Comparisons Are Rarely Healthy

This summer I traveled to North Carolina to attend my nephew’s wedding. Although we didn’t get to spend very much time while there, it was great to see all my extended family. My parents and 2 brothers both live there, and my sister traveled from Texas with her boys to attend.

Seth and Megan Burhenn
Aren’t they cute?

I can’t remember what started the conversation, but one evening we started talking about Q-tips. The discussion included snippets of all of us understanding that Q-tips were not to be used to clean ears (at least not down into the ear canal), yet we all used them for exactly that.

My mother chimed in and said, “Well that’s better than Bobby Pins! We use to grab a Bobby Pin to clean our ears!

I admitted that I could remember my grandmother carefully cleaning her ear with the rounded side of a Bobby Pin.

Essentially we sat around talking about the stupid things we know we shouldn’t do yet do them anyway. Ahem.

One Up

Later while I giggled to myself and thought about that conversation, I had to admit how silly it was to try to “one up” each other on STUPID THINGS WE DO.

All of us play the “one up” game.

We shouldn’t.

One day last week I jot down some notes to prepare for this post. It hit me that at the age of 51, I have now lived more of my life as a differently-abled person than I have as an able-bodied person. I was left scratching my head wondering why it is still so HARD?

Side note: One of the suck things about progressive illnesses is that the person finds themselves in a near constant state of adapting. You’d think it would get easier the more you live it, but it doesn’t. At least… it hasn’t for me. 

I’m trying to learn to stop comparing myself to others. It’s taken a lifetime to just be better about ignoring the temptation of the “one up” game. I’m still guilty of it occasionally.

I’ve been in a bad place. (Part of the reason I haven’t posted like I should).

I hate to write when I’m in a bad place, but I am going to try to just continue to be real, vulnerable, and honest. Life is hard and we tend to try to pretend it isn’t so that others will not be discouraged. *Cue “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” soundtrack*

When I start feeling sorry for myself, two things happen:

  1. I hear my mother’s voice in my head, “No one said life is fair, Denise“.

AND

2. I start trying to dig myself out of the self-pity pit by reminding myself that “so-   and-so”  has to live with this issue, or that one, and I don’t. “So suck it up, Denise!”

Deb is one of my best friends. She gets me. I can bellyache to her and not have to worry that she will think I’m a wuss, a coward, or whiner. She and I have some similar challenges, yet shoulder different ones as well. For example, I do not deal with chronic pain. I’ve always admired people who persevere and live a victorious life and yet deal with chronic pain. Deb is always quick to remind me that we shouldn’t try to improve our outlook by comparing our challenges with others. Our challenges are our challenges, period. (Pretty profound, huh?) It only undermines our own value to fall into the habit of thinking we should suck it up because we aren’t as bad off as someone else. By whose measurement is bad — bad? Our struggles are just as real as the next person’s. It’s OK to acknowledge a bad day. It’s OK to say, “I’m struggling. I’m discouraged. I need help”.

This kind of “comparison thinking” is especially harmful to those with invisible illnesses and disabilities. You don’t have to have an adaptive device on your person to prove you are a person who has been forced to ADAPT.

Service dog bookends. Milo (left), Chloe (right)

I am currently partnered with my second service dog from Fidos For Freedom. My first service dog, Chloe, entered my life in 2006. At the time, hearing loss was my biggest challenge. New to the cochlear implant and in the early stages of a Meniere’s disease diagnosis, I had more than one encounter in public where people thought I was Chloe’s trainer. Looking at me, it didn’t appear that I needed a service dog. I had not yet “blinged-up” my cochlear implant and hearing aide, and was not yet a wobbly weeble. When I explained she was actually trained to assist ME, people were surprised. Now that my balance is so significantly impaired, no one asks if my current service dog, Milo, is my partner. We should never judge someone on appearances alone.

One of my favorite extra-curricular activities is my involvement in SODA. A co-advisor of one of the college’s student clubs, SODA (Students Out to Destroy Assumptions), currently has just as many active members with invisible conditions as we do members with visible ones. Yet all these fantastic young adults adapt. They struggle. They are all samfferent (same + different… did you just roll your eyes?)

I don’t know if it is young adults in general, or THESE young adults specifically, but I believe they are really adept at valuing each individual person and not comparing themselves with others. My co-advisor and I may use the word “super hero” too often within this fantastic group, but truly each one is a super hero in their own right and might.

And so are you.

Denise Portis

©2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

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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

Why Using Opioids to Treat Chronic Pain Is Problematic and What You Can Do Instead

It is always a treat to have guest writers at Hearing Elmo. Today, we welcome Jackie Waters. Jackie is a mother, a homemaker, and a farmer who lives with her family on their farm in Oregon. She is passionate about providing a healthy and happy home for her family and aims to provide advice for others on how to do the same with her site  Hyper-Tidy.com.

As a country, we are consuming more prescription opioids than ever before. We are the leading opioid-using nation in the world. The opioid epidemic has reached a point where doctors are beginning to totally rethink the way they prescribe, and this directly affects chronic pain patients. This is all with good reason, however. Using opioids to treat chronic pain can be problematic.

The difference between acute and chronic pain

“Acute pain, if you will, is a bit of a no-brainer. Pain is a message that damage is occurring to our body, and we need to take action. From a medical perspective the physiology of acute pain is well understood; it’s associated with tissue damage and resolution of the pain is associated with healing of the injury,” says physician Gary Kaplan.

Chronic pain is much more complicated. We are often unable to pinpoint the exact causes of chronic pain, as all the signs associated with acute pain have long since dissipated. Chronic pain can involve a multitude of complex issues, including mental ones, and can affect multiple areas and systems of the body. Long story short, it’s hard to pinpoint.

While using opioids to treat acute pain is simple and relatively harmless, the use of opioids to treat chronic pain is problematic. Long terms use of opioids can have devastating physical and mental health effects.

Chronic pain sufferers can develop a dependency to opioids

Even when taken as prescribed, opioids are highly habit-forming. Many chronic pain sufferers misuse the drugs, however, and take them in ways that are more harmful than their normal administration (snorting, more frequent use, higher dosage).

One of the main problems with taking opioids for a long period of time is that they become less effective over time. This forces people to continue upping their dose, which leads to addiction.

“A property of opioid drugs is their tendency, when used repeatedly over time, to induce tolerance. Tolerance occurs when the person no longer responds to the drug as strongly as he or she did at first, thus necessitating a higher dose to achieve the same effect,” says DrugAbuse.gov.

How to manage chronic pain without opioids

Your ultimate goal may be to eliminate the use of prescription drugs altogether, but it’s important to know that any reduction on the use of opioids is beneficial to your health. In order to do this, however, you have to have alternative methods to manage your chronic pain.

For temporary relief of chronic pain, many sufferers turn to acupuncture, massage, hydrotherapy, and chiropractic care. All of these can work, but all do not work for everyone. You must find the type of acute care that best helps your specific type of chronic pain.

For more sustained relief, some lifestyle changes must be considered. If you are overweight or obese, this is likely the leading exacerbating factor of your chronic pain. Losing weight reduces stress on the bones, joints, and muscles. Adopting a healthier diet is probably the best long-term strategy for managing chronic pain.

Apart from that, exercise is your next best option. You might be wary to dive into an exercise regimen for fear that it will make your chronic pain worse, but in fact it’s just the opposite. Check here for five great exercises for chronic pain.

Short-term use of opioids to treat pain is not necessarily a bad thing – in fact, it’s a widely accepted medical practice. Problems arise, however, when people start to rely on prescription drugs to help them cope with long-term pain.

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

When You Want to Smack ‘Em With Your Cane

handicapped-restroom

When you are differently-abled, going to the bathroom can be a pain in the… well?

… BUTT.

If you are partnered with a service dog, it can make the process even trickier until you get a nice routine down. Likely, one of the biggest issues for all of us is ACCESS.

In the United States, public restrooms are required to be handicap accessible. For restrooms that have multiple stalls, the number of required handicap accessible stalls depends on the total number of stalls in that location. All must have at least one, according to the ADA.

fullsizeoutput_bd

Milo, my current service dog from Fidos For Freedom, Inc., is a very big boy. A German sheprador, Milo is 80 lbs. of helpful tail wags. Between my wobbles, cane, and big boy helper, I require some room to use the bathroom safely. I will be honest with you, I use to get aggravated if waiting for a handicap stall, only for the person to exit and they looked perfectly fine to ME.

A student leader in the Anne Arundel Community College‘s SODA club (Students Out to Destroy Assumptions), reminded me during a particular scathing belly-ache rant, that not all disabilities are visible. I think it is great when student leaders can challenge long-time advocates, don’t you? Kudos.

So yesterday, I stopped in at the women’s bathroom prior to my Diversity Institute workshop, to find the bathroom empty with the exception of…

… yeah, you guessed it,

the handicap stall. I stood there (with legs crossed) and waited for the person to exit. I even took out my phone to appear less desperate. Milo’s ears perked up (indicating a toilet was being flushed), and I stepped to the side about a foot so that the person could exit safely. I didn’t bat an eye when the person who came out “appeared perfectly abled”. It is no longer my default judgment to assume the person didn’t need the larger size, rails, and access to the stall.

I was surprised, then, when the young woman, said, “Oh gosh. Sorry, I use this so I have more room for my book bag and didn’t think someone who actually needed it would be waiting!

I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open.

I counted to ten and purposefully and deliberately maintained the position of my cane on the floor where it belonged, and said, “Yeah, there’s always a chance someone will need it who is waiting for the accessible stall!” I smiled (honestly! I did!) and scooted around her with Milo, closed and locked the door.

I was so mad I couldn’t pee. (Just bein’ honest folks!)

I have never had proof staring me in the face before. 24 hours later I am still processing it. My new default is a good one though. We cannot judge who uses a handicap stall even if there are other stalls empty.

Before you assume, remember:

  1. The handicap stall might be the only one empty when they came into the bathroom.
  2. Perhaps the other toilets are “nasty” or out of order.
  3. Perhaps it is a parent with a small child to assist.
  4. The person may have a genuine need for the stall. Some common invisible disabilities include:                                                                                                                  A) Anxiety disorders (especially phobias such as mysophobia, claustrophobia, and OCD) 

    B) Early stages of progressive diseases (MS, Rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s, cancer, etc.)

    C) Digestive disorders (IBS, Colitis, etc.)

         D) Pain disorders (Fibromyalgia, Mitochondrial, and joint diseases)

         E) Chronic fatigue and related illnesses

F) Age related conditions

So… put the cane down; no clobbering innocent folks relieving their own needs.

BUTT… But —

For those of you who use the handicap stall even when there are others available and you prefer “more space”,

well… shame on you.

That wasn’t nearly as satisfying as busting someone up ‘side the head. I remind myself that I can be an unfeeling jerk and clueless twit about things I don’t understand. If we all learn to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, the world would be more respectful and kind.

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

 

Let It Go – Or It’ll Kill You

img_3382

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?

img_3383

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.