Where the People Aren’t


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"I Wanna Be Where the People Aren't"

“I Wanna Be Where the People Aren’t”

I recently saw the above picture on FaceBook, and since I love “The Little Mermaid”, (and because I know cats can be SO “offended”), I found this VERY funny.

As an Introvert, I often want to be where the people AREN’T. I, and most Introverts, love people. However, folks misunderstand what an introvert, and extrovert are.


There is even a newly labeled “blend” for those who exhibit both introvert and extrovert tendencies (lest others think we have multiple personalities, or Dissociative Disorder). Evidently an Ambivert, is one who has both characteristics, often in dependence on their role in that specific environment.

The difference between an Introvert and Extrovert, however, is simply how a person prefers to RECHARGE. It has nothing to do with whether or not they like people. Extroverts recharge by being around others. Introverts recharge by being alone.

All this thinking about “versions” had me contemplating how each dimension is effected by acquiring a disability. As a person who is differently-abled, my mind just “goes there” automatically when I think about personality characteristics. Who copes “better” with acquired disability? An Introvert or Extrovert (or Ambivert)?

“Version” affect

Interestingly, research shows that people who are extroverted are more likely to acquire a disability that limits mobility or results in chronic pain (Malec, 1985). Evidently extroversion can be equated with higher risk behavior and decisions that may result in injuries associated with motor loss/coordination or chronic pain. Introverts, too, are diagnosed with acquired disability, but often with diagnoses that are “non-traumatic” (Malec, 1985). This doesn’t mean Introverts are not involved in motor-vehicle accidents, or risky behavior that results in injury. The research simply shows that extroverts are more likely to choose activities that could result in these types of disability. Frustrated in my search for information regarding “version” types and acquired disabilities more like my own — those that are the result of genetics and/or “unspecified contributors” for deafness and Meniere’s disease, I continued searching the research databases.

I came across an interesting study by Noonan et al., (2004), called, “A Qualitative Study of the Career Development of Highly Achieving Women with Physical and Sensory Disabilities”.


I figured I hit the jackpot with this search and find! What I discovered, however, has nothing to do with a connection between “version” types and successful coping with acquired disability. According to Noonan et al., (2004), successful coping includes  “developmental opportunities (education, peer influences), family influences (background and current), disability impact (ableism, stress and coping, health issues), social support (disabled and nondisabled communities, role models and mentors), career attitudes and behaviors (work attitudes, success strategies, leadership/pioneering), and sociopolitical context (social movements, advocacy)” (p. 68). The difference between those who successfully cope and are extroverted and those who successfully cope and are introverted, centers around social support. An extrovert is more likely to identify and ask for help from any peers or individuals within their environment and in so doing actively engage in demonstrative advocacy. Introverts are more choosy about who they enlist support from, but are often “background” advocates. This is supported by research from Ellis (2003) in findings that include the difference in how extroverts and introverts enlist support, openly or privately – respectively.

“Version” Types and Assistive Technology

Having lived with special challenges for more than 31 years, I have had the (privileged) opportunity to meet hundreds of individuals who are differently-abled. Networking through organizations such as Fidos For Freedom, Inc., Assistance Dogs International (ADI), the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), and numerous other organizations, I have met both extroverts and introverts who cope well — and some not so well — with acquired disability.

Some discouraging research does suggest that extroverts are more likely to use assistive technology and devices (Johnson, 1999).

This sucks.

I struggled for so many years with invisible disabilities and challenges, that my “epiphany” moment of changing that… making the invisible very visible, still gives me psychological goosebumps. My introverted life changed when I determined that I would embrace technology and assistive devices. I use bright canes, an assistance dog, bling up my cochlear implant and have informative brochures with me wherever I go. You’ll notice I didn’t say my introverted self became extroverted. I’m aware of and fully accept who I am – an introvert. Yet, using assistive technology and devices (and canine) has dramatically improved mitigating my own disabilities. Extroverts are more likely to seek “tools” early on in a diagnosis that incorporates an acquired disability (Wressle, Samuelsson, 2004; Kintsch & DePaula, 2015). Once introverts determine that the benefit of using assistive technology and devices improves quality of life, they, too, are able to embrace tools that improve life with the downside of making them (perhaps) more noticeable.

In closing, can I just say, “I LOVE PEOPLE”? We are different yet, are alike. We react to things differently and yet similarly. We all love dogs. 

Cuz… well, that just makes sense.

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Ellis, A. E. (2003). Personality Type and Participation in Networked Learning Environments. Educational Media International40(1/2), 101.

Johnson, D. (1999). Why is assistive technology underused? Library Hi Tech News, (163), 15-17. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/201534320?accountid=14872

Kintsch, A., & DePaula, R. (2015). A framework for the adoption of assistive technology. Retrieved on November 24, 2015, from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Malec, J. (1985). Personality factors associated with severe traumatic disability. Rehabilitation Psychology30(3), 165-172. doi:10.1037/h0091027

Noonan, B. M., Gallor, S. M., Hensler-McGinnis, N. F., Fassinger, R. E., Wang, S., & Goodman, J. (2004). Challenge and Success: A Qualitative Study of the Career Development of Highly Achieving Women With Physical and Sensory Disabilities. Journal Of Counseling Psychology51(1), 68-80. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.51.1.68

Wressle, E., & Samuelsson, K. (2004). User satisfaction with mobility assistive devices. Scandinavian Journal Of Occupational Therapy11(3), 143-150 8p.

I’m fine. Really.




“Never underestimate the lingering effects of a dash of spontaneous comfort.” (Greenlee, 2008)

Ugh! I hate it when I see unfinished posts and reminders to post to my blog. Writing always helps me. ALWAYS. Yet, sometimes I let “stuff” get in the way of coming here to write, sharing my heart and mind with any who will “listen”.

