If You Want Me To

Since I recently posted about getting my daughter, Kyersten, ready for college… I wanted to follow-up with a very special post.

Kyersten is an incredible young lady.  I realize I’m “her mom”, but those who know her can tell you that she is very special.  I really look forward to the coming years to see how she continues to grow and mature!

Kyersten has always loved sign language, and grew up as a wonderful CODA (children of deaf adults).  She was a big help to me prior to my cochlear implantation, and has been an interpreter in our church and served in deaf ministries for a number of years.  She has taken 5 levels of sign language, and frankly I can’t teach her much more than I have.  Like me, she recognizes and respects the differences between those who cannot hear and use sign, and those who chose to be oral like myself.  (I know sign and even teach it.  I don’t use it in my everyday life, however, as everyone I know has normal hearing).

She has had a tough week.  A great number of emotional things have happened, and she’s learned some very hard lessons about people.  I wanted to share a video she had taped this week.  The song is by Ginny Owens, and I’ve captioned it for those of you who do not hear well.  Enjoy!

Denise Portis

© Hearing Loss Journal

Visiting College with a Hearing Loss

Yesterday Terry, Kyersten and I went to college.

We are blessed that our kiddos get to go to their first two years “free”, as long as they attend where “Daddy” works!  Needless to say, Kyersten is enrolled in Anne Arundel Community College this Fall!

The first hour, Kyersten stayed curled up with a computer somewhere while Terry and I went to visit one of his bosses.  Charlene was very nice, and Terry had “coached” her how best to communicate with me.  Her office was very quiet, which helped a great deal.  Noisy environments are tough places to try to have a “hi, how are you?” conversation with a new person.  For some reason the subject of Kyersten always comes up (Is she excited?  Is she single?  What does she like to do?) at AACC, when the other person has a college-aged SON.  I suppose I should get use to that!

Terry and I then went to get Kyersten and we “walked” through her class rotation.  She opted to do all of her classes on Tues/Thurs this first semester.  She is taking 13 hours, so that’s only 4 classroom locations to find.  Easy, right?

The campus is beautiful and is set in the middle of a park, really!  Foot bridges, walking paths, gardens, and wildlife abound… much to Chloe’s chagrin as she was “in vest” and working!  We got turned around a couple of times trying to find all of Kyersten’s classes.  Part of the problem, was that Terry kept looking for elevators as he knows I don’t take stairs well.  When I finally figured out what he was doing, I made him go back and “show Kyersten the way” minus the elevators.  So I had a few flights of stairs to climb, but did great with Chloe next to me.  We had a storm front come through over the weekend, so my balance was still a little “off-kilter”.  I’m glad that Chloe actually brings attention to the fact that there is “something different” about me.  It discounts any possibility that I’ve been drinking, as my gait can be a bit wobbly when my Meniere’s symptoms are subsiding!  At least I was able to get a lot of great “staircase” training in with Chloe.  I usually avoid them, but do need the exposure to this “danger” in a controlled environment occasionally!

It struck me as funny and yet ironic, that as she stood in each classroom making comments about places she’d like to sit, I found myself looking for the “best place to sit” as well.  Where a person with hearing loss would sit, however, is a little different than where a college-aged freshmen would sit!

The bookstore was a madhouse, but we bravely entered the foray and muscled our way to the nearest student employee.  Service dogs are well known at AACC, so Chloe was ignored and allowed to work for the most part.  She was totally bored in a down/stay, even amidst the mayhem of a college bookstore before classes start!  All that great “noisy environment” training at Fidos For Freedom is worth it!  After trying to fight my way through the narrow isles, I finally just went and waited with Chloe over to the side as Kyersten was in “good hands”.

Kyersten was so excited the rest of the day!  I’m sure that walking through her rotations, finding all the student “hang outs”, and meetings some of the students made it seem more “real” to her.  Even buying textbooks brought it “home” to her that she is getting ready to start a new chapter in her life!  The kid loves books!  She poured herself into them the remainder of the day!  I don’t have to “hear perfectly” to recognize the excitement in her voice!  There are numerous campus Bible studies and clubs for Christian students at AACC.  She has already begun to touch base and will very likely be immersed in “college life” by mid-August.

Am I ready for this?  (yeah!  I am!)

Denise Portis

Are you too sensitive?

For curiosities sake, I went to my favorite hearing loss forums and discussion boards and counted the number of topics that had to do with “hurt feelings” and being “too sensitive”.  I knew the subject had come up in one form or another on every site I’ve been too, yet I was surprised to finally give up counting after 75 “finds”!

Just like people with “normal” hearing, people with hearing loss can be too sensitive.  This subject has been discussed a great deal in my household lately, and you’ll note my daughter recently posted on this topic.  What does being “sensitive” even mean?

According to one source, (as it pertains to feelings and people), it can mean:

Of a person, easily offended, upset or hurt.

This is different that being sensitive to the burdens, worries, and problems of others.  That type of sensitivity stems from an empathy that leads you to step in and make a difference.  (Something ALL of us should learn to do better!) When you have this kind of sensitivity, you are in high demand as a friend.  Your sensitivity is towards OTHERS, not self.

But people with hearing loss can be too sensitive to the comments made by others, or even facial expression and body language.  I know this because I AM a person with hearing loss, and I can BE this way sometimes!  In the beginning especially, I found it very hard not to react in a really defensive way towards others.  Through observing the examples of those who modeled genuine acceptance for who they are, I too, have learned to appreciate the good and bad of hearing loss.

How can you know if you are highly sensitive?

Psychologist Kyra Mesich asks the following questions:

Do you feel emotions often and deeply?

Are you keenly aware of other people’s feelings?

Are you easily hurt or upset by insults or unkind remarks?

Do you avoids conflicts and confrontations?

Can you not easily release sad or upset feelings?

Do you feel deeply for others’ suffering and pain?

Are you prone to recurrent depression?

Are you keenly aware of and affected by beauty (art, music, nature)?

Do you feel overwhelmed or depleted by too much stimuli (large crowds, loud noises, hectic environments)?

Were you sensitive as a child?

If you answer “yes” to some or many of these questions, chances are you are very sensitive.  You’ll note that some of things things are POSITIVE!  Some of these are considered to be a strength and add to your character.  Some types of sensitivity create problems, however.  This negative type of sensitivity can alienate the people who love you, and hurt your character.

I believe that many times an acquired disability creates new feelings of sensitivity that perhaps were not there before. Some people feel like their entire world has changed, and nothing is as it was! They become “hyper” sensitive as they re-learn how to interact with their world now that one of their major senses is missing.

What are some things that can help you become less sensitive? (When I say this I do not mean that we should become “hardened” towards the needs of others!  I mean that we become less defensive, and overreact “less”!)

I’d love to hear from some of you!  Feel free to email me your own ideas, or post a comment of some tips of your own! (Check/click “comments” as needed as some will likely post their own ideas in this section instead of emailing.  Emailed comments will be cut/pasted at the end in RED. )  Some things I have thought of…

1.  Learn to give the benefit of the doubt.

This is not easy to adopt, yet we really can change our way of thinking and learn to give the benefit of the doubt to others.  We should start with those close to us, and trust their hearts that they meant no harm in what they said.  Don’t try to tell me that you can’t ignore what your heart and “feeler” is experiencing!  Take it from someone who use to wear their feelings on their sleeves!  You really CAN change the way you think!  Deliberately choose to “believe the best”, time after time.  Eventually it will become a habit, and you will find that you assume the best in a natural way.  At first, however, you may have to consciously CHOOSE to think in a positive manner.  (Phil. 4:8)

2.  If unsure, immediately ask for clarification.

Especially in the beginning, you may need to do a lot of this!  After all, you are trying to break a bad habit of over-reacting to people’s comments or expression! If you are left puzzling (or “smarting”) over something someone said, hold up your hand and ask!  Something as simple as… “Whoa!  Wait a minute!  You ARE teasing, aren’t you?”  Don’t sit around stewing about it if you aren’t sure!

3.  Learn to notice the “silliness” too… and notice it FIRST!

What a revelation it was to me to learn that the tension in a situation could be easily diffused by being the first to notice how silly it was!  If I mishear something, I have learned to stop and parrot what I thought I heard.  Sometimes it is hysterical! I believe this helps others in two very important ways.

1) Others learn HOW you sometimes hear something.  It may cause them to choose their words more carefully in the future.

2) They learn that you are a “safe” person.  You can see the “funny” in life and look at things in a positive light.  If you are comfortable with your disability, chance are they will be too.

4.  Recognize that being “sensitive” is not a positive trait.

I’m always amazed when people brag like it’s a GOOD thing to be a really sensitive person!  Certainly if we are sensitive to the needs of others, we can really be used to make a difference!  But if your sensitivity is in how you respond to others, then it has become all about “SELF”.  We become so intent on how WE feel or were made to feel, we totally miss looking to others.  By realizing what a negative trait it is to be highly sensitive, we can better change a behavior we have developed or inherited.  If you don’t first see how this is hurting who you are and what you can be, it is unlikely you will be stimulated to change!  “Own” that you have a problem and need to change.

5.  Determine if the real issue is SELF-esteem.

It was very liberating for me to realize that one of the reasons I over-reacted to everything was my own poor self-esteem.  A phrase often used to describe me was that she “makes mountains out of mole-hills!”  (I still have my mole-moments!  Smile!)  It may be that you need to work on YOU, before you can get past being overly sensitive to others.  Find some good books or devotionals on self-esteem.  One CAN improve their self-esteem.  If we have a poor opinion of ourselves now that we are deaf, chances are we think everyone else feels the same way.

In the end, what helped me the most was that I wanted to be surprised when someone WAS deliberately trying to hurt me.  I had been living as though people meant something in a mean way, and was surprised to discover they did not.  I desperately wanted to change that around.  I wanted to live and respond in such a way that it was normal for people to mean well.  The only surprise I wanted to experience was when someone WAS intentionally trying to hurt me.  I’ve found that I’m rarely surprised.

Denise Portis

© Hearing Loss Journal

(From LB) I was once told “We only tease those we love”. After I became super sensitive about things, people quit teasing me. I looked around and noticed that there were very few people who loved me enough to trust me with good-natured teasing. That told me a lot. I vowed to change my ways!

(From TTU) Your quote about being a “safe” person reminded me of a great book entitled: “Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t” by Drs. Cloud and Townsend. People who are overly sensitive are not “safe”. I didn’t want to become one of those people after my hearing loss!

(From Vicki) I know that I am sensitive. I am learning in ways how to deal with it. This does not always have anything to do with my hearing loss. Some people tease me in a friendly way and at first I did not take it that way until one person pulled me aside and said that others were just trying to lighten the mood around me as I can be too serious at times. When I started commenting in a friendly teasing way back to them, they were pleased that I was coming around and included me in more things. I am now learning to listen to how the comments are said and who is saying it. This can make a difference into who is stating it. I am also learning to take things one day at a time. I am also learning to be more positive in the way I handle things as the more I do this, the more people has been responsive and truly trying to help me out. This is a step by step process and I was fortunate enough to have a friend who took the time to work with me. I still have a long ways to go.

Thanks for sharing this with us Denise and enlightening us with such a wonderful way of opening us up to how we need to learn to face all this.


I was told this week by someone I was close to that my teasing had been hurting their feelings. I was so surprised and felt very badly about it. It had never occurred to me, that I was being insensitive or mean. I was very hurt.

Part of it I think, is because of the families we grow up in. Maybe this person’s family didn’t tease often or in the same way that mine does.  In my family, we are always gently poking fun at each other and teasing. If it ever did hurt, we let the other know right away, and they wouldn’t do it again. But I don’t remember that ever being a problem.

The boys, Dad and Chris, are especially big on teasing and even good-natured name calling when in competition with each other. They love jeering and laughing…all in fun. For example “My grandma could do that better in her sleep!!!” All silly…all teasing…all in fun.

Mom is one of the best sports I know. She pokes fun at herself all the time…including her hearing loss and balance problems. She doesn’t cry or become embarrassed when she doesn’t hear something or stumbles because of her balance. She’ll laugh at herself, which makes us feel like we can laugh WITH her. I have always admired this about my mom. When she mishears something, (and sometimes she can be really OFF on what she hears), she is always the one to lead the laughing. She lets herself kindly and lovingly be teased. And I consider her a sensitive person…but not in a defensive way.

Everyone in my family has learned there is a time to tease. For instance, if mom is treated like she is a lesser person because of her hearing loss at some meeting or errand, we don’t laugh. We try to comfort and are righteously angry on her behalf. If I mess up in front of people while giving some sort of small speech, they won’t laugh. They will comfort and hug.

But we’ve all learned to laugh at the small mistakes and to tease each other. This situation with this person has taught me to be careful with who I tease or how I do it. (For example, teasing over instant messaging may not be the best, since there is no facial expression or voice). I can’t expect everyone to be like my family, and they know me better than anyone.  They know the way I tease and how I mean it. It has also made me appreciate my Mom, who can laugh at the things that happen with her hearing loss and balance, and in doing so, she creates an atmosphere of cheerfulness… not depression. She is amazing and I really admire her.

Kyersten Portis

Prepare Your Feet

As she is a service/assistance dog, I work hard at keeping Chloe in great shape.  I maintain her weight, bathe her, brush her teeth, groom her, and take care of her feet.  Chloe is usually fast asleep when I give her a pedicure.  I guess she only gets pedicures!  She can’t have a manicure being she doesn’t have hands… only feet!  Chloe gets her nails clipped and then dremeled, and the hair on her feet is trimmed away to keep debris from getting in her footpad hair, and to allow maximum traction.  I “prepare her feet“, because she has an important job.

As a person with hearing loss, I have to “prepare my feet“. I can’t just get up every day, with little to no preparation and expect to function at my best.


I “prepare my feet” by making sure I get a good night’s rest.  Fatigue can be a real enemy of a person with hearing loss.  It takes extra effort to read lips, “listen”, and communicate.  I try to eat right, and eliminate salt and caffeine as much as I can to help me manage Meniere’s symptoms.


I always reflect on communication disasters in order to better prepare for the next problem.  To “prepare my feet” mentally, I dissect failed communication situations and attempt to discover what I did RIGHT, and what I did WRONG.  I have even role-played with my family members or HLAA chapter members in order to better discover situational communication strategies that work better for different personalities.


Preparing my feet” emotionally is difficult.  I am an emotional person.  A true “melancholy”, I have all the strengths and WEAKNESSES of this personality.  I remember that by responding positively and with grace, it will normally yield patience and understanding from those hearing folks I’m in contact with each day.  I try very hard not to take things personally, and to not live in a defensive and paranoid manner.  I remind myself that those closest to me are impacted by my hearing loss as well.  I should extend the same grace that I desire from them.


As a person of faith, I am very conscious of how important it is to “prepare my feet” spiritually.

First and foremost, I recognize that God is truly the only one that can meet the needs of this many times self-centered, pessimistic child.  I rest in the fact that He alone communicates with me perfectly.  I can even remove my CI, “climb up in His lap” and pour my heart out.  I “hear” Him just fine and acknowledge that I should read His word daily.

Secondly, I know that just as His Son washed the feet of His followers to show what true servant hood is, I need to “prepare others’ feet” to show that my own spiritual feet are prepared.  I want to help people… especially those with hearing loss.

I openly and frankly admit that I often do not know how to do that at this stage in my life.  I have a tiny, “baby” HLAA chapter that is struggling due to lack of volunteers.  I no longer have speaking opportunities and venues in which to speak to those with hearing loss.  And yet…

… doors are opened to me almost daily to reach out in some way.  This past week, I’ve talked to a television station reporter about hearing loss, touched base with Walk4Hearing contacts, heard from numerous readers from a “hearing loss blog” network, and while running errands meet individuals who notice my CI bling and ask questions.  Being a servant simply means being available.  To be available… “prepare your feet“.  You will be surprised at the number of doors opened in which you can make a difference in someone’s life.

Denise Portis

© Hearing Loss Journal

A Number of “Firsts”

Kyersten (my 18-year-old daughter) and I went to Florida last week to stay with my parents.  It was a “senior” trip of sorts.  We didn’t really DO anything, but both of us needed a week of “not doing anything”.  Mom and Dad had company the week before we came, so I think they were perfectly fine with Kyersten and I coming to read, walk, “hang-out” and practice laziness.

Chloe didn’t do well on the plane trip there.  She has flown a great number of times with trainers, but this was only the third time with me.  We only travel by plane about 2 times a year now.  That’s infrequent enough that she is still nervous.  At least on the plane ride home, she did better thanks to some homeopathic, herbal help from Rescue Remedy.

Chloe is trained to do a “stand/stay” while being searched for security purposes.  We even practiced this at Fidos For Freedom the Saturday before we left for our trip.  Chloe has so much metal on her due to 6 tags, collar, vest, etc., that she always sets the security bells and whistles off.  (I find it amusing that my cochlear implant, hearing aid, etc., all allow me through without problem!)  The security lady asked me prior to searching Chloe… “Does she bite?”  I assured her with a grin that “she doesn’t bite, but she may KISS you!”.

Wouldn’t you know that Chloe would go all a-wiggle with the search, kissing the agent to the point that it plopped her on her behind?  She was laughing so hard she could hardly “search” Chloe correctly.  The laughter only made Chloe more excited.  Chloe can be SO professional when needed!  (eye roll)

We had a series of “firsts” that I thought I’d post through picture/caption.  They may not have been complete “firsts” for her as Chloe was raised by a puppy raiser, and then trained in a couple different trainer’s homes.  But they were FIRSTS for “us”.

FIRST!  Florida heat and humidity!

FIRST!  Florida sunset!

FIRST!  Florida thunderstorm! (And I could “hear” it! Was I thrilled or what?)

FIRST!  Learning hardwood floors are cooler!

FIRST!  Indoor pond in a “birdcage”

FIRST!  Pond goldfish IN the indoor pond!

FIRST!  Porch swing… and Grandma’s Cockapoo, Simba!

FIRST!  Sandhill Cranes!  Kyersten told me they sounded like “Velocoraptors” from Jurassic Park.  They certainly weren’t scared of Chloe.  They were aggressive!

FIRST!  Olympic size swimming pool

FIRST!  Helping Denise up WIDE, steps with open rails on each side!

FIRST!  Watching Denise’s “puppy” do weird things with something called a “noodle”!

FIRST!  Riding a golf cart!

FIRST!  Walk with Denise in Florida’s heat.  (Never did see any alligators in the ponds!)

Denise Portis

©2008 Hearing Loss Diary


My son Chris 17 years old

I came across the blog of a an old friend today.  (Well SHE’S not old, because we are the same age… and gee!  I AM NOT OLD!)  I almost didn’t “recognize” her as she has a new name and is a published author!  (You GO girlfriend!)

Her latest post dealt with the ability to observe.  Gee.  Those of us who are late-deafened have certainly mastered this ability, haven’t we?  Well, I guess if we haven’t mastered it yet, then we are still banging our heads against something hard and useless, trying desperately to get a grip on an acquired disability we didn’t ask for!  It’s in our best interests to be good students of observation.

My dad loves to shop… in malls nonetheless.  Ok, I’m stretching the truth a bit, but he does enjoy going with my mom to shop in malls.  Why?  He loves to sit and observe.  I’ve OBSERVED him “observing” and get pretty tickled as his face is definitely transparent as he “observes” this person… and THAT one!  He loves to eavesdrop, and I’ve been very entertained by things he’s observed when sitting at the mall waiting for Mom.

Learning to really decipher facial expression and body language is “key” for someone who doesn’t hear.  I like to think I’m an expert.  However, now that my son is 6′ 3″ tall and I’m looking straight up his nose when face-to-face in a typical mother/son “discussion”, I’ve come to the realization I still have a lot to learn about observation.  (“MOM!  I’m NOT rolling my eyes!  You can’t even SEE my eyes!  You’re staring at my belly button!”)  SMACK. 

Observation according to Dictionary.com:

1. an act or instance of noticing or perceiving.
2. an act or instance of regarding attentively or watching.
3. the faculty or habit of observing or noticing.

Yup.  We could all do with brushing up on learning to OBSERVE.

Denise Portis
©2008 Hearing Loss Diary