“We Are Not Given a Good Life or a Bad Life”

“We are not given a good life or a bad life. We are given a life. It’s up to us to make it good or bad.” (Devica Fernando)

“We are not given a good life or a bad life. We are given a life. It’s up to us to make it good or bad.” (Devica Fernando)

I believe one of the most self-destructive things a person with disAbility can do is to compare themselves to other people. I have even heard people with disAbilities compare themselves to other people with disAbilities… seemingly weighing “who has it worse“. Y’all? I have done this myself. Believe you me – I get it.

I think people who live with chronic illness or disability do this for one of two reasons:

  1. They are trying to remind themselves they are better off than “so-and-so”
  2. They are trying to discount the perseverance and courage of another because there is “no way they can understand YOUR life” because you have things much worse.

Let me start with the first one.

If you have “stuff”… physical, emotional, and mental challenges, don’t ever compare yourself with someone else also struggling. This is especially dangerous if you end up invalidating your own difficulties. The life challenges you deal with are just as legitimate and real as those faced by other people.

Frankly? Every person you know is fighting a battle you may – or may not – know about. This is the reality of life. Those of us “dealing” with life’s challenges were not given a good life nor a bad life. In spite of what I’ve heard others bellyache, not even God is at fault for your “good or bad” life. As Ms. Fernando stated, “It’s up to US (emphasis added) to make it good or bad”.

So (temporary) pity parties are not allowed? Well of course they are allowed. They are also

expected

normal

even beneficial.

You just can’t stay there wallowing in self-pity. If you believe in the power of “psyching yourself up”, simply do so by focusing on your own life and don’t compare yourself to others. It’s OK to not be OK. It’s not OK to think you should be OK, because compared to others you’ve got it pretty good. The struggle is real and we all have struggles.

Before I leave this point, allow me to just say that I am “born again” about sharing and caring with other people who live with chronic illness and disAbility. We can learn from each other. My greatest “teachers”, those who by example or explanation, coached me to try a different approach, a new assistive device or tool, or to adopt a new mindset to help me succeed.

The second point can be much harder to avoid. As a person with disAbility (late-deafened) and chronic illness (Meniere’s disease), I sit in meetings with my peers feeling frustrated when someone makes a really lame excuse for not doing something well or refusing to take on a responsibility. I think, “Well for love of cracker jacks, who goes around saying they couldn’t complete a task or responsibility because they are just to busy?” (Yes. I really think this LOL).

Who am I to say that someone without VISIBLE disAbility or chronic cannot use “busy-ness” as an excuse? Maybe they are dealing with something you do not know about. Maybe…

Their child has an unhealthy addiction.

They are scrambling to make room for their ailing mother who can no longer live alone.

Their most significant, personal relationship just imploded.

Their doctor wants to see them to re-take a medical test.

At the community college campus where I work, inclusion is the word of the day (and week, month, and year). Yet inclusion – includes – people who seemingly do not fit into a defined diversity group. Diversity implies all the ways we are different. I don’t know anyone breathing who isn’t different in some way. Inclusion, means to universally INCLUDE.

This past week I retired my 2nd service dog from Fidos For Freedom, Inc., specifically from working with me in the classroom at AACC. We started a major demolition and construction project this summer. Unfortunately, after working nearly 3 months on desensitization, Milo is unable to cope with the loud noises and “mini earthquakes” to focus on his job and assist me. I taught two classes this summer (Developmental Psych and Intro to Psych) and they were the hardest classes I have taught to date. I have had the assistance of a service dog in the classroom for 14 years! (Milo will continue as my partner in all other areas and is not retired full-time as of yet). Having to carry all of these assistive devices to work just to be independent in picking up things I’ve dropped or walking without wobbling, has been an emotional, mental, and physical challenge for me.

A couple of weeks ago during one of the breaks I offer (as it is a 4-hour class!), I ran into a colleague who teaches in a different department. I know her well enough that when I said, “Hey! How are you doing?” she answered honestly.

“My life is hell. This is the hardest summer session I have ever taught.”

I will admit my first thought was a flurry of reverse-prejudiced “OH BRUTHER” rationalizations.

I mean… she is healthy and athletic, and in her prime. She has tenure. She is well respected. Her expertise is valued. How is it that SHE is having the toughest summer? She doesn’t have any disAbilities or chronic illnesses! There I went with a silent “eye roll” and judgement simply because the things I was dealing with in adjusting without a partner were so much more IMPORTANT than anything she could bellyache about!

I immediately (mentally) slapped myself up side the head (though likely would have benefited from the real deal), and instead asked, “Well gee! What has been going on?”

Come to find out anything that COULD be going wrong in her life, was indeed going wrong. Her teen daughter was hospitalized and put in long-term care for depression. It came from out of nowhere and no one in the family had seen any warning signs. Early in the summer, she nearly lost her to suicide. Add to that long-term plumbing issues, car troubles, financial woes, and an internet stalker (I kid you not) rounded out the “list”.

Nope. This fellow teacher does not have any disabilities that I am aware of, nor any chronic illnesses. Yet, she too, has been struggling all summer and doing her best to cope. She, like me, chases down and hog-ties that professional smile to paste on right before entering a classroom. She is distracted and suffering from insomnia. She has cried many tears. Embracing true inclusion has taught me to recognize that her struggles are just as real as mine are. I love what Jordan (2011) said in the Diversity Journal: “Inclusion involves bringing together and harnessing these diverse forces and resources, in a way that is beneficial. Inclusion puts the concept and practice of diversity into action by creating an environment of involvement, respect, and connection—where the richness of ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives are harnessed to create business value.”

My colleague’s “stuff” looks different than my own “stuff”. It’s still STUFF. Encouraging and supporting everyone, benefits, well… EVERYONE. No one has everything going for them; a life without problems, fears, or struggles. However, everyone has something going for them.

Everyone.

Denise Portis

©2018 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

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Shot Down as a Volunteer

One of the big motivators to “finish” while working on my Ph.D., was simply knowing I would again have time in my schedule to do some volunteer work. I suppose it makes sense that many people believe that folks with disabilities or chronic illness are unable to participate in volunteering, community service, and areas of ministry. It has been my experience (27+ years) that people with disability seem to know their limits better than people who are able-bodied. This isn’t always true, obviously, since many of us who identify this way HAVE signed up to do more than we are physically, emotionally, or mentally, able to do. I have, however, met more people who know their limits within the disability population, than those who are able-bodied and habitually over-extend themselves.

Imagine my disappointment and surprise when numerous pleas to allow me to be involved in “extra curricular life” activities, were shot down again and again! I tried very hard to put myself in the “shoes” of the decision-makers and could see perhaps how they might think I have limitations that may interfere with my ability to be “on time and available”. I know it has been nearly five years since I was really able to immerse myself into various community roles as a result of the time and energy required to finish my degree. Maybe it has been an “out of sight/out of mind” reaction?

Regardless, I spent a couple of miserable weeks trying to figure out why I continued to be ignored by the decision-makers in places where volunteer teachers, trainers, and workers were needed. I decided to nix that miserable feeling and look for “other” and perhaps “new” areas to spend some of my non-work hours.

I’m so glad I did.

I am gearing up to initiate on an-campus chapter of Active Minds at the community college where I work. I am very excited about it and believe students will benefit from having a chapter and student group on campus. It will take a good number of months to generate the student body support needed, but I am willing to work hard to see it happen. I would have never LOOKED for something new like this if I had not found other doors closed to me.

Can Do Attitude

Ms. Amado at the University of Minnesota explains that people with disabilities can and should seek to volunteer in their communities as they receive the same benefits other able-bodied volunteers receive. Social inclusion (community membership and friendship), contribution (happiness and satisfaction), developing marketable skills and job opportunities, networking, and status/reputation, are all benefits volunteers receive (Amado, 2001, p. 28). So why do people with disability often struggle to find volunteer opportunities?

Sue Bott, director with Disability Rights of the UK, believes some of the barriers to volunteering are false assumptions. “Rather than thinking about what they can offer, organizations tend to imagine some of the perceived problems having disabled volunteers will cause them” (Hudson, 2013). Rak and Spencer (2016) encourage organizations seeking volunteers to improve the representation of people with disabilities. “Educate stakeholders about the benefits of volunteering and being part of civic, and other community based groups in improving the quality of life of persons with disabilities” (Rak & Spencer, 2016, p. 1705).

This all sounds great, right? Unfortunately, there are very real barriers to people with disabilities even if they find an opportunity to be involved. Transportation can be a significant issue, as can weather-related mobility barriers. One area of need and “very accessible” opportunities, includes mentorship. The disability community has taken very real and positive steps FORWARD, as the result of mentors making a difference. The American Association of People with Disabilities explains the importance of mentors with disabilities:

  • The influence of mentors. Although the family was the most commonly cited influence on employment for the participants, professionals such as college professors, service providers, and employed individuals with disabilities, including benefits planners and community leaders, were also commonly mentioned.
  • The power of mentors with disabilities. The participants in this study were driven to be self-sufficient through the influence, motivation and modeling of other successful people who have disabilities. The mentoring relationship took many forms, from one of general exposure to people with similar disabilities, to a support group, to a close individual friendship. Regardless of the form of mentoring, the effect on the participants was cited as a major factor in their successful transition to work.
  • Support of peers. Many of the participants attributed their drive and success to the mentors they had in their lives. In some cases, peer mentoring occurred in the form of a support group of individuals with similar disabilities.

I know mentors with disabilities that spend numerous hours online, making a difference in the lives of others by being a mentor, coach, or advocate. There are numerous ways to be involved. Even “blogging” is a significant area of service and support. Many mentors with disabilities started out by simply writing about their struggles, successes, and life as a person with disability.

Has a door of opportunity been closed to you? Look around. I guarantee that other open doors are there. We simply have to find them, and walk through! Good luck!

Amado, A. (2001). Impact: University of Minnesota. Retrieved July 30, 2018, from https://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/142/over3.html

Hudson, S. (2013). The Guardian: Is it too difficult for people with disabilities to find volunteering roles? Retrieved July 27, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2013/aug/14/disabilities-difficult-volunteering-roles

Rak, E. C. & Spencer, L. (2016). Community participation of persons with disabilities: volunteering, donations and involvement in groups and organizations. Disability Rehabilitation, 38(17). doi: 10.3109/09638288.2015.1107643

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

©2018 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

My Name is Milo and I Was Afraid of Fidgets

 

My name is Milo and I’m afraid of Fidgets

I can’t tell you how much fun it is to be on service dog partner #2. Milo (and Chloe), both trained at Fidos For Freedom, Inc. and could not be more different. Milo(bear) is timid by nature. When he is on task, however, he is very focused (and less distracted by wanting to love on EVERYONE like sweet Chloe was). However, his timidity makes introducing new things a bit of a trial.

You may be familiar with a new and popular “thang” called the “Fidget”. They are actually great classroom tools for people with ADHD. I’m all about classroom accessibility, so if things like this can help students concentrate? Well, please come with your Fidget.

Unfortunately it is “new to Milo”. Milo began seeing a lot of Fidgets in the classroom. They spin – and to my knowledge don’t make a noise – but who knows if a dog can hear even this quiet “whirrrrr”? The only problem was that Milo was terrified of them. He’d stop mid-task if he saw a Fidget in use and walk around behind me to peek around my hip.

NOT VERY HELPFUL.

I knew I was going to have to do something to get him use to these spinners. He couldn’t continue hiding under the nearest desk. Since I need him to pick up the items I constantly drop, I needed him to be able to focus in spite of Fidgets around him during class.

Desensitization

After talking to a couple of trainers at Fidos For Freedom, Inc., we decided the way to go was to desensitize Milo to the Fidgets.

… so I bought one.

I opened it up, put the center button between index finger and thumb, and “gave it a whirl” with a flick of my right hand.

Not the WISEST thing to do since Milo(bear) was sitting right next to me. He made a strange sound in the back of his throat and took off. I interpreted it as “Et tu, Brute?” (my Literature teacher-mother would be so proud).

I found Milo in the walk-in closet.

Long story short, I worked with him for 4 days in short intervals of exposure. Here is where he is now…

Hopefully, when classes start on 8/28, Milo(bear) will be completely comfortable with Fidgets. This whole “desensitization” process was good for both of us. My daughter and hubby are expecting my first grand baby in October. Milo has never been around babies. He was raised in Cumberland prison and his puppy raiser before that, nor his one-on-one trainer after… had babies around. I suspect he will have to learn to become accustomed to more things very soon. ‘Cept I won’t be spinning the baby girl around and chasing Milo(bear) to expose him. <AHEM>

Facing Our Fears – and Perhaps Desensitizing Ourselves to Them

One of the biggest pluses of having a service dog partner is the courage the partnership provides. Learning to cue off things Milo(bear) hears, that I don’t, is great! I feel safer. I can count on him to hear things before I do. I can look in the direction the “sound maker” is coming from so that I can stay safely out of the way (cars, large groups of students, shopping carts with rowdy kiddos, etc).

Because of peripheral neuropathy, I drop things all day. I’m not talkin’ about that I drop 2 or 3 things a day. I drop 2 or 3 DOZEN things a day. In the past, I would have to ask for assistance to reach it and/or pick it up. Otherwise I would risk falling because of vestibular issues. This meant I often didn’t go out and do things on my own because it was too hard to ask people for help. Milo(bear) has helped me face some of those fears because he is there to help me. His favorite task is “fetch-hold-give”. In my thinking, this isn’t true desensitization though. Milo(bear) has become an assistive tool to mitigate those challenges. It’s a way around them instead of “through” them.

As I sat and pondered whether or not I have ever truly desensitized myself to something, I realized that most learning through desensitization has come from how I chose to respond to comments, people, or situations.

At the age of 51, I have now lived more of life as a differently-abled person than as an able-bodied one. I can tell you that how I respond to challenges, hurtful comments, or discrimination is much different than how I responded as a 25-year-old. Some of this improvement evolved from exposure. Other measurable steps of improvement simply came from educating myself and learning all I could about positive advocacy. It’s not that the things people say cannot and DO not still hurt me occasionally. My RESPONSE is what has changed. A 25-year-old Denise would:

  • Cry
  • Isolate myself for days afterwards
  • Embrace depression instead of heading it off with coping techniques
  • Open my mouth and “let it rip”
  • Retaliate
  • Throw a private and public pity party (that no one ever RSVP’d to)
  • Plot revenge
  • Determine to HATE that person to the end of my days
  • Google how to put a “hit” out on someone
  • Preach at them and try to make them feel guilty with a long, drawn-out “altar call”
  • … and more equally ineffective responses.

Even through constant exposure, the 51-year-old Denise does NOT always respond in a healthy and proactive way. I still have “knee-jerk” responses occasionally, especially if it takes me by surprise. However, my new response is at the very least, more helpful to both myself and the twit that said something unkind. Now I tend to:

  • Consider the source and determine how best to respond
  • Take some time to determine HOW I want to respond
  • Determine if I SHOULD respond
  • Choose a good time and place to respond
  • Cry if needed…
  • Chant to myself “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” (and then ask myself if I even WANT this particular fly…)
  • Occasionally seek advice from a peer support network if it is something “major”
  • Follow through on a course of action and DON’T HOLD A GRUDGE

I have learned to do this through trial and error, but also through desensitizing myself to these situations by simply experiencing them and learning what keeps me sane and healthy in how I respond.

Let’s face it.

If you live with disability or chronic illness, you are going to constantly be faced with people who don’t understand, don’t care, or say/do inappropriate things. The 25-year-old Denise response did not improve my situation, nor did it bring peace (my zen was woefully rattled).

I do not FEAR the things people say to me or the situations I may find myself in as I live life. I know “stuff is gonna happen” and when it does, my response is MORE important than how I feel as a result of the experience.

We cannot control the things people say, nor can we completely keep our life experience with disability, “hassle-free”. I do believe we can learn to live in harmony with all the Fidgets in our lives. Being a positive advocate comes from doing things wrong sometimes and learning from it. It also comes from the discovery of having handled something well, and seeing the positive change and result from our proper response.

Denise Portis

©2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

 

 

Mitochondrial Disease in the News

Ruth and Gary Fox

I love having guest writers at Hearing Elmo because it helps all my readers understand and stay informed about various disabilities that, frankly? I have very little information and certainly a lack of firsthand knowledge. Ruth has written for Hearing Elmo before and I always welcome her contributions. For this post her husband, Gary, contributed as well. 


Mitochondrial Disease is in the news again, because of the battle between the parents and the English justice system over the treatment of little Charlie Gard. The form of Mitochondrial Disease that Charlie Gard has is extremely severe and very rare. It has damaged everything in his body to the extent that he requires medical life support to survive.

The core of mitochondrial disorders is energy.  Mitochondria is in every body cell (minus red blood cells) and is responsible for converting food to energy. When this does not work properly, it is call Mitochondrial Disease (or Mito for short). Mito affects everyone differently, depending on where and how the person’s mitochondria are affected.  Any body system that has defective mitochondria will malfunction and possibly progress to complete failure.

As a person with Mito, people have asked me what the effect of mitochondrial disease is.  For me, it means working with multiple medical specialist to maintain the function of weakened organs. Because the degree of energy and fatigue determines the rate at which my organs deteriorate, managing that energy level is my greatest challenge.

Some people use the spoon theory to explain life with Mito fatigue. However, my husband and I wrote another narrative that makes more sense to us. Instead of spoons, we picture a zero balance bank account.  Just about, everyone knows what it means to have a bank account and how the balance of that account affects his or her activities. They also know the pain of an overdraft charge.

A healthy person makes energy deposits into their account from food, rest and exercise and has energy left in their account at the end of the day to pass over to the next day.   People with Mito do exactly the same thing, but because their energy output is very low, their account drops to zero at the end of the day with nothing to share with the next day.

People with Mito know that all of their body’s involuntary organs like their brain, heart, lungs, ears, eyes, and digestive system need a huge portion of the limited energy they are able to put into their account.  The average healthy person is typically unaware of the energy use by their involuntary body systems.

After meeting the energy needs of their involuntary functions, using energy for self-care activities is next.   This includes things like bathing, brushing teeth, dressing, or eating.  Some people with Mito do not have enough energy in their account to do these things independently, and some can do them independently, but often need to rest to build up their energy account between tasks.

After basic self-care comes necessary health related appointments to the dentist, the primary care doctor, the endless specialists, therapy appointments, etc.   The person with Mito has to anticipate ahead of time how much extra energy these appointments will demand.  To avoid having their energy balance slip into the red, which means a Mito crash where involuntary body systems are short of energy and struggling to function, they spend days ahead resting more, and building up their account to cover that extra expenditure of energy.

Everyone gets health benefit from exercise.  People with Mito have difficulty with repetitive movement, as their energy accounts are often too low to replenish the energy used by their muscles fast enough.   Yet getting some exercise, even passive exercise provided by therapists, results in strengthening.  It takes considerable effort for people with Mito to balance their energy account with exercise.

Like every other functioning human being, a people with Mito, have the same desire to live independent lives as healthy people do.  This can mean parenting children, holding down a job, keeping up their home and yard, shopping, preparing meals, participating in religious activities, attending educational classes, enjoying leisure activities, and keeping up with friends and family.  Participation in these ordinary things are difficult, or even impossible, for people with Mito because their energy account balance is too low.

People with Mito can increase the balance in their account by careful budgeting of their energy.  They can chose to sit to perform their self-care routines, instead of standing as most people do.  They can use a mobility device to save the energy they would use to walk, to do something else.  They take advantage of seating that tilts to avoid using the extra energy that it takes to sit upright against gravity.  They can chose the timing of their activities to avoid extremes of temperatures, which will drain much energy from their account.

Finally, there are those unexpected life events that may totally empty a Mito person’s energy account:  mental and emotional stress (both positive and negative), illness and surgery.  A simple cold can be life threatening for a person with Mito, depending the amount of energy left in their account to fight it.  It can take days and even weeks for the person with Mito to replenish their energy accounts.

Though I cannot do everything, I want to do, and have struggles with my limitations; life is good, because I have learned by years of practice how to budget my energy. My husband helps too by taking on the more energy consuming activities, while I do the less energy consuming things in our household.  This way we can enjoy more of what life has to offer, together.

Ruth and Gary Fox


L. Denise Portis

© 2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Half a Stick of Juicy Fruit Gum

juicy-fruit

I miss my grandmother (Vina Jewell Burhenn – Isn’t her name the GREATEST?). As I stopped to think about how to approach my subject for Hearing Elmo this week, I found myself thinking of a very special memory.

It was always a treat to sit with my grandparents in church on Sunday. I think I convinced myself that Grandma would let me get away with more, and my mom and dad were going to make me be “super good”. The pastor was my uncle, Cecil, and so even as a little kid we were expected to be an example to other little kids in the church because we were “kin”. So whenever possible, I always sat with Grandma because I could get away with more – AND… she always gave me a 1/2 stick of Juicy Fruit gum.

Naive kiddo that I was, the truth was that Grandma made me be even more “golden” and because we sat three rows from the front, my parents sitting behind – and to the right of us – could STILL see everything I did.

In the earliest years, I don’t think I ever questioned, “why a HALF stick of Juicy Fruit gum?” I will have to hazard a guess that around  8 or 9 years old, I finally whispered and asked Grandma, “why a HALF stick?”

“When you break it in half, does it let the magic pour out?” I whispered.

Response: Blank Stare

“When you break it in half, is it teaching me to share?” I queried.

Response: Blank Stare

“When you break it in half, is it to make sure I come back for the other half?” I said softly, and with strategic wisdom.

Response: “Denise, I gave you a half a stick because it is ENOUGH”.

Oh. Well gee. I know my child-brain kinda hated the logic of that.

My grandmother would dole out half sticks of Juicy Fruit gum because it was ENOUGH. (Side note: What a shame that it was never Doublemint gum as I would have discovered at an earlier age that I was allergic to spearmint).

It Simply Doesn’t Take MUCh to be ENOUGH

I’m told I take after my grandmother in a lot of ways. Here are just a few FREQUENT reminders from siblings and parents:

  1. I doctor my own ailments to my detriment. And I have Google, which Grandma did not!
  2. I love animals – many times more than people.
  3. I expect justice and fairness.
  4. I will respect you, but by golly you better reciprocate. If you don’t we’re gonna argue!
  5. I can be stubborn.
  6. I don’t mind confrontation. (Likely only recently doing confrontation in the right way).

I think one of the things I get down about the most as a person who is differently-abled with a chronic illness, is that I often worry and fret about my limitations.

I can’t hear on the phone so I am not able to easily call up a friend and ask how they are doing.

I can’t see to drive at night (headlights trigger vertigo), so I cannot go to parties, meet-ups, etc. with friends at night. Most folks do stuff later in the day.

I can’t just drop everything and go to a friend’s rescue. My own limitations require that I determine if I’m physically ABLE. I must ready my canine partner, Milo. I am not a 9-1-1 friend. That grieves me.

You may have limitations that at times, cause you to feel as if what you have to offer is not as valuable. You see how other friends reach out to each other and are discouraged that you cannot offer the same kind of friendship. (If you’ve never read “Spoons” – you should. It eloquently describes life as a differently-abled person). You can only offer a HALF stick of Juicy Fruit gum and you are a little bit pissed off by that.

Do you know what I have learned? A half a stick of Juicy Fruit is enough. I may only be able to touch base with friends via text or Facebook, but taking the time to touch base is STILL appreciated. I may not be able to go to things at night, but when my daytime schedule allows, I can drop off a meal or come by for a quick hug. I cannot be a 9-1-1 friend and be able to just physically show up at an emergency. However, my friends know they can text me or private message me and I will drop EVERYTHING to pray, encourage, and be there for them.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

We want to make a difference. We want people to see our value. We need to be needed. We all strive for that purpose in different ways.

Maybe you are passionate about social justice issues and do all you are capable of doing.

Perhaps you are a writer – and do so to encourage, educate, and advocate.

Maybe you are an artist. Your drawings, photos, paintings, and sculptures reach out and change people.

You follow up with hurting people and ask them how they are doing NOW.

Your HALF stick of Juicy Fruit is pretty darn important. What you CAN do… what you are able to do… is ENOUGH.

Don’t let anyone tell you anything differently. If they do, give them my number and I’ll take care of it. <wink>

You have value. Believe.

Denise Portis

©2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

Coming to Terms

Deborah Marcus' blog "Visions of Song"
Deborah Marcus’ blog “Visions of Song”

It is always a treat when guest writers post for “Hearing Elmo”. I never wanted this blog space to be all about “me” and my own issues. Please let me know if YOU would like to write for the site!

Deb has been a friend for so long, I would have to stop and burn calories just to remember the when and where we first connected. I love her like a sister and her presence in my life has been a blessing. Deb writes (click the photo above to visit her blog) and is a photographer as well. As a matter of fact, I re-designed my guest bath around her dragonflies. A loving “welcome back” to my friend, Deb, as she shares some things that many of us with disability, chronic illness, or special challenges deal with on a daily basis. 

Winter
Winter

From the time I was in elementary school, I understood that life is not fair, that it’s not even a question of fairness, and that readjusting one’s perspective is something that must occur for the full expression of the self, time and time again.

Of course I didn’t think of it in quite those terms when I was 6, 8, or 10 years old, but I experienced it. I imagine we all do in one way or another, whether by subtle shifts or dramatic events that leave us no choice but to consider this a reality of being human.

Here are a couple of examples. Each of us has some of our own.

-That moment at the audiology clinic, age 9 or so, where I went every couple of years for a hearing test as there is hearing loss in my family. I heard someone say, looking at the audiogram: there it is, the mild to moderate hearing loss. I didn’t know how to read the graph at that time, but my maternal grandmother was hard of hearing and I understood it from that vantage point. I would be like grandma, hard of hearing. Reading lips. I didn’t understand that I would lose the ability to hear birds singing, or the many nuanced experiences that we take for granted when we are able to hear, but I was able to internally adjust to my reality.

-A different moment, after a terrible event at home. I went out into the yard, in the dark, in winter and lay on the snow-covered grass. I looked up at the clear sky, full of stars, and as my breathing slowed to a normal rhythm, thought how beautiful it would be if I could just fall asleep right there…and never wake up. After a while, I felt something move me. You might call it God. I internalized it as a spirit of some kind. It said to me: No, it’s not your time. Stand up. Go back inside and warm up. Now I understand that as either depression, or self-preservation, or a little of both. I did not mention this to a soul until many years later.

Spring
Spring

In order to move forward after life-changing events, one has to be able to reckon with the forces within and without. I was motivated in the first example away from despair. As I looked towards my grandmother who could not hear, though it was beyond me at that age to recognize how small her world had become by that point in my life, I could see that she had her faculties and was loved by many in her circle, and so I had expectations of adjustment but did not despair. In the second example, in despair, I can’t say it was all me figuring out what to do, but had an experience that told me we can seek and find the resources to continue on.

Summer
Summer

Fast forwarding to today, I have experienced a number of life-changing events, some of which constitute frank disability. I have had orthopedic issues since middle school. I am now completely deaf without my cochlear implants. I am a survivor of mother-daughter sexual abuse, and with that came some episodes of physical and emotional abuse. I’ve experienced periodic vertigo since the occurrence of one of those physical episodes, when my mother, in a fit of rage I’ve never been able to parse out, pushed my 16 year old self backwards down a long flight of stairs. I only recall coming to at the bottom of the stairs, the crawl back up, the screaming that came from my mother’s throat that suggested that I was somehow at fault for my “accident”. I have struggled with (undiagnosed) depression for years. I’ve coped with physical pain for most of my life, with degrees of it varying over time. The most extreme of these pain issues resides in my facial nerve, with a diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia.

Autumn... reflections
Autumn… reflections

Throughout each of my 53 years, I have found the will to continue on. Recently, I had to consider the prospect of foot surgery. Wanting to avoid it at all costs, I explored physical therapy, at the encouragement of an acupuncturist I see from time to time. My hope is still to either avoid surgery altogether or be better equipped to manage if I did. During my initial evaluation, I shared my vestibular/balance history. I had recently had the courage to tell my primary doctor about the trauma when I was 16, the vertigo, the neck pain, and now the increasing balance issues. It became clear at the first assessment that my vestibular system is in extremely poor shape. The physical therapist wrote “fell like a tree” in the assessment notes. I worked extremely hard both in therapy and on home exercises from September into December. While we made some modest gains on the foot issues, there was no progress on my balance issues. In December, my PT and I had a heart to heart. It is pretty clear that as a result of multiple factors, my vestibular system is not going to get better. I can continue to work on the vestibular exercises in effort to slow the progression, but that’s probably it. While all this was happening, my primary suggested I try a small dose of medication for the chronic depression, which I was forced to acknowledge, for the sake of self-preservation. We are working on finding a medication I can tolerate and which is a help to me.

It’s strange territory to be in this place where I feel more than a little bit at a loss. Where did my seemingly inherent sense of “carry on!” go? I’ve made adjustments all through my life, and did good works, and have had wonderful relationships and ending relationships and work and play and the same constellation of things that everyone else experiences in their own fashion. I wonder, though, who am I now? I have had moments of despair, when the thought that going to sleep and never waking up would serve me and everyone I know well. The only reason I feel strong enough to write this out in a semi-coherent fashion now is because I have begun to hear that spirit voice again, that says: No, it’s not your time. Stand up. Go back inside and warm up. To that end, I’m focusing on what my new life will look like, how to take the best care of myself possible, and how I can possibly continue to be source of support to others.

Stay warm, friends.

Deborah Marcus

Visions of Song blog: CLICK HERE

 

You Don’t Just Decide

im-fine

… to not be depressed.

I should have gone into acting. My students and coworkers would be so surprised to learn how tough this past month has been. I have been struggling to write, but honestly? I just cannot. Not yet. (I’m in a bad place, but I will and very soon!) So how blessed and relieved was I to receive permission from a guest writer at Hearing Elmo, to post a narrative she wrote on FaceBook about depression? Ruth Fox has been a friend and fellow “chronic illness warrior” for a good number of years. I have trouble remembering when we first met even and we keep up-to-date on social media. Ruth lives in one of my favorite places… Tennessee. She is a photographer and writer… and a friend who understands invisible illness and disABILITY. 

Before I copy/paste what she has to share, as a reminder: Hearing Elmo is open to any and all who would like to share about this life we live. It can be anonymous, open and transparent, or somewhere in between. 

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As a survivor of over a decade of profound life threatening depression, my heart goes out to the many people with depression who are struggling through the holiday season.

Depression is a vicious disorder, and not one easily dealt with by the affected individual, their family or friends. Like many chronic disorders, depression can be managed through medication, therapy and healthy mental, social, spiritual, and physical life choices.

Depression continues to be a chronic disorder for me, yet the devastating effects that it’s had on my life are greatly minimized due to my efforts accommodate it, as I have accommodated other physical disabilities.

Depression isn’t the consequence of what happens to us in life. Many of my friends and acquaintances have experienced the worst that life can offer. Yet, though they may be grieving, sad, or very frustrated and alone in their experiences, they don’t struggle with depression. This reinforces the fact that depression is, as scientifically proven, a physical disorder of brain chemistry; not a consequence of life circumstances.

Depression makes all aspects of life more difficult. The jovial atmosphere of holiday celebrations often exacerbates its symptoms. The challenge of coping with depression is similar to dealing with other disabilities; to accommodate it in such a way as to minimize the effect that it has on daily life.

For me, the first step was getting and maintaining medical treatment. Next was determining what life activities reduced my depression symptoms and what ones exacerbated them. Then reorganizing my activities so that they tilted the balance towards helpful activities. This occasionally required abandoning what was considered socially acceptable or traditional, which was very difficult to do at first.

Positive self-talk is an exercise I learned to use regularly, because one difficult depression symptom is the emotional twisting of reality. When depression is out of control, all actions or statements of other people tend to be taken extremely personally. If these are perceived as negative the result can be irrational tears, obsession over disappointments, and self-pity. The effect can be so strong that it paralyzes functionality. One’s sense of confidence and self-worth is often mistakenly placed into the hands of others.

Positive people, who accept the right of other people to do what works for them, even if it was a bit unconventional, are the kind of people my husband Gary and I want to be, and we try to surround ourselves with similar people. Depression isn’t fun, any more than all of other the challenges we face, but it doesn’t have to diminish the quality of life.

Ruth Fox