Tree Hugger

2015-04-11 19.08.33

The weather is finally feeling “Spring like”. The trees are all budding out and blooms galore, decorate my neighborhood. It ain’t all good. *achoooo* – but allergies seem a small price to pay for such pretty walking weather.

A couple of days ago, I ventured out of my immediate neighborhood and down a nearby walking trail. I’ve posted about beavers and bullfrogs in other posts as the path stretches along the perimeter of a small pond. At “the bend in the path” where the trail takes a sharp right turn, a huge tree was cut down. This was supposedly done to insure the path remained semi-straight. When I first saw it last year after this section of the trail was finished, I grieved a little seeing that this huge tree was chopped down and for the apparent reason it was hauled away. I haven’t been down this path in months and months. When I got closer to the remains of this giant, I looked for the scarred stump. I was surprised at what I saw. Every which way, new growth and small branches, sprouted from the stump.

I almost became a “tree hugger“. Not in the traditional “activist” sense, but I was so excited to see that it had persevered! I even took a few steps off the path to see how to approach for a hug. Seeing no great way to latch on and SQUEEZE, I instead reached out and calmly high five’d a small branch closest to me. I stood and silently celebrated the fact that this tree was still alive, determined to continue in spite of being chopped down!

Have You Felt the Woodsman’s Axe?

I turn 49 this year. Honestly, growing older doesn’t bother me in the least. Yet, because I have acquired disabilities, I have to admit that where I am is NOT where I thought I’d be. Don’t get wrong.

I feel good about me. I still have goals. I strive to make a difference. I love what I do. I have good days and bad days. There have been days I have really felt cut down.

AXED.

For many with acquired disability, chronic illness or invisible (or visible) conditions, much energy and focus is geared towards being independent. We don’t want to be a “bother” or put people out. I stopped trying to “fit in” a long time ago. I don’t hear normally. I don’t walk or stand normally. As I have become comfortable in my own skin, others have learned to accept me just the way I am as well.

But sometimes? Well, sometimes someone comes by with a wicked, sharp axe and hacks away at me, chipping away at who I am. Do you know what sucks? Sometimes the woodsman is someone I know well. Do you have people in your life who tell you “for your own good” to suck it up? “If you didn’t go around making a big deal about your disabilities, you would fit in better!” “Well aren’t you the DRAMA QUEEN?” “I’d never know something was wrong with you if you didn’t go around with a service dog!” (As if it never occurred to them I’m independent BECAUSE of the service dog).

There will be times we feel “cut down” because it is JUST ONE THING AFTER ANOTHER. I have some friends (those I call family, really) who have significant challenges. A few of them have really had a tough year. One took a significant fall in a store and is STILL recovering as the injury fall out was compounded by her MS. I have another friend with MS who is a stroke survivor. Her husband is now dealing with significant health issues. A young woman I got to know through Fidos For Freedom (who also writes) has a terminal illness and things seemed to go from bad to worse for her this year. These warriors have been chopped away.

Yet people with disabilities and chronic illness are stubborn. We persevere. If anyone “keeps on keeping’ on” it’s us! There is not any person with ANY challenge that cannot explode with new growth in the Spring. Winter is harsh. Axes are sharp. Bad stuff happens. But friends? Life isn’t over. Good can come from this.

Spring is here. Have you had a tough Winter? Did someone take an axe to you? You still matter. You can still make a difference. You are important. It’s Spring. Time to bust out in blooms or branch out in new growth. Don’t make me come fertilize you. 🙂

You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result. Genesis 50:20 (NASB)

Denise Portis

©2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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When They SHOULD… but they DON’T

support

Do you know the #1 topic of emails to Hearing Elmo (or face-to-face for those of you who know me personally) is support or the lack thereof? I have not met a single person with acquired disability, chronic illness, or invisible condition that took on their “new normal” by choice. We need support.

People need other people. I don’t care if you are an introvert and “loner”, or a gregarious, extrovert. All of us need human connections to some degree. I hypothesize that those of us who live with acquired disability, chronic illness, or other invisible condition may need solid, supportive relationships even more than those who do not face daily challenges. Coping is TOUGH stuff, and geesh… don’t I hate we don’t burn calories for all the work we put into COPING? In psychology,  we have a special term for how important our relationships are to adjustment – psychosocial adaptation. Bishop (2005) explains this better than I could: Psychosocial adaptation “may be conceived as a process of responding to the functional, psychological, and social changes that occur with the onset and experience of living with a disability, chronic illness, or associated treatments” (p. 6). There is a ridiculous amount of research on how important relationships are to an individual’s psychosocial adaptation. Intimate relationships are imperative to the quality of life for individuals who are differently-abled. All very interesting STUFF, in my humble opinion, but not at all the goal of or intended topic of this post.

Intimate Relationships

When we hear the word “intimate” we may think of sexual expression. Maybe we think of fancy-smancy underwear. (So aren’t “we” the weird ones?). Intimate relationships are interpersonal relationships that are physically OR emotionally intimate. This means that we can have close friends or family members who have an intimate personal relationship with us in that they know us very well. We have let down our guards at some point and shared things with them that others have no clue about nor care. Yes, intimacy is often physical as well, and those of us who have a physically intimate partner in a spouse or significant other, count it a major blessing to also be a friend to this individual.

Our expectation of our intimate relationships is “through thick and thin” (and I don’t mean WEIGHT). We expect these folks to love us on our good days and our bad days. We know we can belly-ache to them and they won’t think less of us. For those of us who took traditional vows, we put a lot of faith in “till death do us part”. These folks know us – and love us anyway.

When acquired disability or chronic illness enters a life unexpectedly, we rest in the knowledge that our spouse or significant other, and intimate connections with friends and family members will strengthen us and help us adapt. We have this HOPE and expectation, yet so many share with me that they were let down by someone they had counted on to BE THERE for them. Some of you have even had to deal with broken relationships. Others may have partners and friendships that have stuck like super-glue, but you cannot help but feel as if you are a burden and that these folks feel “stuck” with you.

Perhaps someone shared with you that they get tired of how tired you are. Maybe they shared or insinuated that life with you sure is HARD. As if things weren’t hard enough, someone you depend on is tired of your diagnosis too? Thanks so much for that…

I know. Not a single person reading this post hasn’t at some point wished they could have just ONE day of normalcy. “If I could just have 24 hours of normal, it would re-set my gripe-o-meter box”, shared a long-time reader. Yup. I get that! So for someone in our intimate circle to complain that they are tired of all that WE are tired of? It’s enough to make you want to spit. Or hit someone. Or SPIT while HITTING someone…

So what do you do when you realize that those who support you are having trouble supporting you? I have three tidbits to share.

1. If the Shoe Were On the Other Foot

Please don’t lash out and tell your significant bozos (cuz at the point you are mad at them for their lack of support means they have morphed from close relationships to close BOZOS), that if things were “the other way around” you would TOTALLY be there for them – ALWAYS.

This, my friends, is impossible to prove. YOU are the one dealing with a significant, life-changing diagnosis. We don’t know how we would react to “the shoe being on the other foot”. Criticizing and attacking another by insisting we would support and behave differently is not fair, nor is it justified. There are numerous studies that support that stress and anxiety can be vicarious experiences by those who support people who are struggling.

I believe one of the very best things we can do for those who support us is to acknowledge up front that WE KNOW THIS IS HARD ON THEM TOO.

2. Engage in Active Listening

All relationships benefit from active listening. Active listening was made popular by psychologist, Carl Rogers, in the 50’s. Many different counseling approaches now incorporate active listening to engage in good communication. One of the best descriptions of active listening that I’ve read can be found HERE. It is five WONDERFUL pages of all that is Active Listening. So I’m not going to take the time to explain it here and instead am giving you a “homework assignment” <wink>.

3. Yes, They Should. But… They Don’t

I cannot boast of 100% supportive relationships, nor brag that I’ve handled my own acquired disabilities with grace and diplomacy. Even though I’m in a “good place” right now with numerous supportive relationships, I have been disappointed by some of my relationships, and have even lost some folks along the way.

It hurts.

The biggest mistake one can make in shouldering all that encompasses living with significant challenges, is trying to do it alone. You are not alone.

For one thing, you are reading THIS. I care.

The Internet insures that we are NOT alone. The Internet is accessible to even those with significant challenges. If your intimate relationships and friendships have let you down, please know that you need others. Find them.

Places you can find support:

1. The newspaper: Many list various support groups and networks available for numerous types of challenges and health issues.

2. Churches: Many have support groups and networks available to both members and non-members.

3. Libraries: Many have community services bulletin boards (both physical and on-site, as well as electronic) that list numerous support groups.

4. Online forums: One only has to “Google” their diagnosis to find numerous avenues of support online. One great searchable database can be found HERE.

5. National non-profit and for-profit organizations: Most diagnosis also have organizations that provide education, advocacy, and support at the local, state, and national levels. Search the Internet for organizations that provide resources for your specific population. Many have support networks as well.

6. FaceBook and other Social Media Outlets: You’d be surprised what support resources are available on FaceBook. Many are closed groups as well as have confidentiality tenants of membership.

7. Start your own: I’m not a big fan of “wiki” anything (I suppose it is the teacher in me), but I have to admit, WikiHow did this up right. Check it out HERE.

Cut ‘Em Some Slack

Finally, I’d be a poor advocate if I didn’t give you heads up that people are going to disappoint you. Forgive them.

You are going to have a really bad day and need all kinds of support, practically draining those around you DRY. Dehydrated people can lash out. Forgive them.

You will struggle with having to live your life yet another day – so very tired of it all. Someone will point this out. Mock you. Complain about you. Forgive them.

Someone will try really hard to support you and come up short. Their personality or own needs simply do not allow them to be exactly what you need them to be. Forgive them – and support THEM.

You are going to have the kind of day where you are just done with EVERYONE. You burn your bridges, isolate yourself, and find yourself very, very alone. Forgive yourself. And rebuild.

Denise Portis

©2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Bishop, M. (2005). Quality of Life and Psychosocial Adaptation to Chronic Illness and Acquired Disability: A Conceptual and Theoretical Synthesis. Journal Of Rehabilitation71(2), 5-13.

Rogers, C. R., & Farson, R. E. (1957). Active listening. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company.

“I’m Fine” = Code for …

Sometimes you just need to lay down, close your eyes, and hug your dog.
Sometimes you just need to lay down, close your eyes, and hug your dog.

“Hey Denise! How are you today?” 

“I’m fine! How about yourself?” I cheerfully chirped in reply.

Exchanged in 15 seconds as we crossed paths and headed in opposite directions…

It is considered common courtesy to exchange greetings or acknowledge another – even in passing. What has become habitual to say really isn’t very good English if you think about it. It isn’t very specific, is it? Not, “How are you feeling today?“, “How has your DAY been so far?“, “How many people have you slugged today?” Instead, “How are you?” What does that actually MEAN?

Don’t get me wrong. I think we should be courteous to one another. In my opinion, it is a way to show respect and regard for other human beings. Before you feel defensive, please know that I do this too! It is a habit and habits can be hard to break. I will tell you, however, that I AM trying to change this “good habit”. I want to ask “How are you today?” only if I have the time to stop and HEAR how you really are doing today. The expected response is almost rhetorical. “I’m fine.” I was involved in a small group discussion this week about this topic. One friend said that “… people don’t even stop to really hear your response. I don’t get from them that they CARE“.

The fact of the matter is, “I’m fine” could be code for a number of things. Worse, it may just be an out-and-out lie. Oh sure, folks aren’t TRYING to be deceptive. The response rolls off our tongues automatically. “I’m fine” might be code for:

“I’m terrific! I feel great, look great, and believe that – heck… I’M GREAT!”

“I’m just so-so. Thanks for making me think about it and respond though.”

“I’m broken.”

“HELP ME”.

My Mouth Says “Fine”, My Expression Says HELP

This weekend I was on Howard Community College’s campus for the MDCAP (Maryland Consortium for Adjunct Faculty Professional Development) conference. During one of our breaks, I took Chloe outside to “do her business” and to sit in the sun for a few minutes. The “quad” at HCC sits in the center of a number of buildings, with a beautiful brick walking path that breaks up the area with various green spaces throughout. I found an unoccupied bench and sat for a few minutes just enjoying the sunshine and autumn breeze. Across the quad, a young woman sat with a stroller and a kiddo. An open book was on her lap and she did her best to keep an eye on the toddler while obviously trying to read or study at the same time. On a bench about 20 feet away sat another young woman. She hunched over her phone and the tension just seemed to roll off of her.

The child looked to be about 3-years-old. The kiddo skipped over towards the young woman and watched silently for a minute. The little one said, “Hi! How are you?“. The young woman looked up briefly and said, “Hi! I’m fine“. She went back to texting furiously.

The little girl continued to stand there and stare and broke the silence by finally saying, “You don’t look fine. You want my rocks? They are really pretty!” She dug in her pocket and pulled out what I guessed to be rocks (I’m brilliant that way). She sat them down on the bench and stepped back as if to let the young woman know they were all hers now. And weren’t they the prettiest thing?

The young woman got a little choked up and said, “Thank you! I’ll keep them forever and ever!” The little girl shyly scuffed her shoes on the sidewalk and then very “spur of the moment” reached over and hugged the young woman. The mother called the child back over – for she’d finally noticed her little one was hugging total strangers. I watched as the young woman took a photo of the rocks with her phone and then carefully put them in her backpack.

You see? This little girl looked pass the words. She KNEW this young woman was not FINE. She stuck around long enough to care. She intervened. She shared. She hugged.

A Challenge

It’s great to be polite and it is expected of intelligent, caring people who understand proper niceties and etiquette. I’d like to ask you to change one thing, however. Let’s stop asking “How are you?” Instead, make a comment about the day if you only have time to greet and walk on. Something like “Hello! Pretty day, isn’t it?” Better? “Good morning!” “Hello! Nice to see you today!“.

On my lunch hour today I received a text from a good friend. “How are you doing? Really.

I knew I could take the time to really say how I was doing – and that she cared. Take the time to do more than greet when you can. Look for the code words. Share your rocks. Hug someone.

In the end you “broke the code” and unlocked the “secret”. Compassion.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Counseling. Only for the Weak and Needy?

terry and denise

I’m married to a psychologist. I’m 37 hours + dissertation away from my own Ph.D. in Psychology (I know, I know it is still a lot! But to count it down helps! 2016 seems like such a long ways away!). My daughter is getting her Master’s in Psychology. My son is working on his Bachelor’s in Cyber-criminology. Needless to say our family meals – the few we have since our kids are adults now – are very weird. Weird, as in we talk about strange things. “Psycho-babble”. We are psychology geeks. Or is that freaks?

For me, to seek counseling has zero stigma attached. But… some folks do think that seeing a counselor is something to be ashamed of and try to hide the fact they may be getting professional help.

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t think you should tell your life story to every single stranger you encounter who asks, “How are you, today?” But when is it OK to seek professional help and talk to someone about all the things you DO have trouble expressing to anyone else?

I Feel Like I’m not as Independent…

A friend of mine found out I was seeing a counselor. She knows me well enough that she can ask me nosy questions and I don’t even feel as if she is being – well, NOSY. With her permission, I’m copying the gist of the conversation here:

Her: “You are one of the most independent people I know! Why are you so open about seeing a counselor? Aren’t you afraid people will think you aren’t as strong as you let on? I think if I went to see one I wouldn’t be able to let anyone know!”

Me: “Well it doesn’t work that way. I need someone to listen and who will give me objective advice. If they were my bestie like you, they wouldn’t give it to me straight!”

Her: “Hey. I tell you like it is all the time!”

Me: “Giving me a ‘dose of reality’ is different than being objective from a trained, counselor’s point of view. How can something make me less strong when I walk out of there feeling ‘stronger’?”

Her: “I dunno. I thought you were ‘Ms. Independence’. It seems strange to hear YOU are going to see a licensed counselor!”

Me: “You are missing the point. I’m seeing a counselor so that I can continue to be independent about the right things, but am also learning to be dependent in a healthy way. Geesh this life is hard enough without trying to ‘go it alone’. We all need help from time to time!”

She remains unconvinced, but hey! I think she’s coming around.

So Should you see a Counselor?

So how DO you know if you should see a counselor?

Psychology Today has a great little “self test” that helps you determine if you should seek therapy. You can find it here: CLICK HERE

Another great little quiz to help you make this determination can be found here at Psych Central’s website: CLICK HERE

The Huffington Post put out a great article in February, “8 Signs You Should See a Therapist”. You can find that article here: CLICK HERE

Those 8 “signs” include:

1. Everything you feel is intense

2. You’ve suffered a trauma and you can’t seem to quit thinking about it

3. You have unexplained and recurrent headaches, stomach-aches or a rundown immune system

4. You’re using a substance to cope

5. You’re getting bad feedback at work

6. You feel disconnected from previously beloved activities

7. Your relationships are strained

8. Your friends have told you they’re concerned

People with disability or living with invisible, chronic illness can benefit from counseling. Whether you are struggling to cope, grieving “something lost”, feeling angry or depressed, or just feeling overwhelmed, seeking help can prove very beneficial. It doesn’t make you weak. If anything, it shows how proactive you are about your own mental and emotional health. Recognizing that “all parts” of who we are need to be strong is a sign you are being pretty darn good to yourself!

How do I find Help?

Where do I find help? My favorite “how to” article is several years old, but I still think it’s the best advice I’ve seen. You can check out the article by Dr. Aletta here: CLICK HERE

For me, I had to find someone that was “in network”. I can’t afford to pay for counseling other than a co-pay. Sometimes practices will have pro-rated charges based on your income. For most of us though, we have to go see who our insurance will pay for to help alleviate costs. Depending on your insurance, you can probably find a list of “in network” counselors, therapists, and psychologists. For me, finding someone who had similar faith practices was important. Doctrine wasn’t as important as finding someone who believes there is a God. So you may have to go to the web and search too, matching practices up with who your insurance says is “in network”. If you don’t have insurance, or insurance won’t cover counseling, there are still options. (The article I gave you *points up* gives some great tips).

Feel free to comment here or privately email me. I’m pretty open about my own “journey to a healthy mental/emotional, Denise”. If you live in an area where counselors are “few”, you may find assistance at area worship centers. If confidentiality is a MUST (meaning you don’t even want to be seen coming and going), a new trend includes cyber-counseling. A licensed and trained counselor sees you at a designated time through a web-cam, so it is still face-to-face (important for those of us that need to see a face to communicate well).

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

 

 

 

 

Post-traumatic Growth (Part 1)

team chatter 2

Nope.

That isn’t a typo. You have probably read articles or news stories about post-traumatic STRESS (or PTSD), but did you know that post-traumatic growth is a related and now often studied psychological topic? There is even a new field called psychotraumatology. Try saying that 5 times really fast…

At Hearing Elmo, I do my best to present topics related to invisible illness, disability, or chronic conditions. Guest writers are encouraged to have some connection to one of those topics.

*SIDE NOTE* Hearing Elmo welcomes guest writers any time! Email me for more information at denise.portis@gmail.com with “Hearing Elmo” in the subject line.

Chloe after 2013 re-certification

As you know, Fidos For Freedom, Inc. (FFF), is a big part of my life. My service dog, Chloe, comes from FFF but I also stay connected through weekly trainings and volunteering for various jobs each year. The people there have become “family” to me and I have learned so much about the disability community through my connections at this wonderful organization. Something I have observed, is that even if you’ve taken the step to train and be matched with a service dog to mitigate your disability or illness – something that can take “guts” as it can make the invisible, very visible – not everyone responds to “bad things” the same way. Many times it is simply because the person has not adjusted yet.

As my dissertation looms in my very near future, I am already thinkin’ about…

What am I gonna do? (No worries. I *can* use a scholarly voice when the environment calls for it <big grin>)

But back to my original topic! How do people come out on the other side of something traumatic, and find that they’ve grown? Do they have something in common or is the outcome as individual as the process? How do you survive and be BETTER and not BITTER?

These questions are on my mind. A LOT.

I receive hundreds of emails from readers each year and try to respond to each personally. I’m always tickled that a common question seems to be, “How do you have your ‘stuff’ all together so well? I’m floundering here!” I am always quick to respond with an honest evaluation about my own life “after disability”. Folks are surprised. I don’t try to sugar-coat how I’m doing in my own life. I deal with the same things you do:

Depression

Anxiety

Suicidal ideation

Pessimism

The trick is not to stay there. Sometimes it can be worked through on your own. Sometimes it cannot. Sometimes we need help. So how do some people come out on the other side of something traumatic – better? How do people grow in spite of experiencing something devastating?

This is going to be a “two-fer” post. Meaning: I can’t address everything I want to cover in one post (smile). For this first part I want to cover what kinds of things can cause PTG (post-traumatic growth), and clearly define what it is. Next week we’ll look at some other related issues.

What causes Post-Traumatic Growth?

Traumatic experiences.

Kinda anti-climatic, huh?

But for OUR population – those who live with disability, invisible illness, or chronic health conditions – what is a traumatic experience? It can include:

disability

invisible illness

chronic physical or mental health conditions

devastating diagnosis

sexual abuse

violence and victimization

divorce or loss of an intimate relationship

death of a loved one

war

poverty

Basically – anything that can cause stress. Not the run-of-the-mill kind of stress. You know the kinds of stress like, a “bad hair day”, my cat threw-up in my favorite shoes, I locked myself out of the house, or I ate bad sushi. We’re talkin’ the kind of stress that produces trauma. It may be specific to YOU. For example, I have met people who have heard me speak on various topics and have come up and shared that they “don’t get why hearing loss would be a reason to develop depression“. They have hearing loss and they have coped just fine. Variables, my friends… variables. Personality, background, resilience, support, worldview, gender, economics – the list goes on an on. You may respond to a life event completely different than someone else. That’s OK. This is why you hear me encourage folks to reach out and SHARE. Your experiences may help another. You won’t know if you don’t talk about it.

What is Post-Traumatic Growth?

PTG is actually something that came from a branch of Psychology called – Positive Psychology. There are scales and inventories available to see where you rate in PTG. I first started reading about it back when my cochlear implant was first activated. “Hearing again” was a tough journey. I stumbled across the term coined by Drs. Calhoun and Tedeschi. According to them,

What is posttraumatic growth? It is positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event” (Posttraumatic Growth Research Group, 2014, para. 1).

Their research centers around 5 changes that occur in an individual, post-trauma. These include:

1. New opportunities

2. Change in relationships

3. Increased sense of one’s own strength

4. Greater appreciation for life in general

5. Spiritual or religious domain (Posttraumatic Growth Research Group, 2014)

Have you been diagnosed with a super scary, perhaps life-changing diagnosis?

Have you acquired a disability?

Were you injured, permanently changing the way you live life?

Have you experienced something that left scars (physical, mental, emotional)?

You can experience growth. It may not happen overnight. It may mean that you experience tremendous loss, fear, and grief at first. You may blow it. A LOT. However, I don’t know about you, but I experience a sense of hope knowing that something good can “come of this”.

Comment here or send me a confidential email. I’d like to know how you’ve experienced GROWTH. There is no prerequisite measure. Maybe it wasn’t a lot of growth. Maybe you experienced “three steps forward – two steps back” throughout the process. I’d love to hear from you!

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Posttraumatic Growth Research Group. (2014). What is PTG? Retrieved January 2, 2014, from http://ptgi.uncc.edu/what-is-ptg/

Decisions, Decisions…

For a totally unrelated reason, I was reminded this week that my husband cannot swim. I hate it when a discussion brings up old nightmares about the topic too! Goes to show how much our subconscious is at work… especially when sleeping. Anyway, this conversation about the fact that my husband cannot swim had me dreaming about one of the most terrifying events that led up to my banning him from going into the ocean.

The year was 2001, and my family and I were in Siesta Key, Florida. Terry was taking some classes to finish up his doctorate. Always nice when degree completion requires on-site classes in Sarasota, and you can time it where the whole family can be dragged down with you! Terry wasn’t getting much rest and relaxation. Going to class all day and putting the finishing touches on his dissertation were exhausting. At night he was glad to just catch whatever sunshine was left in the day and rest on the beach while I corralled the kids into a distance I could easily manage their activities.

I’m not sure what prompted a non-swimmer without a life vest to decide to get on an inner tube, launch one’s self into the ocean, and drift off to sleep. He swears up and down he had no idea he’d drift out to sea. After all, when he got past the breakers and could just snooze, the ocean was calm and serene. I’m the one with hearing loss (a fact I’ve made plain on this blog). But exhaustion and FREAKIN’ DISTANCE FROM SHORE will dissipate sound waves and keep someone from hearing shouted warnings; even from hearing ear-drum piercing screamed warnings. That’s right. Picture me on shore with kids, jumping up and down, screaming warnings that a riptide had caught him and he was oblivious to the danger. I remember thinking, “he has the room key around his wrist so I can’t even get into our condo and have one of the kids call my parents to let them know Terry drowned”. Morbid, yes? But I knew Terry could not swim AT ALL. The man cannot even dog paddle (something Chloe has told me since that she’s a little embarrassed about actually).

We may not have been able to attract Terry’s attention, but we did other folk’s. Soon a small crowd of people were whistling and hollering for “Terry!” A man, likely a native, stopped close to me and said something. I could hear the rumble and pitch of his voice. I stopped screaming long enough to sputter, “I have a hearing loss and have to see your face to hear”. So he touched my shoulder to get my attention and said, “He can’t swim? Want me to go after him?” I looked out at my still sleeping husband and agreed immediately. “YES PLEASE!!!!” (At least I’m polite...)

So the man went after my husband. He must have been shouting as he swam, because when he got closer to Terry, I could barely make out that Terry finally woke up. I saw a flail of hands, legs, and arms and prayed he’d hold on to that inner tube! The rescuer had started further up the beach to Terry and I think the tide and his strokes eventually got him safely to Terry’s side. He must have given him instructions to kick, which he did as well along with some steering, and eventually ended up on shore about a mile from where we all started. The small crowd of people had followed the kids and I down the beach. Some kind soul had picked up our things and carried them with us, knowing I wasn’t cognizant enough to even do that.

Drifting Off

A very popular topic for writers who discuss acquired disabilities and chronic illness, is social isolation. Isolation does not happen all at once. It is a gradual process; a series of small decisions and choices that eventually yield a self-perpetuated aloneness. We become “deaf” to the shouted (and well-meaning) warnings of people around us. Can we be rescued? Will we even allow a “strong swimmer” to intervene?

For people with hearing loss, isolation is almost a part of the process of learning to live with it. I know few people who are late-deafened that did not have at least a short period of self-imposed isolation. Why? Well experts have said of the late-deafened, “They no longer felt they belonged in the hearing world, and neither did they belong in the prelingually deaf world. Onset of deafness had left them in a twilight zone between worlds and had robbed them of their identity” (Barlow, Turner, Hammond, & Gailey, 2007, p. 442). Other acquired disabilities can produce the same isolation, however.

Physical difficulties can prevent people with a mobility impairment from creating social networks. Even the weather can keep some folks with mobility issues away from others. If you have a power wheelchair or scooter, you do not want to go out in the pouring rain or blistering heat. Despite the intentions of the ADA, not all places where friends get together are accessible. Whether you are born with some limitations, or acquired them later in life, disabilities or chronic illness may result in feelings of loneliness and isolation, and a lack of access to support information (Matt & Butterfield, 2006).

Not As It Seems

Not all decisions to RSVP to invitations with a “No, thank you” are because of isolation, however. Friends and relatives need to understand and trust that sometimes? Those “no’s” are not a pity party nor decision to pull back. I don’t go to pool parties. I have technology that cannot get wet and a husband who cannot be in the heat because of having one kidney. (And have you picked up yet that THE MAN CAN’T SWIM?) Sometimes there are very legitimate reasons for declining an invitation. A person may not be able to do evening gatherings because they have legitimate needs for an early night. Folks with disabilities and chronic illnesses often require more sleep than the average adult. It is not always possible to nap the afternoon before in order to go to some evening “shin dig”. Some people have to offer late apologies to activities they had planned to go to… but they have a “flare” when it comes time to prepare for an outing of fun and fellowship. The weather gets the final say for some of us. I can agree to go to a “Girl’s Night Out” a week in advance, only to have a weather system move in to where I can barely move in an upright position.

But…

I have also fudged about going to things I really could have had I really wanted to attend. Sometimes we say “no” because that is

EASIER or

HABIT.

We have to learn to police ourselves and ask ourselves some legitimate questions when our first impulse is to decline an invitation.

Social Networks

Nothing gets on this female’s nerves more than when I hear someone ‘pooh-pooh’ social networks like FaceBook, My Space, Blog networks, online support groups, and message boards and forums. I have heard holier-than-thou folks spout that these avenues “aren’t real people” and therefore are not “real relationships”. Drs. Patricia Obst and Jana Stafurik refute this much better than I can. “Online we are all able-bodied“. Online there is a “psychological sense of community and social support found through membership of disability-specific websites” (Obst & Stafurik, 2010, p. 525). These researchers looked at 160 different individuals who had various disabilities or chronic illnesses. “Results indicated that users did receive moral support and personal advice through participating in such online communities. Further, results indicated that online social support and feeling a sense of community online were positively associated with participants’ well-being in the areas of personal relations and personal growth” (Obst & Stafurik, 2010, p. 526).

I am always thrilled to have guest writers here on Hearing Elmo. (Interested? Email me at denise.portis@gmail.com). This forum has provided information and support to individuals “living it” and to family members and friends for information. I have been invited to write in other forums and welcome the opportunity. Ever heard the phrase, “dissemination of information”? The Internet makes us equal. It provides an easy, inexpensive way to find support, learn, advocate, and connect.

It can also serve as an avenue in which a warning comes through loud and clear… even to those of us who are late-deafened.

Are you avoiding outside activities?

Are the reasons you are doing so legitimate?

Are you connecting with others?

Are our decisions prompted by necessity or the result of anxiety, depression, and an attitude of giving up? These are important questions to ask ourselves. Please don’t find yourself adrift on an ocean with the shore out of reach. Ask for help. Discover a hero swimmer on their way to rescue you.

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Barlow, J., Turner, A., Hammond, C., & Gailey, L. (2007). Living with late deafness: insight from between worlds. International Journal Of Audiology, 46(8), 442-448.

Matt, S. B., & Butterfield, P. (2006). Changing the disability climate: Promoting tolerance in the workplace. American Association of Occupational Health Nurse, 54, 129–134.

Obst, P., & Stafurik, J. (2010). Online we are all able bodied: Online psychological sense of community and social support found through membership of disability-specific websites promotes well-being for people living with a physical disability. Journal Of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 20(6), 525-531. doi:10.1002/casp.1067

Sometimes? You Are Going to Have a Bad Week

Chloe was having a pretty good week. At least she was until I told her to get in the bathtub. NOT her favorite thing. If “hound dog” could do forlorn, then honey? She’s gonna do FORLORN in the bathtub covered in suds.

While I scrubbed her and told her what an awesome dog she was, intervening during those “I’m gonna shake” moments, I thought about how quickly things can change.

Chloe was happy and excited to get home from class today. She was rough-housing with her buddy, Tyco, when she heard me call her upstairs. She came running with her tail all a-wag. I told her to get in the tub and proceeded to break her ever-lovin’ heart. She is drying and pouting over in the sun as we speak. If I’m lucky, she’ll have forgiven me by suppertime.

Spring has “sprung”, I’m getting a handle on my new schedule, Terry and I just took 2 days away to re-group ALONE (grin), I’m feeling very connected and supported at my primary “free time” activity (Fidos For Freedom Inc., in Laurel, MD), and then it happens. When you can see change coming you can run like mad… or at least brace for it. But sometimes? Well sometimes change smacks you up side the head like Gibbs smacks DiNozzo. It’s completely by surprise. You lay on the floor, dazed and confused, staring up at the ceiling fan thinking, “What just hit me?”

I’ve even let this unexpected negative “change” suck me into an old habit of depression. I could feel it creepin’ up on me. I’m blessed to have a live-in psychologist and I made sure I changed my “8 hours of sleep a night” to 10 hours immediately. That seemed to help. That in addition to some time since the SMACK DOWN, I’m feeling like I can do this thing called life again, despite the newest challenge. Change can be hard and can create a lot of stress. Heck. I was having such a meltdown (as were other members of the family), hubby announced “Let’s go out to eat for supper!” I begged and pleaded and implored him to allow me to fix supper (yeah, right!), but he insisted we go out to eat. We walked out the door discussing these serious issues that “done smacked me up ‘side the head” and half way to the car my husband stopped dead in his tracks and interrupted me saying, “Um Denise? Where’s Chloe?”

You know the service dog who is with me 24/7? The one on the other end of the leash every waking moment of my life? Poor forgotten Chloe stood inside the locked house door whining and whimpering. So yeah. I am THAT distracted by my smack.

There are various proverbs that remind us that life is not easy. Everything is not always going to go well. Sometimes bad things happen. It doesn’t matter if you have disabilities or not. Life can be very, very good. Yet any of us who have lived enough of it know that it can also be hard. I survive because of my 3 “F’s”: Faith, Family, and Friends who care. Surviving is sometimes one day at a time, one week at a time. This is why people with disabilities should take care not to isolate themselves. It’s so easy to do. Isolation is even easier than having to face interacting with others while learning to live successfully with a disability. But isolation is dangerous. We need others. Others help us do that “surviving” thing!

I for one and very glad to see Monday this week.

Chloe, on the other hand, is just glad her monthly bath can be chalked off.

Denise Portis

©2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal