Try To See Each Other Out There

A new school year is right around the corner. I love teaching psychology courses. I love teaching. I love students. I love Anne Arundel Community College. I have a great number of “loves”, am I right?

The biggest “love” (other than the guy in the picture with me – married 32 years now) is that I am in a place where numerous opportunities await. An over all “motto” on my campus is “Engagement Matters“. I know this sounds like I’m tooting my own horn, but I was doing “engagement matters” before “Engagement Matters”. This isn’t some special talent, skill, nor ego booster. I try to see… really SEE the students in my classes. Why?

I have been invisible in my pain and loneliness before.

Having just one person notice and tell me they cared made all the difference.

It is relatively easy to see people who are versions of “self”. I want to tell you a story that for me, was the catalyst for changing how I see my students. Many of our faculty offices at Anne Arundel Community College are shared. Several years ago, I was in the adjunct faculty office sitting in one of 5 desks. I usually get to know the other Psychology faculty, but this specific office is shared by other departments. To this day, I have no idea who this teacher was. I only know she taught history. A student was meeting with her. The student was sitting in an easily recognizable “defensive” position, just oozing aloofness and apathy about what she was hearing. It seemed she had done poorly on an exam and had met with this professor to see what kinds of extra credit were available. Unfortunately, this teacher was not really seeing her. Perhaps the student felt backed into a corner? Maybe an earlier excuse she had provided (that I had not heard) was shot down. All I know for sure was that she had given up trying to get the professor to cut her a break and instead protected herself with a belligerent, bored, and apathetic attitude. My class start time was approaching so I packed up my stuff and headed outside with Milo (my service dog) to give him one more potty break before class.

When I returned to the building, this student was sitting in an alcove crying her eyes out. I “saw” her, as did Milo-bear. He led me over to where she was sitting and I sat down next to her. Milo put his head on her knees. She looked up in surprise and then continued to “release heart pressure” as she gently stroked Milo’s head. I didn’t say a word. She had seen me in the faculty office. (It’s hard to miss a professor with a service dog). She didn’t say a word.

erm… Milo didn’t say a word (but was “speaking” volumes).

About 15 minutes later, she quietly said “thank you” and gathered her things and left. I grabbed my stuff and headed to the elevator, now fairly late to class.

Sorry, sorry, SORRY” I chanted as I rushed into class out of breath. “Sorry, I’m late!

My students looked up and smiled, putting their phones up that they had been using to take advantage of my tardiness. “Drew” (name changed) piped up and said, “Bob Burg, right?“. Another student explained, “Yup. We saw you with that student having a meltdown!

I stood there a little bewildered trying to catch up with what they were saying. Another student (able to decipher the confused look on my face), added, “Yeah! Remember the meme you shared in class last time?

In my Psych of Relationships class we had just covered communication and learning to take an interest in others – even total strangers, and WHY we should do so. I had just shared in the last class, a slide with this photo/meme:

I had steered our discussion towards seeing beyond the words. Seeing someone who is hurting can quite literally mean the difference between life and death. We discussed different opportunities we have had. Opportunities to take a few minutes to make a difference and to CARE. Sometimes a topic just “takes off” in class and numerous students shared how it felt for someone to take an authentic interest in them and to really SEE them.  Through a “Poll Everywhere” activity, we took a quick class vote of who was currently going through something difficult and felt invisible and alone in their pain. Nearly 87% of the class signed in to say “this is me“.

The class looked around in astonishment. One student said, “Everyone in here looks happy!


We have to look beyond a quick glance. Really SEE the whole person.

This time of year reminds me to make it my heart’s prayer and my default response to be the kind of person who really SEES other people. It only takes a few minutes to show someone you see them. By…

… giving a gentle hug

… asking if they are OK

… just being with them for a few moments

… simply saying, “I care”.

Try to see each other out there.

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

©2018 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

S.O.M.L. – “Snoring On My Light”

Snoring on my light? Say whaaaa... ?
Snoring on my light? Say whaaaa… ?

Living with hearing loss. My friends, I have to tell you that I have learned long ago that it is much better to laugh at yourself than to get upset when your ears fall short. Besides I’ve tried the depressed, isolated, and “I surrender” route. It isn’t fun and it is lonely. It serves no purpose, nor makes a difference. Continuing to reach out, work hard, and laugh at yourself when needed, is much more productive – and life changing!

Although my classes sometimes have students my age or older in them, the majority of the classes I teach are mid-day so my students are “regular”, college-aged, young adults. I have two young adults living at home while they complete their education. I knew BEFORE I began teaching at a local community college that I don’t know the “lingo”. I don’t think they even CALL it “lingo”. But I digress…

I’m constantly being made aware that I “don’t get it” when students (or my children) use current idioms, slang, or acronyms. I not only have to ask for clarification, but I often need these things EXPLAINED to me. “Gullible” and naive have been terms to describe me since I was knee high to a skeeter. (Yeah… something else I seem to be proficient at is mixing my colloquial expressions!)

So this past week when a student I was working with to assist in getting caught up after being out sick? Well the fact that I misheard them AND missed their acronym is not a big stretch – let me tell you!

“So I’ll work with you to get you caught up. This will be a hard week, but you can do it!” I said with my best cheerleader professor voice.

“A soy meal.” the overwhelmed student replied.

I looked at them quizzically for a moment and repeated, “A SOY MEAL?” (I learned long ago to just go ahead and repeat what I thought I heard to help the other person, 1) learn how things sound to ME, and 2) help them understand the part I need repeated – so as to not require a repeat of the whole story).

With deliberate pauses the student repeated, “S.    O.    M.    L. Snoring on my light”.

Stumped and exasperated, but determined to get it right I repeated, “S.O.M.L. — Snoring on my light? Like a “Clap On” gadget?”

The student’s eyes bugged out and there was a pause. Chloe, my service dog, looked from one petrified person to the other. She yawned and settled into a down-stay. “Girl friend” has been here before and knew it was gonna take awhile…

“Professor Portis! I have NO idea what you are talking about. I never said anything about a gadget! S.O.M.L.  It means “Story of My Life”. The student had that “deer in the headlight” look at this point. Who says young adults don’t have the guts to see a difficult conversation to the end? They continued, “You know… it means my life is always like this!”

It took me a moment or two. After all there is a teeny tiny delay in what I hear to what I process anyway! “Oh. STORY OF MY LIFE. Got it…”

With relief the student gathered their things and proceeded to attempt ESCAPE. A twinkle in their eye and a deliberate pause to get my attention, she looked at me in the face and clearly intoned, Snoring on my light. You are a hoot, Professor Portis!”

Without missing a beat I retorted, “S.O.M.L.!”

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Ingrained Habits

Chloe and Denise at Fidos For Freedom on the training floor…

Being a hearing assistance dog, Chloe has been taught to do automatic retrieves in case I drop something I do not hear. She loves to do directed retrieves as well, but the automatic retrieve is something that is more ingrained for her. It is literally automatic… like 2nd nature, and most definitely an ingrained habit.

This week Chloe and I are testing 3rd graders for CCA with a national standardized test. Want to know something I discovered? Third grade students drop a lot of stuff.



And never notice.

Chloe DOES notice. Even though I am not the one who dropped it, her first impulse is to even break a command like a down/stay and go and get it for me. During the first test, I had to remind her a couple of times to stay put out of harm’s way and let the child get the pencil, paper, or water bottle lid that fell to the floor under the desk.

It was really tough for her. Automatic retrieves are a default setting for her. On the trip home, I thought about my morning and Chloe’s responses. What is MY default setting? What ingrained habits do I have?


Geesh. Don’t you hate reflective moods? (GRIN) It was a 45 minute trip home, so I had nothing better to do. Stuck in traffic on the way into town this morning meant I had already listened to two full hours of Christmas music. I couldn’t take anymore of that! So I decided to reflect!

Ya know? I’m not proud of all of my default settings. Some of them are rather negative.

1. As long as I’ve been a “late-deafened” adult, or hard-of-hearing for those of you who prefer that, you’d think I’d be use to people getting frustrated at having to repeat things for me from time to time. If I get a long-suffering sigh, I’m usually ok. No reaction and I realize it really CAN be tough to have to repeat something so often… especially if we are in a noisy environment. If I get an eye-roll or condescending attitude, however, I want to strangle the life out of someone! And well? Murder is still a crime in the U.S. (sigh). So, yeah! I’ve got to work on that default setting. There is an operational procedure that is much more beneficial to me. Patience, understanding, empathy, and even forgiveness may be some things I need to make sure are activated when someone’s response to repeating themselves is not what I’d hope.

2. When I’m tired, I’m a monster and don’t care. Ask my family. A cranky Denise is a mean, critical and onery Denise. I try so hard not to be, and now that I’m in my 40’s I certainly succeed some. But… ideally? I need to make sure I get enough rest. I plan my sleep schedule like it’s something important. Now… I don’t exactly have it entered on my Google calendar, but folks? I make sure I get plenty of rest. I try to make sure I always get at least eight hours of sleep a night. And you know what? As a person with a hearing loss, I have learned that if I can get nine hours of sleep I am really at my best. Hearing takes work. At the end of a really long day of conversations, meetings, and communication… my brain feels like mush. If I’m not getting enough rest, I get to that “mush” place much earlier in the evening.

3. The sky is NOT falling. I’m a bit of a pessimist. Some who know me well might argue that I’m a wee bit more than a “bit” of a pessimist. I work on that a great deal. I consider it a very poor default setting. When something bad happens, I tend to believe that something else bad is going to happen in addition to that first “chunk of sky that clunked me on the head”. I will likely have to work on changing this default setting the rest of my life. It is THAT ingrained. I have to work on being more optimistic.

4. Agree to disagree. I’ve actually changed in this regard to some degree. In the past, I use to think that two people could agree to disagree, but then I’d have to STOP LIKING THEM! (When this is your spouse… that is not altogether a good thing!)  Sure! I’d think, “Ok… we can’t agree here, so we will just agree to disagree!” But then in my mixed up thinking, because they were WRONG (grin), we weren’t “ok” until they came around to my way of thinking! Whew! At least there has been some major growth in this area. I am actually good friends with numerous people whom I do not see “eye to eye” with on every little thing.

What are your ingrained habits? Especially those that may pertain to an acquired disability? Are they positive or negative? More important, are they things that you can change?

Something else I discovered today: Chloe thinks 3rd grade boys have an amazing speech pattern. After all, they don’t actually use WORDS. They use sounds! For example:

“So… I threw the ball and it went WOOOOOSH, right by my head! It clocked me right in the head, BONK! So I started yelling for mom… “AAAARGH” I could hear her coming down the stairs, CLUMP, CLUMP, CLUMP. I could tell she was mad!”  I think Chloe would like it if I talked a little bit more like a 3rd grade boy!

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Very thankful for…

Making copies in the office
Making copies in the office

… copiers who “spit out” the copies high up instead of down low. See the look of disappointment on Chloe’s face? One of her favorite things to do is to “collect” the copies if they come out low.

School is starting! “Back to School Night” is tomorrow night and classes officially start 9/10! I only filled two classes this year so will only be teaching in the afternoon. As I’m in school myself, this will actually be a welcome break.

(pssst… hey Chloe? Ready to be my school bell again?)

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Reflections from Baby Mirrors

How do I keep an eye on Chloe?
How do I keep an eye on Chloe?

Baby Mirrors for Vans

I had only been matched with Chloe about a month, when I overheard another client from Fidos For Freedom say she had a “baby mirror” in her van. She, too, was late-deafened, and she explained that having the “baby mirror” attached to the rear-view mirror, added confidence about how her canine partner was doing “back there“.

I took a picture of Chloe at work yesterday next to the mirror. (It cracks me up that the Chloe BOBBLE-HEAD made it in the picture too… it’s a long story. I needed a quick way to identify MY silver van from everyone else’s!) Normally, Chloe is in the seat in the far back of the van. She has a special seatbelt, as well as a “sling” that zips her up in order to keep her from sliding on the floor should I make a sudden stop.

Because I have a hearing loss, I depend on that mirror to help me see Chloe. I suppose you could say I hear pretty good with my eyes. The peace of mind this little mirror has brought to me, was well worth the $4.99 that I paid for it at Wal-mart.

The reflection I view in that handy little mirror, gives me confidence and assurance about the well-being of my dog. I see her at a different angle, and can evaluate whether or not I need to speak to her or praise her.

Baby Mirrors for Life

I think too much. Perhaps it’s because I’m married to a Psychologist; or, it may be that as my oldest daughter is a Psychology major, I’m encouraged to THINK. I often “reflect” when I enter a really effective quiet time of thinking/evaluating my life. To reflect is to think seriously about and ponder the past. (This according to my own understanding of the word that is!) Confucius said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is most bitter.” I want to be noble.

I’ve discovered that it’s the “baby mirrors”of life… the angles, or viewpoints that are not a direct line of sight, that give me the best perspective of where I am and how I am functioning.

I suppose an obvious question we ask ourselves when we are evaluating “how are we doin’?” would be, “Am I happy?” However, happiness is not JOY, and the latter is what lasts… what gives us real peace.


A friend of mine writes at a wonderful blog entitled: “The Grace and Wonder of God“. She recently wrote a post called, “Fierce Glory“. I’ll let you read the post, because frankly she said it much better than I could. Sometimes her posts end up on the back burner of my mind – just a simmerin’ away while I contemplate the truths she shared along side of the the reality of my own life.

There are times in my life where I feel desperately unhappy. Those times often occur during times that I put my eyes on “self” and have major PITY PARTIES that family and friends are encouraged to attend. Reality bites, and the “norm” is that I’m at that party all by myself.

I don’t think it’s wrong to acknowledge that sometimes we just aren’t happy. But happiness is a choice (it’s even the title of a great book!). If I need to feel unhappy for awhile, that’s OK. It’s not OK to LIVE THERE. Even in the midst of feeling unhappy, I can and should have joy.

Life can suck. (grin) My joy is not dependent on whether or not I am happy. It’s deeper than that. When God changed me, that inner part of me morphed into a confident child of the King. As a matter of fact, sometimes when I’m really feeling unhappy, what turns that around for me is simply being reminded of my joy. I am FIERCELY joyful.

Heck! The price Christ paid to make sure I had that peace… that assurance,  was too high to act as if it is temporary. The reminder of why I have TRUE joy, feels like a fire rising up within my very soul. My tearful, depressed, worry-bent spine is lifted and straightened with the power of that knowledge. Perhaps it’s a little bit like that saying, “I am WOMAN, hear me ROAR!”  I am HIS, I have JOY.

Lack of Joy is a Red Flag

I was recently contacted by someone through my blog. She is 33-years-old and has started to lose her hearing. Just as she makes adjustments in her life and “finds peace”, her hearing fluctuates and she’s back to “square one”. She admitted to me that the constant battle to “stay sane” is wearing her out. She has thought about how easy it would be to give up the fight. After probing a little bit, she admitted that this could mean “dropping out of life”, or even “taking her life”. (By the way, I have her permission to share this without using her name of course).

I’ve been there. Trying to constantly adapt can wear the starch out of any of us. An acquired disability that is in a constant state of “change” can make someone feel like “givin’ it up”.

In January of 2003, I was “there”. I had just lost more of my hearing and was having trouble communicating with even those closest to me. I was alone in my car headed to a meeting at my church. I remember thinking, “Wow. It would be so easy to just turn the wheel and drive off the interstate at 65 mph. It would be over quickly. No work involved. Those who might miss me would get over it quickly.” It scared me spitless that I found myself there. Perhaps that is why God continues to put people in my life who are also “there”. I “get them”, for I’ve lived that same roller coaster of thought.

It took the reminder of why I have JOY, that I began to “see past today”. If you do not have JOY, you may never find that true peace all of us yearn for in our lives. If you can STAY unhappy, and truly have no reason to exist – take my word for it that this is a RED flag.

Don’t Primp – Look!

Get a “baby mirror” for your life. Stop your primping. Don’t just look at what everyone else sees. Look past that. Check out the different angles that are “you”. Do you have joy? Are you unhappy too much? What do the answers to those questions tell you about your reflection?

I’ll close out this long-winded post with a great song one of my students signed in class recently. I love the words to the song. I’m not a huge Christian Aguilera fan, but the girl can SING.


Look at me
You may think you see
Who I really am
But you’ll never know me
Every day
It’s as if I play a part
Now I see
If I wear a mask
I can fool the world
But I cannot fool my heart

Who is that girl I see
Staring straight back at me?
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

I am now
In a world where I
Have to hide my heart
And what I believe in
But somehow
I will show the world
What’s inside my heart
And be loved for who I am

Who is that girl I see
Staring straight back at me?
Why is my reflection
Someone I don’t know?
Must I pretend that I’m
Someone else for all time?
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

There’s a heart that must be
Free to fly
That burns with a need to know
The reason why

Why must we all conceal
What we think, how we feel?
Must there be a secret me
I’m forced to hide?
I won’t pretend that I’m
Someone else for all time
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

The Vest is Really Always “On”


All Work and No Play?

Chloe doesn’t wear her vest in the house, and I sometimes take her to places where the “vest” stays in the van. Harper’s Ferry is one of those places… although I make her wear it if we are there during “peak” season because the crowds are so large. Lucky for us we live close enough that we go frequently, and normally NOT during peak season!

It’s good for her to “just be a dog” sometimes. And yet… Chloe doesn’t “turn off” her training when she does not have her vest. On the contrary, she does MOST of her hearing alerts when her vest is hanging up by the front door! I work 4 days a week from home, and so when the phone rings, kitchen timer beeps, or doorbell dings, she alerts me to the fact and “takes me there”. Even at Harpers Ferry we discovered she still realized I couldn’t hear well and would alert when “vest-less”. It was at Harpers Ferry that we first realized that she alerts the same and takes me to whomever calls “Denise” OR “Mom”.

Chloe gets plenty of playtime, but she really seems to “get” that regardless of that vest, I need her ears.


There have been a few times when I left Chloe at home and went to something without her. When my daughter (who has a horrible phobia of needles) went to get blood work prior to starting college, she needed my undivided attention. As a matter of fact, she not only needed my attention, but also both hands and a knee to keep her propped up after swooning. The girl hates needles!

When our family went to Catoctin Wildlife Preserve, I wisely left Chloe at home. It’s not a great idea to take a working dog to a place where things would think she was “dinner”.

On these rare occasions, I have felt positively NAKED without that leash in my hands. I am so accustomed to her presence and help, I feel very strange indeed to be without her. My husband is always glad to have her along as well, for he gets a little irritated when I slip up and tell him to “heel“.


It’s Great Knowing She Likes to Work

We were at the bank today taking care of some business for our chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America. As I sat waiting for the woman I needed to see, Chloe stayed in a nice down/stay at my feet. We finally were able to go back and see the woman we had an appointment with, but were stopped by a man waiting in line. He had big tears in his eyes and he told me how beautiful Chloe was and, “… she just adores you! She watches you non-stop… every move you make! She only looks away when someone new walks into the bank and she flops her tail at them and then turns to stare at you again!”

Chloe loves people, and loves to work. That has to rank right up there to being one of the most important things about a working dog… that they love to work.

My “Spiritual” Vest is Always “ON”

Hopefully I’m a person of faith who lives what I believe even outside of Sunday morning services. I try to be “real” and genuine. My faith has become such an ingrained part of who I am, it’s impossible to separate the two. I get some “good natured flack” from time to time about mentioning my faith on the blog so much. However, I’m here and functioning as well as I do as a direct result of my relationship with Christ. I can’t pretend to be something I’m not, and I’ve completely HIS.

Sure, sometimes my mouth negates the fact I am a person of faith. When I sin? It’s ALWAYS with my mouth. My prayer every morning before my feet hit the floor is “Lord, guard my tongue today!” I pray He can use this big mouth for some good. I’m grateful He does not call the ‘qualified‘, rather He ‘qualifies” the called. May I always live like my “vest” is on!

My Teacher Hat is Always On

I guess because I’m a teacher, it’s really hard for me not to be in “teacher mode”. The kids tease me sometimes about making “everything into a learning session”. From correcting their grammar when speaking, to insisting on learning the history and background of a place we are visiting for the day, I end up in a “did ya know?” speech nine times out of ten!

Now that I’ve started back to school myself with the goal of eventually teaching on the community college level, that will likely get even worse. I’m working towards my Masters in Psychology. I noticed on the online biography “background” page, that I’m the only one pictured in my profile with a dog.  (smile)

She’s THAT much a part of my life…

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Camera Shy

The dogs were having such a great time in the snow this morning, I decided to “dash” inside to get the camera. (At least I did a “dash” for one such as I!) By the time I returned, they were still “throwing snow” at each other so I quickly turned the camera on and began taping.

Yeah. You guessed it, I’m sure. My kids tell me the camera makes a beep when it starts taping. Perhaps that was their “cue” to stop acting so darn cute! Regardless of the “how”, they did put an immediate stop to their antics.

Documented Proof

The dogs were having a great time skidding around in the snow – true. But I’ve also been trying to surreptitiously document how incredibly nutty our puppy is in the snow! He’s an “arctic dog”, and honestly I have to force the little booger inside when the temperature drops below freezing. As it is, when he is tired, he tries to find the biggest patch of snow on which to nap!

I thought I had a perfect “Kodak moment” (or maybe candid camera?) when I sneaked the camera outside. Turn the silly thing “on”, and the dogs slid to a halt. Sigh. We adopted Tyco from my trainer who also does Norwegian Elkhound rescue. I’ve also wanted to tape and document how happy Tyco is with our family, and how perfect a “match” he is for our family. Now Pat will have to take my word for it! Grin.

Invisible Disabilities

This need for “proof”… finding a viable way to show something was true above and beyond the value of my “word”, reminded me of my deafness is some ways.

I get some “flack” for wearing my hair up which allows both my hearing aid and cochlear implant to be visible. I’ve had some culturally Deaf folks give me “heck” for not only choosing a CI, but for wearing “bling” on the device as if I were proud of it – as I am! I’ve had late-deafened people question my sanity for choosing to make something visible that doesn’t need to be. Some try to “blend in” and “look like everyone else”, desperately hoping their hearing loss does not interfere with relationships, a job promotion, or other’s perceptions of their abilities.

I suppose in the beginning I was the same way. I didn’t deliberately TRY to hide my hearing aid, but my hair is long and it did the trick without my trying! However, there came a day when my hearing loss changed from “moderate” to “severe” to “profound”. Speech reading is not an exact science, and my hearing aids were no longer giving me any benefit. I was “missing things”. If people were not aware that I had a hearing loss, they did not know to get my attention prior to communicating with me. I said things at inappropriate times (and still do), or missed what the topic was that was being discussed. I decided to try to make my hearing loss more visible. I did this to help both OTHERS, and myself! I wore my hair up, and wore a magnetic badge that said, “Please Face Me. I read lips!”

After I received my cochlear implant, I decided then and there that I was going to continue to make my invisible disability – visible. I wanted “proof” that I had a hearing loss. I was tired of being misunderstood, or labeled as slow, stuck-up, or mean. My CI allows me to hear voices really well (although I still benefit from a person getting my attention first), but I still miss a lot of things to in crowds and big cavernous locations like malls, restaurants, arenas, gyms, etc. I wanted to SHOW my ears and technology, as a reminder that in many circumstances I am still deaf!

For those who don’t know me, my visible technology lets them know I hear differently. A little patience and good communication skills will insure we communicate just fine. Chloe actually “shouts” the fact that there is something different about me anyway! Everyone notices her FIRST. They “mosey over” to read her vest and THEN look up and check out my ears!

For those who DO know me well, I’ve found my “visibility” reminds them I am still deaf “in spite of” my cochlear implant. We had a fire inspector come and test the alarms at our school a couple of weeks ago. My director planted herself right next to me, as I think she was afraid of what Chloe may do. She didn’t want me “falling down” on her “watch” – smile. When the alarm went off Chloe cocked her head and listened. My director explained that there was a voice as well as the alarm. (Evidently, it explains the emergency and instructs people where to go?) I was talking to Chloe to keep her calm (as she was visibly shaking), and I kept an eye on the blinking lights of the strobe section of the alarms set in the hallway.

Later at lunch, my son found me and asked out of concern, “Gee mom! How did Chloe do during the fire alarm?”

I proudly explained how she remained calm and sat in heel during the entire thing. I told him how the director of our school came to stand next to me to “help if needed”.

Chris contemplated that a moment and then said, “It’s a good thing you wear your hair up so those of us who know you remember you still are deaf! You act so normal now!”

(So pre-implant how does that mean I behaved? Gulp!)

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

College for a Day!


Chloe had a great time visiting a college last week.  She doesn’t mind car trips, and was pretty good in the motel as well!  (She loves elevators!)

Once on campus, I fought to keep her calm. Chloe’s weaknesses are MEN and “Teens”.  What is a college campus full of?  College guys, who all thought she was rather lovely too.  Oh my!  After a few corrections, she finally realized “Gee.  Denise means business!”  She loved the arena area (above),

because she was able to watch all the action from up high.  She had the best

seat in the house.  She totally ignores all the double-takes.

I’m so glad our church has a live band every Sunday.  The band, lights,

NOISE in the arena were not worth getting excited about, and she is

totally accustomed to my signing the songs.  Later during a meeting a

“boy group” of 3 young men came in to sing to the parents/visitors.

They came and crooned literally within a yard of her.  She slept

right through it.  I’m so glad this type of atmosphere is normal

for her!

Chloe was mildly amused when an admissions counselor asked

me if I was planning on transferring to the university.

I was not so amused.  (My husband and daughter were snickering,


Ah college… being there almost made me “miss it”!

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

… So Basically I’m GONNA LIVE FOREVER!


Green Tea from Costco … my favorite brand

Compelled to Change by Negative Triggers

About four months ago I caught a nasty 24 hour virus.  The only thing unique about this virus was the timing of when the symptoms appeared.  I had my morning coffee and THEN became sick.

Now you have to understand that I’ve been drinking coffee for twenty-four years.  After years of going to school and working I found that I was a 4-cup a day, coffee drinking addict.  I add that last part because frankly, my son reminds me that caffeine is a drug every chance he gets.  (Darn, those assigned research papers on drugs in 9th grade! Could I have known he’d take this information to his grave?)  I always get out of bed before my kids.  In part, the result that MY alarm clock (Chloe, hearing assistance dog) does not have a “snooze button”.  When it’s time to get up she… well, makes sure I’m UP! I normally hit the “on” button as I walk past the coffee maker.  Alternating between French Vanilla, and Hazelnut sugar-free creamers, meant my coffee was my favorite part of the day. I will admit that the fact I had some quiet time to myself during this morning period, also contributed to it being the favorite part of my day.

Nothing spoils “a favorite” like a virus.  When a stomach virus’s symptoms hit after having only consumed your morning coffee, little else “reappears” other than that coffee! I won’t go into all the gory details, but suffice it to say that I can no longer even SMELL coffee. Being married to a psychologist, I’m assuming I’m experiencing psychosomatic symptoms.  The reality is I may simply have a very good memory. All I know is that I can no longer drink coffee.

But when one is addicted to caffeine, (repeated for the benefit of my 18-year-old son who continues to remind me about common, over-the-counter and legal stimulants), one can’t just ditch the coffee and survive. Yes, I realize I might should have taken this opportunity to “kick the habit” once and for all.  Frankly, I love curling up with a hot cup of “something” first thing in the morning!  Desperate to find a quick and painless alternative “source”, I turned to green tea.

Change Can Lead to Discovery

I love the fact that someone MY age can discover something new.  Discovery?  I love green tea.  In fact, I drink green tea most of the day.  After consuming approximately 4 cups of regular green tea, I drink decaf green tea the remainder of the day.  In the four months I’ve been a tea drinker, I tried numerous brands and actually love them all.  I do have a favorite, however, thanks to the Christmas gift of one of my students who happened to stick a few tea bags of Kirkland signature ITO EN into her “goodie basket”.  (Thanks Sarahann!)

I received February 2009 Ladies Home Journal in the mail over the weekend. Saturday evening while trying to find something new to read before going to bed, I decided to curl up with the magazine (and a cup of decaf green tea of course!).  The article, “The Healing Power of Tea” caught my eye.  I learned that ANY kind of tea has health benefits, but green tea seems especially potent in protecting against some of even the deadliest diseases.

According to the article written by Paula Dranov, “… scientists are finding that drinking tea may keep your heart healthy, protect you from cancer, boost your body’s ability to fight off germs, strengthen your bones, prevent cavities and sharpen your concentration”.  Evidently it lowers your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol as well as lowers the risk of plaque build-up in the arteries.  It may lower the risk of a variety of deadly cancers, and boosts immunity to ward of bacteria and viruses… you know, the kind that make you throw-up your morning coffee!  L-theanine  seems to heighten concentration, and another antioxidant found in tea may stave off Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s! Tea even strengthens bones, and prevents cavities as it contains fluoride.

Now that I’m a tea drinker?  Well, basically I’m GONNA LIVE FOREVER!

Good can come from even nasty viruses.

Compelled to Change by Negative Triggers – Part 2

Change can occur by design, but for me it is often because I’m forced to do so. Does that make me stubborn? (Hmm, scratching head and pondering that). I think I’m just a creature of habit.  When change occurs in my life, it is usually because circumstances forced me to adapt.

No one ever asks for a disability.  Whether congenital or adventitious, disabilities simply aren’t something one HOPES to learn to deal with in their life.  I mean… life is hard enough!  Yet, those I know with disabilities seem to be masters at learning to adapt and to change.  That doesn’t mean it’s always done right – yet, change will happen. One must learn to do things a “new way”.  Many times a person has to learn to ASK for help. Sometimes it means giving up some things you really loved, and learning to enjoy “replacement” activities instead.  There are times you have to “take 5” and just feel sorry for yourself – as long as you get back out there and embrace life when your “5” are up!

I consider deafness and Meniere’s disease negative triggers. Yet the change wrought in my own life, has made me who I am.  I am comfortable in my own skin, with all my gadgets and technology. I’m totally OK with being accompanied by an assistance dog, and I wear my hair up so that my cochlear implant and hearing aid are visible. However, I didn’t start out this way. At first, those triggers only caused me to isolate myself. I lived in a 24/7 pity party. I’m thankful for all I learned through HLAA and from a well-read Bible.  Both were necessary and influential in my life.

Change Can Lead to Discovery – Part 2

Some people look at me like I’ve lost my mind when I explain I’d never want to hear normally (or walk a straight line). I like who I am. As I have not always “liked me”, I’m glad I can say that I do now.  Change ultimately can bring a self-discovery of talents, skills, interests and passions that one never dreamed of before. With a little direction and “cheerleading” from those who have “been there”, change can be an easier transition for those learning to “ask those tough questions”.  Why me? How can I cope? How can I work? How can I communicate? How can I ever be happy again?

The biggest plus to having a disability, is that one usually discovers what is really important. The things that use to “stress” me no longer do. (Likely, I have new stresses!). Life’s big picture sort of SNAPS into place when you have a disability. Family, friends, community, communication become really important. (Don’t believe for a second that someone who is deaf with a communication disorder cannot communicate.  You simply aren’t listening!).

At times “getting there” is not an easy road. But the discovery of who I “am”, allows me to help others and make a difference in my own small corner of the world. Do you feel “change” coming? Don’t run from it. Stand still and let it happen. With the right attitude, support system, and even childlike faith, change can create very real and positive discoveries for YOU.

Denise Portis

© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal

Not Santa’s Helper… TEACHER’s Helper


When my daughter, Kyersten, started college this Fall, I had a brief moment of panic.  For 4 years, she has volunteered to be a “teacher’s aide” for me at school during hours she didn’t have other classes.  It’s really wonderful when your daughter is your teacher’s aide.  I didn’t have to worry about how she’d feel if I “bossed her around”. Smile.

Faced with a school year with no teacher’s aide, I put out a plea to my older students.  “HELP“!

I was surprised that a good number of students eagerly stepped forward to try to fill Kyersten’s shoes.  I could only chose one, and so went with who hit “reply” first.  I’m glad it was Kathleen.  Kathleen (pictured above) is one of my third year American Sign Language students.  She has been SUCH a big help this year.  As soon as she enters my classroom, she is in full “aide” mode.  She doesn’t even ask what needs done, as she figured out after the first class that the camera had to be set up for “Hot Seat”, (* see below), and without being asked she passes out graded work and new lecture notes to each student.

Kathleen didn’t even balk when I made a tiny “big deal” about a Christmas gift I had purchase for her, and even wore the HAT.  (Is that “game” or what?)

Over the past 7 years, I have learned to ask for assistance with much more grace.  If you have a disability and are “grumpy” about the fact you can’t do all you “use to”, then asking for help can be next to impossible.  Someone who is uncomfortable about asking for help, is not even a good candidate for an assistance dog.  Even assistance dogs like praise and the occasional treat.

n1143036281_30221118_5859 Chloe wouldn’t wear the hat, but was glad to pose by the tree.  She loves to work, but there are some things she can’t do for me.  She can’t pick up heavy books that I drop, and I don’t allow her to pick up things that would be dangerous for her.  An example would be that I broke a Christmas bulb when helping to decorate the tree.  I had to intervene quickly, as she has been taught an automatic retrieve (as most things I drop I don’t hear).  I obviously didn’t want her to pick up broken glass.  I had to ask one of my teens to help me.

In the grocery store today, I knocked over a huge box of Cheerios in the cereal isle.  I didn’t want canine teeth marks in the box.  It was big enough that Chloe would have had to exert some pressure to get it up high enough for me to reach it.  Instead, I allowed a person standing there watching to assist as they were eager to do so.  It was pretty easy for me to transition that to my classroom.  I’ve learned to ask my students for “help” when I drop something too heavy for Chloe to pick up.  My students never mind hopping out of their seats to help.

A big online THANK YOU to my 2008-2009 teacher’s aide, Kathleen. See you “next year”!

* HOT SEAT:  One student each week sits in an “interpreter’s chair” and listens to a pre-taped selection from which they are to sign all that they can.  They then take it home and choose 60 seconds to translate, practice and perform the following week.

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal