What’s Different? Not So Sure About This After All…

Saturday Chloe and I were both very excited about finding ourselves on the road to Fidos For Freedom in Laurel, MD, for training. We recently moved so that my husband wouldn’t have to travel 90 miles (one way) each day for work and have finally unpacked the last box. With no other pressing responsibilities or priorities in my way to keep me from attending training, I gratefully got up and prepared for a training class.

The closer we got to Fidos, the more Chloe whined. I love hearing her whine because it reminds me that I CAN. In a close environment like the car, I can always hear her “dog noises”. Sometimes outside or in the house I may miss that. (Part of the reason she comes to actually GET me for an alert…) By the time we parked, Chloe was practically clapping her paws together. (Well – yeah, that is impossible, but you get my meaning…)

After warming up on the training floor, Pat (Director of Training) set up some benches for a recall exercise. Now Chloe has recall exercises down and rarely breaks a “stay” command. I can turn my back on her, practically “hide” behind another client, stand 100 feet away, etc., and she will stay where I put her until called. This didn’t come easy for her in the beginning and she managed to cause many a trainer to pull their hair out. Pat had Chloe and 2 other dogs sit within the “box” she made with benches in the middle of the floor and we did a “regular” recall exercise. Imagine my surprise when Chloe broke her “stay” and headed right for me without being called. She responded to moving dogs around her instead of watching me. I put her back where she belonged and set about to try again. Pat was “speaking in my head” (via t-coil and the looped training room) that we should not be surprised if our dogs don’t respond as we expect because “SOMETHING IS DIFFERENT“. With that thought going through my mind I determined to watch Chloe’s body language more closely this time. As soon as I sat her down and went some distance I could tell she was nervous. Although she was staying in a “sit/stay”, she was juggling her body weight and fidgeting. Her ears were down and her eyebrows were crinkled as she looked at me across that distance.

Something was different. It was minor. But golly did it make the biggest difference to my otherwise well-adjusted hound dog! One minor change and she was unsure and ill-at-ease. Likely because I was making an effort to really pay attention to her body language more so than usual, I could tell that for the remainder of the training hour she was unsure of herself.

We approached those same benches later in the hour for an “under” training exercise. Pat advised us to remove correction collars because for many dogs this was “new” and we didn’t want to accidentally tug and give them even a minor correction. I removed Chloe’s leash/collar (and other than a quick interception as she made a bee-line for “her trainer”), coaxed her under those benches and through the exercise in a matter of minutes. Others may not have noticed. I did… because I was taking the time to notice. For even something that was “easy” for her… she was still trembling in approaching those benches. I could see the hair on her legs shaking. She was more confident because of my proximity, but still unsure of this “different”, staged set-up in the middle of the floor. These “different” exercises are good for our dogs. It helps them respond with more confidence when something happens out of the ordinary in public.

What’s Different?

It’s amazing to me how the smallest change in my environment can influence how well I hear. For example, having moved to a home with few carpeted areas, I’m dealing with hearing in an ‘echo’ and having some sounds “bounce around”. New place with no carpet – small change! Yet it still makes a difference in how well I hear.

Two men with very similar voice/speech patterns can be talking to me. Slap facial hair on one of them and I may have more difficulty understanding one over the other.

My new home has very narrow staircases. I can actually ascend and descend at a normal pace! The staircases at work, however? They are much wider and open, in architecture with higher ceilings. Both staircases take you up or down… but the wider, more open ones cause extreme vertigo while I can practically jog up and down the ones at home!

I can “circle left” on the training floor with Chloe and have no problems. “Circle right” practically knocks me on my butt though! When your world constantly defaults to spinning in a counter-clockwise direction, turning the opposite way can be problematic! I can go through revolving doors that go counter-clockwise. I have learned to avoid the ones that turn clockwise! Small changes can have a big impact.

Cumulative Effect of Small Changes

I try to be independent and confident. It’s one of the reasons I chose to be partnered with an assistance dog. I didn’t like having to rely on my family to tell me my phone was ringing or to pick things up for me that I dropped. I can be determined and full of “I am WOMAN – hear me ROAR” attitude and still find that small changes can have a cumulative effect on me. If I’m tired, sick, emotionally spent, stressed because of finances or work, “at odds” with a friend or family member, or haven’t given God the time of day lately, I find that the cumulative effect can really knock me off my feet (which sometimes may be quite literally!).

I’m a real believer in trying to recognize “red flags” and control what you CAN. Getting 8 hours of sleep every night for me is actually a main priority. I’ve had my peers ask, “How in the world can you get 8 hours of sleep EVERY night? Who does that?”

I do.

If I don’t get enough rest, it influences how well I hear and affects my balance. But ya know? As a friend recently emailed me and explained… “life happens” – planning, preparation, and “best intentions” sometimes fall short. Numerous “small” changes and differences occur in our normal routine that can ultimately have a big impact on how well we function – living with disabilities. I think we have to be on the look out for this cumulative effect. We may find we are getting sick more often. Perhaps if you’ve struggled with depression, you may find that you are feeling down more often than you were. Maybe you just NEVER feel completely rested.


The reason you may not be hearing as well as you were (or whatever acquired disability you may be dealing with) may be that you simply need a new “map” (for those of you who are CI users), or a new hearing aid. Maybe your family have just gotten lazy and have forgotten that they need to face you. You may need to have a “family pow-wow” again. But sometimes? Sometimes we aren’t hearing well because all of these small changes have snowballed into a major cumulative effect on our hearing. Sit down and make a list. What changes have been going on in your life in the last week? The last month? The last year? You may find that numerous “small” stressors have taken their toll. Bramston and Mioche (2001) found that as people with acquired disability engage life with a higher stress level than someone without a disability, it may only take a small change to create problems for us. I think those of us who have lived with hearing loss for a longer period of time have discovered some tried and true coping techniques. In experiencing some “life happens” moments, we may even have a “plan B” set of responses that enable us to continue to live successfully and victoriously! The funny thing about life though? It likes to throw curve balls occasionally. We need to be wise enough to recognize a series of small changes have occurred that is keeping us from maximizing our potential.

Take a time out.


Ask for advice (and prayer).

Make any necessary changes.

Start again!

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have this exercise “nailed” like Chloe did. One small change may make you realize things are not as they seem. The first flurry of activity and scrambling of peers may have you making a bee-line for your “mommy” too!

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Bramston, P., & Mioche, C. (2001). Disability and stress: a study in perspectives. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, 26(3), 233-242. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Frost Heave

picture from blog post at: Herding Grasshoppers

I recently read a post from one of my favorite bloggers. I love Herding Grasshoppers and NOT just because her son is hard-of-hearing. She is witty, adventurous and “real”. I rarely walk away form reading one of her posts without a smile on my face.

She recently posted about “Needle Ice” and frost heave. I was very intrigued. I’ve seen frost heave when walking trails before, but wasn’t really aware of what it was I was looking at. After reading her post I immediately went to look for more information about this phenomena. Frost heave occurs when moisture-retaining soils freeze in cold temperatures. As moisture sinks into the ground the freezing temperatures cause the water to freeze into ice. When water freezes… it expands and creates pressure. The soil presses up and may expose the roots of plants and has been also known to bring rocks and pebbles to the surface. Take a close look at the picture. The ice crystals have actually brought small rocks and pebbles to the surface. Once this thaws, the rocks and pebbles are left on top of the ground. One would almost think someone had “planted rocks” in an area that may have once been clear of them!

What “Heaves” out of you?

I have given a lot of thought recently about what kind of thoughts and actions are seen in my own life when the going gets “rough“? When my life becomes saturated with a seemingly endless bombardment of trials, problems, set-backs, health problems, and struggles, I am often left pleading with God “PLEASE! Not ONE more thing!” But ya know something? God must know my limits better than I do. Because there have been some difficult times that I have prayed and pleaded “not one more thing – thanks so much“, only to have a blast of cold air on top of my already “saturated life”. Exhaustion, pain, fear, depression and plain ol’ “bad attitudes” may have HEAVED to the surface of my life. These things are usually hidden. Some of the heaving exposes some thoughts and actions that just aren’t pretty. Some of it is just “junk” and “rocks”. The “heave” may expose “roots” as well and leave areas of my life vulnerable.

This past summer, I was having a pretty difficult time. I was doing my best to stave off depression as it is an unwelcome visitor that worms its way into my life at inopportune times. I was to the point of pleading, “Not ONE more thing God – please! Hello? Are you listening?” The next day Chloe was hurt in the park. For whatever reason (as we often will not understand this side of  Heaven), God allowed ONE MORE THING. Chloe’s foot took a really long time to heal and I even had fears she would ever be able to work again. Yes, she is special to me because she is my hound dog and  “doggie friend”, but she really enables me to be more independent too! What would I do if her foot would not heal? During the months (yes you read that right) that followed a lot of “stuff” heaved out of that pressure and into full view – especially to my family. It wasn’t all pretty. I was cantankerous (a nice way of saying PAIN IN THE BUTT) and aloof. I knuckled down and did the things I HAD to, but did not exert myself to do anything else. I had a major pity party several months long.

But not everything that HEAVES out of our saturation point is bad. Sometimes we discover that in spite of disability – we are very ABLE. You learn pretty early on what you CAN do, and end up doing it really, REALLY well. My saturation points have received an extra dose of FREEZE and heaved up compassion for others, patience, encouragement, and determination. I may stand and look around at the defrosted ground and spy a rock here and there. But sometimes? Sometimes I see beautiful geodes or prisms. I’ve not discovered a diamond yet – but heck. I’m only 44. I’m certain I’ve a great number of frost heaves in my future. Diamonds come with maturity. (If you ask my family – I’m not exactly THERE yet).

Have you experienced difficult times? Things that have happened in a life that already seemed completely saturated with problems and struggles? Don’t fear the weather forecast of overnight “freezing temperatures”. Meteorologists are RARELY accurate! If they happen to actually nail it one time? Welcome the heaving frost crystals to the surface and determine to unearth GOOD THINGS. Prepare your heart in advance to showcase determination, patience, long-suffering, gentleness, kindness, and love.

Experience enough frost heave and you’ll find that the soil of your heart and life is well aerated and primed for Spring.

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal