It Can Be Small Things…

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

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

The Problem With Health Challenges

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

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

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

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

Pity Parties are still Celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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

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

 

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But, Butt, Buttocks and Butte

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

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

Get it Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone’s an Expert!

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

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

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

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

Rest in peace, auntie.

Cut ‘EM Some Slack

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

1. Fragile porcelain that may break under pressure

2. They are suddenly contagious

3. They are more dangerous than Freddy Krueger

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

Denise Portis

©2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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