Try To See Each Other Out There

A new school year is right around the corner. I love teaching psychology courses. I love teaching. I love students. I love Anne Arundel Community College. I have a great number of “loves”, am I right?

The biggest “love” (other than the guy in the picture with me – married 32 years now) is that I am in a place where numerous opportunities await. An over all “motto” on my campus is “Engagement Matters“. I know this sounds like I’m tooting my own horn, but I was doing “engagement matters” before “Engagement Matters”. This isn’t some special talent, skill, nor ego booster. I try to see… really SEE the students in my classes. Why?

I have been invisible in my pain and loneliness before.

Having just one person notice and tell me they cared made all the difference.

It is relatively easy to see people who are versions of “self”. I want to tell you a story that for me, was the catalyst for changing how I see my students. Many of our faculty offices at Anne Arundel Community College are shared. Several years ago, I was in the adjunct faculty office sitting in one of 5 desks. I usually get to know the other Psychology faculty, but this specific office is shared by other departments. To this day, I have no idea who this teacher was. I only know she taught history. A student was meeting with her. The student was sitting in an easily recognizable “defensive” position, just oozing aloofness and apathy about what she was hearing. It seemed she had done poorly on an exam and had met with this professor to see what kinds of extra credit were available. Unfortunately, this teacher was not really seeing her. Perhaps the student felt backed into a corner? Maybe an earlier excuse she had provided (that I had not heard) was shot down. All I know for sure was that she had given up trying to get the professor to cut her a break and instead protected herself with a belligerent, bored, and apathetic attitude. My class start time was approaching so I packed up my stuff and headed outside with Milo (my service dog) to give him one more potty break before class.

When I returned to the building, this student was sitting in an alcove crying her eyes out. I “saw” her, as did Milo-bear. He led me over to where she was sitting and I sat down next to her. Milo put his head on her knees. She looked up in surprise and then continued to “release heart pressure” as she gently stroked Milo’s head. I didn’t say a word. She had seen me in the faculty office. (It’s hard to miss a professor with a service dog). She didn’t say a word.

erm… Milo didn’t say a word (but was “speaking” volumes).

About 15 minutes later, she quietly said “thank you” and gathered her things and left. I grabbed my stuff and headed to the elevator, now fairly late to class.

Sorry, sorry, SORRY” I chanted as I rushed into class out of breath. “Sorry, I’m late!

My students looked up and smiled, putting their phones up that they had been using to take advantage of my tardiness. “Drew” (name changed) piped up and said, “Bob Burg, right?“. Another student explained, “Yup. We saw you with that student having a meltdown!

I stood there a little bewildered trying to catch up with what they were saying. Another student (able to decipher the confused look on my face), added, “Yeah! Remember the meme you shared in class last time?

In my Psych of Relationships class we had just covered communication and learning to take an interest in others – even total strangers, and WHY we should do so. I had just shared in the last class, a slide with this photo/meme:

I had steered our discussion towards seeing beyond the words. Seeing someone who is hurting can quite literally mean the difference between life and death. We discussed different opportunities we have had. Opportunities to take a few minutes to make a difference and to CARE. Sometimes a topic just “takes off” in class and numerous students shared how it felt for someone to take an authentic interest in them and to really SEE them.  Through a “Poll Everywhere” activity, we took a quick class vote of who was currently going through something difficult and felt invisible and alone in their pain. Nearly 87% of the class signed in to say “this is me“.

The class looked around in astonishment. One student said, “Everyone in here looks happy!

BINGO

We have to look beyond a quick glance. Really SEE the whole person.

This time of year reminds me to make it my heart’s prayer and my default response to be the kind of person who really SEES other people. It only takes a few minutes to show someone you see them. By…

… giving a gentle hug

… asking if they are OK

… just being with them for a few moments

… simply saying, “I care”.

Try to see each other out there.

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

©2018 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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New Twist on an Old Fable

Townsend version of Aesop’s Fable: The Crow and the Pitcher

A crow perishing with thirst saw a pitcher, and hoping to find water, flew to it with delight. When he reached it, he discovered to his grief that it contained so little water that he could not possibly get at it. He tried everything he could think of to reach the water, but all his efforts were in vain. At last he collected as many stones as he could carry and dropped them one by one with his beak into the pitcher, until he brought the water within his reach and thus saved his life.

Moral: Necessity is the mother of invention.


I have the privilege of hanging out with numerous people with disability. Some are students, some are colleagues I work with at Anne Arundel Community College, and some are individuals I know from various community advocacy groups. One thing I have learned about people with disabilities,

“Where there’s a will… there’s a way”

This “will” is what this Aesop’s fable of the Crow and the Pitcher reminds me of as I have seen time and time again, people with disabilities finding a way to accomplish what they need to do with whatever means available to them and within their own power.

I was walking towards an “accessible” bathroom with a young woman who self-identified as a “little person”. I normally have a rolling briefcase trailing from my right hand and a service dog in heel with the leash in my left-hand. As we approached the bathroom, I readied myself to  disengage myself from my rolling briefcase and pull the bathroom door open. Before I could do so, the student yanked one of her textbooks out of her book bag, stepped up on it, and pulled the door open. She held it open for me and never missed a beat… continuing to talk about what we were discussing on the way to the women’s bathroom.

I, myself, do things that I have simply learned which allow me to be independent. However, this example stuck with me a long time. The young woman was accustomed to doing this and obviously had practice. The young woman’s “normal” reaction was an expectation to do something NEW and NECESSARY to accommodate her need.

Another example: One day on campus as I was preparing for class, a student whom I have met only in the hallway a few times after exchanging a cheerful greeting, poked her head in the door and waved at me. This student uses a wheelchair. I walked over and realized the issue before she even opened her mouth. Right outside this classroom is a CRAZY women’s bathroom that has an entrance that is impossible for any person with mobility issues to get in and out of without assistance.

Need me to get the door?” I asked.

Yup!” – “Thanks!” she whispered with a knowing grin.

Later that week I saw her in the hallway again. This time instead of only a cheerful greeting in passing, she stopped me and told me thank you again. Even though the other bathroom on the third floor where we were was more accessible, it was much further from her class and she lacked the time necessary to go down that far to avoid being late for class. I explained to her that I had to have help with this particular door too if I had my service dog with me. We both giggled at how ridiculous it was that we required assistance for that bathroom. (Do you know I still don’t know her name? Comrade in arms, but clueless as to who she is – smile). The day I got the door for HER, my service dog was waiting patiently behind me in the classroom so I was able to assist without any hoopla or drama.

Just in case you are not a long-time reader of Hearing Elmo, I have Meniere’s disease (a vestibular disorder) and “hear again” with a cochlear implant. I also have post-concussive syndrome. I have made numerous adjustments and changes within my home, car, and office to eliminate my need for assistance. Since I can’t raise my hands over my head without swooning, everything I need in the kitchen is on a shelf I can reach safely. My shower has everything I need eye level instead of up higher on the rock-faced shower wall. I have chair-rail molding all over the house so that I can grab it with my fingers if I am walking and get wobbly. All my appliances and drawers that “stick” have a tug on them so that Milo (my service dog) can open them for me. I could go on and on, but I don’t want you to miss that the reality of ANYONE with disability or chronic illnesses, is that they are accustomed to doing whatever it takes to be as independent as possible.

Please Keep in Mind

Will you do your best to remember one thing? If a person with disability, chronic illness, or invisible condition asks you for assistance, you are their LAST resort. They have thought of and planned for everything that they can to be as independent as possible. However, there are times that we just need help.

Don’t make a big deal about helping, just do it calmly and with grace.

Don’t discuss the details or “unfairness” of the person needing your assistance unless THEY want to discuss it.

Don’t feel sorry for us.

Don’t be super dramatic and bring attention to the issue.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

Earlier I stated, “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. If you live with disability, chronic illness, or visible/invisible conditions, I understand when WILL disintegrates. I work as hard as the next person with disability to be independent and strong. Yet… there are times I just throw up my hands and yell, “SCREW this! I give up!

I cannot speak for others because we are all SO different. Even people who share the same diagnosis may:

  1. Have different symptoms
  2. Take different medications
  3. Have different responses/side effects to those medications
  4. Have more support than you do
  5. Have less support than you do
  6. Have a different personality style and traits
  7. Have a different developmental history than you do
  8. Have different faith practices than you
  9. Have different co-morbid diagnoses (Other conditions in addition to their primary challenge)
  10. Have cognitive issues as well that impact problem-solving

I can say that for ME, the best thing I can do after having a “Screw this” kind of day, is to go to bed. And yup… I mean I do so even if it is only 5 PM! I always feel better, have a clearer head, and a renewed WILL after getting some rest.

I am really tired of being TIRED after having to find and produce my own accommodations for various activities. However, a fresh perspective (after a good night’s rest) nearly always renews my inner warrior and allows me to face a new day willing to do whatever I need to in order to be a thriving, surviving disability advocate.

In the comments, I welcome other examples of how you have learned to make things accessible for you.

Warm hugs and virtual “high 5’s” to my fellow differently-abled people!

© Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Denise Portis, Ph.D.