Half a Stick of Juicy Fruit Gum

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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

 

Let It Go – Or It’ll Kill You

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

No. Really! I love laundry!

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

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

Fast FOR..W….w……w…ard……….  2 hours:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Letting It Go – is GOOD

hold-your-breath

I hold my breath. I do so,

… when I’m concentrating

… when I’m nervous

… when I’ve just fallen

… when I’m about to fall

… when I have panic attacks

… when I’m afraid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I can do without more “difficult”.

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

Whoosh….

That’s what an exhale sounds like.

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

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

Coping with Disability

Always such a privilege and joy to welcome guest writers to “Hearing Elmo”… especially those who have made an impact on my own life! Ruth’s blog can be found at: http://foxbuds.com/default.html  

coping-with-disability-ruth

Succeeding at being functional, in spite of major disability, requires acceptance, attitude control, and accommodation. For approximately a half year, the extreme energy challenges that defines my disability took a vacation. I went from using a wheelchair to walking a mile independently. My wheelchair was actually forgotten, and it sat unused for several weeks. Feeling so energized, I worked to increase independence and exercise. Walking in a nature park; to and from the mailbox (long city block of considerable elevation grade); to and from study groups and services at church; and during shopping became frequent occurrences. Even bi-weekly lap swimming was added to the exercise mix. Restricted time limits on activity seemed to have dissolved. I came to expect unlimited energy and endurance.

Then, as quickly as it arrived, my disability “vacation” was over. Independence and exercise became challenging; fatigue and weakness unmerciful. Within a couple of hours after awakening, my day’s energy supply was gone. Being stubborn, I let failure define my course of action. Signs of exhaustion were ignored, functioning became extremely challenging and “mito crashes” began to occur frequently. During these mito crashes, I have trouble thinking and focusing; my speech sometimes slurs; word recall fails resulting in multiple unfinished sentences; there are unexpected falls when walking; muscles feel like they are made of wet cement; sitting up is painful as gravity alone is too heavy; my heart pounds and beats become irregular; and even breathing takes effort. My unwillingness to respect my body’s inability to produce needed energy, resulted in an unnecessarily low quality of life.

To find any degree of functionality, I first had to let go of stubbornness, pride and the perception that my disability would become a focus for those around me. It is uncomfortable when people express sympathy, or question my use of accommodations again, particularly my wheelchair. Yet, when I was finally forced to go back to using my wheelchair, which is the most visible accommodation that I use, people paid very little attention to it. Everyone around me was used to seeing me in a wheelchair, it just had been a while since they had seen it. As trivial as it may seem, it wasn’t much different than people failing to notice a haircut, or new glasses.

The hardest part of a disability is figuring out which accommodations give you the greatest amount of functionality. In this day and age of high technology, canine assistance, and ADA accommodations, it is amazing the level of functionality one can reach regardless of how severe the disability. Today, a person with hearing loss/deafness has so many choices that they can make to communicate at a distance, turn speech into text, or become aware of changes in their immediate environment; a person with vision impairment/blindness has choices that
they can use to replace print, locate navigational barriers, and obtain independent transportation; for a person with a mobility impairment there is considerable access to public and even private buildings, and accessible transportation; a person with a medical disability such as diabetes, epilepsy, or compromised respiration has options of implantable medication delivery, service animals that can predict impending medical crisis, and portable treatment equipment. It is true that barriers aren’t completely eliminated by accommodation, however it is a rare person that isn’t “barrier challenged” in some way, even without a specific disability diagnosis. Technology and access will slowly, but surely, improve over time.

Accommodating my disability this time around, was easier. Everything I need for my disability barriers is already in place; I just have to use it. Also having an extremely creative and supportive husband, who is so willing to do whatever is needed to help reach an acceptable quality of life, is a huge benefit as a disability affects everyone; it’s a family affair. All that was needed was for me to stop fighting against declining energy and to start working to make the best use of the limited energy I had left.

A person with disability can accept their personal limitations and find appropriate accommodations, yet not be successful due to attitude. Anger, bitterness, and continuous frustration over the limitations of public disability access is the fastest route to an attitude of entitlement. This is a personality disability; as limiting as any physical disability. It becomes a barrier to self-advocating. It prevents a person with disability from being part of the solution, by sharing what works, as well as what doesn’t work. An entitled personality is counterproductive to legislation, research, and development of new options, as frustration and anger slows the process down. An entitlement attitude keeps a person from finding or accepting alternate ways to bridge specific barriers.

My goal is to express gratitude for every barrier that is reduced or removed, and find my own solutions when I can. Yes, frustration gets the best of me sometimes, but as with everyone else, I am a work in process.

 

Boundaries & Brick Walls

brick

I’ve shared on “Hearing Elmo” before how important I think boundaries are to people with invisible illness, disability or chronic conditions. I believe we are already vulnerable. Not a WEAK sort of vulnerability, for we are actually very resilient in comparison to people who do not struggle with similar challenges. Dunn, Uswatte, and Elliott (2009) report that people with acquired conditions and challenges are often more resilient, happy, and have a positive sense of well-being. Yet, because we struggle to be all that we can be with new limitations, we can be vulnerable to others through criticism, disbelief, and lack of support. I believe that as people learn to cope and adjust to a “new normal”, boundaries–and sometimes BRICK WALLS–are imperative.

Boundaries

One of my favorite books that I often mention, is “Boundaries” by two of my favorite psychologists/writers, Cloud and Townsend. I highly recommend the book if you are seeking to establish healthy boundaries.

boundaries

I could go on and on about how MEAN PEOPLE SUCK, but this is more than that. We have all experienced interacting with people who are toxic, negative, and critical. These interactions inhibit our growth and our ability to cope effectively and successfully with challenges–that to us are not CHOICES, rather realities of living in our bodies. Boundaries can, and should be, set for these people. A boundary limits our interaction with someone that we have discovered hinders our growth or influence. Boundaries are not permanent. People can re-establish a good relationship. I always cringe when I hear people say, “Once you’ve lost my trust, you’ve lost it forever“.

I am not who I was. I hope that my life reflects a “work in progress”. I want to be a person who continues to grow each year that I live. I believe I can set a boundary for a critical and negative person, and my faith can be restored in this person at a later date. Life changes people, folks! The boundary keeps me at a safe distance, however, for whatever period of time is needed by that person to change or grow themselves.

Yes.

It hurts when you have to set up a boundary with a family member or someone who was once a close friend. Even these boundaries are necessary at times. Self-care is not only important, it is necessary. If we do not do what we must (by setting up a boundary for an unsafe person), we cannot thrive or make a difference in the life of another. Boundaries limit what we offer to these people. You may choose to not share specific things about yourself with them. You may limit how often you interact. These boundaries protect you and allow you to continue to live victoriously. They allow you to be the champion… the WARRIOR, that you are!

However, there are times when boundaries become more than safe zones for us. Boundaries can turn into permanent and impenetrable fixtures to completely cut us off from unsafe people. The boundaries become brick walls.

Brick Walls

When do you know that a boundary needs to be replaced with a brick wall? I believe…

… you will know.

The person has habitually harmed you. You have provided an avenue for reconciliation and  they have repeatedly taken advantage and continue to injure you. When this happens, it’s time for a brick wall, my friend! When and if you choose to permanently block someone from your life, it is important to remember:

  1. You are not responsible for their behavior.
  2. You are not selfish, nor stubborn.
  3. Your applied masonry skills mean you can continue making a difference in the life of others.

How do you build a brick wall and permanently dismantle a relationship? I have had to do this. It wasn’t easy. It hurts when it is someone who once mattered a great deal. However, self-preservation may mean you need to build that wall. Here are some things that worked for me:

  1. Block them from all social media outlets.
  2. Block their phone number.
  3. Block their email address.
  4. If you can, eliminate all face-to-face interactions.
  5. Don’t feel guilty. If you do, you are weakening that brick wall. You were not the toxin, they were.
  6. Avoid other’s efforts of reuniting you to this person. Well-intentioned people often do not know the whole story.
  7. If you must grieve the loss of this person, allow yourself to do so.

Because this is something I once did, I feel like I should give a warning as well. Don’t build walls because you are hurt and hunker down into protective mode. This is self-imposed isolation, not deliberate wall-building to keep out those who are toxic to you.

A perk I’ve discovered of brick walls? It can force a change of direction. You never know “who” or “what” awaits you as you step in the opposite direction.

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Dunn, D., Uswatte, G., and Elliott, T. (2009). Happiness, resilience, and positive growth following physical disability: Issues for understanding, research, and therapeutic intervention. Retrieved September 5, 2016, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Timothy_Elliott/publication/232514358_Happiness_resilience_and_positive_growth_following_physical_disability_Issues_for_understanding_research_and_therapeutic_intervention/links/09e4150a3327348871000000.pdf

Rejoicing

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— It’s such a treat to have guest writers here at “Hearing Elmo”. I welcome any and all, for we all have a story to tell, a life to share, and a voice. I am glad to offer “Hearing Elmo” as a platform for those voices. I have known Ruth for a little over 14 years. I met her at a national Hearing Loss Association convention, and then continued to touch base with her in various ways. Now we mostly connect through FaceBook and I am always tickled to see her recent photos. Ruth loves nature and has that special talent the really good photographers have–seeing things through their lens that are often overlooked by those of us who don’t stop to LOOK. When my balance issues become my “main issues”, Ruth reached out to encourage me again and again. (I have often wondered if I have been accurately diagnosed as many of my symptoms are atypical of Meniere’s). Ruth is a blessing – and lucky for you and I – a writer. I share a recent piece with you today! —

The abilities of people with chronic health problems are continuously redefined by fluctuations in whatever challenges they have:  weakness, stiffness, pain, sensory disturbances, fatigue, endurance, or mental/emotional processing.   Loss happens frequently.

Grief is commonly seen as the way to heal loss.   In the case of continuous repetitive losses, a person can get caught up in a perpetual circle of grief. Instead of experiencing healing, the overload of negative emotions such as sadness and anger can cause increased physical problems.   To maximize health, positive emotions are needed to restore balance.

How does one get from grief to happiness, when experiencing continuous losses?  They do so by making a conscious choice to response positively vs negatively to challenges.

For the first fifty plus years of my life, I allowed myself to get caught in the perceptual circle of grief. I reacted to my losses with anger and sadness.  I blamed others, from my parents to God, for my life’s challenges.  My poor choices nearly destroyed my life.

Most of my challenges came from a genetic disorder called mitochondrial myopathy, a rare form of muscular dystrophy.  The core of this disorder is the failure of powerhouses found in each body cell, to produce enough energy to sustain the health of that cell. Where ever these defective cells reside, the reduced energy results in inadequate organ function or even organ failure.

From my toddler years onward, the cells in my inner ears progressively deteriorated and died.  By the time I was in my early 20’s, I had a profound loss of hearing.   I was a survivor in the sense that I persisted in education until I got to the right career match for a deaf person.   However, I failed to maintain a healthy emotional balance and consequently experienced years of profound depression.  I was stuck in a perpetual cycle of grief.

As a young adult I began to experience progressive mobility challenges, and the grief cycle intensified.  I didn’t take care of myself, physically nor emotionally, and consequently more medical problems surfaced.  Finally, in my late 50’s, I slowly learned to focus on the good things that are a part my disability experience: my growing faith in God’s goodness, the love and understanding of my remarkable husband, incredible friendships; the cochlear implant enriching my life with sounds I had never heard; the freedom to participate in life provided by disability accommodations, including the use of my wheelchair.   I have learned to see and remember the blessings of good days.

I recently experienced a 6-month miracle in which my mobility limitations almost disappeared.  This miracle, which felt like it was here to stay, came to an end.  I grieved its loss and the opportunities that ended with it.  But now I can look back and smile warmly at the memories, much in the same way a wonderful vacation is remembered.  I truly believe that staying positive and the prayers of many people energized my body enough to stop the physical backslide, maintaining about half of the gains I experienced.  Though I continue to walk for exercise, it takes twice as long and multiple rests are necessary along the way.  My freedom to participate is again dependent on my walker or wheel chair depending on the endurance each situation requires.  But, I have learned, in spite of chronic disability and the doors it closes, to rejoice.

Ruth Ilean Fox

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Specificity

specificity

Some posts get a lot of response both publically and privately. Back in March of this year, “When they SHOULD, but They Don’t” posted. In 2015, this post has generated the most “mail”. This tells me that the topic is important. This tells me that this problem exists. This tells me that people with chronic illness, invisible illness or disability, and health challenges struggle with:

  1. Asking for help
  2. Accepting help
  3. Realizing that assistance ≠ diminished independence

My husband and I travelled to see his parents two states away this weekend. I love having Terry all to myself in a car where he can’t get away from my enthusiastic chatter and conversation. Thankfully, the man doesn’t seem to mind that a seatbelt is all that separates him from his talkative wife.

I shared with him how much follow-up email I have received about this post. I know many people who are differently-abled personally. I also “know” many only through “Hearing Elmo”. Why is it so hard for the people in our lives to support us in a healthy, loving way without creating codependency, “IOU mentality”, and decreased self-esteem? I shared with my husband an article I recently read at the Invisible Disabilities Association, on what family members of differently-abled people should know. (You can read it HERE).

My husband, a psychologist who has worked with special populations for 25 years, reminded me of something that I really needed to hear. You see… lately we have not been communicating very well. Yeah, yeah, I know! Hearing loss is a communication disorder, but this isn’t new to us! Once in awhile, our communication breaks down. I get frustrated, he gets defensive, and the dogs choose sides. It’s ugly.

Be Specific or Be Quiet

One of the most common things people say to me about this topic is, “If the shoe were on the other foot, and THEY were differently-abled… I would be supportive and accepting!” In other words, “I’m sure I’d respond to all of this much better because I’m a super hero and they are NOT”.

Now don’t get me wrong! Maybe you WOULD respond more effectively! I believe that circumstances such as dealing with a health challenge can make us more compassionate, empathetic, and helpful to others in the same boat. I tried to point out to a reader that they “could not know how they would respond and support the other person because it isn’t their reality”. They “could not know how hard it is to love and support someone 24/7 that is differently-abled because they are not living that life”. These folks immediately fire back, “Well I LIVE WITH THIS 24/7 so I think I would know how hard it is”. Apples and oranges, my friends! They are both fruits and grow on trees, but are different in every way. Bottom line, if you are differently-abled or live with chronic illness, your perceptions and reality have changed. You cannot know what it would be like to be completely healthy and instead love/support someone who has special challenges.

I can already HEAR picture some of you freaking out about this. Before you send me hate mail though, please remember that I, too, am a person with special challenges, married to someone whose only significant challenge is to lose 20 pounds now that he’s middle-aged. (Hmmm. I may get called out for that comment should hubby read this week’s post).

I’ve already explained that my “captive audience” reminded me of something about good communication because I have slipped into some old habits and was feeling frustrated with him as a result. We need to be specific. Our loved ones are not mind readers. Here are some REAL specifics I have learned in my own communication – all of which we re-visited on this trip since communication has broken down lately.

Instead of:

You need your laundry done? Do it yourself MORON!

You know I love doing laundry. I need you to carry it down the two flights of stairs to the laundry room. Then, when you get home from work, at some point I will need you to carry it all back upstairs.

Instead of:

What? You can’t carry your own plate to the sink? Well I guess I’m making dinner FOR ONE from now on, You MORON! 

I don’t mind cleaning up after meals. My Meniere’s disease does not allow me to carry things to the sink very safely. Could you pile your stuff in the sink please?

(This specific instruction garnered the benefit of his carrying MY dishes to the sink, too!)

Instead of:

I can only walk one dog at night. You think I have excess energy? I guess poor Chloe is going to believe she is unloved and definitely UNWALKED. MORON!

Would you walk Chloe with Milo and I tonight? She needs the exercise.  You don’t need to go as far as I do, and it will mean a lot to her.

Instead of:

You’re tired of the empty cupboards and fridge? Go get your own groceries, MORON!

(Can you tell my unfiltered, “go to” cut-down is moron? Poor Terry) 

I am running on empty this week. Milo is a huge help, but I’m just “done”. Would you go get groceries with me this week? It would really help.

Instead of:

You never help me! (and just to stay consistent… MORON!)

Would you mind helping me with some housework today? My balance is particularly bad. I could dust if you would vacuum?

Specificity helps communication. Generalizations will lead to communication breakdown. It takes practice. You wouldn’t think it would, but it really does. Learn to be specific. You may even have to learn to be specific in how you want your loved ones to back off! A recent example:

Instead of:

Cripes, Terry! I can do this, you know. I’m not totally incapable!

(He was trying to help me get Milo’s leash on and Milo was super excited).

I know Milo is “blowing a gasket” here. But I have to learn to calm him down and give him the proper commands since I’m usually alone with him. He has to learn to settle on MY terms. Thanks for the help, but I’ve got this!

If you need help, be specific. If you can do something yourself, be specific. If you need a listening ear, be specific. If you need a hug, be specific.

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

P.S. I’m hoping to launch a series of blog posts over the next year. See HERE for more information. We need guest authors! 🙂

Polygamy and Practice

polygamy and practice

Do you know how many times polygamy has cropped up in my conversations? It’s super easy for me to hazard a guess because I have NEVER had a conversation about polygamy. I don’t watch “Sister Wives”, and know very few Mormons (and those I do – do not practice polygamy). So why… WHY would I bring the word up in a chance encounter? *shaking my head at myself*

I’m a creature of habit. I go to the same stores and the same restaurants. I’m super scheduled and my electronic calendar is near and dear to my heart. I’m color-coded. I’m organized.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that I tend to run into the same people at the places I frequent. I have shopped at the same grocery store for almost four years. You tend to run into some of the same people when you frequent a store. When you go everyplace with a service dog, it makes you rather unforgettable, especially with children. It’s no surprise that I see some of the same children in stores who have been curious about and thrilled with Chloe as I shop.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that a little boy I have seen a half a dozen times or more stopped me to ask about my dog. My new partner is Milo, a black shepherd/lab whose appearance is completely different than that of Chloe. Here is a recent photo of both Chloe (retired) and Milo (current). The picture isn’t that great which reminds me I need to work on getting some more “3 musketeers” shots!

Service Dog Bookends
Service Dog Bookends

This little boy that I see occasionally (whose name I DO NOT know – which embarrasses me as he knows my service dog’s name), looked at me with big eyes and said, “Where is Chloe and WHO IS THAT?” (Ya gotta love kids)

I replied, “Oh, this is my new service dog, Milo. Chloe is retired now and is at home sleeping on the couch”.

He looked very solemn and said, “So she still lives with you?

Oh yes“, I said. “She will always live with me. It’s just that Milo is my new partner!

He was quiet for a second or two and said, “So it’s like you are divorced and Milo is your new service dog?

I was so astonished by the seemingly change in topic I stuttered out, “Well… ummm…. no, not at all. Chloe and I aren’t divorced. I guess it’s more like polygamy and both dogs live with me now!

The little guy look TOTALLY CONFUSED, and I glanced up to see the HORRIFIED LOOK on his mother’s face. Ever want to just slap your hand over your mouth? I knew as soon as I said it that it was 1) totally inappropriate, 2) would take the mother all day to explain to her son, and 3) completely “off the wall”.

I made a mess of trying to back peddle (for people with balance disorders can do precious little BACKWARDS), and hurriedly made my way down the next aisle.

I stood in the international food section fussin’ at myself and nearly in tears for using such a poor analogy around a 6-year-old. I determined then and there I needed to PrAcTiCe PrAcTiCe PRACTICE what to say in response to “where’s Chloe and who is THIS?

Part of Good Advocacy is Practiced Responses

Being a good advocate and representative of “whatever ails ya” means you have good responses when someone asks questions. I have learned the HARD WAY, that these responses need to be rehearsed. When you are taken by surprise by either well-meaning, curious people or rude, snarky trouble-makers, you want to have a measured, helpful reply so that you advocate in a positive and helpful manner. I have found that if I don’t have a “canned response”, I tend to match the tone and demeanor of the person asking. This means that sometimes I am pleasant and in “teacher mode”, with great responses that educate and advocate on behalf of the disability community. However, other times I’m waving my cane in a curmudgeon’s face and informing them in no-uncertain terms how horrible they are.

At Fidos For Freedom, Inc., (where I trained for now – TWO – service dogs), we practice how to respond when encountering access issues. If you have a service dog, it is not a matter of IF you have access issues, rather WHEN you have access issues. It is easy to get flustered. It is easy to get mad. It is easy to say the wrong thing. Practice makes it much easier to respond with something that will actually help you and others like yourself.

Doesn’t it Suck that Many of the Rude Ones are “Kin”?

What is even harder is when the person acting incredulous and skeptical is someone you know well or are even family. I’m lucky that I have a very supportive spouse and adult children. Even so… it is hard to love someone with a chronic condition. Once in awhile, my husband (or kids) do not filter what they are saying, because they, too, are sick and tired of Meniere’s disease. I’m 100% certain my husband has rehearsed responses to commiserate appropriately so that he doesn’t spend the night on the couch.

(Holding an ice pack on my cheek, or head), “I’m so tired of falling and staggering around! What I wouldn’t give for just one day of no vertigo!

It must suck, honey!” is the rehearsed response so that “Yeah, I’m getting tired of taking off work to take you to the E.R.” doesn’t slip out.

It can really hurt when someone who knows you better than others “opens their mouth and inserts foot”. I recommend that even support people practice and learn how to deliver sympathy and encouragement.

You Will Still Blow It

Even if you practice measured, helpful responses to personal questions, you are still going to blow it from time to time. A couple of Sundays ago I was ticked off at myself for not responding kindly to someone and was thinking, “Denise! You’ve had this diagnosis for 2 decades! Exactly WHEN is it gonna become HABIT?

I sit during the worship service. It isn’t because I cannot stand. Folks are surprised when they learn that at work, I stay standing for very long periods of time. I actually MOVE very easily and with very little wobble. It’s standing still that is the problem. My world turns… counter-clockwise when I’m standing still. I love my church. They are very supportive of people who are differently-abled. We have a loop system in the auditorium for people with hearing loss. We have fully accessible bathrooms and classrooms. We have an elevator and a lift for people with mobility issues. In spite of this, I’m forced to sit during the worship service. My church puts the words to the songs on the wall using a projector. We have a beautiful stage and lights as well. The song lyrics are in a multi-media slide show with patterns, colors, movement and lights. Everything is color-coordinated and changes song to song. The freaky OCD person in me is in awe every Sunday. It’s gorgeous! But… I can’t stand. If I do, I’m fighting consciousness. It isn’t a problem, for I don’t mind sitting. I’m comfortable and SAFE. I learned that not everyone understands why I’m sitting, however.

An elderly person came up to me at the beginning of the service and asked me how to access the hearing loop in the auditorium. I removed my cochlear implant and hearing aid and demonstrated how to switch to t-coil. I get this question about once a month and I’m always glad to educate. I love the hearing loop and it has dramatically transformed church for me. I love answering questions to help others access this wonderful technology. So wasn’t I surprised by the encounter, but totally floored by the follow-up question:

So why are you seated during the music? I’m way older than you and even I can stand!

I don’t know if it was the environment, the timing, or the unexpectedness of the question, but can I tell you … I really took it wrong? I could FEEL the tension creep up my spine and I was mentally counting to ten and trying to diffuse the explosion about to spew out of my mouth. THIS ONE I hadn’t practiced for. I hadn’t run any scenarios through my head and out through my heart filter to answer a question like this appropriately. So I didn’t.

Wow. That was really, really mean. We’re done,” I said. The person looked startled, then uncomfortable and walked away. I think the last action was because I’m certain my look was murderous. I mean… I was MAD. (I later apologized).

Folks are gonna take you by surprise once in awhile. You will hear an insensitive comment from someone you weren’t expecting it from and it will just shock you into silence (if you are lucky) or cause you to say something you regret. It is best to be prepared.

Ummm… WHY SHOULD I?

Maybe you are thinking that if people are going to be insensitive and inconsiderate, that “why should I temper what I say in response?

Since we are on the subject… here are some “canned responses”:

1. You don’t want to sink to their level.

2. You need to be the mature one.

3. Kill ’em with kindness.

4. In the end, you advocate for all of us.

5. Honey attracts more bees than vinegar.

Well.

I happen to love vinegar. I mean… don’t get me started on pickles. There are few things I love more. Let’s be honest though… from someone who is differently-abled to someone who may also live with acquired disability, chronic illness, or invisible issues, “WHY should we be careful in our response?

(sigh)

Because it’s the RIGHT thing to do. Sucks, don’t it? I can tell you from experience though that it is much better to answer correctly and watch someone else squirm, than to have to apologize for “going off” on someone. Go practice, my friends! You’ll be glad you did!

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal