Sorry? Wait a minute! No I’m NOT!

Words matter. As I have aged (and hopefully matured) the discovery of what we say and how we say it has evolved as I have learned to communicate with focused intent.

As a person with hearing loss, a typical response for me after you first say something ranges from:

Sorry? (or I’m sorry)

Pardon?

HUH?

My mama raised me to be polite I suppose. However, I have lived with acquired disability nearly twice as long as I did with “normal” hearing and “normal” balance. Even people with a normal range of hearing for their age may respond with an “I’m sorry? What was that?” if they miss something in an overly noisy room. Because I am more likely to miss what was said or miss the context and fully understand what was said, I am more likely to use these phrases.

After some length of time living with these ingrained habitual responses, I realized how it was actually making me FEEL. I’m all about good manners. I noticed that I was having to say, “I’m sorry?” so much that I was a really, REALLY sorry individual. I also realized that I had nothing to apologize for when I said it. More importantly, it served no purpose. Heck, I give workshops on how to convey to someone you didn’t hear what they were saying.

It is best to educate and advocate. Don’t complain or apologize. I am best served by responding in one of the following ways:

“I did not hear most of that because of the background noise in here. Would you repeat that please?” (Maybe even suggest a quieter location)

“I heard you say, “ya-da yada”, but missed the last part”. (Obviously we can fill in the yada with what you actually heard).

Beware of your volume. Be careful not to “guess”. After all, you are trying to educate folks that pieces of their sentence was lost but not EVERYTHING they said was.

My husband once said to me in a crowded room, “I will see you later. Plan on dinner at six?”

I heard, “… see… later. Dinner and sex?”

YES PLEASE.

When you become more proactive about what you heard and did not hear, you can also suggest synonyms. When my kids were in elementary school, they would joke that they knew more synonyms than anyone else. Having been to all of those hearing loss conferences (thanks HLAA) they learned that if your loved one was having trouble understanding all you said, throw out some different key words. It may end up being a consonant blend they have no trouble hearing at all!

“Grandma called this morning and asked you to call back when you can”.

“What?”

“I spoke to Grandma this morning. Be sure to call her back tonight!”

I hope you do not misunderstand the purpose of this post. There is nothing wrong with being polite. There is everything right about letting someone know you did not hear them.

– – – – – – – – –

Let me quickly chase a rabbit here and insert that faking that you can hear is much different than faking you are listening. The latter may result in hurt feelings or a punch in the arm. To fake that you heard someone has heftier consequences. 

– – – – – – – – – –

What matters is letting them know you did not hear them in the right way. Our age-old habits of apologizing do not fix the problem. You are more likely to encounter people who are tired of repeating something, or start to do so LOUDLY. This only distorts the words making it even harder to understand.

By suggesting a quieter place to go, explaining you may do better with a different choice of words that can be understood in context better, or repeating the part you DID hear so that they don’t have to repeat everything can go a long way to better communication.

Depending on the environment, some other great options to take the place of constantly apologizing are:

  1. If in the car, suggest turning the radio and/or music off so that your ears do not have to compete with their voice.
  2. Ask to step into a building so the acoustics assist you in catching more of what they said to you. Outside, voices can D   r…      i  f…    t…   a way…
  3. If you know them well enough, ask them to ditch the gum 🙂
  4. Make sure by word and deed that the problem is not something you should apologize for as no one did anything wrong. They didn’t either – so work on making sure they do not think you are criticizing them.
  5. Do not let others say, I will tell you later. They won’t. If you hear this, let them know you will be following up by email to discover what they said because it is important to you.
  6. If you see a conversation going sideways and frustration is evident on the face on the person you are speaking to, ask for an email. Explain you simply cannot hear them in this environment and that you ask they follow-up with a text or an email. Assure them you want to respond as needed.

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

©2020 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Darn it, I am STRONG

 

I’m no Super Hero, but I am strong!

You have “stuff”. I have “stuff”. Y’all? We all HAVE “STUFF”.

I am — who I am — because of “my stuff”. Your own “stuff” may not define you but it certainly shaped the person you are. It is a wee bit aggravating, however, when someone says “You are such a Super Hero or an inspiration” because of who I am as a person with disABILITY. It’s not that I don’t want to inspire someone. I hope my adult children and grandchildren think I am worthy of imitation and example. I also want to instill in them (and others) their special value because of who they are all because they are here,

on earth,

within our community,

making a difference where they can.

This Doesn’t Mean…

I am not grateful for all God has allowed in my life to make me the woman I am. I want to encourage. I want to be a good example to others. I want to make a difference. This does indeed mean that I am grateful for my disABILITIES. My hearing loss has taught me about communication and about visual cues about the soul of a person. My balance disorder has taught me to take special care, that every step and turn should not be done impulsively. My cane has taught me to lean on something sturdy to provide a 3-point foundation. My service dog has taught me to pay attention and to have confidence in something with far keener senses than I have. I am grateful for my disABILITIES. Yet, I want to inspire, encourage, and don super hero capes because I am a strong woman.

Your stuff may not be disABILITY. Maybe you are a member of a diversity group and the challenges that has presented has strengthened once weak character muscles. Advocacy and inclusion awareness activities have broadened your scope and influence. You are strong because of it.

Maybe that you are a single parent, a survivor of a serious illness, domestic violence, recovered addict, or live with other invisible or chronic illnesses, have made you the strong person you are.

I’m currently staying with my mother who is recovering from a 2nd hip replacement. A North Carolina sister-friend contacted me and we were to have lunch today to catch up. It’s raining, like… a LOT. This means my balance is wobbly, my tinnitus is roaring, and I’m feeling particularly shaky. My friend texted me early (knowing the state I am likely in right now) and suggested a (quite literal) raincheck for lunch.

Does this mean that I’m weak… today? No. I may have to make smart decisions to keep myself safe and avoid likely falls and concussions, but this does not make me weak. I am still strong. It simply means that today my strength is manifest in my practice of good self-care. I can wobble and be strong by making smart decisions to take care of myself.

Challenges not Limitations

Each of you have something that makes life a challenge. Whether it is something physical, spiritual, emotional, or cognitive, we all have challenges. I don’t like the word “limitations”. I prefer to think I am not limited in any way. Instead, I have challenges that exercise my muscles to make me strong. It might mean different choices. Perhaps it means a “raincheck”. I may have to ask for assistance from my service dog or even a person. I am not limited. I simply have challenges. These challenges make me strong.

This post began with exposing something everyone already knows. We all “have stuff”. Your own “stuff” presents challenges, but those challenges make you strong.

This doesn’t mean that you may occasionally feel overwhelmed. It doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the fact that at times, you just want to give up. That’s where the rest of us come into the picture. We need each other. We need to support each other. We need to celebrate with each other. If you haven’t seen the now viral video of Miss Nigeria going bananas with genuine glee at the “win” of her friend Miss Jamaica, you have missed out. You can view it here.

I want to be the kind of support and help to YOU, that I don’t hesitate to respond with questions from people who follow my blog or who know about my work in the disABILITY community. I want to celebrate every win you have. I also want to assist when you do not win, and I want to stand in the gap for you when you simply need someone to care. Blogs, vlogs, online support groups, and social media platforms have become a valued network and access to “Miss Nigerias”.

Hey… I totally get feeling all alone on my own little island, crippled by my MIND about my own disABILITIES. It happens. We buckle, hole up, and lick our wounds. Friend, please don’t stay there. Look for the resources and help easily found in a vast array of fully accessible environments. Indeed, we all have “stuff”. We also need each other.

L. Denise Portis

©2019 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

“H A L P”

I’ve…
got this…
Halp! HALP Geegay!

Say what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When trying to get blueberries to stay on her spoon,

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

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

When trying to read a book,

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

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

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

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

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

Stubborn People with disABILITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solutions to World Problems

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

In every way that YOU can, make a difference.

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

But…

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

BUT…

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

Necessary Reminder

May I share something with you that you already know?

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

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

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

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

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

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

©2019 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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

 

 

Careless Words

As a person with disABILITY, like any within a diversity group, I have experienced harm from words. Before you stop reading and think I’m going to blast the abled population, let me just say that people with disABILITY are often the worst offenders.

If I asked every person in the world to throw up their hand if they have experienced words that have…

hurt them

demoralized them

made them wince (inwardly and outwardly)

caused a “hitch” in your breath because of the unexpectedness

made you cry

made you SWEAR

caused you to “shut down”

forced you into isolation

triggered you to “fight back”

or scarred you for life…

… the sudden uplift of hands worldwide would cause a major shift in wind currents and likely tilt earth off its axis. Seriously. We’ve ALL experienced this.

I use the phrase “experienced words that have…” intentionally. Not all of us HEAR well and many who do hear well don’t listen well. The damage of careless and mean words is not something simply heard or speech read on the lips of fellow human beings. The words are EXPERIENCED. This experience is why damage is done. We take it in. We stew on it. We watch those words ping-pong back and forth in our brains and hearts like a pinball machine, drawing blood and causing wounds from every “hit”. We are scarred.

When my children were younger I would remind them that human beings can FORGIVE but we cannot FORGET. Our words have such power – it’s just freakin’ scary! I am an impulsive speaker. I say things without thinking through and that impulsivity causes regret more times than I can count.

People have told me things before that I needed.

Perhaps I was being a butt-head and careless with my own words. They put me in my place. Maybe it hurt but it was a disciplinary kind of hurt and I walked away wiser and un-scarred. (By the way, all of us have people in our lives whose very positional relationship with us allows them this power).

People have given me true (heartfelt) constructive criticism. This means the intent was clear, precise, and helpful. I am sensitive enough that even this at times can be hurtful, but it doesn’t WOUND.

Those types of experiences can hurt… but they aren’t spirit-murdering (a new word I learned at an Anne Arundel Community College workshop this week). I would like to argue that CARELESS words are never EVER helpful.

The word itself means, “not giving sufficient attention or thought to avoiding harm or errors”. Careless words can be both intentional and direct. They can also be unintentional and “oopsie” moments. Either way they hurt. They wound. They leave scars.

At the end of the semester a handful of students were sticking around to chat after the final. They were lovin’ on Finn, my 3rd service dog in training (SDiT),

… and just “messing around”, hangin’ out, and talking. One of my students muttered something and *I* (emphasis on that I, for I am deaf – grin) heard the collective indrawn breaths. So…

I nosily asked, “what just happened”?

The student said, “Good God, did you hear what I said?“, acting both horrified and astonished.

“Well, no,” I replied, “but I heard y’all’s REACTION”.

Her eyes filled with tears and she admitted, “I said something contradictory and stupid and then said, ‘GAWD that was bipolar of me'” She then slapped her hand over her mouth and looked around at the group with big eyes. The group all immediately patted her back and assured her that “we ALL say stupid things”, and “we knew what you meant”. She vehemently waved all their support aside and said MUCH louder…

“No, NO. You don’t understand! I AM BIPOLAR. I just slammed myself!”

At this point, the floodgates opened and she was sobbing hysterically. It was contagious… of the 8 students standing there, five of them were in tears within minutes!

Do you know they stuck around for another 20 minutes and discussed the power of words and stereotypes? I just stood there in awe watching what I hoped was a little bit of my teaching rubbing off as they expertly dissected and dialogued about intent, carelessness, and harm.

OWN It

You are gonna spew careless words. Whether you speak with your voice or your hands, you are going to speak before thinking. Or… maybe you speak AFTER thinking but you simply don’t care about the damage you are unleashing.

Own it. If you care, if you want to minimize the damage, if you want to do better, if you are the kind of human being that understands the power of words, OWN IT.

Apologize if needed (and mean it)

Make amends

Strive to do better. Vow it!

Practice

Call it (when appropriate) when you see others do it

Follow up and use all five apology languages IN WRITING.

This last one I have learned the power of this conscious decision to OWN it by following up with a note. Whether it is a handwritten note, an email or text, etc., writing down a follow up with a person I threw careless words at is so important.

It becomes this tangible, concrete evidence of my regret and promise to do better. The injured party can re-visit it if they want. It may act as a future means of measurement to them about how far I’ve come in using words as weapons. For me, it acts as a literal pivot point from which I can measure my own growth, my own practice of intentional, encouraging communication.

Next week, I want to discuss how one goes about admitting and voicing that “ouch! that hurt”. If careless words can injure, we are all wounded warriors. What do you do or say if someone hurts you?

Have a great week y’all!

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

© 2019 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

 

Why Using Opioids to Treat Chronic Pain Is Problematic and What You Can Do Instead

It is always a treat to have guest writers at Hearing Elmo. Today, we welcome Jackie Waters. Jackie is a mother, a homemaker, and a farmer who lives with her family on their farm in Oregon. She is passionate about providing a healthy and happy home for her family and aims to provide advice for others on how to do the same with her site  Hyper-Tidy.com.

As a country, we are consuming more prescription opioids than ever before. We are the leading opioid-using nation in the world. The opioid epidemic has reached a point where doctors are beginning to totally rethink the way they prescribe, and this directly affects chronic pain patients. This is all with good reason, however. Using opioids to treat chronic pain can be problematic.

The difference between acute and chronic pain

“Acute pain, if you will, is a bit of a no-brainer. Pain is a message that damage is occurring to our body, and we need to take action. From a medical perspective the physiology of acute pain is well understood; it’s associated with tissue damage and resolution of the pain is associated with healing of the injury,” says physician Gary Kaplan.

Chronic pain is much more complicated. We are often unable to pinpoint the exact causes of chronic pain, as all the signs associated with acute pain have long since dissipated. Chronic pain can involve a multitude of complex issues, including mental ones, and can affect multiple areas and systems of the body. Long story short, it’s hard to pinpoint.

While using opioids to treat acute pain is simple and relatively harmless, the use of opioids to treat chronic pain is problematic. Long terms use of opioids can have devastating physical and mental health effects.

Chronic pain sufferers can develop a dependency to opioids

Even when taken as prescribed, opioids are highly habit-forming. Many chronic pain sufferers misuse the drugs, however, and take them in ways that are more harmful than their normal administration (snorting, more frequent use, higher dosage).

One of the main problems with taking opioids for a long period of time is that they become less effective over time. This forces people to continue upping their dose, which leads to addiction.

“A property of opioid drugs is their tendency, when used repeatedly over time, to induce tolerance. Tolerance occurs when the person no longer responds to the drug as strongly as he or she did at first, thus necessitating a higher dose to achieve the same effect,” says DrugAbuse.gov.

How to manage chronic pain without opioids

Your ultimate goal may be to eliminate the use of prescription drugs altogether, but it’s important to know that any reduction on the use of opioids is beneficial to your health. In order to do this, however, you have to have alternative methods to manage your chronic pain.

For temporary relief of chronic pain, many sufferers turn to acupuncture, massage, hydrotherapy, and chiropractic care. All of these can work, but all do not work for everyone. You must find the type of acute care that best helps your specific type of chronic pain.

For more sustained relief, some lifestyle changes must be considered. If you are overweight or obese, this is likely the leading exacerbating factor of your chronic pain. Losing weight reduces stress on the bones, joints, and muscles. Adopting a healthier diet is probably the best long-term strategy for managing chronic pain.

Apart from that, exercise is your next best option. You might be wary to dive into an exercise regimen for fear that it will make your chronic pain worse, but in fact it’s just the opposite. Check here for five great exercises for chronic pain.

Short-term use of opioids to treat pain is not necessarily a bad thing – in fact, it’s a widely accepted medical practice. Problems arise, however, when people start to rely on prescription drugs to help them cope with long-term pain.

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

Why I Rarely Vent (in Person)

My head is gonna explode. There's a reason I don't vent in person...
My head is gonna explode. There’s a reason I don’t vent in person…

Aren’t I brave to post a picture with no make-up on a “horrible, rotten, no-good day”? I decided last minute to stop in at work on Monday to check my mail box. I forget to do it during the summer when I’m not teaching. Anyway, I ran into a person I know fairly well. I almost ran the other direction because I know her well enough that I didn’t want her to see me with no make-up, flip-flops, and blue jeans. However, since SHE had all that going on too… I decided to let her flag me down instead of pretending I didn’t see her. We exchanged the “how’s your summer going?” questions and visited for a few minutes. We’ve served on various committees together and so when she asked me, “So how are you really doing?” I didn’t hesitate to answer truthfully. Silly me, I thought she wanted to know!

Well, I have had a bad day. I get super tired of falling on rainy days. Ya know? But the weather for the rest of the week looks great” and I beamed my best smile!

She said (I kid you not), “Yeah, I fell this weekend and broke my friggin’ nail. Just look!” (she sticks her finger in my face for easier viewing). “I just got a manicure too!

Now the first thing that popped into my head wasn’t nice. So I’m not even going to repeat it on here. My second thought, however, was “this is why I’m not honest to people face-to-face“. Besides… if you don’t live with a chronic illness or disability, you just can’t understand what having a bad day for THAT person really means. (I can’t completely understand YOUR bad day either). It’s not their fault. I chose to believe she was trying to commiserate and help in some way. I “ooo’d and aaaah’d” over her broken, manicured nail, getting madder and madder (but doing a fantastic job of hiding it, I might add!)

After due diligence in bemoaning her broken nail, I turned to leave. Since I had been holding her wrist to get a better look at the nail, I dropped my hand (and her hand) as I turned to walk away. It was then she noticed my arm. “Oh my gosh. What did you do to your arm?

I turned my arm to look at where she was looking and saw a row of purple and blue bruises. “Oh that,” I said breezily, “yeah, I said I fell, right?” Her eyes got really big, and she whooshed out on an astonished breath, “Well, I’m an ASS, aren’t I?

I giggled. Not at her.

Ok, yes it was AT her, but her self-condemnation and horrified look were truly priceless. I assured her that all was well, working hard to make sure we went our separate ways with friendship and her self-esteem still intact. After all, I didn’t want her to think that *I* thought she was an a**. Even though I did…

Why We Dodge the “HOW ARE YOU?”

On the short drive home I belly-ached out loud to Milo (new Service Dog). One of the great things about service dogs is their non-judgmental, listening ears. When I’m angry, I tend to cry. Not sad tears either. (Hubby has learned to not “there-there” me when he sees tears because chances are he’s in trouble and not that I’m sad and need a shoulder).

Many people with chronic illness and disabilities lie. Not premeditated lying. It’s more of a self-protective omission of the truth. When your NORMAL is not “normal” for people who do not live with significant health challenges, you do not really have symptom-free days. Instead, you learn to appreciate the good days and try super hard not to dwell on the bad days. You don’t ever answer “how are you?” truthfully. (Unless the person who asks lives it too and really gets it). You don’t want to be a negative Nellie; a sour puss; a stick in the mud; __________________ (fill in the blank).

So you dodge the question, or flat out lie. I had a friend tell me that “stating how my day really is going doesn’t make my day better. It only depresses the other person. Since there isn’t anything they can really DO to make it better, I grab FRIENDSHIP by the collar and don’t let go, insisting my day is going very well if only to talk to a friendly face for a few moments longer”.

Don’t get me wrong… we all need some folks we can be honest with and tell it like it is. For me, it is often God because I figure His shoulders are broad enough. Sometimes I need a flesh-and-blood human face to talk, too. This is why I highly recommend support groups. I rely on the people I have come to know at Fidos For Freedom. We couldn’t be any more different. We struggle with completely different kinds of disabilities and challenges, but each one of us understands why we dread the “how are you?” question. Even virtual support (through the medium of the Internet) can be very therapeutic to people with chronic illness and disabilities.

But… I really want to know! I really want to help!

I have a few people in my life (and I hope that you do, too) who I can be honest with  when I’m overwhelmed with a “horrible, rotten, no-good day”. They may ask, “how are you really doing?” and I TELL them. The obvious next question is, “Well, what can I do to help?” Ya know? I’ve really wanted to take people up on this before. I mean… sometimes it may be that I need someone to go shopping with me. Milo is terrific, but there are some things he cannot pick up and some things I really wish I hadn’t dropped to start with! (like glass). Shopping is exhausting for me but a necessary chore.

My son has a “temporary disability” as he fell through the ceiling while in the attic and broke his arm. (The full story is much longer, but I’m not going there today). He is really struggling with doing “normal” things because he has one hand. So I asked him, “what can I do to help?”

Laundry. My son asked me to do his laundry! And do you know, I was almost hysterical with JOY? I love to do laundry! I am ABLE to do laundry! I love pre-treating stains, choosing settings on the washer, and piling things in evenly. I love putting wet clothes into the dryer. And… (OMGosh I’m trembling with excitement I can hardly get it out…) I love folding warm clothes from the dryer. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about the neatly folded piles of “like” clothing. It’s a very normal (and for most people), boring task. However, “son” couldn’t do it. *I* could help.

If you are in a position to help someone who lives with chronic illness, doing something rather ordinary — is EXTRAORDINARY for them.

Loading/unloading the dishwasher

Washing the bedding and re-making the bed

Mowing the lawn

Deep-cleaning a bathroom

I know people with various disabilities who do things to help out others with disabilities. That’s how it should be, right? People… just helping PEOPLE.

Concluding full circle here – VENTING

I have some high maintenance friends. And you know something? I love them. I knew in advance they were high maintenance and I chose to be their friend anyway. I also have some friends who “hold their hand close to their chest”. Heck, if I’m really going to see their “hand”, I almost have to yank them towards me and demand “a real reveal”. I’ve had to learn how to “read” them. I very well may MISS IT sometimes – the clues that tell me that all is not well.

Sometimes people just need to vent. They KNOW you can’t do anything to improve their situation. They KNOW they will have better days (so please? Don’t tell them, “the sun will come out tomorrow”?) They may just need a few moments to tell you like it really is. You say, “How are you?” and they decide to open the dam. It may pour out of them. It may be a trickle of water that you have to give additional encouragement to in order to really break down that barrier.

Let them VENT.

… and then what? I don’t recommend patting them on the shoulder and asking if they feel better. What’s the next step?

It’s two years old now, but I love — absolutely LOVE this advice. <Click here for full article> The highlights and three follow-up (recommended) questions to a “Vent-or” are:

  1. What bothers you the most about the situation?
  2. What is making you the most _______________?
  3. (My favorite) What worries you about this?

This is listening done right. They vent. You follow-up with questions that let them know you were actually listening. You can brain-storm with them options that may help them with some of the things that are frustrating them. You may discover through dialoguing with them, a way that you can easily help them beyond providing a listening ear.

Folks who live with disabilities or chronic illness like being able to reciprocate, too. I am on CLOUD NINE that my son needs me to do his laundry for him right now. I love dog-sitting for my daughter’s dog when she needs to go out of town. There are some things I can do. Let me do them. 🙂

I hope you will look at venting a little differently after reading this. Especially if the venting you listen to is from someone who has significant health challenges. One of my dear friends has a seizure disorder as well as other significant health challenges. She often lets me hear how things are really going because she knows I care. I tell her I will be praying, and she knows I mean it. She immediately asks, “so how can I pray for YOU?” and I know she means it. A praying friend can be HUGE. Sometimes you can do more. I hope you will look for those opportunities. Lysa TerKeurst does a great job blogging about this. Please allow me to share her great article with you: “Don’t Say You’ll Pray for Me“.

Denise Portis

© 2015 Personal Hearing Loss Journal