(Part 1): Boundaries Are Cheaper Than Therapy…

NOT that there is anything wrong with therapy. I go to a counselor “as needed” myself! However, I learned early on in my living with disability, that boundaries are healthy, intelligent, and necessary.

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others” Brene Brown

Boundaries are Healthy (part 1)

I have what I call a servant’s heart, which comes from the fact that one of my love languages is “Acts of Service“. Doing little (and sometimes BIG) things are how I express love to other people. Doing little acts of kindness for others makes my heart happy and fills my own “love tank”. This includes acts for those I love dearly like family and “chosen family”. However, I also prefer to express love to my fellow human-being with little acts of service. So even my students (I hope) benefit from due date extensions for valid excuses, my bringing little miniature candy bars or granola bars to the class, and personally signing Valentine’s Day cards or other holiday gestures.

A dangerous misappropriation of an act of service, however, is to allow people to mistreat me or to pick away at my self-esteem and soul. When I was younger I would think to myself, “I will be the bigger person and turn the other cheek”. Other thought processes included, “If it makes them feel better to belittle me, I can let them have that because I know my own value”. Also, excuses such as “They have significant problems for which they have not received any help for, nor recognize their toxicity. I can ignore something they don’t recognize themselves”.

My friends? This is actually very unhealthy thinking. Retaliation is not the answer. Going on the “offense” or even “defense” is not healthy either. Both reek of BATTLE energy. Who wants to constantly be at war? I truly believe boundaries are healthy. My belief in this important work extends to training others as I do a workshop for people with disAbility. My goal is to teach others to recognize when and where boundaries need to be constructed. Boundaries ARE healthy and accomplish two things:

  1. Boundaries speak volumes.

When we establish boundaries, we are telling another person who has been detrimental to our well-being, that “it STOPS right here”. It can be either an announced decision, or a quiet establishment of barriers that the toxic person discovers after a barb is deflected. At times, boundaries are necessary for family members and loved ones, for friends and acquaintances, for co-workers, well… really for any people we are (forced) into contact with by choice or by design that are detrimental to our good mental and emotional health.

Boundaries can include any of the following:

  1. Refusal to spend time in the toxic person’s presence.
  2. Blocking a toxic person on your phone.
  3. “Unfollowing” or “hiding” a toxic person on your social media,
  4. Filing a restraining order (if needed when the person is able to exact very real harm towards you).

The latter doesn’t even have to be a true legal “order”. At work on my college campus, another professor has a service dog – that isn’t. I’m not sure what skilled tasks her service dog does for her, but in the first year of her dog being on campus, I experienced 2 falls and 1 near miss as a result of her dog lunging for Finn (my service dog) and I. After numerous email exchanges and lots of defensiveness on her part, I finally had to go to HR and explain that for my safety (and I expect others) I needed to be able to avoid meetings with this other professor. Long story short, I knew I was a lot safer after requesting this boundary.

Boundaries may be either blatant creations or subtle constructions. It doesn’t matter which type of boundary you use, these boundaries tell the other person that you care enough about yourself that you refuse to allow them any form of abuse from this point forward.

  1. Boundaries are good self-care.

Boundaries also speak volumes to YOU. Once I recognized that the pain and suffering I was experiencing from certain people was not a perk I OWED THEM, real peace became the “norm” for me. Once I determined that I was not required to allow anyone time nor space simply because we were related, I really began to understand safe boundaries. Once I accepted that a healthy boundary might mean “losing others”, I determined that any loss I incurred as a result of a boundary decision, was a loss easily reconciled. I have experienced loss of family members after refusing to allow a human I was related to any power over me with their venom. I respected those who rallied around the person who was toxic to me and cut me out of their lives. I found it was not easy but I adapted to “losing” those folks too.

I think it is hard to refuse “Denise access” to someone I am related to when they may have loved ones that I truly do value. My disAbilities have especially exposed family members who simply DO NOT GET IT and prefer to question or criticize my life choices. They don’t understand nor condone my work as an advocate. I am reminded of a quote by Glennon Doyle (a blogger and author), “This life is mine alone. I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been”.

One of my good friends divorced about 8 years ago. She discovered that even though everyone knew her spouse was verbally and emotionally abusive, when she cut him out of her life she also lost some friends. These were friends they shared and in-laws she cared for a great deal. Those losses were harder than the divorce, but time (and therapy) also taught her that even losses that were true LOSSES – those she felt at the heart and soul level – were worth it because of the person she now was.

These two things, what boundaries say to others and what they say to ourselves, are important acknowledgments that justify why boundaries are not weapons. They are evidence of strength and character. Do you need some boundaries in your life? Don’t hesitate. Make the decision today. You won’t regret it.

Part 2… Why boundaries are intelligent next post!

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

2021 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Just Being Totally Honest Here…

Mom, Diane (my little sister from Texas) and Me 2021 Thanksgiving Day

One thing I’ve often written about here from the viewpoint of someone living with disabilities, is that one of the hardest things to cope with is simply all the “normal” life experiences EVERYONE deals with, but dealing with it with disabilities.

I have a large network of peers who also write and advocate on behalf of the disability community. You would think God in His infinite grace, would allow people already dealing with a lot to be cut some slack with other kinds of challenges. That isn’t how it works though. “My people” often testify and share how hard life has been for them recently. People with disabilities still face the loss of loved ones, sickness (flu and COVID – aargh), break-ups and relationship implosions, job loss, traffic tickets, power outages, and running out of toilet paper! We don’t get a pass on tension headaches, occasional stomach upset, stubbed toes, or WIFI troubles.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m the first to stand on a soapbox and shout to the world how wonderful and worthwhile LIFE is. That doesn’t mean that life isn’t sometimes very hard, and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take work. If people with disabilities have one advantage over those who do not live with challenges, perhaps it comes down to these two things:

  1. Experience has us recognizing our limits much quicker and more reliably than those who do not live with disability.

2. We are more likely to ask for help.

Today, my Mom took a fall (or two) just trying to do some normal daily activities. ALS is an unforgiving disease and it is always progressive. Mom has bulbar onset, which means early on it impacted her speech and fine motor skills. It is now impacting mobility as well, however. Hence, the falls today while doing normal everyday activities. My little brother texted while a little freaked out and I calmed him down. Then I proceeded to freak out myself.

Immediately after finding out about Mom’s fall and trying to get a grip on next steps, I went outside to my back porch. We are having very un-December-like weather and the dogs were romping in the yard. The sky was blue and there was a nice breeze. This place is usually like an oasis to me. Instead of enjoying the moment, however, I marched to the edge of the porch, looked up and stuck my finger at the sky while semi-shouting,

“Stop it! Pay attention! My Mom is getting hurt!”

Had a neighbor been watching they may have thought I’d lost my mind. I didn’t care and HE knew Who I was talking too with a little stomp to my foot, with finger pointing somewhere in the direction of where I imagined His face, and shouting about the injustice of it all. God knew I was fussing at Him.

After my little conniption fit and about five minutes of bawling my eyes out, I realized how silly it was to talk to God about what is “fair”. I mean life just IS NOT. We were never promised a life of FAIR experiences.

We are able to learn from experience, and what I have learned is that reaching out for help makes a difference. So I called my little sister in Texas and I texted my Mom’s sweet Monday-Friday caregiver, Sarah. It helped. We have a plan. It gave me a little hope and encouraged me.

My friend, don’t be afraid to rant to God. He can take it and frankly if anyone knows about Their loves ones suffering and things not panning out in a “fair way”, it’s God.

Don’t avoid reaching out for help. The reality is that we are allowing others to be a blessing to US and to help. I tell myself that by not reaching out, I am robbing someone of that opportunity to make a difference in my life that day.

Just being totally honest here, but I yelled at God today. I survived because He gets it. He really does.

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

2021 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

It’s the Little Things

I love everything about my Elmos!

I am currently all caught up on grading and the next due dates are not until midnight. Unbelievably, I have a slower day. Y’all? I hate slower days!

WAYYYYYYY to much time to think. Because I am a bit of a worrier (OKAY! More than a “bit”), if I am not busy, slower days are not good days for me.

*Uses Wyze camera to check on Mom* — What is she doing? Does she look comfortable? Does she look safe? She hasn’t fallen again – good. Does she appear to be resting well?

Right about that time all of my Elmos came crashing down on my back. Elsa (my kitty who acts like a cat – cuz we have one who does NOT act like one), is sitting at the top of the roll top desk staring down at me with her best snooty expression.

Elsa: yeah. SOOOO?

I gave her a good scratch under the chin and assured her she was still my stuck-up little trouble-maker. It took me about 10 minutes to get all the Elmos back in place and I ended up moving some around even.

When I was finished, I realized I was smiling. It’s the little things. Ya know?

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

2021 Personal Disability Journal