My iPhone Lasts Longer Than I do

iphone 6+

The other day my iPhone died before I was getting ready for bed. I was a little shocked, because I rarely have it just “die” on me. The new ones have batteries that last much longer – even if you are a frequent user of the device like I am. I stood there with dead phone in hand trying to figure out if I had charged it overnight — the night BEFORE — like I usually do. After hitting <rewind> in my head and backtracking over how my day BEGAN, I realized that I fished my smartphone out of my pocketbook before heading out the door this morning. That means I did not charge it last night. That means my iPhone lasted over 36 FREAKING HOURS! I was impressed. As impressed as I was, I STILL went and hooked it up to the charger. It was dead. It had to be charged.

As I fiddled around with the (stoopid) cord, (made difficult when you lack any kind of pincer grasp in your fingers), I thought, “Wow. My iPhone lasts longer than I do! I could never go 36 hours without being recharged!” And ya know? That made me a little sad.

My next thought was, however, “NOW WHY DOES THAT MAKE ME SAD?

STOP Apologizing

I hate that my default to what is normal for ME, is to feel sad about it or to apologize to myself and others. Why do we do this?

Well according to Wright (1983) and Nosek et al., (2003), people who are differently-abled and chronically ill, default to apologizing and providing unnecessary explanations and dialogue about their condition to smooth the way of acceptance. These same authors point out that this often backfires. We instead bring attention to something others may not even notice. Apologies convey regret over intentional or unintentional offenses or failures. Apologizing for needing a nap, needing to relocate to a quieter room, asking someone for a repeat, or request to stand closer to a wall to keep from toppling, is not something we should REGRET. It is not a failure. It is what it is.

I would argue that falling into the habit of apologizing for our “normal” creates a dangerous pitfall and trap that our disabilities or chronic illness are an undue burden on others. This could lead to becoming preoccupied with how hard you are making life for others. Russell, Turner, and Joiner (2009) found that individuals with disability or chronic illness already have a higher tendency towards suicidal ideation. Apologizing for something we are not responsible for only creates a perfect and toxic breeding ground for suicidal thoughts.

Putnam et al., (2003) explain that true independence and self-determination falls closely on the heels of acceptance… that can only take place when we stop apologizing for our “normal“. I use to apologize a great deal. In spite of using every piece of adaptive equipment I could find and afford, in spite of partnering up with a service dog, and in spite of reading everything I could get my hands on about positive advocacy and independence, I would still apologize for putting someone else out for helping me cope with a situation. I’m trying to do better. For example:

Instead of “I’m sorry. Could I get you to move over to that wall over there so that I may lean against it and have Milo (my service dog) on the left while we speak? I hate to ask you to move, but…

… at which point they would say, “Oh, it’s no problem. Let’s move…” However, my apologizing for having to move infers that I had a choice. Apologizing makes it seem that I regret I am who I am.

I’m trying to learn to say, “I need to move to that wall over there for balance reasons. Let’s move over there and continue our conversation?

… and their response would be, “Sure!

I was in a super crowded common area once in which a colleague was trying to talk to me about something important. Not only could I not hear her, my balance was REALLY off and I stood there wobbling like a buoy. There were no walls available, and I was really starting to feel ill. I said, “I am having difficulty in this listening environment. Let me follow up with an email because what you are saying is really important to me“. They were pleased to do so and I think grateful enough that I cared to communicate WELL with them. I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “I’m really sorry about this…” I had nothing to feel sorry about so an apology would only have infused my confidence with negativity.


What if your (seemingly) undue burden on others is simply that you cannot keep up? Perhaps you need a mid-day nap to finish the day strong. Yorkston et al., (2010) found that differently-abled individuals USUALLY have accompanying pain, fatigue, or BOTH. We tend to want to apologize for this. We shouldn’t.

I have a friend with chronic (and sometimes debilitating) ankle pain. Mid-day she goes to her office and puts her feet up. If she has to go to a meeting, she unapologetically claims an additional chair so that she can rest her feet. I walked into a meeting once and saw she had her feet up on an adjacent chair. Someone walked by and said, “Are you saving that for someone?” She smiled, pointed to her feet, and said, “No. Bad ankles!” The person didn’t question her. They didn’t shoot her a pitying look. They also didn’t steal her footrest. It was a smooth and succinct explanation for her claiming an additional chair.

Several weeks later I ran into her and talked to her about what I observed. She said, “I use to apologize for having to put my feet up. But then I thought, ‘WHY am I APOLOGIZING?’ I knew that only made ME feel badly. I decided then and there to stop being sorry for having tired feet“.

If I’m at work during a meal time and the weather is nice, I often go out to my car. I load my dog up, crank the air or heat (depending on the season), turn my cochlear implant and hearing aid off, and eat my meal in the quiet. Understanding my propensity for hearing fatigue, means I take time to unplug when needed. I need to recharge. I’m not anti-social (ok… well, not VERY) and I’m perfectly capable of going to the staff lounge or faculty dining room if I want to do so. Taking a mid-day recharge in the quiet enables me to complete my day STRONG… and unapologetic. Isn’t that what independence is about?

My iPhone may hold a charge longer than I do, but I take responsibility for recharging my own battery. Do what you need to do to recharge.

Need a nap? Take one.

Need some tylenol and a twenty minute break? Take them.

Need a “mental health day”? Take it.

Need a vacation? Take one.

Need a coffee break? Take it.

… and don’t apologize.

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Nosek, M. A., Hughes, R. B., Swedlund, N., Taylor, H. B., & Swank, B. (2003). Self-esttem and women with disabilities. Social Science and Medicine, 56(8), 1737-1747.

Putnam, M., Geenen, S., Powers, L., Saxton, M., Finney, S., & Dautel, P. (2003). Health and Wellness: People with Disabilities Discuss Barriers and Facilitators to Well Being. Journal Of Rehabilitation69(1), 37.

Russell, D., Turner, R. J., & Joiner, T. E. (2009). Physical disability and suicidal ideation: a community-based study of risk/protective factors for suicidal thoughts. Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior39(4), 440-451. doi:10.1521/suli.2009.39.4.440

Wright, Beatrice A. , (1983). Physical disability – a psychosocial approach (2nd ed.). , (pp. 116-156). New York, NY, US: HarperCollins Publishers


Yorkston, K. M., Johnson, K., Boesflug, E., Skala, J., & Amtmann, D. (2010). Communicating about the experience of pain and fatigue in disability. Quality Of Life Research: An International Journal Of Quality Of Life Aspects Of Treatment, Care And Rehabilitation19(2), 243-251. doi:10.1007/s11136-009-9572-1



Does Not Play Well With Others


I hesitate to even post about this topic because I’m sure to get a little backlash about this viewpoint. Because of that, you will see interspersed throughout this written confession, links of scholarly evidence and citations to peer-reviewed articles that will lend a little more credence to what I’m about to say. I don’t want it to be just an opinionated article, after all!

Confession: I Don’t Play Well With Others

Now if my mother is reading this, she is likely “nodding her head in agreement” but that is because her clearest memory of me is the bossy older sister, not at all afraid to confront people (they call me Vina Jewell Jr. in my family), and stubbornly opinionated. However, when you grow up in a small farming community and go away to college, there isn’t much chance your mother will be able to get to know the adult you’ve become.

Don’t get me wrong. Mom and I talk weekly. But a FaceTime call is a great deal different than seeing someone day in and day out. However, the fact that I don’t play well with others as an adult has nothing to do with the negative characteristics I hope to have left far behind me in my childhood.

As a 49-year-old woman who readily identifies as being differently-abled, “playing” often means quiet, reflective time, or interactions where I’m present but only “just”–in that I do not have to interact with those around me. For example, my husband and I will watch a movie together once in awhile. I’m a reader. I write. I research (by choice and not because I’m a doctoral student). I love sitting on the deck and staring out into the woods. I love to cuddle with my dogs.

Now some who read that last paragraph may think that I don’t like people.


I love people, and enjoy interacting with others. I believe anyone I work with will tell you that I am an eager team player who throws herself into volunteer work with passion and gusto. You see… I WORK well with others. Outside of class, I proudly advise three different student clubs and participate in a number of faculty/staff committees. I love this work. I love the people I work with, too. However, I’m working – not playing. I’m one of the lucky ones in that as a person who is differently-abled, education is a great career. People with skills, training, and education in other types of careers are not as lucky. Many people with disability or chronic illness find that in their chosen career they face both exclusion and discrimination (National Disability Strategy Consultation Report, 2009). I am extremely grateful to be a part of the education community, for I rarely face these issues.

So what’s the deal with my not “playing well with others”? Well you see? The things I mentioned earlier that are ways I unwind, decompress, relax, and “flourish in my happy place”, very few people are willing to do alongside me. (And that’s ok…) I have a few friends that will “hang out with me” and “play” with no expectations. We do not have to do a whole lot of talking. We just “are” – and are comfortable in silences and quiet places. The problem is that none of these friends live near me.

Hearing Loss and Background Noise

It may be different for folks with other types of challenges. As a person with hearing loss, I can tell you that one of the biggest barriers to living a happy and productive life alongside of others, is background noise. Some folks think that background noise is the same thing as white noise.

It’s not.

White noise is a steady (and unremarkable) buzz of sound. If you are as old as I am, it would be like the “snow” sound on a television channel currently off the air. When I was a kid, my older brother and I would sometimes be allowed to stay up watching TV, and we’d eventually fall asleep. When I awoke, the television screen would have “snow” with a buzzy kind of static-like noise. Background noise, on the other hand, is any extraneous sound that is heard while trying to monitor a specific sound. For folks with hearing loss, that specific sound is SPEECH while trying to screen out other sounds (and perhaps voices) from the environment. If I could burn calories for every minute I communicate with others in the normal world, I would not be 25 pounds overweight.

Background noise is the enemy of people with hearing loss. This noise even diminishes our ability to concentrate and form both short-term and long-term memories (Rugg & Andrews, 2009). Kenneth Henry (Neubert, 2012), postdoctoral researcher at Purdue, uses the analogy of numerous televisions. For folks with normal hearing, it would be like turning on a dozen television sets on different channels and asking the individual to concentrate on one show. It’s hard. It’s not at all enjoyable. It’s not something someone would ever do by choice.

Yet people with hearing loss must consciously make the choice to reach out to others, invest their time, energy, and focus just to communicate! It’s hard to communicate in a world full of background noise. It’s worth it. It keeps us from being isolated. It keeps us connected to others. It may keep us productive and working. There is a price to pay, however. The price tag is limited options for “play time”. In order to completely eliminate the WORK in listening, one needs a quiet environment. Friends tend to text one another with suggestions such as:

“Hey! Want to meet at Ruby Tuesdays after church today and eat together?”

“Let’s go shopping!”

“There’s a meet-up at the local Starbucks for mom’s frustrated with their adult children. You should come!”

“A dozen or so of us are going to go walking at the park with our dogs. You should come along!”

“We are all going to go get a pedicure! We are meeting at 2 PM”. 

This is not my kind of “play time”. Now occasionally (OK… I’m exaggerating – RARELY) I will go out and do some of these things. However, there are very few people I can ask to participate in what I really consider “fun”. Even when I go out with friends from Fidos For Freedom with individuals who have various disabilities it is hard. When you do not hear well, you can be isolated even when amongst folks who really understand disability. Folks with hearing loss “play” differently.

“Hey girl! Come over and sit on my deck and watch the squirrels in the trees with me, will ya?”

“I know this great place in the woods near my home where two streams converge. It’s a great place to sit and read a book. I’ll bring the bug spray!”

“Let’s go sit by the Chesapeake and pet our dogs while we watch the ships go by…”

Having a hearing loss as an adult – even when it is “corrected” by hearing aids and/or cochlear implant, the individual is certain to have a co-morbid  auditory processing disorder. This creates all kinds of communication issues that make it extremely difficult to enjoy communicating. According to Whitelaw (2015) “These types of communication issues may include difficulty hearing in less than optimal listening situations, reliance on visual information to augment auditory information, a reduced appreciation of listening to music, and difficulty understanding speech when the speaker is unfamiliar” (para. 1).

I have special programs on my cochlear implant that reduce background noise and allow me to zero in on the person right in front of me. I rely on these programs. (There have actually been times in extremely noisy environments, that I swear I hear better than my normal hearing counterparts). Even with this wonderful technology, I still have to concentrate. It’s not fun. It’s not “play”. It requires recovery time later. Is it worth it? 

Well if it wasn’t, I would never leave home… and I leave home a great deal and for a variety of reasons. Just because I CAN doesn’t mean it is easy. I’ve been alive long enough to know that important things are not always easy.

How to “Play” with Someone with Hearing Loss

If you know someone with hearing loss, please allow me to provide some “playing pointers”. You will note that these activities often revolve around just being in the presence of each other. They are activities that do not require dialogue every second of your chosen “together time”.

  1. Board games: It’s OK, to laugh and “chit chat” over a great board game. But… turn off the TV. Don’t have background music going. If there are more than two people playing the board game, don’t have individual conversations. Every spoken word is meant for everyone present. This keeps the person with hearing loss from having to deliberately ignore the sound of a conversation not meant for them. Please don’t think that people with hearing loss can enjoy “game night” with a big crowd. The folks in my small group at church had a “game night” (with all in the family invited) one night and my first thought was, “just shoot me now“.

2. Books, reading, and discussion: Book clubs are great! That is… if the discussion group is meeting in a quiet setting while discussing the chapters that week. Sitting in the food court of the mall and discussing what you read that week = NOT A GOOD IDEA. If you like to read, ask to spend some reading time with a person with hearing loss. You read; you don’t talk. It is difficult to express how meaningful it is to simply be in the presence of another.

3. Walks, hiking, boating, and other “outdoorsy” stuff: These activities can be great for folks with hearing loss. However, many trails and parks and lakes have become very populated. This means that the person with hearing loss may have trouble hearing you if they cannot see your face. Imagine kayaking with a person with hearing loss. If the kayaks are facing each other they will do great. This also means you won’t get anywhere because two kayaks facing each other cannot move. So enjoy the time together but don’t try to tell them all about the problems you’ve been having at work. Enjoy the hike. Enjoy the quiet of the walk. Enjoy the sound of the paddles hitting the water – and the far distant sounds of other folks out on the water.

4. Movies: I’m a “hearing again” person. This means that I can go to a movie, watch it, understand it, and give it a Siskel and Ebert “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” vote — just like everyone else. This doesn’t mean I can converse about the movie as we exit with the crowd. This doesn’t mean I can walk all the way to the parking deck and discuss everything we loved about the movie. Give me a safe place to stop moving. Allow me to concentrate on the conversation.

5. Gardening, Fishing, or ART: I love gardening, though do precious little of it I’m afraid. I had a great little “deck veggie garden” this year but wondered why I didn’t feel the thrill of it like I experienced it years ago. I concluded it was because I wasn’t pulling weeds alongside my father. I realized I wasn’t thinning plants while with my grandmother just three plants over. Be willing to spend some quality quiet time gardening with a person who doesn’t hear well but enjoys getting down in the dirt.

Fishing can be a great activity.

Art, too, can be a great opportunity to spend some time with an artsy hard-of-hearing person.

Some great resources: LISTENING IS EXHAUSTING.


Not Hearing Loss – but “OTHER”

What if your challenges are not hearing loss. People who live with disability, chronic illness, and visible or invisible health problems may still “play” differently.

As a person with a balance disorder, I cannot go to the fair at the county fairgrounds and “play”.

I cannot walk to the park and “swing” on the swing set while discussing heart-to-heart issues.

If you want to spend time with someone who has specific challenges, ask them what they like to do and meet them where they are – within the parameters of what is “fun” for them. They may have a really hard time meeting you for some “play time” when it will be WORK for them. Ask how to accommodate them. I promise you that they really do enjoy being with you.

L. Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

When Lightening Strikes TWICE

Wendi, husband Dave, and daughter Paige at a Hearing Loss Association Convention
Wendi, husband Dave, and daughter Paige at a Hearing Loss Association Convention

Hearing Elmo welcomes, Wendi Tirabassi Kast, fellow blogger and cochlear implant buddy. Wendi writes at “Sudden Silence” ( I have been a big fan of Wendi for years now. She writes about LIFE – life with hearing loss and cochlear implants. Life with other kinds of struggles – but her posts remind me that this is LIFE. Her positive attitude and quirky sense of humor connects with me – and I think will with you! You should check out her blog – she frequently updates and every read is worth the time to check in!

In 1993, when I was 28 years old, I lost all of the hearing in my right ear.

 I grew up with a hearing loss that was discovered when I was four years old.  I never expected to lose more hearing; nobody knew why I lost some of my hearing to begin with, but a high fever from roseola was what we suspected.  (Knowing what I know now, I would also suspect the antibiotics used to treat it back in the mid-1960s.)  I always thought my hearing would stay the same; in fact, I never really gave my hearing (or lack thereof) much thought at all.  I treated my hearing aid like I did my glasses … just an aid to help me with one of my senses.  I certainly never thought I might lose all of my sight some day, so why would I think I might lose all of my hearing?

 Finding out that all of my hearing had vanished virtually overnight, for no known reason, rocked me to my core.  I was absolutely devastated and terrified.  Suddenly a whole host of worries was presented to me, including the possibility of going completely deaf someday.  I woke up terrified every morning, wondering if I would lose the rest of my hearing that day.  I lived in the hearing world, not the Deaf world.  I didn’t know sign language; none of my family or friends knew it.

I spent two weeks without my hearing aid, because I wore the aid in my right ear and it was suddenly unaidable.  They made an ear mold for my left ear and ordered analog bi-CROS hearing aids for me.  While I waited the two weeks for my left ear mold to be completed, I had to navigate my hearing world using nothing but the hearing that remained in my left ear.  I did word processing for an industrial parts supply company; I could still type and do my job, but communicating with my coworkers was very, very difficult.

When my new ear mold and hearing aids were fitted, I was weak with relief.  Things sounded normal again.  The bi-CROS aids picked up sounds from my now-deaf right side and transmitted them to the left.  My hearing remained stable; I slowly began to stop worrying and started taking my new level of hearing for granted again.  I mean, this couldn’t happen to the same person twice, right?

Wendi with daughter Paige at her baptism in 1994 after she lost her hearing.
Wendi with daughter Paige at her baptism in 1994 after she lost her hearing.

When I realized the hearing in my left ear was getting a little strange, in early April 2008, I chalked it up to an illness.  It was that same kind of faint ‘hearing things from the bottom of a tunnel’ type of hearing that I get when I’m fighting a fever or virus of some kind.  I wasn’t sick but still assumed I was on the verge of something.  Well, I was … but I was on the verge of total, profound deafness, not a virus.

My husband scheduled an appointment with my otolaryngologist.  The day before my appointment, I woke up and realized I was completely deaf.  I could not hear anything.  My teenage children were leaving for school and I tried to keep it together until they left, but I was so scared.  I burst into tears in front of them, wailing to my husband, “I don’t want to be deaf!  I can’t believe I’ll never hear you guys talking to me again!”  I was completely hysterical.

Well, I gave in and let myself grieve.  It was only a few days before I realized I could only do so much crying and feeling sorry for myself.  I was still sad and scared, and I used my blog to express my feelings during this time.  But I also decided I had to move on and decide how I was going to live my life as a deaf woman.

My first concern was communicating with my family.  I had remarried in 2002 and my husband knew some sign language, so he began teaching signs to me and the kids.  We rented DVDs, bought books, and learned to fingerspell the alphabet.  We never did learn ASL but we learned enough signs to communicate and get the message across.  My speech reading skills kicked into high gear, and these really saved me.  My family was very, very patient – they made sure to face me, to speak at a rate that was easy for me to lip read, and would repeat words or fingerspell until I got it all.  They never said, “Oh never mind” or “It’s not important.”  They knew I wanted to be part of the conversation, important or not.

After a few big scares, my husband put up mirrors around my desk so I could see if someone was approaching from behind.  (It’s pretty terrifying to suddenly feel a hand on your shoulder when you aren’t expecting it!)  We ordered a free TTY from the state and got a flashing light for the phone.  I used online relay for phone calls as well.  I already had a bed shaker alarm clock and, of course, we were already using captions on the TV.  (My husband has a hearing loss as well so we both use these accommodations.)

I found out that I qualified for cochlear implants, and began the process of testing and insurance approval.  My hearing tests were easy; I sat in the soundproof booth, listening to nothing, until they opened the doors and said I was done.  I asked if I could get a cochlear implant in each ear at the same surgery.  Although it wasn’t done very often, they said it was no problem as long as my insurance approved it … which they did.  The whole process was quick:  I had my testing in May, my insurance approval in early June, and my simultaneous bilateral surgery was on July 22, 2008.

Wendi's cochlear implants from the back
Wendi’s cochlear implants from the back

On August 20, 2008, the hearing world came back to me.  The sounds that came into my brain that day were nothing like anything I’d ever heard before … but it was sound and I was speechless with delight.  If someone had told me back in 1993 that someday I would have little computers in my head, and I would hear sound again in an ear that hadn’t worked since before 1968, I would’ve just laughed.

As my brain learned how to hear with my new cochlear implants, my tinnitus faded away to nothing.  Every day, I asked my family to help me identify what I was hearing until finally I could identify sounds on my own.  With each mapping, things sounded more and more the way I remembered them.  I heard the voices of my husband and children, music, my cats meowing and my dog barking.  One day, as I was leaving the audiologist’s office, somebody asked me for directions.  They were behind me, and I heard them clearly without lip reading!

It’s been over five years now and I never, ever take what I hear for granted.  It’s been gratifying to know that I can deal with my deafness even if something happens to my CIs someday.  But every day that I wake up, put on my processors and hear the rush of sounds once again, I am thankful, amazed and humbled.

Peek-a-Boo! I Hear You!


When my kids were little we played “Peek-a-Boo” just like other moms with little ones. However, I would say, “Peek-a-boo, I hear you!” and uncover my mouth as well as my eyes. Nursery workers very likely wondered who taught my kids such a simple game – incorrectly!

My readers tell me that one of their biggest frustrations is when hearing folks around them act as if steps they have taken to manage their symptoms = normalcy. Readers with MS have told me that family members behave as if they should now be symptom-free since they are on medications. People with hearing loss are frustrated when family members and friends communicate as if a cochlear implant or hearing aid means they now have normal hearing in all situations. A friend of mine who lives with chronic depression told me how aggravated she was when friends did not understand that she still deals with symptoms of clinical depression despite medications and therapy. I try to tell people that managing our symptoms does not cure the disease or eliminate a disability.

I hear SO WELL with my cochlear implant…

In quiet places

when I’m not distracted

when I’ve had plenty of rest.

At my annual mapping appointment each year, my audiologist continues to say I’m hearing super well! But there are environments in the “real world” where I don’t hear as well as I do in the sound proof booth or in her office. Because of this, my family have learned that despite how well I’m hearing, I need to still see their faces in most “real world” situations. Yes. I get a thrill when I am able to easily talk to them from the other room. But the water isn’t running in the sink, the dishwasher is finished with its cycle, and the television isn’t on as they speak from the distant living room.

Ever once in awhile I reach up to gently move a hand or turn a face. They sheepishly say, “Sorry” and continue what they were saying – now fully facing me. I can’t do this with people I don’t know well, however. How important is seeing speech to understanding and hearing well?

Seeing Clear Speech

We all know a mumbler. Even people with normal hearing ask them to repeat. We all know someone with a heavy, “Duck Dynasty” kind of beard. We all know someone who shyly covers their mouth with their hand when they are laughing and talking.

In a study by Cassie et al., (2005), adults with hearing loss scored the same as those with normal hearing after the speaker was given instruction to face the other person and speak clearly (not loudly). Volume doesn’t help by the way… it only distorts speech. Hard to remember when a friend or loved one with hearing loss says, “huh?” You default to yelling! 🙂

Another study by Reed and Delhorne (2009) showed similar “near normal” results in adults with profound hearing loss when other conditions such as clear, visible speech was included in even noisy environments! (These folks were also aided or had cochlear implants). There are simply too many studies to cite that show how important visible, clear speech is to children who have hearing loss and are learning language.

Bottom line? People with hearing loss hear better if they can see your face. I’m not saying shave your beard (trimming it would be nice, however). Even if the person with hearing loss seems to hear you really well in a quiet room and actually looks away from you while communicating, when other people start filing into the room for the meeting they may need to see your face when you speak to hear well.

As to other kinds of chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities? Please reach out and celebrate the GOOD DAYS with the person you know who lives day-to-day with a diagnosis that is permanent. Your own circumstances could change and you find yourself living with a similar condition.

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Caissie, R., Campbell, M., Frenette, W., Scott, L., Howell, I., & Roy, A. (2005). Clear speech for adults with a hearing loss: does intervention with communication partners make a difference?. Journal Of The American Academy Of Audiology, 16(3), 157-171.

Reed, C. M., & Delhorne, L. A. (2006). A Study of the Combined Use of a Hearing Aid and Tactual Aid in an Adult with Profound Hearing Loss. Volta Review, 106(2), 171-193.

Permission to SLOSH

coffee spill

“I didn’t give you permission to slosh!”

Tuesday was NOT a great day. When it is rainy out and the barometer matches my internal “tilt-a-whirl” meter, I expect to have a bad day. When it is sunny though, I get aggravated when I’m having balance problems. Tuesday was a beautiful, sunny morning! I’m beginning to think that fatigue may have something to do with it because I know I didn’t sleep well Monday night.

I headed downstairs with my morning coffee, a whole day ahead of me to work from my basement, home office, only to slosh the coffee right out of my cup on the first step. I paused. I took another two steps down. More sloshed out. I paused. Aggravated I was going to have come back with cleaner, I took one more step. Coffee sloshed out. I…

(paused? WRONG)

I screamed. “I didn’t give you permission to slosh!”

Hound dog, (a.k.a. Chloe the wonder dog) sat at the bottom of the stairs safely out of the way and quirked an eyebrow at me. ♥♥ Talking to your coffee again, Denise? ♥♥

I’d do anything to be in CONTROL

One thing that I hear people with disabilities complain about is that they really would love to control their lives better. They may even make feeble attempts (or aggravating ones) to do so.

People with hearing loss may monopolize conversations. If they are the only one talking, they don’t have to deal with the frustrating inability to hear well.

A friend of mine with Meniere’s disease admitted to me that she actually acts cold and disinterested around people because she found it keeps them at a distance. If they approach and try to talk or even hug her hello, she is overwhelmed with vertigo and nausea.

I think it is natural to want to control our environment – even our lives to a certain degree. It can help us feel safe, even secure! But let’s face it… there is much in our lives that we cannot control.

We can eat right, not smoke, and exercise and still develop high blood pressure if it is in your genes. (Yes, it can improve your health and maybe delay the onset, but according to experts you are still at risk).

We can do our best to live a healthy lifestyle and still get cancer. We can be a safe driver, never going over the speed limit and still get in a car accident. We can avoid high-crime areas and still be the victim of a crime. There is much in life that is NOT in the scope of our control.

Control or Management?

I feel very frustrated when I’ve carefully watched the weather and still get caught away from home when it starts to rain. I didn’t give the skies permission to SLOSH! I can wear tennis shoes and have my head up and eyes open on a walk, and still stumble and trip over a crack in a sidewalk. I feel – erm – sloshy.

However, people with disabilities or invisible illness don’t have to give up hope of controlling their symptoms. You may not be able to control your life, but you can manage it. Symptoms cannot be controlled but they can be managed. One of my favorite psychologists is Albert Bandura. He was one of the first to define and promote self-efficacy. Bandura said that self-efficacy is, “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations” (Bandura, p. 72, 1994). It makes us feel better to MANAGE our lives.

With my hearing loss, I can always make sure I carry extra batteries, clean and dry my cochlear implant and hearing aid, watch my service dog for cues, ask people to email instead of call, and request moving to a quieter area to have a face-to-face talk with someone. With Meniere’s, I can avoid sodium, limit caffeine, be prepared for bad weather, and keep my service dog’s vest in tip-top shape so she can help me. I’m “managing” my life as a person with disabilities. This gives me confidence and helps me feel less – SLOSHY.

You’ve done all you can

In spite of what I’ve learned, sometimes life still sloshes. You’ve done everything in your power to navigate life and “hope for the best and plan for the worst”. Life ends up sloshing anyway. I’ve wanted to put my coffee in a sippy cup before. Or one of those cups that can be used in a moving vehicle. You know… those “slosh-less” ones? But I want my coffee in a beautiful, ceramic mug. The kind I can wrap my hands around and feel the warmth while inhaling the pleasant and comforting aroma of slow-brewed coffee! The risk of “sloshing” is worth it.

I hope that even when you’ve done all you can to manage your life, you can pick yourself up and wipe off the sloshed coffee when life …

T I L T S.

Because it will… be ready for it! 🙂

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior,4. New York: Academic Press, pp. 71-81.

I Stare at my Phone and LAUGH!

If I'm not married to you or if I didn't birth you... I'm just not going to talk to you on the phone! :-)
If I’m not married to you or if I didn’t birth you… I’m just not going to talk to you on the phone! 🙂

Last week after a meeting with Anne Arundel County Commission on Disabilities, I received a follow-up phone call about changes in a training that I would be participating in for the Public Safety committee. There are five of us on the committee, two of which (including myself) have hearing loss. I never give out my cell phone number, but do have a number that we use as our “home phone” through Google Voice. The reality is that Google Voice isn’t a phone at all. It transcribes messages from a messaging service when people call the number and leave a message. I receive both a written transcription and the taped message.

So I received the message with changes about our training and read/heard at the end: “Call me to let me know you received this”.

I laughed.

Out loud.


I don’t use the phone. On rare occasions I will speak to my husband or grown kids on my cell phone. However, I know their voices VERY well. Sometimes I will talk to my mother but only long enough to ask her to switch to FaceTime. (Always helps to see the face to pick up more of the conversation). With all other people, however, I do not use the phone.

It isn’t that I cannot use the phone. It simply isn’t my first choice (or second, or third choice). If I want to talk on the phone I have to stop everything. No multi-tasking such as continuing what I’m doing on my computer, or folding laundry, or working in the kitchen. I have to sit (that’s right… I can’t stand!) switch to t-coil on my cochlear implant and hearing aid, close my eyes (I’m not kidding), and concentrate. How often would YOU be able to talk on the phone if this were the parameters for you to do so? <BIG GRIN>

Email is a Great Choice


Email is a great choice for people with disabilities or chronic illness. In my opinion, it is actually a great choice for everyone. Why?

1. Email gives a written record of exactly what was said.

It doesn’t really matter if the conversation is personal or business. A written record of what was actually said can help us better remember dates, times, and other important information.

2. Email fits into our schedule.

You can check email on many phones now. You can check email on devices such as iPods and iPads, and Kindle Fire. Many types of technology allow you to read and respond to emails no matter where you are.

When we need to respond to emails from our desks, something business related or important, we can do so on OUR schedule. No playing telephone tag. Instead you can read and respond at a time that is convenient.

3. Email can eliminate communication problems.

Have a habit of interrupting someone mid-sentence? Do you have attention-deficit disorder and are easily distracted by what is going on around you? Is the person you need to communicate with hard to talk to – angers easily, defensive, mumbles, etc? Email eliminates those kinds of problems.

4. Email is free.

Most of us have a computer at home now. If you do not, you likely have a way to access email through mobile devices or at least have a library nearby where you can access the Internet. There are numerous free email options. I personally use Google’s gmail for my email account. However, there are numerous free email options discussed at You can access that HERE.

Email can also be a great choice for people with disabilities or chronic illness. I am late-deafened and hear again with a cochlear implant. For me, email eliminates the pressure to HEAR. When folks get a hold of my cell phone number for some reason and call, I really do stare at my phone and laugh. Email can be read by special programs such as JAWS (a Microsoft computer screen reader) and written with Braille displays for folks with low-vision or people who are blind. Email font can be enlarged to assist those with problems seeing smaller type. Email can be a great communication device (along with various social media) for people who have difficulty expressing themselves and using their voice. Email may be easily accessed with various tools for people who have mobility issues. Email is available when you are ready to read/send communications… something that may be important to people who have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, FibromyalgiaLymes disease, or other disorder where fatigue and pain are a factor. Can you tell I’m a big fan of email?

Some of you are thinking, “But I just want to hear your voice!” I totally understand that. Even as a person with hearing loss, I understand how important inflection, emotion, and accents may be in communication. We do need to be sensitive to the fact that there are a great number of people who do not feel the same way. Just because you like to hear someone’s voice with a phone tucked under your ear, doesn’t mean that others are able to have a hands-free, low-anxiety audible communication with you. Perhaps Skype would be a good choice for you – free to anyone with a computer or modern cell phone. FaceTime is rising in popularity with people who have Apple products. These communication devices allow people to both hear and see when communicating. You can even have conference calling!

I think the only thing I love more than email is texting! Unless, you want to discuss a major problem called autocorrect… but hey! That’s a topic for another post!

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Square Plates

Exactly what I want at Target!
Exactly what I want at Target!

Square plates. I WANT THEM.

Why are plates ROUND after all? Squares have such nice neat corners. It isn’t as if round plates hold more! Round plates are not any better at preventing food from escaping if you are an – erm – especially aggressive eater. Or, perhaps TWO-years-old!

I really want square plates. They are different. They accomplish the same purpose. Am I rebel? No, no… you see, my friends?

I’m a SQUARE. That’s right, you heard it first here at Hearing Elmo. (smile)

We May be the Same – But We’re NOT

I have met a lot of people with hearing loss and cochlear implants. We may all have hearing loss, but we are not the same. That is why our hearing aids and cochlear implants are programmed especially for our hearing health profile.

I have met many with Meniere’s disease. I may have the same diagnosis as you do of Meniere’s disease. That does not mean that we share the same triggers. It does not mean that what works to alleviate the severity of symptoms for YOU, will work the same for me.

Unfortunately, even though we may belong to the same community of people – those who live with some sort of invisible or chronic illness, those who are differently-abled, we forget that we are individuals. What works for one will not work as well for another.

There are three cochlear implant manufacturers. I love my cochlear implant. Neither I, nor my audiologist at Johns Hopkins, ever thought I would be hearing this well. My cochlear implant is not “better” than someone who chose another manufacturer, however. Consumers – the patients – have a responsibility to thoroughly investigate all the details about all of the brands available. We pick what we believe will work best for US.

Round plates and square plates do the same thing. They hold food. But some of us like round plates – and some of us are SQUARES.

It always grieves me when I see posts at various online support groups where one member bashes the ideas of another. Or perhaps they are insistent that everyone try their extremely low-salt diet (which happened on a Meniere’s group of which I am a member). It didn’t matter that several of us explained we had tried low sodium a number of times and had found it made little difference.

We need to respect other people’s choice to use round plates – or square ones. In the hearing loss community, our mantra should be “whatever works”. In groups that formed to support those living with Meniere’s disease, we should work on actually BEING supportive. If WE aren’t supportive of each other, how can we ever expect the community at large to be?

Are you a member of a support group for your own illness or disability? Encourage others to be supportive and open to new ideas. Everyone just might learn something! Regardless, we need the non-judgmental atmosphere of a friendly, empathetic community. Respect each other. Before you know it you just might start seeing :

by 10 Strawberry Street
by 10 Strawberry Street

… TRIANGLE dinner plates.

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal





Are Doctor’s Offices Truly Accessible?

doctorI recently returned to my doctor for a check-up as I’m on a number of blood pressure medications. I have been on blood pressure medicines since the age of 20. My genetics guaranteed I would have blood pressure related issues.

I grimace and swallow my meds every morning and think with tongue in cheek, “Thanks, Dad!” 

I hate going to the doctor even for something as routine as a blood pressure check and to request refills for my medications. I’m not afraid of doctors. I actually LOVE my primary care. His personality and method of “doctoring” suits my personality very well. He’s very business-like and professional, but also has a level of genuine compassion lacking in many who have been in the medical field perhaps too long. His staff is fantastic. The office is close to my home and to my work, so it is very convenient.

But I hate going.

My doctor’s office is not accessible. Oh sure they have properly marked handicapped spaces in their parking lot and curb cuts for those with mobility challenges. Their waiting area is spacious and the hallways are easily navigable. My doctor’s office is very high tech. Written charts? Pffflllttttt. Thing of the past. My doctor and staff use iPads, notebooks, and stylus.

But I hate going.

Again… my doctor’s office is not accessible. At least not for me. Just in case you are new to Hearing Elmo I am a late-deafened adult, “hearing again” with a cochlear implant. I also have Meniere’s disease, a balance and vestibular disorder. I mitigate my challenges with a service dog as well.

Do you know how hard it is to step on a scale when you have a balance disorder? The platform is about 12″ x 9″. Scales are usually against a flat wall, with nary a thing in sight to grab to hold still. It isn’t like I can grab Chloe’s harness when being weighed. I don’t need her extra 62 pounds on the scale – believe me! So I grab the wall and do my best to keep from tilting. I very likely look as if I getting frisked. After some close calls I HAVE noticed that there are TWO nurses with me now when I am weighed in each time. Someone has put a note in my chart I think! I’ve tried to sneak a peek at this electronic chart. “Tilt-a Whirl Queen” or “Weebles Wobble” must be tagged somehow, I’ve just yet to actually see it in writing! (grin)

After getting weighed we head to an examination room. I sit in a chair while the nurse takes my blood pressure. It is always high, but not because of ineffective medications. It is not because I’m afraid of doctors. I’m convinced my blood pressure is high because I know what is coming. In breezes the doctor, with a smile and a firm handshake.

“Let’s hop up on the table. How have you been? Everything going OK?”

I only see the man twice a year so I can’t expect him to remember. The guy is popular with – “Best in Annapolis” kind of awards all over the wall. No way in the world he could remember. **But would it kill you to read my chart?**, I think to myself.

“I don’t hop anywhere. Sorry. As a matter of fact the table is too high for Chloe to help me so I need you to hold your arm like this…” (and I demonstrate with my elbow bent and arm horizontal to the floor). I repeat what I’ve said every time I go there, “It would be nice if these examination tables had rails or something!”

My doc is good-natured and sticks out his arm. I grab it and clamber up onto the examination table. As per usual, when I turn to sit the room tilts and I struggle to stay conscious.

“Wow, Denise. Your eyes! You have positional vertigo.” Yeah. Ya think? He sits on his stool and rolls over closer to me – unknowingly causing another bout of vertigo. I just sit there and hang on for dear life as he uses his finger to “flit” from screen to screen, reading up on my medical history.

“Well your blood pressure is pretty high. Let’s take it again.” he states while reaching for the blood pressure cuff.

I don’t say a word as I’m too busy hanging on for dear life.

After taking it he turns to me and says, “It’s high. Do you take it at home? Is it perhaps high because you are here? Many people have elevated blood pressure at the doctor’s office.”

“I take it at home and it is well within the normal range every single day.” I indicate with my eyes the paper sticking out of my bag – WayOverThere. He grabs it and scans the paper. “Wow, these numbers look great! It must just be high today because you are here”.

“Doc,” I patiently explain despite having repeated this conversation every 6 months for the past three years, “my blood pressure is high because





Again with my eyes, I indicate the death grip I have on the edge of the thin mattress.

He looked thoughtful for a moment, flicked to some more screens on the iPad and turned to grin at me. “We’ve had this conversation before, haven’t we?” Yup. I love my doctor.

So What Can Doctor’s Offices Do?

For people with hearing loss:

1. Sound baffling

Doctor’s offices are full of flat surfaces and medical equipment. It can greatly improve communication to have some type of textured wallpaper, 3-diminsional cloth artwork, or even flat art-deco carpet squares on the walls. Not much can be done for cabinets, medical receptacles, and sinks. These have to be easy to clean and disinfect. I get that.

If possible, a room or two with lower ceilings and foam ceiling tiles can greatly assist in eliminating the bounce and echo of sound.

2. Face the person

Even if you have to look down to write in a chart, or type on an iPad, turn your chair so that you are facing the person. Do this EVEN IF YOU AREN’T SPEAKING. Do you know how often people with hearing loss strain to determine if someone is even speaking?

Checking ears? Looking in eyes? Listening to their thumper? It only takes a second to look the person in the face – FIRST – and explain what you are going to do next. If you want the person to hold their breath for a second, don’t ask behind their back. Actually… what is WORSE is telling them to “OK, breathe normally” behind their back! (Grin)

3. Write everything important down

New prescriptions? Re-check in six weeks? Instructions to check things like blood pressure or blood sugar at home? Write these instructions down.

4. Take their picture

Whether you save a small digital picture to their electronic file, or staple a Polaroid into the manilla folder and chart of their medical history, know what your patient looks like. When the door opens to that waiting room and the nurse calls the name of who is to be seen next, it helps to lock eyes with that person with hearing loss when you say their name. Take my word for it. Another blood pressure spike occurs for anyone with hearing loss sitting and worrying they will miss their name being called. Chloe’s head pops up and looks at anyone saying “Denise”. However, most people with hearing loss do NOT have a service dog alongside them.

If a nurse calls the next patient and every individual still has their head buried in the eight-month-old “Good Housekeeping” magazine, chances are the person didn’t hear you. It may not help to even say the name much louder. Besides… that is embarrassing. Know what your patient looks like.

5. Don’t say, “Call me”

Even though there are many wonderful options for people with hearing loss to use the telephone, it isn’t a good idea to say, “call me”. Email should be an option available to anyone who is more comfortable making contact in written form. If the patient is waiting for test results, email them. If a refill cannot be prescribed until an appointment is made, email them. If the patient contacts your office through email, don’t respond by trying to call the number on file. Email them back. People with hearing loss are on a level playing field with email. Plus, having a written confirmation only insures there are no misunderstandings.

If a patient DOES utilize various technologies and captioned phones, be aware that the patient may ask for repeats. Or, there may be a slight delay as the patient reads what the captions display. Doctor’s offices are busy places. Be aware that another minute or two may be needed to properly and fairly communicate with a patient who has hearing loss.

6. Don’t talk when they’ve removed their assistive devices

Checking the ears of a patient must be standard procedure in medical offices. However, someone with hearing loss will:

1) need a moment to remove hearing aids and/or cochlear implants

2) need something to put them in while you check those lovely ear canals

3) need a moment to re-insert the assistive devices after the quick check

7. Be willing to repeat

You know they have a hearing loss. They know you have a busy medical practice and other patients to see. However, if they ask for a repeat, please just do it? Don’t sigh or begin talking like you are now speaking to a toddler. They aren’t stupid, they simply didn’t hear you. (People with hearing loss should learn to ask for repeats of only the parts they actually didn’t hear. In this way, others aren’t forced to repeat something completely, when perhaps only a section of what you said was actually missed).

8. Ditch the gum

I love fresh breath.

I feel for someone trying to stop smoking.

However, please refrain from chewing gum or sucking on mints when you go into the examination room of someone who probably speech reads.

For people with balance disorders:

1. Understand that heights – even small ones – can be a problem

Offer an arm or grab an elbow when people with balance disorders climb up on scales or examination tables.

Don’t finish up and say, “Meet me up front” to a half-naked patient sitting up on an examination table with a death grip on the mattress. Offer assistance to help them down. (I actually fell from an examination table getting myself down and landed on a stool which rolled and crashed into the cabinet – creating a terrible racket. The nurse ran back into the room clutching her chest and exclaimed, “You scared me to death!” Laying on the floor and looking up at her I sarcastically spit out, “Well gee. How sorry am I?” Note: My good manners fly out the door when I have to respond from the floor).

2. Move slowly

People with balance disorders often have problems with vertigo and focus when others move fast. Love that stool on rollers? Move slowly please. This isn’t a medical office Grand Prix.

3. Follow the light with your eyes…

… is easier said than done. Seriously, you have no idea how hard this can be if you have something like Meniere’s disease.

4. Sit still

Most examination rooms have stools on rollers. Many people fidget and don’t even realize they are. If you are sitting on a medical office stool, chances are this means you can swing from side to side as you talk to the patient. I’m not saying pretend you’re a statue. But bouncing knees, swinging from side-to-side, or rolling quickly from one side of the room to another can really do a number on a patient with a balance disorder.

 Patient responsibility

Ultimately, it is the patient’s responsibility to remind medical personnel what you may need to communicate effectively and navigate safely. However, some small and inexpensive adjustments can be made to make doctor’s offices more accessible.

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Monkey See, Monkey Do

I've always been an "expressive mime" and mirror people's facial expressions!
I’ve always been an “expressive mime” and mirror people’s facial expressions!

My kids were the first to ever mention it to me. However, since that revelation a number of people have told me, “Denise? You mimic every facial expression I have!”  Some said so with exasperation, and some with amusement. My daughter, age approximately ten-years-old, interrupted herself describing something funny that happened in a class to exclaim, “Mom! You crack me up! You make the same faces I do when I talk!”

Sort of like “monkey see, monkey do” I suppose… but not because I was learning through observational learning or imitation. Instead, as a person with hearing loss, I carefully watched the facial expressions to better speech read and pick up more than I could by simply hearing pieces of words.

It’s different than being empathetic. I know because I’m one of those folks who will laugh with you and cry with you. Yup. Literal tears and equal sobs and hiccups. Don’t get me wrong! I’m sincere! I just get very emotionally involved in communicating and have been known to laugh, cry, or “blow my top” just in commiseration!

I “hear again” fairly well now. I’m bi-modal – meaning I have one cochlear implant, one hearing aid, but AIDED in both ears to better hear. Ideal environments are one-on-one in quiet places. I hear well with only some necessary clarification even in noisier environments. However, despite hearing better, I still have the habit of mirroring people’s emotions and facial expressions.

I learned ASL long before I lost my own hearing. I had some friends in college who were culturally deaf… and this motor-mouth wanted to talk to them. Most people who are late-deafened never learn ASL. (Why? They were born hearing and likely most of the people they know are verbal communicators). However, ASL is actually made up of three things: sign, facial expression, and body language.

So perhaps that is why I mirror facial expressions. More likely? My best guess is that people with hearing loss have a need to really focus, really TUNE IN when communicating. Sure, we speech read to a degree, but we watch people’s faces too. Are they smiling, scowling, surprised or crying? These facial expressions matched with what we CAN hear, help us to determine the overall content of what a person is communicating. So guess what? If you know someone with hearing loss, it can greatly benefit that person for your face to match your mouth.

Sarcasm is a Problem

How do I know this can be a problem? I have a sarcastic son. As a matter of fact, my daughter has been described as having a dry wit. My husband? KING OF SARCASM. It can be really hard to communicate if their face is saying one thing (or nothing at all…) and their mouths are saying something else. Even “hearing again” as well as I do I was taken aback by a conversation I had on the training floor at Fidos For Freedom recently.

Steve (name changed), a fellow client and new buddy of mine, came up to me in his scooter with this big signature smile on his face. “HEY! (What can I say… I’m exuberant!) How has your week been!?”

With huge smile and sporting numerous dimples he responded, “Hi, Denise. Hi Chloe. I had a really bad week!”

I paused a moment. Then a second moment went by. I was confused. In this big cavernous training room with numerous sounds competing with what was coming out of his mouth, his face did not match what I thought I heard.

“Ummmm.” (Yeah. I’m eloquent).

Thankfully, he took my pause as permission to elaborate. It only took another sentence or two for me to realize – yes. He HAD indeed had a bad week, but ever optimistic, positive-thinking young man that he is, wasn’t going to let that stop him from smiling and enjoying his training and friends at Fidos For Freedom.

Another example of mixed signals:

In class today a student rushed into class a few minutes late, causing me to skitter out of the way before I was knocked flat. Big smile on her face, she stopped with big eyes and eager expression to spout, “Crap. Crap, crap, crap. I could kill myself!”

Again, tempered with years of experience I intelligently responded…


“We have a quiz today, don’t we? Crap! I forgot!”

Thankfully people do tend to continue, helping to CLEAR UP that initial confusion. It is a much tougher situation when you get mixed signals and then they pause waiting for a response. You know that terrifying look? Shoulders turned slightly towards you with eyebrows raised and expectant look? (When I see it the blood rushes right out of my face!) Then I have to ask for clarification, “Could you repeat that?”

Many times mirroring another’s expression can be very helpful. If they look concerned and you mirror that concern, it may clue them in you are taking something they are saying seriously – when perhaps it is NOT. I’ve had friends pat my shoulder and say, “Relax. I’m kidding”

Being willing to ask for clarification is key. People with hearing loss cannot be afraid to admit you did NOT get it. You don’t need to complain. You don’t need to “ticket” repeat offenders. No need to point and loudly exclaim, “Everyone look at this person! They are expressively dyslexic!” (Ok, yeah, I made that phrase up).

Instead, just say, “Oh wow. You know what? I didn’t hear that right because your expression doesn’t match what I thought I heard”. That’s enough! In the end… you just may assist helping others become more expressive, genuine communicators. Hey… we can dream, right?

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal




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

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

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

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

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

Use a Calendar

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

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

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

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

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Goodwin, Stephanie A. and Morgan, Susanne (2012). Chronic Illness and the Academic Career. American Association of University Professors, May-June. Retrieved January 12, 2013 from

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

Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (2009). Fighting Fatigue. Coping with Multiple Sclerosis, July issue. Retrieved January 14, 2013 from