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

STILL

DOESN’T

GET

IT.

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