Facing Our Fears


I wrote about a “red horse” that Chloe took a dis-liking too. The post can be accessed if you click here. As time has passed over the last couple of months, her discontent at seeing the red horse has become WORSE — not better! With a new driver in the van in the form of my 17-year-old son, Chris, I decided that perhaps a trip to the restaurant was in order so that she could see the horses up close – and personal. I wanted her to face her fears not only for her own good, but also so that my inexperienced new driver could continue to learn to drive safely!

There are three horses actually. One horse is in a tiny street level “corral”, the second one is on top of the restaurant sign, and a third is on top of the motel associated with the restaurant.

red-horse-005.jpg I was actually a “wee bit” nervous as I wasn’t sure how she would respond. Chloe understands commands and the tone of a voice. But I couldn’t exactly “reason” with her as we exited the van to face her fears. I was surprised that she practically drug me to the first red horse. I didn’t want her to “freak out” as I was in my Fidos For Freedom gear, having just returned from a DEMO to a brownie troupe. I certainly didn’t want Chloe and I to be poor representatives of my favorite organization!

I was a little bewildered that she didn’t even growl at the horse! She has such a fit in the van, I just knew the hair on her back would stand straight up as she barked her head off! As she doesn’t look nearly as cute without a head, I was glad to see her under such control. red-horse-008.jpg

Towards the end, she actually started wagging her tail. I was very glad to see her so calmly approach, study, and relax around something that has been upsetting her for months.

What made Chloe so calm around something she’s been so disturbed about for so long?

Perhaps facing her fears along side of someone she trusts helped.

I thought about how true this is of my own life as well.

Facing my fears, is much easier to do and much more successful when I have someone I trust beside me. Obviously, my biggest fear is that of my deafness. I am blessed to have a wonderful cochlear implant that maximizes my hearing, various technologies that improve how well I hear in different environments… yet I will always be a “deaf person”. I don’t hear “normally”, but I do hear. Having Chloe gives me confidence… but her partnership doesn’t give me my hearing back. I trust Chloe’s ears, and she is always beside me. So she helps me face my fears, just by her presence… which in my case is being able to hear the world around me in such a way that I stay “safe” and “aware”.

It’s also important to find people who can come along side you when you are fearful. I think that is why many people search out support when they acquire a disability. The internet is a GREAT thing. One can research, search, and FIND people who are facing the same thing they find themselves now living. There are numerous support groups, organizations, clubs and message boards for those with hearing loss.

Sharing your fears, worries and challenges with like-minded people, allow most individuals to face their fears with a little more determination, a little more courage, a little more optimism, and a little more success.

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Spring Break with an Assistance Dog


This Spring Break was much different than last year’s. For one thing Terry was off the whole week too, as he is now in “education”. It was great having him off at the same time we were! This year, I had Chloe with me too. It’s hard to believe that we will be together for a year April the 11th!

Walking around Gettysburg, felt great as I was so independent from the help (and worry) of my family! You’ll note that I am walking ALONE, and my husband was able to just enjoy himself. It’s Chloe’s job to “hear” for me now, and to assist me up and down “curbs”, etc. Even my daughter, Kyersten, (who would have probably NEVER have left home one day had I not proved I can be independent with Chloe…) was able to run ahead and check out dark allies. (That’s a different story that I’ll save for another time. Pics are on my facebook though!)

gettysburg-march-26-2008-017.jpgChloe is a “smart dog” and takes naps when she is able too. She rests so quietly under tables, she often scare waiters and other guests when we get up to leave. She really needed a nap, as she was certainly into our walks. I think she likes Civil War history…

gettysburg-march-26-2008-038.jpgTowards the end of the day we ended up at Gettysburg outlet shops. She was practically asleep on her feet, but it’s difficult to get her to lay down when I’m sitting and she knows I’m having a wobbly day. It’s hard to convince her that I didn’t need her to lean on me! I hated having to put her in a firm “down/stay” just so she’d rest. (But I succeeded as she is a very obedient dog!) gettysburg-march-26-2008-043.jpg

She and I both went to sleep pretty quickly after our trip!

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Update on Deaf for a Day

Things that make me go “hmmmm”? It’s curious as to why some years “Deaf for a Day” goes by without any ripple, with every goal I have for my students is met! Other years D4D seems to really flop! (grin)

I’ve not been able to pinpoint or “guess” how it will go, and so have not yet been able to accurately guess how my students may respond. This year I was contacted by a record number of teachers of sign (5 to be exact… usually it’s only 2-3 per year). It’s great to share ideas when teaching ASL to high school students, and “Deaf for a Day”, can be a very effective learning tool. One teacher that I have “met” online, actually has her students “Deaf for a week”! She teaches in a traditional school, however, so it’s easier to get updates from the students Monday through Friday.

I was in contact with a teacher from Texas this year who also teaches ASL to a large homeschool high school co-op like I do. He also teaches in another type of educational setting, and so sees “both sides” and can hypothesize about things that I cannot do. He believes that homeschool families are worse about “embracing” anything that will “mess with their schedule”, than others. I like to think that isn’t true.

This year was a “tough” year for me regarding my “Deaf for a Day” assignment. Again, I wish I knew what to look for ahead of time so that I can “brace myself” for the emotional negatives that come from students who “don’t get” the assignment. It was even suggested to me through a parent survey, that I give the students more time to prepare for the assignment. My personal opinion is that if a student has to much preparation, they aren’t really experiencing D4D. I’ve not ever met one person who planned when they’d go deaf. Not anyone who lost their hearing slowly, or overnight. So “preparing” themselves and their families is a little confusing to me. Families do not get to plan ahead for things that “hurt” when they are real.

I think that is why my daughter had such a strong reaction to what she was overhearing in the classroom. (Something I’m not able to do for obvious reasons). She was angry because some weren’t learning “anything… not even at the very beginning of the assignment”. ‘Course I also think it’s because my feelings were hurt so deeply, as well.

I believe I have more paperwork and written explanations, etc., about this assignment than most teachers of sign. And yet… it seems to be that this does not insure my students come away from D4D with new insights and having learned something valuable about their own hearing.

Certainly, the MAJORITY of my students do learn something, and the assignment is successful in giving them a glimpse of what it would be like should they become “late-deafened”… or adventitiously deaf. It allows their families to “realize” with a very sudden type of clarity, how they would react should their family member acquire a disability. The reality of the how successful this assignment may be, actually hinges on the hope that the students experience what to THEM is a NORMAL day… but doing so “deaf”. If you choose a day that is out of the ordinary, it’s not a day you can really experience D4D. I actually have had parents upset that their child wasn’t able to do anything all day long! Since when does being “deaf” keep you from school, your chores, your work, your church, your friends? Grin/grimace! The only thing I cannot do is HEAR. I worship, work, study, drive, “do chores”, love, laugh and learn. Sigh.

I currently teach 3 levels of ASL, and have taught students up to 5 levels. However, I offer the D4D assignment in ASL 1 class. I’ve always been very up front about what I teach… I do NOT only teach sign. It is important to me that my students realize that most people with hearing loss are not culturally Deaf. Deaf history, technology, advocacy and disability rights are also things we discuss and learn about in class. The D4D assignment seems to “naturally fit” into my ASL 1 class as I’m really trying to provide a good foundation about hearing loss. We don’t just learn a “few signs”. I am careful to explain my goals for the class in my “class description” and syllabus.

Each year I learn something new about D4D, and student reactions. Some years… I’m tempted to ditch the project. Some years… I yearn to change things to make it easier on the students to keep “some” (albeit a minority) from reacting so negatively.

However, each summer I come to the same realization. D4D does what it was designed to do! Not every individual who suddenly faces a disability or loss of a sense handles it well. Some react with shock, negative thinking, depression, etc. My students are people too… as are their families. I don’t have the statistics, but I imagine the percentage of those who handle it poorly, matches the percentage of folks who truly do handle real crisis poorly. It’s human nature.

Those who have negative reactions, often … eventually… recover. (The alternative is not good). Given more time… I’m sure even my students who handle the onset of “deafness” badly, will eventually turn it around. Maybe I should ask they be “Deaf for a Week”! (Naaaah! Just kidding!)

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Back to Work


Chloe was sick with a “tummy thing” Saturday through Sunday. Many people do not realize that a working dog is susceptible to occasional “tummy rumblings” and other “doggie colds” as they are exposed to so much more than a pet. At Fidos For Freedom, we are encouraged to take our working partners to the vet every 6 months for a “well check”. Chloe receives many vaccinations that are not even required by law, just to insure that her immune system has the very best defense against sickness. She gets sick about 3 times a year, and they are usually tummy things.

Early Saturday morning she woke me up with the same alert she uses to let me know my alarm was going off. At first I mumbled “good girl”, and reached for the alarm to turn it off. I think the fact that I was SO TIRED, I thought to look at the clock. 1:42 AM. Hmmm…

Chloe proceeded to show me why she got me up… poor sick girl! I put her on a hamburger/rice mixture for 48 hours. I fry and then strain (+ rinse with water) the very leanest hamburger, and boiled some white rice. Mixed together it seems to be the very best thing for an upset stomach. I keep these things on hand all the time.

The picture above is Chloe right when I told her Monday morning that we were going to “go to work”! She was so excited! She ran to the window, and then stayed literally under my feet until I dressed her in her vest to go. One of the hardest things for she and I is for me to have to put her in her kennel. Sunday morning church, and a few errands had her resting and me? Well I felt practically naked without her. I kept looking around for my backpack (Chloe’s stuff) everywhere I went. chloe-march-17th-010.jpg

Many adjustments are made and even necessary when you have a working dog. You have to prepare in advance before going anywhere. Do I have water for Chloe and her collapsible bowl? Do I have her mat? Do I have treats, extra leash, ADA law book and “rights of access” brochures? It’s almost like carrying a diaper bag with me wherever I go. I remember those days when my kids were little and I had to “cart” their stuff around. Now I am doing it again. But Chloe does so much for me… the least I can do is carry some of her things!

The nice thing about saying, “Let’s go to work”? Chloe enjoys working so much! She practically jumps into her vest, and prances right out to the van! She loves being by my side and “showing” me sounds all day long. If Chloe had her way? She’d not ever take sick leave.

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Sometimes? Sometimes it hurts…


I like to think that I approach life with a really wonderful attitude. One of the biggest reasons that I am able to do so, is that I am really so incredibly blessed! I have the absolute greatest family, a wonderful husband, an assistance dog who loves me in the way God created dogs to love people (unconditionally), a super church, etc. Even my disability is one in which I can “handle” most days, and have been blessed by the friendships of others who really have a bigger burden to bear in their own disabilities.

Some people hate the word “disability”, as it lends one towards thinking they are NOT able – hence “dis” abled. I do like to focus on what I can do, instead of those things I cannot. However, I try very hard to balance that with reality. There ARE things I cannot do as a result of my disability. I think when one says that certain physical challenges (or emotional or mental) do not affect our everyday lives, one is really embracing a state of denial. I think we have to be honest with ourselves. It is only in this way we can then go out and be honest with others. I sit in my house alone as I write this, as my family has gone to participate in RESPITE… a ministry of our church. It is a ministry I cannot participate in, as I cannot allow my own deafness and balance problems place a child with disabilities in danger. I don’t care if I tumble down the stairs, or fail to hear something that ends up hurting me. I do care should I place another in danger. I accept that my disability will not allow me to do some things… things like RESPITE.

“Honestly”? (Grin), I think Christians make a mistake when they choose to go around acting as if life is always good all the time. GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME, but sometimes? Life isn’t! Sometimes? Sometimes it hurts…

Oswald Chambers wrote in My Utmost for His Highest, “A river is victoriously persistent, it overcomes all barriers. For awhile it goes steadily on its course, then it comes to an obstacle. For awhile it is balked, but it soon makes a pathway round the obstacle. You can see God using some lives, but into your life an obstacle has come and you do not seem to be of any use. Keep paying attention to the Source, and God will either take you round (it) or remove it. Never get your eyes on the obstacle or on the difficulty.”

I really do try to live that way. I consider myself a persistent little brat! I’ve had a few barriers disguised as boulders thrown into the course of my river! Sometimes, that boulder has acted like a dam. The water rising around me made me feel defeated and useless. There were times I wanted to stay in that stagnate pool so that I didn’t have to continue my journey down the riverbed. But after lessons learned, and a new desire to persevere, the “water” broke over the top of that barrier. And golly! The waterfall created after a necessary period of “standing water” was magnificent! Even in my deafness I could hear the roar of newfound power released, as I heard it from my heart! I know that God must have looked down and saw the water finally cascade over that barrier and thought, “Ah! Now that is why I created her! Look at her go now!”

My deafness has brought me a unique and valuable group of peers, many of whom have become very close friends. My deafness has definitely coerced me closer to my God; sometimes with a gentle push and other times with a giant shove. My deafness has helped me to really “listen” with other senses, as I’ve learned to see emotions play across people’s faces more clearly. People do not realize that their emotions can many times echo off of them like waves. These emotions of tension, happiness, sadness or anger, can almost knock a person over if they are really listening with something other than ears.

It reminds me of when I stood in the Atlantic ocean about 15 years ago. My family I were staying in a condo with my father-in-law on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I stood in about 18 inches of salt water. Tears of shock poured down my face as I had been “sucker punched” with the knowledge that I could not hear the ocean. I could feel it, but I could not hear it. I grew up in Colorado – a completely landlocked state for those of you with geographical “issues”. (smile) So my very first time to stand in the ocean, trying to hear what I no longer had the hearing to do, wounded me deeply. (Now that I have a cochlear implant I have to get my ears to the ocean… well, the rest of me too! I’m fairly certain Maryland borders the ocean!) That week I did, however, learn how the ocean feels. Even in 18 inches of water, the current could be felt. My toddlers played around me in the surf and would squeal and run when they heard a big wave come crashing towards the shore. I soon learned that what I couldn’t hear, I could feel… and rarely was caught unaware by an incoming whitecap!

I think people with hearing loss can learn to hear better than those with normal hearing… if only we determine to do so.

But you know? Just when I think I’ve got a “handle” on my hearing loss and balance issues, something happens to remind me that hearing loss can still hurt. Sometimes? Sometimes it hurts…

I slammed the door of our van on my son’s hand yesterday. It was only by seeing my daughter’s horrified expression as she faced me and saw the commotion outside my door that I even knew it had happened. My first response was, “Why didn’t you holler?” Both assured me that everyone within a square mile DID hear him holler. Being able to hear, wouldn’t have meant his hand would not have been “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, but I certainly would have opened my door quicker had I heard him!

I’ve also learned that even though I tend to “read someone’s emotions well”, if that person decides to deliberately hide their feelings then I am truly “deaf”. As a mother, I find myself tagging along behind a child who is hurting, trying desperately to sense what is wrong. I feel like Sherlock Holmes sometimes, trying to deduce what might be the problem from analyzing evidence that is clear… about a problem that is NOT. If my children need their “space” and choose to not discuss certain things, it is their choice. I can sense a problem, but not be able to identify it. It can be rather annoying for a mother to shadow your every step and try to find out what is wrong! My children are growing up, and needing me less. My brain knows that, but my heart refuses to let go just yet.

I worry about how I’ll know if something is wrong, when they eventually move out… get married… and have families of their own. If I’m not within arms reach, how can I feel that something is wrong… that something is hurting them? I know and trust that God will always be that “within arm’s reach” source of comfort. Knowing it, trusting it, and being able to truly come to terms with it is something else though!

I suppose that is why my “river” will always have barriers to work around. Sometimes those barriers are big things; things that cause my river to surge to a halt. Other times, those barriers are a series of small things. Ultimately, I must press on. My river has a course to run.

Phil. 3: 13(b)-14 “but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. “

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Loving Someone with Hearing Loss, Part 2

One of my readers reminded me of a video I taped last summer of my kids explaining what it was like having a mom with hearing loss. I shared it in a workshop at a convention in both Texas and North Carolina. I thought I’d post it here as well to share with all of you.

The Kids

My hearing loss has definitely been a “hidden blessing” and I have much more to be thankful for than things in which to “whine about”!

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

Loving Someone with Hearing Loss


This past Valentines Day, my husband gave me a very special valentine’s gift. A clear umbrella! (I know, I know! You’re thinking either she is entirely to easy to please – which I’m not, or HE REALLY BLEW IT!)

The truth of the matter is that I saw I clear umbrella on a commercial a month or so before, and stated… “Wouldn’t it be great to have a clear umbrella? I would still be able to see your face when I’m walking in the rain and would be able to continue talking!”

My husband tends to “make mental sticky notes” when I say something like that. I’m allergic to cut flowers, and am usually “on a diet”, so he knows better than to get me flowers and/or chocolate. The poor man has had to be extremely creative to say the least! I think this year’s gift is the best yet.

I can walk in the rain now and still talk to someone… or even just be able to protect my CI and hearing aid better as I can hold the umbrella lower over my head!

It reminded me of the Mother’s Day two years ago… my children pitched in together and bought me a “Vivid Acoustics” clipboard. clipboard1.jpg I use it several times a week and it is one of my favorite assistive listening devices. It goes to show (in my opinion) that my kids and husband love and appreciate who I am. They don’t lament the fact that I’m deaf, and they rarely (if ever) act exasperated at my missing things occasionally. Instead, they love to surprise me with things I can use… things that help me… things that just MAKE SENSE. I love them for that.

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary

What You Can’t See Can be Scary!

I have had “my ears out” for the majority of the day so far, as I’ve been grading sign language presentations for two of my classes. (It drives my kids nuts sometimes, when they know I need only to clip my CI on, and stick my hearing aid in to hear “semi-normally”). I tape my student’s presentations, thanks to the help of my daughter and “teacher’s aide”.
kp-crop.jpg I have no idea what I will do without her next year! (sniff!)

I watch the videos of my student’s presentations “deaf”. It gives me a better picture of how a culturally Deaf person might see and understand the presentation given. It takes me about 30 minutes to grade a SL1 presentation, about a hour to grade a SL2 presentation, and about 2 hours to grade a SL3 presentation. I watch them over and over again… looking for different things. It’s amazing what I pick up not being able to “hear”. At the very end, I put my “ears on” (cochlear implant on the left, and hearing aid on the right) and watch the presentation one last time. My students would be a little disgruntled to learn that sometimes this is where points come off! “Hearing” their presentation while “watching” as well, allows certain mistakes or “wobbles” to be discovered. I’m sure they’d appreciate it if I only graded “deaf”!

Today in the backyard I was giving Chloe, my hearing assistance dog, some “down time”. I had my “ears in”, and so I do hear some of what she hears with those wonderful ears. However, I’m amazed at what I still miss. For one thing, she hears with BOTH ears. I have difficulty discerning “where” a sound is coming from as I really only hear through my implant on the left side. Imagine my surprise, when Chloe stopped dead in her tracks and started circling a spot on the ground and barking! I came closer and said, “What is it, Chloe… show me!” This is Chloe’s clue to point, or take me to a sound I can’t identify. She didn’t move! She kept growling, barking and circling a spot on the ground. I got down on my knees in order to get a closer look and really used my eyes to check out what she’d found. Chloe came over and sat right next to me, and I was astonished to feel her shaking. She was very upset! As something very obviously had her rattled, and bolted back into the house as Chloe stood “guard” over the spot.

A quick shriek, “Come quick!” had both my teens at my side almost instantly. I asked Chloe to “show me again”, and she again circled the same spot, growled and barked. The kids told me that it was a bark that definitely said, “I’m afraid”. Her trembling clued me in to that, so I certainly didn’t doubt their word.

We never did discover what it was! What you can’t see can be scary! Perhaps it was a vole? We just don’t know! It was obviously something Chloe could hear, as those wonderful ears would suddenly perk up and she’d growl and stare. (The thought that I may have a vole in my yard just makes me incredibly happy! NOT!) vole.jpg

Kyersten must not have been as rattled as I as she put her “naked dog” (Chinese crested), Pegasus, in his exercise pen for a suntan this afternoon. Who knows what voles eat?

peg3crop.jpg Apparently not “Peg”, as he is still sunning himself outside.

You know? Many things that we cannot see can be scary! Deafness isn’t something you can see. One of my kiddos works in a small retail store and have noted more than once, the look of apprehension on co-workers or other customer’s faces when it is discovered a customer is Deaf. The person “looks” normal, and it isn’t until communication takes place that differences are readily apparent. I’m very glad my kids know some sign so that they can make the Deaf feel comfortable! What people with normal hearing do not realize, is that Deaf people can do everything except… hear!

SIDE NOTE: For those of you who may be new to my blog, Deaf with a capital “D” denotes those who are culturally Deaf and use ASL to communicate. Deaf with a small “d” (deaf) are those who are oral and use their voices to communicate, but they cannot hear.

There are many disabilities that are invisible; deafness is only one. I got a little “grief” from some of my extended family for choosing to get a working dog to help me. My acquired disability was invisible to others! Why on earth would I want to make something “invisible”, visible? (I’ll save that for another post!)

What we don’t understand… things that may unnerve us? Things that scare us, may be nothing more than a cute little vole! (Actually I hope my daughter doesn’t read this as she may go out… unearth the vole and adopt it!) It would be great if all of us would learn to pay attention to things using all of our senses. God has given us intuitions and gifts that are not necessarily included in what our 5 senses pick up either! Take the time to “pay attention”. What you cannot see may be scary, but what you can hear, feel, taste, empathize with, discover and enjoy may be a … well? A vole!vole2.jpg

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary


kivak.jpg My family and I had the privilege of meeting a young author this past week. As we sat talking with this young man, it struck me how quickly a demeanor could change when talking about something you have a passion for and have researched thoroughly.

This young man is an “expert” on wolves and pack mentality due to the fact that a great amount of time went into investigating his subject matter prior to writing about it. His face lit up and his eyes danced with appreciation for any discussion that had to do with his “passion“. I look forward to talking to him more about canines and “packs” as I have an interest in it myself.

Later, I had to stop and think about that… or as we say in the South, “I pondered on it some!” Do I exude confidence and enthusiasm for those things of which I am passionate? Am I contagious?

I have a passion for people with hearing loss, obviously because I self-identify myself with this population. However, there are times I know that I advocate poorly and end up being a very poor testimony on behalf of those who are late-deafened.

I want to be the type of advocate who sits down with “someone new” to discuss my passion, and we get up from the table “like-minded”. Or at the very least, I have adequately and passionately discussed issues of hearing loss that will at least give them something to think about… they go home “ponderin’ on it!”

May all we do and all that we stand for… may everything we feel passionately about… be displayed in such a way that our passion becomes their passion!

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary