“H A L P”

I’ve…
got this…
Halp! HALP Geegay!

Say what?

My granddaughter Samantha Jean just turned two-years-old. Samantha is at the stage where she has opinions and expresses those opinions. These opinions vary from what she wants to wear today, to what she wants to eat, to what she wants to DO, and what she wants you to do. She is just full of opinions. She also is very independent already.

“I do it!” After caring for her a couple of weeks while mama was in the hospital having her baby brother (rather early), this phrase quickly made its way to “Samantha’s Favorite Words” list.

I had to learn to let her do it, even if I wasn’t happy with the results when she was finished. Thankfully, since she is only 2, I was able to distract her to “fix it” or wait until she moved on to another activity and straighten, organize, or re-do the activity to my satisfaction.

(Yeah. I’m a little OCD and a bit of a control freak!)

What I love about Samantha, is that unlike many two-year-olds, if she was NOT able to do something she rarely had a meltdown about it. I was amazed at the first time she asked me for “halp”, and graciously stepped aside to let me do it.

I heard these requests for “halp” for numerous things:

When trying to stick her head through an arm hole instead of the one designated for her – ahem – HEAD,

When trying to get blueberries to stay on her spoon,

When trying to safely navigate the steps on the back porch which were a bit too much for such short legs,

When her train rolled to where she couldn’t reach it underneath the buffet,

When trying to read a book,

When trying to get up on some of the furniture, (see photos)

Sometimes Samantha would ingeniously choose a way to do something differently so that she could stay independent in the activity. For example, if there was something for her nearby she could use as a means of boosting herself up on tall furniture, she might drag that toy or bench close to use it to navigate her destination without “halp”.

She cannot manage “Grandma” yet so she calls me “Geegay”. I figure she will get there so I think the latter is awfully darn CUTE. I loved hearing Samantha say, “HALP, Geegay!” throughout the day. She more often did things without assistance, but never hesitated to ask for help should she:

  1. Figure out she really did need it to accomplish what she wanted to do.
  2. Was too tired to find an accessible means to accomplish it on her own, or the effort wasn’t worth the “gain”.

I had to admit while living with her, I saw the lesson to be learned again and again.

Stubborn People with disABILITY

I realized the other day that I have lived with disABILITY longer than I have lived without. The feeling was strange since I had simply shouldered new challenges and practiced “keep on keepin’ on” while aging. People with disABILITY (congenital or acquired) often find that as they age, accommodations that were once enough to give them access to an activity or opportunity, no longer are enough. Perhaps even accessibility tools, electronics, devices, etc., may have once allowed you to be independent in a task but as you age you find those things are not enough to be completely independent.

My life with a disABILITY started at the age of 6 with a traumatic brain injury, broken bones, and destroyed hearing in the left ear. After a long recovery, I never felt like a person with a disABILITY until about the age of 18 when my hearing loss became bilaterally progressive. I eventually acquired Meniere’s disease (a vestibular disorder) and really began identifying as a person with a disABILITY at the age of 26 or 27.

I have a good friend who describes herself as “bilaterally hearing-impaired”. Because we are both currently training our third service dog and work at the same place, we often train together. One thing I love about hanging out with Jessica is that she always asks if she can do something for me. Whether it is to get the door for me, pick up something I’ve dropped, carry something for me, etc., she always asks first. She doesn’t assume I want her help, she thinks to ask first in the event her assumption I need it is unwanted or not needed.

Sometimes I say, “actually Finn has been working on door buttons, let us see if he will get this door open for us”. Perhaps the item I dropped is something my Golden puppy can safely work on his retrieve and get for me, so I will let her know that Finn and I have “got it handled” and no “halp” is needed. After training together for some time, Jessica once replied to my “no thanks we’ve got this” with a very thoughtful reminder.

“No problem. However, we know each other well enough now that I trust you to let me know when you need help and that you will ask for that help”.

The first time she interjected this reminder, I found myself thinking about it the rest of the day. Can you guess why? It is simple really. People with disABILITY can be pretty stubborn, and never ask for “halp” when they really need it. We can even earn the reputation of being ornery about our refusal; ungracious in both word and attitude.

In my early adult years of learning to live with deafness and balance issues, I adopted a rather unattractive and even dangerous attitude of “I am woman. Hear me roar!” This could be interpreted as, “I don’t need help. Leave me be. I’ve got this. Don’t you dare pity me!”

The only reason I can think of that I acted with such vehement, even arrogant refusal is that I didn’t want people to pity me. I also did not want them to think that I was UNable rather than differently-abled. I think that all changed for me when I realized how it made ME FEEL when I asked to assist someone who needed my “halp” and they refused. After realizing I felt “robbed” and even hurt when denied the opportunity to help someone that I cared about who obviously needed my “halp”, I started re-thinking my own stubborn refusals.

I have lived with the assistance of 3 service dogs now. Even so, there are things my canine partner cannot do for me, or cannot do SAFELY on my behalf. I have learned to ask for “halp”.

I have never, EVER been turned down. Even should I ask the most cantankerous-looking  curmudgeon in the aisle at the grocery store to get the 32-ounce can of turnip greens on the bottom shelf because a) I can’t bend down and get it, and b) the circumference is to large for my Golden’s mouth, I have never been told NO when asking for “halp”. (Hey we love our turnip greens in this house! I lived in the South a loooooong time).

Solutions to World Problems

Surely a solution to the world’s problems is to simply be kind to others. We all know that isn’t going to be the norm, however. Still, individually we can do our part and hope (even pray) for a ripple effect.

In every way that YOU can, make a difference.

If someone needs it, “HALP” them. Do it with a smile and without conditions. Do so easily, readily, and without any need for acknowledgement. Be the kind of person who so naturally sees a need and meets that need that it becomes who you are and not what you do.

But…

It is always good to ask. Never assume that someone who appears to need help, wants your help. Maybe they have some assistive device that will allow them to pick up that item without “halp”. They want to be independent.

BUT…

Don’t be a stubborn jackass. If you need “halp”, ASK. If someone asks if they can “halp” and you simply need a few minutes to do it yourself, explain that graciously. Don’t become haughty and retaliate with angry words and threats about where you are gonna hit them with your cane. Don’t tell them what to do with their request to “halp”. (Ahem)

Necessary Reminder

May I share something with you that you already know?

Even able-bodied people need “halp” sometimes. Whether it is assistance with a task, or a needed hug at a low moment, all of us need each other. The next time you need assistance for “halp”, just ASK already!

Even my two-year-old granddaughter will ask for my help when she knows she needs it. She even does so when she recognizes that she can do the task, but that it will get done quicker and with less effort if she simply asked for HALP.

Pogosyan (2018) provides multiple reasons why we should be willing to help and accept help from others. “Research has found many examples of how doing good, in ways big or small, not only feels good, but also does us good” (para. 2). So in closing, I would like to remind you (and yes myself as well) that disallowing someone to assist actually robs them of the benefit gained from that help.

Pogosyan goes on to explain that, “One reason behind the positive feelings associated with helping others is that being pro-social reinforces our sense of relatedness to others, thus helping us meet our most basic psychological needs” (Pogosyan, 2018, para. 1). In a very powerful way, it supports our need for EACH OTHER.

I’m starting to think this world is just a place for us to learn that we need each other more than we want to admit. – Richelle E. Goodrich
Our greatness has always come from people who expect nothing and take nothing for granted – folks who work hard for what they have, then reach back and help others after them. – Michelle Obama

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

©2019 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Pogosyan, M. (2018). In helping others, you help yourself. Psychology Today. Retrieved December 7, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-cultures/201805/in-helping-others-you-help-yourself

 

 

This is My Fight Song

On “match day”, 2015.

The first time I heard Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song“, it was actually sung by a different  young woman who had faced a life threatening illness and “won”. You can find Calysta Bevier’s audition for “America’s Got Talent” HERE.

Yesterday, Fidos For Freedom, Inc. held its annual certification day. Service dog and hearing dog teams re-certify their skills and clients take a written exam. Milo and I passed with flying colors. While there, I was able to catch up with other teams. I overheard various teams refer to their service dog as their “partner in crime”, “wing man”, “partner”, “side kick”, “best friend”, and “best buddy”.

I’m a believer in the power of the human spirit. I have also seen many people who are differently-abled, dig deep and find the wherewithal to “just keep swimming” (as our friend Dory from Disney’s “Finding Nemo” taught us). At certification day, there is understandably some waiting in line. In an “all volunteer” organization, it takes a village of caring and committed volunteers to make certification day happen. However, clients do have to spend some time waiting for the next station to open up so that they can be tested on those skills. While waiting, I people watch. I’m easily caught up in emotion and found myself getting choked up looking around at various teams performing like super heroes. Can these individuals FIGHT without a service dog at their sides? Yes. I have no doubt. However, having a service dog makes each and every day a little easier.

It’s more than the skilled tasks they do, y’all! Milo retrieves dozen of items I drop each day. He is my alarm clock. He opens and closes the dishwasher, refrigerator, and gets clothes out of the dryer for me. He braces when I stand from a sitting position. He walks along side me and is only a touch away. Yet, the biggest benefit Milo brings to my life is psychological and emotional strength. Can I fight alone? Yes.

But I don’t have to do so.

Milo is with me 24/7. If I’m having a bad balance day, I go to work anyway knowing he’s got my back. If I’m dreading a large meeting, knowing in advance I will have trouble hearing, he provides the courage I need to do what needs to be done. I consider myself an advocate and “assumption destroyer”. However, Milo makes me a super hero. I think service dog partners forget those “under the radar” strengths our service dogs provide for us. On annual certification days, I am often reminded. Observing these teams and the trainers who coach/love them, brings these hidden benefits into startling clarity for me. We can count on other caring human beings to help and support us as needed. However, it is only a service dog partner that can be there ALWAYS.

I want to leave you with the lyrics and original video of “Fight Song”. I also am not ashamed to acknowledge that I found my own fight song with the support of a service dog. For me… it made the difference.

Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion
And all those things I didn’t say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me
Losing friends and I’m chasing sleep
Everybody’s worried about me
In too deep
Say I’m in too deep (in too deep)
And it’s been two years I miss my home
But there’s a fire burning in my bones
Still believe
Yeah, I still believe
And all those things I didn’t say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me
A lot of fight left in me

ORIGINAL VIDEO

L. Denise Portis

© 2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Crappy Life Lessons

img_2567

I’ve had to force myself to log onto “Hearing Elmo” and write SOMETHING.

Anything!

I don’t like for too much time to go by and not be writing. Writing, blogging, and “talking to you” is important to me. I learn from you. I hope we learn from each other.

Misinterpreting

Saturday, October 1st, on her twelfth birthday, we said goodbye to Chloe, my first assistance dog. She retired in May of 2015. Chloe was diagnosed with Transitional Cell Carcinoma in August of this year.

I’ve started this post 8 times (and yes, I counted). The first couple of drafts were angry and mean. One draft was scary. Others were tearful and frankly? Were so full of random thoughts and words, the grammar itself forbade me from hitting “publish“.

Shame and Blame

lane-graves

On June 14, 2016, little Lane was killed by an alligator at Walt Disney World resorts. Like many who read his story, my first thought was, “Where the heck were his parents, and how in the world does something like this happen?

Erin S., a friend of mine, fairly quickly put me in my place–and rightly so. Why do we immediately judge what we do not know?

  1. We are shocked by something.
  2. We are heart broken.
  3. We look for someone to blame.
  4. … as if that makes it better.

We cannot ever know the “whole story”. We simply are not privy to that. There is a backstory to every tragedy and every loss. Little Lane was killed as the result of an tragic (freak) accident and he cannot be placed back into the arms of those who loved him. Why do we search for who is to blame? Sometimes, folks?

Sometimes life just sucks.

img_3148

Facebook is a wonderful place; especially for the differently-ABLED community. It is a place where technology levels the communication playing field. I have re-connected and strengthened friendships. I have “met” people in this venue I may never meet face-to-face. Last week, however, I “unfriended” and “blocked” 34 people I didn’t really know. Getting one to two messages a week, led me to believe they were simply out to get a “rise”. Many posted publicly and I exercised my right to DELETE. Haters gonna hate.

I created a public page for Chloe’s last chapter to raise awareness about an organization I love, Fidos For Freedom, Inc. I wanted to share what being a puppy raiser, sponsor, and trainer for service dogs was like. I wanted to share information about the valuable resource (even MINISTRY) of therapy dogs. I wanted to share how one dog changed my life and brought me back into the world of the living after a self-imposed isolation.

When bad things happen, we tend to look for answers or worse-someone to blame. After only reading the public “cliff notes” of Chloe’s life, I was lambasted by people for making the wrong decision.

  1. You should get a third opinion. You could treat this and prolong her life an entire year!
  2. How could you let her live the last month of her life this way?
  3. OMG. It’s just a dog. Surely you have something better to do.

Now these are folks I don’t know and you are open to these kinds of messages when you go “public” with anything. I don’t mind blocking folks who just look for ways to get people riled. I fully trust that those who know me and know my husband Terry, trusted US to make the best and most humane decision for a furry family member. (More than that… a retired partner).

politics

Ah. It’s an election year. It’s getting nasty out there in FaceBook land, isn’t it? Yet those I actually do know, I allow to post whatever they want on FaceBook. I may not click “like”. We may agree. We may disagree. More than anything though I hope we are the kind of “real” friends to agree to disagree… and love each other anyway.

I love Culture of Empathy’s website. I don’t agree with everything they post, but their message is powerful. Empathy is defined as, “identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives”. Empathy does not mean you may fully agree with them.

Y’all?

We can love one another and show kindness and compassion without having to acknowledge that an important connection and relationship is the equivalent of being identical twins. I love my husband and best friend, Terry, but the man is an idiot sometimes (albeit a sweet one). I do not agree with everything he says, believes, or “votes”. Yet, I respect everything he says, believes and votes and fully support him because I love him and he is my friend.

The Bible does not actually use the word “empathy” anywhere, yet it is inferred. It does use the word compassion numerous times. Compassion can be defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy or sorrow for another who is stricken with misfortune, accompanied by the strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” Especially when someone is faced with a critical decision or experiencing heart ache, can I not support them with compassion? How does judgement, argumentative jabs, and insistence they agree with ME, help? It doesn’t. It only shows I lack compassion and kindness.

helen-keller

I’m not perfect. But…

I want to be perfectly committed to being kind, being loving, and making a difference. I may not always agree with you, but if we have the kind of relationship that we can talk about disagreements with respect and kindness, and walk away still close friends? I count myself BLESSED.

Crappy Life Lessons

So a crappy life lesson? Sometimes when grieving and in pain, people are gonna kick you when you are down. Sometimes when important decisions need to be made, folks are going to call into question my own character for an informed and personal choice. I’m gonna love you anyway.

For you see? Love isn’t love if it changes on a whim and because someone disagrees with you. I believe the world would be a better place if our first thought when getting up in the morning was,

“How can I make a difference today? How can I show kindness?” 

Hold me accountable.

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

When Rules Don’t Apply to YOU

dog-with-pen

*tongue in cheek*  It ROCKS when a guest writer chooses to post here at Hearing Elmo. I welcome guest writers and if you ever feel the “itch” to write, email me at denise.portis@gmail.com  Today’s post comes from Milo-bear, my second service dog.  Let’s welcome newbie writer, Milo, to the blogosphere and trust that what he has to say can be echoed by many service dog teams.

I have working clothes. Don’t laugh… you have them too. I pretty much have a great time side-by-side with my human partner 24/7. However, when my working clothes go on — my vest — I am having fun WORKING. Oh… I also happen to be GQ handsome.

IMG_2849 (1)

Denise has had a lot of people come up to me that she does not know asking to pet me. When we know the person already, Denise actually likes for us all to say hello because I can be kinda aloof and she doesn’t really want that being a teacher and all. She draws the line at sniffing butts though so I have learned to lean, wag, and keep my nose to myself.

Sometimes though, a total stranger comes up and starts talking to me. One day last week at the craft store, someone came up and leaned down to talk to me totally ignoring Denise. If they had been paying attention, they would have seen Denise desperately gripping the shelves and trying to keep from wobbling as this person invaded our space. The stranger said, “Oh I just love working dogs. I have always wanted to see if that was something I could do… train working dogs. Oh my, you have a very cool vest pretty boy. Don’t you look handsome!?” Now – mind you – I couldn’t argue with the handsome part, but this gal was missing two important clues:

  1. My vest says “Do not Pet” and “Do Not Distract
  2. I neither speak NOR interact with strangers. They are STRANGE.

I was so proud of Denise! She hates to make people feel badly, and at times she puts herself at risk by not standing up for herself. Perhaps it was because she was wobbling SO MUCH, that she immediately chimed in on the tail end of this stranger’s gushing intrusion to say, “Yes, isn’t it a nice vest? Complete with patches asking you not to pet or distract him”. 

I would have high5-paw’d Denise, but hey… she was wobbling enough and I didn’t want her to do a face plant. The stranger kind of sputtered and backed away. Then with a huff, she turned on her heel and walked away. I yawned really big trying to relax and Denise scratched me behind the ears and talked quietly to me. I didn’t understand everything she said, but it was something along the lines of just wanting to shop without the drama.

Denise doesn’t partner with me to create drama. I’m her helper to reduce the drama. She wobbles less when I’m by her side. If she drops something I get it for her. And ya know something? My gal pal drops things A LOT. I’m ok with that because – heck. I get paid to just pick it up and give it back to her. I have the world’s best job. I do things that are super easy for me and get treats and affection for my efforts! If Denise  reaches for dropped items, she tends to end up on her butt – which I have to tell you is OK with me too because I can easily kiss her whole face when she is eye-level.

When I know someone, the whole scenario is different. For one thing, I don’t stiffen up. I usually start to wag like crazy. I just can’t help it. When I see a friend my tail just wags and wags. Denise releases the tension some on my leash and I can say a quick hello. When it is a stranger though, I’m nervous and she is nervous. I’m thinking, “WHY are they talking to me? Who IS this strange person staring at me and in my space?”

A couple of weeks ago, Denise and I had a break after a class. This was before the pant-’til-you-drop heat hit our area. We were sitting outside on a bench enjoying the sunshine. I was double-daring a butterfly to come a little closer, and Denise was checking her email on her phone. Some students came pushing and shoving their way around the corner and then stood right in front of us. Denise was a little startled, but continued to sit and check her email. I was SERIOUSLY uptight. I mean… they chased off my butterfly! Boy was I peeved. And then you know what they did? They all had their phones out and were jostling each other and pointing their phones at us. Here I was surrounding by all these noisy and rowdy strangers, and all of them were pointing their phones at us. My hair stood up and I made sure Denise could feel my tension all the way up through the leash. She looked down at me, looked up at the students and said, “Ummm. Let me guess. Pokemon GO?” They completely ignored her. Thank goodness they didn’t hang around long. I was starting to get really antsy. After they left Denise reached down to scratch my ears again.

“People can be clueless sometimes, Milo. Don’t let them bother you. I would have moved but DARN IT. We were here FIRST”. 

I sighed really loud and pouted about not getting that butterfly. I tell ya what, I just don’t get people sometimes. I worked my butt off all morning, showing Denise where sounds were coming from, picking up things she dropped, and standing behind her while she wobbled at the board. She calls this command “WRAP”. I just call it smart, because it only takes my touching her on the back of the legs to keep her from wobbling so much. Anyway, I worked my tail off this particular morning. Well ahem, not literally of course. I just wanted to rest a bit – and yeah ok. I wanted to eat that butterfly, too. Instead, rude strangers caused me to get my hackles up. SMH.

Some people don’t think the rules apply to them. It’s just common decency to not invade someone’s space, make a lot of noise, and point your phone at them. That’s a rule even dogs understand. When my pack mates put their butt in the air and wag their tails at me, I will come over and say hello. If they are laying still and have their face pointed away from me though, I figure they are staring down a butterfly. This body language and lack of eye contact means that I know to stay clear. Especially my older sister, Chloe. That girl can be Grrr-ummmm-py! She still does the kitchen timer alert for Denise, and let me tell ya… you better get out of that girl’s way when the kitchen timer goes off. I watch her body language. I know when Tyco wants to play and I also know when his legs hurt and he wants me to leave him alone. People need to just pay attention to my body language when I’m trying to help Denise. Better yet, they need to know the patches on my vest are rules to be followed. Not because I’m snooty. I have a job to do and can’t do it if you come into my space and act like we are best buds.

I know what strangers are. When Denise’s classes start, everyone is a stranger. However, the students that sit in the front are students I start to recognize. After a few weeks of class, sometimes when Denise is talking I will lean over and put my head on a student’s desk and make goo-goo eyes at them. They aren’t a stranger anymore. At this point though, WE KNOW EACH OTHER. They may laugh and tell me I’m a silly boy, but it doesn’t distract me because I know them. Even knowing me they don’t take advantage. They know the rules. Towards the end of the semester, Denise will take off my vest right after class. OH BOY! I get to say hello to all the front-row students. Naked=Right to Visit. I take advantage of any naked time I can get.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that I know seeing me where you shop, eat, or work grabs your attention. I thought I gathered folk’s attention because I am so incredibly handsome. I’m sure that’s part of it, but it is also because some people just love dogs. Let me tell you a secret though. One of the things I’m most proud of is that Denise shops, eats out, and works because I make that possible. She told me that before Chloe she was almost house-bound. She was scared to do anything because people would jostle her when she didn’t hear them and knock her down. After Fidos For Freedom, Inc., came into her life — first with Chloe and now with me — she went back to school, went back to work, and shops alone. Listen up though… if you are a stranger and invade our space and make a grab for me? Well Denise goes back to being in danger of falling really fast. That makes her nervous again. If we know you, it’s different. Think about it this way: Would you go up to a stranger and only talk to their kiddo, and reach out to touch them without asking? Sometimes I sigh and wish I could say, “AHEM. The eyes that matter are up HERE“, and swing to point at Denise’s face. Denise said, “eyes up here” is kind of kinky and doesn’t mean what I think it means. So I haven’t tried to correct anyone with that yet.

Rules are rules. If you see a service dog with a partner in public, it may be obvious at first glance why that dog is with that person. A lot of times, though, it may not be obvious at all. Just trust that a working dog is WORKING. If you do not know them, let them shop. If you do not know them, let them eat in peace. If you do not know them, let them work and do their job. Service dogs are like a piece of adaptive equipment. You wouldn’t pet Denise’s cane would you?

A specific exception for just Denise, is that if we know you it’s great to say hello to me and scratch my ears for a minute. Denise wants me to know that there are friends in the world and to recognize them. If I don’t know you though, how about you just let me do my job? That way Denise is safe and I can focus on why I am with her. If you have to take a picture of me, cuz seriously I’m drool-worthy, just be sly about it and don’t make a scene.

Milo-bear Portis

Successor dog extraordinaire

 

 

SYTYCD

funny_dancer

We had a brief spat of rain this past week. When that happens I’m at risk for a “brief splat”. Folks? I think I’m more reliable than the Weather Channel. Seriously.

I’m like a human barometer. If it is going to rain, I know it. My vestibular system goes haywire, the tinnitus increases, and my world spins much faster than it normally does. So on a rainy day this past week, I was in class and took a very quick, very unwise turn from the whiteboard to face the class.

I actually have no idea why I didn’t fall. Call it luck. Maybe it was God. Perhaps I’m just THAT GOOD. However, just because I didn’t fall doesn’t mean I didn’t “bust a move”. As a matter of fact, it takes quite the “fancy footwork” to correct a near fall.

I stood there for a minute, with my arms stretched out to aid in my balance correction. I know my eyes were as wide as saucers. I actually heard my breath HITCH. (And if *I* heard it, it must have been VERY LOUD). I may not be able to move fast, but I think fast. I immediately thought, “Ok. How do I explain this? Do I cover with a counter-move?”

I pictured myself launching right into the MOONWALK, and prophesied I’d end up on my fanny.

I pictured myself STAYIN’ ALIVE, but this was long before THEIR time. Instead I decided to just lower my arms slowly and calmly say, “WHEW!”

A student in the front row nonchalantly said, “You should charge for that. Seriously. It’s that good”. Everyone laughed and the tension was broken. Professor Portis didn’t land on her face…

TODAY

How Do You Explain It Away?

If you have an invisible illness or disability that sometimes has your body doing things you wish it didn’t do, you’ve likely tried to think of ways to explain it to others when it happens.

I have a friend with a neurological disorder which causes her extremities to sometimes “twitch”. If she is fatigued and having a “bad day”, she may twitch very violently. I’ve learned to give her a little bit of space so that I do not accidentally get “hit”. I’ve known her awhile, however. Other folks who aren’t use to being around her, may experience a “near miss”. She cracks me up with her practiced come-backs.

“Duck!”

“You should see what I can do on a dance floor!”

These are coping mechanisms. Not everyone tries to laugh it off and poke fun at themselves. Some folks ignore it. Some folks just apologize (like it’s their fault? Wha…?) Some people don’t even try. They isolate themselves so that they aren’t put in a position to have to explain anything.

Kids. Expect it! They Are Curious!

Some of the best things ever said to me about my disabilities came out of the mouth of babes — children! I get so cracked up sometimes that it is all I can do to bend down to take the time to explain.

I’ll never forget when a kiddo pointed to Chloe in vest and asked, “Why does that dog have on a SADDLE?” 

Sometimes OTHER people help me out. They help me explain to children what is going on. The Costco I go to on occasion know me now simply because folks start recognizing my service dog. One day I was in the freezer section and had to pass a more narrow opening to the aisle due to two cooking stations set up at the end. My balance wasn’t great that day, so I decided to just hang on to the cart and walk on through. The Costco deli representative had better ideas.

“Here, you’ve got to try this. It is really good!” She stuck a toothpick in a piece of meat that she had just fried up in her Wok. I shouldn’t have done it, but I reached for that toothpick.

Yup, I almost fell face first into the Wok. The lady grabbed my elbow and continued to extol the virtues of the seasoned meat.

A child nearby exclaimed with horror in their voice, “Dad! That lady almost fell in that cooker!”

The Costco worker, without missing a beat, said, “No worries. I caught her. We’re not frying up that kind of meat today”. Everyone laughed and numerous folks moved their carts clear so I could get through with giant cart and service dog in heel. I wasn’t the least bit embarrassed. I’m glad when people can tell that I am comfortable enough with being ME, that I don’t mind a little humorous dialogue.

When to Accept That There is No Way TO COVER

Humor doesn’t explain away everything. Laughing at yourself doesn’t always succeed at helping others feel more comfortable. Sometimes, all you can do is state the facts and move on.

I am sporting a big cut on my left thumb. It is healing and my nail is finally growing back. I acquired this injury as the result of cutting an apple with a paring knife on a day I wasn’t being extra cognizant of the fact that I have peripheral neuropathy. I was in class the day of the “big cut”. A student asked, after pointing to the huge bandage on my thumb, “what in the world happened to your thumb”? I explained how I got my “boo-boo” and the student stated the obvious. “Maybe you should get someone else to cut your apple!” I laughed and agreed, but have to tell you… I was peeved for a minute. I mean, I work SO HARD at being independent! I can’t even cut my own apple safely. I was still in a peeved mood when I went for my neurologist check up that afternoon. This was a re-check after the March 8th concussion. It was supposed to be a quick “in and out”.

But…

I was still peeved. After checking everything out, I told Dr. S. “Listen. I’ve had vestibular rehab. I use a service dog. I have my cane with me all the time. I walk with a helmet now on bad weather days. I never wear socks. I alert family members when I’m headed to the shower. I don’t drive at night. I drop things all the time, and cheerfully allow my retired dog to retrieve things if she’s there, or without shame, ask for assistance when she isn’t. You’ve got to help me! I can’t even cut an apple!” I exclaimed while gesturing towards my injured thumb.

I’m sure Dr. S. has heard exasperated – even desperate demands for an answer all too often. He sat there a minute digesting all I said. I have a feeling that after all the tests have been run and all efforts at rehabilitation are exhausted, his response is at times, “I’ve got nuthin’

However, he got a lightbulb look on his face and turned to his computer. He typed something in and then turned the screen so that I could see it.

apple slicer

Ah. An apple slicer. I bought one at Target that very weekend.

If something is difficult for you and you need a “work around“, brain-storm with a doctor, friend, or family member. Perhaps there IS a way you can do – whatever it is you are having trouble doing – safely! I think asking for opinions help others  understand that you really are striving to be independent, too.

SYTYCD (A television show called, “So You Think You Can Dance“),

if you use humor to help educate and advocate,

if you speak in plain terms to help others understand,

or if you get a bright idea from another source… simply celebrate the fact that you found a new AND SAFE way of doing things. A positive attitude goes a long way!

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Accepting Help ≠ Dependence

This service dog took full advantage of a holiday vacation in Florida.
This service dog took full advantage of a holiday vacation in Florida.

My Christmas holiday was a blur. They can be that way sometimes. I flew to Florida with my husband to be with my parents for Christmas, but I had a TON of homework. Chloe, faithful service dog, at least got the opportunity to really chill out. When I got home, I headed to an academic residency for 4 days.

Even being super busy, I still learned a few things. I learned some things about myself, about other people, and about acceptance. I began to lose my hearing and balance at the age of 25. Now that I am 48-years-old, you would think I have learned all that one can learn after living with hearing loss and a vestibular disorder for 2+ decades!

Ungracious Acceptance

Acceptance of my life as it is, seems to be an ever-evolving concept. Sometimes I take things in stride. Progression of the toll my diagnoses have, a new “timber – down goes Denise – fall”, having to switch out cochlear implant batteries mid-conversation, taking the elevator instead of escalator or stairs, and having to wait for an empty handicap stall in public bathrooms so that my dog and I BOTH fit, is really second nature for me now.

But sometimes? Sometimes I am WITCHY about it. (Feel free to put another first letter there as it probably fits from time to time). Maybe it’s hormones? Perhaps it is a lack of sleep? It may be I just had an unpleasant encounter with someone who was condescending towards me when my being differently-abled became apparent. For whatever reason, at times when someone asks if they can assist I must look…

S c A r Y

I assume this because their eyes get big, they throw up their hands in an “I surrender!” pose, and they take two full steps back. I don’t MEAN to put off that vibe, but I know there are times I must do so. I work SO hard at being independent. I love the color purple, but that isn’t why I carry a bright purple cane. I love dogs, but that isn’t why my 24/7 partner is a service dog from Fidos For Freedom, Inc. I love dangly earrings, but I don’t wear “bling-bling” on my cochlear implant because I’m a drama queen.

(OK, OKAY! I’m a drama queen, but in THIS instance it is not why I have bling-bling on my cochlear implant! Yeesh!)

I do all of these things to be independent. I yearn for independence and inner strength. I forget sometimes that the latter is the result of a “thinker” and “feeler” in sync in the body of a person who is differently-abled. Part of it, I actually HAVE caught the exasperated looks on faces when I do ask for help with something. It can be fleeting, but it’s there. I’m deaf, not blind. (We can debate if differently-abled people are far too sensitive about this and see things that are not there later).

Yeah, so? Let’s Go!

While in Florida, amidst homework and research, I did insist on going out to eat every day. I did a little bit of shopping at a place we don’t have in Maryland. Bealls was a very cool place! We also do not have a Belk. So yup. I did a little shopping.

When we went out on the town to do these things, we had to borrow my parent’s car. It is a big ol’ SUV and Chloe had to sit in the back compartment. It gave her plenty of room to stretch out and seemed like a great option for four people plus one service dog. The problem was that my parent’s SUV sits very high. Chloe is 10+ years old. She is retiring in May of 2015 (unless she lets me know it needs to be before then). The first couple of times I gave the “Chloe… OUT” command, she jumped from the back, only to have her front legs collapse and do a hound face plant in the parking lot. The first time it happened, I gasped. The second time it happened, I’m pretty sure I yelled. OK, yeah. I don’t yell. I have a hearing loss. I SCREECH. Ask me to demonstrate sometime, but bring the ear plugs.

Because my husband, Terry, didn’t want to see what a third time would trigger, he suggested, “Let me lift her out of the back and set her on the ground!

I said, “Ok, but do it in a way you don’t embarrass her. Make it quick and don’t make a big deal about it.

Perhaps I should explain that I disagree with those who say that dogs don’t exhibit or feel some of the same things humans do. I have seen dogs excited. I have seen them pissed. I have seen dogs pouting (do I have some stories about my grand-dog, Pegasus, or what?). I have seen dogs embarrassed. Point & laugh and dogs will duck their heads in shame/embarrassment.

Chloe’s weight ranges from 59-62 pounds. Needless to say, we don’t carry her around. I wasn’t sure how she would respond to being lifted from the back and set on all fours on the pavement; nor, did I know how she would respond to being lifted up into the back of the SUV.

The first time we opted to lift the service hound out, I held my breath. Terry reached into the back, hooked his arms under her and locked his hands over her spine, and carefully picked her up and set her on all fours.

PUH.

I exhaled rather noisily, and watched as she wagged her tail and moved to heel position, looking up at me as if, “Yeah, so? Let’s go!

I was stunned. I had a treat in my hand to cajole her back into a good mood. Instead I went into the store as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I watched Chloe from the corner of my eye. (Ummm… explain to me how oval shaped things like eyeballs have corners?) I digress…

I fully expected Chloe to act, I don’t know… WEIRD for awhile. However, she took it all in stride. She needed the help, being rather fond of her own face, and didn’t even miss a step in going on about her job after accepting assistance.

Do you know where I’m going with this?

WHY???????

Why do we act so weird when we need help? Maybe it is just a little help.

… like picking up the dropped blue tooth device I spotted in a hallway that I could not bend to get, and didn’t want Chloe to destroy by enthusiastic fetching.

Maybe it was a lot of help.

… like helping me dislodge my wedged rolling briefcase from the elevator door as it was stuck solid. I struggled with my butt holding the door, cane braced, and dog freaking out as I tugged on a very STUCK wheel.

Sometimes? Sometimes, we just need a little help to continue doing our thing. We need a helping hand. We aren’t signing an I.O.U. If we truly want the world to be a kinder place, then why are we prickly when someone asks if they can help? By accepting help we are not sticking a “I’m WEAK” note on our forehead. We can accept help and still be independent. We aren’t waving all rights to an independent life should we accept help once in awhile. For most people, helping another is done so with no strings attached. They don’t even think twice about it. They may never think about it again, while WE sit there perseverating on it and making a huge deal about it. Why can’t we just say, “thank you!” and our attitude be, “Yeah, so? Let’s go!

PRIDE.

Pride can be a good thing. There are good types of pride, and crippling types of pride. Learn the difference. Learn to accept help. It doesn’t mean you are signing on to a life of dependence. It means that you are SMART. You know your limitations and are making wise choices to do what is best for YOU. Face plants on the pavement aren’t fun. All you will have for that type of stubbornness is a skinned chin. (Ask Chloe…)

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

 

 

As You Wish…

blog as you wish

I’m a HUGE “Princess Bride” fan. Perhaps I’m even classified as being an “annoying Princess Bride fan“. I know so many of the lines by heart and they tend to slip out in both opportune and inopportune moments. If you’ve never seen the movie – for shame. Seriously, it is one of those ridiculous movies that everyone needs to see at least once. You will be talking about it for the rest of your life. I promise.

One of the best known (and faithfully repeated) lines of the movie is that of our hero, Westley. He says, “As you wish…” to his beloved, Buttercup, (hey… I can’t make this up) to genteelly and sweetly acquiescence to her every request. Yup. This makes him a bit of a sap. But he does become the “Dread Pirate Roberts” later and reveals to Buttercup, that he is still her “Westley” in this dramatic (and hysterical scene):

In the end, we learn that “trewww lub” (true love) is worth fighting for and that we should be careful about agreeing for the sake of keeping the peace. Well… at least that is ONE “moral of the story” I got out of this favorite! 🙂

When People with Disabilities Keep the Peace

We’ve all heard how important it is to have the right attitude when you are advocating for your own rights or needs, or on behalf of another. “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar“.

Trust me.

I know how hard this can be at times. Having had it drilled into my head, I am fully aware that how the public interacts with ME, may influence how they interact with another who has hearing loss, balance disorders, or a service dog in the future. That “burden” keeps my mouth shut when I strive to bite my tongue. But ya know something?

Sometimes when my attitude says, “As you wish…“, I’m really only hurting myself AND others.

About a month ago, I was walking with a colleague to a meeting in another building. We had to walk through the Student Union bldg., and then go to the second floor. We were talking as we walked. My colleague turned to go up a 20-step flight of stairs… still talking.

I hesitated and said, “the elevator is up the hallway…” and my friend interrupted and said, “Come on! We need the exercise!” She continued up the stairs and was still talking.

I put Chloe is a close heel, looped my cane over my wrist, grabbed the handrail and took one careful step at a time, all the while with a death grip on Chloe’s handle attached to her vest. By silently agreeing, I practically shouted, “As you wish…

I can’t talk and climb stairs, so I quietly made my way up the stairs one careful step at a time. When I got to the top of the stairs, I exhaled heavily (for it seems I was holding my breath), and looked up with a triumphant grin. My smile immediately faded because my friend stood there with big tears in her eyes. My brain started processing sound again (for it had been wholly fixed on arriving ALIVE at the top of the stairs), and I belatedly picked up some of her words…

For heaven’s sake, why didn’t you remind me you can’t do stairs? All you had to do was remind me!

I was struck dumb (silent – not mentally – grin) for a second and said, “Well I was just keeping the peace!

She said, “You keep the peace by reminding me what your needs are. That’s not keeping the peace, that’s being a martyr. Just tell me!

I apologized (profusely).

We can remind people what we can, and cannot do safely without sounding as if we are complaining. We need to learn to be pro-active in a positive, upbeat way. Don’t apologize for who you are or for what your needs are. However, be careful not to agree to something foolhardy like climbing a set of stairs when there is an elevator right up the hallway. My attitude of “As you wish…” could have set the scene for a disaster that day. Thankfully, it did not.

“Shove it up your… “

There are times when people with disabilities need to actually be a little more firm when they are educating or advocating. I don’t always do this well. I try to even interrupt my rising temper by reminding myself that I represent “Fidos For Freedom, Inc.“, and “Anne Arundel County’s Commission on Disabilities“. I chant in my head, “Bite your tongue, bite your tongue”. It doesn’t always work. The phrase, “shove it up your… NOSE” (scared ya a minute, didn’t I – wink), reverberates in my head.

Monday, I stopped at the U.S. Post Office to purchase some stamps for Christmas cards. (Yes, I’m aware I’m late to this “party”). I saw a man leaning against the building, smoking. I sort of register this in order to use the door farthest from him because I cannot stand the smell of cigarette smoke. As I exited my car, I reached in and got my cane, closed the door… opened the back door to unload Chloe, adjusted her vest and leash, closed HER door and then turned to walk into the building.

It seems we had an audience.

The man leaning against the building said, “What a beautiful guide dog! My mother is almost blind now. Where did you get your dog?

I was so startled I stutter-stepped and screeched to a stop. I know my mouth was hanging open. I looked over my shoulder at my car. I pointedly looked at the car keys in my hands. I looked at Chloe and her visible vest that said “Service Dog” with tags that said, “Hearing Dog. Do not Distract”.

Then I made a mistake. I blurted. Nothing ever goes well when I blurt.

Is that nicotine or weed you are smoking?

His eyes got big. He stomped out his cigarette and stomped into the building. Then this little convo/prayer went through my head:

Ok God. I blew that. If I find that man in the building please give me the opportunity to apologize and make that right. But… please don’t let me find him because I swear he’s stupid and higher than a kite!

Yeah. It seems I can’t pray with the right attitude right after a ridiculous encounter either.

But ya know something? There ARE times when it is ok to put someone in their place. Especially if someone repeatedly makes the same comment or observation about you or people with disabilities. You can be firm and be kind.

I didn’t tell the “smoker”, “As you wish…” with an attitude that what he said made perfect sense. However, I could have reminded him that a person with vision loss would not have just pulled into the parking lot and got out of the vehicle. I could have educated him quickly and politely that there are numerous types of service dogs and canes. Instead, I was a smart aleck. Justified? Perhaps. However, in the end, I didn’t promote any “cause” or advocate in a positive way.

So Where is the HAPPY MEDIUM?

If you have lived with invisible illness or disability long enough, you DO eventually learn how to balance all of this. You learn how to remind those who have known you long enough that they may have forgotten some of your limitations. You speak up for yourself. You also learn when to firmly, but kindly, put someone in their place. There is a time for that as well.

You are going to make mistakes. Your attitude will scream, “As you wish…” at times when you simply need to say, “I can’t and won’t attempt that“. You are also going to learn to not label someone a pothead, and instead take 60 seconds to educated them in a positive way. It’s a balance we all eventually learn.

If you haven’t seen, “Princess Bride” – you are missing a treat. 🙂 I hope all of us who are differently-abled, learn to balance how to advocate and educate others.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

It Can Be Small Things…

Deborah Marcus, friend and photographer, explains, "I love to hear how what I capture and share gets people to notice stuff they'd probably overlook". I have learned much through seeing what she sees through her camera lens.
Deborah Marcus, friend and photographer, explains, “I love to hear how what I capture and share gets people to notice stuff they’d probably overlook”. I have learned much through seeing what she sees through her camera lens.

A dear friend and fellow “hearing again with a CI” friend, Deborah Marcus, has a knack for capturing the kind of photos that has me sucking in my breath and having to pinch myself to remember to continue breathing. She finds the smallest detail and creates a visual memory by “pointing and clicking”. It’s a talent, and one I don’t have. So I enjoy seeing the small things through her camera lens that I would normally miss. Why do I miss them? I’m not looking…

The Problem With Health Challenges

One of the biggest problems with health challenges isn’t pain. It’s not fatigue. It’s not the stigma. It isn’t depression, anxiety, or any other comorbid diagnosis. In the years I’ve lived as a disability advocate, writer, and mentor, the biggest danger of living with chronic health conditions and challenges is that it can make a person extremely self-centered.

It’s easy to do. No one understands except perhaps others we’ve connected with who “live the same”. The people we love may be supportive or stumbling blocks. They may be our biggest advocates, or the pain in our… erm… behind.

Take Deborah’s photo above. Now me? I love daisies and any type of flora that is yellow and white. But ya know? I’d walk right by this flower and only think, “what a pretty flower!” I don’t stop, grow quiet, get down on my knees, and really open my eyes. If I did that more often, I’d see the gorgeous wee bug. (Entomologist, I’m not…)

It can be the small things that make an ordinary moment in time, something to be celebrated. When we become self-focused, it is impossible to see those small things and we miss celebrations.

Pity Parties are still Celebrations

Don’t get me wrong. I believe it is healthy to have a good ol’ pity party from time to time. After all, a party is a celebration … of sorts. ♪♫ It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want too…♫♪

Learning to adjust to new challenges can be exhausting. Some folks with chronic illness or invisible disabilities may find it very therapeutic and healing to bawl their eyes out (Borchard, 2014). In “7 Good Reasons to Cry Your Eyes Out”, Borchard (2014), explains all the GOOD that can come from a good ol’ pity party.

But self-pity is dangerous and different than an occasional pity party. Self-pity begins and ends with self-focus. When we are entirely focused on ourselves and our own problems and difficulties, we cannot see the small things and miss the celebration. “We are bombarded with opportunities to feel sorry for ourselves” (Smith, 2004, para. 2) and if we become self-focused our camera not only fails to capture the beautiful bug, but we miss the flower as well. As a matter of fact, we may only see the dusty road in front of us as we trudge along feeling sorry for ourselves.

My Life is Hard. Can I Learn to “Really Look” Again?

Life is hard. I have heard from many readers who live with chronic conditions and invisible illness who know that they will wake up with pain and fatigue, stress and anxiety, and go to bed holding hands with the same bed fellows. However, many of these same people have learned that in spite of their circumstances, they can make a difference.

They have set short and long term goals… and are seeing them fulfilled.

They have reached out to mentor and volunteer… forever changing the life of another.

They have learned to adjust and evolve, rolling with the “punches”… teaching others by example and living with courage and perseverance.

They have learned to stop focusing on self… and can see the small things. They are celebrating.

I’m still learning how to do this myself. Believe me, when I reflect on “things we should do”, I’m sitting in the front row of my own classroom. And sometimes, it isn’t fun. Last week we had StRaNgE weather. It was in the mid-70’s one day, and in the low 30’s the next. Sunshine to snowflakes. For folks with Meniere’s disease this means you walk as if strolling on the deck of a ship – IN THE MIDDLE OF A FREAKING HURRICANE.

Rushing from my car to my 11 o’clock class, I was trying to hurry Chloe out of the wind and drizzle and hustle 100 yards into the building. One thing folks with Meniere’s disease do not do well is hustle. Not even with blinged-out cane and service dog. So I slipped on some leaves plastered to the sidewalk and fell on my hip and rolled to my caboose. I sat there a second with Chloe, wagging her tail beside me, perfectly content for a spontaneous pit stop. Since I was already SITTING, I let her go leash length to do her thang. As I moved to get up, my “no slip” (*rolls eyes*) boots slid some leaves out of the way as I struggled to rise. I noticed that the leaves had left perfect “leaf footprints” on the white sidewalk in a beautiful display of “peek-a-boo” gone right. I stood there and said, “well celebrate THAT!” I’m learning to look, and it only took 10 seconds. I remembered that leaf pattern long after my britches dried out. It was worth remembering; worth celebrating.

I hope each of us who live with significant challenges can learn to see the small things. We can only do it if we learn to look and if we take the time to do so. We can only do it if we stop with what is natural – self-focus and self-pity. I believe no human is stronger than those who live with invisible illness and disability. I’m a wimp with little to no ability to see what is right in front of me. If I can learn, you can as well.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Borchard, T. J. (2014). 7 good reasons to cry your eyes out. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/06/06/7-good-reasons-to-cry-your-eyes-out/

Smith, R. (2004). Self-pity will destroy you. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC437127/

 

But, Butt, Buttocks and Butte

Isn’t the English language crazy sometimes? Did you know that it is actually one of the hardest languages to learn? (Oxford Royal Academy, 2014). Since most who are reading this likely know and use English as their first language, that may come as a surprise to you. We bellyache about how difficult it is to learn Spanish, French, German, etc., because most of us were born into English speaking households. Yet, many scholars argue that English is quite difficult to learn.

Take homophones for example. “Butt” can mean to “be adjacent to” or it can be your hiney, your buttocks, your butt, your behind, your gluteus maximus, your CABOOSE. Talk about confusing! You have to look at words in context to figure out the meaning. Then… we have acceptable shortened versions of words. For example BUTT is an acceptable, widely used word in the place of BUTTOCKS. However, BUT is not short for BUTocks. As a matter of fact, that isn’t a word! Add an “e” to BUTT and it even changes the pronunciation of the word. Now it is BUTTE (pronounced \ˈbyüt\). However, you don’t ever add an “e” to BUT. The word BUTE is not a word (unless you mean the derivative of the medical word phenylbutazone). You just ran screaming from the room, didn’t you?

Get it Right

But ya know something? Sometimes we use words and think we know what they mean when we do not. It is my opinion, that those of us who live with disability, chronic illness, or invisible diagnosis, should know our own SELF very well. I have Meniere’s disease and am late-deafened. I sought to learn everything I could about both conditions. When I later developed extremity peripheral neuropathy, I learned all I could about this condition as well. However…

I cannot expect everyone I meet to be experts on what is wrong with ME.

Aren’t we guilty of that sometimes? Heck, even with our loved ones we really can expect too much from them. So we have to be careful about our expectations. If I tell a colleague that I’m late-deafened and they respond with, “Oh… OH! I know some sign language!” (and they start to slowly and painfully finger spell their name)… don’t have a COW. (Besides… that is just MESSY!) Not everyone knows that the vast majority of people with hearing loss are late-deafened and do not use ASL. Try gently educating instead.

I told a student who was walking down the hallway and then into an elevator with me, all the things Chloe does for me. She asked about my condition, so I tried to explain Meniere’s disease in layman’s terms. When we exited the elevator, she helpfully took my elbow, and said, “Here… let me help you“. I stopped (after making sure hound dog and my bags were on the right side of the closing elevator door) and dug in my heels. I looked at her in astonishment. I had just walked down a hallway with her, wheeling my bags behind me and juggling leash of faithful service dog not five minutes before! After helpfully disclosing and explaining Meniere’s disease now I’m incapable of walking on my own? Because I knew she meant well, I didn’t scream, spit, or throw a hissy fit (*pats self on back for rhyming so nicely right there*).

I said, “I can walk on my own. Chloe helps me“. She stared and then said, “But… But you are WOBBLING“.

I cheerfully retorted, “Yup. Welcome to my life!” and walked off.

Everyone’s an Expert!

Another problem you may encounter if you have a long-term or permanent diagnosis, is that helpful folks sometimes act “the expert”. I’ve tried to explain that I am late-deafened and hear again with a cochlear implant, only to be interrupted by the person exclaiming, “Oh yeah. I have to turn the volume up now that I’m in my 40’s!” (I’m like… whaaaaaa…?)

I told an employee of my favorite grocery store a little bit about Meniere’s disease. Chloe and I always meet him stocking bread in the same aisle almost every week. After hearing my brief explanation of Meniere’s, he said, “Oh yeah, I walk into things after I’ve been drinking even just one beer!” I stood there trying to determine if my brain heard what I thought it heard. Ever been taken by surprise before and your mouth just blurted out what you were thinking before you had a chance to filter it through your state-of-the-art “Maturity Meter”?

I said, “That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard“. He stared and then stomped off. We only see the tail end of him leaving the bread aisle when we go to the store now.

All my buddies who are late-deafened joke about this response after telling someone that they are late-deafened: “Oh yeah, I have an aunt who is death“.

Rest in peace, auntie.

Cut ‘EM Some Slack

Just as our English language can be confusing, so can your explanations of who you are to others. Even invisible conditions such as mental illness are so misunderstood. Many folks who try to explain a mental illness diagnosis are then treated like:

1. Fragile porcelain that may break under pressure

2. They are suddenly contagious

3. They are more dangerous than Freddy Krueger

All we can do, is do our BEST. In the end, we need to work hard at trying to understand that others – even those who may care about us the most – may not completely understand your new normal. That’s OK. A healthy acceptance and ability to BE GOOD TO OURSELVES is not dependent on the understanding of others.

Denise Portis

©2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Oxford Royale Academy (2014). Why is English so hard to learn? Retrieved on October 27, 2014, from http://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/learning-english-hard.html

Recurring Dreams… Life Goes On

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One of my favorite chapters in “Introduction to Psychology” is the one where we study dreams, sleep, and the subconscious mind. Everyone dreams – though you may not always remember your dreams. If you have furry family members, you’ve learned that even pets dream. I’ve seen evidence of REM sleep in dogs, cats, hamsters, even cows!

Very likely, if you do remember a dream it is because it was a bad one. Or, you may remember it because it is a recurring dream. Interpreting dreams is tricky. Yes, yes, I know! Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Daniel, and numerous others in the Bible made it look easy. It really is NOT that easy. If you have dreams that are bothering you, or have recurring dreams, don’t be afraid to talk about them with someone you trust. It can be a friend, counselor, or peer with a supportive role in your life. However, just remember, YOU are the expert on your dreams… they are YOUR dreams. Tartakovsky (2011) explains that there are indeed some universal symbols in dreams, however what those symbols mean to the DREAMER is what really matters. Someone else analyzing and interpreting the dream on your behalf is very likely inaccurate. In spite of knowing WE are the expert  when it comes to our dreams, recurring dreams usually end up making us “talk out loud” about what we are dreaming. Because you dream this dream OFTEN, you start thinking about it when you are awake. Most dream analysis experts agree that “recurring dreams reflect feelings and awareness that have not been successfully resolved in our waking lives” (Psychology Campus, 2004-2008, para. 4).

My Recurring Dream Had a Specific Trigger

I (like many of you) have a recurring dream and it always follows the same conscious scenario. Every time I fall and actually sustain an injury, I can guarantee I will have the same dream. I actually call it my “falling dream“.

Yes.

I do understand that by anticipating the dream, I am likely precipitating the dream itself. I get that. Now before you jump to conclusions, my dream isn’t about falling. Heck, I do enough of that in my conscious activity! I certainly don’t need it to happen in my subconscious mind – grin!

After a fall, I have a dream where I’m walking in a busy location with people everywhere, and all of sudden I’m frozen and cannot continue walking. Perhaps even more telling, my service dog, Chloe, is also frozen mid-step. Everyone around us continues to walk, talk, and move. Sometimes in the crowd I recognize people from my family, work, church, etc. Most of the time the faces are strangers, however. I can “hear” myself in the dream screaming (of course my mouth is not moving), “Help me! I can’t move! I can’t speak! Why aren’t you helping me? Can’t you see I’m frozen?”

So… yeah.  Please have fun with that and if you feel like commenting or emailing me what YOU think this probably means, go for it! I’m always interested in other’s opinions. Because the dream always follows a significant “Denise fall down – go boom” moment, I think I have this one figured out. I’ve had this same dream for over 12 years. The only thing that has changed in the dream is the addition of Chloe, my service dog. I was matched to Chloe in 2007. Goes to show the significant impact a service dog has on their person that she ended up in a recurring dream. <BIG GRIN>. Another change in the dream occasionally happens… but I’ll get to that later! <wink>

I believe this dream “for me”, means that I recognize that my “new normal” has an affect on ME, but not so much others. All the feelings, fears, bruises, even shame, is something I deal with in being differently-abled. However, it isn’t something that impacts others. Ever want to scream at the world to stop a moment and acknowledge that…

DARN IT. I’m dealing with this! Don’t you see? 

or

DARN IT. I suck at this! Don’t you see? HELP!

Life goes on. That’s hard, isn’t it? Isn’t it frustrating when you are sucker punched with a personal crisis of some kind and life just goes on as usual for everyone else? Worse? Life goes on for YOU!?

You lose someone close to you and crap. Life goes on.

You receive a diagnosis that will change your life. This sucks but life goes on.

Someone you trusted betrays you. It hurts but life goes on.

A progressive illness progresses. You adapt and life goes on.

You are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Life goes on.

Simple Acknowledgement

Most folks who live with invisible disability or a chronic illness will tell you that it is hard for them to share with others when they are struggling. This may be because they always seem to be struggling and figure everyone around them is sick and tired of hearing about it. We don’t want to be labeled as a “bellyacher”. Maybe you only rant to someone close to you. Perhaps you write. Maybe you pray. You may have some type of “release” that allows you to vent.

Sometimes my frustrations get the best of me and I bellyache out loud. However, most of the time I keep it quiet or at most confide in a trusted friend who “gets it” on a level that others cannot. I have a friend with MS who once told me, “Denise? I always feel like crap. I can’t respond to ‘How are you today?‘ with, ‘actually I feel like crap!‘. So I respond the way all of us respond, ‘I feel great, how are you today?‘. I can’t respond truthfully. People who do not have MS cannot understand what it is like to wake up tired, go to bed tired, and hurt all over each and every day. So I lie and say, ‘I’m great! How are you?‘ I don’t think this makes me a liar. This is how I convince myself I’m OK. I try to convince others I am.” 

You know? I don’t know very many people who live with significant challenges who want someone who will allow them to dump for hours each day. Griping for hours on end does not help physically, emotionally, or mentally. Most of us learn early on that perseverating on the negative only provides the ingredients for a significant meltdown. It is HUGE, however, to know we have a trusted peep or two that we can say, “Today is a bad day, but I’m going to be OK“.

Most of us simply long for a quick acknowledgment. Perhaps a short hug. I have a friend who has a seizure disorder and lives with chronic fatigue and pain whom I see about once a week. Like most folks, when we greet we say, “How are you doing?” I know this person well enough that both of us can say (on a day things aren’t going so well), “I’m not doing that great today, but things can only get better“. Or, “I’m not doing that great but I’m OK. Tomorrow will be better“. A pat on the shoulder and an understanding hug goes a long way. My friend doesn’t want me to grab her hand, drag her over to the side, and make a big production out of her “horrible, no good day”. If I say, “I’m thinking about ya“, or “How can I pray for you today?“, that is enough. You can see some of the tension roll off their shoulders. Simply acknowledging another’s pain or distress is A BIG DEAL. Salovey, Brackett, and Mayer (2004) call this empathy or emotional intelligence, and one can grow their EQ (emotional intelligence) simply by learning to acknowledge someone else’s feelings. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming. As a matter of fact, here are some great tips that will grow your EQ and help someone else:

1. Remember – and follow up.

Did someone tell you that they were having a rough day? The next time you see them ask them how they are doing NOW. By simply remembering they were going through a tough time and you care enough to follow up is HUGE.

2. Send a card.

My life has dramatically changed in that most of my correspondence is electronic. I buy one book of stamps each YEAR, when I use to buy that many stamps each month. However, I do shop for and keep inexpensive cards for “other” occasions (in other words, not birthday or anniversary), so that I can send a card off to someone who let it “slip” they are going through a tough time.

3. Follow up with a text.

It takes 10-15 seconds (depending on how many thumbs you have), to send a quick text. If you’ve limited time, don’t text an open-ended question. Just send off a quick, “Wanted you to know I’m thinking of you today and hope your day is better“. It doesn’t take much time and it likely means THE WORLD to that person.

A Significant Change in the Dream

Ok. I explained earlier that I do have one specific change that happens in my dream and over the years I think I have this figured out as well. Sometimes when I am “frozen”, a person or persons do come up to ICE CUBE Denise and Chloe, and try to help. Guess what? These are usually people I’m thinking about consciously, who are also going through something significant. For example…

I had this dream this past week after a fall on the deck. The injury was significant enough to warrant a doctor’s visit, x-rays, and a cancelled trip. I have been thinking about and praying for two specific people, both of whom showed up in my “falling dream”. One had surgery last week, the other is looking at surgery in her future. Both came and patted “frozen Denise and Chloe” and told my icy self that “everything would be OK”.

You know what? Having a support group MATTERS.

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It doesn’t mean that you need to join an organization (although there are benefits to doing so). It does not mean you need to find a group in which you stand up in a circle and say, “Hello. My name is Denise and I have invisible disabilities“. However, there is significant HELP in having a person or two who GET IT.

A tribe.

People who understand where you are coming from when you experience your life – your “normal”.

Thankfully, it is fairly easy to find those folks. The Internet has opened the door to really connecting with others who are like-minded, live what you live, and provide support simply because they truly GET IT. Maybe you have a friend or confidant who is that support for you, but they don’t actually share your diagnosis. But folks? Everyone has something. Life is hard. We all have difficult times. The two folks who showed up in my “falling dream” last week do not share my diagnosis. They do share living a difficult life but PERSEVERING. That’s why these folks show up in my dream. Support makes a difference.

You can be that kind of support. It will grow you. It may be time consuming at times. You may find a reciprocated “shoulder”. You may not. I don’t know about you, but at the end of my life I want to be the kind of person who patted a few ice cube people. I want to be that person who tells someone THEY matter. What they are GOING THROUGH matters. One of my dream goals is to eventually see a puddle under every person in my crowd.

Because we all deal with something.

We can help each other to thaw out by caring, listening, hugging.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal 

Psychology Campus (2004-2008). The possible meanings of dreams. Retrieved August 11, 2014 from http://www.psychologycampus.com/dream-psychology/

Salovey, P., Brackett, M. and Mayer, J. (2004). Emotional intelligence: Key readings on the Mayer and Salovey model. New York: Dude Publishing.

Tartakovsky, M. (2011). How to Analyze Your Dreams (And Why It’s Important). Psych Central. Retrieved on August 11, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/how-to-analyze-your-dreams-and-why-its-important/0005975