Pretzels Baby…

Snyder's of Hanover Pretzels commercial 2016
Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzels commercial 2016

We do not have the opportunity to watch much live television in my house. My husband and I tape our favorite shows and then watch them together the couple of nights a week we are both home in the evenings. It worked out this summer, that I did not have a class to teach during the first session of the summer semester. The timing is terrific since I completed my doctoral coursework, and have now started the dissertation. There is a great deal of reading and writing involved at the beginning, so not having a class to teach until 7/1 is a “plus”.

In spite of all the groundwork needed to start the dissertation right, I have had some down time as well. Trying to catch up on my HGTV favorites before I’m back to teaching, I have been surprised by new commercials as Terry nor I watch commercials. The new Synder’s of Hanover pretzel commercial is unique. Well… it’s kind of scary too, but I’ll get to that.

Laura Wernette is the new “smoky-voiced pitchwoman”. I think she’s just scary. She has this intense, no-nonsense stare that reminds me of a grown-up Wednesday Addams.

Christina Ricci in Addams Family Values

I think what bothers me about the commercial (besides the fact they are not captioned – ahem) is that the woman in the advertisement has a facial expression that says one thing (I want to kill and maim you) while her voice is saying another (Synder’s pretzels are the best). From things I have read, the advertisement is popular and folks think the pretzel woman is pretty funny. I cannot justify what I see in her face to what I hear coming out of her mouth. I spend far too long thinking about it, believe me! It made me think about all the times I misunderstand someone’s mood when I choose to only look at their face.

My poor husband has a perpetual eyebrow grimace.

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Even when he is smiling and relaxed, his eyes seem almost angry-looking if one didn’t know him better. When he speaks, he has this laid-back, southern charm and friendliness that (in my opinion) doesn’t “jive” with his facial expression. I tease him about it all the time. (Aren’t I sweet?)

I think one of the things that is most difficult for someone new to hearing loss, is learning to look at the whole picture before jumping to conclusions. It can be hard to try to make sense of what you can actually hear, and match it up with what you think you are seeing on a person’s face or in their body language. (It’s impossible to do when you know and love someone who is fluent is the language of SARCASM, and the voice and pitch deliberately DO NOT match what is on the person’s face).

My best practice is to simply to ask for clarification when needed. If someone’s voice (as heard with my bionic ear, with some limitations on inflection, pitch, and tone) does not match up with what I see on the person’s face, I just ASK.

“Could you clarify for me what you are trying to say? You seem upset, but I don’t want to jump to conclusions”

“You seem really calm, but you practically growled that out to me. Is everything OK?”

I was at a residency this past March and the weather was beautiful. I spent every spare moment outside walking Milo (along with everyone else on break in between workshops). One afternoon, I stopped to answer some questions about Milo to a group of ladies I had been with in several workshops. I noticed the three women all scowling. I tried to pay attention to what they were saying, and occasionally they laughed as well. I had trouble concentrating on their WORDS because their faces were scowling – and looked angry. After a few minutes trying to figure out why their facial expressions were not matching what I was hearing, I realized the sun was in their eyes! With that epiphany, I quickly changed my body position with the comment… “Here. Let me move so the sun isn’t in y’all’s eyes”.

I could have silently freaked out wondering what in the world their problem was. It took me a few minutes, but I finally realized why I was having trouble understanding their mood when their faces were all sun-squinty angry. Small wonder that hearing loss is considered a communication disorder! Especially if you have an acquired hearing loss, learning to communicate without one of the major cues (hearing), can be difficult.

My proximity to Johns Hopkins University Hospital, allows me to mentor folks who are seeking cochlear implantation to restore hearing. One of the questions I am always asked during these meetings is, “What has been the hardest thing for YOU about acquiring hearing loss later in life?” I’m guessing the frequency of the question points to the desire most people have to see similarities in their own struggles. When I explain that having to ask for clarification was a necessary, but difficult thing to learn to do, the people I am meeting with seem so relieved. Some even say, “Oh gosh, it is so good to hear someone else say that! Does it ever get easier?”

It does. That always seems to give them some hope as well.

You are still going to have frustrating moments of confusion. I am 11 years post-op and I believe “hear again” with some level of confidence. I still make mistakes. I may misinterpret tone and intentions, or I may not catch that there has been a complete subject change in the conversation (something I’m rather famous for, if I do say so myself!). As with any acquired disability or life change, in time and with lots of practice, YOU WILL ADAPT. Part of that adaptation will be in recognizing that at times you are going to blow it, but it does not de-rail all the progress you’ve made to date. We can be extremely hard on ourselves! Everyone makes mistakes – even people without acquired disability or challenges.

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

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The Last Straw

last straw

The Last Straw (that broke the camel’s back): The final, additional, small burden that makes the entirety of one’s difficulties unbearable.

Isn’t it interesting that there are so many idioms and colloquial expressions that mean “I’m done”?

The straw that broke the camel’s back (1816)

The last feather breaks the horses back (1829)

The final straw

Hitting a brick wall

Hanging up one’s gloves

The final stroke

I’m sure there are others. I’ve had a heck of a month. No worries – I actually thrive under (some) pressure. However, once in a while each one of us is simply not going to be able to take ONE MORE THING. That ONE MORE THING is often inconsequential and “small” in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps that is why we are so frustrated for breaking under what seems like a “small” thing.

This morning I was stepping off the porch when a “throw your head back to sneeze” came out of nowhere. Just. Like. That. I was horizontal with a teeny, tiny bit of remaining tunnel vision. My ears were roaring. I was nauseous. I had two very concerned service dogs in my face.

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Do you know I sat there and CRIED? I use to cry over everything. I mean, every, little thing! Happy, sad, angry, or confused, I’d unload some stress by crying my eyes out. These days I rarely cry. If I’m crying now, something is seriously wrong, or I have no reserves left and I’m “just done“.

It only lasted a minute or two. With retired neighbors on both sides of me, I can’t sit on the ground wailing very long before I garner some unwanted attention. I chanted to myself, “Suck it up, buttercup!” and struggled back to my feet. I’m sporting a few new bruises, and my pride? Well heck. My pride wasn’t hurt at ALL. When you have Meniere’s disease, pride isn’t crushed in falling, for one falls a lot. Pride is when you KEEP yourself from falling <big grin>

I felt so much better and finished watering the hanging baskets and flowers before making my way back inside. I likely over-analyze things too much. When psychology is your main squeeze, you tend to analyze everything. I took a few minutes to think about why falling on my face and experiencing a short bout of vertigo set me off. I determined it was “the last straw“. Have you ever felt that way when burdened with one more “little” thing?

It is very normal to have days like that. We all have stress. Stress can be good – and bad. Do not confuse stress with burnout. How do you know if you are becoming burnt out? According to the Help Guide organization (2016),

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

(para. 6).

I love this chart (for I am a “chart” kind of person). I think it does a terrific job explaining the difference between stress and burnout:

Stress vs. Burnout
Stress
Burnout
Characterized by overengagement Characterized by disengagement
Emotions are overreactive Emotions are blunted
Produces urgency and hyperactivity Produces helplessness and hopelessness
Loss of energy Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope
Leads to anxiety disorders Leads to detachment and depression
Primary damage is physical Primary damage is emotional
May kill you prematurely May make life seem not worth living
Source: Stress and Burnout in Ministry

As you can see, both stress and burnout can be dangerous. Short-term stress, and at times – chronic stress, are a normal part of life. The “last straw” can actually be a good thing if it means you do something to alleviate some stress.

I cried. I hugged my dogs. I over-analyzed to my heart’s content.

However, the “last straw” can also be a prerequisite to something far more dangerous.

So what do you do when you feel your knees buckle and your back breaking? Well the first step in successfully recovering from collapsed camel syndrome is recognition of the problem or problems. Take some time to evaluate where you are at in your life. Are you over-extended? If so, what can be cut out? Start working on de-stressing. What can you take off the back of your camel?

Are you getting enough rest and taking care of yourself by eating right, getting some fresh air and sunshine, and laughing out loud occasionally? If not, make it a priority to do those things. They can strengthen “your back“.

The Help Guide organization explains how we can unload some of the burden on our camel:

Burnout prevention tips

  • Start the day with a relaxing ritual. Rather than jumping out of bed as soon as you wake up, spend at least fifteen minutes meditating, writing in your journal, doing gentle stretches, or reading something that inspires you.
  • Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits. When you eat right, engage in regular physical activity, and get plenty of rest, you have the energy and resilience to deal with life’s hassles and demands.
  • Set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the things that you truly want to do.
  • Take a daily break from technology. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking email.
  • Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favorite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work.
  • Learn how to manage stress. When you’re on the road to burnout, you may feel helpless. But you have a lot more control over stress than you may think.

(Help Guide.Org, 2016, para. 23).

Finally, acknowledge how incredibly resilient camels are! In Arab cultures, the camel symbolizes patience, tolerance, and endurance. Yes, at times you will need to ask for (and hopefully receive) help. This is a terrific article on finding help: (Where to Begin: Finding Help During Chronic Illness).

camel2

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Help Guide.Org (2016). Preventing burnout: Signs, symptoms, causes, and coping strategies. Retrieved May 26, 2016, from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/preventing-burnout.htm

When “LIFE” Happens and Your Glass is Half-Full

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One frustration that I often hear from Hearing Elmo readers is that living with a disABILITY or chronic illness is “manageable” if only LIFE itself were a little easier. However, the old adage is true… “Life is hard“. It just is.

I take an unconventional interpretation of the “Glass Half Full” expression. I realize the original meaning is — Are you an optimist or a pessimist? I look at this analogy in a similar way that the “The Spoon Theory” describes energy levels, daily quotas of tasks, etc. For some of us, our glass is never completely full. I wake up first thing in the morning after a good night’s rest, and my glass is half full. Don’t get me wrong… I’m in a good mood. As a matter of fact, I’m one of those annoying “morning people“. I grin ear-to-ear, greet the dogs and take them out, fix my coffee, and eagerly open my calendar to see what the day holds.

Because I have had a hearing loss and Meniere’s disease for over 25 years now, I have learned to manage my time very carefully. I work hard to not “bite off more than I can chew“. The great thing about being an adjunct professor at a community college, I can stretch my 3-4 classes a semester out over the day and week so that I have “down time” for office hours or simply chill time in between classes. I am involved in a number of community service and social justice issues, but I work hard to make sure monthly meetings do not interfere with my “regular scheduled programming” (a.k.a. my LIFE).

Have you noticed, however, that just because you have a disABILITY or chronic illness, LIFE and its occasional sucker punches, still occur? We don’t get special treatment. Just because our glass starts out at the beginning of the day — HALF FULL — doesn’t mean that LIFE and the normal crap that happens within it, will not happen to us as well.

You are going to catch the flu.

You are going to have unexpected car expenses.

Someone is going to hurt your feelings.

You will be treated unfairly.

It is going to rain (and if you live where I do – it will rain a lot).

Your dog is going to be sneaky and eat grass and then surprise you with a present around 2 AM.

You may experience a divorce.

You may become estranged from an adult child or (once) close friend.

You will be accused of something you did not do.

You may be treated with disdain and anger as you navigate your “normal” in a world that does not view you as such.

A doctor is not going to listen to you.

A spouse or significant other is going to get frustrated with you – as if you can change your “normal”.

Your alarm is going to go off and you will want to hurl it through the window.

You will accidentally burn supper.

You are going to trip (and if you have Meniere’s – often!)

You will be misunderstood.

You will lose people you care about and will grieve.

Grief

Last week, my precious father-in-law passed away. My husband and children went to North Carolina and thankfully arrived before he was gone. I stayed home to take care of pets, cover classes for my husband, and “hold down the fort”. Can I just say I hate,  “holding down the fort”?

My family members are home now, and I am grateful I will have the opportunity to attend my father-in-law’s Celebration of Life later this summer.

I am running on EMPTY. This is final exam week and the extra stress that comes with grief and worry for my loved ones has taken a toll. You see… LIFE doesn’t pull any punches. Just because you have a disABILITY or chronic illness, you will still experience the normal things in LIFE that every person does. Losing people we care about is part of LIFE. It sucks. It hurts. It is hard. For those of us with a glass that starts “half full”, it may mean we need to take care to – TAKE CARE.

I normally go to bed between 9-10 PM. This past week I have made an effort to retire between 8-9 PM. We’ve had an excess of rainy weather which causes my balance to really be a trial for me. I am taking extra measures to make sure I change elevations carefully (stairs or bending) and am giving my service dog a serious work-out with various skilled tasks that I can do when my balance is not as wobbly. I’m trying to eat healthy, balanced meals.

Experiencing grief is a normal part of life. It cannot be avoided, and we cannot wish it away. If disABILITY or chronic illness is a new normal for you, I encourage you to prepare in advance for LIFE. We are not granted special privileges just because we have special challenges. So my advice is to do what you can to have a plan in place for when LIFE happens. The plan may include steps to take extra care of yourself. It may mean you make that phone call or send that email to someone you know you can dump on safely and wail or whine to your heart’s content. You may want to make an appointment with a counselor (so have one in advance on standby in the event you need an objective listening ear).

The Benefits

I learned something important over the last week. If I have prepared – as best I can – to absorb life’s normal sucker punches, and take steps to function in spite of a half-full glass, I can still BE THERE for those I care about.

I am not so energy-depleted that I fail to recognize the needs of others. I can support (as best I can) those who are grieving. Because I’m getting extra rest, I can think of small (seemingly) unimportant things that can make a difference in the life of my grieving husband. Like… making Cheeseburger Hamburger Helper for supper (something I cannot even eat but is his major comfort food). I can take on some extra chores around the house to give him the opportunity to have some extra time to grieve either openly or privately. I can be a listening ear (difficult but doable when you have a hearing loss). These simple things would be virtually impossible if I didn’t have a plan.

I am not so naive to believe that having a plan will mean you never have anything take you by surprise. LIFE is really good at surprises – some good and some bad. You cannot prepare and plan for every surprise. I hate to be a downer and fess up that at times I’m just DONE. For whatever reason, I allow hopelessness and despair to rule and reign in my heart and mind. For me, it helps to acknowledge that I’m at the end of myself and need help. It may mean seeking spiritual renewal. I may need to overhaul my schedule. I may need to just experience the YUCK. Sometimes all one can do is wade through and survive. The sun really DOES come out tomorrow. (… and thankfully? my weather forecast for tomorrow really does include SUN).

glass half full1

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Mindfulness: And the Skies Opened Up

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I apologize for how long it has been since I have posted anything. I am one week from finishing all my coursework towards my Ph.D. and have been busy working, going to school, and finalizing my dissertation committee. To say I’m exhausted is an understatement. I try to be serious and mindful about how much rest I am getting. I was thinking last week when I turned the big 5-0, that I have now lived longer as a person with disABILITY and chronic illness than I lived without those challenges. It influences what I have chosen to study and what I am passionate about. When you are ABD (All But Dead — just kidding: all but dissertation), you tend to think about your dissertation each and every day. This means that everything I am reading and researching for the literature review of my own work is on my mind each and every day. I even dream about it! “Predictors of Posttraumatic Growth in Persons with Acquired Disability” takes up much of my brain power.

These past few days I have been “chasing a rabbit” (like my retired service dog, Chloe)  and reading published articles on mindfulness as it incorporates one of the major domains of posttraumatic growth. I suppose “mindfulness” started out as a Buddhist tradition; however, in the last 8-9 years, the field of psychology has come to recognize it as a means to treat numerous physical and psychological disorders. In my short personal history of 25+ years, I have learned that folks with acquired physical challenges–whether the result of illness, accident, or genes–also experience comorbid anxiety or mood disorders (Carson, Ringbauer, MacKenzie, Warlow, and Sharpe, 2000; Siegert & Abernathy, 2005; Weintraub, Moberg, Duda, Katz, and Stern, 2004). You do not have to convert to Buddhism to practice mindfulness. Kozlowski (2013), explains that mindfulness has been Westernized by psychology and “it is purposefully devoid of spiritual or religious connotations and focuses simply on the act of awareness. And if you want to take it to a level that we can all relate to and understand, at its core is stress reduction” (para. 5).

You’d think as someone who has worked so hard to hear again, I would rarely purposely “go deaf”. Yet, I have discovered that if I want to do some deep thinking, praying, and just spend some time being aware of all the “stuff” in my life, I have to reach up and click my cochlear implant off. I need the quiet to take the time to be mindful of what is currently stressing me (and how to de-stress), what my priorities are, and how I can make a difference TODAY in the life of someone – ANYONE. My bionic hearing is wonderful, but I cannot focus when my processor is busy – processing. So I “go deaf” – on purpose. I need to reduce distractions. For me that means being alone with my thoughts and perhaps a pad of paper nearby so I can jot things down as I think of them.

Mindfullness & Preparation

Learning to be mindful, meant that I learned to change how I view disABILITY and illness. I learned not just to experience my “new normal”, but to own it. With that acceptance came the understanding that I am able to make a difference in such a way that I would not have been able to had my “normal” not changed. I likely wouldn’t know the people I know. I would not have been drawn to studies about posttraumatic growth. I wouldn’t have chosen to invest my time in student populations of individuals with visible and invisible conditions. My life – that I embrace and love – would not be what it is today.

Learning to be mindful also taught me to prepare. I knew before this ten-day deluge of rain that I was going to have a much tougher time with my balance. I deliberately scheduled an additional hour of sleep each night, made sure I had my cane and service dog equipment ready to go each morning, placed my umbrella and rain boots by the back door, planned where to park to eliminate having to by-pass major puddles of standing water, deliberately stayed where I could see outside to determine when the rain had let up enough to take the service dog out or to make a quick trip to the campus testing center or copy center, and made sure that I allowed extra time to get to where I needed to go each day because I knew my mobility issues would require I traverse slowly and methodically. Even though the sun sets much later now that it is the month of May, I made sure that I had someone to drive me for evening obligations as I knew my vertigo would be worse by day’s end. Being mindful about the forecast and likely changes in my symptoms, meant that I could “hope for the best and prepare for the worst“. A nice little “perk” of Meniere’s disease is that if you learn to recognize the changes, you discover that you are a living, breathing, and walking barometer. (I’m likely more exact that local forecasters).

So… when the skies opened up, and delivered mist & sprinkles, steady, significant amounts of rain, and at times-torrential downpours, I was as ready as I could be! I suppose some folks might think that being so mindful and preparing for worsening symptoms, is the equivalent of being self-centered. I have learned the hard way, however, that if I do not take care of myself, it is impossible for me to take care of anyone else. I MUST take deliberate steps to insure I am prepared for long periods of rain, for example. If I do not, I will be nearly useless to anyone else. I’m not trying to avoid or escape the worsening symptoms I know are to come with a long bout of rainy weather. It is a type of cognitive-restructuring (from the psychologist’s point of view). As a person of faith, I work at being “mindful” of His promises. It helps me to remember He is mindful of me (Psalm 8:4, Psalm 111:5, Psalm 115:12, Romans 8:5-7, Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 2: 9-12, 16, Colossians 3:1, and 2 Peter 3:2).

A Long-Term Benefit of Being Mindful

In closing out this post (and greeting a day where the sun has finally breached the dark clouds), I want to share something I’ve learned simply because I really HAVE been at “this” a long time now. When you are mindful, purposefully focus your thoughts, prepare, and live deliberately, you will find that some good habits develop. On about “Day 6” of our recent monsoon-like weather, I came into my 8 AM class and… honestly? I wanted to go sit down and cry. I was tired of the vertigo, tired of the nausea, tired of the wobbling, and tired of the balance corrections. My head hurt and I was cranky. Darn — if it wasn’t only 8 in the morning! After booting up the computer, turning on the projector, and fishing out my lesson plans, I looked up to greet the class a few minutes before “launch”. I always try to ask students by name how things are going for them. I try to really get to know them and let them know I care. I noticed on changing my visual perspective an empty chair of a student who just buried her father. I caught in my peripheral, the quiet entrance of a young man making his usual unobtrusive way to his seat in the back. This young man just found out his cancer has returned for the fourth time. I saw the sleepy, single mamas and the students who took two early morning classes (including mine) before going to work for eight hours. I saw and waved to the student who attends classes, works four hours, and then goes to sit with her husband in a hospice center before staggering to bed each night. All the very temporary “woe is me” disappeared,

Just.

Like.

That.

Mindfulness doesn’t mean I do not have “bad days”. Being mindful, doesn’t mean I will always be in a super, good mood. However, being mindful gives me a better perspective and deeper appreciation for what really matters. I can more quickly rebound from self-pity and look for opportunities to make a difference – even in a sometimes “broken” body and weary mind. Being mindful allows me to wake up to a Milo-bear (service dog) alarm-clock with an attitude of “BRING IT ON“. For me… it makes a difference.

L. Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Carson, A. J., Ringbauer, B., MacKenzie, L., Warlow, C., Sharpe, M. (2000). Neurological disease, emotional disorder, and disability: They are related: A study of 300 consecutive new referrals to a neurology outpatient department. J. Neural Neurosurg Psychiatry, 68:201-206.

Kozlowski, E. (2013). Can Christians Practice Mindfulness? Huffpost Healthy Living. Retrieved May 6, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eden-kozlowski/mindfulness-and-religion_b_3224505.html

Siegert, R. J., Abernethy, D. A. (2005). Depression in multiple sclerosis: A review. J. Neural Neurosurg Psychiatry 76:469-475.

Weintraub, D., Moberg, P., Duda, J., Katz, I., & Stern, M. (2004). Effect of psychiatric and other nonmotor symptoms on disability in Parkinson’s disease. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society52(5), 784-788 5p. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2004.52219.x