Time Off

Chloe's vest comes off and she gets the "beach rules" from Denise. Unaccustomed to being "vestless" in public, she was very attentive and unsure in the beginning


As a surprise, my husband reserved a couple of  nights in a motel at Ocean City, MD, while we were on spring break from work. (One of the perks in working for a college). Apparently March is the time to go if you are not a crowd lover – or “sun” lover. Too cool to lay out or play in the surf, but beautiful weather for walking and many opportunities for quiet time.

Chloe is normally “working” when she is in public. Determined to give her some time to just be a dog, I removed her vest for large amounts of time. She was at first a little timid about being without her vest. Once she saw some other canines on leash though, the wag was back in her tail. Even working dogs need down time. People ask me all the time if Chloe gets to relax. I always have to grin. Chloe is almost 8 years old and at home? Well, let’s just say she knows how to relax. She doesn’t wear her vest at home, but she still alerts to timers, my phone, or my name being called. But she naps (and snores), she plays with her buddy, Tyco (our family dog), she has several squeaky toys, she squirrel watches, and eagerly awaits family members coming home.

Chloe enjoys working though. She danced her way on campus just this morning and wagged her way all the way to the elevator. Sometimes I wish some of her “wag” would rub off on me as 7 AM classes on Monday seemed awfully early to me after a week off!

Everyone needs time off. It can be hard to do if you are working to pay bills, save money, or try to get out of debt. But time off can be in small, “mini” vacations. Even an hour or two here and there can be very beneficial in helping a person re-group.

People with DisABILITIES Need R&R too!

I have met a number of people with various disabilities that have confided that they rarely do what others call “fun” things. Think about it for a minute. If people who walk without assistance, hear without assistance, see without assistance, and speak without assistance enjoy things like movies, walking, reading a good book, or hanging out with friends, well? It just may not be that easy for others.

I like going to the movies. I went to see “The Hunger Games” over spring break with my husband and 21-year-old son, Chris. But I don’t get the same level of enjoyment out of movies that they do. Even with Chloe by my side, I am very disoriented in the dark, especially if my cochlear implant is picking up the very loud commercials and previews on the screen. As I make my way to a vacant seat, I am often fighting the effects of vertigo. After I get seated – hopefully in a place where people won’t have to crawl over my assistance dog and I – it takes a number of adjustments to find a good program on my CI to best hear the movie. If I do that, I sometimes find it difficult to converse to the person right next to me too. At times I miss things said in the movie. If I’m with someone I know well, I’m not bashful and will lean over and ask, “What did they say?” There are not any captioned theaters close to my home (although I am glad there are some within an hour’s drive), so most of the time I go to the same movies you would attend. However, not having captions mean I have to really pay attention! Can I just be honest and say that I’m unable to eat popcorn and catch an on-screen conversation at the same time? (BIG GRIN). I have to really focus and concentrate to understand what is going on. So it is still “fun” for me… just not perhaps the same level of “fun” it may be for you because it does take WORK.

For some, sitting down and reading a book may not be “fun”, and it doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy a good book. Some folks have trouble even holding a book, or turning pages easily. Taking a walk may relax YOU, but for someone who has Meniere’s disease it can be difficult to do a simple walk. My world constantly turns counter-clockwise. It is a slow rotation, mind you, but a rotation nonetheless! On high humidity days, the rotation picks up speed – one of the reasons I just don’t try to walk on days like that! So walking on a sidewalk in a straight line takes concentration. I have given up walking with family members. Although I enjoy the conversation, I cannot talk and walk at the same time! I can talk to my walking buddy, Chloe, and she just listens. I don’t have to worry about her end of the conversation and my having to make sense of what she said while still putting one foot down in front of the other. We love to go into the woods on trails and in grassy areas too. This requires even more concentration. I usually shut up at this point as I have to carefully balance each step. So yes… I enjoy walks but probably not on the same level you do.

Despite having to make adjustments and find a new way of doing seemingly mundane things, even folks who are differently-abled need to take breaks. Perhaps even a lot of them! They may be in the form of naps. I am learning that napping or resting is a necessary requirement for many people with certain kinds of invisible illnesses. I require 8-10 hours of sleep a night. (When I tell people that, they FALL OUT, but if it helps you get through a day “hearing well”, you do anything necessary). Others may require a nap – or TWO. They aren’t lazy. They aren’t depressed (although just like anyone, people with disabilities can and do get depressed). They simply require some extra rest in order to continue a day’s work.

Chloe "relaxing" on a mini vacation at the beach. She really knows how to de-stress!

Careful not to judge. You may wonder why someone doesn’t enjoy the same kind of “down time” you do even though you have the same disability. Each person has individual differences in their disability. I have a friend who enjoys running in his spare time. I’m talking about REAL races… the kind where you take off after hearing a starting pistol! He’s an incredible runner and does very well. He is a bi-lateral cochlear implant user. When I first met Sam, I was astonished to hear what he did for fun! Having hearing loss and balance issues, running isn’t something I can enjoy.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t look for others who are struggling with some of the same issues. We can mentor, give advice, and support someone else in a way that will give them the tools they need to live a victorious life. But do be aware that you may share a diagnosis, but have different symptoms, struggles, and issues. We can still be a listening ear and give encouragement. Just be careful about insisting on something that works really well for YOU, because it may not work really well for them.

I’d really love to hear about some of the ways you choose to unwind! What do you do to relax? What is FUN for you? What do you need to do in order to enjoy some of the things others do without accommodation?

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal






Kidney Disease and Hearing Loss

Recently, I read a blog that mentioned kidney disease and hearing loss. You can read the post HERE.

My husband, Terry, and I have been married almost 26 years. He was born with only one kidney, and the one he has doesn’t work ideally. Because he has always lived an “alcohol/drug” free life, he is in good health considering!

I have noticed, however, that he has started showing signs of hearing loss. It started with the television. We “TIVO” everything so that we can watch favorite shows when we have time to sit down and watch them together. In recent months, I have noticed that HE is asking me to turn the volume up. I’ll let that sink in for a minute (grin). I’m deaf. Sure I “hear again” with a cochlear implant, but HE is asking ME to turn up the television. He usually has the remote that fast-forwards through the commercials (as I seem incapable due to vertigo in watching the screen and trying to hit buttons). I have the remote that controls the volume.

He is also saying “huh” more. I’ve noticed it at the dinner table and also in restaurants. Granted, both places can be noisy environments, but it has been a bit of an eye-opener for me to be on the other side of that “huh?”

So as we’ve aged, my hearing has gotten better and his – not so much. I can’t say at this point he will need hearing aids, but I’m thinking the probability in the next 10 years is very high.

I want to be the kind of spouse he has been. Terry has been my biggest cheerleader, support, and source of encouragement. It can’t be easy to be married to someone who is late-deafened when you fell in love with someone who could hear. He has shown me that what happens after “I do” doesn’t impact love, commitment, or a shared life. He hasn’t let it phase him that I have a balance disorder. He picks me up if I fall, brushes me off and helps me see the “funny” in it (as long there isn’t any blood). He encouraged and supports my having a hearing assistance/balance assist dog from Fidos For Freedom. He now actually serves on their board.

So if my husband with kidney disease DOES lose his hearing? I’ll be there for him too. In the meantime, I am helping him navigate living with some adjustments regarding VOLUME.

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Link to story in Wall Street Journal:  Click HERE.



This past Sunday, my pastor spoke on discipleship. In discussion of what discipleship actually is (growth), he discussed how some people may get confused that at the end of twelve years of high school they graduate and participate in commencement. Commencement is not the end of something; rather, commencement is the beginning of the rest of your life. However, for some that may be the defining moment of their life – the culmination of all they will accomplish.

According to dictionary.com, commencement is a beginning, or a start. Merriam-Webster defines it as a point in time in which one “enters upon the next”. In just a few months, commencement will take place at a number of schools. At the community college where I work, reminders are going out to students reminding them to petition to graduate by a certain date. At Fidos For Freedom, a service dog and therapy dog organization, commencement takes place at the banquet that takes place each May. Clients who are “graduating” this year are already gearing up for speeches, festivities, and recognition of a completion of training.

Yet these exercises are not an ending to anything. Rather, they are a beginning. For college students they may be transferring to a four year college to obtain a higher degree. It may mean looking for that ideal career. For clients at Fidos For Freedom, it is the start of a new life of independence – with trainers and “family” in the wings should any further assistance be needed.

Safe People

The topic of my favorite book, “Safe People”, has been a recurring theme in many of my discussions with family and friends lately. I actually dug my copy out to read it again, because I found myself recommending it to several different people. Learning to identify and avoid unsafe people and relationships can be a hard-learned lesson. I think the truths that have permanently etched themselves on my heart and mind from this book, are how to be a safe person MYSELF. For me, it was reaching a point in time when I could turn my back on the past and boldly face my future. Sure! I took lessons learned from the past – in my relationships, problems, and successes – but armed myself with those lessons to be better equipped for my future.

It has been a commencement for me. Like Merriam-Webster explains… it is a period of time where I chose to “enter upon the next” chapter of my life.

Progressive Illness/Disability

I think one of the frustrating things about having progressive hearing loss, or chronic illness/disability, is that one may commence living life with a new charge for life , equipped to be as independent as possible, only for changes in our health to take us back to square one. Prior to my cochlear implant, I remember learning to cope with the telephone, conversations in crowded places, and learning to speak with people with poor communication habits. However, in a matter of months my hearing would take a dive and I would discover that what worked last month, didn’t work at all now! Like most families with small children at home, we lived paycheck to paycheck. We pinched pennies and scrimped and saved to purchase an amplified telephone for me. For five or six months I was in telephone heaven! I used the phone every single day with confidence and enthusiasm. It didn’t take long, however, before I was struggling to even use that new gadget. I earned a little extra time by using it when the kids were outside and the house was relatively quiet. What was once easy became increasingly difficult. Eventually, the frustration of what I wasn’t hearing, despite hearing aids set to t-coil and begging people on the other end to speak clearly into the phone, had the phone collecting dust from lack of use. I’d talk to other HoHearies and get some new ideas. At some point though? The phone became a thing of my past. I had to come up with ways to contact people other than the phone. For the late-deafened community, the emergence of email, texting, and even FaceBook became very real “life-savers” in terms of being able to freely communicate with others. Although I hear well enough on the phone now that I have a cochlear implant, these other forms of communication are still my own first choice.

Resilience is a Special Kind of Strength

Many readers of Hearing Elmo have various disabilities, invisible illnesses or chronic health problems. For some, those difficulties are progressive and force them into a constant state of evolution. This can actually be healthy. (I see some of you grimacing out there!) Yet progressive illness can produce resilience – the likes of which create a strong and capable individual who can face life’s problems with the confidence earned through experience. Resilience is a special kind of strength. These individuals know that living successfully with progressive health problems is simply adopting an attitude of commencement.

Some people never graduate. They never enter that next stage of life. Even though the past may be painful, they cling to it with a tenacity that may stun family and friends. If they have progressive health problems, they may be stuck in the grief process. The grief process is a PROCESS. In a healthy situation, one moves from one stage to the next, eventually reaching acceptance and a new normal. Even psychologically we can get stuck in the past. Everyone else has moved on, but we have super-glued ourselves to unresolved situations instead of letting go and moving on with our lives (like everyone else has). Living this way yields toxicity to both ourselves and to others. We become “unsafe people”. It can have a negative influence on our relationships, self-esteem, and emotional/mental health. Dr. Seavey addresses how to face the future in a terrific article that can be accessed HERE.

Can you look back and see different points in your own life where commencement took place? Using all you learned in a specific period of your life, you chose to begin the next chapter of your life. May we all view commencement as springboard to usher in a successful, victorious future and not as a monument that designates an END!

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal