The Last Straw

last straw

The Last Straw (that broke the camel’s back): The final, additional, small burden that makes the entirety of one’s difficulties unbearable.

Isn’t it interesting that there are so many idioms and colloquial expressions that mean “I’m done”?

The straw that broke the camel’s back (1816)

The last feather breaks the horses back (1829)

The final straw

Hitting a brick wall

Hanging up one’s gloves

The final stroke

I’m sure there are others. I’ve had a heck of a month. No worries – I actually thrive under (some) pressure. However, once in a while each one of us is simply not going to be able to take ONE MORE THING. That ONE MORE THING is often inconsequential and “small” in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps that is why we are so frustrated for breaking under what seems like a “small” thing.

This morning I was stepping off the porch when a “throw your head back to sneeze” came out of nowhere. Just. Like. That. I was horizontal with a teeny, tiny bit of remaining tunnel vision. My ears were roaring. I was nauseous. I had two very concerned service dogs in my face.

IMG_2781

Do you know I sat there and CRIED? I use to cry over everything. I mean, every, little thing! Happy, sad, angry, or confused, I’d unload some stress by crying my eyes out. These days I rarely cry. If I’m crying now, something is seriously wrong, or I have no reserves left and I’m “just done“.

It only lasted a minute or two. With retired neighbors on both sides of me, I can’t sit on the ground wailing very long before I garner some unwanted attention. I chanted to myself, “Suck it up, buttercup!” and struggled back to my feet. I’m sporting a few new bruises, and my pride? Well heck. My pride wasn’t hurt at ALL. When you have Meniere’s disease, pride isn’t crushed in falling, for one falls a lot. Pride is when you KEEP yourself from falling <big grin>

I felt so much better and finished watering the hanging baskets and flowers before making my way back inside. I likely over-analyze things too much. When psychology is your main squeeze, you tend to analyze everything. I took a few minutes to think about why falling on my face and experiencing a short bout of vertigo set me off. I determined it was “the last straw“. Have you ever felt that way when burdened with one more “little” thing?

It is very normal to have days like that. We all have stress. Stress can be good – and bad. Do not confuse stress with burnout. How do you know if you are becoming burnt out? According to the Help Guide organization (2016),

You may be on the road to burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

(para. 6).

I love this chart (for I am a “chart” kind of person). I think it does a terrific job explaining the difference between stress and burnout:

Stress vs. Burnout
Stress
Burnout
Characterized by overengagement Characterized by disengagement
Emotions are overreactive Emotions are blunted
Produces urgency and hyperactivity Produces helplessness and hopelessness
Loss of energy Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope
Leads to anxiety disorders Leads to detachment and depression
Primary damage is physical Primary damage is emotional
May kill you prematurely May make life seem not worth living
Source: Stress and Burnout in Ministry

As you can see, both stress and burnout can be dangerous. Short-term stress, and at times – chronic stress, are a normal part of life. The “last straw” can actually be a good thing if it means you do something to alleviate some stress.

I cried. I hugged my dogs. I over-analyzed to my heart’s content.

However, the “last straw” can also be a prerequisite to something far more dangerous.

So what do you do when you feel your knees buckle and your back breaking? Well the first step in successfully recovering from collapsed camel syndrome is recognition of the problem or problems. Take some time to evaluate where you are at in your life. Are you over-extended? If so, what can be cut out? Start working on de-stressing. What can you take off the back of your camel?

Are you getting enough rest and taking care of yourself by eating right, getting some fresh air and sunshine, and laughing out loud occasionally? If not, make it a priority to do those things. They can strengthen “your back“.

The Help Guide organization explains how we can unload some of the burden on our camel:

Burnout prevention tips

  • Start the day with a relaxing ritual. Rather than jumping out of bed as soon as you wake up, spend at least fifteen minutes meditating, writing in your journal, doing gentle stretches, or reading something that inspires you.
  • Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits. When you eat right, engage in regular physical activity, and get plenty of rest, you have the energy and resilience to deal with life’s hassles and demands.
  • Set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the things that you truly want to do.
  • Take a daily break from technology. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking email.
  • Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favorite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work.
  • Learn how to manage stress. When you’re on the road to burnout, you may feel helpless. But you have a lot more control over stress than you may think.

(Help Guide.Org, 2016, para. 23).

Finally, acknowledge how incredibly resilient camels are! In Arab cultures, the camel symbolizes patience, tolerance, and endurance. Yes, at times you will need to ask for (and hopefully receive) help. This is a terrific article on finding help: (Where to Begin: Finding Help During Chronic Illness).

camel2

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Help Guide.Org (2016). Preventing burnout: Signs, symptoms, causes, and coping strategies. Retrieved May 26, 2016, from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/preventing-burnout.htm

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Use Your Words

use your words

Not too long ago, I stood in the kitchen with a piece of my kitchen cookware, and dramatically wiggled the (seemingly constant) loose handle.

“Hey, honey,” addressing my husband, “hand me the thingie-majig out of the… (I gestured wildly towards the drawer)… the… the… THINGIE!”

My husband turned to face me and raised his left eyebrow. It was only the left one. You know… the one he raises when I’ve said something truly ridiculous and he’s trying to make a point?

… with an eyebrow? Yeah. That one.

I continued to gesture holding the slightly, heavy pan and sputtered and fumed, not daring to repeat my request, only adding a bit of a head flick towards the… the… THINGIE.

At this point my husband’s raised eyebrow lowered. Instead both eyes grew wide with alarm. Both eyes. You know… the ones he widens in horror when he realizes I truly expect him to read my mind and decipher both thingie-majig and thingie?

“Denise.” (When he pauses like that not only do I know I’m in for a mini-lecture, but it also means it may be deserved).

“You canNOT expect me to actually know what you mean. We’ve been married a long time, but I know thingie-majig, thingie, whatcha-ma-callit, and doo-hickey are interchangeable, obscure references to whatever happens to be going through your brain at the time!”

Do you know I tried to argue with him?

“Terry.” (Cuz, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander).

“I’m holding a pan. I’m jiggling the loose handle. I need to use this pan. The handle is loose. I need a screwdriver. The “thingie-majig” is a screwdriver, of COURSE” (I sighed super loud for a little dramatic effect and continued). “I gestured towards the junk drawer with my eyes, head, and elbow. The drawer is the “thingie”. Now who wouldn’t KNOW THAT?”

His eyes lost their incredulous look.  It was like watching a slideshow of emotions flick over his face.

First anger. (“Is she SERIOUS?”)

Next came a sad effort at stifling his laughter.

Then that lightbulb look. I love this look. It’s a slow-simmer realization that darn it. “Darn it, she’s right! That kinda made SENSE!”

He scratched his head and bent to collect the screwdriver from the bottom junk drawer. “It sucks that what you said made sense”.

I demurely accepted the screwdriver and sweetly…

Kept.

My.

Mouth.

Shut.

… because it didn’t make sense. I didn’t use words! Well, I did… but they weren’t real words. How can I call that communicating effectively?

When We Don’t Use Our Words

When you’ve lived with a chronic illness or disability long enough, the vocabulary associated with it becomes second nature to you. However, it doesn’t become second nature to others. You know all the medical terms and acronyms associated with your “new normal”. You shorten things and abbreviate information with people who really do not completely understand what you are trying to convey.

So… use your words.

  1. Use specifics.

Don’t say, “I can’t hear well”. Instead be specific and offer an alternative that may help.

“I can’t hear well in this cavernous room with so much background noise. Can we step out into the hallway to finish this conversation?”

2. Don’t leave out details that actually assist in expressing your need.

Don’t say, “Will you watch the dogs for me while I talk to mom?” Instead provide some more detail so that your request isn’t unreasonable.

“The dogs are wound up and my mom is trying to FaceTime me. Can you take them outside while I talk to her for a few minutes? I will be able to concentrate and hear her better.”

Don’t say, “Oh my gosh I need to leave right now!” Instead provide the details for your hasty departure so that whomever is accompanying you can make polite excuses and follow you in a more polite way.

“Oh my gosh. The ceiling fans in here are low and are moving in the opposite direction of my inner ‘SPIN’. I need to step out right away”. 

3. Avoid acronyms unless they are truly universal.

A.S.A.P.  – – – Yeah. We all know what this means.

BPPV – – – To most with a balance disorder or Meniere’s disease, we understand this to stand for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Few others will know what this is. I have even discovered that within disability groups (types), members will often use acronyms that they think are universal to “us” and they are not. For example in a Meniere’s support group I belong to, the members constantly refer to Meniere’s disease as MD. As a volunteer and participant of a service dog organization that includes a number of mobility challenges, MD stands for Muscular Dystrophy for both myself and many others.

I have been surprised how understood and universal the acronym MS is. Many, many people seem to understand it stands for Multiple Sclerosis. Why is that I wonder? (I’m asking for real responses and not rhetorically!)

4. Don’t use cues unless you have practiced them and both you and your “helper” understand the cue. 

If someone has facial hair or talks behind their hand, I’m likely not comfortable stepping into their personal space to hear them better. I will turn to my husband and touch the corner of my mouth. This means, “What’d he say? Repeat for me please?” We’ve used this FOREVER and it works without any hitches for us now.

I have trouble in places that have huge, open areas, or extremely, high ceilings. I may “look” fine. But if I pick up the vest handle on Milo’s equipment and quietly ask for my husband’s arm, he knows I’m about to do a face plant. If my husband isn’t around, I take Milo’s vest handle and head for the nearest wall so that I may continue with whatever I was doing safely, or talking to whomever I was trying to talk to before my “Woah!” I have never had someone argue with me about moving towards a wall. (I’m pretty sure people would rather move than pick me up off the floor).

5. Complete your thought. Use real words.

Just because you know what you are talking about, doesn’t mean you can voice a sentence fragment.

“Put it over…” 

Put it over where? If the other person wasn’t watching, they do not know where you mean for them to put it.

Recently I got up on a step stool (never a good idea) to dust the ceiling fan blades in the dining room. The fan was OFF, so “color me SURPRISED” when I was hit with a sudden bout of vertigo and actually felt my vision tunnel as I struggled to stay conscious.

“Please! Right now!”, I screeched.

Manners didn’t matter. Specifics about the timeframe were irrelevant. I fell. My husband did hear the fall. Well… he HEARD the screech too, but he simply didn’t know what it meant. It was vague. It could have been meant for the dog who just stole my sock for the fourth time and I was demanding it back. (Hey. It’s happened).

He was horrified he didn’t interpret my call for help for him to actually get his butt there immediately. I hit the carpet and the dogs scattered safely out of the way. Since I didn’t injure anything (dogs included) I could laugh as soon as I made it vertical again. “Well geesh. It’s not like I called your name or explained why I needed you! I should have said, ‘Terry! Come quick!’, right?”

As fond as I am of “thingie-majig”, “thingie”, “doo-hickey”, and “whatcha-ma-callit”, they aren’t words. They stand for whatever word is missing from our immediate working vocabulary. They are stand-ins, and we simply cannot expect someone to make sense of them. When it comes to our challenges and self-advocacy, it makes sense to —

Make Sense.

Use your words.

Be specific.

Use necessary details.

One final word of advice though. Sometimes we work SO hard to be good communicators, we may offer a little too much information. If I throw the acronym at ya, of T.M.I., — does that make sense to you?

Too Much Information. We can blow people away with unnecessary details and specifics.

Several weeks ago I ran into one of my students in the hallway and we were headed in the same direction. He opened the door to the stairwell and I leaned over to hit the elevator call button. He said, “Oh here, let me carry that” and reached for my bag assuming I would be able to take the stairs if someone carried my bag.

I said, “Oh no. I can’t take the stairs. Even though I have Milo it will take me ten minutes to make it up one flight of stairs. I’ll be late for class. I just can’t traverse the stairs safely at top speed. I need to wait for the elevator. I don’t always wobble, or have bad balance days, but I never climb or descend stairs safely”. By the time I finished with my over-zealous answer, he was practically cross-eyed.

“TMI?” I sheepishly asked.

“A little… but we’re cool!” he cheerfully responded. He ended up taking the elevator with Milo and I because we were headed to the same class and were discussing something he was passionate about – projective tests (ugh. Hate them!).

So just be careful about being specific and detailed, without killing someone with unnecessary information.

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

 

 

Embracing It!

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

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

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

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

YEAH.

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

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

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

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

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

Oh.

OH.

NO FREAKING WAY!

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

I decided that yes… Yes, I could!

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

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

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

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

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

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Hypochondriasis

Aren’t I brave to post my “just out of surgery and anesthesia” picture? I look “high”, don’t I? (GRIN)

Many folks might be surprised that hypchondriasis is an actual psychological diagnosis. Perhaps it is because we misuse the word hypochondriac a great deal! We tease each other, making a big deal about stating we “may be coming down with something“; or, perhaps you know someone who complains about “something” being wrong with them ALL THE TIME. Something always hurts, or they have aches and spasms and feel “poorly”. In writing this, I can think of one or two people I know personally who are like this. I guess since I’m from the South, I mentally categorize them as WHINERS… although that isn’t a very good psychological label.

Hypochondriasis is misused a great deal, however. A whiner is not necessarily a hypochondriac. The diagnostic features of hypochondriasis includes: 1) a fear of having a serious disease based on a misinterpretation of one or more bodily signs or symptoms, 2) an unwarranted fear or idea of having a disease that persists despite medical advice and test results to the contrary, and 3) a preoccupation that greatly influences or impairs other behavior and the ability to function (DSM-IV, p. 462).

So we all know a whiner… but they are not really a hypochondriac. Sure we use this to tease – or discuss someone negatively behind their back. This person is comfortable verbalizing how they really feel… to anyone who will listen! However, the reality is they do not have hypochondriasis.

Invisible Illnesses and unwanted labels

Yup. We’ve established we all know whiners. Some of us work with these folks. Some of us love these folks. Some of us (gulp) are these folks!

However, in recent months a common theme has come up in many of the conversations I’ve had with people who have contacted me through Hearing Elmo. It seems a good number of folks with invisible illness or disability are often accused of being hypochondriacs. Not simply because the word is misused either. People around them honestly believe it is “all in their heads”.

I posted the picture I did for this post because shortly after sharing this picture when I first had my cochlear implant surgery, an individual (whom shall remain unnamed – grin) told me in response to my “how I’m doing” email that they thought it was terrible I had this surgery – permanently changing the way I hear, all because I was pretending I had a hearing loss. You see? This person knew me growing up. They knew me when I could hear. Approximately 4 or 5 months before my CI surgery we talked on the phone. They didn’t know that:

I was using a captioned phone and was READING what they were saying.

The phone was on speaker and my husband was enunciating words I did not understand.

I tell people when they ask me what motivated me to get a cochlear implant was I was TIRED OF FAKING IT. I had reached an all-time low and struggled to communicate despite my numerous coping mechanisms and communication strategies that I had in place. I was exhausted. I dreamed of being able to communicate orally with fewer difficulties.

I didn’t sound deaf (not having been totally without sound long enough to really develop a “deaf accent”).

I was still teaching and working.

I can’t really describe for you how these comments from this person affected me. I was – in a word – devastated. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why someone would seriously believe someone would pretend to not be able to hear, fake their way through all the tests, and undergo surgery that would enable them to hear – but electronically, all for attention or for “show”.

Many invisible illnesses can be difficult to diagnosis. Some test results for diseases like Lymes, may actually come back with false results. Many pain disorders, including fibromyalgia, are difficult to diagnosis. There are still medical practitioners that believe this diagnosis is “a crock” and it can be difficult to find a doctor who takes your symptomology seriously. It doesn’t help that many women are prone to these types of illnesses or disorders, as women are more likely to be accused of being “drama queens”, worriers, and hypochondriacs. The DSM-IV points out that hypchondriasis is equally common in males and in females (p. 464).

What can YOU do?

The problem with invisible illness or disability is that they ARE invisible. You cannot see the problem. People with invisible illness or disability also start to hide what is going on with their own body. Like myself, I actually faked being able to hear better than I actually could. Some may answer “how are you?” with “fine, how are you” out of habit. However some may respond that way out of FEAR to disclose the truth. Many choose to not even tell loved ones how severe symptoms may be that day because they believe their family members are tired of hearing it.

I checked in with a friend this week to let her know I was thinking of and praying for her. She responded to “how is the pain today?” with “pain is a constant friend”. You may not be honest with how you are doing because you believe others are tired of hearing about your “bad days”. Many choose not to disclose how they REALLY are doing as they fear derisive comments, exasperation, or disdain from those around them.

Do you know someone with an invisible illness or disability? If you ask them how they are – and you REALLY care about them – be a “safe” person for them to be truthful with when they respond! Have you blown it and shown your exasperation before? Do better. It’s not like your poor response has to be your normal response. Are you married to, or do you love someone who lives with an invisible illness or disability? It can be hard; but, wouldn’t you want them to love you and encourage you if the “shoe had been on the other foot?” – rather YOUR foot?

What is the Cost?

I believe that the reason many invisible illnesses and disabilities also have a co-morbid diagnosis of depression and even suicidal ideation, is because those around them do not believe them. They live with constant negative feedback when they do open up and honestly share how they are doing with others. Your disbelief can cause them to isolate themselves – dropping out of life. Your misinformed comments could cause them to start internalizing their feelings, making it difficult for them to trust anyone. Don’t be an – erm – DONKEY. One of the best things you can do for someone who lives with invisible illness or disability 24/7 is to simply BELIEVE them.

After I found people I could trust with how things were REALLY going? I was able to actually deal with my bad days in a more proactive way. Just knowing that someone believed me – empowered me. I couldn’t hear. I staggered because my world really DOES revolve all the time. That belief enabled me to refocus my energy in discovering ways to COPE.

Will you be that person to someone this week? Can you listen without skepticism and provide that assurance?

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical
manual of mental disorders
(4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

Round and Round She Goes, Where She Stops…

… is USUALLY on her nose.

If you live with invisible disabilities or chronic illness, have you ever stopped and tried to make sense of it all? More often should I choose to do this, I find it simply doesn’t make sense. What can be more difficult, however, is trying to help someone ELSE understand what it is like to be a little “different”.

The words disability is a like a nasty tasting curse word to many. Personally? I’m not afraid of the word because it does currently define my rights under the ADA – something I wish wasn’t necessary but is in order to make sure that those who navigate life differently have the same access and rights as everyone else. I’m not here to today to discuss the WORD, however. I am here to bellyache.

A friend of mine posted a link to a terrific article currently taking up space at Invisible Illness Awareness Week. It detailed why it is important to just LISTEN sometimes. You can access the article HERE.

I belong to a number of online support groups for people with Meniere’s disease. I’ve never met anyone with symptoms exactly like mine. As a matter of fact, Meniere’s disease often frustrates perplexed physicians who are trying to help treat the disease. However, because there is no cure, one can only learn to manage and treat the symptoms. What may help one person, does not help another at all.

My assistance dog, Chloe, from Fidos For Freedom Inc., is a big blessing. Originally trained to be a hearing dog, she still performs all her hearing alerts with finesse and enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, 7 AM came WAY to early yesterday morning when my alarm went off. I tried to tell her to go back to bed and stop kissing my hand, elbow, and right ear. My husband rolled over and said, “Hello? Your alarm is going off!” Oh.

But Chloe actually helps me with far more balance related tasks each day than she does hearing alerts. I tried to “track it” one day and she performed 17 hearing alerts (alarm, kitchen timer, automatic retrieve of items I’d dropped and hadn’t heard, door knock, and cell phone ringing) and over 40 “other” tasks. (I quit counting after 40). These usually consist of directed retrieves. I drop things. I drop things a lot. Picking them up myself takes time as a bend all the way to the floor often precedes a fall. To avoid that, I simply let her get them for me. She also acts as a steady brace when I stand, sit, or go up/down stairs. She also acts as a brace if I begin to weave in a large cavernous place. The picture I chose for this post reminds me how bad my visual field was on Saturday. I ran into the mall with my husband to pick up something at a favorite store. When sound echoes, I tilt. (Picture Denise, aka Leaning Tower of Portis). Chloe has a large handle on the top of her vest that works perfectly. On my lower left is a solid helper that keeps my world from being quite so off center. I’ve been in JCPenney before and let go of her handle to look at some clothing on a sales rack. I immediately felt “swishy” because of the tall ceilings and lights. I grabbed out to keep from falling and clutched the breast of a nearby mannequin. I don’t make these things up. Thank goodness she/it wasn’t real, right?

Yet there are things Chloe cannot help me with, too. Here are some things about Meniere’s disease that surprise some folks:

1. Scrolling words or moving backgrounds on PowerPoints make me sick.

Our church places the words to songs and notes for the message on the walls in the sanctuary. This is very helpful for anyone with hearing problems… or ADHD (smile). However, sometimes there are moving points of light or star bursts that move behind the words or notes. I’m fine as long as I’M SITTING.

2. I have to sit to brush my teeth.

Yeah. I know, I know! Strange! But there is something about moving a toothbrush around in my mouth while in a standing position. I have to sit, and there are days I actually have to close my eyes on top of that!

3. Stepping down can be problematic.

This one really bugs me. On sunny days (weather is a trigger for me), I love to hike and climb around. I love rocks. Big rocks. I love heights (believe it or not). However, stepping down more than 6 inches is enough change in my altitude that I black out. It may only be for a few seconds, but if both feet are not on the ground, I’ll be picking blades of grass out of my nose hair. Chloe has learned that a “Whoa!” from me means

Move.

NOW.

4. Must… AVOID… looking… at ROTATING things (gasp)

Ceiling fans are not my friend. Neither are signs hung from ceilings when the air conditioner vents blow on them to make them twirl. For me this means heave, deep breath, heave again. I’m serious. 🙂

5. I shower while looking at my feet.

I didn’t realize how difficult it can be to get clean when you can’t look up at the shower head. Raise your eyes to reach up for shampoo or your razor? Honey? Do you want to get up close and personal to the DRAIN? Heaven help the family member who moves my shampoo or washrag from their designated place. I count on where they are so that I can shower safely… while looking at my chipped toenail polish.

6. Watching the effect of the wind can topple me too!

We’ve had some terrific storms lately. Since it has brought much needed rain, I’ve been loathe to complain. I love standing on the deck and watching the wind blowing the towering pines behind our home. Clarification: I like hanging on to the rail of our deck and watching the wind blow the towering pine trees behind our home.

7. Gingery’s Baby Pegasus can be mesmerizing to my detriment.

My daughter’s 12 pound hairless Chinese Crested likes to spin. For fun. Imagine that. It is quite captivating, but it only means CAPSIZING for me. “Look away, Denise, Look AWAY!”

8. I fuss at my son’s stomach.

My son… you know the one who was 7 weeks premature? He is 6 foot 3 inches tall. He’s a terrific kid. However, even at 21-years-old, he still needs the occasional “mama sermon”. I dare not look up, Up, UP into his eyes. One isn’t able to reiterate needed reminders when flat on the floor. Instead I point my finger and give his belly and chest “what for”. The kid laughs at me. LAUGHS. (sigh)

9. Glass elevators have speckled carpet.

I know this because I only see the carpet in glass elevators. Why not solids? Stripes? Only speckles. This confuses me.

10. I remind my doctor that I will NOT hold my breath while he’s listening to my ticker.

Because… well otherwise I’m waking up with nurses, hound dog, and doctor crowded around. (Why crowd someone who has swooned? Can I just ask that?)

Like many people who get up every morning and “manage” their symptoms, I hope perhaps I’ve helped you understand balance disorders a little better. Feel free to share your own “management techniques”.

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

I Have Meniere’s Disease – Harsh Reminder

I have Meniere’s Disease. It is easy for folks to forget that as the disease is “invisible”. Amazingly, I sometimes forget I have it myself. So that is just embarrassing! GRIN. Meniere’s disease manifests itself in individuals in a variety of ways. The disease lacks specific symptoms and triggers that are true of everyone. The disease varies person to person. For myself, the weather tends to be a very specific trigger for me. If pressure systems come into the area that include heavy rains or even high humidity, I know that I will have a “bad balance day”. If that day is simply the beginning of a string of similar weather days, I can be so off-balance by day 3 or 4, that I practically have to CRAWL up and down steps. It’s rather embarrassing to crawl when you are 45 – believe me!

Here in Maryland, we have had a significant amount of sunny, low-humidity days. As a result, my balance has been pretty good. Yesterday, I did laundry and actually jogged up and down the steps WITH a laundry basket. Yet I forget sometimes that in spite of my having few visible symptoms, I still HAVE Meniere’s disease even on bright sunny days.

Chloe does a number of things for me, only some of which are hearing alerts (what she was originally trained for at Fidos For Freedom). Chloe has also been trained to help me with a number of “balance assist” tasks which are very helpful on days I am experiencing Meniere’s disease symptoms. As a matter of fact, there are weeks that Chloe actually does more balance work for me than she does hearing alerts. One thing we have taught her to do is to “roll” her own blanket. I carry a blanket that is HERS. The blanket goes to every place I teach. It smells like her and she knows it is her “safe place” to be unless I ask her to do something for me. I usually put it out of the way in the classroom, but where she can easily see me. The blanket and Chloe are usually within 4-5 feet of me at all times. Below is a video of Chloe “rolling” her blanket — she adjusts the carpet square to be high enough that I can easily reach it without having to bend past my limitations.

Harsh Reminders

I get aggravated at family and close friends sometimes when they make suggestions for me to do something or try something that they KNOW I cannot do. It’s easy to forget certain things I cannot do because I don’t walk around with a sign on my shirt that says, “Beware of fall when bending!” You know what? Sometimes the person who forgets what I can and cannot do is – ME. You’d think I’d always be aware of the fact that I cannot bend to get something off the floor without paying the price. For me… bending far enough to retrieve something off the floor means that I lose consciousness for just a few seconds. Everything goes “black” in my vision, and my “hearing” (even with a cochlear implant) turns off. As soon as I stand back up, everything snaps back into focus. If I bend quickly, (for example to try and catch something as it is falling), I usually “join” the item on the floor… only I am sprawled out looking ungainly and mystified as to how I got there.

We’ve had beautiful weather here in Maryland lately. I need to remind myself on days like these that I still HAVE Meniere’s disease. In class this morning, I began gathering my things up to pack into my bag and exit the room. I dropped my roll sheet, so Chloe went over to pick it up and bring it to me (an automatic retrieve). As I was standing next to her pink blanket, I decided to save myself time and reached down to pick up her blanket. I lost my balance and my forehead crashed into the podium. After connecting with a wicked CRACK, the impact popped me back on my caboose. Thankfully, I didn’t lose consciousness. Chloe trotted over to me with the roll sheet and dropped it into my lap. She wagged her tail at me, nose 3 inches from my face.

“Hey Denise! Umm… why are you on the floor?” (Yup. I can read my assistance dog’s mind. Scary, huh?)

“Guess I should have had you roll your blanket, huh Chloe?”

Upon hearing “roll blanket”, she calmly rolled the end of the blanket and then tugged it over closer to where I sat.

I heard a student over my shoulder ask, “Ummm. Mrs. Portis? Are you OK? Was that your HEAD?”

I tried to chirp out in a manner that was convincing, “Oh sure! I’m fine, no problem!”

As I used Chloe in a stand/stay to get off the floor… I thought to myself one word – over and over again.

stupid

Stupid

STUPID!

Harsh reminders are needed from time to time, if not for any other reason than to remind us of the consequences of forgetting our own limitations.

We need to remember our own limitations. As a person with hearing loss, it helps me to remember that I cannot hear well in really noisy, crowded areas. If I need to have a conversation with someone, it is better to ask them to step over to the side out of the “hub-bub” of noise if I need to talk to them. Failure to acknowledge what I cannot do well (hearing in noise) only results in that I will be frustrated and angry at my inability to understand the conversation. If I want to play with my dogs, I need to remember to sit on the floor in order to tug on toys, throw balls, and squeak stuffed animals at them. If I try to “play” standing, I am sure to take an unplanned nosedive.

Have you had some harsh reminders about your own invisible illness or disability? Some lessons are hard to learn!

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Sometimes? There’s Not a Great Solution…

Chloe doesn't know Spanish...

Sometimes? There is not a great solution available for positive advocacy.

This past Friday, my 21-year-old daughter asked me to go shopping with her. I’m always thrilled when she CHOOSES to spend time with me, so I agreed so long as it was the morning so that we could “beat the heat”. She agreed. She wanted to shop for new “under things” and I knew JCPenny was having a sale on these items. Kyersten, Chloe and I headed for Annapolis Mall to shop.

The bad thing about shopping in the “intimates” department is that there is not much room to maneuver. I was having some difficulty with my balance as well so I was just being extra careful about how much moving I had to do. Chloe does great even in confined spaces with the exception of that tail. I talk to her a great deal while we are out because it helps to keep her attention on me. Kyersten was busy looking at different styles available.  My main job was to offer the occasional opinion and situate Chloe so that her tail didn’t knock things off with her loving “wag”. Chloe may not understand all that I say to her, but she does know her name and will wag as if she is paying attention to everything else I’m saying. Because my attention was on HER, and as we were in “tight quarters”, I was taken by surprise by two little girls who ran up and threw their arms around Chloe’s neck.

One little girl was about 4-years-old, and the other (obviously big sister) was probably 9 or 10-years-old. I stuttered out, “Oh! I’m sorry. She’s a working dog and cannot be petted right now”. The girls continued to squeeze and talk excitedly.

I tried to tune in a bit better and realized they were talking in Spanish. With my heart plummeting to my stomach, I held up my hand and shook my head NO saying, “Please don’t pet her. She is a working dog”.

The older girl stopped and tried to talk to me in English, and I understood “She’s a pretty dog”. At this point Chloe broke her sit/stay in order to break the choke hold. I was unprepared and went to my knees and caught myself on a rack.

With bras, panties, and tiny hangers attached to various body parts, I again held up my hand, shook my head no and said, “No please!” in a very firm voice. As I was still wobbling, I sat on my caboose to get my bearings.

The older girl said, “Oh … sorry” with some other words that I could not make out because of the accent. I did understand that she understood that Chloe was NOT to be petted. In Spanish she (I think) explained to her younger sister about Chloe. I think she realized something was amiss because I was now sitting on the floor with lingerie scattered around me. She left quickly with her little sister in tow.

I had Chloe brace so that I could get up, and asked my daughter to pick up some scattered articles. (Chloe could have, but I didn’t figure anyone else would want dog saliva on merchandise). Right as I was on one knee about to stand, the youngest came zooming around the corner with a squeal to squeeze Chloe again (who was now in a stand/stay and “brace”). I held up my hand and intercepted the young lady and my hand blocked her at the chest. Although I did not PUSH, it did stop her in her tracks. I said firmly with a head shake, “NO!” She turned and ran away.

I did NOT want to place my hands on someone else – let alone a child. I didn’t injure her, but I really felt out of options. I was “rattled” the remainder of the day. I was very upset with MYSELF that the resolution to this problem ended up playing out like it did.

When All Else Fails… Be Firm

I did look around for the youngster and never did see her or her older sister during the remainder of our shopping trip. When something doesn’t go according to plan I tend to beat myself up about it I’m afraid! I kept thinking about other options I may have had, and tried to think of what I might do should this happen again. (I’m open to suggestions – grin).

Sometimes we can try to advocate in a positive way – and the situation may just fall apart. Sometimes? You just have to be firm and resolute. We should always try to be positive and upbeat at the beginning…

“It would assist me in staff meetings if everyone would just pop a hand up before speaking so I can locate who is talking”.

“I can easily do my share of answering the phone if I had access to a captioned telephone that would provide understanding for when I don’t hear everything”.

“She’s not a pet. She’s a service dog and she can come into the store with me”.

Yet there are times we may have exhausted other options and have to stand firm.

“I need everyone to simply pop your hand up with a small wave before you speak. Thanks in advance”.

“I will require a captioned telephone so that I can do my job and share the task of answering the phone”.

“Here is a flier about what the ADA says about my rights. I’ll be over there shopping should you have any additional questions”.

I don’t think ANY of us welcome having to be firm and insistent, but there is a time and place for being firm. I try to always remember that there will be others who come after me that may also have accessibility issues. How I handle a situation may condition someone with normal hearing to respond to the next person they interact with who has a disability. There are times, however, when all pleasant and positive avenues have been closed to you. Even in your firmness… keep your cool. Keep it short and stick to the facts. My husband grins and tells me, “Denise! TMI. Keep it short! They don’t care about your background or care to hear your story”!

Accents, Foreign Languages, and Hearing Loss

The great thing about our country is the diversity. Because of where I live there are a large number of minority populations who speak English as their SECOND language. I do not speak an oral foreign language so I’m a little jealous of those who can! My mother taught high school Spanish for over twenty years, but her children never learned (much to her dismay). I have a lot of respect for people who speak English as their 2nd language. It is difficult, however, to understand language when an accent distorts the way a cochlear implant and/or hearing aid pick up the words. I have trouble understanding people with thick accents that may speak PERFECT English. I even have problems with American accents such as folks from Boston, Texas, etc. (I understand “Southern” as I lived there for so long!)

However, the fact that I have difficulty with accents, is MY problem. People with hearing loss should have patience with those who speak other languages as their primary language. I have heard late-deafened folks demean and criticize those who speak other languages. I always think to myself, “Really?” It is far more productive to explain that you have a hearing loss and have trouble understanding when an accent is present. Let them know that you are aware it is your problem, and pleasantly ask if they can perhaps speak slower and face you when they speak. I’ve overheard HoHearies blast people with heavy accents – as if it is THEIR fault! Always – ALWAYS – remember you are an advocate for others with hearing loss whether you signed up for it or not! If you are negative, critical and defensive, you are having a negative influence on how the rest of us are treated in the future. Yes, it can be frustrating and even embarrassing to have to ask someone with a heavy accent to repeat themselves again and again. But “own” the problem as yours – it isn’t their problem. It’s a big thing to be fluent in more than one language, so treat them with the respect they deserve.

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal