More Vulnerable than I Thought – Stronger than I Imagined

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Earlier this summer my parents came to visit. For some reason, I always have a “project” for my Dad. For some reason, he never seems to mind. This time, he built and secured a lattice porch screen to give us some privacy between our deck and the neighbor’s house. We have a huge yard, but it is long and narrow–not very wide. One of the first things my Mom and I did was plant Morning Glories. This beautiful vine has done so well this summer. It’s a childhood “feel good” memory for me, so I love greeting the blooms each morning.

I think one of the things I love about Morning Glories, is that they are (ahem) … GLORIOUS in the morning.

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I love coming out in the morning, in the quiet and cool AM environment, and having these cheerful flowers greet me.

VULNERABLE

I think one of the most difficult things about chronic illness and being differently-abled, is a sometimes, overwhelming feeling of vulnerability. I don’t know about YOU, but I hate feeling vulnerable. I’m not talking about the healthy kind of vulnerability where one learns to open one’s heart to another. I’m not talking about learning to be transparent and (at times) brutally honest (or, receptive of someone being brutally honest to YOU). I’m talking about the kind of vulnerability where you know you are at risk – in trouble – and floundering.

I am feeling pretty vulnerable. I hate having an illness that is progressive. Even though I work my butt off trying to be independent and capable, each year it seems to be more difficult to “get my glory on“. I love mornings. I’m a (disgustingly) cheerful early-bird person; perhaps, part of the reason I have been able to greet the Morning Glories with a smile on my face. While standing and watching the dogs race around the yard and work on waking themselves up, I often find myself reflecting, even praying at times. Lately, I think I’m perpetuating my feelings of vulnerability. During my AM REFLECTIONS, I have been thinking about where I was physically a decade ago, five years ago… and even last year. Ten years ago, when I was only 40-years-old, did I know that I would navigate with a service dog and cane? Did I understand that I would only be able to hear when I had my cochlear implant connected? Did I know that I would have a pronounced limp from numerous twisted ankles as the result of falls? Did I know that on the evening of August 23rd, 2016, I would have numerous bouts of vertigo, nystagmus, and several panic attacks between bedtime and when my alarm clock kissed me awake? (The benefit of having a service dog and retired hearing dog as your alarm clock). Nope. I didn’t know this would be my life. It makes me feel vulnerable (and depressed).

STRENGTH

I am my own cheerleader.

Don’t get me wrong. When I need encouragement, I know how to reach out and ask for help. This practice being, a different and healthy kind of vulnerability. If you are a person with chronic illness, invisible or visible disabilities, and special challenges that make life rather difficult at times, you may have no problem telling someone “I’m done“. I do have problems with that. I find it easier to say, “I’m struggling“, and less easy to admit “I’m done“.

I think part of it is because I don’t want to disappoint anyone. Even at Hearing Elmo, I try to keep things positive and encouraging. As a co-advisor of a student group for people who are differently-abled, I want to model confidence and a “can do” attitude. But honestly? Sometimes, I’m just done. This morning (after the night I had), I could not “get my glory on” in spite of my special flowers greeting me the same as usual in a beautiful late summer, sun-rise welcome. I found myself struggling. I found myself feeling vulnerable, depressed, and on the verge of giving up.

When I cheerlead for myself, I tend to default to a number of cheers:

  1. There are other people worse off than I am. Yet, they are productive individuals who find purpose in life.
  2. I have support from people who care about me, who encourage me to utilize everything I can to be independent.
  3. I am making a difference. It doesn’t matter if my niche in this big world is a tiny pocket of influence. If I can help make a difference in one, it is still making a difference. 
  4. All the things I enjoy, and people I love, are opportunities and relationships I would not have if I didn’t have the challenges I have.
  5. I know, without a doubt, that I am a better, stronger woman because I have Meniere’s disease and am late-deafened. Calhoun and Tedeschi (2014) explain it best: “The encounter with a major life challenge can also include an increased sense that one has been tested, weighed in the balance, and found to be a person who has survived the worst, suggesting that one is indeed quite strong” (p. 5). 
  6. Life can be difficult. It’s a good thing I’m STRONG.

Ultimately, the way I “keep on – keeping on” is recognizing that this is hard, but I CAN do this. I’m going to have bad days. I’m going to need help. I’m going to fail, mess up, SCREW up, and want to GIVE UP. When I am weak and vulnerable, I am also strong.

I’m also learning that it is ok to say, “I’m done“. (Ouch. That hurts to even type it!) However, I recognize that this admission… this vulnerability, also means I’m strong. Stronger than I ever imagined.

Denise Portis

©2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Calhoun, L. G. & Tedeschi, R. G. (2014). Handbook of posttraumatic growth: Research and practice. New York: Psychology Press.

When Rules Don’t Apply to YOU

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*tongue in cheek*  It ROCKS when a guest writer chooses to post here at Hearing Elmo. I welcome guest writers and if you ever feel the “itch” to write, email me at denise.portis@gmail.com  Today’s post comes from Milo-bear, my second service dog.  Let’s welcome newbie writer, Milo, to the blogosphere and trust that what he has to say can be echoed by many service dog teams.

I have working clothes. Don’t laugh… you have them too. I pretty much have a great time side-by-side with my human partner 24/7. However, when my working clothes go on — my vest — I am having fun WORKING. Oh… I also happen to be GQ handsome.

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Denise has had a lot of people come up to me that she does not know asking to pet me. When we know the person already, Denise actually likes for us all to say hello because I can be kinda aloof and she doesn’t really want that being a teacher and all. She draws the line at sniffing butts though so I have learned to lean, wag, and keep my nose to myself.

Sometimes though, a total stranger comes up and starts talking to me. One day last week at the craft store, someone came up and leaned down to talk to me totally ignoring Denise. If they had been paying attention, they would have seen Denise desperately gripping the shelves and trying to keep from wobbling as this person invaded our space. The stranger said, “Oh I just love working dogs. I have always wanted to see if that was something I could do… train working dogs. Oh my, you have a very cool vest pretty boy. Don’t you look handsome!?” Now – mind you – I couldn’t argue with the handsome part, but this gal was missing two important clues:

  1. My vest says “Do not Pet” and “Do Not Distract
  2. I neither speak NOR interact with strangers. They are STRANGE.

I was so proud of Denise! She hates to make people feel badly, and at times she puts herself at risk by not standing up for herself. Perhaps it was because she was wobbling SO MUCH, that she immediately chimed in on the tail end of this stranger’s gushing intrusion to say, “Yes, isn’t it a nice vest? Complete with patches asking you not to pet or distract him”. 

I would have high5-paw’d Denise, but hey… she was wobbling enough and I didn’t want her to do a face plant. The stranger kind of sputtered and backed away. Then with a huff, she turned on her heel and walked away. I yawned really big trying to relax and Denise scratched me behind the ears and talked quietly to me. I didn’t understand everything she said, but it was something along the lines of just wanting to shop without the drama.

Denise doesn’t partner with me to create drama. I’m her helper to reduce the drama. She wobbles less when I’m by her side. If she drops something I get it for her. And ya know something? My gal pal drops things A LOT. I’m ok with that because – heck. I get paid to just pick it up and give it back to her. I have the world’s best job. I do things that are super easy for me and get treats and affection for my efforts! If Denise  reaches for dropped items, she tends to end up on her butt – which I have to tell you is OK with me too because I can easily kiss her whole face when she is eye-level.

When I know someone, the whole scenario is different. For one thing, I don’t stiffen up. I usually start to wag like crazy. I just can’t help it. When I see a friend my tail just wags and wags. Denise releases the tension some on my leash and I can say a quick hello. When it is a stranger though, I’m nervous and she is nervous. I’m thinking, “WHY are they talking to me? Who IS this strange person staring at me and in my space?”

A couple of weeks ago, Denise and I had a break after a class. This was before the pant-’til-you-drop heat hit our area. We were sitting outside on a bench enjoying the sunshine. I was double-daring a butterfly to come a little closer, and Denise was checking her email on her phone. Some students came pushing and shoving their way around the corner and then stood right in front of us. Denise was a little startled, but continued to sit and check her email. I was SERIOUSLY uptight. I mean… they chased off my butterfly! Boy was I peeved. And then you know what they did? They all had their phones out and were jostling each other and pointing their phones at us. Here I was surrounding by all these noisy and rowdy strangers, and all of them were pointing their phones at us. My hair stood up and I made sure Denise could feel my tension all the way up through the leash. She looked down at me, looked up at the students and said, “Ummm. Let me guess. Pokemon GO?” They completely ignored her. Thank goodness they didn’t hang around long. I was starting to get really antsy. After they left Denise reached down to scratch my ears again.

“People can be clueless sometimes, Milo. Don’t let them bother you. I would have moved but DARN IT. We were here FIRST”. 

I sighed really loud and pouted about not getting that butterfly. I tell ya what, I just don’t get people sometimes. I worked my butt off all morning, showing Denise where sounds were coming from, picking up things she dropped, and standing behind her while she wobbled at the board. She calls this command “WRAP”. I just call it smart, because it only takes my touching her on the back of the legs to keep her from wobbling so much. Anyway, I worked my tail off this particular morning. Well ahem, not literally of course. I just wanted to rest a bit – and yeah ok. I wanted to eat that butterfly, too. Instead, rude strangers caused me to get my hackles up. SMH.

Some people don’t think the rules apply to them. It’s just common decency to not invade someone’s space, make a lot of noise, and point your phone at them. That’s a rule even dogs understand. When my pack mates put their butt in the air and wag their tails at me, I will come over and say hello. If they are laying still and have their face pointed away from me though, I figure they are staring down a butterfly. This body language and lack of eye contact means that I know to stay clear. Especially my older sister, Chloe. That girl can be Grrr-ummmm-py! She still does the kitchen timer alert for Denise, and let me tell ya… you better get out of that girl’s way when the kitchen timer goes off. I watch her body language. I know when Tyco wants to play and I also know when his legs hurt and he wants me to leave him alone. People need to just pay attention to my body language when I’m trying to help Denise. Better yet, they need to know the patches on my vest are rules to be followed. Not because I’m snooty. I have a job to do and can’t do it if you come into my space and act like we are best buds.

I know what strangers are. When Denise’s classes start, everyone is a stranger. However, the students that sit in the front are students I start to recognize. After a few weeks of class, sometimes when Denise is talking I will lean over and put my head on a student’s desk and make goo-goo eyes at them. They aren’t a stranger anymore. At this point though, WE KNOW EACH OTHER. They may laugh and tell me I’m a silly boy, but it doesn’t distract me because I know them. Even knowing me they don’t take advantage. They know the rules. Towards the end of the semester, Denise will take off my vest right after class. OH BOY! I get to say hello to all the front-row students. Naked=Right to Visit. I take advantage of any naked time I can get.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that I know seeing me where you shop, eat, or work grabs your attention. I thought I gathered folk’s attention because I am so incredibly handsome. I’m sure that’s part of it, but it is also because some people just love dogs. Let me tell you a secret though. One of the things I’m most proud of is that Denise shops, eats out, and works because I make that possible. She told me that before Chloe she was almost house-bound. She was scared to do anything because people would jostle her when she didn’t hear them and knock her down. After Fidos For Freedom, Inc., came into her life — first with Chloe and now with me — she went back to school, went back to work, and shops alone. Listen up though… if you are a stranger and invade our space and make a grab for me? Well Denise goes back to being in danger of falling really fast. That makes her nervous again. If we know you, it’s different. Think about it this way: Would you go up to a stranger and only talk to their kiddo, and reach out to touch them without asking? Sometimes I sigh and wish I could say, “AHEM. The eyes that matter are up HERE“, and swing to point at Denise’s face. Denise said, “eyes up here” is kind of kinky and doesn’t mean what I think it means. So I haven’t tried to correct anyone with that yet.

Rules are rules. If you see a service dog with a partner in public, it may be obvious at first glance why that dog is with that person. A lot of times, though, it may not be obvious at all. Just trust that a working dog is WORKING. If you do not know them, let them shop. If you do not know them, let them eat in peace. If you do not know them, let them work and do their job. Service dogs are like a piece of adaptive equipment. You wouldn’t pet Denise’s cane would you?

A specific exception for just Denise, is that if we know you it’s great to say hello to me and scratch my ears for a minute. Denise wants me to know that there are friends in the world and to recognize them. If I don’t know you though, how about you just let me do my job? That way Denise is safe and I can focus on why I am with her. If you have to take a picture of me, cuz seriously I’m drool-worthy, just be sly about it and don’t make a scene.

Milo-bear Portis

Successor dog extraordinaire

 

 

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

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My sweet Sheprador

My sweet Sheprador

In my opinion, one of the more frustrating truths about positive advocacy is the need for repetition. I understand that because my challenges and disabilities are a part of my life, adapting, coping, and sometimes “making do” are a natural part of each and every day. I also understand that because many people with whom I interact do NOT live with hearing loss and balance issues, what is second nature for ME never crosses their minds. The trick… and something I have been struggling with, is how often do I have to ask for accommodations? How often do I repeat the same ol’ request so that I can simply interact with others equally?

The above photo is of my current service dog, Milo, from Fidos For Freedom, Inc. Milo is a young Sheprador (German Shepherd/Laborador Retriever mix) who rarely sleeps. When he does, he sure is cute. ‘Course I’m a tad bit prejudiced being Milo’s partner. The phrase, however, “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie” originates from a proverb that means to leave something alone if it is going to cause trouble, or dredge up old arguments.

However, when we strive to promote positive advocacy and request accommodations (that were asked for before and are still not a habit for those providing the service, workshop, or seminar), when do we just “leave it alone”? One of my longtime requests is that speakers use the microphone, and repeat questions asked from the audience INTO THE MICROPHONE. Yet, time after time speakers say, “Oh I don’t think I am going to use the mic. My voice carries…” or, “I’m just going to put the microphone over here… you can all hear me, correct?” I’ve even had speakers have everyone in the audience introduce themselves and give some information about their background WITHOUT A MICROPHONE in sight!

I wave like a crazy person and “shake my head no” when speakers say this, and yet time after time I sit in meetings like this with no one using the microphone. At the end of conferences I fill out surveys about my conference experience and have tried to relay how important the microphone is to me. I’m to the point that I may stand up and create a mini-scene, asking them to use the microphone. As a person with hearing loss, in a large, cavernous room, I go from hearing 95% with microphone in use, to about 20% when it is not. Any idea how hard it is to get anything out of a meeting if you are only getting 20%?

I don’t even go the extra mile and request CART. It’s expensive. In spite of people with normal hearing asking for a copy of the transcript as well and my knowing it helps more than just ME, I don’t make formal requests for CART as a simpler solution WILL actually meet my needs. Entering a new school year with loads of meetings on my calendar already, I am to the point of “letting sleeping dogs lie”.

The only problem is, it isn’t in my nature to roll over and give up. So wake up, DOG.

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

 

Feeling Like a Weirdo

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Always thrilled to have a guest writer here at Hearing Elmo. If you live with chronic illness or a visible/invisible disability and love to write, I invite you to post in this venue to share your story.

I don’t remember when Deb and I first met. I feel like I’ve known her “forever”.  We just “clicked” early on and she is now one of my dearest friends. Deb has taught me so much just by example. We have a lot in common, but are also different in many fun ways. C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!” I’m thrilled to share a post from her and hope you will check out her photography site as well. Visions of Song

apropos of nothing

I was a little bit grumpy when I went into work this morning. Just your ordinary kind of grumpy, at least I think that’s what it was at the time. We had a staff meeting scheduled for 9:30. I was walking down a hall at 9, about to get some water from the kitchen, when I saw a teammate who said “we’re meeting in the first floor conference room”. Thinking I’d lost track of time, I said, doesn’t it start at 9:30? He shrugged and said “sometimes it’s different”. Later, I found out what he meant, but at that moment I was walking in the wrong direction, sans water, notepad, calendar, and orientation. I rushed to grab my things and when I walked in, everyone was seated. Now, let me mention that I am relatively new on this job, and the folks are really nice and teach me a lot about what goes on there. Today, though, I was already grumpy, and now I was LATE (and still didn’t have anything to drink because I’d forgotten to fill up in my haste). I sat at a place around the large, squared set up of tables, strategic for what I knew would be best for me, able to see the faces of everyone should I have trouble hearing anyone. My supervisor said “sit where there are papers” meaning the agenda and other materials. Well, the seats available were not strategic for me, and I was already feeling grumpy and it was obvious that I was late and slightly holding things up. I said “everyone forgets that I am hard of hearing and need to sit where I can best follow what’s going on. So, if it’s alright by you, I’m just going to get these papers and sit over here”, walking to where I intended to sit and feeling quite determined about that fact. Meanwhile, supervisor gestured as if to say “come sit by me”. I did not want to explain why that would not be ideal, and she was trying to be helpful, but it wasn’t helpful, and by the way I was feeling more and more like a grump at this point. Further, I was feeling like a weirdo. An oddball. Someone who needs something special. I deeply dislike standing out, or seeming like I need something unusual. Everyone else was sitting wherever they wanted to, and I had to have this mini-scene because, as I stated rather unprofessionally, no one seems to remember that I’m deaf and use cochlear implants to hear. At the risk of sounding like I’m bragging, among cochlear implant users, I am a super high performer. I am pleased and even thrilled by what I am able to do hearing-wise. Then I get in a typical work situation, and suddenly: I’m a weirdo. It does not help that I am also something of an introvert, friendly, social, smart, funny, but I need tons of time to process and recharge. I really don’t think it has much to do with my hearing, either, as I had relatively normal hearing for the first 10, 12 years of life but was always this way. So I seem a little odd compared to the norm in terms of social interaction to begin with, and then there’s the hearing loss and the special needs.

Grumble.

You know? Most of the time, really and truly most of the time, I am OK with being deaf and hearing again with cochlear implants. I am glad to educate and inform and certainly to advocate for myself (although I have work to do in this regard, and tend to be much better at advocating for others). Today, I wasn’t in the mood. I finally got something to drink, and good thing, because I ended up sitting through three meetings before the day was done.

beverage at Davids Diner

It did give me time to forgive myself, for feeling badly, for not feeling comfortable about asking for what I needed. I was also glad that I have become that person who knows what she needs and while the sending of the message might be a challenge at times, I can say no, I don’t need that, I need another thing, and know how to pursue what enables me to perform and participate at work. I walked through my apartment door at the end of the day thinking I either needed a drink (the after-five kind), or a good cry. I remembered I had some delicious food to make for supper, and having eaten and cleaned up, I sat and wrote this down. I don’t feel so grumpy anymore.

Deborah is a bilateral cochlear implant recipient. She experienced familial progressive hearing loss, which presented at age 10. Her first ear was implanted in 2005, the second ear in 2008. A native New Yorker, she presently resides in the central Piedmont of North Carolina. She is involved with HLA-NC, and is passionate about issues related to substance abuse, addiction, and mental health, serving as coalition coordinator for Project Lazarus of Randolph. In her spare time she enjoys traveling as much as possible, and can frequently be found wandering the backroads and practicing nature photography in the nearby Uwharrie National Forest.

My iPhone Lasts Longer Than I do

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The other day my iPhone died before I was getting ready for bed. I was a little shocked, because I rarely have it just “die” on me. The new ones have batteries that last much longer – even if you are a frequent user of the device like I am. I stood there with dead phone in hand trying to figure out if I had charged it overnight — the night BEFORE — like I usually do. After hitting <rewind> in my head and backtracking over how my day BEGAN, I realized that I fished my smartphone out of my pocketbook before heading out the door this morning. That means I did not charge it last night. That means my iPhone lasted over 36 FREAKING HOURS! I was impressed. As impressed as I was, I STILL went and hooked it up to the charger. It was dead. It had to be charged.

As I fiddled around with the (stoopid) cord, (made difficult when you lack any kind of pincer grasp in your fingers), I thought, “Wow. My iPhone lasts longer than I do! I could never go 36 hours without being recharged!” And ya know? That made me a little sad.

My next thought was, however, “NOW WHY DOES THAT MAKE ME SAD?

STOP Apologizing

I hate that my default to what is normal for ME, is to feel sad about it or to apologize to myself and others. Why do we do this?

Well according to Wright (1983) and Nosek et al., (2003), people who are differently-abled and chronically ill, default to apologizing and providing unnecessary explanations and dialogue about their condition to smooth the way of acceptance. These same authors point out that this often backfires. We instead bring attention to something others may not even notice. Apologies convey regret over intentional or unintentional offenses or failures. Apologizing for needing a nap, needing to relocate to a quieter room, asking someone for a repeat, or request to stand closer to a wall to keep from toppling, is not something we should REGRET. It is not a failure. It is what it is.

I would argue that falling into the habit of apologizing for our “normal” creates a dangerous pitfall and trap that our disabilities or chronic illness are an undue burden on others. This could lead to becoming preoccupied with how hard you are making life for others. Russell, Turner, and Joiner (2009) found that individuals with disability or chronic illness already have a higher tendency towards suicidal ideation. Apologizing for something we are not responsible for only creates a perfect and toxic breeding ground for suicidal thoughts.

Putnam et al., (2003) explain that true independence and self-determination falls closely on the heels of acceptance… that can only take place when we stop apologizing for our “normal“. I use to apologize a great deal. In spite of using every piece of adaptive equipment I could find and afford, in spite of partnering up with a service dog, and in spite of reading everything I could get my hands on about positive advocacy and independence, I would still apologize for putting someone else out for helping me cope with a situation. I’m trying to do better. For example:

Instead of “I’m sorry. Could I get you to move over to that wall over there so that I may lean against it and have Milo (my service dog) on the left while we speak? I hate to ask you to move, but…

… at which point they would say, “Oh, it’s no problem. Let’s move…” However, my apologizing for having to move infers that I had a choice. Apologizing makes it seem that I regret I am who I am.

I’m trying to learn to say, “I need to move to that wall over there for balance reasons. Let’s move over there and continue our conversation?

… and their response would be, “Sure!

I was in a super crowded common area once in which a colleague was trying to talk to me about something important. Not only could I not hear her, my balance was REALLY off and I stood there wobbling like a buoy. There were no walls available, and I was really starting to feel ill. I said, “I am having difficulty in this listening environment. Let me follow up with an email because what you are saying is really important to me“. They were pleased to do so and I think grateful enough that I cared to communicate WELL with them. I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “I’m really sorry about this…” I had nothing to feel sorry about so an apology would only have infused my confidence with negativity.

Yes, But FATIGUE is just EMBARRASSING

What if your (seemingly) undue burden on others is simply that you cannot keep up? Perhaps you need a mid-day nap to finish the day strong. Yorkston et al., (2010) found that differently-abled individuals USUALLY have accompanying pain, fatigue, or BOTH. We tend to want to apologize for this. We shouldn’t.

I have a friend with chronic (and sometimes debilitating) ankle pain. Mid-day she goes to her office and puts her feet up. If she has to go to a meeting, she unapologetically claims an additional chair so that she can rest her feet. I walked into a meeting once and saw she had her feet up on an adjacent chair. Someone walked by and said, “Are you saving that for someone?” She smiled, pointed to her feet, and said, “No. Bad ankles!” The person didn’t question her. They didn’t shoot her a pitying look. They also didn’t steal her footrest. It was a smooth and succinct explanation for her claiming an additional chair.

Several weeks later I ran into her and talked to her about what I observed. She said, “I use to apologize for having to put my feet up. But then I thought, ‘WHY am I APOLOGIZING?’ I knew that only made ME feel badly. I decided then and there to stop being sorry for having tired feet“.

If I’m at work during a meal time and the weather is nice, I often go out to my car. I load my dog up, crank the air or heat (depending on the season), turn my cochlear implant and hearing aid off, and eat my meal in the quiet. Understanding my propensity for hearing fatigue, means I take time to unplug when needed. I need to recharge. I’m not anti-social (ok… well, not VERY) and I’m perfectly capable of going to the staff lounge or faculty dining room if I want to do so. Taking a mid-day recharge in the quiet enables me to complete my day STRONG… and unapologetic. Isn’t that what independence is about?

My iPhone may hold a charge longer than I do, but I take responsibility for recharging my own battery. Do what you need to do to recharge.

Need a nap? Take one.

Need some tylenol and a twenty minute break? Take them.

Need a “mental health day”? Take it.

Need a vacation? Take one.

Need a coffee break? Take it.

… and don’t apologize.

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Nosek, M. A., Hughes, R. B., Swedlund, N., Taylor, H. B., & Swank, B. (2003). Self-esttem and women with disabilities. Social Science and Medicine, 56(8), 1737-1747.

Putnam, M., Geenen, S., Powers, L., Saxton, M., Finney, S., & Dautel, P. (2003). Health and Wellness: People with Disabilities Discuss Barriers and Facilitators to Well Being. Journal Of Rehabilitation69(1), 37.

Russell, D., Turner, R. J., & Joiner, T. E. (2009). Physical disability and suicidal ideation: a community-based study of risk/protective factors for suicidal thoughts. Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior39(4), 440-451. doi:10.1521/suli.2009.39.4.440

Wright, Beatrice A. , (1983). Physical disability – a psychosocial approach (2nd ed.). , (pp. 116-156). New York, NY, US: HarperCollins Publishers

 

Yorkston, K. M., Johnson, K., Boesflug, E., Skala, J., & Amtmann, D. (2010). Communicating about the experience of pain and fatigue in disability. Quality Of Life Research: An International Journal Of Quality Of Life Aspects Of Treatment, Care And Rehabilitation19(2), 243-251. doi:10.1007/s11136-009-9572-1

 

 

Have you tried? Do You Think _______ Caused It?

Picnic with Ants

I don’t often cross-post, but when I do I hope you know that IMO, it is a post everyone should read. This is one of those posts. Wendy (friend and fellow blogger at Picnic with Ants) writes about a topic all people with chronic illness and/or disability deal with and have to learn to respond to when it happens.

Because it will. One of the best written posts around about this topic:


Hello.  My name is Wendy.  I just turned 53 years old and I have chronic illnesses, including Meniere’s Disease.  Unless something amazing happens, they are not going to go away.  Sometimes I feel I need to make this statement before anyone speaks to me.

Recently I was asked a few things about my health.  This was not by people who see me often, or have much knowledge about my illnesses.  This is how I handled a few of the questions, some of it was good, some not so good.

Have you tried yoga?  It can really help your balance.  I used to do yoga regularly…

Read more: Click here

Denise Portis

 

#TheCheeseStandsAlone

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I have always spent WAY too much time on things I do not understand. I remember as a kid having a great deal of trouble with the nursery rhyme, “The Farmer in the Dell”. Why did everyone — have SOMEONE, except for the cheese? Why did the cheese have to stand alone? This bothered me at 6-years-old. I didn’t have “Google” or other search engines to discover the “why”. Siri wasn’t there to tell me (though she is precious little help in my humble opinion). I remember asking my parents (who didn’t know), my grandmother (who explained the cheese wasn’t “living”) and my brother (who smacked me good for such an inane question).

Now if I don’t know something and spend WAY too much time pondering something, I can easily look it up. Take hashtags, for example. I was using hashtags before I knew what hashtags were. I was being ridiculous. (Surprise anyone?) I used them for anything and everything, not fully understanding what they were for. I still use them to be silly sometimes, but there really is a reason to use them. Hashtags make social media (Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, and much more) posts “searchable”. A high school friend of mine, Janet, is currently using one: #wheredoyousummer. Janet knows how to use hashtags correctly. People all over the world can pick up and use the same hashtag, making it possible to search what others are posting about the same topic; that is, where and what you do for summer fun. Here is a great article about hashtags in case you are still in the dark: 10 Reasons Why You Should Use Hashtags and Where

Sometimes I’m Left Pondering

You cannot always look up what you don’t know. This is especially true when one considers the human psyche and the reason some people do what they do. You can google, “Why does my husband leave dirty clothes on the floor?” and you won’t get very far. (Actually, if you Google that, you will find some information which just floors me!). You cannot search why some people respond negatively to you in regards to your disability. “Why is my co-worker a butthead when I explain I cannot hear her over her desk radio, chewing gum like a cow, and tapping foot?

Friends? You just aren’t going to find the answer to all questions that plague you! Sometimes there are no answers. I’m frequently left wondering why something is the way it is, or why someone behaves as they do. There are no easy answers.

I like to think if I had not developed Meniere’s disease and become “the bionic woman” with my hearing, I would still have patience and understanding for differently-abled people. I like to think my heart was “right” before ever acquiring challenges myself. But… I can’t know that for sure.

I’m sure it is not always easy to be around someone whose favorite response is “huh?” First day of class today for a summer session of Introduction to Psychology, and a Latino student came up and whispered something to me with a slight accent. I took a step closer and asked him to speak up so that I could hear him. I turned my cochlear implant ear towards him. He stepped back, his eyes got big since I encroached on his personal space, and he had trouble talking to me in a louder voice (he is likely soft-spoken to begin with). I understand reactions like this. They do not bother me anymore. Eventually I understood what he was asking, and we got it all “sorted”.

What is tiresome is when you ask someone to repeat themselves, and they do — exactly like they did the first time. (Quietly, mumbling, chewing gum or inhaling a Subway sandwich, etc). By the time I’ve asked for a repeat a second time, often repeating at least what I DID HEAR that go ’round, I have received some cantankerous retorts. I often have to take a deep breath and put my cane down so that I don’t bean someone. It’s frustrating! You are not always going to know why someone reacts the way that they do.

Boundaries

I have readers at Hearing Elmo who often ask me tough questions about the behavior of other people. Why do their loved ones seem so disrespectful at times? Why do people you count on let you down over and over? Why do people in our support system act as if this is all harder on them than it is on you–the person with the acquired disability or chronic illness?

There just aren’t any easy answers. Communication is important, but communication breaks down in the BEST of times. When trying to learn to cope and adjust to an acquired disability or chronic illness, communication is tough. Sometimes, you can write someone off after giving them numerous chances to accept you as you are. You can throw up your hands and #BootToCurb.

More often than not, we have to swallow our frustration and WORK at it. You may need a counselor or mediator even. I know my own acquired disabilities had an effect on much more than me. There was adjustment for both my husband and my children. It is important to remember that when you LOVE someone, what negatively affects them often has an affect on you as well.

Other times, we can distance ourselves from toxic people. Sometimes these may just be “former friends”, but sometimes they can be family. This is especially difficult. Boundaries are important. I have some folks in my life who are unreasonable in their expectations, hateful, and often bring me down (way down). I may not be able to cut them out of my life because we are related, but I can set up boundaries. Cloud and Townsend wrote: “Boundaries: When to say Yes, When to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life”. I highly recommend it. When negative people cross invisible boundaries I have set up for proper and normal human behavior, I can distance myself with a clear conscious if they choose to continue harming me.

If you lay down the ground rules of respectful HUMAN behavior and someone does not hold up their end? Distance yourself. Walk away.

“But I work with this idiot” (#TriesHardToRefrainFromBadWords).

That doesn’t mean you have to share your life with them. Do your job as it requires interacting with them, but don’t feel like you have to invite them to a party, become FaceBook friends with them, or include them in more intimate details of your life. Frankly, these folks are likely horrible to anyone different than they are. Your disabilities or chronic illness aren’t what set them against you. Their own issues have them responding negatively to anyone “different”.

Blog. Just do It

In closing, I wish I could explain to you how therapeutic blogging is. Even if you do not want to start your own blog–many health and advocacy bloggers (like Hearing Elmo) welcome guest writers. It is SO helpful to me to be able to write about what works, what doesn’t, what I’ve learned, and what I’ve forgotten. #LoveToBlog

I think we need an outlet. When burdened with an acquired disability, chronic illness, or special health/mental health challenge, we need an avenue to vent. Writing can help with that. I (as always) welcome guest writers.

Want to start your own blog? Here is a great place to start: Blogging Basics

Have a great week!

Denise Portis

© Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Pretzels Baby…

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Snyder's of Hanover Pretzels commercial 2016

Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzels commercial 2016

We do not have the opportunity to watch much live television in my house. My husband and I tape our favorite shows and then watch them together the couple of nights a week we are both home in the evenings. It worked out this summer, that I did not have a class to teach during the first session of the summer semester. The timing is terrific since I completed my doctoral coursework, and have now started the dissertation. There is a great deal of reading and writing involved at the beginning, so not having a class to teach until 7/1 is a “plus”.

In spite of all the groundwork needed to start the dissertation right, I have had some down time as well. Trying to catch up on my HGTV favorites before I’m back to teaching, I have been surprised by new commercials as Terry nor I watch commercials. The new Synder’s of Hanover pretzel commercial is unique. Well… it’s kind of scary too, but I’ll get to that.

Laura Wernette is the new “smoky-voiced pitchwoman”. I think she’s just scary. She has this intense, no-nonsense stare that reminds me of a grown-up Wednesday Addams.

Christina Ricci in Addams Family Values

I think what bothers me about the commercial (besides the fact they are not captioned – ahem) is that the woman in the advertisement has a facial expression that says one thing (I want to kill and maim you) while her voice is saying another (Synder’s pretzels are the best). From things I have read, the advertisement is popular and folks think the pretzel woman is pretty funny. I cannot justify what I see in her face to what I hear coming out of her mouth. I spend far too long thinking about it, believe me! It made me think about all the times I misunderstand someone’s mood when I choose to only look at their face.

My poor husband has a perpetual eyebrow grimace.

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Even when he is smiling and relaxed, his eyes seem almost angry-looking if one didn’t know him better. When he speaks, he has this laid-back, southern charm and friendliness that (in my opinion) doesn’t “jive” with his facial expression. I tease him about it all the time. (Aren’t I sweet?)

I think one of the things that is most difficult for someone new to hearing loss, is learning to look at the whole picture before jumping to conclusions. It can be hard to try to make sense of what you can actually hear, and match it up with what you think you are seeing on a person’s face or in their body language. (It’s impossible to do when you know and love someone who is fluent is the language of SARCASM, and the voice and pitch deliberately DO NOT match what is on the person’s face).

My best practice is to simply to ask for clarification when needed. If someone’s voice (as heard with my bionic ear, with some limitations on inflection, pitch, and tone) does not match up with what I see on the person’s face, I just ASK.

“Could you clarify for me what you are trying to say? You seem upset, but I don’t want to jump to conclusions”

“You seem really calm, but you practically growled that out to me. Is everything OK?”

I was at a residency this past March and the weather was beautiful. I spent every spare moment outside walking Milo (along with everyone else on break in between workshops). One afternoon, I stopped to answer some questions about Milo to a group of ladies I had been with in several workshops. I noticed the three women all scowling. I tried to pay attention to what they were saying, and occasionally they laughed as well. I had trouble concentrating on their WORDS because their faces were scowling – and looked angry. After a few minutes trying to figure out why their facial expressions were not matching what I was hearing, I realized the sun was in their eyes! With that epiphany, I quickly changed my body position with the comment… “Here. Let me move so the sun isn’t in y’all’s eyes”.

I could have silently freaked out wondering what in the world their problem was. It took me a few minutes, but I finally realized why I was having trouble understanding their mood when their faces were all sun-squinty angry. Small wonder that hearing loss is considered a communication disorder! Especially if you have an acquired hearing loss, learning to communicate without one of the major cues (hearing), can be difficult.

My proximity to Johns Hopkins University Hospital, allows me to mentor folks who are seeking cochlear implantation to restore hearing. One of the questions I am always asked during these meetings is, “What has been the hardest thing for YOU about acquiring hearing loss later in life?” I’m guessing the frequency of the question points to the desire most people have to see similarities in their own struggles. When I explain that having to ask for clarification was a necessary, but difficult thing to learn to do, the people I am meeting with seem so relieved. Some even say, “Oh gosh, it is so good to hear someone else say that! Does it ever get easier?”

It does. That always seems to give them some hope as well.

You are still going to have frustrating moments of confusion. I am 11 years post-op and I believe “hear again” with some level of confidence. I still make mistakes. I may misinterpret tone and intentions, or I may not catch that there has been a complete subject change in the conversation (something I’m rather famous for, if I do say so myself!). As with any acquired disability or life change, in time and with lots of practice, YOU WILL ADAPT. Part of that adaptation will be in recognizing that at times you are going to blow it, but it does not de-rail all the progress you’ve made to date. We can be extremely hard on ourselves! Everyone makes mistakes – even people without acquired disability or challenges.

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

The Last Straw

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last straw

The Last Straw (that broke the camel’s back): The final, additional, small burden that makes the entirety of one’s difficulties unbearable.

Isn’t it interesting that there are so many idioms and colloquial expressions that mean “I’m done”?

The straw that broke the camel’s back (1816)

The last feather breaks the horses back (1829)

The final straw

Hitting a brick wall

Hanging up one’s gloves

The final stroke

I’m sure there are others. I’ve had a heck of a month. No worries – I actually thrive under (some) pressure. However, once in a while each one of us is simply not going to be able to take ONE MORE THING. That ONE MORE THING is often inconsequential and “small” in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps that is why we are so frustrated for breaking under what seems like a “small” thing.

This morning I was stepping off the porch when a “throw your head back to sneeze” came out of nowhere. Just. Like. That. I was horizontal with a teeny, tiny bit of remaining tunnel vision. My ears were roaring. I was nauseous. I had two very concerned service dogs in my face.

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Do you know I sat there and CRIED? I use to cry over everything. I mean, every, little thing! Happy, sad, angry, or confused, I’d unload some stress by crying my eyes out. These days I rarely cry. If I’m crying now, something is seriously wrong, or I have no reserves left and I’m “just done“.

It only lasted a minute or two. With retired neighbors on both sides of me, I can’t sit on the ground wailing very long before I garner some unwanted attention. I chanted to myself, “Suck it up, buttercup!” and struggled back to my feet. I’m sporting a few new bruises, and my pride? Well heck. My pride wasn’t hurt at ALL. When you have Meniere’s disease, pride isn’t crushed in falling, for one falls a lot. Pride is when you KEEP yourself from falling <big grin>

I felt so much better and finished watering the hanging baskets and flowers before making my way back inside. I likely over-analyze things too much. When psychology is your main squeeze, you tend to analyze everything. I took a few minutes to think about why falling on my face and experiencing a short bout of vertigo set me off. I determined it was “the last straw“. Have you ever felt that way when burdened with one more “little” thing?

It is very normal to have days like that. We all have stress. Stress can be good – and bad. Do not confuse stress with burnout. How do you know if you are becoming burnt out? According to the Help Guide organization (2016),

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

(para. 6).

I love this chart (for I am a “chart” kind of person). I think it does a terrific job explaining the difference between stress and burnout:

Stress vs. Burnout
Stress
Burnout
Characterized by overengagement Characterized by disengagement
Emotions are overreactive Emotions are blunted
Produces urgency and hyperactivity Produces helplessness and hopelessness
Loss of energy Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope
Leads to anxiety disorders Leads to detachment and depression
Primary damage is physical Primary damage is emotional
May kill you prematurely May make life seem not worth living
Source: Stress and Burnout in Ministry

As you can see, both stress and burnout can be dangerous. Short-term stress, and at times – chronic stress, are a normal part of life. The “last straw” can actually be a good thing if it means you do something to alleviate some stress.

I cried. I hugged my dogs. I over-analyzed to my heart’s content.

However, the “last straw” can also be a prerequisite to something far more dangerous.

So what do you do when you feel your knees buckle and your back breaking? Well the first step in successfully recovering from collapsed camel syndrome is recognition of the problem or problems. Take some time to evaluate where you are at in your life. Are you over-extended? If so, what can be cut out? Start working on de-stressing. What can you take off the back of your camel?

Are you getting enough rest and taking care of yourself by eating right, getting some fresh air and sunshine, and laughing out loud occasionally? If not, make it a priority to do those things. They can strengthen “your back“.

The Help Guide organization explains how we can unload some of the burden on our camel:

Burnout prevention tips

  • Start the day with a relaxing ritual. Rather than jumping out of bed as soon as you wake up, spend at least fifteen minutes meditating, writing in your journal, doing gentle stretches, or reading something that inspires you.
  • Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits. When you eat right, engage in regular physical activity, and get plenty of rest, you have the energy and resilience to deal with life’s hassles and demands.
  • Set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the things that you truly want to do.
  • Take a daily break from technology. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking email.
  • Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favorite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work.
  • Learn how to manage stress. When you’re on the road to burnout, you may feel helpless. But you have a lot more control over stress than you may think.

(Help Guide.Org, 2016, para. 23).

Finally, acknowledge how incredibly resilient camels are! In Arab cultures, the camel symbolizes patience, tolerance, and endurance. Yes, at times you will need to ask for (and hopefully receive) help. This is a terrific article on finding help: (Where to Begin: Finding Help During Chronic Illness).

camel2

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Help Guide.Org (2016). Preventing burnout: Signs, symptoms, causes, and coping strategies. Retrieved May 26, 2016, from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/preventing-burnout.htm

When “LIFE” Happens and Your Glass is Half-Full

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glass half full2

One frustration that I often hear from Hearing Elmo readers is that living with a disABILITY or chronic illness is “manageable” if only LIFE itself were a little easier. However, the old adage is true… “Life is hard“. It just is.

I take an unconventional interpretation of the “Glass Half Full” expression. I realize the original meaning is — Are you an optimist or a pessimist? I look at this analogy in a similar way that the “The Spoon Theory” describes energy levels, daily quotas of tasks, etc. For some of us, our glass is never completely full. I wake up first thing in the morning after a good night’s rest, and my glass is half full. Don’t get me wrong… I’m in a good mood. As a matter of fact, I’m one of those annoying “morning people“. I grin ear-to-ear, greet the dogs and take them out, fix my coffee, and eagerly open my calendar to see what the day holds.

Because I have had a hearing loss and Meniere’s disease for over 25 years now, I have learned to manage my time very carefully. I work hard to not “bite off more than I can chew“. The great thing about being an adjunct professor at a community college, I can stretch my 3-4 classes a semester out over the day and week so that I have “down time” for office hours or simply chill time in between classes. I am involved in a number of community service and social justice issues, but I work hard to make sure monthly meetings do not interfere with my “regular scheduled programming” (a.k.a. my LIFE).

Have you noticed, however, that just because you have a disABILITY or chronic illness, LIFE and its occasional sucker punches, still occur? We don’t get special treatment. Just because our glass starts out at the beginning of the day — HALF FULL — doesn’t mean that LIFE and the normal crap that happens within it, will not happen to us as well.

You are going to catch the flu.

You are going to have unexpected car expenses.

Someone is going to hurt your feelings.

You will be treated unfairly.

It is going to rain (and if you live where I do – it will rain a lot).

Your dog is going to be sneaky and eat grass and then surprise you with a present around 2 AM.

You may experience a divorce.

You may become estranged from an adult child or (once) close friend.

You will be accused of something you did not do.

You may be treated with disdain and anger as you navigate your “normal” in a world that does not view you as such.

A doctor is not going to listen to you.

A spouse or significant other is going to get frustrated with you – as if you can change your “normal”.

Your alarm is going to go off and you will want to hurl it through the window.

You will accidentally burn supper.

You are going to trip (and if you have Meniere’s – often!)

You will be misunderstood.

You will lose people you care about and will grieve.

Grief

Last week, my precious father-in-law passed away. My husband and children went to North Carolina and thankfully arrived before he was gone. I stayed home to take care of pets, cover classes for my husband, and “hold down the fort”. Can I just say I hate,  “holding down the fort”?

My family members are home now, and I am grateful I will have the opportunity to attend my father-in-law’s Celebration of Life later this summer.

I am running on EMPTY. This is final exam week and the extra stress that comes with grief and worry for my loved ones has taken a toll. You see… LIFE doesn’t pull any punches. Just because you have a disABILITY or chronic illness, you will still experience the normal things in LIFE that every person does. Losing people we care about is part of LIFE. It sucks. It hurts. It is hard. For those of us with a glass that starts “half full”, it may mean we need to take care to – TAKE CARE.

I normally go to bed between 9-10 PM. This past week I have made an effort to retire between 8-9 PM. We’ve had an excess of rainy weather which causes my balance to really be a trial for me. I am taking extra measures to make sure I change elevations carefully (stairs or bending) and am giving my service dog a serious work-out with various skilled tasks that I can do when my balance is not as wobbly. I’m trying to eat healthy, balanced meals.

Experiencing grief is a normal part of life. It cannot be avoided, and we cannot wish it away. If disABILITY or chronic illness is a new normal for you, I encourage you to prepare in advance for LIFE. We are not granted special privileges just because we have special challenges. So my advice is to do what you can to have a plan in place for when LIFE happens. The plan may include steps to take extra care of yourself. It may mean you make that phone call or send that email to someone you know you can dump on safely and wail or whine to your heart’s content. You may want to make an appointment with a counselor (so have one in advance on standby in the event you need an objective listening ear).

The Benefits

I learned something important over the last week. If I have prepared – as best I can – to absorb life’s normal sucker punches, and take steps to function in spite of a half-full glass, I can still BE THERE for those I care about.

I am not so energy-depleted that I fail to recognize the needs of others. I can support (as best I can) those who are grieving. Because I’m getting extra rest, I can think of small (seemingly) unimportant things that can make a difference in the life of my grieving husband. Like… making Cheeseburger Hamburger Helper for supper (something I cannot even eat but is his major comfort food). I can take on some extra chores around the house to give him the opportunity to have some extra time to grieve either openly or privately. I can be a listening ear (difficult but doable when you have a hearing loss). These simple things would be virtually impossible if I didn’t have a plan.

I am not so naive to believe that having a plan will mean you never have anything take you by surprise. LIFE is really good at surprises – some good and some bad. You cannot prepare and plan for every surprise. I hate to be a downer and fess up that at times I’m just DONE. For whatever reason, I allow hopelessness and despair to rule and reign in my heart and mind. For me, it helps to acknowledge that I’m at the end of myself and need help. It may mean seeking spiritual renewal. I may need to overhaul my schedule. I may need to just experience the YUCK. Sometimes all one can do is wade through and survive. The sun really DOES come out tomorrow. (… and thankfully? my weather forecast for tomorrow really does include SUN).

glass half full1

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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