. I cannot, however, for I feel a certain responsibility to be a good testimony and example of a “hearing again” person. So darn it. I am pulled into conversations.

“Oh this is great that you allow your service dog an opportunity to unwind. That is a great stress diversion instrument!” said a very well-meaning (I’m sure) observer.

I know I looked at her funny. I’m pretty sure an eyebrow went up. Unfortunately, funny looks and raised eyebrows invite further conversation.

“Will your dissertation be about the place of service animals in the lives of persons with disabilities since you are a cognoscente in this area? I know many of us who are scholar-practitioners are aficionados in our area of interest”, said the now expectant observer.

I may love people, but sometimes? Sometimes I’m not very good with people.

I snorted.

That’s right. It’s a good thing my sinus were clear because lord knows what would have flown out.

I pointed to Chloe who was currently rolling around “scenting” her pink bunny and said, “You know that is a slobbery toy? It’s not an INSTRUMENT. I am doing my dissertation on something I believe in and yes, know well because I live it. But let’s cut the crap on the big talk. It’s lunchtime and I’m relaxing so you don’t have to impress me. Heck. I hardly even know what you are saying!”

Are you as horrified as I was? I wanted to slap my hand over my mouth and then immediately apologize. What happened next had me exchanging emails and finding a new friend.

“Oh thank God. My partner tells me to cut the crap all the time. Don’t you hate feeling like you have to ‘play doctoral program’ when you are here? I mean we are all just trying to get done, doing our best to reach goals. Holy realist, Batman. Can I eat lunch with you tomorrow?”

(In case you are wondering if that is her quote, I can’t make this stuff up. I even emailed her later and asked to “quote her” in an upcoming post).

I howled with laughter. I mean, I had tears rolling out of the corners of my eyes. Chloe was a bit concerned but continued to take advantage of her off-vest playtime.

Stop Trying So Hard

In the years I have chosen to identify as a person who is “differently abled”, I have met two kinds of kin.

One group of folks I feel a certain amount of kinship with since they, too, live with a chronic condition, disability, or invisible illness, are commitment-aholics. They choose to be involved in everything – just to prove they can. (A friend wrote an excellent post about this – click here to read it). They work so hard at making sure they are independent, they smack the back of the helping hand reaching towards them.

They work so hard at proving themselves at work, they are over-committed to volunteer committees and focus groups. They strive so hard to show the world (and themselves) that they CAN, they do very little well. They bust their butts to impress us. The reality is they walk around with – erm… – busted butts.

My other “cousins” are people who refuse to participate in much of anything for fear of letting others down. Instead of learning what their own physical, emotional, and mental limitations are and living an abundant life within those boundaries, they isolate themselves and refuse to put themselves in a position that they may blow it. They get around making poor choices by choosing not to make any choices at all. Their souls are withering and they don’t even know it.

Use Your Talents and Skills. Just STAY REAL

We all have talents. These are gifts we are born with while a skill, on the other hand, is something we are good at because we’ve worked hard at being good at it. We can even take natural born talents, work hard, become skilled, and use these abilities in our personal and professional lives.

It is very important to use what is available (talents) and work hard (become skilled) so that each of us can make a difference (with our abilities). Yet, too many times we get side-tracked by making sure folks recognize what we are good at doing. Cut the crap. Be real, but be nice. Be who you are – which means at times you are wearing a cape, and other times you are asking for assistance. Share who you are (why keep abilities to yourself?) but be a humble expert in who you are. Don’t be an over-achiever. Don’t be an under-achiever. Just be real!

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

Accepting Help ≠ Dependence

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This service dog took full advantage of a holiday vacation in Florida.

This service dog took full advantage of a holiday vacation in Florida.

My Christmas holiday was a blur. They can be that way sometimes. I flew to Florida with my husband to be with my parents for Christmas, but I had a TON of homework. Chloe, faithful service dog, at least got the opportunity to really chill out. When I got home, I headed to an academic residency for 4 days.

Even being super busy, I still learned a few things. I learned some things about myself, about other people, and about acceptance. I began to lose my hearing and balance at the age of 25. Now that I am 48-years-old, you would think I have learned all that one can learn after living with hearing loss and a vestibular disorder for 2+ decades!

Ungracious Acceptance

Acceptance of my life as it is, seems to be an ever-evolving concept. Sometimes I take things in stride. Progression of the toll my diagnoses have, a new “timber – down goes Denise – fall”, having to switch out cochlear implant batteries mid-conversation, taking the elevator instead of escalator or stairs, and having to wait for an empty handicap stall in public bathrooms so that my dog and I BOTH fit, is really second nature for me now.

But sometimes? Sometimes I am WITCHY about it. (Feel free to put another first letter there as it probably fits from time to time). Maybe it’s hormones? Perhaps it is a lack of sleep? It may be I just had an unpleasant encounter with someone who was condescending towards me when my being differently-abled became apparent. For whatever reason, at times when someone asks if they can assist I must look…

S c A r Y

I assume this because their eyes get big, they throw up their hands in an “I surrender!” pose, and they take two full steps back. I don’t MEAN to put off that vibe, but I know there are times I must do so. I work SO hard at being independent. I love the color purple, but that isn’t why I carry a bright purple cane. I love dogs, but that isn’t why my 24/7 partner is a service dog from Fidos For Freedom, Inc. I love dangly earrings, but I don’t wear “bling-bling” on my cochlear implant because I’m a drama queen.

(OK, OKAY! I’m a drama queen, but in THIS instance it is not why I have bling-bling on my cochlear implant! Yeesh!)

I do all of these things to be independent. I yearn for independence and inner strength. I forget sometimes that the latter is the result of a “thinker” and “feeler” in sync in the body of a person who is differently-abled. Part of it, I actually HAVE caught the exasperated looks on faces when I do ask for help with something. It can be fleeting, but it’s there. I’m deaf, not blind. (We can debate if differently-abled people are far too sensitive about this and see things that are not there later).

Yeah, so? Let’s Go!

While in Florida, amidst homework and research, I did insist on going out to eat every day. I did a little bit of shopping at a place we don’t have in Maryland. Bealls was a very cool place! We also do not have a Belk. So yup. I did a little shopping.

When we went out on the town to do these things, we had to borrow my parent’s car. It is a big ol’ SUV and Chloe had to sit in the back compartment. It gave her plenty of room to stretch out and seemed like a great option for four people plus one service dog. The problem was that my parent’s SUV sits very high. Chloe is 10+ years old. She is retiring in May of 2015 (unless she lets me know it needs to be before then). The first couple of times I gave the “Chloe… OUT” command, she jumped from the back, only to have her front legs collapse and do a hound face plant in the parking lot. The first time it happened, I gasped. The second time it happened, I’m pretty sure I yelled. OK, yeah. I don’t yell. I have a hearing loss. I SCREECH. Ask me to demonstrate sometime, but bring the ear plugs.

Because my husband, Terry, didn’t want to see what a third time would trigger, he suggested, “Let me lift her out of the back and set her on the ground!

I said, “Ok, but do it in a way you don’t embarrass her. Make it quick and don’t make a big deal about it.

Perhaps I should explain that I disagree with those who say that dogs don’t exhibit or feel some of the same things humans do. I have seen dogs excited. I have seen them pissed. I have seen dogs pouting (do I have some stories about my grand-dog, Pegasus, or what?). I have seen dogs embarrassed. Point & laugh and dogs will duck their heads in shame/embarrassment.

Chloe’s weight ranges from 59-62 pounds. Needless to say, we don’t carry her around. I wasn’t sure how she would respond to being lifted from the back and set on all fours on the pavement; nor, did I know how she would respond to being lifted up into the back of the SUV.

The first time we opted to lift the service hound out, I held my breath. Terry reached into the back, hooked his arms under her and locked his hands over her spine, and carefully picked her up and set her on all fours.

PUH.

I exhaled rather noisily, and watched as she wagged her tail and moved to heel position, looking up at me as if, “Yeah, so? Let’s go!

I was stunned. I had a treat in my hand to cajole her back into a good mood. Instead I went into the store as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I watched Chloe from the corner of my eye. (Ummm… explain to me how oval shaped things like eyeballs have corners?) I digress…

I fully expected Chloe to act, I don’t know… WEIRD for awhile. However, she took it all in stride. She needed the help, being rather fond of her own face, and didn’t even miss a step in going on about her job after accepting assistance.

Do you know where I’m going with this?

WHY???????

Why do we act so weird when we need help? Maybe it is just a little help.

… like picking up the dropped blue tooth device I spotted in a hallway that I could not bend to get, and didn’t want Chloe to destroy by enthusiastic fetching.

Maybe it was a lot of help.

… like helping me dislodge my wedged rolling briefcase from the elevator door as it was stuck solid. I struggled with my butt holding the door, cane braced, and dog freaking out as I tugged on a very STUCK wheel.

Sometimes? Sometimes, we just need a little help to continue doing our thing. We need a helping hand. We aren’t signing an I.O.U. If we truly want the world to be a kinder place, then why are we prickly when someone asks if they can help? By accepting help we are not sticking a “I’m WEAK” note on our forehead. We can accept help and still be independent. We aren’t waving all rights to an independent life should we accept help once in awhile. For most people, helping another is done so with no strings attached. They don’t even think twice about it. They may never think about it again, while WE sit there perseverating on it and making a huge deal about it. Why can’t we just say, “thank you!” and our attitude be, “Yeah, so? Let’s go!

PRIDE.

Pride can be a good thing. There are good types of pride, and crippling types of pride. Learn the difference. Learn to accept help. It doesn’t mean you are signing on to a life of dependence. It means that you are SMART. You know your limitations and are making wise choices to do what is best for YOU. Face plants on the pavement aren’t fun. All you will have for that type of stubbornness is a skinned chin. (Ask Chloe…)

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

 

 

As You Wish…

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blog as you wish

I’m a HUGE “Princess Bride” fan. Perhaps I’m even classified as being an “annoying Princess Bride fan“. I know so many of the lines by heart and they tend to slip out in both opportune and inopportune moments. If you’ve never seen the movie – for shame. Seriously, it is one of those ridiculous movies that everyone needs to see at least once. You will be talking about it for the rest of your life. I promise.

One of the best known (and faithfully repeated) lines of the movie is that of our hero, Westley. He says, “As you wish…” to his beloved, Buttercup, (hey… I can’t make this up) to genteelly and sweetly acquiescence to her every request. Yup. This makes him a bit of a sap. But he does become the “Dread Pirate Roberts” later and reveals to Buttercup, that he is still her “Westley” in this dramatic (and hysterical scene):

In the end, we learn that “trewww lub” (true love) is worth fighting for and that we should be careful about agreeing for the sake of keeping the peace. Well… at least that is ONE “moral of the story” I got out of this favorite! :-)

When People with Disabilities Keep the Peace

We’ve all heard how important it is to have the right attitude when you are advocating for your own rights or needs, or on behalf of another. “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar“.

Trust me.

I know how hard this can be at times. Having had it drilled into my head, I am fully aware that how the public interacts with ME, may influence how they interact with another who has hearing loss, balance disorders, or a service dog in the future. That “burden” keeps my mouth shut when I strive to bite my tongue. But ya know something?

Sometimes when my attitude says, “As you wish…“, I’m really only hurting myself AND others.

About a month ago, I was walking with a colleague to a meeting in another building. We had to walk through the Student Union bldg., and then go to the second floor. We were talking as we walked. My colleague turned to go up a 20-step flight of stairs… still talking.

I hesitated and said, “the elevator is up the hallway…” and my friend interrupted and said, “Come on! We need the exercise!” She continued up the stairs and was still talking.

I put Chloe is a close heel, looped my cane over my wrist, grabbed the handrail and took one careful step at a time, all the while with a death grip on Chloe’s handle attached to her vest. By silently agreeing, I practically shouted, “As you wish…

I can’t talk and climb stairs, so I quietly made my way up the stairs one careful step at a time. When I got to the top of the stairs, I exhaled heavily (for it seems I was holding my breath), and looked up with a triumphant grin. My smile immediately faded because my friend stood there with big tears in her eyes. My brain started processing sound again (for it had been wholly fixed on arriving ALIVE at the top of the stairs), and I belatedly picked up some of her words…

For heaven’s sake, why didn’t you remind me you can’t do stairs? All you had to do was remind me!

I was struck dumb (silent – not mentally – grin) for a second and said, “Well I was just keeping the peace!

She said, “You keep the peace by reminding me what your needs are. That’s not keeping the peace, that’s being a martyr. Just tell me!

I apologized (profusely).

We can remind people what we can, and cannot do safely without sounding as if we are complaining. We need to learn to be pro-active in a positive, upbeat way. Don’t apologize for who you are or for what your needs are. However, be careful not to agree to something foolhardy like climbing a set of stairs when there is an elevator right up the hallway. My attitude of “As you wish…” could have set the scene for a disaster that day. Thankfully, it did not.

“Shove it up your… “

There are times when people with disabilities need to actually be a little more firm when they are educating or advocating. I don’t always do this well. I try to even interrupt my rising temper by reminding myself that I represent “Fidos For Freedom, Inc.“, and “Anne Arundel County’s Commission on Disabilities“. I chant in my head, “Bite your tongue, bite your tongue”. It doesn’t always work. The phrase, “shove it up your… NOSE” (scared ya a minute, didn’t I – wink), reverberates in my head.

Monday, I stopped at the U.S. Post Office to purchase some stamps for Christmas cards. (Yes, I’m aware I’m late to this “party”). I saw a man leaning against the building, smoking. I sort of register this in order to use the door farthest from him because I cannot stand the smell of cigarette smoke. As I exited my car, I reached in and got my cane, closed the door… opened the back door to unload Chloe, adjusted her vest and leash, closed HER door and then turned to walk into the building.

It seems we had an audience.

The man leaning against the building said, “What a beautiful guide dog! My mother is almost blind now. Where did you get your dog?

I was so startled I stutter-stepped and screeched to a stop. I know my mouth was hanging open. I looked over my shoulder at my car. I pointedly looked at the car keys in my hands. I looked at Chloe and her visible vest that said “Service Dog” with tags that said, “Hearing Dog. Do not Distract”.

Then I made a mistake. I blurted. Nothing ever goes well when I blurt.

Is that nicotine or weed you are smoking?

His eyes got big. He stomped out his cigarette and stomped into the building. Then this little convo/prayer went through my head:

Ok God. I blew that. If I find that man in the building please give me the opportunity to apologize and make that right. But… please don’t let me find him because I swear he’s stupid and higher than a kite!

Yeah. It seems I can’t pray with the right attitude right after a ridiculous encounter either.

But ya know something? There ARE times when it is ok to put someone in their place. Especially if someone repeatedly makes the same comment or observation about you or people with disabilities. You can be firm and be kind.

I didn’t tell the “smoker”, “As you wish…” with an attitude that what he said made perfect sense. However, I could have reminded him that a person with vision loss would not have just pulled into the parking lot and got out of the vehicle. I could have educated him quickly and politely that there are numerous types of service dogs and canes. Instead, I was a smart aleck. Justified? Perhaps. However, in the end, I didn’t promote any “cause” or advocate in a positive way.

So Where is the HAPPY MEDIUM?

If you have lived with invisible illness or disability long enough, you DO eventually learn how to balance all of this. You learn how to remind those who have known you long enough that they may have forgotten some of your limitations. You speak up for yourself. You also learn when to firmly, but kindly, put someone in their place. There is a time for that as well.

You are going to make mistakes. Your attitude will scream, “As you wish…” at times when you simply need to say, “I can’t and won’t attempt that“. You are also going to learn to not label someone a pothead, and instead take 60 seconds to educated them in a positive way. It’s a balance we all eventually learn.

If you haven’t seen, “Princess Bride” – you are missing a treat. :-) I hope all of us who are differently-abled, learn to balance how to advocate and educate others.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

It Can Be Small Things…

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Deborah Marcus, friend and photographer, explains, "I love to hear how what I capture and share gets people to notice stuff they'd probably overlook". I have learned much through seeing what she sees through her camera lens.

Deborah Marcus, friend and photographer, explains, “I love to hear how what I capture and share gets people to notice stuff they’d probably overlook”. I have learned much through seeing what she sees through her camera lens.

A dear friend and fellow “hearing again with a CI” friend, Deborah Marcus, has a knack for capturing the kind of photos that has me sucking in my breath and having to pinch myself to remember to continue breathing. She finds the smallest detail and creates a visual memory by “pointing and clicking”. It’s a talent, and one I don’t have. So I enjoy seeing the small things through her camera lens that I would normally miss. Why do I miss them? I’m not looking…

The Problem With Health Challenges

One of the biggest problems with health challenges isn’t pain. It’s not fatigue. It’s not the stigma. It isn’t depression, anxiety, or any other comorbid diagnosis. In the years I’ve lived as a disability advocate, writer, and mentor, the biggest danger of living with chronic health conditions and challenges is that it can make a person extremely self-centered.

It’s easy to do. No one understands except perhaps others we’ve connected with who “live the same”. The people we love may be supportive or stumbling blocks. They may be our biggest advocates, or the pain in our… erm… behind.

Take Deborah’s photo above. Now me? I love daisies and any type of flora that is yellow and white. But ya know? I’d walk right by this flower and only think, “what a pretty flower!” I don’t stop, grow quiet, get down on my knees, and really open my eyes. If I did that more often, I’d see the gorgeous wee bug. (Entomologist, I’m not…)

It can be the small things that make an ordinary moment in time, something to be celebrated. When we become self-focused, it is impossible to see those small things and we miss celebrations.

Pity Parties are still Celebrations

Don’t get me wrong. I believe it is healthy to have a good ol’ pity party from time to time. After all, a party is a celebration … of sorts. ♪♫ It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want too…♫♪

Learning to adjust to new challenges can be exhausting. Some folks with chronic illness or invisible disabilities may find it very therapeutic and healing to bawl their eyes out (Borchard, 2014). In “7 Good Reasons to Cry Your Eyes Out”, Borchard (2014), explains all the GOOD that can come from a good ol’ pity party.

But self-pity is dangerous and different than an occasional pity party. Self-pity begins and ends with self-focus. When we are entirely focused on ourselves and our own problems and difficulties, we cannot see the small things and miss the celebration. “We are bombarded with opportunities to feel sorry for ourselves” (Smith, 2004, para. 2) and if we become self-focused our camera not only fails to capture the beautiful bug, but we miss the flower as well. As a matter of fact, we may only see the dusty road in front of us as we trudge along feeling sorry for ourselves.

My Life is Hard. Can I Learn to “Really Look” Again?

Life is hard. I have heard from many readers who live with chronic conditions and invisible illness who know that they will wake up with pain and fatigue, stress and anxiety, and go to bed holding hands with the same bed fellows. However, many of these same people have learned that in spite of their circumstances, they can make a difference.

They have set short and long term goals… and are seeing them fulfilled.

They have reached out to mentor and volunteer… forever changing the life of another.

They have learned to adjust and evolve, rolling with the “punches”… teaching others by example and living with courage and perseverance.

They have learned to stop focusing on self… and can see the small things. They are celebrating.

I’m still learning how to do this myself. Believe me, when I reflect on “things we should do”, I’m sitting in the front row of my own classroom. And sometimes, it isn’t fun. Last week we had StRaNgE weather. It was in the mid-70’s one day, and in the low 30’s the next. Sunshine to snowflakes. For folks with Meniere’s disease this means you walk as if strolling on the deck of a ship – IN THE MIDDLE OF A FREAKING HURRICANE.

Rushing from my car to my 11 o’clock class, I was trying to hurry Chloe out of the wind and drizzle and hustle 100 yards into the building. One thing folks with Meniere’s disease do not do well is hustle. Not even with blinged-out cane and service dog. So I slipped on some leaves plastered to the sidewalk and fell on my hip and rolled to my caboose. I sat there a second with Chloe, wagging her tail beside me, perfectly content for a spontaneous pit stop. Since I was already SITTING, I let her go leash length to do her thang. As I moved to get up, my “no slip” (*rolls eyes*) boots slid some leaves out of the way as I struggled to rise. I noticed that the leaves had left perfect “leaf footprints” on the white sidewalk in a beautiful display of “peek-a-boo” gone right. I stood there and said, “well celebrate THAT!” I’m learning to look, and it only took 10 seconds. I remembered that leaf pattern long after my britches dried out. It was worth remembering; worth celebrating.

I hope each of us who live with significant challenges can learn to see the small things. We can only do it if we learn to look and if we take the time to do so. We can only do it if we stop with what is natural – self-focus and self-pity. I believe no human is stronger than those who live with invisible illness and disability. I’m a wimp with little to no ability to see what is right in front of me. If I can learn, you can as well.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Borchard, T. J. (2014). 7 good reasons to cry your eyes out. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/06/06/7-good-reasons-to-cry-your-eyes-out/

Smith, R. (2004). Self-pity will destroy you. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC437127/

 

But, Butt, Buttocks and Butte

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Isn’t the English language crazy sometimes? Did you know that it is actually one of the hardest languages to learn? (Oxford Royal Academy, 2014). Since most who are reading this likely know and use English as their first language, that may come as a surprise to you. We bellyache about how difficult it is to learn Spanish, French, German, etc., because most of us were born into English speaking households. Yet, many scholars argue that English is quite difficult to learn.

Take homophones for example. “Butt” can mean to “be adjacent to” or it can be your hiney, your buttocks, your butt, your behind, your gluteus maximus, your CABOOSE. Talk about confusing! You have to look at words in context to figure out the meaning. Then… we have acceptable shortened versions of words. For example BUTT is an acceptable, widely used word in the place of BUTTOCKS. However, BUT is not short for BUTocks. As a matter of fact, that isn’t a word! Add an “e” to BUTT and it even changes the pronunciation of the word. Now it is BUTTE (pronounced \ˈbyüt\). However, you don’t ever add an “e” to BUT. The word BUTE is not a word (unless you mean the derivative of the medical word phenylbutazone). You just ran screaming from the room, didn’t you?

Get it Right

But ya know something? Sometimes we use words and think we know what they mean when we do not. It is my opinion, that those of us who live with disability, chronic illness, or invisible diagnosis, should know our own SELF very well. I have Meniere’s disease and am late-deafened. I sought to learn everything I could about both conditions. When I later developed extremity peripheral neuropathy, I learned all I could about this condition as well. However…

I cannot expect everyone I meet to be experts on what is wrong with ME.

Aren’t we guilty of that sometimes? Heck, even with our loved ones we really can expect too much from them. So we have to be careful about our expectations. If I tell a colleague that I’m late-deafened and they respond with, “Oh… OH! I know some sign language!” (and they start to slowly and painfully finger spell their name)… don’t have a COW. (Besides… that is just MESSY!) Not everyone knows that the vast majority of people with hearing loss are late-deafened and do not use ASL. Try gently educating instead.

I told a student who was walking down the hallway and then into an elevator with me, all the things Chloe does for me. She asked about my condition, so I tried to explain Meniere’s disease in layman’s terms. When we exited the elevator, she helpfully took my elbow, and said, “Here… let me help you“. I stopped (after making sure hound dog and my bags were on the right side of the closing elevator door) and dug in my heels. I looked at her in astonishment. I had just walked down a hallway with her, wheeling my bags behind me and juggling leash of faithful service dog not five minutes before! After helpfully disclosing and explaining Meniere’s disease now I’m incapable of walking on my own? Because I knew she meant well, I didn’t scream, spit, or throw a hissy fit (*pats self on back for rhyming so nicely right there*).

I said, “I can walk on my own. Chloe helps me“. She stared and then said, “But… But you are WOBBLING“.

I cheerfully retorted, “Yup. Welcome to my life!” and walked off.

Everyone’s an Expert!

Another problem you may encounter if you have a long-term or permanent diagnosis, is that helpful folks sometimes act “the expert”. I’ve tried to explain that I am late-deafened and hear again with a cochlear implant, only to be interrupted by the person exclaiming, “Oh yeah. I have to turn the volume up now that I’m in my 40’s!” (I’m like… whaaaaaa…?)

I told an employee of my favorite grocery store a little bit about Meniere’s disease. Chloe and I always meet him stocking bread in the same aisle almost every week. After hearing my brief explanation of Meniere’s, he said, “Oh yeah, I walk into things after I’ve been drinking even just one beer!” I stood there trying to determine if my brain heard what I thought it heard. Ever been taken by surprise before and your mouth just blurted out what you were thinking before you had a chance to filter it through your state-of-the-art “Maturity Meter”?

I said, “That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard“. He stared and then stomped off. We only see the tail end of him leaving the bread aisle when we go to the store now.

All my buddies who are late-deafened joke about this response after telling someone that they are late-deafened: “Oh yeah, I have an aunt who is death“.

Rest in peace, auntie.

Cut ‘EM Some Slack

Just as our English language can be confusing, so can your explanations of who you are to others. Even invisible conditions such as mental illness are so misunderstood. Many folks who try to explain a mental illness diagnosis are then treated like:

1. Fragile porcelain that may break under pressure

2. They are suddenly contagious

3. They are more dangerous than Freddy Krueger

All we can do, is do our BEST. In the end, we need to work hard at trying to understand that others – even those who may care about us the most – may not completely understand your new normal. That’s OK. A healthy acceptance and ability to BE GOOD TO OURSELVES is not dependent on the understanding of others.

Denise Portis

©2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Oxford Royale Academy (2014). Why is English so hard to learn? Retrieved on October 27, 2014, from http://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/learning-english-hard.html

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

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