Cut ‘Em Some Slack

At the October 2012 Stroll 'n Roll Event
At the October 2012 Stroll ‘n Roll Event

Every once in awhile, something happens that really “jerks the rug out from under me” in regards to disability and invisible illness. Hearing Elmo, numerous support and community service groups, and strong connections with others who GET IT, usually keep me cruising along with optimism and a healthy passion for life. However, once in awhile something may happen and I ALLOW it to undermine my confidence and throw me for a loop.

About a month ago I was at church and turned to walk out of a small group study into the foyer. A person I see every single Sunday stuck out their hand and shook mine saying, “Is this your new dog?” Because I have a hearing loss, I default to a specific response when I hear something that I know cannot be right. I’m desperate to clear up what my ears MUST have misunderstood so I am eloquent in my response:

“HUH?” I asked with big eyes.

He repeated, “Is this your new service dog?”

I stammered and was able to eek out, “No, I’ve had Chloe for almost 6 years now” and walked/wobbled away as quickly as I could. I could hear him still talking and looking uncomfortable (I’m sure I looked completely shell-shocked), but I wasn’t going to stand around and “play nice” when I felt truly sucker-punched! I made my way to the car and sat waiting for my husband, trying to make sense of what I’d just heard.

Prior to this I had missed a Sunday. Chloe had been sick one weekend (something that happens as she is in contact with so many things a pet is not) and having been up all night, I skipped church with her. Had this church leader asked this because Terry probably informed him I was gone because of a sick pup and he assumed much more than what was going on? If he sees me each and every Sunday, how do you not recognize the bright, red dog who has been my partner for almost 6 years? How in the world can someone get a specially trained service dog so quickly even if you DID have to suddenly retire another dog? Did he not know it took me 15 months of training to even get matched with Chloe? You don’t slap a vest on a pet dog and call it a service dog. These dogs are tested for temperament, trained for public access, and trained to perform specific tasks. It takes years and thousands of dollars! All these questions whirled through my head.

I’ll be honest with you and admit…

I WAS MAD. After that though I was actually very hurt. A couple of weeks later I finally ‘fessed up to my husband about what happened at church. Small miracle THAT to keep it quiet from him that long – but proof positive how deeply this had affected me.

There are some real perks to being married to a psychologist. Long story – short,  after discussing all the reasons this person must have misunderstood what was going on in my life, we agreed that some people just don’t get it. This doesn’t mean they don’t CARE. They just don’t get it. My response has to be – CUT ‘EM SOME SLACK.

Even though this person is in church leadership and sees me every Sunday, to my knowledge they do not have anyone close to them who lives with disability or invisible/chronic illness. I don’t think they even own a pet dog and I’m probably the only one they know with a service dog. We don’t hang out. I don’t share my life with them. (They don’t read Hearing Elmo – smile).

You are going to have people in your life you simply must, “cut ’em some slack”. Maybe they are a co-worker that you don’t work with very often – maybe only a couple of times a month. Maybe it is a cashier at a grocery store who you occasionally see when you are in her line; or, perhaps a bank teller, physicians assistant at a doctor’s office, or UPS man ringing your doorbell.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m the first one to encourage folks to educate in a proactive and positive way, how best to communicate, or assist (if needed). However, the people you take the time to share how best to interact with you, are folks you have a more intimate relationship with and see frequently. Close co-workers, friends, parents of your KID’S friends, people you see more often and converse with a lot… these are folks you are proactive with and to whom you communicate your needs. They very likely will care enough to ask YOU how best to assist or communicate. This means there are plenty of folks you’ve left out of the loop

on purpose.

They don’t need to know the details. You may have a relationship with them, but it is not a close relationship. I, for example, do not need to let a church leader know how long it took me to get matched with Chloe, nor how often we continue to train at Fidos For Freedom to polish and perfect our skills each month. We make eye contact and smile once a week. We may shake hands one or two times a month. This person does not need to know how badly he erred, nor do I need to take him to task for being clueless about something I’ve not invited him to know about regarding ME.

There are folks at work, church, and whom I interact with often enough that they have learned how best to communicate with me. It may be a friend inviting me over to her very quiet, empty house to catch up! It may be a nurse I see often at my primary care doctor who quickly re-reads the bookmark I asked to be stapled in my chart that reminds her I need her to face me. It reminds her I have Chloe so she helps me make sure Chloe doesn’t have her paws on the scale when I’m weighed (seriously, right?). It may be the lady I see every morning walking her dog who use to act hurt when she struck up a conversation with me and I didn’t hear her at first. Now she stands nearer and faces me and we talk about the weather or our families as we “potty our dogs” before heading out! It may be the friend in small group at church who knows I’m having a really bad balance day. As I sit in the back out of the way, she stops to confirm, “So if you pass out… I keep everyone from calling 9-1-1, and just get Terry, right?” It may be the co-worker I see every day while retrieving my mail from the Arts & Sciences department. Our boxes are next to each other and it stood to reason that I explain I only need her to get my attention first before speaking…

You know who needs to have a more clear idea of “who you are”. But there are plenty of people we need to cut some slack. We just do not see them frequently enough to take the time to give them our life story (smile). You know the difference. I’m not saying it is EASY when misunderstood. I felt mad, then hurt, then filled with righteous indignation, bent on educating someone who really isn’t a part of my life. I had to let it go.

I’m learning a life worth living is all about choosing the battles and knowing when to take a stand. We learn to determine who to take to task and who to cut some slack. We never stop learning!

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal


6 thoughts on “Cut ‘Em Some Slack

  1. I have been hurt by comments like this too. No– I don’t have a service dog– but I am deaf and I have a cochlear implant. Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself that I am not knowledgeable about other peoples’ medical issues and have probably asked stupid questions before too. Like when my sister-in-law had cancer. Good blog!!

  2. You look even cuter than your adorable pup in that picture! Love it!

    I am really interested to read more about how Chloe’s life is different than other pet dogs and how she gets sick. I have a chronically ill cat, and it’s gotten me really interested in animal health. Hope to read more soon! Love your blog. 🙂

    1. Hey Rachel! I may not have explained it very well. Unlike pet dogs that stay home except for occasional walks or trips to the park, service dogs are with their partner 24/7. So as Chloe goes to stores, public restrooms, restaurants, my various classrooms, offices, doctor offices, dressing rooms, and grassy areas to potty outside all of these venues, she is in contact with far more germs than a pet dog has exposure to by comparison. I try to check carefully under tables and in grassy areas when pottying her, but most hazards cannot be seen as they are microscopic. As a result, she has tummy issues more than our pet dogs (things they never catch from her either so it is a contact/ingestion germ). I give her a probiotic now and digestive enzyme. Thankfully she has far less tummy issues.

      Sent from my iPhone

      1. I tell people the same thing. So many things they are exposed to. Not only microscopic germs. My service dog has been affected by people on busses smelling of strong weed or alcohol in enclosed areas- their senses are a lot stronger then ours. Or there was a loose dog who bit her once while she was working. I’m not sure why a simple pet owner would want to expose their pet to these things or deal with the constant questions (at least that I get) on a daily basis. My service dog is there for a reason. I’ve got to a point, sometimes I pretend I’m deaf (not to be demeaning) or don’t answer so people will stop asking me questions. I also went to church with my SD. first day I went I went up to the podium to kind of introduce myself to the ward. The church leaders asked me how my dog knew to take me to the podium. Well.. I just told her to get up and go straight. I’m autistic and have mental challenges but I can at least do enough navigation (with her) to get where I want to go.- without her sometimes it’s a nightmare though. I want to go one way but then I end up somewhere else or I end up stuck in an ailse unable to think what I’m getting / doing sometimes standing there for hours. Not sure how that happens. But she keeps me grounded among other tasks so I can function more fully. Now I can occasionally go places within short distances of my home by myself or with a friend. But I can’t do it on a consistent basis. I end up having severe episodes.

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