NOT “The End” – Turning the Page on a New Chapter

"Hanging it Up"
“Hanging it Up”

I’m a reader. Perhaps it has something to do with having a mother who was an English teacher. Maybe it is because both my parents are readers. All I know, is that I can’t remember not having books. I lived in a rural, farming community and as it was before the “age of the Internet”, much of what we did in our free time was reading. Thanks to my mom, I have read all the “great classics”. I also grew up reading series such as “Trixie Belden”, “The Bobbsey Twins”, “Nancy Drew”, “Hardy Boys”, “Sugar-Creek Gang”, “Agatha Christie”, and “Little House on the Prairie”. I remember being SO BORED one summer that I started reading my dad’s favorite series, “Louis L’Amour” and discovered they were actually OK too!

I always felt a little melancholy when coming to the end of a good book. If it was a series, I fretfully waited for the sequel to come out. It was especially hard when the author ended a book with a “cliff-hanger”. I think that is when I started biting my nails.

I’ve had an emotional roller-coaster kind of 2015. I have been slowly easing my service dog, Chloe, into part-time work. I have already started training for a successor dog at Fidos For Freedom, Inc. In the past week, Chloe has gone from part-time working dog to “when hound dog feels like it”. I always ask her if she wants to “get dressed” and more often than not she flops her tail at me and gives me a sweet hound-dog look. “See you later, mom! I’ll be here when you get back!” 

Her vest is more often hanging on its hook, than it is being worn by faithful service dog. It has been a harder transition on me than it has been on her, and frankly? That’s the way I want it.

People notice that Chloe isn’t with me now. I suppose when you are thought of as a team, when the “cute red head” is missing, people notice. I’ve answered these questions dozens of times:

“You get to keep her, don’t you?”

“What will she do all day?”

“How will a new partner and Chloe get along?”

At first, it made me really sad to see her vest hanging on it’s hook as I walked out the door. I had an overwhelming feeling of finality. I know I’m making the right decision, but for awhile I felt like I was facing the end of a book–“The End“.

However, I realized that just like in OUR lives, finishing one chapter in life doesn’t mean the book is over. We plan to ease Chloe into therapy dog work if it is something both my husband and I can work into our schedules. If she doesn’t transition that direction, she will continue to be a beloved furry member of our family.

When the Life You Had Is Over…

One of the most disconcerting things about acquired disabilities or invisible, chronic illnesses, is that at some point you may not be able to do everything that you once were able to do. I’ve heard some people say, “Don’t ever say you CAN’T. Just find a new way of doing it!” But friends? That isn’t always realistic.

Take roller-skating for example. I love to roller-skate. I was actually pretty good at it, too. I could skate backwards, do a single axle, speed race, limbo on skates, and much more. Post balance/vestibular disorder, I can no longer skate. Sure, I could probably find various devices to prop myself up, or skate with a walker on wheels. But, I won’t be skating like I was. This doesn’t mean that I stop doing ALL extra-curricular activities. There ARE some things I can still do and do so safely. I simply started a new chapter in my book, “This is My Life“.

Some people find that after acquired disability or diagnosis, they can no longer work. Their “new normal” includes chronic pain, debilitating fatigue, or other symptoms that make it impossible for them to work “9 to 5”. However, they may find they there are some things they can do to continue earning a paycheck. There are a variety of things one can do to earn money while working at home.

Some people become volunteers and do a number of things that yield personal satisfaction and allow them to “give back”; however, the activities are not dependent on a set schedule. I know some people who no longer work due to a diagnosis, and likely do TOO MUCH as volunteers. There are so many opportunities! There are so many ways people of various abilities can do to benefit others.

If your life took an unexpected turn after a diagnosis or acquired disability, your book isn’t finished. You are just starting a new chapter.

BUT… YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND. Everything in my life has changed! I cannot successfully reach goals I made a long time ago before this diagnosis. My friends have changed. My relationship status has changed. My book really is approaching “The End”. 

Perhaps your life really did experience a 180 change in direction. Some of my favorite books are part of a SERIES. The book may have ended, but there is a sequel. Set new goals. Make new friends. Do new things. I have found that some of the most rewarding experiences I have had were the direct result of my embracing my own “new normal”. I stopped trying to be the Denise I was before hearing loss and Meniere’s disease. The people I have met, the job that I have, and the organizations in which I am involved would have never been a part of my life if I hadn’t been forced to start a new chapter, or even a new book in a part of a series.

Hanging your vest up? Have major changes happened in your life? Your story isn’t finished. The chapter may be done. The book may even be finished. Your story is NOT complete.

Writer’s block? Network with others who have similar diagnosis as you do. See what they do to volunteer, serve, or even jobs and careers they may have. It’s never too late to go back to school! Many older adults sit in my classrooms taking classes to earn a degree and prepare them for something new. Gone are the days where all my students were 18 and 19 years old.

From an editorial review of “The Story of My Life” by Helen Keller: “Many of her later works were largely autobiographical, but there was always an emphasis on the inherent power of the individual to journey through life with hope. The Story of My Life is the first chapter in such a journey.”

If your life has significantly changed, it is simply the end of a chapter. Your story – your journey continues.

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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Retiring My Service Dog

By request, I am transferring a copy of this to “Hearing Elmo”.

Almost "11-year-old" ChloeAlmost “11-year-old” Chloe

Dear Chloe,

I started asking questions of other veteran teams about a year ago. I started to notice some things about your energy level throughout the day. You were always great about taking naps when the time was available to do so. It helped keep your tail wagging and enabled you to always be on your toes when I needed you. Lower energy levels coupled with some obvious pain when your packmate, Tyco, hit your back clued us in that something else was up. I noticed that if someone reached down to pet you with heavy hand you’d shy away or even yelp. Your beloved vet verified you had developed arthritis in your spine. We tried a variety of helps and eventually found something that didn’t make you walk around like a zombie but kept your pain at bay. I tried to ignore what my heart was telling me. I’d deliberately think of other things; things like those early years.

Alerting to my cell phone jingleAlerting to my cell phone jingle

Do you remember?

… when you first learned to alert to my cell phone ringing? We had practiced all day. That evening, you calmly lay by the tub while I indulged in a bubble bath. Evidently my phone rang, because the next thing I knew both you and the phone were in the tub with me. I guess all those bubbles did look like a solid surface.

Do you remember?

… when I learned awfully darn quickly to carefully search through the laundry basket before lifting it up if you were doing a PERFECT POINT towards the hidden cat in the warm, dry clothes?

Do you remember?

… when you came running in the office and popped me in the chest – something not at all allowed? I corrected you and made you lay down and you hopped right back up and popped me in the chest again. So I followed you – down the stairs and into the laundry room where a fire had started. Right as I entered the laundry room, the smoke alarm went off. You were more reliable than the smoke alarm.

Do you remember?

… flying all over the country speaking at various conventions and conferences for the Hearing Loss Association of America? You were always such a great ambassador for service dogs and for Fidos For Freedom, Inc. You accompanied me to speak at a Cochlear America’s convention. It didn’t matter if we were speaking on Capitol Hill, or a local chapter of people with hearing loss, you were a friendly, hard-working service dog wherever we went.

Do you remember?

… being on television because we were kicked out of the Francis Scott Key Mall in Frederick, in spite of your good looks? We couldn’t convince security that you were a service dog and that it was a violation of the ADA to not allow the service dog that helped me be independent into the mall with me. Mall management apologized, we did a training, and your mug was in newspapers and video feeds everywhere. What a great ambassador you are!

Do you remember?

… when my balance disorder become much worse and I cried myself to sleep almost every night? You’d lick my face and snuggle close and were simply “there” for me.

Do you remember?

… when I noticed a student struggling and asked to meet with them after class? We all sat down and I asked “Is everything, OK?” You stood up and walked over and put your chin on their knee. The floodgates opened and we discovered the tragic circumstances this young man was trying to deal with on his own and were able to get him the help he needed. You were always so good at reaching out to students in need.

Always so happy in stores...Always so happy in stores…

Do you remember?

… how every store employee in all the stores we frequent, eventually learned your name and had to say hello to you? You’d bow and then wag your tail. Oh my goodness, all the items you’ve picked up for me over the years! I have grown so accustomed to not having to ask people for help.

Do you remember?

… running home to bark at the door for dad after I slipped and rolled down the hill and hit a tree? We thought I had also broken my ankle, but it was only sprained. You went all that way back to the house by yourself and got help. You didn’t complain that I had to use a walker for 5 weeks.

Do you remember?

… all the trainings at Fidos For Freedom? All the DEMOS, information booths, and community awareness activities? Girl? You shine.

Finally brave enough to do stairs...Finally brave enough to do stairs…

Do you remember?

… when I was finally brave enough to try stairs? If a national park like Harper’s Ferry did not have elevators, walking paths were impossible for me. You allowed me to hike again. Thank you.

all the re-certification tests we've done together! Wow!all the re-certification tests we’ve done together! Wow!

Do you remember?

… all the re-certification tests we’ve done? You sailed through your requirements each year while I sweat out the written part of the test. Oh for your calm, hound dog!

Do you remember?

… being the topic of NUMEROUS posts on Hearing Elmo, my now fourteen-year-old blog for people with acquired disabilities?

Do you know how many lives you have touched? What a difference you’ve made in my life, and in the life of others!

Do you know how much I love you? I love you enough to let you retire even though I miss you desperately when I go to work on the days you are now staying home. I love you enough to let you rest, and play, and be a beloved pet. I love you enough to support you in your second career and let you be the therapy dog you’ve always wanted to be. I love you enough to phase you out of donning your vest each morning. I love you enough that I miss having you by my side 24/7, but love you enough to know you are sleeping and resting at home – waiting for me to come home so that you can cover me with Chloe kisses.

Thank you for being my partner, Chloe. You have given me independence and confidence to help me realize my dreams and to be involved in the disability community. Thank you, for loving me unconditionally and teaching me to do the same. Enjoy retirement, my red-headed sweetheart. You deserve it!

Your partner,

Denise

Tree Hugger

2015-04-11 19.08.33

The weather is finally feeling “Spring like”. The trees are all budding out and blooms galore, decorate my neighborhood. It ain’t all good. *achoooo* – but allergies seem a small price to pay for such pretty walking weather.

A couple of days ago, I ventured out of my immediate neighborhood and down a nearby walking trail. I’ve posted about beavers and bullfrogs in other posts as the path stretches along the perimeter of a small pond. At “the bend in the path” where the trail takes a sharp right turn, a huge tree was cut down. This was supposedly done to insure the path remained semi-straight. When I first saw it last year after this section of the trail was finished, I grieved a little seeing that this huge tree was chopped down and for the apparent reason it was hauled away. I haven’t been down this path in months and months. When I got closer to the remains of this giant, I looked for the scarred stump. I was surprised at what I saw. Every which way, new growth and small branches, sprouted from the stump.

I almost became a “tree hugger“. Not in the traditional “activist” sense, but I was so excited to see that it had persevered! I even took a few steps off the path to see how to approach for a hug. Seeing no great way to latch on and SQUEEZE, I instead reached out and calmly high five’d a small branch closest to me. I stood and silently celebrated the fact that this tree was still alive, determined to continue in spite of being chopped down!

Have You Felt the Woodsman’s Axe?

I turn 49 this year. Honestly, growing older doesn’t bother me in the least. Yet, because I have acquired disabilities, I have to admit that where I am is NOT where I thought I’d be. Don’t get wrong.

I feel good about me. I still have goals. I strive to make a difference. I love what I do. I have good days and bad days. There have been days I have really felt cut down.

AXED.

For many with acquired disability, chronic illness or invisible (or visible) conditions, much energy and focus is geared towards being independent. We don’t want to be a “bother” or put people out. I stopped trying to “fit in” a long time ago. I don’t hear normally. I don’t walk or stand normally. As I have become comfortable in my own skin, others have learned to accept me just the way I am as well.

But sometimes? Well, sometimes someone comes by with a wicked, sharp axe and hacks away at me, chipping away at who I am. Do you know what sucks? Sometimes the woodsman is someone I know well. Do you have people in your life who tell you “for your own good” to suck it up? “If you didn’t go around making a big deal about your disabilities, you would fit in better!” “Well aren’t you the DRAMA QUEEN?” “I’d never know something was wrong with you if you didn’t go around with a service dog!” (As if it never occurred to them I’m independent BECAUSE of the service dog).

There will be times we feel “cut down” because it is JUST ONE THING AFTER ANOTHER. I have some friends (those I call family, really) who have significant challenges. A few of them have really had a tough year. One took a significant fall in a store and is STILL recovering as the injury fall out was compounded by her MS. I have another friend with MS who is a stroke survivor. Her husband is now dealing with significant health issues. A young woman I got to know through Fidos For Freedom (who also writes) has a terminal illness and things seemed to go from bad to worse for her this year. These warriors have been chopped away.

Yet people with disabilities and chronic illness are stubborn. We persevere. If anyone “keeps on keeping’ on” it’s us! There is not any person with ANY challenge that cannot explode with new growth in the Spring. Winter is harsh. Axes are sharp. Bad stuff happens. But friends? Life isn’t over. Good can come from this.

Spring is here. Have you had a tough Winter? Did someone take an axe to you? You still matter. You can still make a difference. You are important. It’s Spring. Time to bust out in blooms or branch out in new growth. Don’t make me come fertilize you. 🙂

You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result. Genesis 50:20 (NASB)

Denise Portis

©2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal