Why I Love Winter – Restoration

 

Part Three of Four…

February starts this week. This winter has been a mild one in my neck of the woods. Very little snow and mild temperatures make many folks exclaiming “What a terrific winter we’re having!” I don’t begrudge the milder winters to those that enjoy them. I do love my snow though! When we have more than our share of winter weather, I’m happily out in it directly after a snowfall, shoveling and scraping and tossing the “white stuff” around!

Some of nature goes “dormant” during the winter while other types of plant life may just conduct photosynthesis at a reduced rate. Animals may hibernate, or only move about sparingly to limit calorie burning. Our winter has been so mild the squirrels have been scampering about much like they do in the autumn. I know for a fact the raccoons are out and about for we finally had to break down and purchase “raccoon proof” trashcans. I’ve seen deer near the creek below our home. So have the dogs:

Foxes stare at us from the bushes and shrubs at night when we take the dogs out for the last time. Animals are busy, busy. The trees and perennials are just – C o N f U s E d.

When I think of winter, however, I think about all the restoration that is taking place. Nature may not LOOK alive, but it is. Many types of life are resting, preparing to get very busy producing new growth or replenishing body fat. Growth spurts cannot happen without winter and the dormant phases many types of life experience. This period of restoration actually prepares and allows this growth.

An old, but favored song about the seasons says it much better than I am able to describe:

Every Season

Every evening sky, an invitation
To trace the patterned stars
And early in July, a celebration
For freedom that is ours
And I notice You
In children’s games
In those who watch them from the shade
Every drop of sun is full of fun and wonder
You are summer

And even when the trees have just surrendered
To the harvest time
Forfeiting their leaves in late September
And sending us inside
Still I notice You when change begins
And I am braced for colder winds
I will offer thanks for what has been and was to come
You are autumn

And everything in time and under heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
Shivers underneath
And still I notice you
When branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death, You open doors for life to enter
You are winter

And everything that’s new has bravely surfaced
Teaching us to breathe
What was frozen through is newly purposed
Turning all things green
So it is with You
And how You make me new
With every season’s change
And so it will be
As You are re-creating me
Summer, autumn, winter, spring!

Life Restored

In my own life I have periods of “winter”. Frankly and honestly? I have been more dead than alive during specific life seasons. I don’t know if I could even call it “dormant”, but I do know life continued for spring eventually DID come.

Experiencing deafness as an adult and acquiring a balance disorder is never a welcome addition to life. One doesn’t ASK for disability, chronic illness or invisible difficulties. Yet, some of us are asked to walk this road. I wish I could say that I have always accepted what has come with grace, humility, and courage. I cannot.

Depression is an ugly thing. It comes in many forms. Depression also spawns a number of different symptoms and feelings in individuals. For me, it meant I almost lost my life. There were some close calls. Even when I was able to get past the despair, there were days I simply felt numb – going through the motions of being a mother of preteens, working, and barely surviving. It wasn’t until the crisis had passed that I was even able to share with those closest to me what I had gone through and how close I really came to the “end”. Maybe that is why this blog is so important to me and why I open it up to authors of all kinds to tell their story. In 2002, I was reading a lot of things on the Internet. Some of it saved my life.

As I began to learn to cope with everything that was happening and learned to adjust to my worsening hearing and balance, I got a lot of rest. Not even necessarily the poor type of rest that comes with depression. I did begin to slowly heal from the inside out. No (grin). My ears didn’t heal. But I did gain momentum in learning more about HOW to cope with hearing loss and balance issues. I learned to ask questions. I learned what worked for me and what did not. I surrounded myself with people who were ahead of me in the process and along side of me in the journey. Eventually I discovered I could also reach out to those who were still coming to terms themselves with hearing loss. I felt restored.

I want to close this post out with the video (captioned in both English AND Spanish) of “Every Season”. I hope you find as much wisdom in the simple song as I have. If you are experiencing winter as the result of chronic or invisible disability and illness, please write me. I handle all correspondence through this blog confidentially unless you specifically ask me to post your response for some reason. (Please email me at denise.portis@gmail.com    instead of leaving a comment as these DO become public). Despite my hearing loss I am a good listener. (SMILE) I do not claim to have all the answers, but I have a story, too, and we may share many experiences, frustrations, and successes. I hope (and even pray) that your winter is a time of restoration.

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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Why I Love Winter: Expectation

(Part Two of Four)

I like having things to look forward to in the future. “Beats” dreadin’ it, right? It doesn’t even have to be something BIG. In fact, some of my favorite things – are “small” things. Is the song by Julie Andrews who plays, Maria, going through your head now?

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

One of the many reasons I love Winter is that I love the feeling of expectation… of anticipation. You see… I know in a couple of months, the earth will awake. I love seeing frosty, ice-crystal tree buds, bright green with new life and colors peek-a-boo’ing at me all around my neighborhood. Nature holds it’s breath all Winter. As the temperatures warm and sap begins flowing in the trees, as the frost dissipates from the thawing ground to allow the first flowers to push up through the warming earth… nature exhales.

Perhaps I have a good imagination. But one thing I love about Winter is that there is a feeling of expectation, renewal, and life that builds a yearning in my heart even while the icy-cold fog greets me every morning. I know change is coming.

 

In many ways, this mirrors how I am slowly adapting to life. Life can be hard. If you haven’t learned that yet, sit down and brace yourself. It’s coming. Difficult days and trying times are a part of life. I realize I’m talkin’ like I’m as old as the hills. But at 45-years-old, I have lived enough of life to know there are hard times and good times in life.

When I’m going through a particularly tough time, I remind myself that this time will pass. Better times are ahead and I only need to persevere. Yes, I realize that there are times in our lives where it seems like “when it rains it pours… and our umbrella is broke”! You may be experiencing that kind of time. I’ve experienced them myself. Do you know what I’ve learned?

When I am experiencing a short-term, tough time, I’m able to grin and bear it and push ahead with this thing called “life”. However, sometimes it seems nothing is going right. Medical problems, personal loss, destroyed relationships, financial strain, and new challenges do NOT give us a feeling of exhilaration – rather, one of defeat. “That’s it, God!” (waves a white flag) “I give up. I’m done. Hello? Yup it is me, here! Chucking it all in… finished, quitting, stoppin’ right now. Stop the train, I’m gettin’ OFF”.

That’s when we need someone else to remind us of the days ahead. Ask for help. If you notice another who is shell-shocked by current life crisis, be their “someone”. We need someone to gently jog our memory about the coming tomorrow and the new opportunities, a “new normal” physically, and that “joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5 “… weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning“). You see… this “Winter” in life is temporary. There’s an “exhale” coming!

Problems suck. We all want a problem-free life. I remind myself as I’m experiencing new (and sometimes, old) problems, that good can come from these tough times. I grow stronger, more resilient, and even more content. During this Winter there is a feeling of expectation. I can feel my very soul stir and my senses tingle as anticipation races through my veins! There is very little we are guaranteed. But friends? Spring is one them. Spring is coming!

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Why I Love Winter

The woods near our home without their usual foliage…

(PART ONE OF FOUR)

Chloe and I took a walk after lunch today. I had to smile as I saw the snowflakes falling softly around us even though it wasn’t cold enough to “stick”. I just love winter. I love actually getting out IN the cold weather as well. I love bundling up and walking briskly – something I can do even with Meniere’s as my symptoms are usually much more mild in the winter. I love being able to see my breath in the air and being able to smell various fireplaces in use in homes as I pass. However, one of the biggest reasons I love winter might surprise you. As a person with hearing loss, one doesn’t expect to enjoy QUIET.

Winter Can Be So Quiet

When walking, many people are inside where it is warm. So in the wintertime, my walks are often much more quiet than when I go during other seasons. I love the quiet. Don’t get me wrong! I love being able to hear, but I hear best when it is quiet. Am I contradicting myself? (BIG GRIN). Eh… maybe.

Hearing with a cochlear implant is a mind-boggling thing. I hadn’t expected to hear this well again this side of Heaven. When my husband and I realized that my progressive hearing loss would ultimately mean I would not hear at all, we were concerned. Thankfully, through the support and relationships of the Hearing Loss Association of America, we learned that being late-deafened does not necessarily mean the end to hearing. We learned about cochlear implants and I took almost three years researching and “talking the much needed ears off” numerous cochlear implant recipients. As thankful as I am for my cochlear implant, it does not mean that I now hear perfectly. As a matter of fact, I become a little aggravated when people act as if my cochlear implant “fixed” my hearing. Yes, I can hear. But it’s a different kind of hearing, and one made more difficult when trying to understand speech in the midst of noise.

So I love the quiet. I hear better. When walking, as the world around me is more quiet compared to other times of the year, sounds that are present are crisp and clear. If it is quiet on our walks, I can actually hear much of what Chloe is hearing.

Chloe can HEAR the squirrels even though she hasn’t yet spotted them…

I love listening to nature. I pick up many more sounds in the winter because of the quiet. The lack of foliage also assists in allowing sound to carry. In some spots of our neighborhood I can even enjoy an “echo-like” effect in the world around me.

We Need the Quiet

I have had numerous late-deafened folks tell me that they too, go “deaf” on purpose. For those of us who are thrifty, it saves on battery life. However, for many it is simply a matter of being mentally fatigued. It takes a lot of effort to understand and communicate using technology and speech reading. People with hearing loss must employ a number of senses to communicate. Those with normal hearing are not required to use much more than their sense of hearing to communicate. I believe this is part of the reason I need 8-10 hours of sleep a night. (Yes… you read that right!) I am mentally exhausted at the end of every day just because I’m communicating with family, friends, and co-workers. It takes work to hear! Listening requires active participation for those of us with hearing loss.

The forest is sleeping during the winter…

When there is a great deal of background noise, I don’t hear well. As a matter of fact? There are times I don’t even try. Case in point… my church:

 

Want to know the noisiest part of every church service? I think it is before and immediately after the actual service. Or, how about when the pastor or minister of worship says, “Everyone take a few minutes to meet and greet those around you!” ? AAAARGH! I try to make myself invisible if you must know. I am petrified someone will come and talk to me because I know I won’t hear them. I’m getting better though when someone approaches with their hand out and a big smile. I’m taking a risk but “betting on” that they are saying, “Hello, how are you today?” I have learned to smile, shake their hand and say a simple “Hello!” My preference in communicating is definitely one-on-one.  I do really well – IF – it is in a quiet atmosphere.

But you know something? My exposure to multiple disabilities at Fidos For Freedom has taught me one very important lesson. We could ALL do with more “quiet” in our lives. Quiet can foster introspection – and friends? I’m big on reflection, meditation, and soul-searching! For many of us, we face many physical battles on a daily basis. We really NEED quiet time. Contemplation may provide us with resolve, a new “plan of attack”, time to absorb new information about our disease/disability, and the ability to recuperate emotionally and mentally. As a person of faith, it is my quiet moments that I can humbly ask for guidance or assistance… or scream for help!

It is often when we are quiet that we can plan and “gear up” for the journey ahead. Victor Hugo said, “One is not idle because one is absorbed. There is both visible and invisible labor. To contemplate is to toil, to think is to do. The crossed arms work, the clasped hands act. The eyes upturned to Heaven are an act of creation.” For some of you, life’s journey requires a little planning. I have a friend who cannot do anything spontaneously. Errands are planned, cleaning specific rooms of the house are planned a whole day in advance. Errands rely on the goodwill of family and friends who are willing to cart her “here and there” as her eyesight has deteriorated. Cleaning is done when the body isn’t on “strike”. Lyme’s and Chronic Fatigue insist that she double-up on recipes when she has enough energy to cook. That way she can freeze things so that she doesn’t go hungry on days she cannot cook meals. She requires a lot of quiet time. For her… it’s not a communication issue. She needs time to plan and to take strategic steps in organizing as best she can her journey. She even needs quiet time to COPE with her disease.

Winter allows me more quiet time. Outside – fewer people are out and about. Inside – family members at home tend to curl up and do quiet things on their computers or may catch up on reading. Like hibernating bears they tend to sleep more. Co-workers are quieter during the winter. Hubby says it is because of S.A.D. Who knows? I do think winter generates a feeling of “quiet” in many people.

I encourage you to find more quiet time. Winter, spring, summer, or fall – the season isn’t important. Finding time to be QUIET and use the time wisely is important to all. Even if you use the time for a power nap…

Denise Portis

©2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

My Goals? Stop Apologizing…

At City Dock in downtown Annapolis near the U.S. Naval Academy

I find it a little hard to believe it is 2012. Normally, the New Year doesn’t sneak up on me. However, this year it certainly did just that. In the past, I’m almost obsessive-compulsive about planning and organizing my resolutions for the New Year. I suppose that I haven’t allowed myself to obsess about it this year, points to the fact that I continue to change and evolve as I age. I think change is important and hope that I will always grow, mature, and change from one year to the next.

Sometimes though? Sometimes I see things in myself that I need to change because they are negative. In my reflection of 2011, I discovered a real negative that I really want to work on in 2012. Introspection did not really help me discover WHY I have developed this bad habit, but I can make some educated guesses.

I apologize. I apologize a great deal. I apologize for things that are not my fault. Some reasons I may do this?

1. I feel as if it will keep others from feeling the blame or reacting in a defensive way.

2. I default to shouldering the blame for most things.

3. I hope to diffuse any uncomfortable thoughts or reactions by others.

4. I hope to garner apologies and acceptance of responsibility by others by my own example.

5. HABIT

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe that people should accept responsibility and offer apologies when they are warranted. However, I have developed a habit of apologizing for things that are not my responsibility. Sometimes when I say “I’m sorry”, it is simply a matter of miscommunication. I need to say something… but do so in a way it more accurately communicates my real meaning.

An example: “I’m sorry you misunderstood me”.

A better response would be, “I believe I have been misunderstood. May I clarify my meaning and intent?”

As a person with hearing loss I even respond with a “sorry” when I missed something. Example: “I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that”. It may very well be that it is no one’s FAULT that I missed it. After all… I am a late-deafened adult. Yes, sometimes folks may cover their mouth with their hand, or mumble. When that happens it is better to say, “I didn’t catch that. Could you repeat it please?” – or – “You were covering your mouth and I didn’t catch that. Will you repeat it please?” I’m going to try to stop myself before I respond with a habitual “I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that”.

It’s My Choice to Mitigate My Disabilities with a Service Dog

Recently, I “replied all” to an email in which a group of employees were nailing down details about when to meet for a book group. We are reading “Storm” by George R. Stewart. I actually typed out, “I apologize in advance that I will have my service dog with me as she is with me 24/7”. I sat and looked at that sentence for a minute and thought to myself, “WHAT IN THE WORLD?”

I deleted that sentence and re-typed, “Just a heads up so that no one is startled, I will have my service dog with me as she is with me 24/7”. I re-read and re-thought that sentence for several minutes. I like to give people I’ve never met before heads-up about Chloe, but it isn’t required. However, some people ARE afraid of dogs or have allergies. I like to let people know in advance when I can.

When I interviewed at the local community college, before hanging up the phone I let the person know that I would have my service dog with me at the interview. When I arrived to meet with the panel of people interviewing that day, the director let me know that he was glad I told him about Chloe. He normally has his dog with him at work during the summer, and he didn’t want his dog to interfere with my working dog.

Sometimes it cannot be helped. I arrive and people are surprised (or dismayed) that I have a service dog with me. In the past, I have intercepted looks and stepped forward to apologize that I have Chloe with me. I’m not sure why I felt compelled to do this. I’m NOT sorry I have Chloe. She has given me the independence and confidence I needed to follow my dreams! Yet, I often felt as if I needed to apologize for her presence.

When someone asks if they can pet Chloe, I would automatically say, “I’m sorry. She’s a working dog and cannot be pet while she is in vest”. A better response that I’m trying to remember to say is, “She’s a working dog and cannot be distracted right now. Thank you for asking permission though!”

I realize that many people use the “I’m sorry” phrase without thinking about the ramifications of the meaning. To many it is simply a way to break the ice, or begin communicating a difficult idea. For me, I believe that the overuse of the phrase has only served to weaken my own self-esteem and even development as a confident adult with a disability. Please understand that I am talking about ME – and how being overly zealous with apologizing has inadvertently affected ME in a negative way. You will never hear me correct YOU if you choose to use this phrase.

I believe in giving heartfelt apologies when they are needed. In the right circumstances, it conveys the desire to make right a wrong and to restore a good relationship with another person. One of my favorite books is “The Five Languages of Apology” by Chapman and Thomas. I believe in caring about our fellow man and to learn to apologize in such a way it restores good communication and healthy relationships.

It’s no one’s fault I do not hear well. There is no one to blame that I stumble around on rainy days nor am able to retrieve things from the floor. You may be surprised to learn that I wouldn’t change anything about me. Sure… it’s taken a long time for me to accept who I am and to “like me” just the way I am! I do want to correctly communicate my heart, mind, and intent to others. I believe I apologize in far too many circumstances. I want to accurately relay information without demeaning or demoralizing myself.

You may be thinking “poTAtoes” – “po-TAH-toes”. What is the difference? For me… this is something I choose to work on this year. I want to better communicate with others without taking the blame for things that cannot be helped.

In October I was at a training class at Fidos For Freedom in Laurel, Maryland. One of my least favorite exercises is the “Meet and Greet”. I hate it, yet know it is one of those necessary (evil) tasks that I must learn to accomplish with an assistance dog along side of me. Reality check? I will have to communicate with others in a group when there is background noise. It is very difficult for those of us with hearing loss to do this exercise. I have to remember to turn my t-coil off on both cochlear implant and hearing aid. Thankfully, our training room is looped and I hear the trainer very well when commands are given. However, I have to turn these OFF in order to hear a group of people in the “Meet and Greet”. We introduce ourselves and give a little information about our dogs to new people. To folks we know well we simply “catch up”. Our dogs are suppose to remain in a safe place (sit or stay) and we learn to communicate while also keeping an eye on our partners. When you also speech read, it can be very difficult to watch faces while also keeping an eye on your dog. At this particular training, Chloe was in a down/stay for the inevitable “Meet and Greet”. Some of these dogs Chloe has known for a long time. Some of them are newer puppies recently introduced to the training floor to eventually be matched with a client. I spotted Chloe stretching in her down/stay with tail all a-wag and kisses galore for another dog in a down/stay. I corrected her and then realized I missed what the fellow client said.

“I’m sorry. I missed that”, I said with exasperation.

The other client didn’t hesitate and said, “Don’t be sorry. I don’t apologize for weaving around with both a cane and a dog!”

It hit me that I was implying my inability to hear well in this environment could be changed. It is what it is. I do NOT hear well in “Meet and Greets”. It is not anyone’s fault that I do not. No apologies are necessary. I’m learning to ask for repeats without apologizing.

I wish you success in planning your own New Year’s resolutions and goals. I’m keeping it simple this year. Happy New Year and welcome 2012!

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal