We Need Them

With 3 of my 4 “heartstrings”, a group of cochlear implant ladies – some who also have Meniere’s – who connected through our hearing loss.

I am visiting my parents in Florida as I write this. I haven’t seen them in over a year, so with a lot of cajoling, I talked my husband into giving up a week of his vacation time to go see his in-laws. We went to church with them Sunday morning, and I expected a “Christmas Sermon”… not that this is a bad thing. Their pastor, however, mentioned some things that I had never thought about before, and at my age I was surprised about being made to THINK about some new things regarding the Christmas story.

He read from Luke and brought up that Mary, mother of Jesus, went to stay with friend and cousin, Elizabeth. This was right after Gabriel told her, “Guess what? You will become pregnant”. In that time a 14 or 15-year-old betrothed virgin couldn’t very well go tell mom, dad, and fiancé that she was pregnant. Women were stoned for that… not that they would have ever believed her “I’m still a virgin” story anyway. So off she went to see Elizabeth. Gabriel told her that Elizabeth, too, was miraculously pregnant – simply in a different way. Elizabeth was far past child-bearing age. Her pregnancy was also a miracle. Perhaps Gabriel was giving a hint… GO SEE HER. The pastor suggested Mary NEEDED a friend and someone who would understand. God knew this. Gabriel knew this. Mary needed someone who was pregnant that shouldn’t/couldn’t be, and someone visited by an angel. She needed a friend who was going through similar challenges.

Do We Need Friends?

I have friends from my childhood. I have friends at work. I have friends at church. But do you know the friends I depend on the most are those who struggle with invisible illness or disabilities? Like Mary seeking out a friend and confidant who was also miraculously pregnant, I have sought and found friends who are “differently abled”, who face each and every day with challenges others simply do not have.

Abraham Maslow was one of the first psychologists to suggest we need relationships; we need FRIENDS. Cherry (2012) writes of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, “Relationships such as friendships, romantic attachments, and families help fulfill this need for companionship and acceptance, as does involvement in social, community, or religious groups” (para. 6). Many professionals agree, we need friends.

I have friends that are different than me in personality, beliefs, politics, and culture. Despite these differences, they are my friend. When I’m having a really bad “tilt a whirl” kind of day, falling and bruising, and frankly SICK TO DEATH of having to deal with it all, these friends can sympathize. Yet, the friends I seek out to belly-ache, ask for advice, or beg for prayer even, are those who can EMPATHIZE.

“Empathy is the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others. It goes beyond sympathy, which is a feeling of care and understanding for the suffering of others. Both words have similar usage but differ in their emotional meaning” (Difference and Comparison, 2012). My closest friends are those who can empathize. They “get it”.

People with invisible illness or disability often fall into a dangerous, self-imposed isolation. Rubinstein (2012) suggests that there is a difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude is healthy, something most of us do not take the time for, missing out on opportunities to meditate and re-charge. However, isolation is different. It is a negative thing… “We don’t feel better by spending time alone, or if we do, it is only that our anxiety about being around people is quelled” (Rubinstein, 2012, para. 2).

When my progressive hearing loss began to cause significant communication issues, I slowly but surely began to isolate myself. It took an “intervention” of sorts to wake me up to what I was doing. We may isolate from friends and family, all the while trying to convince ourselves that by doing so we help others as well.

“When I move to fast and pass out, it only upsets others, which isn’t fair to them.”
“I hate being trouble to anyone. Best I stay home.”
“My disability makes folks uncomfortable. I’m doing everyone a favor by not participating.”

I know some folks with logical reasons and sound argument for why they do not need friends “post-invisible illness or disability”. Have you ever thought, however, that even if you are better off you are robbing another of the gift of your own friendship? There are others dealing with invisible illness. If you do not make yourself available, you may miss opportunities to empathize and connect with others like yourself. Who better to recognize another with invisible or chronic health concerns, than someone who lives the same?

We need friends. Others need the gift of your own friendship. Make yourself available!

Denise Portis

Cherry, Kendra (2012). Hierarchy of Needs: The five levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved on December 23, 2012, from http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/hierarchyneeds.htm

Difference and Comparison (2012). Empathy and sympathy. Retrieved on December 23, 2012, from http://www.diffen.com/difference/Empathy_vs_Sympathy.

Rubinstein, Noah (2012). Isolation: Issues treated in therapy. Retrieved December 24, 2012 from http://www.goodtherapy.org/therapy-for-isolation.html

A Stolen Life

stolen life

It’s that time of year again. The end of a semester. The beginning of “panic week” for students in colleges all across the country. For my own classes, this means that students are rushing to get it the extra credit because their grade isn’t going to be  what they’d hoped. I offer a fairly easy, yet time-consuming extra credit incentive.

– Read “A Stolen Life” by Jaycee Dugard

– Take a quiz on it (and pass)

– Turn in a 3-5 paragraph essay of your own reflections on the book

I’m always tickled at reading the student’s responses to this book. It’s an “easy read”, but difficult material. Jaycee Dugard writes about her long-term confinement after being kidnapped. Students normally respond with one of three attitudes.

1. They are ticked off. The theme of their essay is how unfair and unjust this case was. They are upset at all the many “players” along the way that should have seen, should have intervened. They yearn (and demand) justice.

2. They are shocked. Many are fully aware these horrible crimes occur, but to read a first-person account of someone who SURVIVED really leaves them wondering how the world can be so evil.

3. They are grieved. Some feel very down – even depressed – after reading the book. Many actually try to contact Jaycee through forums or email to let her know they look up to her and wish her the best. Some may have experienced some form of abuse themselves so they feel empathy as well. They admire Jaycee’s courage and resilience.

How Do We Respond?

While reading essays this weekend and assigning extra credit points to hyperventilating students, it struck me how similarly we tend to react to life’s problems and challenges.

I know plenty of folks who have responded to invisible illness or disability by being ticked off. They feel it is unfair they have to shoulder this burden. They may enter “offensive mode”. They make sure everyone around them are aware of the unfairness of it all, and to make sure everyone treats them with continued respect – disregarding the changes in their lives. After all, they didn’t ask for them.

Some people are shocked. The rug has been jerked out from under them and they are still sitting on their fannies watching the room spin. How did this happen? Why did this happen? I’m all ALONE! Someone HELP ME! They are often at risk to isolate themselves or become depressed.

Many people feel grief, actually going through the stages of grief as they learn to cope with their “new normal”. They may reach out to others – their peers who face the same struggles that they face each and every day. They eventually find – and become – heroes.

Do you feel that your invisible illness or disability has essentially “stolen” your own life? Do you feel out of control and unable to cope? Have you responded with anger, shock, or grief?

The Internet is a wonderful thing. I truly believe that people with invisible illness or disability are at an advantage compared to the lives of those who experienced the same before the Internet. It is a simple thing to go to your browser to search, discover, and benefit from online forums, support groups, and advocacy communities. You are not alone.

Do you feel as if your life was stolen? Jaycee eventually confided in someone, was rescued and reunited. Need a listening ear? I may be deaf but I listen very well. Or, there are many other avenues that you may find peers to help you through this time. Take part in your own rescue by reaching out. Reunion and a victorious, purposeful life may be just around the corner.

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal




I was so glad to see the sunshine today. I read the weather forecast last night and tried to tamp down the anticipation and excitement in my heart. We’ve had such rainy, humid weather. I’m just a “mess” for lack of a better word when we have periods of days like that. Meniere’s disease is a burden I do not gladly bear. I’ve yet to be able to “find thanks” for it, though I have learned to do so is the best way to come to a place of full acceptance.

So when I saw the forecast I was optimistic but influenced by the realist within me… you know, the one who has seen the poor forecast predictions for the last week? We don’t get “full sun” today, but I am embracing the “partly cloudy” let me tell you!

Humidity is not really the “friend” of a person with hearing loss without Meniere’s disease as well. Veterans will tell you that faithful use of a desiccant brick (I use “Dry ‘n Store” myself) will prolong and improve the use of hearing technology such as hearing aids, cochlear implants and more!

We’ve no control over the weather. We can try to keep these devices dry, but “weather happens”. I do try to be careful and have an umbrella in every car, near the door, and in my rolling cart that comes into every classroom with me. I faithfully attend to the weather forecast so as to be better prepared for the day ahead.

Sometimes humidity and moisture problems occur in addition to weather-related incidents. Here are some I’ve dealt with myself:

1. Stepping into the shower, “hearing”. You’d think since I cannot hear the shower run anymore as I walk into the bathroom “deaf”, if I can actually hear the water running it would clue me in to the fact that I forgot to remove my “ears”. A couple of times a year I will still step into the shower not quite as “naked” as I should be. Thankfully, realization hits quickly. I shriek, streak to the bedroom, dry them off, tuck them into the Dry ‘n Store, and pray they dry quickly. Bedtime RITUAL is what has helped me avoid any of these wet OOPS lately. Having a routine before doing things like showering may help!

There is a cochlear implant by Advanced Bionics that can be completely submersed in water. My Nucleus Freedom by Cochlear is water resistant. For me this means I can have some of those OOPS episodes and not have to worry about damaging my CI!

2. Sometimes I sweat. Yeah, I know. Not very feminine or attractive. I crack up reading labels in the deodorant aisles at stores. Men’s products claim to control sweat. Women’s products boast of smelling pretty, not leaving white marks, and control perspiration. <snort>

I’ve found a great product though, and highly recommend EAR GEAR. They claim to be hearing instrument ARMOR. I love their products. They have products for BAHA, hearing aids, and cochlear implants. Ear Gear protects our devices from moisture and dirt. They also happen to be very comfortable. I have very small ears and the products actually help my devices “slip” less as well. Click HERE to check them out. They have some cool colors too, which is always a perk in my opinion as I sport my “bling” proudly!

I’m not an athlete, but I know some late-deafened folks who are. There are various companies that sell products that help devices not only stay dry but also help them STAY PUT. Megan at Hearing Sparks discusses seven great products that are of special interest to those who need hearing technology protection that are ACTIVE. You can access this post HERE.

I’m going to cut this post short. I’ve some sunshine to go embrace…

Denise Portis

©2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal