Misinterpreting

Misinterpreting

I haven’t had a chance to talk about Chloe, my retired service dog, much lately. The sweet ol’ lady has been retired full-time since May 2015. Chloe has not had a good year. Being together 9 1/2 years, means she was pretty set in her ways as to being with Denise 24/7. So if you take a loyal, hard-working hound dog who has done the same thing for almost a decade, retire her, bring a new dog into the pack who is now Denise’s partner, move to a new house, and have only a few things to do around the house for hearing alerts, a dog can just go a little nuts… which is what Chloe has done. Chloe is on arthritis medicine, which helps her arthritis a great deal. Being able to get around more comfortably means she is looking for stuff to do around the house. Chloe has developed an anxiety disorder, which could be the result of a number of things including age. She obsesses over things she decides is her job and continues until collapse.

We moved into a wonderful, older home, with NO STEPS! I fall once a week now instead of 2-3 times a day. Even for our two older dogs, Chloe and family dog, Tyco, the fact that we have no stairs is a plus as well! Our older home makes noises that our other home did not. We have an older HVAC system, gas heat and stove, a wood-pellet stove, and older wood floors. Chloe, retired hearing dog, believes every new sound she hears now is her JOB. So she will stand over heating vents and guard because there are strange noises coming from them. (We have checked for critter invasion, had the home inspected, etc., and this is truly just mechanical noises. The other dogs ignore the sounds completely). Chloe will stand “working” until her legs shake and she collapses. We were having trouble getting her to eat. A major vet appointment that included blood-work, scans, and over-all senior check-up, revealed nothing that would make us worry that this is anything other than an anxiety disorder. Chloe is OCD. She misinterprets what she is hearing and together with her other keen senses (like smell), seeks out the origin of the strange sound and does a perfect hunting dog “point”,  standing guard until she collapses.

Chloe is on meds and is doing better. She still guards shadows and obsesses over household noises. We are making it a priority for her to get out of the house more and “do things for mom and dad”. My husband and I discuss hound dog a great deal. She really means a lot to both of us. We know and understand the difficult changes she has had to shoulder, but also understand that she is hearing things well (she is a DOG and was trained as a hearing assistance dog)… only Chloe is misinterpreting what she hears.

The sounds are not important – but Chloe is escalating the sounds as a priority.

The sounds are harmless – but Chloe considers some of them a threat.

The sounds are minor “blips on the radar” – but Chloe equates them with cardiac arrest.

Misinterpreting

Have you ever completely misunderstood what someone said or misunderstood the behavior of someone?

WHAT? You mean you always assume correctly? Ok. Well you can quit reading. The rest of you feel free to continue…

As a person with hearing loss, I often misunderstand what people say. I work hard to consider the context, facial expression, and body language of someone speaking and I still BLOW IT sometimes.

Someone can yawn and cover their mouth and I will completely lose track of what they were saying.

My cochlear implant can pick up some random, ambient noise and I will miss what someone said.

I’ve even stood in the sunshine with someone while they squinted and wrinkled their eyebrows at the bright light, and missed that they were being sarcastic about something because their face looked MEAN.

I use email a great deal. If I have my phone out, it is to TEXT, not to talk earlobe to earlobe with someone. Because I do a great deal of writing, when I am misunderstood or misinterpreted in an email, it really hurts. I work hard at making what I write sound like what I SAY. That’s why y’all have to muddle through my exclamations and grammatical errors that emphasize how I would SPEAK something. (So thanks for that – <wink>).

Basically in misinterpreting… there are two scenarios. Either WE are being misinterpreted, or we are the one over-reacting and obsessing over unimportant cues. So what’s a person to do?

  1. You are being misinterpreted.

If you are being constantly misinterpreted, is it your problem or their problem? Really the responsibility goes both ways. If you are constantly being misunderstood, however, take a good hard look at the who, what, when and where.

Who: Do the same people always misunderstand? Maybe they are extra sensitive. Maybe they haven’t learned to see past the obvious to what you really meant. Are you sarcastic? Do you know some people just don’t GET sarcasm? They don’t appreciate it, don’t use it, and are constantly hurt by it.

My husband, son, and daughter speak fluent sarcasm. As a person with hearing loss, I had come to count on what I SAW when communicating. I finally had to explain, “Look y’all! Give me a smirk, eye roll, or something! If you don’t, you are gonna get smacked up ‘side the head!” I just don’t connect with sarcasm.

What is being misunderstood? Is it a subject others are passionate about? Is it a subject that is highly debated? (Is it an election year? <groan>) Are you being clear?

When are you being misunderstood? Is everyone tired? Are you being misinterpreted when everyone is rushed? Late?

Where are you being misunderstood? A friend told me once that she has learned not to talk about serious things during happy hour at a local bar. <grin>

Figuring these things out can be helpful and allow you to determine how you can be misinterpreted LESS.

2. You misinterpret others.

Especially because one of my “differently-abled” quirks is hearing loss, if I misunderstand someone I become rude. Not rude-rude, but interrupting rude. I stop whomever is speaking and ask for clarification. I may say:

A) I’m sorry, could you repeat that?

B) Excuse me… I thought I heard you say…     …  could you repeat that part?

These “rude” but necessary interruptions help me misunderstand and misinterpret LESS. If I wait to ask for clarification I may forget (but stay mad), or the person themselves may forget what they said.

What about if you are angered or hurt by something that someone WROTE? I still ask for clarification. Maybe even though I am searching the context or doing my best to “read between the lines”, I’m still missing something. There is nothing wrong with responding (better done in a private manner and not in a public venue) and asking for clarification. I don’t know about you, but I’ve written things before that were taken wrong and it wasn’t until someone asked for clarification that I realized how harsh something I wrote seemed to the people who were reading it.

texting

Sometimes? Sometimes people are just going to try really hard to misunderstand what you wrote too. It happens. I’ve learned to pick my battles. You cannot always expect someone to look for the best in you. Some folks look for the bad. Just drop it and go on.

being misunderstood

Change really isn’t hard

One of my offspring is a debater. The kid can argue the paint off a wall. It use to really bother me, but I never wanted to say “shut up, already”! I never wanted to act as if their opinion held no merit. I had to learn to LISTEN. Do you know my kid actually has a lot of really wonderful ideas, points, and opinions about the world? I drove him to lunch the other day and because we were each other’s “captive audience”, I got him all to myself for 20 minutes. My kid is more informed about politics than I am. If I LISTEN I have discovered he has a lot to say.

I use to misinterpret what he said all the time. I had to change. I couldn’t take sound bite snippets and judge him for being a ninny-hammer based on one comment. I had to learn to listen “in context” and wait until he had finished speaking before agreeing, or agreeing to disagree.

Some of you may be thinking… “why should *I* have to change the way I communicate?” Communication is the glue that holds all relationships together. No one communicates perfectly. We can all brush up on better communication skills.

Last week I was asking some questions about a video we watched and trying to get the students to “think like a scientist”. I saw a student grimace and shake their head. I stopped and said, “It’s fine if you don’t agree! I welcome everyone’s opinion and think it is important to express various views! Do you have another opinion about what we saw?”

They looked startled for a minute and sheepishly admitted, “No. I was making a face because someone farted”.

Oh.

You aren’t always going to understand perfectly. You are going to misunderstand facial expressions and other nonverbal cues. You, yourself, are going to contradict what you are saying by how you look or how you are saying it once in awhile.

My encouragement to all of us is simply to work harder. We can all learn to communicate clearly, hopefully creating less chance of being misunderstood. Communication matters because people matter. If you are a person with a disability or chronic illness, work hard at communicating your needs – and what you don’t need. It is much easier to “do your part” and then walk away in the face of persistent misunderstanding, than it is to share the blame for not having tried at all.

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

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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

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

 

Turn On Date

Elmo bling

One of my favorite discussions to have with people who have chronic illness, invisible or visible disabilities, or living a “new normal”, is sharing stories of how their adopted vernacular throws others they communicate with for a loop. We probably all have stories to tell. If your life is different because of a surgery, technology, or diagnosis, you may be using words and phrases that confuse and irritate folks who don’t live a similar life. I try to be careful and take a quick look around at WHO I’m talking to when having a conversation, but that is after really screwing up a lot in the early years. Here are some of my more memorable screw ups:

Your Turn On Date

Johns Hopkins sends folks my way when they are considering a cochlear implant, especially if they have Meniere’s disease as well. I have learned that when talking to someone new to the idea of cochlear implants, you cannot talk to them like someone who has already had the surgery. Cochlear implant peeps throw around terms that make perfect sense to US, but not so much to others. Case in point: I met with a lady with Meniere’s at a library who was investigating cochlear implants. At some point in the conversation I said, “Now the date you are turned on, you need to have a designated driver if possible. Everything will be so strange and you may not be able to drive safely if you don’t have someone to drive for you after you are turned on“.

Her eyes got big and she paled. She stuttered out, “Wha…wha… WHAT!?!?” I’m savvy enough to figure out by the way she answered that she didn’t understand my terminology. I thought I’d clear it up but succeeded in only making it worse…

Yes, when you go to the audiologist and they turn you on…” I stopped. Seeing her dropped jaw will silence me. I backed up and tried again, using “activation date” instead of “turn on date”. Do you know something? Unlike others who meet with me, she never followed up with post-surgery emails or meetings! <BIG GRIN>

I Lost My Ears

I had only been activated 8 months when I lost my ears. Now for CI folks, they get that when we talk about our “ears” we are talking about the external technology… not about our “listening appendages”. I was in a super Walmart, looking for a very specific jar of dill pickles (because yes… I’m that picky), when my cochlear implant – which has a magnetic coil to keep it on my head – flew off my ear and into the pickles.

Had I stayed still and searched the immediate jars I would have found it right off. As it was, being new to “hearing again”, I immediately stood up and screeched because my world had suddenly and completely gone SILENT. An older lady shopping amongst the same shelved pickles looked at me strange. I nervously picked up jars of pickles looking for my “ear”. The lady came closer and joked, “Are you pregnant?“. I turned to her with big tears in my eyes which made her come closer and immediately quit teasing me.

Are you OK?” she asked kindly. I looked at her and wailed, “I lost my ear! I can’t find it!

She looked at me bug-eyed and walked away. Quickly.

Thankfully I found my CI attached to the metal lid of some nearby olives. No wonder I couldn’t find it amongst the pickles.

I’m Not Turned On

When we lived in another part of Maryland, we use to have to drive a long way to go to church on Sunday. We actually went into another county to do so. Normally my family doesn’t listen to the car radio because they know that I’m totally incapable of tuning out the radio and hearing just the conversation. However, on longer trips, I often say, “I’m turning my ears off” so that they can listen to the radio and they know if they need me they only need to tap my shoulder. In truth, it is nice being able to sit in “total silence” from time to time. It is certainly conducive to “deep thinking”.

So one Sunday on our way to church, I gave the family heads up that I was going silent on purpose. I must have moved from “deep thinking” to day dreaming. We got to church, got our stuff out of the car, and Terry and I waved goodbye to the kids as we headed over to the building where we had small group Bible study. I’m still deaf at this point and I couldn’t tell ya if Terry was talking to me. I know my mind was somewhere else – that’s for sure! We went into the classroom and sat down at the big table. Some other couples were already there. One of the ladies leaned up so that she could see around Terry and said something. It was then I realized I still hadn’t turned my cochlear implant back on. “Oh! Wait, I’m not turned on!

I reached up and punched the correct button and looked around at a bunch of stunned faces. Terry was actually embarrassed. (If you know Terry, you know he rarely gets flustered). A few who caught on a little late began to snicker. Me? Well I thought it was just HYSTERICAL. So I managed to get out in between laughs, “Oooops. I need to find a better way to say I don’t have my CI on“. Terry quickly said, “Yes Denise. Yes you do!“. It took a number of months for me to live that one down.

Remember Your Audience

Do you live with a chronic condition or acquired disability? Have you become an expert in navigating your “new normal”? Can you “talk shop” with the rest of your population?

It’s hard to remember that just because WE understand what we mean, others may not. We tend to use words and phrases that become a part of our vocabulary. Try to pay attention to your audience. A good advocate learns to do that. You may have to deliberately choose to use a different word or phrase if no one really connects with it but you. For example, I had to stop referring to my bright purple cane as “my third leg”. I’m fairly naive and had no idea the shocked looks were from folks who had heard that phrase in a completely different context.

In order to really educate and advocate, you need to use terminology that the general public will understand. You may think a word or phrase is very obvious, but others may not ever hear that word in conversation. I was trained at Fidos For Freedom, Inc., to know how to advocate for accessibility with my service dog. The trainers didn’t tell us, however, that not everyone in the general public knows what the ADA is! (Thankfully, they also equipped us with great little brochures and handouts with the law explained on them).

Fibro fog” may only mean something to other folks with fibromyalgia. “CFS zombie” may only be a phrase others with chronic fatigue syndrome use. HoHearies can be figured out by most of the population, but is only self-identified by those who are hard of hearing. The general public may even make incorrect associations just because they don’t understand your chosen words. I had no idea anyone would ever think “tinnitus” was something caused by a cut from a dirty tin can.

You are a more effective advocate when you “consider your audience” and appropriately explain symptoms, treatment, and diagnosis. The goal is to educate after all. If you only succeed in confusing those around you, you haven’t really helped to educate.

What’s REALLY fun is when those closest to you start to confuse others as well. Terry often asks if I “have my ears on” now.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

TONS of Demerits = Life Turning Point

demerit

I went to a Christian University right out of high school. I lived in a small rural farming community with no Christian colleges nearby so I thought that I may as well go to the one my parents attended … 5 states away. What I didn’t realize, is that little had changed in the 25 years since my parents went there. Rules, regulations, and unequal criteria for males/females were still early 1960’s. If I had it to do over again, I would have transferred out after I met my husband-to-be my Freshman year. He was smart and he did that. I’m stubborn though and wanted to finish where I started. I remember the first week when I received my first demerit. I still have every demerit I ever received. Back to that in a minute…

Some Background

You see? In high school I was “the weird one”. I had some close friends, which coupled with my dream of “leaving forever”, was part of the reason I survived high school. I grew up in a legalistic, religious background. It was a loving home… and most of what I experienced I wouldn’t change because I’m sure it is a part of who I am today (and I happen to like who I am today). However, in high school I was not allowed to do anything OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL. No “dragging main” on Friday and Saturday nights. I wasn’t allowed to date until I was 16 years old, and by the time I hit that milestone everyone thought I was “weird”. I didn’t get to go to movies or dances. I got really tired of people thinking I felt as if I was better than everyone else, when the boundaries put in place were not of my choosing. I was bullied. I’ve never really talked about it to many people. Classmates would probably be shocked if they knew some of the things that happened to me when I was caught in the gym alone, or in the hallway on the way to Study Hall. One of my bullies (a second cousin one year older) would actually follow me into the bathroom (he was male) and shove me around just for kicks. Another bully, also one year older, not only shoved me around and called me names, but he pinched private parts, threatened me with horrible death threats, and basically made my life hell. I would just see him coming and start to have a panic attack. I learned to duck into safe places like the office, or favorite teacher’s rooms “just to say hi” to escape an encounter with him. One of the things he constantly pounded (quite literally) into me was that I thought I was better than everyone else because I was so “holy”. This is the baggage I took into college with me <smile>!

Yay! A Demerit!

By the time I was 18 and started getting written up (for really ridiculous things), I began to really excel at breaking stupid rules. Sure, I got a LOT of demerits but I did plenty of things I never got caught for either. I don’t say that in a bragging way. My point is that I really was proud of having proof on paper what a “rebel” I was. I even sat through some “sermons” from hall monitors and dorm mothers because of what my last name was. My family name was known at this university and they couldn’t believe I wasn’t behaving “perfectly”. I got married young and tease my husband that it was “just to get out of the dorm”. I even received some demerits after I said “I do“… for sitting to close to my husband in chapel. *rolls eyes* But ya know something? I hung on to every single one of those demerits because they were important to me. They represented a turning point in my life. I finally realized as a young adult that I could make decisions about what I would – and wouldn’t do – by myself. I really filled my lungs deeply with the freedom of that feeling! Demerits were received for not meeting someone else’s expectations. Now I could determine what my own boundaries were, what my expectations were for my own life.

I’m a person of faith (and haven’t tried to hide that on here), but I like to think I really live my faith and am a REAL person. Life isn’t about rules and regulations. Nothing wrong with some of those as they keep us on track, help us reach goals, and provide security. However, these rules and boundaries are only good when they set us free, not when they cripple us. Trying to follow someone else’s rules will only get you a box full of demerits. You have to believe what you live and live what you believe.

Life Turning Point

My college experiences and changes set the stage for how I handle life today. It was a turning point for me. I stopped apologizing for who I was, and felt comfortable in my own skin because *I* had made decisions and set standards for myself that I approved of and felt comfortable with as well. If someone didn’t like what I did, I gently (OK, sometimes it wasn’t gentle) argued that I respected their choices, so they should respect mine. I learned to be responsible for ME. I wanted to live a transparent, REAL kind of life, and wanted to make a difference because of that “realness”.

I had single-sided deafness from a car accident at the age of 6-years-old. I had my last ear surgery at the age of 18. I STILL think it took us all by surprise when I developed rather rapid, bi-lateral,  progressive, sensorineural hearing loss after the birth of my kiddos. At the same time, I developed Meniere’s disease (although I didn’t know what it was at the time). I determined early on what kind of “person with disabilities” I wanted to be. I would be responsible for who I am and how I cope. My top TEN decisions that turned my life around:

1. It is OK to grieve. It is OK to scream.

I learned how important it is to give yourself permission to FEEL. Bottling up those feelings only leads to physical and emotional problems.

2. Discover your “safe people”.

I’ve blogged about this before. However, find who is “safe”; cherish and nurture these relationships. (Some of those posts are HERE, HERE, and HERE.)

3. I can “be deaf and have a balance disorder” however I want!

Disability and invisible illnesses are often unique and you may not share exactly the same symptoms as another. Own who you are. Do what makes you comfortable with your “new normal”. For me this means bling-bling on the cochlear implant, bright canes and assistance dog. I am far better served to make the invisible, visible.

4. When necessary, get professional help.

There is no shame in seeking help. Finding a trusted, objective professional can be very beneficial for a variety of reasons. If you aren’t happy with who you are seeing, find someone else.

5. When necessary, ASK for help from others.

There is no shame in asking for help when you need assistance. I have never had anyone turn me down if I ask for help getting to my car, or to help me identify what sound Chloe is zeroed in on. In spite of the negative headlines, most people are nice. Most are glad to help when asked and feel good about offering assistance. (There is a trick to this though – you DO have to ASK. If you are an independent peep like me, folks have learned to wait to see if I ask for help).

6. Believe you can make a difference.

I don’t care what your limitations are. I have never met ANYONE that didn’t have a way to make a difference – to be a catalyst for positive change. Our disabilities don’t limit us – WE limit ourselves.

7. Avoid negative people.

We all have these folks in our lives. But you can limit your interaction. Set boundaries. Protect yourself.

8. Dream big. Have goals.

Just because special challenges “rocked your world” doesn’t mean you can’t have short-term and long-term goals. Your attitude is the only barrier to achieving these.

9. Write. Share. Take photos. 

Thinking is great. I recommend THINKING. However, the single most powerful tool I have is my writing. I know others who draw, take pictures, or attend support groups and share. Make sure your “new normal” is something tangible, something you can look back on and identify and recognize change.

10. Don’t work at meeting someone else’s expectations.

If you haven’t learned this already, here’s a news flash. You can’t please everyone. It is healthy to have expectations for yourself, but those alone are all you should work towards.

Have you ever received “grief” for not following someone else’s directions about how to live your life? As a kid, this is OK because we need older (and sometimes wiser) folks to give us direction and instill good habits. But as an adult, you are responsible for you. Don’t apologize for choices you have made. If you deal with your challenges a certain way and it works for you, pat yourself on the back. Be careful though. Like ALL people, we can become focused on self. That isn’t what I’m trying to encourage here. We need other people. Don’t isolate yourself and say, “to heck with the rest of the world”.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

Beaver – Destructive or Discerning?

swimming-beaver-344367-m

We have beaver. Actually, we’ve had beaver for about 16 months now, however this summer it is really evident WE HAVE BEAVER.

Our townhouse community sits up at the top of a hill. It is a closed cul-de-sac community, so it is great that “through traffic” is not an issue here. A brand-new walking path is now within footsteps of my front door. It will eventually connect to other walking paths, but for now it is about 1.5 miles round trip. At the bottom of our “hill” the path takes us by both a busy road, and what was once a small creek. In the Spring, I use to get a kick out of “hearing” the water sounds, especially after heavy rains. Last Spring those water sounds disappeared. However, I spotted this:

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… and then this:

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The creek quickly turned into a pond. And this year? Well let’s just say there is a new ecosystem near my house.

I came across a huddled group of homeowners about 3 weeks ago, whispering and gesturing towards the pond with banks now within 60 feet of our back doors. I stopped to see what was going on, and because it was early enough in the morning with few traffic sounds, I could actually hear their whispers.

“Will the water level rise much more?”

“What do you think they are up to?”

“Do they bite?”

Now my first thought was, “FOLKS. Beaver do not understand human language and to my knowledge they don’t have bionic hearing like I do. Why the HECK are you whispering?”

I didn’t voice those thoughts. Instead I said, “Ummm” (I’m ever so eloquent…)

Yeah, but have y’all been down to the pond area where the walking path is? Have y’all seen what has happened down there?

Blank looks. I discovered they don’t comprehend SOUTHERN. I tried to speak a little more cultured…

Yes, you should walk down there. There are 2 HUGE culverts about 8 feet in diameter. That water level will never get any higher unless those culverts become dammed up as well. If that happens, the city will just unplug them. After all, that road will flood before our homes will“.

Blank looks. See what a lack of exercise will do? Go walking folks, go walking. Check out what the beaver have done up close. Geesh. I think they were miffed I was talking in a normal tone of voice. After all… *sneaky whisper* … the beaver probably HEARD ME.

Beaver have made a comeback in Maryland. I pulled this from a neighboring county’s website:

“Beaver can be among the most beneficial of the county’s wildlife. They create favorable habitat for a variety of wildlife species including fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. This variety of wildlife is in turn valued for recreational, scientific, educational and aesthetic purposes. Beaver activity is also helpful in retaining storm water runoff and improves water quality by trapping sediment, nutrients, and pollutants. Beaver activity can also cause flooding of roads, trails, forest land. They also consume trees and shrubs. Their impacts often occur suddenly and dramatically.

These benefits and detriments often occur simultaneously at a single location. Because of the varying degrees of tolerance levels among people to beaver activity, there are bound to be disagreements on how best to “deal” with beaver conflicts.” (Howard County Parks and Recreation, 2014).

Living side-by-side with these amazing creatures is fairly simple. I’ve been thinking a lot about this family of beaver.

beaver3

They migrated to this area near the bay bridge and did what came naturally to them. Not with destruction in mind… but cunning and incredibly discerning architects, this family of beaver have created a whole new ecosystem. We’ve always had tree frogs (although it took Chloe’s trainer to clue me in to what I was hearing each year). But now we have:

Beaver8

… bullfrogs. You should have seen Chloe’s head and ears the first time she heard THEM! These fellas stretch about two feet, nose to tip of hind legs. I know this, because I’m the crazy neighbor lady screeching to the neighborhood boys who have caught them and held them up to “Return them to the pond when you are done!”  There are also numerous plants I have never seen before in this area when all we once had was a creek…

Beaver7

and the trees are flourishing…

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I counted 4 different families of mallard duck one evening, with little ones thriving in this secluded and protected environment. Turtles are sunbathing on any log or rock that breaches the surface of the water. The fox are back (having been gone for at least two summers). There are enough deer in our area now to make my poor hound dogs hoarse for all the barking alerts they insist on for me.

I cannot help but be amazed. The beaver strengthened and created a home just right for them, and in the process created a place to thrive for other species. Folks? I want to be a beaver.

I didn’t ask for disabilities. I never once thought, “When I grow up… I want to be DEAF and have a significant BALANCE DISORDER”. However, in my own process of adapting and making my environment safe and liveable for ME (cochlear implant surgery, service dog from Fidos For Freedom, be-dazzled canes, no-slip shoes, discovering where all the elevators are on campus, practicing all I learned in vestibular rehab.), I have created a new ecosystem.

I want MY WORLD to intersect with the REAL WORLD and help folks recognize the importance of inclusion. I work to make sure that my new life, teaches and advocates in accepting differences. I want others to recognize abilities rather than disabilities. I want my invisible disabilities to be visible and “pond-like“. I want my life to inspire others to choose to live equally purposeful lives. In my own small way I do this by working with my campus disability office. I openly talk about being “differently-abled” in class. I “plug” what I know whenever I can to whomever will listen… cochlear implants and service dogs, depression and coping skills. I have discovered my environment changing. People are coming out of the woodwork… or umm… newly created POND, and sharing with me that they have a mental illness, invisible challenge or diagnosis such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or Lyme’s disease.

Yes. Having an attitude of gratitude and focus on education and advocacy, has me walking by concerned citizens from time to time, whispering about a beaver conspiracy. But just as I’ve learned that being transparent is contagious, these folks will eventually HEAR and go walking to discover other new ecosystems. At least… I hope they will.

Do you live with disability? Are you struggling with an invisible illness? Do you have a chronic condition that folks do not seem to understand, nor comprehend how it affects you? Hearing Elmo is not just a place to “hear”. My desire is that numerous authors, both named and anonymous, begin to disseminate the kind of information that changes our environments. In the end, the beaver aren’t the sole beneficiaries. We all benefit. Would you like to write for Hearing Elmo? Contact me at denise.portis@gmail.com and type “Hearing Elmo” in the subject line. Building dams is pretty fun. It is unexpected. It is worthwhile. We can all make a difference!

Denise Portis

©2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Howard County Parks and Recreation. (2014). Beavers. Retrieved May 16, 2014, from http://howardcountymd.us/DisplayPrimary.aspx?id=2396

Fundamental Attribution Error

hershey park

I drive my family crazy sometimes. I have psychology on “the brain”. Things I’m studying, things I’m teaching, things I’m thinking about (the dreaded dissertation looms after all), I tend to talk about. I mean a lot. Even when you don’t want me to.

Spring is a busy month for Hearing Elmo. For some reason, lots of folks tune in and contact me. I love to write (even email responses) so I don’t mind at all. To me? This is what Hearing Elmo is all about. I’m glad to be a small part in helping to raise awareness about invisible disAbilities and chronic illnesses. I learn SO MUCH from so many of you who write. So thanks! 🙂

Lately, I’ve had a lot of conversations both email and face-to-face with folks who are struggling with bad thoughts. Thoughts about strangling someone.

Even though it’s deserved.

People with disAbilities or chronic illness are often judged. Sometimes it’s a first impression. Sometimes it is by someone who knows better. I want to cover both today. In psychology we call this the “Fundamental Attribution Error”. Lilienfeld, Lynn, Namy, and Woolf (2013), explain that the fundamental attribution error “refers to the tendency to overestimate the impact of dispositional influences on other’s behavior. By dispositional influences, we mean enduring characteristics, such as personality traits, attitudes and intelligence. Because of the fundamental attribution error, we also tend to underestimate the impact of situational influences on other’s behavior” (p. 501). It’s that last part I want to talk about in this post.

People with Disability or Chronic Illness are Misunderstood

If you are reading this post you likely have some connection to invisible illness or disAbility. Perhaps your condition is not invisible at all. You may live with personal challenges.

easter 2014

Easter Sunday I came home from church with husband and hound dog and went downstairs to work. After about 20 minutes I came to the realization many of you do each and every day. I was wiped out. I knew I would get far more work done if I went upstairs to take a nap. Some folks call these “power naps”. Me? I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I need naps sometimes because I have Meniere’s disease and hear with a cochlear implant. I’m 47-years-old. I get tired. I get tired a lot! So trudging upstairs I passed my husband in the family room and said, “I’m going upstairs to take a nap“. I stood there a second to see if that elicited any reaction.

Now Terry has been married to me long enough to know that if I actually say I need a nap, you better let me take a nap. No smart remarks. He only said, “Be sure to close the blinds or Chloe will bark at every little thing“. I’ve “trained him well“, yes?

But it isn’t easy being the significant other of someone who has a invisible illness or disAbility. When Terry first married me I was only unilaterally deaf and no balance disorder to speak of. Fast forward 28 years and I am now at a point where I can still do a lot. I have dreams, goals, work hard, am a wife, mother, mentor, teacher, student and writer… and I take naps.

I have been out and about before running errands or just shopping with my best friend – Terry Portis. I have out of the blue said, “Ok. You need to take me home.” The last time this happened we were going to a super Target. We had just parked in the parking garage and Terry started to get out. “Ok“, I said. “You need to take me home“.

He stopped and looked at me. After a long pause he asked incredulously, “You mean… now?

I looked at him eyeball to eyeball (which can be uncomfortable with the risk of losing your contacts – but I needed him to know I meant business). “Now” I responded.

So we went home. Sometimes when I “run out of gas” I do so very suddenly. There can be little warning. You could make me push it and we’ll both risk the reality of a major nosedive in “Lawn and Garden” with mild concussion and concerned gathered crowd to show for it. (Clean-up on aisle twelve…)

None of us ask to develop acquired disAbilities. No one prays for a chronic illness. People we know and love may get peeved at us that we require more rest than we use to need. Part of it may be that they miss doing things with you that they use to be able to do. My husband loves Target. But sometimes? Well sometimes you need to take me home and do it NOW. That can be hard.

So those of us who have the chronic illness or disAbility need to be understanding too. But… don’t be afraid to talk about it. One of my favorite “opening statements” for a heart-to-heart conversation begins like this:

“When you say (or do) _________________ it makes me feel like _______________.”

It lets the people I care about know that it DOES bother me when they say or do something – not seeing the whole picture. They don’t understand the situation well enough to get why I behaved a certain way or responded a certain way. So I need to remind them. That’s OK.

If you are the “significant other” – try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. You don’t want to really know what they are going through for that would mean you’d have to share the disAbility or diagnosis to really get it. What they are going through is really… REALLY…

HARD.

But you know what? They can get through it because you are there to help them, encourage them, and cheer them on! (So don’t forget how influential you can be, OK?)

For Those Who Don’t Know me

Several times a year someone who doesn’t even know me will say something that I almost come unglued about. I have one of those moments where I want to strangle someone. But in most states that is still against the law…

Costco, October 2013: I was in the meat section trying to decide how many crock-pot size meals I wanted to make in the next couple of weeks when I heard a woman about 3 feet away say, “Oh MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!! A dog, in the meat section. I’m going to complain to the manager“.

I turned around and saw this woman standing there with hands on hips and an embarrassed husband standing next to her. Well my friends? Sometimes good sense just rushes right out of my head. I pointed my finger in her face and said, “This is a service dog. I am late-deafened and have a balance disorder. This dog has picked up dozens of things for me since I’ve been in this store for the last 20 minutes. You shouldn’t judge what you don’t know. I’d rather have disAbilities than be stupid. You can’t fix stupid“. And I walked away.

Amidst applause. For it seems we had drawn a crowd.

Yet I will be honest with you. More times than not I do NOT get to say something pithy and intelligent. Sometimes my heart is broken. Sometimes I walk away crushed. Sometimes I strangle people. (Ok, maybe not but I may FEEL like it).

It can be really hard when people judge what they don’t know. After stumbling into an end cap at a store I had a person jest, “Little early to be drinking, isn’t it?” I could get mad and “let it rip”. Or strangle. Cuz yeah I’m a little sidetracked by how satisfying that would be right now. But folks don’t know me. They don’t know my reality, or my day-to-day situational influences that have me moving, responding, and requesting naps. Then I have to make a decision.

A) Strangle them

B) Scream at them

C) Walk away. It isn’t worth it.

“C” is the best response most of the time.

———

Do you get tired easily? Does fatigue trigger headaches, body aches, and brain fog? Do you sometimes just need a NAP? People may not understand that. They may think you are being lazy. They may think you should try harder. They may need strangled…

… with the truth. So tell them!

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., Namy, L. L., Woolf, N. J. (2013). Psychology: From inquiry to understanding (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson Publishing.