In today’s world of media overload, with technology and electronics in every household, the word “unplug” usually means when an individual deliberately steps away from these items to recharge.

For many with chronic illness or invisible disability, to unplug might mean something different. Saturday night my small living room was seething with emotions. There were five adults, including myself, parked around a television watching the Ravens beat the Broncos. We had hoped. We had prayed. But all the experts had convinced us the Ravens didn’t stand a chance. To watch the game unfold and the Ravens take the win in double overtime, my senses were in crippling overload. Long ago I conceded using closed captions during a NFL football game. I admire and appreciate the hard work of those who work for the captioning organizations, but the captions really do interfere with watching sports as there is no “perfect” place to put the captions and not cover up a play or stats. So I was watching the game by only utilizing my cochlear implant and hearing aid.

I watched five minutes of the post-game show and quietly headed upstairs. Once in my bedroom, I flipped on the light and opened my Dry ‘n Store in one practiced motion. Off came my “ears”, off came my shoes, and I threw myself onto the bed with all the grace of a wet noodle. Chloe hopped up and snuggled close, perfectly content to escape all that testosterone downstairs. I think I laid there with my eyes closed for an hour – not napping – just coping. I needed the quiet. I love my bionic hearing, but there are times I literally suffer from sensory overload. My eyes, ears, brain, and yes VOICE were worn out. I needed to unplug.

There have been times I have pushed through that feeling of “I need to unplug” and only regretted my choice to do so. I am more prone to fall when worn out. I miss things when communicating. My speech actually deteriorates when I reach the breaking point. Hearing takes work – at least for me it does. You might not be able to tell by looking at me that I need a “senses” break because hearing loss and Meniere’s disease are both invisible. Goodwin and Morgan (2012) explain that, “many chronic illnesses have highly variable symptoms that are largely invisible to others. The symptoms can cause fatigue and pain, affect cognitive function, create sudden emotional shifts, and even impair speech (para. 6). It is in my best interest to know when I need to unplug.

I know many people with hearing loss who unplug in their own way. One bilateral friend takes long walks with just her camera. She has a real knack for connecting with nature and sharing that connection through her camera lens. I suspect it is her way of unplugging. She may have her “ears on” still, but nature’s melody is a distinctly different sound than what one hears in a crowded cafe or work environment. Another friend with bilateral cochlear implants actually takes yearly retreats. She not only unplugs, she truly isolates herself in order to fully rejuvenate and refresh her soul. Many with hearing loss, however, simply go to bed early. It doesn’t bother me at all that my family teases I’m the first one in bed every night. I require a full eight hours of sleep – hard to do in the day and age in which we live!

Use a Calendar

My calendar is very important to me. However, it is not because I forget appointments if I don’t schedule things carefully. My calendar is actually a tool I use to help me know when to unplug! By carefully tracking what I do in addition to just a normal workday, I can avoid serious physical and mental fatigue. Having Meniere’s disease means that I have to be responsible for how tired I allow myself to become. If I’m seriously fatigued and weak, I am more susceptible to falls and injury. With my doctor’s recent warning ringing in my ears about doing everything in my power to avoid anymore head injuries, I carefully plan each and every week. Many people with various disability or invisible illness must do the same. The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation Medical Advisory Board encourages us to be careful planners. “Conduct an energy audit. Ask yourself how much energy do I have? What time of day do I have the most energy? What time of day do I have the least energy? What do I want to do? What must be done? What can wait? Keep a journal and record your daily activities along with the times that you do them. This will enable you to recognize your patterns of fatigue more readily. Monitor these patterns and plan your day accordingly” (MS Foundation, 2009, para. 14).

When I see that a day is as full as I dare allow it to become, I block off any other available times. I know I will need the latitude to unplug if needed. I may even have to turn down opportunities to visit with a good friend, or going to something I would really like to do. My calendar enables me track what I know I’m capable of doing in any given day.

Using a calendar can also help people with invisible disability or chronic illness to determine what is really important. I have become an expert on running errands… making sure to do things all in the same area of town so that I do not have to make any special trips – which are time thieves. Having to do spur-of-the-moment errands may mean I do not get to do things that are really important to my mental, emotional and spiritual health. Morgenstern (2008) is adamant about controlling your schedule, and failure to do so creates a life that not only runs you ragged, but regularly throws you curve balls and prevents you from focusing on the things that matter most. For those of us who live with disability or invisible illness, this may mean we set ourselves up for injury, debilitating fatigue, mistakes, or relapse. Getting control of your schedule can only benefit you.

I hope you have learned to unplug when needed. One doesn’t need to lay in the dark, isolated from all sense-sapping triggers. You can relax on the deck with a cup of coffee. Take a bubble bath! Read a good book. Immerse yourself in a hobby. All of these things can help you unplug and recharge!

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Goodwin, Stephanie A. and Morgan, Susanne (2012). Chronic Illness and the Academic Career. American Association of University Professors, May-June. Retrieved January 12, 2013 from http://www.aaup.org/article/chronic-illness-and-academic-career#.UPQg_mdyHTo

Morgenstern, Julie (2008). SHED your Stuff, Change Your Life. Fireside Publishers, New York.

Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (2009). Fighting Fatigue. Coping with Multiple Sclerosis, July issue. Retrieved January 14, 2013 from http://www.msfocus.org/article-details.aspx?articleID=48

5 thoughts on “Unplug…

  1. A wonderful piece, Denise! Funny how we “unplug” to “recharge” though, isn’t it? And yes, that’s a big something I get out of my wanders in nature–with and without a camera. I was trying to explain recently that if I go from early morning with sound on, intense focus throughout the day, and don’t have a little time to tune out, turn off, that by about 9pm I am ready to scream. I don’t mean a little bit. Like I only don’t because I don’t want the police called. Thanks for this!

  2. If those of us with hearing loss get into the bad habit of stepping closer to someone in an argument, things can really “heat up”. It is a natural reaction to feel defensive if someone gets up in your personal space. What was only a verbal confrontation could quickly escalate into a physical altercation. It is a natural reaction to want to “push off” someone who is WAY to close for comfort! Even if people understand you are closer because of hearing loss, they may not be able to control their feelings of unease, need to protect, or urge to step away. We should be careful about how close we get to others even when arguing.

    1. I totally agree! Many – perhaps through bad personal experiences – are very nervous about someone getting up in their personal space. Also, some folks might misconstrue a more intimate interest if someone is getting super close! I agree, we should always be clear that we are stepping closer in order to hear better. Better to remind someone something they already know that make an assumption and be sorry afterwards! 🙂

  3. I’m always the first to bed, too. My husband doesn’t mind, but my gal pals poke fun at me. There was one time at a party when I literally fell asleep on a couch in a room full of people. What can I say? It was past my bedtime. “Rachel’s dead. Time to go home.” is usually what wakes me up. Luckily, they’re usually packing up by then, and I sleep on the drive home too. 🙂 I think healthy people don’t always realize how awesome sleep is for you.

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