If Fish Aren’t Stupid…

I love it when I learn something new. Even when that learnin’ means that it contradicts something I previously thought was true. I grew up on a farm/ranch in SE Colorado. The families I knew, including our own, had all kinds of animals. Common critters included horses, cows, pig, sheep, chickens, turkeys, peacocks, ducks, geese, and even a llama or two! Something you didn’t see a lot of in the family rooms of various ranch houses were aquariums. We had some big ol’ goldfish that grew to an astonishing size in the cow tank near our house. What was even more astonishing than their size is that they survived the frozen tank winter after winter. I can’t remember who first told me that fish are stupid. This was long before “Finding Nemo” even came out in theaters, with Dory convincing us all once and for all that




After I went away to college and married a city boy, I actually lived in town big enough to have cable television. I found that I had a lot of years of catching up to do on Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, and many other educational animal shows. However it wasn’t until my daughter’s boyfriend – the one who happens to know all there is to know about owning a freshwater tank – put up a couple of aquariums in our home on behalf of beloved daughter, that I began to see freshwater fish up close and personal. As a matter of fact a big 30 gallon tank sits behind my desk, so it is pretty hard to miss the freshwater angelfish swimming around the tank. I very soon discovered that my preconceived notion about the stupidity of fish was – well – WRONG. They really do NOT have 30 second memories. They are affectionate, can remember the easiest “trail” through the freshwater plants to circumnavigate the tank, will follow a person around the tank to “beg” for food, they can be aggressive and yet can be tame enough to actually take blood worms from your fingers. They will live in harmony with other types of fish (but not all), and seem to actually play with each other occasionally. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ready to whip out an IQ test to see how they fare, but I really no longer believe that fish are stupid.

Other Wrongs – Now Corrected

I just turned 46-years-old this week. That is really hard for me to wrap my mind around. I remember when my mother turned 46-years-old, I was a very young and immature 23-years-old. I remember filling out her birthday card to send from my little apartment in Chattanooga to her “home on the ranch” in Colorado and thinking… “Wow. Mom is O.L.D. She is definitely entering her “senior” years now.” I’ve got to tell you now that I’m 46-years-old myself? Well, let’s just say I want to open mouth – insert foot.

I also grew up with very limited experience with any person with chronic illness or invisible disabilities. I did not have very much experience with people with even visible disabilities. Growing up in a small farming community limits one in that way I guess. It wasn’t until I became deaf and developed Meniere’s disease that I first really began meeting people of all kinds who are “differently abled”. Having an acquired disability today is much different than it use to be simply because we have the Internet that connects us to each other and to a wealth of information as well. I grew up believing that people with disabilities were to be pitied. Knowing what I know now about a community of which I am proud to be a part of, pity is the last thing any of us want. I’m constantly amazed by the perseverance and strength that I see in people with all kinds of various “differences”. I hate to even use the word disability, but it is the language present in our current laws that protect the rights of those who have them. A fellow client from Fidos For Freedom, Inc., first introduced me to the term “differently abled”. I find that this phrase much more accurately describes those who live a victorious life despite any physical, mental or emotional differences they may have. Through networks such as the Hearing Loss Association of America, Cochlear Americas, Invisible Disabilities Community and Invisible Illness Awareness Week I have learned that having invisible issues also creates incredible strength and depth to the human soul. I’ve met some wonderful people who have taught me how to navigate life with grace and a “can do” attitude.

I’ve learned that all of us should “check our preconceived notions” at the door. Assumptions are a discriminatory lot. I do have to admit to also enjoying lessons learned from erroneous stereotypes. After all, that means I’m still learning. You can teach an old dog new tricks! After all, I’ve learned that fish aren’t stupid…

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

It Ain’t All Good

George Dawson, “People forget that a picture ain’t made from just one color. Life ain’t all good or all bad. It’s full of everything.”

I didn’t write last Monday. I almost let yesterday (Monday) go without writing as well. My reasoning was “why write when I feel so awful”? Sometimes I feel like I owe my readers and peers the truth… but only if it is pleasant and encouraging. When things are not going so good? Well… I’m less certain about how healthy it is for ME to write about it, and risk losing YOU as “compatriots in the ranks”. Right now, “life ain’t all good”. But because it is also “not all bad” I decided to write anyway.

Some things are changing for me. Not good changes. There are things going on that involve other people, so I cannot discuss it. But there are things going on with “just me” that I DO have the liberty to discuss. So I will. If you tuned in to get a dose of the warm fuzzies – this isn’t the post you want to read.

Tell Tale Signs

I have an incredibly bad habit of ignoring the obvious. Perhaps it is a defense mechanism or a form of denial. When something is scary or unpleasant I will push it down and pretend “it” doesn’t exist. I tell myself what my mother always tells me, “Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill”. Problem is… sometimes it IS a mountain and not a mole hill.

Life can be hard. I have friends who have lost loved ones recently. I have friends who have been diagnosed with scary-sounding diagnosis, some having a good prognosis and some a dire one. I have friends who have close family members battling major health problems. I have friends who are having financial crisis that will change the course of their life and the life of their families. I have friends with children in trouble. I have friends who have been told to plan their funeral. I have friends who have been betrayed and used.

Makes it sound like I have a lot of friends, doesn’t it? (GRIN) One tremendous PLUS of my now, 9-year-old blog, is that I have met a great number of people “virtually”, and literally as a result of my going public with what it is like to live with hearing loss, invisible disabilities, and an incredible canine partner. I have been blessed with guest writers and friendships that have developed as a result of “Hearing Elmo”. You, the reader, have been a source of encouragement to me, a source of advice, and even a source of constructive criticism when I desperately needed it. I am thankful for the sense of “community” the Internet and blogs have given those with disability and invisible illnesses.

Sometimes I ignore tell tale signs in order to “deal with it”. Yes, I know that isn’t healthy but I’m just tellin’ it like it is. Folks who do not have disabilities still live in a body that ages, changes, and may face both minor and catastrophic health problems. However, people with disabilities, those who have learned to be “differently abled”, also sometimes face these same health problems. I’ve often wondered that if certain disabilities make one more prone to health related problems. For example, if you have arthritis, fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue syndrome, perhaps you’ve put on some weight because you cannot easily exercise or lack the strength and energy to do so. As a result, diabetes or heart disease are now knocking at your door. If you have paralysis or problems with mobility, perhaps you have also developed circulatory problems. I am late-deafened and have Meniere’s disease. I actually hear voices really well in “prime” listening environments, and even do fairly well in really noisy environments with poor acoustics. I fall a lot though. When I do, I normally hit my head. Usually it is just an “ouch” moment where I rub the sore spot and go on about my business.

However, in the last year I have woken up a couple of times now – sprawled out in a heap with my dogs curled up asleep next to me. One time, a matter of hours had to have passed because it was much darker outside by the time I came to. I discuss these things with my husband and um – sort of with my doctor. I have a feeling that I’ve bumped my noggin’ often enough in my adult life, that there may be consequences to that. Thankfully, I’ve learned what a lot of my triggers are and can identify 95% of the time when I need to sit down,


no matter where I’m at

or who may be watching

or what I may be sitting in.

My eye prescription has changed 3 times in the last 11 months. Most mornings I wake up and my extremities are numb. On really bad days, I still cannot hardly feel my fingers well enough to type by my afternoon classes. I’m having all kinds of “female issues”. My balance is worse than it ever has been. Much worse. I have tried to tell myself that I am stumbling more because I’m older. I turn 46-years-old this month. I’m very good at justifying things! Don’t we tend to do that when something is “off”? My doctor is working with me. When classes are over in May I will be busy getting a lot of tests. Fun, fun (rolls eyes).

But Gee… It’s Not Fair

I don’t care who you are. The old adage, “when it rains, it pours” is only positive to a farmer. No one likes change. Nobody likes problems. No one embraces tragedy. We may have a “Bad News Not Welcome” here sign on our house door. Heck… it may be tattooed on your forearm. That doesn’t mean that bad things are not going to happen.

Life is just not fair, is it? I mean… we don’t get what we deserve when we’ve done something right. And dang, if we don’t get what we deserve when we do something WRONG.

Oscar Wilde: “Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.”

Bill Gates: “Life is not fair. Get use to it”.

(Unknown): “Expecting the world to be fair to you because you are a good person is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.”

Matthew 5:45b: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Most of you have already learned that life isn’t fair. We deal with it. We have to do so. There are no real alternatives.

We adjust.

We learn.

We fight.

We will lose and we will win. Regardless we DO deal with it. That can mean we do so successfully and with pizzazz. It may mean we do so poorly and like a drowning victim, struggle and pull others down with us. We always have choices. Maybe not about what we get to handle, but HOW we will handle it.

Recently while shopping at the mall with my husband, he said, “Do you realize that in 2007 you trained for a hearing dog because you needed one. Now Chloe performs more balance-related tasks for you than she does hearing alerts. What does that mean?”

Well it means that I’m changing. Thankfully, dogs are smart and so are the trainers at Fidos For Freedom. You really can teach an old dog “new tricks” – or skilled tasks.

More Than You Can Handle

Don’t you hate it when you are going through something hard and someone tells you, “God won’t give you more than you can handle”? Seriously? I mean… for most of us determination, will-power, and a fighting attitude gets us through. For those like myself who consider themselves a person of faith, we rest in the knowledge that He’s got this… and He’s with us. That doesn’t mean He’s gonna bail us out and smooth the way.

My cousin, a breast cancer survivor, blogs a great deal. I always look forward to reading her posts when “Google Reader” lets me know something new has been uploaded. Recently, she wrote “A Hard Place”. She quoted from a book called, “Kisses From Katie” by Katie Davis. I wanted to share that excerpt with you:

“Remember, God will never give you more than you can handle.” People repeat this frequently; I heard it when I was growing up and I hear it now. It is meant to be a source of encouragement, and it would be if I believed it were true. But I don’t. I believe that God totally, absolutely, intentionally gives us more than we can handle. Because this is when we surrender to Him and He takes over, proving Himself by doing the impossible in our lives. I have learned to accept it, even ask for it, this “more than I can handle.” Because in these times, God shows Himself victorious. He reminds me that all of this life requires more of Him and less of me. God does give us more than we can handle. Not maliciously, but intentionally, in love, that His glory may be displayed, that we may have no doubt of who is in control, that people may see His grace and faithfulness shining through our lives. And as I surrender these situations to Him, watch Him take over and do the impossible, I am filled with joy and peace–so much more than I can handle.”

I’m not a brave person. I’m not going to ask God to give me more than I can handle.

I’m a chicken.

a wuss.

a weakling.

You don’t have to ask God for ANYTHING though, and you still are going to get a dose of LIFE. And so I’m back around where I started. Life ain’t all good.

But it is not all bad.

And so we carry on…

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Sometimes? You Are Going to Have a Bad Week

Chloe was having a pretty good week. At least she was until I told her to get in the bathtub. NOT her favorite thing. If “hound dog” could do forlorn, then honey? She’s gonna do FORLORN in the bathtub covered in suds.

While I scrubbed her and told her what an awesome dog she was, intervening during those “I’m gonna shake” moments, I thought about how quickly things can change.

Chloe was happy and excited to get home from class today. She was rough-housing with her buddy, Tyco, when she heard me call her upstairs. She came running with her tail all a-wag. I told her to get in the tub and proceeded to break her ever-lovin’ heart. She is drying and pouting over in the sun as we speak. If I’m lucky, she’ll have forgiven me by suppertime.

Spring has “sprung”, I’m getting a handle on my new schedule, Terry and I just took 2 days away to re-group ALONE (grin), I’m feeling very connected and supported at my primary “free time” activity (Fidos For Freedom Inc., in Laurel, MD), and then it happens. When you can see change coming you can run like mad… or at least brace for it. But sometimes? Well sometimes change smacks you up side the head like Gibbs smacks DiNozzo. It’s completely by surprise. You lay on the floor, dazed and confused, staring up at the ceiling fan thinking, “What just hit me?”

I’ve even let this unexpected negative “change” suck me into an old habit of depression. I could feel it creepin’ up on me. I’m blessed to have a live-in psychologist and I made sure I changed my “8 hours of sleep a night” to 10 hours immediately. That seemed to help. That in addition to some time since the SMACK DOWN, I’m feeling like I can do this thing called life again, despite the newest challenge. Change can be hard and can create a lot of stress. Heck. I was having such a meltdown (as were other members of the family), hubby announced “Let’s go out to eat for supper!” I begged and pleaded and implored him to allow me to fix supper (yeah, right!), but he insisted we go out to eat. We walked out the door discussing these serious issues that “done smacked me up ‘side the head” and half way to the car my husband stopped dead in his tracks and interrupted me saying, “Um Denise? Where’s Chloe?”

You know the service dog who is with me 24/7? The one on the other end of the leash every waking moment of my life? Poor forgotten Chloe stood inside the locked house door whining and whimpering. So yeah. I am THAT distracted by my smack.

There are various proverbs that remind us that life is not easy. Everything is not always going to go well. Sometimes bad things happen. It doesn’t matter if you have disabilities or not. Life can be very, very good. Yet any of us who have lived enough of it know that it can also be hard. I survive because of my 3 “F’s”: Faith, Family, and Friends who care. Surviving is sometimes one day at a time, one week at a time. This is why people with disabilities should take care not to isolate themselves. It’s so easy to do. Isolation is even easier than having to face interacting with others while learning to live successfully with a disability. But isolation is dangerous. We need others. Others help us do that “surviving” thing!

I for one and very glad to see Monday this week.

Chloe, on the other hand, is just glad her monthly bath can be chalked off.

Denise Portis

©2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal