First off, please allow me to apologize for my web absence. I am in the final stages of my dissertation and to say “my life is not my own” is merely a way of downplaying how incredibly hectic my life is. I am also a little peeved at myself because writing is quite therapeutic for me. That I have allowed so much time to pass since writing for Hearing Elmo, makes me quite anxious to get this part of my life over with so that I may continue doing what I love doing.
I am in a “stuck” place in my dissertation. The community college where I teach is closed right now so my “stuck” place is not something a trusted colleague (who can act as a statistic tutor) can help me with because no one is checking their email until January 2nd. I can’t blame them. The chair of my committee is also “offline” until January 2nd. Instead of twiddling my thumbs and worrying over my “stuck” place, I decided it was time to start writing again for “fun”. I need to keep Hearing Elmo a part of my life because it really does help keep me sane. (As do all your comments and emails).
So in this unexpected time I found, I decided to pick up a book I haven’t read in several years. Ortberg has long been my favorite author. His books do not dumb things down and they have been a source of challenging myself to be a better person. I just finished re-reading, “The Me I Want to Be”.
I like to review my day as I work on drifting off to sleep each night. (It’s work because I don’t unwind easily). Cuddled up with all my pillows and my service dog at my side, my bed is my happy place. As a person who is differently-abled, fatigue is a very real enemy. So to say my bed and I get along really well is an understatement!
Part one of Ortberg’s book is entitled “Finding My Identity”. For a very long time I went about this SO WRONG. I was much more prone to identifying with how others viewed me or my how they viewed my role. I don’t have a whole lot of people in my life who tell me “Denise, you rock”. I have a whole lot of people who work very hard to keep me humble <big grin>. I think many people who are critical, do so with some self-appointed license to keep you from thinking more of yourself than you should, that you recognize all your weaknesses, and that somehow by pointing it all out that the person will take it to heart and actually become a better person.
Well of course it doesn’t work that way. We tend to dwell on the negative unless we have purposefully determined to accentuate the positive. So at the tender age of 25 when faced with “finding my identity” as a newly diagnosed person with disability, I took “broken and not worth much” to heart. I think this is the reason I am prone to describing myself as differently-abled versus disabled.
I recently was interviewed by a non-profit in town who serve the immediate community as a CIL (Center for Independent Living). I think I must have written “differently-abled” in my cover letter, as it became clear that something they wanted to make sure I knew before releasing me from the interview to deliberate on whether or not I can act as an effective board member, was that they did not approve of my wording.
As a matter of fact, the two women on the board nomination committee told me, “I am a proud disabled woman”. They explained to me how important language and the words we choose are. I was hard pressed not to roll my eyes. I explained (albeit in a slightly defensive manner) that people with acquired disability may self-identify however they wish. I tried to explain that to me disabled meant NOT able or the opposite of able. If you literally check out the Latin prefix it means something negative. (Check out what this site says, and this one). I explained that I work with young adults and that it has been my experience this population more readily identifies with differently-abled than disabled. “Yes, I know disability is the wordage our laws use and therefore we should use this word in legal matters, accessibility concerns, etc.” The group of 3 just shook their had at my “excuse” and I left feeling as if I could NOT help them as a board member since they seemed incapable of even recognizing the freedom of self-identity within their own population.
Part of “finding my identity” revolved around owning being differently-abled. Recognizing my limitations and when possible, finding a way around them – or THROUGH them – was essential in cementing my own identity. The fourth part of Ortbeg’s book is entitled, “Redeeming my Time”. One of the sections he discusses is “recognizing your primary flow-blocker”.
Ever met someone who just took the wind out of your sails? Everything is going great and your day is off to a super-duper start, only to spend four or five minutes with a total mood assassin. Ortberg encourages us not to eliminate all difficult people from our lives. Why? Well, difficult people help us grow. I want to continue growing and hope I never become stagnant. This doesn’t mean you have to be best buds with the difficult people in your life. As a matter of fact, I believe and support healthy boundaries. If not for any other reason, I appreciate the difficult people in my life simply because they act as a warning of what I do NOT want to be. That’s right. I am actually grateful for the negative and critical people in my life. They are a flashing, neon-colored caution light. If I do not keep a check on my attitude, I too, can be a negative and critical person. It’s easy to slip into a pity party when you have physical and mental health challenges. How I respond to those kinds of people is important, too. Ortberg said, “Other people don’t create your spirit; they reveal your spirit” (Orberg, 2014).
Ortberg ends his book with finding your challenge and embracing it. For people who live with chronic illness, visible or invisible disabilities, or mental health issues, it isn’t hard to find your challenge. It’s right there, “in your face”, each and every day! Embracing does not mean it defines you. I embrace my challenges of hearing loss, Meniere’s disease, and Major Depressive Disorder. Yet those three things do not define me. Instead I hold them close because they are a part of me. I cannot pretend they are not there. My self-identity, however, comes from seeing the strong and independent woman who emerged from those challenges.
The Me I Want to Be
Are you unhappy with the current course of your life? Sometimes the best way to make a change is to simply envision who you want to be. If the people you are hanging out with, the job you are working, and the influence you desire are not “happening” for you, change is in order. It may take you awhile. It likely took you YEARS to become the Me you no longer want to be. It may take years for you to really see a new reflection in the mirror. Don’t let that scare you. It can take time.
I will end this with a super happy announcement. My daughter gave birth to my first grandchild on October the 26th. Another way we can be sucker-punched with the impact of our own influence, is to be introduced to someone brand new. I want to be a positive influence on my granddaughter.
Please feel free to share your own stories of how you became the “me I want to be”. As always, I value and encourage others who live with visible and invisible disabilities and illnesses to write for Hearing Elmo. Or simply leave a comment!
L. Denise Portis
© 2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal