Specificity

specificity

Some posts get a lot of response both publically and privately. Back in March of this year, “When they SHOULD, but They Don’t” posted. In 2015, this post has generated the most “mail”. This tells me that the topic is important. This tells me that this problem exists. This tells me that people with chronic illness, invisible illness or disability, and health challenges struggle with:

  1. Asking for help
  2. Accepting help
  3. Realizing that assistance ≠ diminished independence

My husband and I travelled to see his parents two states away this weekend. I love having Terry all to myself in a car where he can’t get away from my enthusiastic chatter and conversation. Thankfully, the man doesn’t seem to mind that a seatbelt is all that separates him from his talkative wife.

I shared with him how much follow-up email I have received about this post. I know many people who are differently-abled personally. I also “know” many only through “Hearing Elmo”. Why is it so hard for the people in our lives to support us in a healthy, loving way without creating codependency, “IOU mentality”, and decreased self-esteem? I shared with my husband an article I recently read at the Invisible Disabilities Association, on what family members of differently-abled people should know. (You can read it HERE).

My husband, a psychologist who has worked with special populations for 25 years, reminded me of something that I really needed to hear. You see… lately we have not been communicating very well. Yeah, yeah, I know! Hearing loss is a communication disorder, but this isn’t new to us! Once in awhile, our communication breaks down. I get frustrated, he gets defensive, and the dogs choose sides. It’s ugly.

Be Specific or Be Quiet

One of the most common things people say to me about this topic is, “If the shoe were on the other foot, and THEY were differently-abled… I would be supportive and accepting!” In other words, “I’m sure I’d respond to all of this much better because I’m a super hero and they are NOT”.

Now don’t get me wrong! Maybe you WOULD respond more effectively! I believe that circumstances such as dealing with a health challenge can make us more compassionate, empathetic, and helpful to others in the same boat. I tried to point out to a reader that they “could not know how they would respond and support the other person because it isn’t their reality”. They “could not know how hard it is to love and support someone 24/7 that is differently-abled because they are not living that life”. These folks immediately fire back, “Well I LIVE WITH THIS 24/7 so I think I would know how hard it is”. Apples and oranges, my friends! They are both fruits and grow on trees, but are different in every way. Bottom line, if you are differently-abled or live with chronic illness, your perceptions and reality have changed. You cannot know what it would be like to be completely healthy and instead love/support someone who has special challenges.

I can already HEAR picture some of you freaking out about this. Before you send me hate mail though, please remember that I, too, am a person with special challenges, married to someone whose only significant challenge is to lose 20 pounds now that he’s middle-aged. (Hmmm. I may get called out for that comment should hubby read this week’s post).

I’ve already explained that my “captive audience” reminded me of something about good communication because I have slipped into some old habits and was feeling frustrated with him as a result. We need to be specific. Our loved ones are not mind readers. Here are some REAL specifics I have learned in my own communication – all of which we re-visited on this trip since communication has broken down lately.

Instead of:

You need your laundry done? Do it yourself MORON!

You know I love doing laundry. I need you to carry it down the two flights of stairs to the laundry room. Then, when you get home from work, at some point I will need you to carry it all back upstairs.

Instead of:

What? You can’t carry your own plate to the sink? Well I guess I’m making dinner FOR ONE from now on, You MORON! 

I don’t mind cleaning up after meals. My Meniere’s disease does not allow me to carry things to the sink very safely. Could you pile your stuff in the sink please?

(This specific instruction garnered the benefit of his carrying MY dishes to the sink, too!)

Instead of:

I can only walk one dog at night. You think I have excess energy? I guess poor Chloe is going to believe she is unloved and definitely UNWALKED. MORON!

Would you walk Chloe with Milo and I tonight? She needs the exercise.  You don’t need to go as far as I do, and it will mean a lot to her.

Instead of:

You’re tired of the empty cupboards and fridge? Go get your own groceries, MORON!

(Can you tell my unfiltered, “go to” cut-down is moron? Poor Terry) 

I am running on empty this week. Milo is a huge help, but I’m just “done”. Would you go get groceries with me this week? It would really help.

Instead of:

You never help me! (and just to stay consistent… MORON!)

Would you mind helping me with some housework today? My balance is particularly bad. I could dust if you would vacuum?

Specificity helps communication. Generalizations will lead to communication breakdown. It takes practice. You wouldn’t think it would, but it really does. Learn to be specific. You may even have to learn to be specific in how you want your loved ones to back off! A recent example:

Instead of:

Cripes, Terry! I can do this, you know. I’m not totally incapable!

(He was trying to help me get Milo’s leash on and Milo was super excited).

I know Milo is “blowing a gasket” here. But I have to learn to calm him down and give him the proper commands since I’m usually alone with him. He has to learn to settle on MY terms. Thanks for the help, but I’ve got this!

If you need help, be specific. If you can do something yourself, be specific. If you need a listening ear, be specific. If you need a hug, be specific.

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

P.S. I’m hoping to launch a series of blog posts over the next year. See HERE for more information. We need guest authors! 🙂

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Polygamy and Practice

polygamy and practice

Do you know how many times polygamy has cropped up in my conversations? It’s super easy for me to hazard a guess because I have NEVER had a conversation about polygamy. I don’t watch “Sister Wives”, and know very few Mormons (and those I do – do not practice polygamy). So why… WHY would I bring the word up in a chance encounter? *shaking my head at myself*

I’m a creature of habit. I go to the same stores and the same restaurants. I’m super scheduled and my electronic calendar is near and dear to my heart. I’m color-coded. I’m organized.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that I tend to run into the same people at the places I frequent. I have shopped at the same grocery store for almost four years. You tend to run into some of the same people when you frequent a store. When you go everyplace with a service dog, it makes you rather unforgettable, especially with children. It’s no surprise that I see some of the same children in stores who have been curious about and thrilled with Chloe as I shop.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that a little boy I have seen a half a dozen times or more stopped me to ask about my dog. My new partner is Milo, a black shepherd/lab whose appearance is completely different than that of Chloe. Here is a recent photo of both Chloe (retired) and Milo (current). The picture isn’t that great which reminds me I need to work on getting some more “3 musketeers” shots!

Service Dog Bookends
Service Dog Bookends

This little boy that I see occasionally (whose name I DO NOT know – which embarrasses me as he knows my service dog’s name), looked at me with big eyes and said, “Where is Chloe and WHO IS THAT?” (Ya gotta love kids)

I replied, “Oh, this is my new service dog, Milo. Chloe is retired now and is at home sleeping on the couch”.

He looked very solemn and said, “So she still lives with you?

Oh yes“, I said. “She will always live with me. It’s just that Milo is my new partner!

He was quiet for a second or two and said, “So it’s like you are divorced and Milo is your new service dog?

I was so astonished by the seemingly change in topic I stuttered out, “Well… ummm…. no, not at all. Chloe and I aren’t divorced. I guess it’s more like polygamy and both dogs live with me now!

The little guy look TOTALLY CONFUSED, and I glanced up to see the HORRIFIED LOOK on his mother’s face. Ever want to just slap your hand over your mouth? I knew as soon as I said it that it was 1) totally inappropriate, 2) would take the mother all day to explain to her son, and 3) completely “off the wall”.

I made a mess of trying to back peddle (for people with balance disorders can do precious little BACKWARDS), and hurriedly made my way down the next aisle.

I stood in the international food section fussin’ at myself and nearly in tears for using such a poor analogy around a 6-year-old. I determined then and there I needed to PrAcTiCe PrAcTiCe PRACTICE what to say in response to “where’s Chloe and who is THIS?

Part of Good Advocacy is Practiced Responses

Being a good advocate and representative of “whatever ails ya” means you have good responses when someone asks questions. I have learned the HARD WAY, that these responses need to be rehearsed. When you are taken by surprise by either well-meaning, curious people or rude, snarky trouble-makers, you want to have a measured, helpful reply so that you advocate in a positive and helpful manner. I have found that if I don’t have a “canned response”, I tend to match the tone and demeanor of the person asking. This means that sometimes I am pleasant and in “teacher mode”, with great responses that educate and advocate on behalf of the disability community. However, other times I’m waving my cane in a curmudgeon’s face and informing them in no-uncertain terms how horrible they are.

At Fidos For Freedom, Inc., (where I trained for now – TWO – service dogs), we practice how to respond when encountering access issues. If you have a service dog, it is not a matter of IF you have access issues, rather WHEN you have access issues. It is easy to get flustered. It is easy to get mad. It is easy to say the wrong thing. Practice makes it much easier to respond with something that will actually help you and others like yourself.

Doesn’t it Suck that Many of the Rude Ones are “Kin”?

What is even harder is when the person acting incredulous and skeptical is someone you know well or are even family. I’m lucky that I have a very supportive spouse and adult children. Even so… it is hard to love someone with a chronic condition. Once in awhile, my husband (or kids) do not filter what they are saying, because they, too, are sick and tired of Meniere’s disease. I’m 100% certain my husband has rehearsed responses to commiserate appropriately so that he doesn’t spend the night on the couch.

(Holding an ice pack on my cheek, or head), “I’m so tired of falling and staggering around! What I wouldn’t give for just one day of no vertigo!

It must suck, honey!” is the rehearsed response so that “Yeah, I’m getting tired of taking off work to take you to the E.R.” doesn’t slip out.

It can really hurt when someone who knows you better than others “opens their mouth and inserts foot”. I recommend that even support people practice and learn how to deliver sympathy and encouragement.

You Will Still Blow It

Even if you practice measured, helpful responses to personal questions, you are still going to blow it from time to time. A couple of Sundays ago I was ticked off at myself for not responding kindly to someone and was thinking, “Denise! You’ve had this diagnosis for 2 decades! Exactly WHEN is it gonna become HABIT?

I sit during the worship service. It isn’t because I cannot stand. Folks are surprised when they learn that at work, I stay standing for very long periods of time. I actually MOVE very easily and with very little wobble. It’s standing still that is the problem. My world turns… counter-clockwise when I’m standing still. I love my church. They are very supportive of people who are differently-abled. We have a loop system in the auditorium for people with hearing loss. We have fully accessible bathrooms and classrooms. We have an elevator and a lift for people with mobility issues. In spite of this, I’m forced to sit during the worship service. My church puts the words to the songs on the wall using a projector. We have a beautiful stage and lights as well. The song lyrics are in a multi-media slide show with patterns, colors, movement and lights. Everything is color-coordinated and changes song to song. The freaky OCD person in me is in awe every Sunday. It’s gorgeous! But… I can’t stand. If I do, I’m fighting consciousness. It isn’t a problem, for I don’t mind sitting. I’m comfortable and SAFE. I learned that not everyone understands why I’m sitting, however.

An elderly person came up to me at the beginning of the service and asked me how to access the hearing loop in the auditorium. I removed my cochlear implant and hearing aid and demonstrated how to switch to t-coil. I get this question about once a month and I’m always glad to educate. I love the hearing loop and it has dramatically transformed church for me. I love answering questions to help others access this wonderful technology. So wasn’t I surprised by the encounter, but totally floored by the follow-up question:

So why are you seated during the music? I’m way older than you and even I can stand!

I don’t know if it was the environment, the timing, or the unexpectedness of the question, but can I tell you … I really took it wrong? I could FEEL the tension creep up my spine and I was mentally counting to ten and trying to diffuse the explosion about to spew out of my mouth. THIS ONE I hadn’t practiced for. I hadn’t run any scenarios through my head and out through my heart filter to answer a question like this appropriately. So I didn’t.

Wow. That was really, really mean. We’re done,” I said. The person looked startled, then uncomfortable and walked away. I think the last action was because I’m certain my look was murderous. I mean… I was MAD. (I later apologized).

Folks are gonna take you by surprise once in awhile. You will hear an insensitive comment from someone you weren’t expecting it from and it will just shock you into silence (if you are lucky) or cause you to say something you regret. It is best to be prepared.

Ummm… WHY SHOULD I?

Maybe you are thinking that if people are going to be insensitive and inconsiderate, that “why should I temper what I say in response?

Since we are on the subject… here are some “canned responses”:

1. You don’t want to sink to their level.

2. You need to be the mature one.

3. Kill ’em with kindness.

4. In the end, you advocate for all of us.

5. Honey attracts more bees than vinegar.

Well.

I happen to love vinegar. I mean… don’t get me started on pickles. There are few things I love more. Let’s be honest though… from someone who is differently-abled to someone who may also live with acquired disability, chronic illness, or invisible issues, “WHY should we be careful in our response?

(sigh)

Because it’s the RIGHT thing to do. Sucks, don’t it? I can tell you from experience though that it is much better to answer correctly and watch someone else squirm, than to have to apologize for “going off” on someone. Go practice, my friends! You’ll be glad you did!

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

How the Church Can Welcome the Differently-Abled

My husband, Terry and I, standing outside our church on Easter 2015.
My husband, Terry and I, standing outside our church on Easter 2015.

After a great deal of thought and preparation, I decided to reach out and ask for help.

Ok. Really I’m BEGGING.

(Well that sounds sappy and depressing).

I’ll pay you MONEY. I’ll have your BABY. I’ll CLEAN your house. I’ll OWE YOU. I’ll toot YOUR HORN (but I warn you… I’m deaf). I’ll GIVE YOU PROPS. 

Hmmm. None of those are doing it for me.

I’m asking you to HELP. You CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

Asking For Guest Authors

As a person of faith, and a person who is differently-abled, being able to attend my home church is important to me. My church does a lot of things right. My church could do some things better. I have learned to accept that some things are just HARD when you put everything that encapsulates ME in the place I have CHOSEN to worship.

However, I am a person with hearing loss, hearing again through the bionics of a cochlear implant. That’s pretty specific.

I am a person with Meniere’s disease, a balance disorder that the “experts” have not completely figured out yet. The triggers, symptoms, and treatments vary. How it affects me is very specific.

I have major depressive disorder. Many people do.

I have a service dog. Not everyone who is “differently-abled” has chosen to partner with one. You may have other assistive devices or options.

I know, however, that there are many, MANY people out there who struggle in their own PLACE of worship. There are people who struggle worshiping along side of the PEOPLE with whom they have chosen to worship. These people are different than “my church family people”. There are people out there who have passion for Purple. (Sorry… I got carried away with having a third point that started with P. Did I mention I also have OCD tendencies?)

I would like to ask for YOUR help. You see? I need your stories and your words. Together, the compilation of our experiences (I believe) can make a difference in our churches. I am launching an initiative that I hope will take MONTHS to complete. There is no hurry. The posts do not have to be consecutive.

You can write anonymously.

You can write unedited.

I need you. I believe those trying to improve accommodations and accessibility in places of worship need to hear your story. Would you be willing to participate?

Some ground rules:

1. Email me at denise.portis@gmail for suggestions as far as photographs, word count, etc.

– OR – Click this link: <ThIs HeRe LiNk>  (When you are a transplanted Southerner, it shows up even in your hyperlinks).

2. The story needs to be YOUR story. In other words, you live a life as a differently-abled person. Or, you LOVE a differently-abled person and because of your relationship have an important voice about this topic.

3. My assumption is the posts will trickle in over the course of months (maybe a year! I can HOPE!). I will tag them with “Churches and Disabilities”.

Do you have an invisible illness and struggle with accessibility, acceptance, and inclusion?

Are you differently-abled, and wish some minor (or major) changes could be made to make it easier for you to attend your church?

Do you have a mental illness or diagnosis that is misunderstood and has the kind of stigma that a church pretends doesn’t exist?

Do you long for support groups hosted by area churches for:

Grief Support

Addictions

disAbility Awareness

Parents of Differently-abled Children

“Single Again” Care

Why not consider writing about it?

It doesn’t matter if you have never written for a blog before. You don’t have to consider yourself a “writer”. Hearing Elmo needs YOUR STORIES. I truly believe it will make a difference.

Denise Portis

©2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal