A Prisoner of STIGMA

Tonight (4/19/17) is the 2nd annual d.A.M.N. event (disABILITY Memoirs and Notes) at Anne Arundel Community College. I was asked to share my presentation on Hearing Elmo.

PowerPoint: https://app.box.com/s/qkdo19k20djznhlpeezo7js24ik5f0mn

Presentation:

My name is Denise Portis and I teach Psychology courses here at AACC.

 

Thank you for coming to our 2nd annual d.A.M.N. event.

 

Today I want to talk to you about being a prisoner of STIGMA. I have been a disABILITY advocate for 25 years. It was not very difficult for me to reveal hearing loss and Meniere’s disease. However, the disability that had the greatest impact on me was mental illness, and THAT I chose to hide from everyone outside my immediate family.

 

SLIDE 2

 

What is a stigma? A stigma has SHAME attached to it. One source defines it as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance. If anything is well known for having a stigma associated with it, it is mental illness. I didn’t want my friends to know, my co-workers to know, my parents or siblings to know, or even my children to know until they were much older. I had become a prisoner of the stigma attached to mental illness without ever going to trial. Yet, I was as incarcerated as any person charged and tried.

 

SLIDE 3

 

I have struggled with depression and anxiety most of my adult life. I tried to hide it and even get help for it quietly, being careful not to reveal my diagnosis to anyone but those closest to me. I had heard that publicly owning it would follow me in my medical records. People would think I was unstable, unreliable, and needy. I had heard a number of accusatory and negative comments once I began choosing who I would disclose this to. I’m still surprised I didn’t allow early comments to zip my lips and go back into my jail cell, remaining a prisoner to the stigma. However, I began to experience real freedom in acknowledging what was wrong with me. That acknowledgment changed the wrong to right. For the first time I was able to understand what my diagnosis were. Mental illness is an illness. It isn’t chosen, it can be treated, and a victorious life could be mine, So I began to tell EVERYONE. It became a very real part of how I chose to be an advocate. For me, transparency worked.

 

SLIDE 4

 

And yet, throughout my determination to live free, I saw people who were given a death sentence because of their mental illness. Amy is one of my heroes. If you’ve heard of Project Semicolon, you’ve heard of the movement she began. Amy said about Project Semicolon, “In literature an author uses a semicolon to NOT end a sentence but to continue on. We see it as you are the author and your life is the sentence. You’re choosing to keep going”. Amy took her own life last month.

 

SLIDE 5

 

Luis Montalvan came to speak at AACC in 2015. Many of us in the SODA club even had our picture taken with him. Luis was a national and renowned speaker about PTSD and travelled with his service dog, Tuesday. Luis took his own life in December.

 

These two individuals were very open about their mental health disorders. Being open made a difference. Both actually found doors of opportunity available to them because of their openness. I have to tell you when I first heard about both of their deaths, I cried. I shed tears because I know what it is like to get really tired of facing a new day with mental illness. It is hard. Even though I have chosen to surround myself with people who accept me exactly as I am, even though I am open and honest about my disabilities and refuse to be a prisoner of stigma, I totally GET what it feels like to WANT to give up.

 

Are Amy and Luis cowards? Do I have something they do not? No, and NO. Their lives and their deaths simply act as a reminder to all of us that mental illness is HARD. The way I combat the hopelessness and the aloneness is by being open. I present my story and my choice simply as a way for you to examine if this will work for you. If stigma is crippling you and making you feel like a prisoner, you may want to consider a jailbreak.

 

SLIDE 6

 

Be vocal. Fight in the open. Insist on acceptance and understanding. You may not find it in your current group of friends and family. I’m not telling you that you should walk away from THEM. I am asking you to look for revealers. Look for people who do not shy away from the diagnosis, who have learned not to be ashamed nor captive to their illness. They are out there. They can be found.

 

SLIDE 7

 

At AACC the SODA club makes it easy. The group is committed to being assumption destroyers and helping to erase the stigma associated with all types of disabilities. Those that are visible and easily seen, and those that are invisible and are only known upon “reveal”. We call our group superheroes. Their super powers are different. Each have strengths and each work hard to make a difference in a superhero kind of way. If you are looking for a place to make a difference on campus and within your community, we invite you to be a part of SODA.


L. Denise Portis

© 2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Let It Go – Or It’ll Kill You

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I am home today grading papers, writing my dissertation, and doing laundry. I love laundry.

No. Really! I love laundry!

So needless to say, I’m in my “happy place” today in spite of some sprinkles, high humidity, and lots of wobbles. Heck. I didn’t even put on make-up.

This morning around 7:30, I noticed this cluster of acorns by the pond. They were still on the branch (and at the time, INTACT), surrounded by some pretty Autumn leaves. I thought, “Wow. That’s kinda purty. I’ll bring my camera out later and take a picture“.

Fast FOR..W….w……w…ard……….  2 hours:

The next time I took the dogs out I grabbed my iPhone and thought to myself while springing the screen door open with a flourish,

  1. Deb will be so proud.
  2. I, too, can spot beauty.
  3. Hope the showers hold off.
  4. Did I skip breakfast? (Just keeping it real…)

I got out to the pond and searched first for the ROCK, then for the little oak tree branch with acorns. The picture above is what I found. Every single acorn gone, y’all.

I looked around a bit thinkin’… I must be in the wrong spot. The thing is? There are only so many rocks around the pond! Besides! Right there was the wee little branch, surrounded by perhaps a few more leaves, with ZERO acorns on it!

Do you know I had to sit down a second and ponder on it? I mean… what in the world happened in two hours?

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Well a clue, was that this guy <points up> was very, VERY interested in the wee little branch. He sniffed and snuffed. He circled around the spot. He sniffed some more. Then he lay down next to me and continued to sniff while I slowly but surely turned my investigator meter off.

A critter! It had to be. Something sly and sneaky… something small and (evidently) smelly… something HUNGRY was here.

Sigh. I stood up and brushed myself off thinking, “Let it go, Denise. Let it go!” It’s not like I could glue some acorns back on the twig and make it work (though I DID think about it long and hard). “You missed this photo opportunity. Let it go, Denise. Let it go.”

Now, I’m fully aware that most of you have launched into song. Your arms are flung wide, you twirled at least ONCE, and you are belting out, “Let It Go” for all you’re worth. Raise your hand if you’re guilty…

Do you know I have not seen “Frozen“? Oh, I have seen the video of the song, and numerous other parodies. I’ve seen adorable videos on FaceBook of folk’s kiddos singing the song as if it were their own. Needless to say, after I looked up the lyrics for the first time (necessary when you hear a song and are trying to make out the words with a hearing loss), I wasn’t that impressed. I mean, “The cold never bothered me anyway” was SPOT ON for this cold-weathered girl. The rest of the lyrics are kinda harsh, IMO. No worries. I’m not getting ready to dissect and demonize the lyrics to a favored song.

Why Letting It Go – is GOOD

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I hold my breath. I do so,

… when I’m concentrating

… when I’m nervous

… when I’ve just fallen

… when I’m about to fall

… when I have panic attacks

… when I’m afraid.

That’s right. I have excellent diaphragm control and lung capacity. (Not really… I just pass out a lot). Any-WHO, I learned to “let it go”; my breath, I mean. I was chanting “let it go” before Disney made the phrase famous. (Sorry, Disney… I checked the published date for the song).

Don’t you wish we could “let it go” as easily as a breath being held? I get a little disgusted when people tell someone to “let it go” when they are hanging on to something they need to let go of to be free.

Perhaps you are waiting for an apology that will never happen. 

Someone hurt you and you are still waiting for them to make it right.

A complete loser made your life miserable for years, and you still hear their voice in your head.

You are so accustomed to things going badly, you are in a perpetual state of waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

You cross your fingers and wait for God to finally punish someone who really needs punishing.

You wait around for the Cubs to win the World Series.

Let it go. The problem with holding your breath – AND – holding on to things like this, is that a state of increased tension and anxiety only harms YOU. It’s like a burning feeling in your lungs. Holding on to things like this can harm your health. Blood pressure, mental health, heart disease, and many other conditions are affected by “holding on”.

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things in the world for me. Yet, I have been forgiven for so much. Pretty arrogant, aren’t I? Forgiveness became easier when I realized it didn’t mean I had to pretend something didn’t happen. It did and it hurt. However, holding on to grudges, bitterness, and anger was only hurting ME (not them). “Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life” (Mayo Clinic, 2014, para. 4).

I recognize that part of the human existence is missing opportunities, forgiving others, and learning to “let it go”. One of my favorite songs (To Forgive by Al Denson) can be found HERE. I’m not saying it is easy.

You know what, though? As a differently-abled person who also struggles with depression and anxiety, I have learned that holding on to stuff only makes my life more difficult.

And I can do without more “difficult”.

So if I can be proactive about my own health and lay the groundwork for having more good days than bad… simply by “letting go”.

Whoosh….

That’s what an exhale sounds like.

Mayo Clinic (2014). Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness. Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

Crappy Life Lessons

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I’ve had to force myself to log onto “Hearing Elmo” and write SOMETHING.

Anything!

I don’t like for too much time to go by and not be writing. Writing, blogging, and “talking to you” is important to me. I learn from you. I hope we learn from each other.

Misinterpreting

Saturday, October 1st, on her twelfth birthday, we said goodbye to Chloe, my first assistance dog. She retired in May of 2015. Chloe was diagnosed with Transitional Cell Carcinoma in August of this year.

I’ve started this post 8 times (and yes, I counted). The first couple of drafts were angry and mean. One draft was scary. Others were tearful and frankly? Were so full of random thoughts and words, the grammar itself forbade me from hitting “publish“.

Shame and Blame

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On June 14, 2016, little Lane was killed by an alligator at Walt Disney World resorts. Like many who read his story, my first thought was, “Where the heck were his parents, and how in the world does something like this happen?

Erin S., a friend of mine, fairly quickly put me in my place–and rightly so. Why do we immediately judge what we do not know?

  1. We are shocked by something.
  2. We are heart broken.
  3. We look for someone to blame.
  4. … as if that makes it better.

We cannot ever know the “whole story”. We simply are not privy to that. There is a backstory to every tragedy and every loss. Little Lane was killed as the result of an tragic (freak) accident and he cannot be placed back into the arms of those who loved him. Why do we search for who is to blame? Sometimes, folks?

Sometimes life just sucks.

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Facebook is a wonderful place; especially for the differently-ABLED community. It is a place where technology levels the communication playing field. I have re-connected and strengthened friendships. I have “met” people in this venue I may never meet face-to-face. Last week, however, I “unfriended” and “blocked” 34 people I didn’t really know. Getting one to two messages a week, led me to believe they were simply out to get a “rise”. Many posted publicly and I exercised my right to DELETE. Haters gonna hate.

I created a public page for Chloe’s last chapter to raise awareness about an organization I love, Fidos For Freedom, Inc. I wanted to share what being a puppy raiser, sponsor, and trainer for service dogs was like. I wanted to share information about the valuable resource (even MINISTRY) of therapy dogs. I wanted to share how one dog changed my life and brought me back into the world of the living after a self-imposed isolation.

When bad things happen, we tend to look for answers or worse-someone to blame. After only reading the public “cliff notes” of Chloe’s life, I was lambasted by people for making the wrong decision.

  1. You should get a third opinion. You could treat this and prolong her life an entire year!
  2. How could you let her live the last month of her life this way?
  3. OMG. It’s just a dog. Surely you have something better to do.

Now these are folks I don’t know and you are open to these kinds of messages when you go “public” with anything. I don’t mind blocking folks who just look for ways to get people riled. I fully trust that those who know me and know my husband Terry, trusted US to make the best and most humane decision for a furry family member. (More than that… a retired partner).

politics

Ah. It’s an election year. It’s getting nasty out there in FaceBook land, isn’t it? Yet those I actually do know, I allow to post whatever they want on FaceBook. I may not click “like”. We may agree. We may disagree. More than anything though I hope we are the kind of “real” friends to agree to disagree… and love each other anyway.

I love Culture of Empathy’s website. I don’t agree with everything they post, but their message is powerful. Empathy is defined as, “identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives”. Empathy does not mean you may fully agree with them.

Y’all?

We can love one another and show kindness and compassion without having to acknowledge that an important connection and relationship is the equivalent of being identical twins. I love my husband and best friend, Terry, but the man is an idiot sometimes (albeit a sweet one). I do not agree with everything he says, believes, or “votes”. Yet, I respect everything he says, believes and votes and fully support him because I love him and he is my friend.

The Bible does not actually use the word “empathy” anywhere, yet it is inferred. It does use the word compassion numerous times. Compassion can be defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy or sorrow for another who is stricken with misfortune, accompanied by the strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” Especially when someone is faced with a critical decision or experiencing heart ache, can I not support them with compassion? How does judgement, argumentative jabs, and insistence they agree with ME, help? It doesn’t. It only shows I lack compassion and kindness.

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I’m not perfect. But…

I want to be perfectly committed to being kind, being loving, and making a difference. I may not always agree with you, but if we have the kind of relationship that we can talk about disagreements with respect and kindness, and walk away still close friends? I count myself BLESSED.

Crappy Life Lessons

So a crappy life lesson? Sometimes when grieving and in pain, people are gonna kick you when you are down. Sometimes when important decisions need to be made, folks are going to call into question my own character for an informed and personal choice. I’m gonna love you anyway.

For you see? Love isn’t love if it changes on a whim and because someone disagrees with you. I believe the world would be a better place if our first thought when getting up in the morning was,

“How can I make a difference today? How can I show kindness?” 

Hold me accountable.

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Can You Be Arrested for That?

My favorite cane...
My favorite cane…

I have friends who are police officers. One, Carl, is actually chief of police for a district in our area. I see him most Sundays, and tomorrow I plan to ask him, “Can you be arrested for that?” I love his sense of humor and he and his wife, Pam, are two of my favorite people. Though I know he will be witty, I also know he will be straight with me. Anything that pertains to the law, he’s gonna be frank with me.

Maybe I should back up though, and tell you the story? <grin>

First of all, I’m really tired. I could list you dozens of citations that link differently-abled people with fatigue and insomnia. I’m usually good about listing all those for you, but honestly there are over 26,000 articles since 2012 alone. (Yes… I counted, or rather Google scholar did!). But I digress…

When I’m tired I have a little more trouble filtering what I say. I am much more apt to just say the first thing on my mind. I’m trying to live with the “pause – respond” method (thanks for that Toby Mac post, Helen), and being mindful of not saying the first thing that comes to mind really helps. When I am tired though, I’m less likely to turn that filter on.

I have a dog in hospice care at home (sweet, retired Chloe), and I am very likely involved in way… too… much. Finishing my dissertation, teaching four classes, volunteering at a number of places; the list goes on an on. Just color me tired. This tired woman, with turned-off filter, entered Giant grocery store on Thursday. Milo-bear (my current service dog from Fidos For Freedom, Inc.) was tired as well as we had just completed a long training at the county police academy and he had a fairly long demo (that he NAILED). I only needed to get a few things, and so encouraged Milo for a last push before heading home.

When I’m tired, I wobble. <ahem> Ok. I wobble all the time. However, I wobble MORE when I am tired! I had one of the smaller carts, Milo, cane, and enough time that I did not need to rush. This didn’t seem to matter. I was a mess. I even wobbled when I moved my field of vision from one shelf to another. Being late-deafened, I do not always hear things in a big, cavernous store with lots of tile and hard surfaces. I turned suddenly, and almost plowed into a man standing there shopping with one of those hand baskets. He threw up his hands and watched me wobble, screech (just a little), and grab for everything stationary in my vicinity.

No face plant (this time). I whooshed out a breath of air, and locked eyes with him and was getting ready to say, “Wow. That was close“. He beat me to airtime, however.

“Well you are more than a little pathetic today, aren’t you?” with a grin and twinkle in his eyes.

Now… I’m late-deafened. I often mishear things. My husband could tell you a thousand stories about WHAT I THOUGHT I HEARD. He’s one of the few voices I can hear on a telephone, and has never let me live it down when he called and said, “Dinner at six?” I misheard and thought he said, “Dinner and sex?” Maybe inside I was thinking, “yes, please“, mature adult that I was said, “Excuse me…?” Yeah. That one has been hard to live down.

So this smiling man with a twinkle in his eye standing there waiting for me to respond, may NOT have said, “Well you are more than a little pathetic today, aren’t you?” I had to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe he said “phonetic“. Eh, likely not since I only screeched and had not said anything.

Maybe he said “poetic”. I could dream.

Maybe he said “prophetic“. Perhaps he sensed I was getting ready to assault him.

To clarify, I said, “Ummm, pathetic?”

“Yes”, he replied, “because you….” his voice cut off because at this point? I had my cane raised.

I poked him with it. HARD. I’M pathetic? You’re the pathetic piece of humanity standing there making snide comments about people who are a little different than you!” 

He rubbed his chest where I poked him, mumbled something that I’m not EVEN gonna pretend I heard well or understood, and wandered off. I sat there hyperventilating.

Milo-bear looked up at me like, “Are we done yet?” cool as a cucumber. Me? My cucumber was fried.

As I stood there wobbling and taking deep, calming breaths, I gave myself a pep talk that the guy likely just had a poor choice of words. He seemed friendly, nice even. I’m sure he didn’t mean the way it sounded… the way I took it. I even had the grace to ask God that if He brought me face-to-face with the man later in the store, I would apologize and try to explain how his comment made me feel. Thankfully, I did NOT run into him, because… well I wasn’t really wanting to apologize.

Yes. I should have just moved on, or perhaps even “only” blasted him with my “how pathetic are YOU” rebuttal. I need to keep my cane to myself. (Can you tell I am preaching to myself?) Who knows why he chose the words he did. I make poor choices all the time.

And I do mean ALL the time.

So perhaps I need to practice the “pause method” even more:

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Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

When Rules Don’t Apply to YOU

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*tongue in cheek*  It ROCKS when a guest writer chooses to post here at Hearing Elmo. I welcome guest writers and if you ever feel the “itch” to write, email me at denise.portis@gmail.com  Today’s post comes from Milo-bear, my second service dog.  Let’s welcome newbie writer, Milo, to the blogosphere and trust that what he has to say can be echoed by many service dog teams.

I have working clothes. Don’t laugh… you have them too. I pretty much have a great time side-by-side with my human partner 24/7. However, when my working clothes go on — my vest — I am having fun WORKING. Oh… I also happen to be GQ handsome.

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Denise has had a lot of people come up to me that she does not know asking to pet me. When we know the person already, Denise actually likes for us all to say hello because I can be kinda aloof and she doesn’t really want that being a teacher and all. She draws the line at sniffing butts though so I have learned to lean, wag, and keep my nose to myself.

Sometimes though, a total stranger comes up and starts talking to me. One day last week at the craft store, someone came up and leaned down to talk to me totally ignoring Denise. If they had been paying attention, they would have seen Denise desperately gripping the shelves and trying to keep from wobbling as this person invaded our space. The stranger said, “Oh I just love working dogs. I have always wanted to see if that was something I could do… train working dogs. Oh my, you have a very cool vest pretty boy. Don’t you look handsome!?” Now – mind you – I couldn’t argue with the handsome part, but this gal was missing two important clues:

  1. My vest says “Do not Pet” and “Do Not Distract
  2. I neither speak NOR interact with strangers. They are STRANGE.

I was so proud of Denise! She hates to make people feel badly, and at times she puts herself at risk by not standing up for herself. Perhaps it was because she was wobbling SO MUCH, that she immediately chimed in on the tail end of this stranger’s gushing intrusion to say, “Yes, isn’t it a nice vest? Complete with patches asking you not to pet or distract him”. 

I would have high5-paw’d Denise, but hey… she was wobbling enough and I didn’t want her to do a face plant. The stranger kind of sputtered and backed away. Then with a huff, she turned on her heel and walked away. I yawned really big trying to relax and Denise scratched me behind the ears and talked quietly to me. I didn’t understand everything she said, but it was something along the lines of just wanting to shop without the drama.

Denise doesn’t partner with me to create drama. I’m her helper to reduce the drama. She wobbles less when I’m by her side. If she drops something I get it for her. And ya know something? My gal pal drops things A LOT. I’m ok with that because – heck. I get paid to just pick it up and give it back to her. I have the world’s best job. I do things that are super easy for me and get treats and affection for my efforts! If Denise  reaches for dropped items, she tends to end up on her butt – which I have to tell you is OK with me too because I can easily kiss her whole face when she is eye-level.

When I know someone, the whole scenario is different. For one thing, I don’t stiffen up. I usually start to wag like crazy. I just can’t help it. When I see a friend my tail just wags and wags. Denise releases the tension some on my leash and I can say a quick hello. When it is a stranger though, I’m nervous and she is nervous. I’m thinking, “WHY are they talking to me? Who IS this strange person staring at me and in my space?”

A couple of weeks ago, Denise and I had a break after a class. This was before the pant-’til-you-drop heat hit our area. We were sitting outside on a bench enjoying the sunshine. I was double-daring a butterfly to come a little closer, and Denise was checking her email on her phone. Some students came pushing and shoving their way around the corner and then stood right in front of us. Denise was a little startled, but continued to sit and check her email. I was SERIOUSLY uptight. I mean… they chased off my butterfly! Boy was I peeved. And then you know what they did? They all had their phones out and were jostling each other and pointing their phones at us. Here I was surrounding by all these noisy and rowdy strangers, and all of them were pointing their phones at us. My hair stood up and I made sure Denise could feel my tension all the way up through the leash. She looked down at me, looked up at the students and said, “Ummm. Let me guess. Pokemon GO?” They completely ignored her. Thank goodness they didn’t hang around long. I was starting to get really antsy. After they left Denise reached down to scratch my ears again.

“People can be clueless sometimes, Milo. Don’t let them bother you. I would have moved but DARN IT. We were here FIRST”. 

I sighed really loud and pouted about not getting that butterfly. I tell ya what, I just don’t get people sometimes. I worked my butt off all morning, showing Denise where sounds were coming from, picking up things she dropped, and standing behind her while she wobbled at the board. She calls this command “WRAP”. I just call it smart, because it only takes my touching her on the back of the legs to keep her from wobbling so much. Anyway, I worked my tail off this particular morning. Well ahem, not literally of course. I just wanted to rest a bit – and yeah ok. I wanted to eat that butterfly, too. Instead, rude strangers caused me to get my hackles up. SMH.

Some people don’t think the rules apply to them. It’s just common decency to not invade someone’s space, make a lot of noise, and point your phone at them. That’s a rule even dogs understand. When my pack mates put their butt in the air and wag their tails at me, I will come over and say hello. If they are laying still and have their face pointed away from me though, I figure they are staring down a butterfly. This body language and lack of eye contact means that I know to stay clear. Especially my older sister, Chloe. That girl can be Grrr-ummmm-py! She still does the kitchen timer alert for Denise, and let me tell ya… you better get out of that girl’s way when the kitchen timer goes off. I watch her body language. I know when Tyco wants to play and I also know when his legs hurt and he wants me to leave him alone. People need to just pay attention to my body language when I’m trying to help Denise. Better yet, they need to know the patches on my vest are rules to be followed. Not because I’m snooty. I have a job to do and can’t do it if you come into my space and act like we are best buds.

I know what strangers are. When Denise’s classes start, everyone is a stranger. However, the students that sit in the front are students I start to recognize. After a few weeks of class, sometimes when Denise is talking I will lean over and put my head on a student’s desk and make goo-goo eyes at them. They aren’t a stranger anymore. At this point though, WE KNOW EACH OTHER. They may laugh and tell me I’m a silly boy, but it doesn’t distract me because I know them. Even knowing me they don’t take advantage. They know the rules. Towards the end of the semester, Denise will take off my vest right after class. OH BOY! I get to say hello to all the front-row students. Naked=Right to Visit. I take advantage of any naked time I can get.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that I know seeing me where you shop, eat, or work grabs your attention. I thought I gathered folk’s attention because I am so incredibly handsome. I’m sure that’s part of it, but it is also because some people just love dogs. Let me tell you a secret though. One of the things I’m most proud of is that Denise shops, eats out, and works because I make that possible. She told me that before Chloe she was almost house-bound. She was scared to do anything because people would jostle her when she didn’t hear them and knock her down. After Fidos For Freedom, Inc., came into her life — first with Chloe and now with me — she went back to school, went back to work, and shops alone. Listen up though… if you are a stranger and invade our space and make a grab for me? Well Denise goes back to being in danger of falling really fast. That makes her nervous again. If we know you, it’s different. Think about it this way: Would you go up to a stranger and only talk to their kiddo, and reach out to touch them without asking? Sometimes I sigh and wish I could say, “AHEM. The eyes that matter are up HERE“, and swing to point at Denise’s face. Denise said, “eyes up here” is kind of kinky and doesn’t mean what I think it means. So I haven’t tried to correct anyone with that yet.

Rules are rules. If you see a service dog with a partner in public, it may be obvious at first glance why that dog is with that person. A lot of times, though, it may not be obvious at all. Just trust that a working dog is WORKING. If you do not know them, let them shop. If you do not know them, let them eat in peace. If you do not know them, let them work and do their job. Service dogs are like a piece of adaptive equipment. You wouldn’t pet Denise’s cane would you?

A specific exception for just Denise, is that if we know you it’s great to say hello to me and scratch my ears for a minute. Denise wants me to know that there are friends in the world and to recognize them. If I don’t know you though, how about you just let me do my job? That way Denise is safe and I can focus on why I am with her. If you have to take a picture of me, cuz seriously I’m drool-worthy, just be sly about it and don’t make a scene.

Milo-bear Portis

Successor dog extraordinaire

 

 

My iPhone Lasts Longer Than I do

iphone 6+

The other day my iPhone died before I was getting ready for bed. I was a little shocked, because I rarely have it just “die” on me. The new ones have batteries that last much longer – even if you are a frequent user of the device like I am. I stood there with dead phone in hand trying to figure out if I had charged it overnight — the night BEFORE — like I usually do. After hitting <rewind> in my head and backtracking over how my day BEGAN, I realized that I fished my smartphone out of my pocketbook before heading out the door this morning. That means I did not charge it last night. That means my iPhone lasted over 36 FREAKING HOURS! I was impressed. As impressed as I was, I STILL went and hooked it up to the charger. It was dead. It had to be charged.

As I fiddled around with the (stoopid) cord, (made difficult when you lack any kind of pincer grasp in your fingers), I thought, “Wow. My iPhone lasts longer than I do! I could never go 36 hours without being recharged!” And ya know? That made me a little sad.

My next thought was, however, “NOW WHY DOES THAT MAKE ME SAD?

STOP Apologizing

I hate that my default to what is normal for ME, is to feel sad about it or to apologize to myself and others. Why do we do this?

Well according to Wright (1983) and Nosek et al., (2003), people who are differently-abled and chronically ill, default to apologizing and providing unnecessary explanations and dialogue about their condition to smooth the way of acceptance. These same authors point out that this often backfires. We instead bring attention to something others may not even notice. Apologies convey regret over intentional or unintentional offenses or failures. Apologizing for needing a nap, needing to relocate to a quieter room, asking someone for a repeat, or request to stand closer to a wall to keep from toppling, is not something we should REGRET. It is not a failure. It is what it is.

I would argue that falling into the habit of apologizing for our “normal” creates a dangerous pitfall and trap that our disabilities or chronic illness are an undue burden on others. This could lead to becoming preoccupied with how hard you are making life for others. Russell, Turner, and Joiner (2009) found that individuals with disability or chronic illness already have a higher tendency towards suicidal ideation. Apologizing for something we are not responsible for only creates a perfect and toxic breeding ground for suicidal thoughts.

Putnam et al., (2003) explain that true independence and self-determination falls closely on the heels of acceptance… that can only take place when we stop apologizing for our “normal“. I use to apologize a great deal. In spite of using every piece of adaptive equipment I could find and afford, in spite of partnering up with a service dog, and in spite of reading everything I could get my hands on about positive advocacy and independence, I would still apologize for putting someone else out for helping me cope with a situation. I’m trying to do better. For example:

Instead of “I’m sorry. Could I get you to move over to that wall over there so that I may lean against it and have Milo (my service dog) on the left while we speak? I hate to ask you to move, but…

… at which point they would say, “Oh, it’s no problem. Let’s move…” However, my apologizing for having to move infers that I had a choice. Apologizing makes it seem that I regret I am who I am.

I’m trying to learn to say, “I need to move to that wall over there for balance reasons. Let’s move over there and continue our conversation?

… and their response would be, “Sure!

I was in a super crowded common area once in which a colleague was trying to talk to me about something important. Not only could I not hear her, my balance was REALLY off and I stood there wobbling like a buoy. There were no walls available, and I was really starting to feel ill. I said, “I am having difficulty in this listening environment. Let me follow up with an email because what you are saying is really important to me“. They were pleased to do so and I think grateful enough that I cared to communicate WELL with them. I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “I’m really sorry about this…” I had nothing to feel sorry about so an apology would only have infused my confidence with negativity.

Yes, But FATIGUE is just EMBARRASSING

What if your (seemingly) undue burden on others is simply that you cannot keep up? Perhaps you need a mid-day nap to finish the day strong. Yorkston et al., (2010) found that differently-abled individuals USUALLY have accompanying pain, fatigue, or BOTH. We tend to want to apologize for this. We shouldn’t.

I have a friend with chronic (and sometimes debilitating) ankle pain. Mid-day she goes to her office and puts her feet up. If she has to go to a meeting, she unapologetically claims an additional chair so that she can rest her feet. I walked into a meeting once and saw she had her feet up on an adjacent chair. Someone walked by and said, “Are you saving that for someone?” She smiled, pointed to her feet, and said, “No. Bad ankles!” The person didn’t question her. They didn’t shoot her a pitying look. They also didn’t steal her footrest. It was a smooth and succinct explanation for her claiming an additional chair.

Several weeks later I ran into her and talked to her about what I observed. She said, “I use to apologize for having to put my feet up. But then I thought, ‘WHY am I APOLOGIZING?’ I knew that only made ME feel badly. I decided then and there to stop being sorry for having tired feet“.

If I’m at work during a meal time and the weather is nice, I often go out to my car. I load my dog up, crank the air or heat (depending on the season), turn my cochlear implant and hearing aid off, and eat my meal in the quiet. Understanding my propensity for hearing fatigue, means I take time to unplug when needed. I need to recharge. I’m not anti-social (ok… well, not VERY) and I’m perfectly capable of going to the staff lounge or faculty dining room if I want to do so. Taking a mid-day recharge in the quiet enables me to complete my day STRONG… and unapologetic. Isn’t that what independence is about?

My iPhone may hold a charge longer than I do, but I take responsibility for recharging my own battery. Do what you need to do to recharge.

Need a nap? Take one.

Need some tylenol and a twenty minute break? Take them.

Need a “mental health day”? Take it.

Need a vacation? Take one.

Need a coffee break? Take it.

… and don’t apologize.

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Nosek, M. A., Hughes, R. B., Swedlund, N., Taylor, H. B., & Swank, B. (2003). Self-esttem and women with disabilities. Social Science and Medicine, 56(8), 1737-1747.

Putnam, M., Geenen, S., Powers, L., Saxton, M., Finney, S., & Dautel, P. (2003). Health and Wellness: People with Disabilities Discuss Barriers and Facilitators to Well Being. Journal Of Rehabilitation69(1), 37.

Russell, D., Turner, R. J., & Joiner, T. E. (2009). Physical disability and suicidal ideation: a community-based study of risk/protective factors for suicidal thoughts. Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior39(4), 440-451. doi:10.1521/suli.2009.39.4.440

Wright, Beatrice A. , (1983). Physical disability – a psychosocial approach (2nd ed.). , (pp. 116-156). New York, NY, US: HarperCollins Publishers

 

Yorkston, K. M., Johnson, K., Boesflug, E., Skala, J., & Amtmann, D. (2010). Communicating about the experience of pain and fatigue in disability. Quality Of Life Research: An International Journal Of Quality Of Life Aspects Of Treatment, Care And Rehabilitation19(2), 243-251. doi:10.1007/s11136-009-9572-1

 

 

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