I’m weary. I’m so weary, in fact, I’ve forgotten to turn my filter to the “ON” position and when answering that habitual greeting, “How are you, Denise?” I’m blurting out… “Awful. Crappy. FINISHED!

Honest? Maybe. Correct? Well… not according to our society. When someone asks how are you, the age-old response is “Fine! Great! How are you?

Is it lying when you are responding with a customary and expected, “pre-recorded” and chirpy reply? I don’t know that I would call it LYING, but it is certainly

… the expected

… customary

… response.

There isn’t anything going on that is the CAUSE of my bleh. Perhaps I’m not getting enough rest. That seems to always have an impact on my bleh-meter.

Surprisingly, a major source of bleh-busters have been quick, yet heartfelt comments by someone I know.

“I care about you!”

“You made my day!”

… and a friend who posted on FaceBook this morning on behalf of EVERYONE reading that I laid claim to since I was one of those readers:

you are loved

Isn’t it amazing how a spontaneous, genuine word of encouragement can make a dreary day, brighter? These verbal “high fives” are sometimes quick phrases of encouragement. Sometimes someone simply checks in to see how I’m doing. These things matter. They matter enough that I know I want to do a better job of being more likely to share the same with others.

“Never underestimate the lingering effects of a dash of spontaneous comfort.” (Greenlee, 2008)

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Greenlee, G. (2008). Postcards & pearls: Life lessons from solo moments on the road. San Diego, CA: Aventine Press


Does Not Play Well With Others


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I hesitate to even post about this topic because I’m sure to get a little backlash about this viewpoint. Because of that, you will see interspersed throughout this written confession, links of scholarly evidence and citations to peer-reviewed articles that will lend a little more credence to what I’m about to say. I don’t want it to be just an opinionated article, after all!

Confession: I Don’t Play Well With Others

Now if my mother is reading this, she is likely “nodding her head in agreement” but that is because her clearest memory of me is the bossy older sister, not at all afraid to confront people (they call me Vina Jewell Jr. in my family), and stubbornly opinionated. However, when you grow up in a small farming community and go away to college, there isn’t much chance your mother will be able to get to know the adult you’ve become.

Don’t get me wrong. Mom and I talk weekly. But a FaceTime call is a great deal different than seeing someone day in and day out. However, the fact that I don’t play well with others as an adult has nothing to do with the negative characteristics I hope to have left far behind me in my childhood.

As a 49-year-old woman who readily identifies as being differently-abled, “playing” often means quiet, reflective time, or interactions where I’m present but only “just”–in that I do not have to interact with those around me. For example, my husband and I will watch a movie together once in awhile. I’m a reader. I write. I research (by choice and not because I’m a doctoral student). I love sitting on the deck and staring out into the woods. I love to cuddle with my dogs.

Now some who read that last paragraph may think that I don’t like people.


I love people, and enjoy interacting with others. I believe anyone I work with will tell you that I am an eager team player who throws herself into volunteer work with passion and gusto. You see… I WORK well with others. Outside of class, I proudly advise three different student clubs and participate in a number of faculty/staff committees. I love this work. I love the people I work with, too. However, I’m working – not playing. I’m one of the lucky ones in that as a person who is differently-abled, education is a great career. People with skills, training, and education in other types of careers are not as lucky. Many people with disability or chronic illness find that in their chosen career they face both exclusion and discrimination (National Disability Strategy Consultation Report, 2009). I am extremely grateful to be a part of the education community, for I rarely face these issues.

So what’s the deal with my not “playing well with others”? Well you see? The things I mentioned earlier that are ways I unwind, decompress, relax, and “flourish in my happy place”, very few people are willing to do alongside me. (And that’s ok…) I have a few friends that will “hang out with me” and “play” with no expectations. We do not have to do a whole lot of talking. We just “are” – and are comfortable in silences and quiet places. The problem is that none of these friends live near me.

Hearing Loss and Background Noise

It may be different for folks with other types of challenges. As a person with hearing loss, I can tell you that one of the biggest barriers to living a happy and productive life alongside of others, is background noise. Some folks think that background noise is the same thing as white noise.

It’s not.

White noise is a steady (and unremarkable) buzz of sound. If you are as old as I am, it would be like the “snow” sound on a television channel currently off the air. When I was a kid, my older brother and I would sometimes be allowed to stay up watching TV, and we’d eventually fall asleep. When I awoke, the television screen would have “snow” with a buzzy kind of static-like noise. Background noise, on the other hand, is any extraneous sound that is heard while trying to monitor a specific sound. For folks with hearing loss, that specific sound is SPEECH while trying to screen out other sounds (and perhaps voices) from the environment. If I could burn calories for every minute I communicate with others in the normal world, I would not be 25 pounds overweight.

Background noise is the enemy of people with hearing loss. This noise even diminishes our ability to concentrate and form both short-term and long-term memories (Rugg & Andrews, 2009). Kenneth Henry (Neubert, 2012), postdoctoral researcher at Purdue, uses the analogy of numerous televisions. For folks with normal hearing, it would be like turning on a dozen television sets on different channels and asking the individual to concentrate on one show. It’s hard. It’s not at all enjoyable. It’s not something someone would ever do by choice.

Yet people with hearing loss must consciously make the choice to reach out to others, invest their time, energy, and focus just to communicate! It’s hard to communicate in a world full of background noise. It’s worth it. It keeps us from being isolated. It keeps us connected to others. It may keep us productive and working. There is a price to pay, however. The price tag is limited options for “play time”. In order to completely eliminate the WORK in listening, one needs a quiet environment. Friends tend to text one another with suggestions such as:

“Hey! Want to meet at Ruby Tuesdays after church today and eat together?”

“Let’s go shopping!”

“There’s a meet-up at the local Starbucks for mom’s frustrated with their adult children. You should come!”

“A dozen or so of us are going to go walking at the park with our dogs. You should come along!”

“We are all going to go get a pedicure! We are meeting at 2 PM”. 

This is not my kind of “play time”. Now occasionally (OK… I’m exaggerating – RARELY) I will go out and do some of these things. However, there are very few people I can ask to participate in what I really consider “fun”. Even when I go out with friends from Fidos For Freedom with individuals who have various disabilities it is hard. When you do not hear well, you can be isolated even when amongst folks who really understand disability. Folks with hearing loss “play” differently.

“Hey girl! Come over and sit on my deck and watch the squirrels in the trees with me, will ya?”

“I know this great place in the woods near my home where two streams converge. It’s a great place to sit and read a book. I’ll bring the bug spray!”

“Let’s go sit by the Chesapeake and pet our dogs while we watch the ships go by…”

Having a hearing loss as an adult – even when it is “corrected” by hearing aids and/or cochlear implant, the individual is certain to have a co-morbid  auditory processing disorder. This creates all kinds of communication issues that make it extremely difficult to enjoy communicating. According to Whitelaw (2015) “These types of communication issues may include difficulty hearing in less than optimal listening situations, reliance on visual information to augment auditory information, a reduced appreciation of listening to music, and difficulty understanding speech when the speaker is unfamiliar” (para. 1).

I have special programs on my cochlear implant that reduce background noise and allow me to zero in on the person right in front of me. I rely on these programs. (There have actually been times in extremely noisy environments, that I swear I hear better than my normal hearing counterparts). Even with this wonderful technology, I still have to concentrate. It’s not fun. It’s not “play”. It requires recovery time later. Is it worth it? 

Well if it wasn’t, I would never leave home… and I leave home a great deal and for a variety of reasons. Just because I CAN doesn’t mean it is easy. I’ve been alive long enough to know that important things are not always easy.

How to “Play” with Someone with Hearing Loss

If you know someone with hearing loss, please allow me to provide some “playing pointers”. You will note that these activities often revolve around just being in the presence of each other. They are activities that do not require dialogue every second of your chosen “together time”.

  1. Board games: It’s OK, to laugh and “chit chat” over a great board game. But… turn off the TV. Don’t have background music going. If there are more than two people playing the board game, don’t have individual conversations. Every spoken word is meant for everyone present. This keeps the person with hearing loss from having to deliberately ignore the sound of a conversation not meant for them. Please don’t think that people with hearing loss can enjoy “game night” with a big crowd. The folks in my small group at church had a “game night” (with all in the family invited) one night and my first thought was, “just shoot me now“.

2. Books, reading, and discussion: Book clubs are great! That is… if the discussion group is meeting in a quiet setting while discussing the chapters that week. Sitting in the food court of the mall and discussing what you read that week = NOT A GOOD IDEA. If you like to read, ask to spend some reading time with a person with hearing loss. You read; you don’t talk. It is difficult to express how meaningful it is to simply be in the presence of another.

3. Walks, hiking, boating, and other “outdoorsy” stuff: These activities can be great for folks with hearing loss. However, many trails and parks and lakes have become very populated. This means that the person with hearing loss may have trouble hearing you if they cannot see your face. Imagine kayaking with a person with hearing loss. If the kayaks are facing each other they will do great. This also means you won’t get anywhere because two kayaks facing each other cannot move. So enjoy the time together but don’t try to tell them all about the problems you’ve been having at work. Enjoy the hike. Enjoy the quiet of the walk. Enjoy the sound of the paddles hitting the water – and the far distant sounds of other folks out on the water.

4. Movies: I’m a “hearing again” person. This means that I can go to a movie, watch it, understand it, and give it a Siskel and Ebert “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” vote — just like everyone else. This doesn’t mean I can converse about the movie as we exit with the crowd. This doesn’t mean I can walk all the way to the parking deck and discuss everything we loved about the movie. Give me a safe place to stop moving. Allow me to concentrate on the conversation.

5. Gardening, Fishing, or ART: I love gardening, though do precious little of it I’m afraid. I had a great little “deck veggie garden” this year but wondered why I didn’t feel the thrill of it like I experienced it years ago. I concluded it was because I wasn’t pulling weeds alongside my father. I realized I wasn’t thinning plants while with my grandmother just three plants over. Be willing to spend some quality quiet time gardening with a person who doesn’t hear well but enjoys getting down in the dirt.

Fishing can be a great activity.

Art, too, can be a great opportunity to spend some time with an artsy hard-of-hearing person.

Some great resources: LISTENING IS EXHAUSTING.


Not Hearing Loss – but “OTHER”

What if your challenges are not hearing loss. People who live with disability, chronic illness, and visible or invisible health problems may still “play” differently.

As a person with a balance disorder, I cannot go to the fair at the county fairgrounds and “play”.

I cannot walk to the park and “swing” on the swing set while discussing heart-to-heart issues.

If you want to spend time with someone who has specific challenges, ask them what they like to do and meet them where they are – within the parameters of what is “fun” for them. They may have a really hard time meeting you for some “play time” when it will be WORK for them. Ask how to accommodate them. I promise you that they really do enjoy being with you.

L. Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Road Signs


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traffic calming

I’m directionally challenged. When I say that, I mean that I even have trouble following SIRI-instructed GPS instructions. Where I grew up it was really easy to tell North from South and East from West. The grasslands of Colorado will do that for you. However, after I moved to the city after high school I’ve had trouble with direction! I remember being so surprised at all the street names. I mean… I grew up on Road W. (I’m not kidding). I lived 1.5 miles east of my grandparent’s home. I knew this because my hometown was North, and my grandparents lived 15 REA poles adjacent to us on the “sun setting” side. I know you think I’m making this up, but I was truly disoriented when I discovered directions included street names and not landmarks. Then I discovered traffic signs that we never had in Baca County! I mean… “TRAFFIC CALMING”? We hardly had a need for stop signs, let alone traffic calming signs.

Last week on a back road–a short cut, carefully taught by my significant other–I encountered a “Traffic Calming Ahead” sign. Now granted… this sign has likely been there all along. However, I just HAVE become confident enough to notice things like traffic signs as I’ve been too busy looking for that white house with the green shutters (cuz – yeah. I still don’t use street signs so please don’t tell my husband). As I passed the sign, my first thought was, “Whaaaa????

I’m very eloquent when talking to myself. As I drove a little further there was a big speed bump in the road. Do you know I almost had to pull over to the side of the road to figure on what a speed bump had to do with “Traffic Calming Ahead”? I forced myself to go on, while my thoughts just jumbled together.

After I figured out what it meant, my next thought was, “Heck. What happens when the sign says, ‘TRAFFIC DRAMA AHEAD’ “? I guess I hope I don’t ever have to find out.

I suppose it’s nice that the city thinks so much of drivers to warn them in advance when they are going to force a change in driving attitude. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had road signs as we traversed LIFE?

Road Signs

It took me awhile to figure out, “Bridge Ices Before Road”. Longer still to figure out:

turtle crossing

Someone, somewhere, has been very conscientious about what lies ahead. Why can’t we have that kind of system to navigate life? I suppose in a way we do. As a person of faith, I certainly have prayed enough asking for guidance and clear direction on decisions.

I’ve also “bent the ear” of close friends when I’m trying to make decisions or determine what to do. I don’t know about YOUR life, but in my OWN? I’m often left thinking, “What just hit me?” after I’ve already encountered the hazard. There was no warning. Don’t for a moment think that I’m not paying attention either. I’m probably hyper-aware as I’m prone to some OCD tendencies. So why do I so often hit the speed bump at full speed (or crush the turtle)?


I have some folks in my life with some ADHD goin’ on. It kinda makes sense that they would miss signs. So how does someone who pays great attention to details, get distracted? Basically? I lose my focus. I may be driving along still thinking about:


That I failed to pay attention to the next warning:


So when my car dropped off the uneven pavement on one side, I screamed like a girl. Thank goodness I’m a girl.

Not only do I tend to perseverate – causing me to be distracted, I also tend to “worry something to death”. How many times do we worry about things we cannot change? Take a minute and list all the things you really have no control over. I’ll check back with you in a couple of months.

As a person of faith I try to:


I have to tell ya, though, I blow it again and again. I’m a “worrier”. I’m trying to do better because I’ve come to recognize it IS a big distraction for me. I miss warning signs, I become self-centered, I miss cues about other hurting people, and I step in doggie doo-doo (just laying it out there, folks).

The “Here and Now”

I’m having to learn to live in the “here and now”. I’m not very good at this. Don’t get me wrong… I think we should make plans and be prepared. Be an ant instead of a grasshopper. But I get awfully distracted about worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet. Worse? I worry about something that has already happened and can’t be changed.

I’m working hard to take one day at a time. I’m working hard to focus on the here and now. Example:

I’m fixin’ to walk into class and will be there for 50 minutes. How are my students today? Does anyone seem worried, distracted, tired, or ASLEEP? How can I make personality dispositions FUN? I don’t get any second chances. I don’t want to miss that one student looks shell-shocked, another likely high. (Dude? What have you been smokin’?)

I don’t get that 50 minute time segment back. It can be simplified beyond this, too. I’m trying to take more naps. I need them. I don’t know if it is because I’m “almost 50”, or if it is because I am fatigued from having to speech read and pay attention? I just know that I live for naps. If I have an opportunity to have one, I don’t want to lay there for 27 minutes of my hour available worrying about what I need to do. I’m learning to focus on calm – peace – rest – sleep.

My guess is that if you are reader of this blog, you have challenges of your own. You may be differently-abled or live with chronic illness or pain. Perhaps you are struggling with emotional health. Learning to ignore the distractions will help you focus – help you cope. It isn’t a cure-all. Occasionally you will still be taken by surprise. You are going to see and benefit from far more road signs if you are really paying attention. I hope you will work on it and if you have any tips, comment below! I know I take all the advice I can get!

L. Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Why I Rarely Vent (in Person)


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My head is gonna explode. There's a reason I don't vent in person...

My head is gonna explode. There’s a reason I don’t vent in person…

Aren’t I brave to post a picture with no make-up on a “horrible, rotten, no-good day”? I decided last minute to stop in at work on Monday to check my mail box. I forget to do it during the summer when I’m not teaching. Anyway, I ran into a person I know fairly well. I almost ran the other direction because I know her well enough that I didn’t want her to see me with no make-up, flip-flops, and blue jeans. However, since SHE had all that going on too… I decided to let her flag me down instead of pretending I didn’t see her. We exchanged the “how’s your summer going?” questions and visited for a few minutes. We’ve served on various committees together and so when she asked me, “So how are you really doing?” I didn’t hesitate to answer truthfully. Silly me, I thought she wanted to know!

Well, I have had a bad day. I get super tired of falling on rainy days. Ya know? But the weather for the rest of the week looks great” and I beamed my best smile!

She said (I kid you not), “Yeah, I fell this weekend and broke my friggin’ nail. Just look!” (she sticks her finger in my face for easier viewing). “I just got a manicure too!

Now the first thing that popped into my head wasn’t nice. So I’m not even going to repeat it on here. My second thought, however, was “this is why I’m not honest to people face-to-face“. Besides… if you don’t live with a chronic illness or disability, you just can’t understand what having a bad day for THAT person really means. (I can’t completely understand YOUR bad day either). It’s not their fault. I chose to believe she was trying to commiserate and help in some way. I “ooo’d and aaaah’d” over her broken, manicured nail, getting madder and madder (but doing a fantastic job of hiding it, I might add!)

After due diligence in bemoaning her broken nail, I turned to leave. Since I had been holding her wrist to get a better look at the nail, I dropped my hand (and her hand) as I turned to walk away. It was then she noticed my arm. “Oh my gosh. What did you do to your arm?

I turned my arm to look at where she was looking and saw a row of purple and blue bruises. “Oh that,” I said breezily, “yeah, I said I fell, right?” Her eyes got really big, and she whooshed out on an astonished breath, “Well, I’m an ASS, aren’t I?

I giggled. Not at her.

Ok, yes it was AT her, but her self-condemnation and horrified look were truly priceless. I assured her that all was well, working hard to make sure we went our separate ways with friendship and her self-esteem still intact. After all, I didn’t want her to think that *I* thought she was an a**. Even though I did…

Why We Dodge the “HOW ARE YOU?”

On the short drive home I belly-ached out loud to Milo (new Service Dog). One of the great things about service dogs is their non-judgmental, listening ears. When I’m angry, I tend to cry. Not sad tears either. (Hubby has learned to not “there-there” me when he sees tears because chances are he’s in trouble and not that I’m sad and need a shoulder).

Many people with chronic illness and disabilities lie. Not premeditated lying. It’s more of a self-protective omission of the truth. When your NORMAL is not “normal” for people who do not live with significant health challenges, you do not really have symptom-free days. Instead, you learn to appreciate the good days and try super hard not to dwell on the bad days. You don’t ever answer “how are you?” truthfully. (Unless the person who asks lives it too and really gets it). You don’t want to be a negative Nellie; a sour puss; a stick in the mud; __________________ (fill in the blank).

So you dodge the question, or flat out lie. I had a friend tell me that “stating how my day really is going doesn’t make my day better. It only depresses the other person. Since there isn’t anything they can really DO to make it better, I grab FRIENDSHIP by the collar and don’t let go, insisting my day is going very well if only to talk to a friendly face for a few moments longer”.

Don’t get me wrong… we all need some folks we can be honest with and tell it like it is. For me, it is often God because I figure His shoulders are broad enough. Sometimes I need a flesh-and-blood human face to talk, too. This is why I highly recommend support groups. I rely on the people I have come to know at Fidos For Freedom. We couldn’t be any more different. We struggle with completely different kinds of disabilities and challenges, but each one of us understands why we dread the “how are you?” question. Even virtual support (through the medium of the Internet) can be very therapeutic to people with chronic illness and disabilities.

But… I really want to know! I really want to help!

I have a few people in my life (and I hope that you do, too) who I can be honest with  when I’m overwhelmed with a “horrible, rotten, no-good day”. They may ask, “how are you really doing?” and I TELL them. The obvious next question is, “Well, what can I do to help?” Ya know? I’ve really wanted to take people up on this before. I mean… sometimes it may be that I need someone to go shopping with me. Milo is terrific, but there are some things he cannot pick up and some things I really wish I hadn’t dropped to start with! (like glass). Shopping is exhausting for me but a necessary chore.

My son has a “temporary disability” as he fell through the ceiling while in the attic and broke his arm. (The full story is much longer, but I’m not going there today). He is really struggling with doing “normal” things because he has one hand. So I asked him, “what can I do to help?”

Laundry. My son asked me to do his laundry! And do you know, I was almost hysterical with JOY? I love to do laundry! I am ABLE to do laundry! I love pre-treating stains, choosing settings on the washer, and piling things in evenly. I love putting wet clothes into the dryer. And… (OMGosh I’m trembling with excitement I can hardly get it out…) I love folding warm clothes from the dryer. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about the neatly folded piles of “like” clothing. It’s a very normal (and for most people), boring task. However, “son” couldn’t do it. *I* could help.

If you are in a position to help someone who lives with chronic illness, doing something rather ordinary — is EXTRAORDINARY for them.

Loading/unloading the dishwasher

Washing the bedding and re-making the bed

Mowing the lawn

Deep-cleaning a bathroom

I know people with various disabilities who do things to help out others with disabilities. That’s how it should be, right? People… just helping PEOPLE.

Concluding full circle here – VENTING

I have some high maintenance friends. And you know something? I love them. I knew in advance they were high maintenance and I chose to be their friend anyway. I also have some friends who “hold their hand close to their chest”. Heck, if I’m really going to see their “hand”, I almost have to yank them towards me and demand “a real reveal”. I’ve had to learn how to “read” them. I very well may MISS IT sometimes – the clues that tell me that all is not well.

Sometimes people just need to vent. They KNOW you can’t do anything to improve their situation. They KNOW they will have better days (so please? Don’t tell them, “the sun will come out tomorrow”?) They may just need a few moments to tell you like it really is. You say, “How are you?” and they decide to open the dam. It may pour out of them. It may be a trickle of water that you have to give additional encouragement to in order to really break down that barrier.

Let them VENT.

… and then what? I don’t recommend patting them on the shoulder and asking if they feel better. What’s the next step?

It’s two years old now, but I love — absolutely LOVE this advice. <Click here for full article> The highlights and three follow-up (recommended) questions to a “Vent-or” are:

  1. What bothers you the most about the situation?
  2. What is making you the most _______________?
  3. (My favorite) What worries you about this?

This is listening done right. They vent. You follow-up with questions that let them know you were actually listening. You can brain-storm with them options that may help them with some of the things that are frustrating them. You may discover through dialoguing with them, a way that you can easily help them beyond providing a listening ear.

Folks who live with disabilities or chronic illness like being able to reciprocate, too. I am on CLOUD NINE that my son needs me to do his laundry for him right now. I love dog-sitting for my daughter’s dog when she needs to go out of town. There are some things I can do. Let me do them. :-)

I hope you will look at venting a little differently after reading this. Especially if the venting you listen to is from someone who has significant health challenges. One of my dear friends has a seizure disorder as well as other significant health challenges. She often lets me hear how things are really going because she knows I care. I tell her I will be praying, and she knows I mean it. She immediately asks, “so how can I pray for YOU?” and I know she means it. A praying friend can be HUGE. Sometimes you can do more. I hope you will look for those opportunities. Lysa TerKeurst does a great job blogging about this. Please allow me to share her great article with you: “Don’t Say You’ll Pray for Me“.

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Pressure Cookers and “The BIG REVEAL”


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pressure cooker

I can hear my grandmother’s voice saying, “Turn up the heat and see what boils out!” None of us like pressure.

None of us enjoy being stressed.

None of us “sign up for” difficult times.

Yet life is full of difficult times. It’s just the way it is. I use to get so aggravated at my mother for responding to my self-pitying tears and hiccup-sobbing announcement that “It’s not FAIR” with, “Denise… life is NOT fair“.

Life isn’t. Bad things happen to good people. Wonderful people suffer. Terrific human beings have their hearts broken.

Sucks, don’t it?

How a Pressure Cooker Works

I don’t know of very many people who own a pressure cooker. I don’t use one. I had a grandmother who used one fairly frequently, however. Why use a pressure cooker?

Pressure cookers essentially do two things.

  1. Raises the boiling point from about 212° to 250°.
  2. Raises the pressure inside the pot and forces moisture into the food.

Using the pressure cooker as a great analogy for LIFE, it helps us deal with higher temperatures, and keeps us from DRYING OUT. That’s right. When you are forced to deal with stress and pressures, you actually work out your “dealing with it” muscles and make it easier to handle the next burden. This is especially true if you are dealing with it often enough that you’ve developed good habits. New good habits include:

  1. Taking it to God and recognizing that “He’s got this”.
  2. Learning to ask for help from trusted friends.
  3. Learning to pace yourself; taking the time to rest when needed.
  4. Looking for the GOOD in a very BAD DAY.
  5. Burning your “Blame Game” after recognizing it is no one’s FAULT.
  6. Showing off your “BIG REVEAL”

That’s right. After the burner is turned down and the pressure is OFF, we lift the lid and  take our bows. The big reveal.

My former pastor from North Carolina reminded me however, that the “reveal” is often long before we lift that lid.

“The true test of character is not just seen in your actions but your reactions. We often like to excuse our inappropriate behavior by saying, “I’m sorry I was just under a lot of pressure.” But it’s the pressure that often reveals what’s on the inside and what we’re really like!” (Pastor Jake Thornhill)

While we are blowing off steam, we are also revealing to all who watch, who we really are. I have a dear friend who recently lost her young adult daughter in a car accident. As a person of faith, she knows she will see her daughter again one day. Yet, she has been very “real” in blowing off some steam. She is hurting. She misses her daughter. Her faith is strong. She’s dealing with it. However, I repeat: She is hurting. She misses her daughter. It is a poignant reminder to me that the very best people need our love, support, and prayers. Bad things DO happen to good people.

People who live with chronic illness, invisible conditions, or disabilities have good days and bad days. There will be days that you handle “your normal” in a positive, healthy way. There will also be days that you need to go back to bed and zip your lips because everything spewing out is pretty ugly. Not everyone is going to understand that. (Even some folks close to you won’t understand). Want to know some “ol’ sayings” that get on my very last nerve?

“What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger”

“Shine – don’t whine!”

“Be better, not bitter”

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!”

If we take these oft-used encouragements too far in our attitude towards OTHERS who are going through tough times, we miss out on one of life’s biggest blessings. One of the quickest ways to alleviate someone else’s stress and pressures are simply to let them know you are there for them. Pray for them. Hug them. Tell them, “I care about you. If you deliberately look away when life increases the temperature under someone’s pot and assume “this is good for them”, you miss the opportunity to be used in a special way.  Throwing a chirpy little positivism at them will not help them. BEING there for them is what matters.

Love someone with significant challenges? You will learn what to SAY, and what NOT to say, to support your loved one best. Please allow me to mangle one more colloquial expression?

“A watched pot never boils”. Oh yes it does. You can stand there and watch the pressure gauge go up and Up and UP on a friend or loved one’s pressure cooker, and it’s going to boil. There is no escaping the heat. I don’t know about you, but I want to be the kind of friend who is there through the cooking process and present for the big “reveal”, for when the pressure is gone and the lid is lifted. That’s what friends do. That’s what support is.

Denise Portis

©2015 Personal hearing Loss Journal





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Some posts get a lot of response both publically and privately. Back in March of this year, “When they SHOULD, but They Don’t” posted. In 2015, this post has generated the most “mail”. This tells me that the topic is important. This tells me that this problem exists. This tells me that people with chronic illness, invisible illness or disability, and health challenges struggle with:

  1. Asking for help
  2. Accepting help
  3. Realizing that assistance ≠ diminished independence

My husband and I travelled to see his parents two states away this weekend. I love having Terry all to myself in a car where he can’t get away from my enthusiastic chatter and conversation. Thankfully, the man doesn’t seem to mind that a seatbelt is all that separates him from his talkative wife.

I shared with him how much follow-up email I have received about this post. I know many people who are differently-abled personally. I also “know” many only through “Hearing Elmo”. Why is it so hard for the people in our lives to support us in a healthy, loving way without creating codependency, “IOU mentality”, and decreased self-esteem? I shared with my husband an article I recently read at the Invisible Disabilities Association, on what family members of differently-abled people should know. (You can read it HERE).

My husband, a psychologist who has worked with special populations for 25 years, reminded me of something that I really needed to hear. You see… lately we have not been communicating very well. Yeah, yeah, I know! Hearing loss is a communication disorder, but this isn’t new to us! Once in awhile, our communication breaks down. I get frustrated, he gets defensive, and the dogs choose sides. It’s ugly.

Be Specific or Be Quiet

One of the most common things people say to me about this topic is, “If the shoe were on the other foot, and THEY were differently-abled… I would be supportive and accepting!” In other words, “I’m sure I’d respond to all of this much better because I’m a super hero and they are NOT”.

Now don’t get me wrong! Maybe you WOULD respond more effectively! I believe that circumstances such as dealing with a health challenge can make us more compassionate, empathetic, and helpful to others in the same boat. I tried to point out to a reader that they “could not know how they would respond and support the other person because it isn’t their reality”. They “could not know how hard it is to love and support someone 24/7 that is differently-abled because they are not living that life”. These folks immediately fire back, “Well I LIVE WITH THIS 24/7 so I think I would know how hard it is”. Apples and oranges, my friends! They are both fruits and grow on trees, but are different in every way. Bottom line, if you are differently-abled or live with chronic illness, your perceptions and reality have changed. You cannot know what it would be like to be completely healthy and instead love/support someone who has special challenges.

I can already HEAR picture some of you freaking out about this. Before you send me hate mail though, please remember that I, too, am a person with special challenges, married to someone whose only significant challenge is to lose 20 pounds now that he’s middle-aged. (Hmmm. I may get called out for that comment should hubby read this week’s post).

I’ve already explained that my “captive audience” reminded me of something about good communication because I have slipped into some old habits and was feeling frustrated with him as a result. We need to be specific. Our loved ones are not mind readers. Here are some REAL specifics I have learned in my own communication – all of which we re-visited on this trip since communication has broken down lately.

Instead of:

You need your laundry done? Do it yourself MORON!

You know I love doing laundry. I need you to carry it down the two flights of stairs to the laundry room. Then, when you get home from work, at some point I will need you to carry it all back upstairs.

Instead of:

What? You can’t carry your own plate to the sink? Well I guess I’m making dinner FOR ONE from now on, You MORON! 

I don’t mind cleaning up after meals. My Meniere’s disease does not allow me to carry things to the sink very safely. Could you pile your stuff in the sink please?

(This specific instruction garnered the benefit of his carrying MY dishes to the sink, too!)

Instead of:

I can only walk one dog at night. You think I have excess energy? I guess poor Chloe is going to believe she is unloved and definitely UNWALKED. MORON!

Would you walk Chloe with Milo and I tonight? She needs the exercise.  You don’t need to go as far as I do, and it will mean a lot to her.

Instead of:

You’re tired of the empty cupboards and fridge? Go get your own groceries, MORON!

(Can you tell my unfiltered, “go to” cut-down is moron? Poor Terry) 

I am running on empty this week. Milo is a huge help, but I’m just “done”. Would you go get groceries with me this week? It would really help.

Instead of:

You never help me! (and just to stay consistent… MORON!)

Would you mind helping me with some housework today? My balance is particularly bad. I could dust if you would vacuum?

Specificity helps communication. Generalizations will lead to communication breakdown. It takes practice. You wouldn’t think it would, but it really does. Learn to be specific. You may even have to learn to be specific in how you want your loved ones to back off! A recent example:

Instead of:

Cripes, Terry! I can do this, you know. I’m not totally incapable!

(He was trying to help me get Milo’s leash on and Milo was super excited).

I know Milo is “blowing a gasket” here. But I have to learn to calm him down and give him the proper commands since I’m usually alone with him. He has to learn to settle on MY terms. Thanks for the help, but I’ve got this!

If you need help, be specific. If you can do something yourself, be specific. If you need a listening ear, be specific. If you need a hug, be specific.

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

P.S. I’m hoping to launch a series of blog posts over the next year. See HERE for more information. We need guest authors! :-)

Polygamy and Practice


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polygamy and practice

Do you know how many times polygamy has cropped up in my conversations? It’s super easy for me to hazard a guess because I have NEVER had a conversation about polygamy. I don’t watch “Sister Wives”, and know very few Mormons (and those I do – do not practice polygamy). So why… WHY would I bring the word up in a chance encounter? *shaking my head at myself*

I’m a creature of habit. I go to the same stores and the same restaurants. I’m super scheduled and my electronic calendar is near and dear to my heart. I’m color-coded. I’m organized.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that I tend to run into the same people at the places I frequent. I have shopped at the same grocery store for almost four years. You tend to run into some of the same people when you frequent a store. When you go everyplace with a service dog, it makes you rather unforgettable, especially with children. It’s no surprise that I see some of the same children in stores who have been curious about and thrilled with Chloe as I shop.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that a little boy I have seen a half a dozen times or more stopped me to ask about my dog. My new partner is Milo, a black shepherd/lab whose appearance is completely different than that of Chloe. Here is a recent photo of both Chloe (retired) and Milo (current). The picture isn’t that great which reminds me I need to work on getting some more “3 musketeers” shots!

Service Dog Bookends

Service Dog Bookends

This little boy that I see occasionally (whose name I DO NOT know – which embarrasses me as he knows my service dog’s name), looked at me with big eyes and said, “Where is Chloe and WHO IS THAT?” (Ya gotta love kids)

I replied, “Oh, this is my new service dog, Milo. Chloe is retired now and is at home sleeping on the couch”.

He looked very solemn and said, “So she still lives with you?

Oh yes“, I said. “She will always live with me. It’s just that Milo is my new partner!

He was quiet for a second or two and said, “So it’s like you are divorced and Milo is your new service dog?

I was so astonished by the seemingly change in topic I stuttered out, “Well… ummm…. no, not at all. Chloe and I aren’t divorced. I guess it’s more like polygamy and both dogs live with me now!

The little guy look TOTALLY CONFUSED, and I glanced up to see the HORRIFIED LOOK on his mother’s face. Ever want to just slap your hand over your mouth? I knew as soon as I said it that it was 1) totally inappropriate, 2) would take the mother all day to explain to her son, and 3) completely “off the wall”.

I made a mess of trying to back peddle (for people with balance disorders can do precious little BACKWARDS), and hurriedly made my way down the next aisle.

I stood in the international food section fussin’ at myself and nearly in tears for using such a poor analogy around a 6-year-old. I determined then and there I needed to PrAcTiCe PrAcTiCe PRACTICE what to say in response to “where’s Chloe and who is THIS?

Part of Good Advocacy is Practiced Responses

Being a good advocate and representative of “whatever ails ya” means you have good responses when someone asks questions. I have learned the HARD WAY, that these responses need to be rehearsed. When you are taken by surprise by either well-meaning, curious people or rude, snarky trouble-makers, you want to have a measured, helpful reply so that you advocate in a positive and helpful manner. I have found that if I don’t have a “canned response”, I tend to match the tone and demeanor of the person asking. This means that sometimes I am pleasant and in “teacher mode”, with great responses that educate and advocate on behalf of the disability community. However, other times I’m waving my cane in a curmudgeon’s face and informing them in no-uncertain terms how horrible they are.

At Fidos For Freedom, Inc., (where I trained for now – TWO – service dogs), we practice how to respond when encountering access issues. If you have a service dog, it is not a matter of IF you have access issues, rather WHEN you have access issues. It is easy to get flustered. It is easy to get mad. It is easy to say the wrong thing. Practice makes it much easier to respond with something that will actually help you and others like yourself.

Doesn’t it Suck that Many of the Rude Ones are “Kin”?

What is even harder is when the person acting incredulous and skeptical is someone you know well or are even family. I’m lucky that I have a very supportive spouse and adult children. Even so… it is hard to love someone with a chronic condition. Once in awhile, my husband (or kids) do not filter what they are saying, because they, too, are sick and tired of Meniere’s disease. I’m 100% certain my husband has rehearsed responses to commiserate appropriately so that he doesn’t spend the night on the couch.

(Holding an ice pack on my cheek, or head), “I’m so tired of falling and staggering around! What I wouldn’t give for just one day of no vertigo!

It must suck, honey!” is the rehearsed response so that “Yeah, I’m getting tired of taking off work to take you to the E.R.” doesn’t slip out.

It can really hurt when someone who knows you better than others “opens their mouth and inserts foot”. I recommend that even support people practice and learn how to deliver sympathy and encouragement.

You Will Still Blow It

Even if you practice measured, helpful responses to personal questions, you are still going to blow it from time to time. A couple of Sundays ago I was ticked off at myself for not responding kindly to someone and was thinking, “Denise! You’ve had this diagnosis for 2 decades! Exactly WHEN is it gonna become HABIT?

I sit during the worship service. It isn’t because I cannot stand. Folks are surprised when they learn that at work, I stay standing for very long periods of time. I actually MOVE very easily and with very little wobble. It’s standing still that is the problem. My world turns… counter-clockwise when I’m standing still. I love my church. They are very supportive of people who are differently-abled. We have a loop system in the auditorium for people with hearing loss. We have fully accessible bathrooms and classrooms. We have an elevator and a lift for people with mobility issues. In spite of this, I’m forced to sit during the worship service. My church puts the words to the songs on the wall using a projector. We have a beautiful stage and lights as well. The song lyrics are in a multi-media slide show with patterns, colors, movement and lights. Everything is color-coordinated and changes song to song. The freaky OCD person in me is in awe every Sunday. It’s gorgeous! But… I can’t stand. If I do, I’m fighting consciousness. It isn’t a problem, for I don’t mind sitting. I’m comfortable and SAFE. I learned that not everyone understands why I’m sitting, however.

An elderly person came up to me at the beginning of the service and asked me how to access the hearing loop in the auditorium. I removed my cochlear implant and hearing aid and demonstrated how to switch to t-coil. I get this question about once a month and I’m always glad to educate. I love the hearing loop and it has dramatically transformed church for me. I love answering questions to help others access this wonderful technology. So wasn’t I surprised by the encounter, but totally floored by the follow-up question:

So why are you seated during the music? I’m way older than you and even I can stand!

I don’t know if it was the environment, the timing, or the unexpectedness of the question, but can I tell you … I really took it wrong? I could FEEL the tension creep up my spine and I was mentally counting to ten and trying to diffuse the explosion about to spew out of my mouth. THIS ONE I hadn’t practiced for. I hadn’t run any scenarios through my head and out through my heart filter to answer a question like this appropriately. So I didn’t.

Wow. That was really, really mean. We’re done,” I said. The person looked startled, then uncomfortable and walked away. I think the last action was because I’m certain my look was murderous. I mean… I was MAD. (I later apologized).

Folks are gonna take you by surprise once in awhile. You will hear an insensitive comment from someone you weren’t expecting it from and it will just shock you into silence (if you are lucky) or cause you to say something you regret. It is best to be prepared.


Maybe you are thinking that if people are going to be insensitive and inconsiderate, that “why should I temper what I say in response?

Since we are on the subject… here are some “canned responses”:

1. You don’t want to sink to their level.

2. You need to be the mature one.

3. Kill ’em with kindness.

4. In the end, you advocate for all of us.

5. Honey attracts more bees than vinegar.


I happen to love vinegar. I mean… don’t get me started on pickles. There are few things I love more. Let’s be honest though… from someone who is differently-abled to someone who may also live with acquired disability, chronic illness, or invisible issues, “WHY should we be careful in our response?


Because it’s the RIGHT thing to do. Sucks, don’t it? I can tell you from experience though that it is much better to answer correctly and watch someone else squirm, than to have to apologize for “going off” on someone. Go practice, my friends! You’ll be glad you did!

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal


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