Through the Eyes of a Newbie

Milo Cade - Fidos For Freedom, Inc., Service Dog.
Milo Cade – Fidos For Freedom, Inc., Service Dog.

Many of Hearing Elmo’s readers know that I retired my service dog, Chloe, this year. Since May 1st, she is enjoying retirement and still does some hearing alerts at home. She is happy, spoiled, and we believe well-deserving of all the naps and belly rubs she is currently receiving. I was recently matched with Milo, from Fidos For Freedom, Inc. Milo is a shepherd/lab mix and I am enjoying the process of being partnered with a mobility/balance service dog versus a hearing/balance assistance dog. We determined my primary needs are mitigating issues with Meniere’s disease and not hearing alerts. I love my cochlear implant, and feel like I have adjusted to the world of “hearing again” very well. My balance is, and will continue to be, a major issue. I suppose in a way, this is an introduction of my new partner, Milo.

One thing I have enjoyed is experiencing MY world (work, church, walks, etc.) through the eyes of a newbie. For Milo, everything in MY world is new. He looks at everything in awe. If he isn’t looking in awe, he is sometimes in “investigation mode”.

Is it scary?

Is it freaky?

Is it edible?

Is it alive?

What does Denise think?

At a training session with my trainer a week or so ago, I brought Milo to one of my classes. I had allowed enough time to exit the service dog safely from my car. I had allowed time for a short potty break. (Honestly, Chloe hasn’t been at home long enough for me to get out of the habit of some of these things. I found myself at a potty area recently and realized I didn’t have a dog by my side!). I allowed enough time. Not.

I did not allow time for all the new things my newbie partner was seeing. The grassy area was new. The trees and picnic bench were new. The ramp into the building was new. The automatic door push-button was new. At least… it was new to MILO. For just a brief second, I was mildly annoyed. I had not allowed time for appraising all of these new environments. That was MY bad, not Milo’s. I want my dog to be confident and aware of his surroundings. I was almost late to class, but the time I took “extra” was time worth taking. Newbies need some extra patience from those of us who are veterans to the schedule and environment. We owe it to them. But you know something?

Blowing It BIG!

I really know how to blow it. I mean, I don’t do anything half-way. This isn’t always a good thing. I recently became extremely exasperated with someone relatively new to “hearing again”. I try hard to be a positive advocate for people with disabilities, and chronic and/or invisible illnesses. This blog is, in part, a way that I try to raise awareness and encourage people to talk about tough subjects.

I see this lady about 3 times a month at the grocery store. Over a year ago she saw my CI, asked about it, and eventually had surgery herself. This individual was relatively new to hearing loss. She was still struggling to help the people important to her understand that the CI did not “FIX” her hearing. Instead it was restored to a type of hearing (bionically) and  she would still be in environments occasionally where she would need others to understand that she needed to 1) see their face, 2) slow them down, and 3) find a quieter spot. After listening to her for about ten minutes – really distraught about not feeling accepted –  I felt myself becoming impatient. We had this conversation before and I felt as if we were “beating a dead horse”. Remorse and shame immediately washed over me. I stuck my finger in my own face and preached, “Really, Denise? Really?” (Y’all are trying to figure out how you stick your own finger in your face, aren’t you?)

As I had (thankfully) kept my mouth shut, I continued to listen and realized she was now apologizing… “I’m sorry I keep bringing this up. I just can’t seem to help them understand that the CI was not a CURE. I’m so frustrated!”

I realized then and there that I needed to put myself in newbie shoes more often and remember how difficult those early years were. Advocating and educating take time. Families and friends do not just wake up overnight and suddenly “get it”.

I told her that I often forget how hard those early years were, and that she had to keep at it… eventually some of it would start to sink in for her family members.

As a person of faith, I believe everything happens for a reason. We may not always like the purpose behind God allowing something to happen, but there is always a reason. I’m also (gulp) old enough now to know that we may not EVER completely understand why something happened this side of Heaven. I have ALWAYS felt like that the acquired disabilities I have were allowed so that I could help others… or at least try to do so. I blow it. I blow it BIG. However, I think those of us that have lived the life a few years, owe it to the newbies in our lives, to lovingly coach, encourage, cheerlead, advise, and HUG often.

You are going to have newbies in YOUR life. Unless you are isolating yourself, you will have folks new to whatever “ails ya”. People will look to you for understanding and advice. You will be able to empathize much better than their doctor, their families, and their co-workers. Of all people – YOU get it.

Are you looking for a way to invest your life in someone with similar challenges? There are opportunities everywhere. You simply need to know where to look. Urban areas often have face-to-face support groups for various illnesses and disabilities. There are numerous online support networks, discussion forums, and peer supports. Many doctor’s offices and rehabilitation specialists have contacts to support personnel. Invest yourself in the life of a newbie. Remind yourself while investing how difficult those first years were! It shouldn’t surprise you to discover, sometimes by accident, the student becomes the teacher. Always, always be teachable.

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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Self-Talk

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Self-talk. Chances are you have been using self-talk since you were a child. As a matter of fact, developmental psychologists tells us that self-talk begins in middle childhood, ages 6 to 11-years-old (Arnett, 2013). Perhaps that is why many folks think that simply “talking to yourself” out loud is the same thing as self-talk. Children often “play out loud”, adding sound effects, conversations, and even lengthy monologue within imaginary play. This is not self-talk. Self-talk is really just your inner voice. It often reflects your conscious and unconscious thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions (Psych Central, 2015).

Self-talk CAN be out loud… don’t get me wrong. One of my favorite things to practically shout when I use self-talk, is “Girl? I REJECT THAT!” This is said out loud, with southern accent, hand on hip, and oozing with attitude.  (Are you picturing it? If you know me, you likely have even heard me say it).

Self-talk is also studied in Sport Psychology. As a matter of fact, if you do some searching online, many athletes have often used quotes that incorporate the use of self-talk. We ALL use self-talk, however. Whitbourne (2013), explained “Psychologists have identified one important type of these inner monologues as “self-talk,” in which you provide opinions and evaluations on what you’re doing as you’re doing it. You can think of self-talk as the inner voice equivalent of sports announcers commenting on a player’s successes or failures on the playing field” (para. 1).

This is why sometimes internally and oft-times out loud, we say, “Well. That was stupid”. As a matter of fact, much of our self-talk as adults is negative. Some of us may be parroting things we actually hear others say. However, most of the negative self-talk comes from the heart of pessimism and self-deprecation. Why? Why are we so hard on ourselves?

People who live with chronic illness, or invisible (or visible) disabilities often have negative self-talk. Statistics tell us we don’t really engage in negative self-talk more than adults who do not struggle with these issues, but perhaps the source is different. Frustration tends to be a significant source of negative self-talk for the differently-abled.

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Perhaps you are trying to discover how to do something independently. Maybe your are coming to terms with having to do something differently. Here are some things I have found helpful when I find frustration is spawning negative self-talk:

1. Identify it. Perhaps this is why the first phrase out of mouth is often “Girl? I REJECT THAT”. I identify that I am engaging in negative self-talk. See it (or hear it). Call it what it is. Now that you recognize it:

2. Change your spin on it. See if you can’t put a positive spin on it. Perhaps your self-talk has recognized something that you need to pay attention to but you need to say it like you are talking to your best friend. Be your own best friend. We wouldn’t say, “Geesh, that was dumb”. Try re-phrasing it. “Well I’m smarter than this. How can I make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

A great example of this happened to me just last week. I took a really hard fall between my front door and the grass to “potty the dogs”. It was late, and pretty dark outside. I was in a hurry. My pillow was calling out to me and I wanted to reply face-to-face. I left the house without my cane. I was only walking 10 yards. What could happen?

I have 6 bruises and a small cut on my arm to show how wonderfully intelligent that choice was. So laying there in the grass with “mother earth” in my mouth, ear, and eyes, my first thought was:

“Dang. You are so graceful”.

Yeah. I speak fluent sarcasm.

My second thought was, “Geesh, that was stupid”. I’m a bit of a motor-mouth so I’m pretty sure the conversation went on a little longer, discussing how many brain cells I have, could I be any lazier for not taking 10 seconds to grab the cane?, and competing very hard to convince all living things listening that I deserve my title of Accident Prone Queen.

Because I’ve had so much practice at this, I immediately identified what was happening. Putting a new spin on it meant I could say, “Well this is why you should take 10 seconds to grab the cane!” Folks, I was WRONG to leave the house without my cane. But finding a middle-ground and re-phrasing the self-talk helped me be just a little more kind to myself. We need to take the time to be kind to ourselves.

3. Flexible expectations. No one knows you like YOU know you. If you have lived with invisible illness or disability for any length of time at all, you know what your own limitations are.

Unlike some of my cochlear implant friends, I still do not hear music very well, nor enjoy what I hear. My iTunes account could be deactivated. Does this mean music isn’t a part of my life? Absolutely not. I sing 80’s tunes at the top of my lungs when home alone.

Because of positional vertigo, I cannot use exercise equipment like the cross trainer (my husband’s favorite), stair-climber, or anything that moves my position vertically. Does this mean I cannot exercise? No. I can use a treadmill and I can walk. The latter I do twice a day.

The doctoral program I am in is designed to push you through in two years. I will be done in 3.5 years. And you know what? That is OK. This is the pace I can do successfully and complete my schooling. I can be flexible in my expectations!

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When all else fails, tell yourself to shut up. You may not say, “Girl? I REJECT THAT!”, but don’t be afraid to tell yourself to zip it. It may even be helpful to say it out loud. It works for me! In the end, you can actually work self-talk to your advantage. Learn to cheerlead yourself. Most of us look great with poms-poms.

Arnett, J. (2013). Developmental Psychology: A cultural approach (1st ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Psych Central (2015). Challenging negative self-talk. Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/challenging-negative-self-talk/

Whitbourne, S. K. (2013). Make your self-talk work for you. Psychology Today. Retrieved June 15, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201309/make-your-self-talk-work-you

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal