Embracing It!

"So... tell me the truth. How does this look?" (Terry) "Baby? You are rockin' that helmet!"
“So… tell me the truth. How does this look?” (Terry) “Baby? You are rockin’ that helmet!”

I believe that there are very legitimate reasons for people who choose to keep invisible disabilities invisible. I respect their choice and their reasons for doing so. In many circumstances, it makes “good sense” and isn’t at all about vanity or shame.

I am “all out there” for lack of a better way to put it. In my profession, in my life, in the community service arenas I’m involved in, and for personal safety reasons, making my invisible disabilities – visible is the right thing to do.

I wear bling on my implant. I think it is fun. It puts a smile on my face. I’m so SO thrilled to be hearing again. The progression of my hearing loss took 12 painful years. I was completely deaf for almost two, silently researching and investigating cochlear implants. I’m so proud to be hearing again. Some say I’m flaunting it. Ummm…

YEAH.

If you do not want to bring attention to disabilities, do not ever choose to be partnered with a service dog. Even though our dogs are taught to be nearly invisible (and don’t you know folks are always startled when I get up to leave restaurants because they had no clue my dog was there?), when you walk through a store or into a doctor’s office, your service dog will bring attention to the fact that “something is different about you”. It has been a very long time since working dogs were only trained to be guide dogs. There are diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, autism dogs, PTSD service dogs, mobility assist dogs, balance assist dogs, alzheimer assist dogs, hearing assistance dogs, and the list goes on! My service dog makes me more independent. I don’t have to ask for help nearly as often. I don’t miss things (sounds my CI won’t pick up), and I’m confident and more safe. But choosing to have a service dog will bring attention to you.

When my Meniere’s disease worsened, I finally realized that 3-5 falls a week were too many. When I have my cane, I stumble maybe 3-4 times a week, but rarely go all the way down. I average only 2-3 falls a month now. I have three canes. They are bright, bold, and beautiful. I don’t try to hide that I carry a cane with me.

I love to be outside. Perhaps it’s the “farm girl” in me, but I love to be outside and love to walk. Just because I have a balance disorder does not mean that I am going to stop walking. Yet… I seemed to have trouble doing it safely. Even with cane and service dog, I was still taking tumbles when the roads or sidewalks were bad. Winter is my favorite season. I love snow, love ice, love “visible breath” in the air… but I have had some bad winters, 3 years in a row. As a matter of fact, when perusing my medical records with my neurologist, I was averaging 2 concussions each year, usually in Winter months. My last mild concussion was March 8th. I have a follow up with my neuro the first week of May. At the last appointment, he said, “You know. You need a helmet for when you walk!”

I laughed and said, “all my friends tell me I need to be wrapped in bubble wrap or need to wear a helmet.”

He looked at me eye-ball to eye-ball and said, “You don’t understand. I’m being serious. You CANNOT continue having concussions”.

Oh.

OH.

NO FREAKING WAY!

I sat there a little stunned for a minute but then began to consider the possibilities. I’m not afraid of what people think. I don’t care about what is fashionable – heck I consider myself a “disability-advocate fashion expert”. But could I embrace a helmet for walking when road and sidewalk conditions were bad?

I decided that yes… Yes, I could!

So I started researching, (cuz, yeah, that’s what I do) and found the helmet I wanted. I was crazy ecstatic that it is called a … “Brainsaver“! Ain’t it great? *BEAMS*

Triple 8 Brainsaver Rubber helmet with Liner in Rasta Yellow
Triple 8 Brainsaver Rubber helmet with Liner in Rasta Yellow

I blinged up the helmet with some of my favorite stickers, (I’m a nut for daisies), and now I’m all set for walking. I even fixed the liner where my cochlear implant magnet had a little place to “rest” inside so it would not get pushed off.

I realize my approach to MY LIFE may not work for you. However, I love embracing who I am and holding my head high. I want to be an example to others, but I certainly know and understand that it is “different strokes for different folks”.

I hope I can report this time next year that I haven’t sustained any new concussions. Yay for me, and yay for neurologists who push to get their patients to take their brains seriously.

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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How Can I Redefine Me?

redefine

I stopped looking at myself as “disabled” a long time ago. I am, however, quite comfortable with being a person with disabilities. A friend, fellow-client at Fidos For Freedom, Inc., and blogger, was the first person I ever heard use the words, “differently abled”.

I have to tell you that sometimes I’m really feeling my disabilities. It can make me discouraged and frustrated. So many of us who live with disabilities or chronic illnesses often gripe, “I’d like just ONE DAY of feeling normal”. 

I’ve become very comfortable with being a “hearing again”, cochlear implant recipient and “late-deafened” (without my technology). I’ve even grown accustomed to having a vestibular disorder (Meniere’s disease). I use a cane, have a service dog, and bedazzle my cochlear implant with some amount of pride and transparency.

One thing I’m not OK with is concussions. I’ve had a lot. I was even told I had “post-concussive syndrome” after a moderate concussion in 2013. “You know… like football players have.” But…

I don’t play football.

My neurologist had me do ten weeks of vestibular rehab. This was actually a fantastic experience and I learned all kinds of tricks, most importantly how to fall safely – cuz I’m going to fall. Sure, I learned all the great things to minimize the possibility of falling, but I will take some tumbles. So I learned how to unlock my knees and SIT (albeit without any grace) to avoid falls. In spite of this, stuff just happens. And you know what? I get mad.

March 8

Take March 8th for example. There was some ice and lingering snow everywhere. I prepared to walk – which means I had my no-slip boots on, my tripod cane, and service dog (who is off vest but heels like the pro she is). I bundled up and made sure my charged cell phone is in a buttoned down pocket. I don’t use my cell phone while walking. No ear buds or attachments either – No listening to music. I pay attention when I walk. (Well, I also talk to my dog but that was the topic of another post).

So when I crossed a street and fell backwards on the ice I actually felt MAD on the way down. I had taken all these precautions! The back of my head actually BOUNCED on the road. Right before I blacked out I thought…

THIS SUCKS. 

I wasn’t out very long (I rarely am). I suffered with a headache for 4 days and made an appointment with my neurologist. (Follow up in May)

I remember thinking after texting my husband and making my way the rest of the way home, that I do not like being this person. I don’t like being the fall guy (get it?). By the time I walked the 2 blocks towards home, Terry met me and I sat on the porch for a good cry. After eliminating some of that tension (and freaking my husband out), I sat there to think (and yes, hold ice on my head). I kept thinking, “This isn’t who I am. I am not the walking, talking concussion waiting to happen. I have GOT to get a handle on this.” I needed to redefine myself. I’m NOT a fall guy. I’m a very careful person who sometimes sits quickly. I sit when I’m lucky… and when I’m not that’s OK. I have plan for that, too. I’m thinking a hockey helmet when the roads and walks are bad. Imagine how I can bedazzle THAT.

Your Thoughts Matter

Two hours before my fall, the pastor of my church (Weem’s Creek) spoke about courageous faith. Do you know that people with disabilities and chronic illness are some of the most courageous people I know? Here are some of his main points. If you aren’t a person of faith, read on anyway. This can easily pertain to anyone. If you are a person of faith you may be like me and think, “Well why have I never seen this before?”

1. To live a courageous faith, we must cultivate a habit of thinking thoughts that are from God. Instead of focusing on not thinking wrong thoughts, we need to focus on thinking right thoughts.

2. We can’t always control the thoughts we have, but we can control the thoughts we hold. We need to learn to hold the thoughts that are true, noble and excellent… those from God.

3. Meditate on God’s Word, not on our misery.

I think ATTITUDE is the real disability. If you can change your attitude, you will never feel disabled. Change your attitude – and that new attitude will CHANGE YOU.

I think of it as redefining me – redefining what having a disability means. My focus is on what I can do. I pour energy into discovering how to do things that I want to do – perhaps differently (using canine, technology, or assistance). This keeps our disabilities from defining US.

Be careful to acknowledge that everyone has a personal “definition”. Just because you may have a hearing loss too, doesn’t mean we define who we are the same. Being in control of our own definition (even if we need a necessary “redefine”), also helps others see us how we see ourselves.

It may take some work. I have a colleague at work who constantly tries to “help”. I finally told her one day, “watch how I do things WITHOUT your assistance”. That shut her up, made her watch… and don’t you know she learned so much? She told me later she just assumed I needed help. Having a disability does not mean you are “not able”. Most of us find very unique ways to be VERY abled.

Are you at a point in your life where you need a little redefining? Perhaps you have believed some of the “hype” about what you cannot do because of your diagnosis. Redefine yourself and hopefully change both your attitude and how others see you.

redefine4

 

L. Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

When They SHOULD… but they DON’T

support

Do you know the #1 topic of emails to Hearing Elmo (or face-to-face for those of you who know me personally) is support or the lack thereof? I have not met a single person with acquired disability, chronic illness, or invisible condition that took on their “new normal” by choice. We need support.

People need other people. I don’t care if you are an introvert and “loner”, or a gregarious, extrovert. All of us need human connections to some degree. I hypothesize that those of us who live with acquired disability, chronic illness, or other invisible condition may need solid, supportive relationships even more than those who do not face daily challenges. Coping is TOUGH stuff, and geesh… don’t I hate we don’t burn calories for all the work we put into COPING? In psychology,  we have a special term for how important our relationships are to adjustment – psychosocial adaptation. Bishop (2005) explains this better than I could: Psychosocial adaptation “may be conceived as a process of responding to the functional, psychological, and social changes that occur with the onset and experience of living with a disability, chronic illness, or associated treatments” (p. 6). There is a ridiculous amount of research on how important relationships are to an individual’s psychosocial adaptation. Intimate relationships are imperative to the quality of life for individuals who are differently-abled. All very interesting STUFF, in my humble opinion, but not at all the goal of or intended topic of this post.

Intimate Relationships

When we hear the word “intimate” we may think of sexual expression. Maybe we think of fancy-smancy underwear. (So aren’t “we” the weird ones?). Intimate relationships are interpersonal relationships that are physically OR emotionally intimate. This means that we can have close friends or family members who have an intimate personal relationship with us in that they know us very well. We have let down our guards at some point and shared things with them that others have no clue about nor care. Yes, intimacy is often physical as well, and those of us who have a physically intimate partner in a spouse or significant other, count it a major blessing to also be a friend to this individual.

Our expectation of our intimate relationships is “through thick and thin” (and I don’t mean WEIGHT). We expect these folks to love us on our good days and our bad days. We know we can belly-ache to them and they won’t think less of us. For those of us who took traditional vows, we put a lot of faith in “till death do us part”. These folks know us – and love us anyway.

When acquired disability or chronic illness enters a life unexpectedly, we rest in the knowledge that our spouse or significant other, and intimate connections with friends and family members will strengthen us and help us adapt. We have this HOPE and expectation, yet so many share with me that they were let down by someone they had counted on to BE THERE for them. Some of you have even had to deal with broken relationships. Others may have partners and friendships that have stuck like super-glue, but you cannot help but feel as if you are a burden and that these folks feel “stuck” with you.

Perhaps someone shared with you that they get tired of how tired you are. Maybe they shared or insinuated that life with you sure is HARD. As if things weren’t hard enough, someone you depend on is tired of your diagnosis too? Thanks so much for that…

I know. Not a single person reading this post hasn’t at some point wished they could have just ONE day of normalcy. “If I could just have 24 hours of normal, it would re-set my gripe-o-meter box”, shared a long-time reader. Yup. I get that! So for someone in our intimate circle to complain that they are tired of all that WE are tired of? It’s enough to make you want to spit. Or hit someone. Or SPIT while HITTING someone…

So what do you do when you realize that those who support you are having trouble supporting you? I have three tidbits to share.

1. If the Shoe Were On the Other Foot

Please don’t lash out and tell your significant bozos (cuz at the point you are mad at them for their lack of support means they have morphed from close relationships to close BOZOS), that if things were “the other way around” you would TOTALLY be there for them – ALWAYS.

This, my friends, is impossible to prove. YOU are the one dealing with a significant, life-changing diagnosis. We don’t know how we would react to “the shoe being on the other foot”. Criticizing and attacking another by insisting we would support and behave differently is not fair, nor is it justified. There are numerous studies that support that stress and anxiety can be vicarious experiences by those who support people who are struggling.

I believe one of the very best things we can do for those who support us is to acknowledge up front that WE KNOW THIS IS HARD ON THEM TOO.

2. Engage in Active Listening

All relationships benefit from active listening. Active listening was made popular by psychologist, Carl Rogers, in the 50’s. Many different counseling approaches now incorporate active listening to engage in good communication. One of the best descriptions of active listening that I’ve read can be found HERE. It is five WONDERFUL pages of all that is Active Listening. So I’m not going to take the time to explain it here and instead am giving you a “homework assignment” <wink>.

3. Yes, They Should. But… They Don’t

I cannot boast of 100% supportive relationships, nor brag that I’ve handled my own acquired disabilities with grace and diplomacy. Even though I’m in a “good place” right now with numerous supportive relationships, I have been disappointed by some of my relationships, and have even lost some folks along the way.

It hurts.

The biggest mistake one can make in shouldering all that encompasses living with significant challenges, is trying to do it alone. You are not alone.

For one thing, you are reading THIS. I care.

The Internet insures that we are NOT alone. The Internet is accessible to even those with significant challenges. If your intimate relationships and friendships have let you down, please know that you need others. Find them.

Places you can find support:

1. The newspaper: Many list various support groups and networks available for numerous types of challenges and health issues.

2. Churches: Many have support groups and networks available to both members and non-members.

3. Libraries: Many have community services bulletin boards (both physical and on-site, as well as electronic) that list numerous support groups.

4. Online forums: One only has to “Google” their diagnosis to find numerous avenues of support online. One great searchable database can be found HERE.

5. National non-profit and for-profit organizations: Most diagnosis also have organizations that provide education, advocacy, and support at the local, state, and national levels. Search the Internet for organizations that provide resources for your specific population. Many have support networks as well.

6. FaceBook and other Social Media Outlets: You’d be surprised what support resources are available on FaceBook. Many are closed groups as well as have confidentiality tenants of membership.

7. Start your own: I’m not a big fan of “wiki” anything (I suppose it is the teacher in me), but I have to admit, WikiHow did this up right. Check it out HERE.

Cut ‘Em Some Slack

Finally, I’d be a poor advocate if I didn’t give you heads up that people are going to disappoint you. Forgive them.

You are going to have a really bad day and need all kinds of support, practically draining those around you DRY. Dehydrated people can lash out. Forgive them.

You will struggle with having to live your life yet another day – so very tired of it all. Someone will point this out. Mock you. Complain about you. Forgive them.

Someone will try really hard to support you and come up short. Their personality or own needs simply do not allow them to be exactly what you need them to be. Forgive them – and support THEM.

You are going to have the kind of day where you are just done with EVERYONE. You burn your bridges, isolate yourself, and find yourself very, very alone. Forgive yourself. And rebuild.

Denise Portis

©2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Bishop, M. (2005). Quality of Life and Psychosocial Adaptation to Chronic Illness and Acquired Disability: A Conceptual and Theoretical Synthesis. Journal Of Rehabilitation71(2), 5-13.

Rogers, C. R., & Farson, R. E. (1957). Active listening. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company.