Chronic Pain – Part ONE

Welcome to guest blogger, Deborah Marcus, long-time friend (sister), fellow advocate and writer, and professional photographer. It is always great to have guest bloggers on Hearing Elmo because although I have lived with disability for 27+ years, I do not and cannot understand chronic pain conditions as it is not something symptomatic of my own challenges. I have always been thankful for that — for one thing I am a wuss. I have loved and admired Deb for a long time, in part because I consider her a warrior woman who DOES live with chronic pain. This is part ONE of a multi-part posting. Follow up posts in the future will link to this one so that her story chapters will remain connected.

What persuades me to step back from the ledge? What worked yesterday, today, what will work tomorrow? Those who live with chronic, severe pain or illness are familiar with these questions.

I have lived with disability for much of my life. Hard of hearing from a relatively young age, severely so through my 20s and 30s until I began to hear again at age 42 with cochlear implants, I am no stranger to the need to make adjustments. I have lived with other disabling conditions, too, which unlike hearing loss and deafness are largely a product of the external forces of trauma and abuse. At 54, I have lost count of the moments when I’ve told myself “keep on, keep on”. As a result of physical abuse which once took the form of being sent down a long flight of stairs, backwards and head first, I have experienced increasing challenges with my vestibular (balance) system. Once a series of intermittent episodes of vertigo, my imbalance is now chronic. For over two years now, I have not had a minute where my equilibrium is not in a struggle with the space around me. Along with this is a condition that I have managed to cope with for 38 years, for which I had no name until recently. Three years ago I wrote a short piece describing life with trigeminal neuralgia. Things have changed regarding my TN status since then, but it’s instructive to see where I was at that time: https://visionsofsong.com/2015/07/10/into-the-sunshine-living-with-trigeminal-neuralgia/

It is not the only pain condition I live with, but it is the most distinctly life-altering. About six months ago, I realized that the medication treatment that was giving some relief wasn’t doing much anymore. Trying different medications and doses brought no help. I spoke with my doctor, who referred me to a hospital that does high volume work in the areas of gamma knife radiosurgery and microvascular decompression, the only two procedures currently advised for my condition.Both procedures have a relatively high success rate for trigeminal neuralgia, 70 to 80 percent depending on various factors. After consultation, in early March of this year I underwent the gamma knife procedure. After a week’s time, I felt some improvement, which was incredibly uplifting for my mood, which had reached new lows. Knowing that it can take a couple of months to see the full effect, I hung in on the bad days, rejoicing in the better days in between, and anticipating further improvements. In the past couple of weeks, I have not been doing well. This past week has been terrible, and I have found myself bursting into tears as much due to despair as to the pain levels. My world, which was shrinking due to severe, chronic facial pain, was beginning to open up a bit, only to feel shrunken once again. I can’t decide which is worse, not thinking there would be anything that could really help bring my pain levels to manageable levels, or trying something that may in the end prove to be a failure for me.

The depression I have been managing somewhat successfully stepped to the front of the line. I became obsessed with the idea of planning my death. Not yet planning my death, but finding the idea of planning it out, by suicide, an intriguing possibility. Why? Why now, when I’ve lived with physical and psychic pain for so long, does it seem like now might be a good time to end my life? What makes one moment better than another, or none of them the right time? As much as I have dealt with depression to varying degrees throughout the years, I don’t recall a moment exactly like the one I had this week, thinking that maybe I’m done, really and truly. I felt that if I expressly stated that to anyone close to me, they would call in the big guys on me, which I do not want. Besides, I’ve been feeling like I’m wearing out the handful of good, caring people in my life with my challenges. I did not want to burden them with such thoughts. I knew that I could call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (found here https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/) and opted to use the chat box to communicate rather than the phone. It took a little while to get to the front of the line, but I wanted to see what would happen. As a Mental Health First Aid instructor, I know what it’s for and recommend it often. I wasn’t sure if it made sense to call since I wasn’t sitting by the computer with a gun or a bottle of pills in my hand. I recognized my need to reach out, and am glad that I called. The person on the line didn’t tell me much I didn’t know, but I could tell they cared that I was struggling, and that meant a lot. At the end of the call, they ask for some feedback. One of the questions has to do with feeling hopeful/hopeless. I was able to say that I felt a little less alone after this brief conversation. It got me thinking about how much, and yet how little I need. I suspect this dichotomy is true for many of us. I can only share from my perspective, and from what I’ve teased from things shared by others over the years.

There has been a fair amount of discussion lately regarding the intersection of childhood trauma and health outcomes. If you would like to look at this in some depth, you may consider starting here, though there are many other resources: https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2016/10/404446/undoing-harm-childhood-trauma-and-adversity

As a survivor of (and sometimes thrive-r in spite of) sexual and physical abuse, having undergone several rounds of therapy to figure out how to cope, I did not immediately make the connection between my physical challenges and what I had experienced while growing up. The mind-body connection was happening in spite of my limited insight. Oh, I understood that my mood could be connected to my experiences, but pain? Not only acute pain, or pain that is persistent due to an event, but pain in parts of the body that were not injured, or if they had been, were still in pain long past when the bodily injury had healed. I have been handed and thrown off a diagnosis of fibromyalgia twice in 12 years. No fibro for me, thank you! It’s that diagnosis they give you when they don’t know what’s wrong, is what I would tell folks. If sounds so…hopeless. I know some who live with this diagnosis, and they find ways to make a good life for themselves. It felt like being saddled with one more thing that I didn’t want to carry.

But trigeminal neuralgia, that’s something they can tie to an event. In some cases it develops post-shingles. In others, trauma can be the culprit, and again, we suspect that is the case for me. I have been more comfortable talking about this severe and persistent pain condition than any of the others, yet there is no denying that all of what I experience is intertwined within me, and so perhaps the only way through all of this is through all of it. Still, I haven’t figured out what to say to myself to want to keep on during the worst moments. I think I put every penny I had on this horse winning the race, with the radiosurgery giving me significant relief for a while. If it doesn’t, I’ll need to see if I can find another message that is meaningful, to keep on, keep on.

I welcome feedback, and aim to follow up with another piece on the topic of chronic pain, disability, and the reconstructing of a meaningful life.

Deborah Marcus

https://visionsofsong.com

 

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Self-Talk

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Self-talk. Chances are you have been using self-talk since you were a child. As a matter of fact, developmental psychologists tells us that self-talk begins in middle childhood, ages 6 to 11-years-old (Arnett, 2013). Perhaps that is why many folks think that simply “talking to yourself” out loud is the same thing as self-talk. Children often “play out loud”, adding sound effects, conversations, and even lengthy monologue within imaginary play. This is not self-talk. Self-talk is really just your inner voice. It often reflects your conscious and unconscious thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions (Psych Central, 2015).

Self-talk CAN be out loud… don’t get me wrong. One of my favorite things to practically shout when I use self-talk, is “Girl? I REJECT THAT!” This is said out loud, with southern accent, hand on hip, and oozing with attitude.  (Are you picturing it? If you know me, you likely have even heard me say it).

Self-talk is also studied in Sport Psychology. As a matter of fact, if you do some searching online, many athletes have often used quotes that incorporate the use of self-talk. We ALL use self-talk, however. Whitbourne (2013), explained “Psychologists have identified one important type of these inner monologues as “self-talk,” in which you provide opinions and evaluations on what you’re doing as you’re doing it. You can think of self-talk as the inner voice equivalent of sports announcers commenting on a player’s successes or failures on the playing field” (para. 1).

This is why sometimes internally and oft-times out loud, we say, “Well. That was stupid”. As a matter of fact, much of our self-talk as adults is negative. Some of us may be parroting things we actually hear others say. However, most of the negative self-talk comes from the heart of pessimism and self-deprecation. Why? Why are we so hard on ourselves?

People who live with chronic illness, or invisible (or visible) disabilities often have negative self-talk. Statistics tell us we don’t really engage in negative self-talk more than adults who do not struggle with these issues, but perhaps the source is different. Frustration tends to be a significant source of negative self-talk for the differently-abled.

self-talk-2

Perhaps you are trying to discover how to do something independently. Maybe your are coming to terms with having to do something differently. Here are some things I have found helpful when I find frustration is spawning negative self-talk:

1. Identify it. Perhaps this is why the first phrase out of mouth is often “Girl? I REJECT THAT”. I identify that I am engaging in negative self-talk. See it (or hear it). Call it what it is. Now that you recognize it:

2. Change your spin on it. See if you can’t put a positive spin on it. Perhaps your self-talk has recognized something that you need to pay attention to but you need to say it like you are talking to your best friend. Be your own best friend. We wouldn’t say, “Geesh, that was dumb”. Try re-phrasing it. “Well I’m smarter than this. How can I make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

A great example of this happened to me just last week. I took a really hard fall between my front door and the grass to “potty the dogs”. It was late, and pretty dark outside. I was in a hurry. My pillow was calling out to me and I wanted to reply face-to-face. I left the house without my cane. I was only walking 10 yards. What could happen?

I have 6 bruises and a small cut on my arm to show how wonderfully intelligent that choice was. So laying there in the grass with “mother earth” in my mouth, ear, and eyes, my first thought was:

“Dang. You are so graceful”.

Yeah. I speak fluent sarcasm.

My second thought was, “Geesh, that was stupid”. I’m a bit of a motor-mouth so I’m pretty sure the conversation went on a little longer, discussing how many brain cells I have, could I be any lazier for not taking 10 seconds to grab the cane?, and competing very hard to convince all living things listening that I deserve my title of Accident Prone Queen.

Because I’ve had so much practice at this, I immediately identified what was happening. Putting a new spin on it meant I could say, “Well this is why you should take 10 seconds to grab the cane!” Folks, I was WRONG to leave the house without my cane. But finding a middle-ground and re-phrasing the self-talk helped me be just a little more kind to myself. We need to take the time to be kind to ourselves.

3. Flexible expectations. No one knows you like YOU know you. If you have lived with invisible illness or disability for any length of time at all, you know what your own limitations are.

Unlike some of my cochlear implant friends, I still do not hear music very well, nor enjoy what I hear. My iTunes account could be deactivated. Does this mean music isn’t a part of my life? Absolutely not. I sing 80’s tunes at the top of my lungs when home alone.

Because of positional vertigo, I cannot use exercise equipment like the cross trainer (my husband’s favorite), stair-climber, or anything that moves my position vertically. Does this mean I cannot exercise? No. I can use a treadmill and I can walk. The latter I do twice a day.

The doctoral program I am in is designed to push you through in two years. I will be done in 3.5 years. And you know what? That is OK. This is the pace I can do successfully and complete my schooling. I can be flexible in my expectations!

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When all else fails, tell yourself to shut up. You may not say, “Girl? I REJECT THAT!”, but don’t be afraid to tell yourself to zip it. It may even be helpful to say it out loud. It works for me! In the end, you can actually work self-talk to your advantage. Learn to cheerlead yourself. Most of us look great with poms-poms.

Arnett, J. (2013). Developmental Psychology: A cultural approach (1st ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Psych Central (2015). Challenging negative self-talk. Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/challenging-negative-self-talk/

Whitbourne, S. K. (2013). Make your self-talk work for you. Psychology Today. Retrieved June 15, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201309/make-your-self-talk-work-you

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

SYTYCD

funny_dancer

We had a brief spat of rain this past week. When that happens I’m at risk for a “brief splat”. Folks? I think I’m more reliable than the Weather Channel. Seriously.

I’m like a human barometer. If it is going to rain, I know it. My vestibular system goes haywire, the tinnitus increases, and my world spins much faster than it normally does. So on a rainy day this past week, I was in class and took a very quick, very unwise turn from the whiteboard to face the class.

I actually have no idea why I didn’t fall. Call it luck. Maybe it was God. Perhaps I’m just THAT GOOD. However, just because I didn’t fall doesn’t mean I didn’t “bust a move”. As a matter of fact, it takes quite the “fancy footwork” to correct a near fall.

I stood there for a minute, with my arms stretched out to aid in my balance correction. I know my eyes were as wide as saucers. I actually heard my breath HITCH. (And if *I* heard it, it must have been VERY LOUD). I may not be able to move fast, but I think fast. I immediately thought, “Ok. How do I explain this? Do I cover with a counter-move?”

I pictured myself launching right into the MOONWALK, and prophesied I’d end up on my fanny.

I pictured myself STAYIN’ ALIVE, but this was long before THEIR time. Instead I decided to just lower my arms slowly and calmly say, “WHEW!”

A student in the front row nonchalantly said, “You should charge for that. Seriously. It’s that good”. Everyone laughed and the tension was broken. Professor Portis didn’t land on her face…

TODAY

How Do You Explain It Away?

If you have an invisible illness or disability that sometimes has your body doing things you wish it didn’t do, you’ve likely tried to think of ways to explain it to others when it happens.

I have a friend with a neurological disorder which causes her extremities to sometimes “twitch”. If she is fatigued and having a “bad day”, she may twitch very violently. I’ve learned to give her a little bit of space so that I do not accidentally get “hit”. I’ve known her awhile, however. Other folks who aren’t use to being around her, may experience a “near miss”. She cracks me up with her practiced come-backs.

“Duck!”

“You should see what I can do on a dance floor!”

These are coping mechanisms. Not everyone tries to laugh it off and poke fun at themselves. Some folks ignore it. Some folks just apologize (like it’s their fault? Wha…?) Some people don’t even try. They isolate themselves so that they aren’t put in a position to have to explain anything.

Kids. Expect it! They Are Curious!

Some of the best things ever said to me about my disabilities came out of the mouth of babes — children! I get so cracked up sometimes that it is all I can do to bend down to take the time to explain.

I’ll never forget when a kiddo pointed to Chloe in vest and asked, “Why does that dog have on a SADDLE?” 

Sometimes OTHER people help me out. They help me explain to children what is going on. The Costco I go to on occasion know me now simply because folks start recognizing my service dog. One day I was in the freezer section and had to pass a more narrow opening to the aisle due to two cooking stations set up at the end. My balance wasn’t great that day, so I decided to just hang on to the cart and walk on through. The Costco deli representative had better ideas.

“Here, you’ve got to try this. It is really good!” She stuck a toothpick in a piece of meat that she had just fried up in her Wok. I shouldn’t have done it, but I reached for that toothpick.

Yup, I almost fell face first into the Wok. The lady grabbed my elbow and continued to extol the virtues of the seasoned meat.

A child nearby exclaimed with horror in their voice, “Dad! That lady almost fell in that cooker!”

The Costco worker, without missing a beat, said, “No worries. I caught her. We’re not frying up that kind of meat today”. Everyone laughed and numerous folks moved their carts clear so I could get through with giant cart and service dog in heel. I wasn’t the least bit embarrassed. I’m glad when people can tell that I am comfortable enough with being ME, that I don’t mind a little humorous dialogue.

When to Accept That There is No Way TO COVER

Humor doesn’t explain away everything. Laughing at yourself doesn’t always succeed at helping others feel more comfortable. Sometimes, all you can do is state the facts and move on.

I am sporting a big cut on my left thumb. It is healing and my nail is finally growing back. I acquired this injury as the result of cutting an apple with a paring knife on a day I wasn’t being extra cognizant of the fact that I have peripheral neuropathy. I was in class the day of the “big cut”. A student asked, after pointing to the huge bandage on my thumb, “what in the world happened to your thumb”? I explained how I got my “boo-boo” and the student stated the obvious. “Maybe you should get someone else to cut your apple!” I laughed and agreed, but have to tell you… I was peeved for a minute. I mean, I work SO HARD at being independent! I can’t even cut my own apple safely. I was still in a peeved mood when I went for my neurologist check up that afternoon. This was a re-check after the March 8th concussion. It was supposed to be a quick “in and out”.

But…

I was still peeved. After checking everything out, I told Dr. S. “Listen. I’ve had vestibular rehab. I use a service dog. I have my cane with me all the time. I walk with a helmet now on bad weather days. I never wear socks. I alert family members when I’m headed to the shower. I don’t drive at night. I drop things all the time, and cheerfully allow my retired dog to retrieve things if she’s there, or without shame, ask for assistance when she isn’t. You’ve got to help me! I can’t even cut an apple!” I exclaimed while gesturing towards my injured thumb.

I’m sure Dr. S. has heard exasperated – even desperate demands for an answer all too often. He sat there a minute digesting all I said. I have a feeling that after all the tests have been run and all efforts at rehabilitation are exhausted, his response is at times, “I’ve got nuthin’

However, he got a lightbulb look on his face and turned to his computer. He typed something in and then turned the screen so that I could see it.

apple slicer

Ah. An apple slicer. I bought one at Target that very weekend.

If something is difficult for you and you need a “work around“, brain-storm with a doctor, friend, or family member. Perhaps there IS a way you can do – whatever it is you are having trouble doing – safely! I think asking for opinions help others  understand that you really are striving to be independent, too.

SYTYCD (A television show called, “So You Think You Can Dance“),

if you use humor to help educate and advocate,

if you speak in plain terms to help others understand,

or if you get a bright idea from another source… simply celebrate the fact that you found a new AND SAFE way of doing things. A positive attitude goes a long way!

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Embracing It!

"So... tell me the truth. How does this look?" (Terry) "Baby? You are rockin' that helmet!"
“So… tell me the truth. How does this look?” (Terry) “Baby? You are rockin’ that helmet!”

I believe that there are very legitimate reasons for people who choose to keep invisible disabilities invisible. I respect their choice and their reasons for doing so. In many circumstances, it makes “good sense” and isn’t at all about vanity or shame.

I am “all out there” for lack of a better way to put it. In my profession, in my life, in the community service arenas I’m involved in, and for personal safety reasons, making my invisible disabilities – visible is the right thing to do.

I wear bling on my implant. I think it is fun. It puts a smile on my face. I’m so SO thrilled to be hearing again. The progression of my hearing loss took 12 painful years. I was completely deaf for almost two, silently researching and investigating cochlear implants. I’m so proud to be hearing again. Some say I’m flaunting it. Ummm…

YEAH.

If you do not want to bring attention to disabilities, do not ever choose to be partnered with a service dog. Even though our dogs are taught to be nearly invisible (and don’t you know folks are always startled when I get up to leave restaurants because they had no clue my dog was there?), when you walk through a store or into a doctor’s office, your service dog will bring attention to the fact that “something is different about you”. It has been a very long time since working dogs were only trained to be guide dogs. There are diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, autism dogs, PTSD service dogs, mobility assist dogs, balance assist dogs, alzheimer assist dogs, hearing assistance dogs, and the list goes on! My service dog makes me more independent. I don’t have to ask for help nearly as often. I don’t miss things (sounds my CI won’t pick up), and I’m confident and more safe. But choosing to have a service dog will bring attention to you.

When my Meniere’s disease worsened, I finally realized that 3-5 falls a week were too many. When I have my cane, I stumble maybe 3-4 times a week, but rarely go all the way down. I average only 2-3 falls a month now. I have three canes. They are bright, bold, and beautiful. I don’t try to hide that I carry a cane with me.

I love to be outside. Perhaps it’s the “farm girl” in me, but I love to be outside and love to walk. Just because I have a balance disorder does not mean that I am going to stop walking. Yet… I seemed to have trouble doing it safely. Even with cane and service dog, I was still taking tumbles when the roads or sidewalks were bad. Winter is my favorite season. I love snow, love ice, love “visible breath” in the air… but I have had some bad winters, 3 years in a row. As a matter of fact, when perusing my medical records with my neurologist, I was averaging 2 concussions each year, usually in Winter months. My last mild concussion was March 8th. I have a follow up with my neuro the first week of May. At the last appointment, he said, “You know. You need a helmet for when you walk!”

I laughed and said, “all my friends tell me I need to be wrapped in bubble wrap or need to wear a helmet.”

He looked at me eye-ball to eye-ball and said, “You don’t understand. I’m being serious. You CANNOT continue having concussions”.

Oh.

OH.

NO FREAKING WAY!

I sat there a little stunned for a minute but then began to consider the possibilities. I’m not afraid of what people think. I don’t care about what is fashionable – heck I consider myself a “disability-advocate fashion expert”. But could I embrace a helmet for walking when road and sidewalk conditions were bad?

I decided that yes… Yes, I could!

So I started researching, (cuz, yeah, that’s what I do) and found the helmet I wanted. I was crazy ecstatic that it is called a … “Brainsaver“! Ain’t it great? *BEAMS*

Triple 8 Brainsaver Rubber helmet with Liner in Rasta Yellow
Triple 8 Brainsaver Rubber helmet with Liner in Rasta Yellow

I blinged up the helmet with some of my favorite stickers, (I’m a nut for daisies), and now I’m all set for walking. I even fixed the liner where my cochlear implant magnet had a little place to “rest” inside so it would not get pushed off.

I realize my approach to MY LIFE may not work for you. However, I love embracing who I am and holding my head high. I want to be an example to others, but I certainly know and understand that it is “different strokes for different folks”.

I hope I can report this time next year that I haven’t sustained any new concussions. Yay for me, and yay for neurologists who push to get their patients to take their brains seriously.

Denise Portis

© 2015 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

 

Your Thinker and the Trickle Down Effect

squirrel-pin-tree-winter-snow-nature-hd-wallpaper-desktop-free-animals-picture-squirrel-hd-wallpaper

Wednesday, March 19th

I had a “pep in my step”. I had a whistle on my lips. My heart was glad. I was walking my service dog and most of the snow was gone from the ground.

“What beautiful weather for a walk!” I thought to myself.

But then a squirrel scampered down off a tree trunk merely inches in front of my well-trained service dog’s nose. It all happened so fast.

The first jerk on the leash put my body in motion. You can’t fight the laws of science. I was going to be in motion until something stopped my motion since my brain went on instant vacay. Let me tell you I stuck the landing. Nearby Olympic judges all held up “10” placards. Cheers all around (or at least in my imagination).

I lay there on the pine-needle strewn ground for a minute trying to determine if anything was broken. The world was still spinning. I closed my eyes for a minute and choked back the nausea. Flipping to my back I felt a hound dog kiss on my face.

“Whew. Chloe is still here”, I thought.

I forced my brain to verify the leash was actually still in my hand. YUP! I opened my eyes and focused for a second. Chloe went into a down/stay on her own and rested her head on my shoulder. The weight of my ding-a-ling service dog’s head was a comfort.

I heard something! Another good sign. My cochlear implant was still attached to my head. I focused on the sound and looked up – Up – UP into the tree boughs above me and spotted that rascal squirrel.

Oh.

My.

Gosh.

He had the impudence to sit up there fussing – at US. I couldn’t help but laugh. He was ticked! I laughed all the way up until he skipped away… jerking the branch he was on and dumping snow on my face and chest from twenty feet up. My laughter stopped immediately. I was choking after all…

I sat up and brushed the snow off and started to giggle again. Chloe wagged her tail in delight. It seems she wasn’t going to get a “Denise sermon” after all. Within 10-15 seconds though I was overcome with a different emotion. I sat there crying. Not just silent tears – nooooooo. This was unladylike, deep sobs with intermittent hiccups!

I sat there bawling my eyes out for five or six minutes, comforted by a hound dog most certainly sorry her instincts caused another “Timber…” moment for me.

Yes. I could see the funny. But fast on the heels of the laughter and positive attitude came an emotion near the surface most days. Self-pity. Sorrow. I hate my life.

Is Happiness a Choice?

One of my favorite books is “Happiness is a Choice” by Minirth and Meier. The premise of the book is that especially for those of us living with depression, happiness is a choice. The book’s number one principle is: “Change the way you talk to yourself”.

I’m on board with that. Really!

I am!

You can change some of the negative aspects of your thinking by challenging the irrational parts and replacing them with more reasonable thoughts” (Martin, 2010, para. 4). Whitbourne (2013) explained these, “inner monologues as “self-talk,” in which you provide opinions and evaluations on what you’re doing as you’re doing it. You can think of self-talk as the inner voice equivalent of sports announcers commenting on a player’s successes or failures on the playing field” (para. 1). I believe in the power of self-talk. I believe our “thinker” really can influence our behavior. My husband is a cognitive psychologist. He and I have a lot of discussions as I work on my own Ph.D. about the best ways to change behavior. He – and other professionals like him – believe that if you can simply change what your thinker is thinking, there will be a trickle down effect. It will influence and possibly change behaviors you wish to change. There is a lot of scholarly research and science to support this.

I believe this! I do! But I will be honest for a moment. There are times I want to just say…

SCREW SCIENCE

That’s right. Just in case you even needed MY – or ANYONE’s permission…

It is OK to be upset about the reality of your life.

Living with acquired disability sucks. Hearing loss sucks. Meniere’s disease sucks. How about you? Fill in the blank:

_____________________ SUCKS.

*Deep Cleansing Breath*

I’ve tried to explain to folks who ask, that living with a chronic condition or acquired disability is – on the best of days – HARD.

I still get the flu.

I have still lost people I love and miss them.

I have lost beloved pets.

I get headaches, body aches, and am growing older.

I get mad at my family sometimes.

I experience car problems.

I hate traffic.

I have unexpected bills.

I still have a period (hey! Jus’ layin’ it all out there! <BIG GRIN>)

All of these things happen to me just like they happen to you. Only folks with chronic illness or acquired disability have those things happen on top of what – for them, is the norm… living with challenges daily.

Yeah, yeah. I know!

I still get the flu   I can be thankful I have medicine to help and a hound dog to cuddle with. See? I can see the positive!

I have still lost people I love and miss them  I can be thankful I will see them again someday based on my personal faith beliefs and worldview.

I have lost beloved pets  I have other furry family members and that makes me happy.

I get headaches, body aches, and am growing older  Beats the alternative. Right? 

I get mad at my family sometimes   But I have a family…

I experience car problems.  But I have a car and this time we could afford the “fix”.

I hate traffic.  I have a job to go to.

I have unexpected bills.  But I’m smart enough to figure out how to pay that bill or arrange payments.

I still have a period Yeah. I got nuthin… (LOL)

So can my forced “change thinking” have a trickle down effect and influence my behavior, feelings, and perceptions? Yes.

And no.

Confused? I don’t mean to be the cause of a “What the heck you talkin’ about, Denise?” thoughts.

However, it is important – at least I think it is – to allow yourself to have moments of self-pity. Feel the sorrow. Rail at God. Write “My Life Can Suck” really big and pin it to a wall and throw darts at it. If it makes you feel better, do it. I think it is healthy to “own your feelings” about the reality of your life. It’s hard. You may feel alone. You may want to give up. It’s OK to feel that way.

But then? (Brace yourself…)

Change your thinker. Allow it to do what studies have shown actually works. The “Trickle Down Effect”. I’m here to tell you though that it isn’t a long-term fix. You may have to “adjust the knobs on your thinker” daily. Maybe on REEEEEALLY bad days – hourly!

Do you know what thoughts help me the most?

Keep on keeping on.

I can make a difference in the life of another.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Mean People Suck. (Sorry. That’s my favorite bumper sticker and I *had* to throw it in there).

Yup. They are platitudes. “Feel good self-talk”. But ya know something? It works for me because I also allow myself the freedom to sit in the pine-needles with snow covering my shoulders and bawl my eyes out.

So strive to improve your self-talk. But feel free to wail.

{{{{{{{{{CYBER HUG}}}}}}}}}}}} from me to you!

Denise Portis

©2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Martin, B. (2010). Challenging Negative Self-Talk. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/challenging-negative-self-talk/0003196

Whitbourne, S. K. (2013). Make Your Self-Talk Work for You. Psychology Today. Retrieved on March 21, 2014, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201309/make-your-self-talk-work-you

♫♪ Running on Empty… ♪♫

hferry 013

I’m constantly getting my English idioms and colloquial expressions mixed up – much to my husband’s delight. He teases me about it constantly. So you’d think I’d stop using them, right?

No. Not so much.

Just the other day I said, “I feel like I’m waiting for that ‘feather that broke the camel’s neck‘ to drop!

My husband struggled to choke back his laughter and managed to wheeze out, “Honey, I think that is ‘straw that broke the camel’s back‘ and ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop‘. Honestly, it’s a wonder I ever know what you mean!

Yes, dear. Shut up.

But he’s a good listener so without any further colloquial expressions, I tried to explain why I’m “running on empty“, “circling the drain“, … See? I CAN’T FREAKING HELP MYSELF! 🙂

Running on Empty

I was born in the mid-60’s, which means I’m a child of the 70’s. Do you remember Jackson Browne’s song, “Running on Empty”? If you need a reminder:

I have to tell you, I’m there. You don’t have to have invisible disabilities, or chronic illness to find yourself SPENT.

Used up.

Drained.

EMPTY.

Some of us take on more than we should. It can be hard to say, “No“. Really we need to learn to say that. It’s a little word. Why is it so hard to say? Perhaps we don’t want to disappoint people. Maybe we strive too hard to be indispensable, needed, and purposeful.

The picture at the top of this post is one of my favorite places: Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. I like to go during the off-season because frankly? Large groups of school-aged children on field trips is not my idea of a good day. I love the quiet. I love the sounds of nature amidst what you think at first is – quiet. I’m yearning for some reflection time at Harper’s Ferry. I asked Siri if I had any time in my calendar.

First time I’ve ever heard her laugh.

Re-fuel

Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome explains how we may respond to life stresses. The first stage is ALARM and in it we are motivated to action. Men may experience “fight or flight”. Women default to “tend and befriend” (we reach out). For me, this meant getting help.

The second stage is RESISTANCE in which we cope as best we can. We may actually do OK for awhile too. If the stress doesn’t dissipate, however, we enter the last stage. EXHAUSTION. It can be really hard to bounce back from this stage. It is more than catching up on sleep.

The key is to recognize the stages while you are going through them and experiencing stress. Stress isn’t going to stop. I’ve looked for the stress stop button and it doesn’t exist. But… you click on the HELP button. Help may come in the form of friends or significant others. It may come in the form of faith. At times, for ME it comes in the form of getting alone and refueling. I know…

The price of gas is so high. Who can afford to refuel?

Maybe the better question is “Who can afford to NOT stop and refuel?

Think about that. Deciding when you’ve had enough and something has to give can only be determined by YOU.

Disability and Independence

I work so hard to be independent. But being independent doesn’t mean you refuse to ask for help. I grudgingly accept help from others who extend it without my asking for it. I’m trying to get better about graciously accepting it. I’m discovering that I can be independent and still need help. That sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?

I can do all I can to work independently, interact with others independently, and take care of my needs independently. However, when I dropped a baggie of paper clips on the floor in my classroom, far away from any desk, wall or chair that I could use for support, I had to ask for help. My service dog, Chloe, can pick up small things but should she swallow one in her exuberance to help, I consider the potential consequences too high.

So I asked for help. Within 30 seconds every paperclip was picked up and “paper clip picker-uppers” all thanked. It was painless. By doing so I did not undermine my efforts to be independent.

One of the lines of Browne’s song is, “Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive”. Don’t confuse the need to ask for help with losing your independence. We all need help. It is how we survive. Are you running on empty?

Refuel. That means different things for different folks. You have to do so! Your trip isn’t over…

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal