Watch Me

Chloe and Lewis

Want to get on my last nerve? Enjoy listening to me Sputter as I desperately try to spit out a response? Want to see this kitty’s claws?

this puppy’s teeth?

this chicky’s – erm – umm – BEAK?

Then tell me I can’t do something. Heck, I’m not even the “first born” in my family! The birth order norm fairy forgot to send the memo when I was born – “2 of 4”. I can be a stubborn behind. Sometimes this is very, very BAD. But sometimes? Sometimes this is very, very GOOD.

Do you know that I credit my “can do” attitude to my hound dog? The fact that I can say, “Watch me!” can be attributed to the fact that I am partnered with an assistance dog from Fidos For Freedom, Inc.

Yes. Perhaps I would have found my courage without her. I may have discovered I am resilient on my own. I may have responded to a “Hey! You can’t do that!” with the response of “Oh yeah? WATCH ME!” by simply growing and maturing. However, I can exactly pin point the moment in time when I grew self-esteem muscles.

Chloe jumped into my bubble bath with me when my phone rang. Her hearing alert was so ingrained, she was oblivious to the water and naked partner.
Chloe jumped into my bubble bath with me when my phone rang. Her hearing alert was so ingrained, she was oblivious to the water and naked partner.

I was matched with Chloe in May of 2007. Shortly after that, Chloe came home to live with me and to do what she’d been trained to do. Alert me to sounds I could not hear. (Eventually she received additional training and skills to help me with my balance). I use to really enjoy bubble baths. This was before numerous concussions and worsening Meniere’s disease made the risk of drowning to real. Chloe was parked on the bath mat while I enjoyed that lazy bubble bath. I can’t tell you how startled I was to suddenly find my dog IN the bathtub with me and licking my face. My husband popped his head in the door and said, “Your phone was ring… ing. Ummm. Why is Chloe in the bathtub with you?

From that moment on, I knew I’d never miss a phone call.

… or alarm clock, or not be able to pick up something I’d dropped, or climb stairs safely, or know if someone was behind me in a store, and friends? The list goes on…

Watch Me

One of the early commands I learned was “Chloe – WATCH me“. Because I talk to my dog and would often say, “Chloe – look-it that squirrel, – or – look-it that bunny”, I learned NOT to say, “Chloe LOOK”. It would make her eagerly look around at whatever CRITTER I had seen before her! However, if I say, “WATCH me“, she looks right at me. She may cock her head and obviously listen for a command; much more than just meeting my brown eyes. However, she knows that “WATCH me” means “make eye contact – pay attention”.

Chloe actually tells me “WATCH me” as well. Chloe does it with her ears and head. When her head swings in a specific direction and her ears go up, I :  1) look at her and pin point where she is looking/listening, 2) turn to look myself. It may mean I need to step out of the way of something or someone.

Not LITERALLY

“WATCH me” doesn’t always mean literally, however. I was so cracked up at a meeting I attended recently. I was seated next to a person with low vision. We were in between speakers and were visiting while we waited for the next session to start. About 10 yards away, I noticed this man and lady plug up a power strip and run an extension cord over to their row in the auditorium. I interrupted my friend and said, “Hang on – they can’t do that! I’ll be right back. Watch me!

I stood up and walked over to the couple now fussin’ with how the cord should lay across the aisle. I put Chloe in a sit/stay and said, “Oh I’m sorry. You can’t put that cord there as there are a bunch of us in this area who cannot navigate safely with it stretched across the aisle“. They looked at me with a startled eyes and then around me to the section I was sitting in. I could tell by the dawning comprehension on their faces, that they spotted the service dogs, walkers, scooters, and canes.

Ooops. Sorry about that!” and they worked together to pick it up and roll it back into a nice handful of cords and plugs.

I casually walked back to my group and my friend said, “I saw that! Fist bump!” and she held up her fist for a “you go girl” moment.

Then it hit me. When I walked away I had told my friend with low vision, “WATCH me“. When I returned she said, “I saw that!” I started laughing. Not the kind of southern girl lady-like giggle. Oh no. I was hee-hawing. I managed to snicker out loud in between SNORTS what I had said – and what she had said. I nearly laughed myself into the floor. Yup. The kind of laugh where I had tears of mirth running down my cheeks and very unladylike hiccoughs to boot. My friend was laughing just as hard. She said, “We’re a pair, aren’t we?

You “see”, my friend? You don’t have to have 20/20 vision to be able to WATCH ME. You can pay attention with your eyes, your ears, or your hands. You can pay attention with your heart. You can pay attention – by PAYING ATTENTION.

It’s a focus.

It’s an attitude.

One of my favorite quotes (in the opening picture above) is by C.S. Lewis: “Every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, which will turn the necessity to glorious gain”.

I recently had someone take me to task for self-identifying as a person with disABILITY. She argued that I was basically admitting I was unable to do something. I thought, “Well how wrong is THAT?”

Every person I know who lives with disability is actually someone who has learned how to do something IN SPITE OF challenges. You find a new way to do something. You learn how to do things safely even though it may not be the way a task is done by most folks. Perhaps you have assistance because of a device, service dog, or have simply learned to ask for help.

Yesterday while on campus, I needed to drop something off at the Disability Support Services office. My balance was “good” yesterday, so I exited a door that actually opened into a courtyard that had stairs bordering the perimeter. I felt confident to go up the 20 some odd stairs with Chloe. When I reached the top, an employee was standing there with big eyes, having seen me take a slow but steady climb to the top.

Hey!” I said cheerfully, and stepped around her. I looked up and was startled by a mass of people coming out of the gymnasium towards me on a very narrow sidewalk. I looked for an alternative path and spotted a way around through the mulch and picnic area.

Sensing what I was about to do, the lady beside me said, “Maybe you should wait“. I know she meant well. I felt no criticism, nor did I feel she was talking down to me. But… I was in a hurry, and I was having a good balance day. I had my service dog right beside me.

So I responded, “Oh, I’m ‘good’, no worries…” and proceeded to carefully pick my way around tree roots, pine cones, mulch and twigs. I didn’t retort, “WATCH me“, but if one could interpret the courage and attitude from my squared shoulders and confident stride, you would have “read that” in my departure.

Chloe and Fidos For Freedom were the “shot in the arm” I needed to become confident and independent. You may have found your own way to adapt. Having a disability does NOT mean you cannot do something. As a matter of fact, chances are if you tell someone who is differently-abled they cannot do something, you may discover by the set of their jaw, the determined look, and confident square of their shoulders that they most certainly CAN. Their body language screams,

WATCH me“.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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Recurring Dreams… Life Goes On

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One of my favorite chapters in “Introduction to Psychology” is the one where we study dreams, sleep, and the subconscious mind. Everyone dreams – though you may not always remember your dreams. If you have furry family members, you’ve learned that even pets dream. I’ve seen evidence of REM sleep in dogs, cats, hamsters, even cows!

Very likely, if you do remember a dream it is because it was a bad one. Or, you may remember it because it is a recurring dream. Interpreting dreams is tricky. Yes, yes, I know! Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Daniel, and numerous others in the Bible made it look easy. It really is NOT that easy. If you have dreams that are bothering you, or have recurring dreams, don’t be afraid to talk about them with someone you trust. It can be a friend, counselor, or peer with a supportive role in your life. However, just remember, YOU are the expert on your dreams… they are YOUR dreams. Tartakovsky (2011) explains that there are indeed some universal symbols in dreams, however what those symbols mean to the DREAMER is what really matters. Someone else analyzing and interpreting the dream on your behalf is very likely inaccurate. In spite of knowing WE are the expert  when it comes to our dreams, recurring dreams usually end up making us “talk out loud” about what we are dreaming. Because you dream this dream OFTEN, you start thinking about it when you are awake. Most dream analysis experts agree that “recurring dreams reflect feelings and awareness that have not been successfully resolved in our waking lives” (Psychology Campus, 2004-2008, para. 4).

My Recurring Dream Had a Specific Trigger

I (like many of you) have a recurring dream and it always follows the same conscious scenario. Every time I fall and actually sustain an injury, I can guarantee I will have the same dream. I actually call it my “falling dream“.

Yes.

I do understand that by anticipating the dream, I am likely precipitating the dream itself. I get that. Now before you jump to conclusions, my dream isn’t about falling. Heck, I do enough of that in my conscious activity! I certainly don’t need it to happen in my subconscious mind – grin!

After a fall, I have a dream where I’m walking in a busy location with people everywhere, and all of sudden I’m frozen and cannot continue walking. Perhaps even more telling, my service dog, Chloe, is also frozen mid-step. Everyone around us continues to walk, talk, and move. Sometimes in the crowd I recognize people from my family, work, church, etc. Most of the time the faces are strangers, however. I can “hear” myself in the dream screaming (of course my mouth is not moving), “Help me! I can’t move! I can’t speak! Why aren’t you helping me? Can’t you see I’m frozen?”

So… yeah.  Please have fun with that and if you feel like commenting or emailing me what YOU think this probably means, go for it! I’m always interested in other’s opinions. Because the dream always follows a significant “Denise fall down – go boom” moment, I think I have this one figured out. I’ve had this same dream for over 12 years. The only thing that has changed in the dream is the addition of Chloe, my service dog. I was matched to Chloe in 2007. Goes to show the significant impact a service dog has on their person that she ended up in a recurring dream. <BIG GRIN>. Another change in the dream occasionally happens… but I’ll get to that later! <wink>

I believe this dream “for me”, means that I recognize that my “new normal” has an affect on ME, but not so much others. All the feelings, fears, bruises, even shame, is something I deal with in being differently-abled. However, it isn’t something that impacts others. Ever want to scream at the world to stop a moment and acknowledge that…

DARN IT. I’m dealing with this! Don’t you see? 

or

DARN IT. I suck at this! Don’t you see? HELP!

Life goes on. That’s hard, isn’t it? Isn’t it frustrating when you are sucker punched with a personal crisis of some kind and life just goes on as usual for everyone else? Worse? Life goes on for YOU!?

You lose someone close to you and crap. Life goes on.

You receive a diagnosis that will change your life. This sucks but life goes on.

Someone you trusted betrays you. It hurts but life goes on.

A progressive illness progresses. You adapt and life goes on.

You are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Life goes on.

Simple Acknowledgement

Most folks who live with invisible disability or a chronic illness will tell you that it is hard for them to share with others when they are struggling. This may be because they always seem to be struggling and figure everyone around them is sick and tired of hearing about it. We don’t want to be labeled as a “bellyacher”. Maybe you only rant to someone close to you. Perhaps you write. Maybe you pray. You may have some type of “release” that allows you to vent.

Sometimes my frustrations get the best of me and I bellyache out loud. However, most of the time I keep it quiet or at most confide in a trusted friend who “gets it” on a level that others cannot. I have a friend with MS who once told me, “Denise? I always feel like crap. I can’t respond to ‘How are you today?‘ with, ‘actually I feel like crap!‘. So I respond the way all of us respond, ‘I feel great, how are you today?‘. I can’t respond truthfully. People who do not have MS cannot understand what it is like to wake up tired, go to bed tired, and hurt all over each and every day. So I lie and say, ‘I’m great! How are you?‘ I don’t think this makes me a liar. This is how I convince myself I’m OK. I try to convince others I am.” 

You know? I don’t know very many people who live with significant challenges who want someone who will allow them to dump for hours each day. Griping for hours on end does not help physically, emotionally, or mentally. Most of us learn early on that perseverating on the negative only provides the ingredients for a significant meltdown. It is HUGE, however, to know we have a trusted peep or two that we can say, “Today is a bad day, but I’m going to be OK“.

Most of us simply long for a quick acknowledgment. Perhaps a short hug. I have a friend who has a seizure disorder and lives with chronic fatigue and pain whom I see about once a week. Like most folks, when we greet we say, “How are you doing?” I know this person well enough that both of us can say (on a day things aren’t going so well), “I’m not doing that great today, but things can only get better“. Or, “I’m not doing that great but I’m OK. Tomorrow will be better“. A pat on the shoulder and an understanding hug goes a long way. My friend doesn’t want me to grab her hand, drag her over to the side, and make a big production out of her “horrible, no good day”. If I say, “I’m thinking about ya“, or “How can I pray for you today?“, that is enough. You can see some of the tension roll off their shoulders. Simply acknowledging another’s pain or distress is A BIG DEAL. Salovey, Brackett, and Mayer (2004) call this empathy or emotional intelligence, and one can grow their EQ (emotional intelligence) simply by learning to acknowledge someone else’s feelings. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming. As a matter of fact, here are some great tips that will grow your EQ and help someone else:

1. Remember – and follow up.

Did someone tell you that they were having a rough day? The next time you see them ask them how they are doing NOW. By simply remembering they were going through a tough time and you care enough to follow up is HUGE.

2. Send a card.

My life has dramatically changed in that most of my correspondence is electronic. I buy one book of stamps each YEAR, when I use to buy that many stamps each month. However, I do shop for and keep inexpensive cards for “other” occasions (in other words, not birthday or anniversary), so that I can send a card off to someone who let it “slip” they are going through a tough time.

3. Follow up with a text.

It takes 10-15 seconds (depending on how many thumbs you have), to send a quick text. If you’ve limited time, don’t text an open-ended question. Just send off a quick, “Wanted you to know I’m thinking of you today and hope your day is better“. It doesn’t take much time and it likely means THE WORLD to that person.

A Significant Change in the Dream

Ok. I explained earlier that I do have one specific change that happens in my dream and over the years I think I have this figured out as well. Sometimes when I am “frozen”, a person or persons do come up to ICE CUBE Denise and Chloe, and try to help. Guess what? These are usually people I’m thinking about consciously, who are also going through something significant. For example…

I had this dream this past week after a fall on the deck. The injury was significant enough to warrant a doctor’s visit, x-rays, and a cancelled trip. I have been thinking about and praying for two specific people, both of whom showed up in my “falling dream”. One had surgery last week, the other is looking at surgery in her future. Both came and patted “frozen Denise and Chloe” and told my icy self that “everything would be OK”.

You know what? Having a support group MATTERS.

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It doesn’t mean that you need to join an organization (although there are benefits to doing so). It does not mean you need to find a group in which you stand up in a circle and say, “Hello. My name is Denise and I have invisible disabilities“. However, there is significant HELP in having a person or two who GET IT.

A tribe.

People who understand where you are coming from when you experience your life – your “normal”.

Thankfully, it is fairly easy to find those folks. The Internet has opened the door to really connecting with others who are like-minded, live what you live, and provide support simply because they truly GET IT. Maybe you have a friend or confidant who is that support for you, but they don’t actually share your diagnosis. But folks? Everyone has something. Life is hard. We all have difficult times. The two folks who showed up in my “falling dream” last week do not share my diagnosis. They do share living a difficult life but PERSEVERING. That’s why these folks show up in my dream. Support makes a difference.

You can be that kind of support. It will grow you. It may be time consuming at times. You may find a reciprocated “shoulder”. You may not. I don’t know about you, but at the end of my life I want to be the kind of person who patted a few ice cube people. I want to be that person who tells someone THEY matter. What they are GOING THROUGH matters. One of my dream goals is to eventually see a puddle under every person in my crowd.

Because we all deal with something.

We can help each other to thaw out by caring, listening, hugging.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal 

Psychology Campus (2004-2008). The possible meanings of dreams. Retrieved August 11, 2014 from http://www.psychologycampus.com/dream-psychology/

Salovey, P., Brackett, M. and Mayer, J. (2004). Emotional intelligence: Key readings on the Mayer and Salovey model. New York: Dude Publishing.

Tartakovsky, M. (2011). How to Analyze Your Dreams (And Why It’s Important). Psych Central. Retrieved on August 11, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/how-to-analyze-your-dreams-and-why-its-important/0005975

Turn On Date

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One of my favorite discussions to have with people who have chronic illness, invisible or visible disabilities, or living a “new normal”, is sharing stories of how their adopted vernacular throws others they communicate with for a loop. We probably all have stories to tell. If your life is different because of a surgery, technology, or diagnosis, you may be using words and phrases that confuse and irritate folks who don’t live a similar life. I try to be careful and take a quick look around at WHO I’m talking to when having a conversation, but that is after really screwing up a lot in the early years. Here are some of my more memorable screw ups:

Your Turn On Date

Johns Hopkins sends folks my way when they are considering a cochlear implant, especially if they have Meniere’s disease as well. I have learned that when talking to someone new to the idea of cochlear implants, you cannot talk to them like someone who has already had the surgery. Cochlear implant peeps throw around terms that make perfect sense to US, but not so much to others. Case in point: I met with a lady with Meniere’s at a library who was investigating cochlear implants. At some point in the conversation I said, “Now the date you are turned on, you need to have a designated driver if possible. Everything will be so strange and you may not be able to drive safely if you don’t have someone to drive for you after you are turned on“.

Her eyes got big and she paled. She stuttered out, “Wha…wha… WHAT!?!?” I’m savvy enough to figure out by the way she answered that she didn’t understand my terminology. I thought I’d clear it up but succeeded in only making it worse…

Yes, when you go to the audiologist and they turn you on…” I stopped. Seeing her dropped jaw will silence me. I backed up and tried again, using “activation date” instead of “turn on date”. Do you know something? Unlike others who meet with me, she never followed up with post-surgery emails or meetings! <BIG GRIN>

I Lost My Ears

I had only been activated 8 months when I lost my ears. Now for CI folks, they get that when we talk about our “ears” we are talking about the external technology… not about our “listening appendages”. I was in a super Walmart, looking for a very specific jar of dill pickles (because yes… I’m that picky), when my cochlear implant – which has a magnetic coil to keep it on my head – flew off my ear and into the pickles.

Had I stayed still and searched the immediate jars I would have found it right off. As it was, being new to “hearing again”, I immediately stood up and screeched because my world had suddenly and completely gone SILENT. An older lady shopping amongst the same shelved pickles looked at me strange. I nervously picked up jars of pickles looking for my “ear”. The lady came closer and joked, “Are you pregnant?“. I turned to her with big tears in my eyes which made her come closer and immediately quit teasing me.

Are you OK?” she asked kindly. I looked at her and wailed, “I lost my ear! I can’t find it!

She looked at me bug-eyed and walked away. Quickly.

Thankfully I found my CI attached to the metal lid of some nearby olives. No wonder I couldn’t find it amongst the pickles.

I’m Not Turned On

When we lived in another part of Maryland, we use to have to drive a long way to go to church on Sunday. We actually went into another county to do so. Normally my family doesn’t listen to the car radio because they know that I’m totally incapable of tuning out the radio and hearing just the conversation. However, on longer trips, I often say, “I’m turning my ears off” so that they can listen to the radio and they know if they need me they only need to tap my shoulder. In truth, it is nice being able to sit in “total silence” from time to time. It is certainly conducive to “deep thinking”.

So one Sunday on our way to church, I gave the family heads up that I was going silent on purpose. I must have moved from “deep thinking” to day dreaming. We got to church, got our stuff out of the car, and Terry and I waved goodbye to the kids as we headed over to the building where we had small group Bible study. I’m still deaf at this point and I couldn’t tell ya if Terry was talking to me. I know my mind was somewhere else – that’s for sure! We went into the classroom and sat down at the big table. Some other couples were already there. One of the ladies leaned up so that she could see around Terry and said something. It was then I realized I still hadn’t turned my cochlear implant back on. “Oh! Wait, I’m not turned on!

I reached up and punched the correct button and looked around at a bunch of stunned faces. Terry was actually embarrassed. (If you know Terry, you know he rarely gets flustered). A few who caught on a little late began to snicker. Me? Well I thought it was just HYSTERICAL. So I managed to get out in between laughs, “Oooops. I need to find a better way to say I don’t have my CI on“. Terry quickly said, “Yes Denise. Yes you do!“. It took a number of months for me to live that one down.

Remember Your Audience

Do you live with a chronic condition or acquired disability? Have you become an expert in navigating your “new normal”? Can you “talk shop” with the rest of your population?

It’s hard to remember that just because WE understand what we mean, others may not. We tend to use words and phrases that become a part of our vocabulary. Try to pay attention to your audience. A good advocate learns to do that. You may have to deliberately choose to use a different word or phrase if no one really connects with it but you. For example, I had to stop referring to my bright purple cane as “my third leg”. I’m fairly naive and had no idea the shocked looks were from folks who had heard that phrase in a completely different context.

In order to really educate and advocate, you need to use terminology that the general public will understand. You may think a word or phrase is very obvious, but others may not ever hear that word in conversation. I was trained at Fidos For Freedom, Inc., to know how to advocate for accessibility with my service dog. The trainers didn’t tell us, however, that not everyone in the general public knows what the ADA is! (Thankfully, they also equipped us with great little brochures and handouts with the law explained on them).

Fibro fog” may only mean something to other folks with fibromyalgia. “CFS zombie” may only be a phrase others with chronic fatigue syndrome use. HoHearies can be figured out by most of the population, but is only self-identified by those who are hard of hearing. The general public may even make incorrect associations just because they don’t understand your chosen words. I had no idea anyone would ever think “tinnitus” was something caused by a cut from a dirty tin can.

You are a more effective advocate when you “consider your audience” and appropriately explain symptoms, treatment, and diagnosis. The goal is to educate after all. If you only succeed in confusing those around you, you haven’t really helped to educate.

What’s REALLY fun is when those closest to you start to confuse others as well. Terry often asks if I “have my ears on” now.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal