Embracing Freedom

Hearing Elmo welcomes Ruth Ilean Fox as guest writer for this week’s post. I was trying to remember the first time I met Ruth – most likely at a HLAA convention, but we’ve also touched base from time to time via email and now FaceBook. Ruth has always been an encouragement to me, so I was thrilled when she agreed to write for Hearing Elmo. Her reminders about embracing the freedoms we have is something we should all remember – and share.

Accommodations for disabilities equal freedom of functionality.  Yet how often, instead of embracing freedom, have we turned down accessibility options because of personal discomfort.

Everyone has challenges, some slight and some difficult, which hinder the achievement of a particular goal.  There are all sorts of tools and techniques that help to bridge these barriers to functionality.  Glasses help some vision impairments; hearing aids and cochlear implants assist some hearing losses; sign language and cued speech provide alternative communication; canes, Seeing Eye dogs provide guidance for those with limited or no sight; wheel chairs, walkers, and service dogs assist with mobility challenges.  Then there are ramps that provide building access, assistive listening devices that shorten the distance between the sound source and the listener; and captioned TV, phones, and movies enhance understanding.  This is just a tiny fraction of hundreds of forms of assistance that is available to people with challenges.  The list grows daily as new ideas are invented and accessibility laws are enforced.  Most of these things were not even in the dreams of inventors as recently as 30 years ago.  The ADA became law just over 20 years ago.  It is exciting time for people with disability; challenges are being turned from absolute barriers to varying degrees of freedom.

Usage – Not Access Provides Freedom

Access to accommodation alone doesn’t provide freedom; it has to be used.  Various situations cause people to reject available accommodations.  Many people are apprehensive of publicizing the presence of their impairments. It is possible that they don’t like the way the accommodations changes their “average person” appearance causing stares and comments from other people.  They may feel awkward with the use of an accommodation because it is new to them.  Their patience may be stressed because accommodations don’t always work the way they expect.

As a person with multi-disabilities, who doesn’t want to miss the fullness that life has to offer, I have had a lot of experience with “seeking freedom through accommodations”.    I have had the joy of watching the world develop from a time where you provide your own accommodations; develop your own accommodations; or patiently accept a significantly poorer participation in an activity where accommodations did not exist, to a world where accommodations are appearing in many places.   Accommodations are appearing as public services, insurance companies are slowly accepting accommodations as reasonable coverage options, the market place is overlapping accommodation needs with features for the average person, and manufacturers are making accommodations more attractive as well as improving their capabilities.

Still even with this greater access to accommodation, it sometimes takes nerves of steel to venture out in public the first time with a new accommodation.  My first accommodation experience was glasses at a time that “four eyes” was a favorite taunt of my eight year old peers.  I would leave them at home, losing the freedom of sight. A hearing aid was the next accommodation, with which I experienced much anxiety trying to hide it and my hearing loss, instead of embracing the new found freedom of hearing. I did a bit better with the cochlear implant, as the novelty of it was interesting to most people. Then crutches, a walker, a mobility scooter, and a wheelchair became necessary accommodations for me.  Each one of them caused extreme anxiety as I first used them in public.   Their use provided freedom of mobility, but my focus was on how different they made me and I was sure that everyone was staring at me and my disability.

Hiding and Denying a Disability Does Not Make it Go Away

The one thing I did learn from my youthful response to glasses was to be persistent.  Hiding and denying a disability never made it go away.   I have find that even if my heart double beats; my face turns red; and my hands shake and sweat, I was where I wanted to be in the community. The discomfort was fleeting and I relax in the knowledge that most people around me respond more to my smiles and communication, than all my paraphernalia.

My wish for everyone struggling with the effects of disability, regardless of its degree or kind, is to explore accommodations; patiently work through the initial anxiety; and embrace the freedom.

– Ruth Ilean Fox


Aren’t I brave to post my “just out of surgery and anesthesia” picture? I look “high”, don’t I? (GRIN)

Many folks might be surprised that hypchondriasis is an actual psychological diagnosis. Perhaps it is because we misuse the word hypochondriac a great deal! We tease each other, making a big deal about stating we “may be coming down with something“; or, perhaps you know someone who complains about “something” being wrong with them ALL THE TIME. Something always hurts, or they have aches and spasms and feel “poorly”. In writing this, I can think of one or two people I know personally who are like this. I guess since I’m from the South, I mentally categorize them as WHINERS… although that isn’t a very good psychological label.

Hypochondriasis is misused a great deal, however. A whiner is not necessarily a hypochondriac. The diagnostic features of hypochondriasis includes: 1) a fear of having a serious disease based on a misinterpretation of one or more bodily signs or symptoms, 2) an unwarranted fear or idea of having a disease that persists despite medical advice and test results to the contrary, and 3) a preoccupation that greatly influences or impairs other behavior and the ability to function (DSM-IV, p. 462).

So we all know a whiner… but they are not really a hypochondriac. Sure we use this to tease – or discuss someone negatively behind their back. This person is comfortable verbalizing how they really feel… to anyone who will listen! However, the reality is they do not have hypochondriasis.

Invisible Illnesses and unwanted labels

Yup. We’ve established we all know whiners. Some of us work with these folks. Some of us love these folks. Some of us (gulp) are these folks!

However, in recent months a common theme has come up in many of the conversations I’ve had with people who have contacted me through Hearing Elmo. It seems a good number of folks with invisible illness or disability are often accused of being hypochondriacs. Not simply because the word is misused either. People around them honestly believe it is “all in their heads”.

I posted the picture I did for this post because shortly after sharing this picture when I first had my cochlear implant surgery, an individual (whom shall remain unnamed – grin) told me in response to my “how I’m doing” email that they thought it was terrible I had this surgery – permanently changing the way I hear, all because I was pretending I had a hearing loss. You see? This person knew me growing up. They knew me when I could hear. Approximately 4 or 5 months before my CI surgery we talked on the phone. They didn’t know that:

I was using a captioned phone and was READING what they were saying.

The phone was on speaker and my husband was enunciating words I did not understand.

I tell people when they ask me what motivated me to get a cochlear implant was I was TIRED OF FAKING IT. I had reached an all-time low and struggled to communicate despite my numerous coping mechanisms and communication strategies that I had in place. I was exhausted. I dreamed of being able to communicate orally with fewer difficulties.

I didn’t sound deaf (not having been totally without sound long enough to really develop a “deaf accent”).

I was still teaching and working.

I can’t really describe for you how these comments from this person affected me. I was – in a word – devastated. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why someone would seriously believe someone would pretend to not be able to hear, fake their way through all the tests, and undergo surgery that would enable them to hear – but electronically, all for attention or for “show”.

Many invisible illnesses can be difficult to diagnosis. Some test results for diseases like Lymes, may actually come back with false results. Many pain disorders, including fibromyalgia, are difficult to diagnosis. There are still medical practitioners that believe this diagnosis is “a crock” and it can be difficult to find a doctor who takes your symptomology seriously. It doesn’t help that many women are prone to these types of illnesses or disorders, as women are more likely to be accused of being “drama queens”, worriers, and hypochondriacs. The DSM-IV points out that hypchondriasis is equally common in males and in females (p. 464).

What can YOU do?

The problem with invisible illness or disability is that they ARE invisible. You cannot see the problem. People with invisible illness or disability also start to hide what is going on with their own body. Like myself, I actually faked being able to hear better than I actually could. Some may answer “how are you?” with “fine, how are you” out of habit. However some may respond that way out of FEAR to disclose the truth. Many choose to not even tell loved ones how severe symptoms may be that day because they believe their family members are tired of hearing it.

I checked in with a friend this week to let her know I was thinking of and praying for her. She responded to “how is the pain today?” with “pain is a constant friend”. You may not be honest with how you are doing because you believe others are tired of hearing about your “bad days”. Many choose not to disclose how they REALLY are doing as they fear derisive comments, exasperation, or disdain from those around them.

Do you know someone with an invisible illness or disability? If you ask them how they are – and you REALLY care about them – be a “safe” person for them to be truthful with when they respond! Have you blown it and shown your exasperation before? Do better. It’s not like your poor response has to be your normal response. Are you married to, or do you love someone who lives with an invisible illness or disability? It can be hard; but, wouldn’t you want them to love you and encourage you if the “shoe had been on the other foot?” – rather YOUR foot?

What is the Cost?

I believe that the reason many invisible illnesses and disabilities also have a co-morbid diagnosis of depression and even suicidal ideation, is because those around them do not believe them. They live with constant negative feedback when they do open up and honestly share how they are doing with others. Your disbelief can cause them to isolate themselves – dropping out of life. Your misinformed comments could cause them to start internalizing their feelings, making it difficult for them to trust anyone. Don’t be an – erm – DONKEY. One of the best things you can do for someone who lives with invisible illness or disability 24/7 is to simply BELIEVE them.

After I found people I could trust with how things were REALLY going? I was able to actually deal with my bad days in a more proactive way. Just knowing that someone believed me – empowered me. I couldn’t hear. I staggered because my world really DOES revolve all the time. That belief enabled me to refocus my energy in discovering ways to COPE.

Will you be that person to someone this week? Can you listen without skepticism and provide that assurance?

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical
manual of mental disorders
(4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

What I SHOULD Have Said

I’m not really a history buff like some of my siblings, but I do like to watch the occasional autobiographical movie or read books on real people. I have, however, always been an Abraham Lincoln fan. I’m so excited about the new movie coming out and hope it does not disappoint. (Lincoln – the trailer). Needless to say, I’m also a big fan of President Lincoln’s quotations. Many of them I have memorized from my childhood and throughout my life.

In preparing for this post, a quote of President Lincoln’s came to mind: “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.”

I’m a big fan of using hindsight to our advantage. One of my favorite training exercises at Fidos For Freedom, Inc., is role playing… actually putting ourselves in scenarios where we face incredulous, doubtful strangers, belligerent business owners, or even just curious but nosy bystanders. These exercises have allowed me to practice what I need to say – not IF – but WHEN I need to have the words to explain my need for Chloe. I know I may need to defend my right to mitigate my disability with an assistance dog.

Experience Can Be a Harsh Teacher

Did you ever have something happen that was totally unfair? Feelings of righteous indignation and self-preservation well up and literally choke the words right out of you? I’m one of those poor folks who rarely says what I should have said  at exactly the right moment. Instead, my feelings are hurt; or, I’m madder than a wet hen. Not… that I’ve ever seen a wet hen despite my childhood experiences of owning and caring for chickens, but I digress..

Ever replay a hurtful or confrontational conversation over and Over and OVER again in your head… thinking about what you SHOULD have said? Well I take Abraham Lincoln’s advice to heart. “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” Now I’m the first to admit that one can perseverate on a past hurt and be much worse off than if you just let it go. I’m a planner though (at times to a fault).

If my feelings are just hurt and it is someone I don’t know well, I just let it go (though I may replay the entire horrible episode to my patient husband). If it is someone I have a relationship with, I may decide to let them know that I didn’t like how the conversation went and came away hurt and would like to discuss it some more. However, most of the things that hurt my feelings or ruffle my – erm – feathers, are comments from total strangers or mere acquaintances.

How many of you have heard these comments? :

But you don’t LOOK sick.

You were just fine yesterday. What’s wrong today?

You are feeling poorly AGAIN?

Are you ever well?

You seemed to hear me fine the other day on the phone.

Don’t you get tired of being so lethargic?

I think you are just low-energy.

You are such a drama queen!

Are you sure it isn’t all in your head?

I love my dog too, but I don’t self-diagnose a disability just so I can be with them all day.

Maybe you should see a counselor…

I knew you the first 20 years of your life. There was nothing wrong with you then!

Is this all for attention?

Don’t you worry how your family will feel having to pick up the slack?

People with invisible disabilities, illness or chronic conditions often LOOK just fine. Being late-deafened, I speak with little or any “deaf accent” or enunciation issues. With a cochlear implant and hearing aid (a bi-modal, hearing again peep with BLING), I often hear voices well unless there is a lot of background noise. If it is a sunny day, I not only may have very little “wobble” in my step, I may actually be able to move fast. So to look at me – well, I look fine! But on rainy days or in environments with tons of LOUD surround sound, vertigo can hit me like a freight train and cause me to walk as if I’m intoxicated. I usually clam up because if I speak I may vomit. (I’m serious…)

I have friends here in Maryland, and cyber friends I have come to know across the nation – many of whom are fellow bloggers. They have fibromyalgia and/or chronic fatigue syndrome. Some have assistance dogs, some do not. Some have been diagnosed with Lymes disease. Have you ever thought about how difficult it must be to have a chronic pain condition? And oh my goodness… talk about your invisible conditions! If you don’t know the person well enough to see the pain-filled eyes or pinched expression, you would never know that every step is excruciating – that even their clothing rubbing against their skin actually hurts.

Prepare – it Empowers

Those of you who live a life described above or know someone who does, my advice is to prepare. Use hindsight to your advantage. Think about an encounter that really hurt you – or made you squawk. Chances are, you will hear it again. (I know – GROAN – right?) Plan and prepare, even practice what you will say in the future should that same thing happen again. This can actually empower you to face that “next time” with a little more certainty and courage.

But Be Careful…

I do have some warnings, however. Even good things can become bad things.

1. Don’t be consumed by the preparation.

If all you think about is being prepared for a calm but meaningful/careful reprimand, you may unleash it with venom or saccharin sweetness. Your intent becomes a premeditated choice to wound. You end up saying the wrong thing or say it unkindly and in an offensive, war-like manner.

It could also become a set-up or scenario of revenge. Trust me. You do NOT want to live that way. (Tried it – not a winner any way you look at it).

Use your time wisely in reflection and preparation, but then let it go. If you are thinking about it constantly it should “wave the red flags” for you that it has become an obsession instead of a tool to develop positive responses.

2. Don’t look for what is not there.

After wobbling into the edge of the stove and spilling my coffee, I heard my husband sigh beside me. I turned (aimed) and yelled, “What? You think I like spilling everything I carry? You think I enjoy getting burned? Do you think I…”

He cut me off with a gentle squeeze of my arm. “Denise. I sighed because someone ate all my Lucky Charms.”


If you are reading this and KNOW someone who has an invisible condition, may I give you some advice? I know it must be frustrating to not ever really understand HOW to help or WHEN to help. But the best thing you can do? Listen and believe.

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal



I Confess I Can’t Hear You…and That’s Okay

I met Shanna a couple of years ago through FaceBook. We share a passion for positive advocacy and a love for people with hearing loss. Shanna has taught me a thing or two about good advocacy towards movie theater captioning! I’m always thrilled to have her guest write for Hearing Elmo!

By Shanna Groves / LipreadingMom.com

Time to ’fess up. My ears aren’t as sensitive as they used to be.

I confess that I pretend to hear everything my kids say even when they’re calling each other “stupid” and I don’t know it.

I confess I laugh before a joke’s punch line, not because of a warped sense of humor, but because I didn’t catch the joke’s first sentence.

I confess that I am unable to hear my telephone ring without my hearing aids in.

I confess that I don’t understand most dialogue on TV without the closed captioned turned on.

I confess that I get irked when the closed captioning isn’t working is turned off.

I confess that most people I haven’t seen in years are shocked when I tell them I have to read lips to “hear” them.

I confess that my older two kids usually act as my ears in the following situations: when a person asks me a question and I don’t respond; when someone knocks softly at my door and I don’t answer it; when the phone rings and I’m not wearing my hearing aids; when my youngest child wakes from his nap upstairs and is crying at the top of his lungs; when anything in the house beeps.

I confess that I have learned to accept my limitations. I will never be successful in making a phone call without some sort of special accommodations (i.e., using a loud-volume phone or speaker phone; asking the person on the other line to repeat themselves 2-5 times).

I confess that being a hard of hearing mom is not my choice. In fact, it can make me downright cranky.

I confess that being a hard of hearing mom makes me smile sometimes, especially when my kids are squealing, whining, moaning, or acting like brats.

I confess that being a hard of hearing mom has changed me. I’m not as quick to judge others who are different than me.

I confess I’m not as impatient as I used to be. I don’t get as frustrated with having to repeat things to a store cashier, to wait in a long line, or drive in rush-hour traffic.

I confess that being a hard of hearing mom has changed me. And I like how I’ve changed.

Show Me Your Ears

Now that you know my confessions, can I ask you a favor?

Join me in my new awareness campaign Show Me Your Ears: To Promote Deaf and Hearing Loss Community Awareness.

The idea is simple:

1) Take a picture of your ears, hearing aids, and/or cochlear implants. Even if you don’t wear anything in your ears, take a picture.

2) Email your photo to Lipreading Mom at sgrovesuss (at) msn (dot) com. Include the subject line: Show Me Your Ears. Include your first name, name of your hearing aids or cochlear implant product (if applicable), and how long you have worn them.

3) Watch my blog, LipreadingMom.com, in the coming weeks. Your photo may be featured!

I have blogged extensively about my progressive hearing loss on this site and my initial reluctance to wear hearing aids or show them off to anyone. I was afraid of what people would think about them. Would they think I was unable to communicate with them? Would they ignore me?

Finally, I made a decision: I am going to embrace my hearing loss. I’m going to show my hearing aids to the world. And so I do!

Will you help me to embrace that—hearing loss or not—all ears are unique, beautiful, special?

Hard of hearing or not, I confess that showing my ears to the world has been liberating. Will you join me in this campaign?

About the Author
Shanna Groves has been a hard of hearing mom since 2001. She is the author of the novel Lip Reader and writes extensively about hearing loss issues at http://LipreadingMom.com.  

Invisible Illness Awareness Week

This week marks a very special week for me. I have been a part of Invisible Illness Awareness week for a number of years now. Sept. 10-16 is Invisible Illness Awareness Week.

There are a number of terrific speakers at this year’s virtual conference. You can check out the schedule here:  CLICK

Hearing loss and Meniere’s disease are both invisible. I have struggled both successfully and unsuccessfully through the years in living with these. Those who do so live with a fair amount of frustration and stresses simply because what they deal with IS INVISIBLE. For me, one of the most frustrating things is that my symptoms may vary. To some, this makes me lack credibility at times. For example, I “hear again” with a cochlear implant and BTE hearing aid. I may hear you just fine in a quiet environment and one-on-one. However, if my tinnitus is roaring or we are in a noisy environment, my primary response may be “Huh?“.

I walk, jog, and can even RUN (believe it or not) on sunny days. However, the weather is a real trigger for my own Meniere’s disease. I may be out-walking my assistance dog one day, and the next have her close and wobble like an intoxicated person. For those who do not understand that symptoms may vary, and may fluctuate, it may seem as if I can’t make up my mind as to whether or not I live with a disability.

I have friends who have Fibromyalgia, Lymes, Multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other various illness and disabilities. They will tell you that it can be frustrating, even emotionally debilitating, to have folks in their lives choose to scorn, disbelieve, or ignore their own invisible illnesses.

It takes courageous people to live with invisible illness. I hope you will go to IIA (CLICK HERE) and learn more about how you can get involved in helping to raise awareness in your own community. You may not live with invisible illness yourself, but all of us who live with it will tell you that our friends and family that support us are just as influential as we are ourselves – if not more so!

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

They May Not Get It

(Hey… I’m not an artist! But have you ever felt this way?)

One of the questions I am asked the most by folks who contact Hearing Elmo, is “Why doesn’t my family accept and understand who I am NOW?”

Before I even begin writing, let me express my hope that many of you will respond and share as I am very aware I do not have all the answers.

Why It Hurts

1. It hurts because the transition from “normal” to where you are was painful.

The school of hard knocks is – well – hard. Acquired disabilities and invisible/chronic illness are not easy to get use to when they first change a person. The journey from diagnosis to acceptance is a hard one. It hopefully has made us “better” and not “bitter”. I can attest to feeling stronger, more confident, and much more in tune with who I really am post-disability. Some of us have progressive symptoms and illnesses. We may adjust, only to have to do so again in a year or so. This too can grow us. But honey? It isn’t easy.

However, BECAUSE it was hard, it is hurtful when folks who knew us WHEN (back before our diagnosis), don’t accept or try to understand who we are NOW. We are still the same people. Our personalities have not changed. Our strengths and weaknesses are all still present – although you may have developed some new strengths because of your life path. So it is difficult when family members may sometimes be the hardest to teach how to talk to us now that we have a hearing loss. Or perhaps you are frustrated because a family reunion at a theme park is not ideal for you because you cannot ride any of the rides. Maybe you are utilizing a wheelchair, walker, or cane. A picnic and hike may not be a good way for you and your siblings to catch up – even if it has been a year since you’ve seen each other.

It’s not like we want recognition for the pain we’ve experienced. We aren’t looking for a medal. However, seeing any eye rolls or hearing frustrated sighs serve only to remind us our family





2. You expect your family members to care enough to accept you.

It’s not wedding vows. “In sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer…” But we have a reasonable expectation that our family members are going to love us and be there for us regardless. It doesn’t matter if we acquire a disability. We are still the same person. If Lymes disease has you aching and feverish a week out of every month, we expect compassion, not disdain. If CFS or MS has you weary, tired, and feeling as energetic as a centenarian, you expect understanding and maybe an offer to run an errand for you. If your eyesight is worsening due to various illness or disorders, you never expect frustrated outbursts when you explain you don’t have a ride to go to your nephew’s graduation.

But friends? Family members can need educating. Advocacy may begin at home. We wish it wasn’t necessary, but it may be very necessary. My kids grew up with me at best, hard-of-hearing. My husband, however, knew me before hearing loss. So I have to be willing to tell (nicely) him what works and what doesn’t. Don’t be surprised if it takes numerous lessons. Some heads are thicker than others.

What to Do

Talk to them. I’d elaborate, but honestly? You need to talk to them. Explain how you feel. Be willing to be vulnerable. Start with phrases that explain specifics and not general accusations. Example:

“When you sigh as I wobble into a shelf at the store it really hurts my feelings. I can’t help it when my world ‘twirls’. It’s hard enough to face the stares and hear the whispered remarks from strangers. I expect better from you. I expect your support.”

They May Never Get it

We can choose our friends, but we don’t choose our family. Blood is blood and it simply cannot be changed. However, you do not have to put up with people who ridicule you or try to injure you with words. You do not have to deliberately spend time with people who only make you feel worse. Sometimes? Sometimes those toxic people are family members. I hate it for you. I hate it for me. But it can be the painful truth.

Sometimes those friends that we choose? They become family. Maybe not by blood. Perhaps not by legal adoption. But folks who encourage us, lift us up, make us better people, understand, lend compassion and energy? They can become like family members. My heart’s desire is that you will find some folks like this if you haven’t already.

I welcome your thoughts on this. Knowing family members may grieve the person they once knew, or have trouble adjusting to the fact you are “differently abled” is important. Be patient. But also put healthy boundaries in place to keep unhealthy people from de-railing your progress with your own adjustments.

Denise Portis

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Another Look at Isolation

Hearing Elmo welcomes Melissa Sisco, from Alabama to our list of talented writers who have learned to “write from the heart”. Melissa is the mother of two young daughters. She was first diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease in 2007, and also has asthma/allergies, a heart condition, weak bones, endometriosis, and diabetes Type II. Melissa admitted that “Meniere’s Disease has been the single most challenging medical diagnosis I have experienced in my 32 years”.

I’m not really sure why I’m attempting to do this.  I’m not much of a writer; at least I haven’t been for a very long time. But writing is one thing that, luckily, I can still do.  I really connected to the last piece that Denise wrote because I am right there, right now. Alone and isolated.  I don’t go out much at all, especially by myself.

In brief summary, my name is Melissa, I am a late-deafened adult, 32 year old female, married for 9 years (to an amazingly understanding husband), mother of 2 beautiful girls, ages 3 and 5. I was first diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease in my left ear when my oldest was 4 months old. I woke up one morning and could not hear anything out of my left ear and I was so dizzy I couldn’t even sit up straight in bed. About two years ago I joined the ranks of the Bilateral, but am lucky to only have moderate hearing loss in my right ear.  I wear an obscenely expensive digital hearing aid in my left ear (sometimes) and I need one in my right ear, but just can’t afford it right now.  I am not Deaf enough to qualify to be a member of the Deaf community where I live, and I am apparently “wrong” for choosing a hearing aid. But I can’t hear enough to qualify for the Hearing World anymore either.  I feel lost in limbo. I simply belong nowhere.

Why It Can be Difficult

I used to enjoy simple things like shopping, (especially shoe shopping) but now I avoid shopping trips as they make me nervous and, frankly the last time I did go out, (to my favorite shoe store) I literally knocked over a little old lady who was standing directly behind me.  I didn’t know she was there, couldn’t hear her or sense her at all.  I backed up from a store display to get a better view and plowed that precious little woman straight into a mannequin.  I was so embarrassed, I apologized profusely as other patrons helped her up and glared at me like I was the devil incarnate.  I left the store and haven’t gone back since.

At work I hide in my cubby hole of an office (it’s actually the records closet and my office).  Once upon a time, I was a 911 dispatcher, and I was really good at it. I did that for nearly 8 years, before my hearing loss reached the point where I can no longer do that job safely.  I was lucky to not have been let go, and I am now relegated to some sort of mish/mash office manager and dispatch supervisor. I know I am unbelievably blessed just to have a job, but I avoid even my coworkers now because most of the time I have no idea what they are saying, so I just nod my head and try to wear my neutral “yes I understand” expression, which is a big fat lie.  I have a strong aversion to my work desk phone.  It’s set as loudly as possible, yet I still have to ask people to repeat.  (My employer is working on getting me a CapTel phone, but our system is slow as molasses). Sometimes, when I see a number from someone I know I have a particularly hard time understanding (ahem –soft spoken females like me), I just let it ring to voicemail. I have found I also do this at home, and on my cell phone.  Although to be fair, half the time I really can’t hear them ring, or –at home anyway- I hear it but can’t find where the “ring” is coming from.  (Usually I’m hoping it’s a real sound and not just a figment of my broken cochlear nerve as I frantically search room to room looking for my telltale “flashing strobe light” phone.)

Recently a group of female friends (ok coworkers and coworker’s wives – I don’t really have a lot of friends anymore) went out to dinner and a movie and actually invited me to go along.  I really wanted to go, I wanted to be with other people and I really wanted to see that movie!  But I remembered that previously, I had a difficult time asking for, receiving, and setting up the captioning device at that particular theater and I’m not going to pay $15.00 to see a movie I can’t “hear/read.” Keep in mind if you are new to the whole captioning thing, you can ask for it, but that doesn’t mean the minimum wage paid teenage employee has any idea what you’re talking about. I dreaded the embarrassment of going through the captioning device thing again, especially in front of others. Also the chosen restaurant was a loud, noisy Mexican joint with great food and a fun ambience, but a terrible place for even the highest quality hearing aid to make a difference. So I lied and said I had no one to watch my kids. Can you say Avoidance?

I rarely get invited anywhere nowadays and subsequently lost a number of “friendships” because of having to cancel last minute because of my lovely vertigo spells. Apparently, “Sorry I’m too busy hanging on to the floor for dear life and vomiting to go out tonight,” has a limit on the number of times it can be used as a forgivable excuse.

Trying to Find the Positive

There are good things about losing your hearing, really there are. If it’s really noisy and I’m trying to sleep (like my neighbor and his oh so noisy garage band at 10 pm, or the neighborhood dogs howling for no reason at all) I can sleep on my good ear so I can’t hear anything.  If I have a migraine the hearing loss is actually a relief.  I can sometimes pretend I didn’t hear something if it’s something I don’t want to talk about.  (I think my husband has figured that last one out, drat.)  When my daughter(s) start whining/throwing tantrums I can literally turn my deaf ear to it.  Although they have also figured that out too.  I really try to appreciate the few sounds I can still hear, now more than ever. I try to imprint these sounds upon my memory so that I never forget – the giggling laughter of my little girls, my husband whispering “I love you” in my good ear, the melody of morning songbirds, and the relaxing sound of ocean waves.

I can actually swim in real life, (well I could swim once anyway), but as for living the new life of a Deaf/ Hard of Hearing person I am barely hanging on to my flotation device.  Denise always manages to end her musings on a positive note, so I will try my best.

I hate feeling sorry for myself.  I hate being depressed.  I hate hating everything. I can’t stand people who constantly whine and throw pity parties for themselves. I certainly don’t want to BE one of them. I’ve always been of the mindset that if you fall, you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and keep going.

I know that I am lucky not to be dying from some terminal disease, I am just going deaf and I’m dizzy most of the time.  I know, rationally, that I just have to learn to adjust to my “new” normal. I just don’t happen to be particularly impressed with what my new normal is, or what it may be in the future.  So I’m angry sometimes.  Well, really more like awfully T’d off. And I am actually annoying myself with the unnecessary amount of negative energy that I am producing.

I try to remember that the good Lord doesn’t give us more than we can handle. But God apparently thinks I have the strength of Hercules or something, but I disagree.  Grrrr.  I get so mad at myself, at what is happening to me, and I’m mad at being mad.  I don’t like mad people!

I suddenly have a great amount of sympathy for that poor dog that continues to chase his own tail in circles.

I might be barely hanging on, and I can’t hear the people who may be shouting at me –trying to help me, but I’m not giving up either.  I’m pretty good at the doggie paddle, so I will keep on paddling, I just don’t really know where I will end up. I try to keep a sense of humor about all this when I can, although, sometimes others (fully hearing or truly Deaf) kind of miss the point.

I truly believe that where there is humor there is laughter and laughter spreads joy.  And one can still laugh even if you can’t hear yourself do so.

One of my favorite quotes is by Gustave Flaubert –

– “One can be the master of what one does, but never of what one feels.”

At this point in my journey, I know my future is up to me and my actions will determine what is next, but I just feel lost at sea- drifting somewhere, and I don’t even have any oars, or a decent GPS system to help me navigate.

Salud and good luck on wherever you are on your personal journey.


© 2012 Hearing Elmo

Lipreading Mom

I can’t remember when I first “happened” upon Shanna. I do know I “bumped into” her online through her blog when she was writing “Lip Reader: A Novel by Shanna Groves“. I was excited that a hard-of-hearing woman was writing a book that had characters that were late-deafened.

Since that time, Shanna has become very active in the Hearing Loss Association of America and has worked hard to bring captioning to theaters in her area and to raise awareness in her community. I encourage you to check out Shanna’s website HERE. An active blogger, Shanna writes from her heart.

Shanna can also be found on Facebook HERE, and Lipreading Mom has their own page HERE. Below is some information about Shanna! Enjoy!

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

I am Shanna Groves, but you can call me Lipreading Mom.

Ten years ago, give or take a few months, I had my first child. While cuddling, burping and kissing on my baby, my ears rang like crazy.

No problem, the doctor told me while I strained to hear him. You’re just going deaf. You need hearing aids.

That’s not exactly what he told me. The doctor used the term progressive hearing loss. Same thing as going deaf.

I walked out of that medical office with my head spinning. No way in heck I was going to wear hearing aids.

Me. 27 years old (at the time). Fresh off of maternity leave. A new job. My hair cut as short as singer Chynna Phillips from her Wilson Phillips’ days. Not a flattering haircut with behind-the-ear hearing aids that plugged into my visible ears like electrical cords.

My first confession as a lipreading mom:


Hearing aid wearing mom? Not me, no way. Back then, I’d rather have dyed my hair purple with pink polka dot highlights than worn chunky electronics in my ears.

I blew that doctor off.

Two years later, my son was old enough to talk. A lot. I had every reason to hide my ears from him. I couldn’t understand a word he said unless it was at piercing scream-level pitch. No more cooing and cuddling for us. It was Hard of Hearing Mom versus Screaming Child.

I went back to the doctor.

You still have those hearing aids, I asked him. ‘Cause I need them more than ever now.

That day, I finally accepted my hearing loss.

Now that I have three children ages 3, 7 and 10, communication depends on my acceptance. I must remind my kids to look at me so I can lipread them, speak up and repeat their words slowly.

I am a Lipreading Mom, not just Mom or a Lipreader. Both aspects must find a way to live together.

Come along on the ride with me.



The Cowardly Lion from "The Wizard of Oz"

Cowardly Lion: Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the “ape” in apricot? What have they got that I ain’t got?
Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman: Courage!
Cowardly Lion: You can say that again!


[kur-ij, kuhr-]


the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.

What Kind of People Have Courage?

Exactly what kind of people have courage? In my opinion, courage is not found in a specific “kind” of person, personality, gender, or culture. Courage can be found in the heart of any individual. Facing life develops courage in our hearts. I began thinking about courage this past week. I was waiting outside a classroom as I had arrived a bit early. I have no idea what kind of class was being held in room 406, but I heard the professor say, “When you think of someone who is courageous, who comes to mind?

I couldn’t hear all the responses, but some that I did hear included:

men and women in the armed forces


law enforcement officers

and firefighters.

As I sat leaning against the wall eavesdropping on the class discussion, I thought about how I would answer that question should anyone ever ask me.

“People with disABILITIES have courage”

Part of the reason I love Fidos For Freedom so much is that the clients, trainers, and volunteers have become like family to me. There are a number of disABILITIES present in people who are “family” at this organization. People who are “differently-abled”. Some of the clients are deaf (or Deaf), some have balance problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain (from accidents or illness), CRPS, MS, and the list goes on. No matter the background or current health status of any one individual, one thing I see in the face of ALL is – COURAGE.

How can we be SO different and struggle with such a wide variety of challenges, and yet all have courage? Bill Tipton said, “Increasing your courage to take calculated risks can improve your general well-being and attitude in life. Learning to transform the negative reaction of fear of failure to a positive sensation of opportunity can enhance your chances for success. I believe people with disabilities, or perceived differences, get more opportunities to demonstrate and practice courageousness” (Global Dialogue Center, 2011)

I believe when a person takes a “calculated” risk and strives to improve their life, courage results. I have seen people work very hard to train assistance dogs. I have seen people work very hard to train to be matched with an assistance dog. Different people have different obstacles, but all push on… reaching for that goal of more independence. I’ve seen clients training who are in obvious pain. I have seen people work hard at taking risks and learning new ways of doing things so that they may safely and confidently handle a dog partner. This is courage.

How Does One Find Courage?

Jayne Leone said, “Related to the word courage are the words encourage and discourage. (In fact within the word courage is the word rage.) Think of the times we have encouraged ourselves or encouraged others. Now think of the times we have discouraged ourselves and discouraged others. There are many buzz words being used today — such as empowerment, challenged, support — used by many professionals, when in reality the operative word is courage, encourage or discourage. As we well know, many social institutions can encourage us or discourage us as disabled persons. They can help us be empowered, help us to maintain self-control, help us be self confident, help us gain courage. By discouraging us they can do the opposite” (Independent Living Institute, 1997).

I believe that courage isn’t an attribute one learns and then “ya got it“. I do believe that courage, though hard-earned and a difficult teacher, is practiced by choice on a daily basis. This is why we have “good days” and “bad days”. I think the key to having an abundant life is to have more “good days” than “bad days”, but allow “bad days” to act as a learning experience as well. Let’s face it. We are going to have bad days. Don’t you think the key is in how one RESPONDS to a bad day? Courage doesn’t disappear on bad days. Courage doesn’t guarantee success.

Sometimes? Courage is going to bed after a “bad day”, with resolve to try again tomorrow. Courage means you simply refuse to accept defeat.

The Lion now walked to the Throne Room and knocked at the door.

“Come in,” said Oz.

“I have come for my courage,” announced the Lion, entering the room.

“Very well,” answered the little man; “I will get it for you.”

He went to a cupboard and reaching up to a high shelf took down a square green bottle, the contents of which he poured into a green-gold dish, beautifully carved. Placing this before the Cowardly Lion, who sniffed at it as if he did not like it, the Wizard said:


“What is it?” asked the Lion.

“Well,” answered Oz, “if it were inside of you, it would be courage. You know, of course, that courage is always inside one; so that this really cannot be called courage until you have swallowed it. Therefore I advise you to drink it as soon as possible.”

The Lion hesitated no longer, but drank till the dish was empty.

“How do you feel now?” asked Oz.

“Full of courage,” replied the Lion, who went joyfully back to his friends to tell them of his good fortune.

Swallow Courage

Ever get caught up in wishing things were different? Do you ever wish you were simply “normal”? (Who defines what is NORMAL, anyway?) I’m at various stages of accepting who I am today. Sometimes I have a clear vision of my “new normal” and seem to understand the “new me”. At other times though? I’ll be honest – I flounder. There is a part of me that wants to “fit in” and do things like “normal” people do.

Why do I have to find batteries so that I can continue hearing when my CI “dies”?

Why do I have to stand and sit slowly?

Why do I have to remove my hearing aid at times when the ear mold leaves a sore in my ear?

Why do I have to use my hands (or Chloe) on the stairs to safely navigate “UP”?

One must “swallow” courage – to believe!

My husband reminded me the other day that even people without disABILITIES struggle with acceptance. As a psychologist, he has seen folks from all walks of life struggle with accepting the way things are TODAY. Age may have made a change in your “normal”. An accident, illness or disABILITY may have changed your “normal”. He said, ““You have differences that make you uniquely you, but that also require some assistance. Without Chloe you’d fall more and miss more. Without your implant you are deaf. You need to accept who you are without apology and stop looking to be treated normally”.

Courage ≠ Never Being Afraid

“But how about my courage?” asked the Lion anxiously.

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”

“Perhaps I have, but I’m scared just the same,” said the Lion. “I shall really be very unhappy unless you give me the sort of courage that makes one forget he is afraid.”

You can have courage and still feel fear. The unknown can be a scary thing. When an acquired disABILITY occurs in the life of a person, there are no guarantees things will not get worse. Many have progressive symptoms. Courage does give us the ability to deal with change, however. Few are born with courage. It is a learned skill, an acquired characteristic.

The Cowardly Lion has always been a favorite of mine in “The Wizard of Oz”. I loved both the movie and the books. I smile when he uses his tail to wipe his self-pitying tears away. I grin when he “shakes” in fear of the Wicked Witch and trembles at the sight of the flying monkeys. I know the end of the story. The Cowardly Lion shows courage time and again throughout the movie, putting himself at risk for others and to achieve his own ultimate goal… a gift bestowed from the Wizard – that of courage. Unbeknownst to the Cowardly Lion, courage lay dormant in his fearful heart. He only had to exercise what was already there.

I hope that YOU believe that courage is in your heart. You may not even recognize it. If you take risks and live life “in spite of”? You have courage!

Denise Portis

© Personal Hearing Loss Journal