I Would Rather Walk with a Friend in the Dark, than Alone in the Light

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I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light — Helen Keller

I graduated from Walsh High School in a rural area of Colorado in 1984. Fast forward 34 years <wince> and I am graduating again with now my final degree. In 1984 I was a healthy young woman with a moderate hearing loss in one ear. In 2018 I am a middle-aged woman in a perpetual state of getting healthy <wince>, profoundly deaf (and “hearing again” as long as I am wearing my bionics) and an adult with disability from Meniere’s disease and Post Concussive Syndrome.

It may surprise you to learn that I am happier and healthier (emotionally and psychologically) than I was at the age of 18. Life has been hard – and continues to be, but doesn’t everyone experience that in some form or fashion? My challenges have made me who I am today.

The 2018 Denise, has found a life worth living by embracing my unique challenges and focusing my life and energy in the disability community. Oh yes! It’s hard sometimes… dark even; however, I am amongst friends, fellow warriors, super heroes, and advocates.

May I just say, “THANK GOD FOR THE INTERNET”? There are numerous research studies that support that the Internet has connected, educated, and created a platform for advocacy for those with disability. The community, the friends I have found over the last 34 years has made every challenge I’ve shouldered worth it. Most of the people with disabilities I have come to know have different challenges and diagnoses. Yet all work hard to experience the best quality of life they can. We use a variety of accessibility tools, medications, assistive devices, and medical procedures to maximize every opportunity while insisting on a productive and meaningful life. We are stubborn. We believe in self-care. Our priorities tend to be the things that really matter. Some of us are Spoonies.

My dissertation, something I have become quite passionate about, revolves around the theory that traumatic events and diagnoses do not have to destroy a person. As a matter of fact, a wealth of research (my own included) supports that these events can stimulate growth – the foundation of Posttraumatic Growth studies.

This doesn’t mean that I do not have bad days. They happen. Those bad days are something you recognize and experience as well. Yet I have learned that walking in the dark and challenging path of life with disability with all OF YOU, is far better than any walk I took on the lighted, well-tended path alone.

My challenges are progressive. Do you know that doesn’t even bother me? I’ve learned how resilient I am and I have learned to:

  1. Reach out to my community when needed for support
  2. Ask for advice and work-arounds
  3. Find new ways of doing things
  4. Rely on a loyal service dog for minuscule but necessary tasks I was too afraid to bother others with
  5. Believe in myself
  6. Pray hard – but work harder
  7.  Never stop learning
  8. Believe the future is accessible
  9. Stand with others
  10. Be vulnerable and open about the good and the bad

uphill-battle

I’ve also learned to CHOOSE HAPPINESS and to do my best to spread that message. It may seem like a difficult choice some days, but cognitive psychologists agree that if you deliberately change your thinker (your chooser), it will change your feeler, and show in a change in your behavior. It is amazing what “choosing happiness” can do to your personal outlook. Don’t be afraid to embrace the days you scream and cry and cuss up a storm (sorry mom). Those days will happen as well. I have learned though that if my focus is positive advocacy and choosing happiness, those screaming days are few and far between.

I’ve always admired Helen Keller. This intelligent and gifted woman had neither sight nor hearing. Yet Helen learned that her life “in the dark” was pleasantly full of like-minded friends and associates. She knew the value of walking in the dark with a friend. I hope you can learn to embrace that mindset as well.

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

©2018 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Chronic Pain – Part ONE

Welcome to guest blogger, Deborah Marcus, long-time friend (sister), fellow advocate and writer, and professional photographer. It is always great to have guest bloggers on Hearing Elmo because although I have lived with disability for 27+ years, I do not and cannot understand chronic pain conditions as it is not something symptomatic of my own challenges. I have always been thankful for that — for one thing I am a wuss. I have loved and admired Deb for a long time, in part because I consider her a warrior woman who DOES live with chronic pain. This is part ONE of a multi-part posting. Follow up posts in the future will link to this one so that her story chapters will remain connected.

What persuades me to step back from the ledge? What worked yesterday, today, what will work tomorrow? Those who live with chronic, severe pain or illness are familiar with these questions.

I have lived with disability for much of my life. Hard of hearing from a relatively young age, severely so through my 20s and 30s until I began to hear again at age 42 with cochlear implants, I am no stranger to the need to make adjustments. I have lived with other disabling conditions, too, which unlike hearing loss and deafness are largely a product of the external forces of trauma and abuse. At 54, I have lost count of the moments when I’ve told myself “keep on, keep on”. As a result of physical abuse which once took the form of being sent down a long flight of stairs, backwards and head first, I have experienced increasing challenges with my vestibular (balance) system. Once a series of intermittent episodes of vertigo, my imbalance is now chronic. For over two years now, I have not had a minute where my equilibrium is not in a struggle with the space around me. Along with this is a condition that I have managed to cope with for 38 years, for which I had no name until recently. Three years ago I wrote a short piece describing life with trigeminal neuralgia. Things have changed regarding my TN status since then, but it’s instructive to see where I was at that time: https://visionsofsong.com/2015/07/10/into-the-sunshine-living-with-trigeminal-neuralgia/

It is not the only pain condition I live with, but it is the most distinctly life-altering. About six months ago, I realized that the medication treatment that was giving some relief wasn’t doing much anymore. Trying different medications and doses brought no help. I spoke with my doctor, who referred me to a hospital that does high volume work in the areas of gamma knife radiosurgery and microvascular decompression, the only two procedures currently advised for my condition.Both procedures have a relatively high success rate for trigeminal neuralgia, 70 to 80 percent depending on various factors. After consultation, in early March of this year I underwent the gamma knife procedure. After a week’s time, I felt some improvement, which was incredibly uplifting for my mood, which had reached new lows. Knowing that it can take a couple of months to see the full effect, I hung in on the bad days, rejoicing in the better days in between, and anticipating further improvements. In the past couple of weeks, I have not been doing well. This past week has been terrible, and I have found myself bursting into tears as much due to despair as to the pain levels. My world, which was shrinking due to severe, chronic facial pain, was beginning to open up a bit, only to feel shrunken once again. I can’t decide which is worse, not thinking there would be anything that could really help bring my pain levels to manageable levels, or trying something that may in the end prove to be a failure for me.

The depression I have been managing somewhat successfully stepped to the front of the line. I became obsessed with the idea of planning my death. Not yet planning my death, but finding the idea of planning it out, by suicide, an intriguing possibility. Why? Why now, when I’ve lived with physical and psychic pain for so long, does it seem like now might be a good time to end my life? What makes one moment better than another, or none of them the right time? As much as I have dealt with depression to varying degrees throughout the years, I don’t recall a moment exactly like the one I had this week, thinking that maybe I’m done, really and truly. I felt that if I expressly stated that to anyone close to me, they would call in the big guys on me, which I do not want. Besides, I’ve been feeling like I’m wearing out the handful of good, caring people in my life with my challenges. I did not want to burden them with such thoughts. I knew that I could call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (found here https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/) and opted to use the chat box to communicate rather than the phone. It took a little while to get to the front of the line, but I wanted to see what would happen. As a Mental Health First Aid instructor, I know what it’s for and recommend it often. I wasn’t sure if it made sense to call since I wasn’t sitting by the computer with a gun or a bottle of pills in my hand. I recognized my need to reach out, and am glad that I called. The person on the line didn’t tell me much I didn’t know, but I could tell they cared that I was struggling, and that meant a lot. At the end of the call, they ask for some feedback. One of the questions has to do with feeling hopeful/hopeless. I was able to say that I felt a little less alone after this brief conversation. It got me thinking about how much, and yet how little I need. I suspect this dichotomy is true for many of us. I can only share from my perspective, and from what I’ve teased from things shared by others over the years.

There has been a fair amount of discussion lately regarding the intersection of childhood trauma and health outcomes. If you would like to look at this in some depth, you may consider starting here, though there are many other resources: https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2016/10/404446/undoing-harm-childhood-trauma-and-adversity

As a survivor of (and sometimes thrive-r in spite of) sexual and physical abuse, having undergone several rounds of therapy to figure out how to cope, I did not immediately make the connection between my physical challenges and what I had experienced while growing up. The mind-body connection was happening in spite of my limited insight. Oh, I understood that my mood could be connected to my experiences, but pain? Not only acute pain, or pain that is persistent due to an event, but pain in parts of the body that were not injured, or if they had been, were still in pain long past when the bodily injury had healed. I have been handed and thrown off a diagnosis of fibromyalgia twice in 12 years. No fibro for me, thank you! It’s that diagnosis they give you when they don’t know what’s wrong, is what I would tell folks. If sounds so…hopeless. I know some who live with this diagnosis, and they find ways to make a good life for themselves. It felt like being saddled with one more thing that I didn’t want to carry.

But trigeminal neuralgia, that’s something they can tie to an event. In some cases it develops post-shingles. In others, trauma can be the culprit, and again, we suspect that is the case for me. I have been more comfortable talking about this severe and persistent pain condition than any of the others, yet there is no denying that all of what I experience is intertwined within me, and so perhaps the only way through all of this is through all of it. Still, I haven’t figured out what to say to myself to want to keep on during the worst moments. I think I put every penny I had on this horse winning the race, with the radiosurgery giving me significant relief for a while. If it doesn’t, I’ll need to see if I can find another message that is meaningful, to keep on, keep on.

I welcome feedback, and aim to follow up with another piece on the topic of chronic pain, disability, and the reconstructing of a meaningful life.

Deborah Marcus

https://visionsofsong.com

 

New Twist on an Old Fable

Townsend version of Aesop’s Fable: The Crow and the Pitcher

A crow perishing with thirst saw a pitcher, and hoping to find water, flew to it with delight. When he reached it, he discovered to his grief that it contained so little water that he could not possibly get at it. He tried everything he could think of to reach the water, but all his efforts were in vain. At last he collected as many stones as he could carry and dropped them one by one with his beak into the pitcher, until he brought the water within his reach and thus saved his life.

Moral: Necessity is the mother of invention.


I have the privilege of hanging out with numerous people with disability. Some are students, some are colleagues I work with at Anne Arundel Community College, and some are individuals I know from various community advocacy groups. One thing I have learned about people with disabilities,

“Where there’s a will… there’s a way”

This “will” is what this Aesop’s fable of the Crow and the Pitcher reminds me of as I have seen time and time again, people with disabilities finding a way to accomplish what they need to do with whatever means available to them and within their own power.

I was walking towards an “accessible” bathroom with a young woman who self-identified as a “little person”. I normally have a rolling briefcase trailing from my right hand and a service dog in heel with the leash in my left-hand. As we approached the bathroom, I readied myself to  disengage myself from my rolling briefcase and pull the bathroom door open. Before I could do so, the student yanked one of her textbooks out of her book bag, stepped up on it, and pulled the door open. She held it open for me and never missed a beat… continuing to talk about what we were discussing on the way to the women’s bathroom.

I, myself, do things that I have simply learned which allow me to be independent. However, this example stuck with me a long time. The young woman was accustomed to doing this and obviously had practice. The young woman’s “normal” reaction was an expectation to do something NEW and NECESSARY to accommodate her need.

Another example: One day on campus as I was preparing for class, a student whom I have met only in the hallway a few times after exchanging a cheerful greeting, poked her head in the door and waved at me. This student uses a wheelchair. I walked over and realized the issue before she even opened her mouth. Right outside this classroom is a CRAZY women’s bathroom that has an entrance that is impossible for any person with mobility issues to get in and out of without assistance.

Need me to get the door?” I asked.

Yup!” – “Thanks!” she whispered with a knowing grin.

Later that week I saw her in the hallway again. This time instead of only a cheerful greeting in passing, she stopped me and told me thank you again. Even though the other bathroom on the third floor where we were was more accessible, it was much further from her class and she lacked the time necessary to go down that far to avoid being late for class. I explained to her that I had to have help with this particular door too if I had my service dog with me. We both giggled at how ridiculous it was that we required assistance for that bathroom. (Do you know I still don’t know her name? Comrade in arms, but clueless as to who she is – smile). The day I got the door for HER, my service dog was waiting patiently behind me in the classroom so I was able to assist without any hoopla or drama.

Just in case you are not a long-time reader of Hearing Elmo, I have Meniere’s disease (a vestibular disorder) and “hear again” with a cochlear implant. I also have post-concussive syndrome. I have made numerous adjustments and changes within my home, car, and office to eliminate my need for assistance. Since I can’t raise my hands over my head without swooning, everything I need in the kitchen is on a shelf I can reach safely. My shower has everything I need eye level instead of up higher on the rock-faced shower wall. I have chair-rail molding all over the house so that I can grab it with my fingers if I am walking and get wobbly. All my appliances and drawers that “stick” have a tug on them so that Milo (my service dog) can open them for me. I could go on and on, but I don’t want you to miss that the reality of ANYONE with disability or chronic illnesses, is that they are accustomed to doing whatever it takes to be as independent as possible.

Please Keep in Mind

Will you do your best to remember one thing? If a person with disability, chronic illness, or invisible condition asks you for assistance, you are their LAST resort. They have thought of and planned for everything that they can to be as independent as possible. However, there are times that we just need help.

Don’t make a big deal about helping, just do it calmly and with grace.

Don’t discuss the details or “unfairness” of the person needing your assistance unless THEY want to discuss it.

Don’t feel sorry for us.

Don’t be super dramatic and bring attention to the issue.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

Earlier I stated, “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. If you live with disability, chronic illness, or visible/invisible conditions, I understand when WILL disintegrates. I work as hard as the next person with disability to be independent and strong. Yet… there are times I just throw up my hands and yell, “SCREW this! I give up!

I cannot speak for others because we are all SO different. Even people who share the same diagnosis may:

  1. Have different symptoms
  2. Take different medications
  3. Have different responses/side effects to those medications
  4. Have more support than you do
  5. Have less support than you do
  6. Have a different personality style and traits
  7. Have a different developmental history than you do
  8. Have different faith practices than you
  9. Have different co-morbid diagnoses (Other conditions in addition to their primary challenge)
  10. Have cognitive issues as well that impact problem-solving

I can say that for ME, the best thing I can do after having a “Screw this” kind of day, is to go to bed. And yup… I mean I do so even if it is only 5 PM! I always feel better, have a clearer head, and a renewed WILL after getting some rest.

I am really tired of being TIRED after having to find and produce my own accommodations for various activities. However, a fresh perspective (after a good night’s rest) nearly always renews my inner warrior and allows me to face a new day willing to do whatever I need to in order to be a thriving, surviving disability advocate.

In the comments, I welcome other examples of how you have learned to make things accessible for you.

Warm hugs and virtual “high 5’s” to my fellow differently-abled people!

© Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Denise Portis, Ph.D.

My Name is Milo and I Was Afraid of Fidgets

 

My name is Milo and I’m afraid of Fidgets

I can’t tell you how much fun it is to be on service dog partner #2. Milo (and Chloe), both trained at Fidos For Freedom, Inc. and could not be more different. Milo(bear) is timid by nature. When he is on task, however, he is very focused (and less distracted by wanting to love on EVERYONE like sweet Chloe was). However, his timidity makes introducing new things a bit of a trial.

You may be familiar with a new and popular “thang” called the “Fidget”. They are actually great classroom tools for people with ADHD. I’m all about classroom accessibility, so if things like this can help students concentrate? Well, please come with your Fidget.

Unfortunately it is “new to Milo”. Milo began seeing a lot of Fidgets in the classroom. They spin – and to my knowledge don’t make a noise – but who knows if a dog can hear even this quiet “whirrrrr”? The only problem was that Milo was terrified of them. He’d stop mid-task if he saw a Fidget in use and walk around behind me to peek around my hip.

NOT VERY HELPFUL.

I knew I was going to have to do something to get him use to these spinners. He couldn’t continue hiding under the nearest desk. Since I need him to pick up the items I constantly drop, I needed him to be able to focus in spite of Fidgets around him during class.

Desensitization

After talking to a couple of trainers at Fidos For Freedom, Inc., we decided the way to go was to desensitize Milo to the Fidgets.

… so I bought one.

I opened it up, put the center button between index finger and thumb, and “gave it a whirl” with a flick of my right hand.

Not the WISEST thing to do since Milo(bear) was sitting right next to me. He made a strange sound in the back of his throat and took off. I interpreted it as “Et tu, Brute?” (my Literature teacher-mother would be so proud).

I found Milo in the walk-in closet.

Long story short, I worked with him for 4 days in short intervals of exposure. Here is where he is now…

Hopefully, when classes start on 8/28, Milo(bear) will be completely comfortable with Fidgets. This whole “desensitization” process was good for both of us. My daughter and hubby are expecting my first grand baby in October. Milo has never been around babies. He was raised in Cumberland prison and his puppy raiser before that, nor his one-on-one trainer after… had babies around. I suspect he will have to learn to become accustomed to more things very soon. ‘Cept I won’t be spinning the baby girl around and chasing Milo(bear) to expose him. <AHEM>

Facing Our Fears – and Perhaps Desensitizing Ourselves to Them

One of the biggest pluses of having a service dog partner is the courage the partnership provides. Learning to cue off things Milo(bear) hears, that I don’t, is great! I feel safer. I can count on him to hear things before I do. I can look in the direction the “sound maker” is coming from so that I can stay safely out of the way (cars, large groups of students, shopping carts with rowdy kiddos, etc).

Because of peripheral neuropathy, I drop things all day. I’m not talkin’ about that I drop 2 or 3 things a day. I drop 2 or 3 DOZEN things a day. In the past, I would have to ask for assistance to reach it and/or pick it up. Otherwise I would risk falling because of vestibular issues. This meant I often didn’t go out and do things on my own because it was too hard to ask people for help. Milo(bear) has helped me face some of those fears because he is there to help me. His favorite task is “fetch-hold-give”. In my thinking, this isn’t true desensitization though. Milo(bear) has become an assistive tool to mitigate those challenges. It’s a way around them instead of “through” them.

As I sat and pondered whether or not I have ever truly desensitized myself to something, I realized that most learning through desensitization has come from how I chose to respond to comments, people, or situations.

At the age of 51, I have now lived more of life as a differently-abled person than as an able-bodied one. I can tell you that how I respond to challenges, hurtful comments, or discrimination is much different than how I responded as a 25-year-old. Some of this improvement evolved from exposure. Other measurable steps of improvement simply came from educating myself and learning all I could about positive advocacy. It’s not that the things people say cannot and DO not still hurt me occasionally. My RESPONSE is what has changed. A 25-year-old Denise would:

  • Cry
  • Isolate myself for days afterwards
  • Embrace depression instead of heading it off with coping techniques
  • Open my mouth and “let it rip”
  • Retaliate
  • Throw a private and public pity party (that no one ever RSVP’d to)
  • Plot revenge
  • Determine to HATE that person to the end of my days
  • Google how to put a “hit” out on someone
  • Preach at them and try to make them feel guilty with a long, drawn-out “altar call”
  • … and more equally ineffective responses.

Even through constant exposure, the 51-year-old Denise does NOT always respond in a healthy and proactive way. I still have “knee-jerk” responses occasionally, especially if it takes me by surprise. However, my new response is at the very least, more helpful to both myself and the twit that said something unkind. Now I tend to:

  • Consider the source and determine how best to respond
  • Take some time to determine HOW I want to respond
  • Determine if I SHOULD respond
  • Choose a good time and place to respond
  • Cry if needed…
  • Chant to myself “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” (and then ask myself if I even WANT this particular fly…)
  • Occasionally seek advice from a peer support network if it is something “major”
  • Follow through on a course of action and DON’T HOLD A GRUDGE

I have learned to do this through trial and error, but also through desensitizing myself to these situations by simply experiencing them and learning what keeps me sane and healthy in how I respond.

Let’s face it.

If you live with disability or chronic illness, you are going to constantly be faced with people who don’t understand, don’t care, or say/do inappropriate things. The 25-year-old Denise response did not improve my situation, nor did it bring peace (my zen was woefully rattled).

I do not FEAR the things people say to me or the situations I may find myself in as I live life. I know “stuff is gonna happen” and when it does, my response is MORE important than how I feel as a result of the experience.

We cannot control the things people say, nor can we completely keep our life experience with disability, “hassle-free”. I do believe we can learn to live in harmony with all the Fidgets in our lives. Being a positive advocate comes from doing things wrong sometimes and learning from it. It also comes from the discovery of having handled something well, and seeing the positive change and result from our proper response.

Denise Portis

©2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

 

 

Comparisons Are Rarely Healthy

This summer I traveled to North Carolina to attend my nephew’s wedding. Although we didn’t get to spend very much time while there, it was great to see all my extended family. My parents and 2 brothers both live there, and my sister traveled from Texas with her boys to attend.

Seth and Megan Burhenn
Aren’t they cute?

I can’t remember what started the conversation, but one evening we started talking about Q-tips. The discussion included snippets of all of us understanding that Q-tips were not to be used to clean ears (at least not down into the ear canal), yet we all used them for exactly that.

My mother chimed in and said, “Well that’s better than Bobby Pins! We use to grab a Bobby Pin to clean our ears!

I admitted that I could remember my grandmother carefully cleaning her ear with the rounded side of a Bobby Pin.

Essentially we sat around talking about the stupid things we know we shouldn’t do yet do them anyway. Ahem.

One Up

Later while I giggled to myself and thought about that conversation, I had to admit how silly it was to try to “one up” each other on STUPID THINGS WE DO.

All of us play the “one up” game.

We shouldn’t.

One day last week I jot down some notes to prepare for this post. It hit me that at the age of 51, I have now lived more of my life as a differently-abled person than I have as an able-bodied person. I was left scratching my head wondering why it is still so HARD?

Side note: One of the suck things about progressive illnesses is that the person finds themselves in a near constant state of adapting. You’d think it would get easier the more you live it, but it doesn’t. At least… it hasn’t for me. 

I’m trying to learn to stop comparing myself to others. It’s taken a lifetime to just be better about ignoring the temptation of the “one up” game. I’m still guilty of it occasionally.

I’ve been in a bad place. (Part of the reason I haven’t posted like I should).

I hate to write when I’m in a bad place, but I am going to try to just continue to be real, vulnerable, and honest. Life is hard and we tend to try to pretend it isn’t so that others will not be discouraged. *Cue “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” soundtrack*

When I start feeling sorry for myself, two things happen:

  1. I hear my mother’s voice in my head, “No one said life is fair, Denise“.

AND

2. I start trying to dig myself out of the self-pity pit by reminding myself that “so-   and-so”  has to live with this issue, or that one, and I don’t. “So suck it up, Denise!”

Deb is one of my best friends. She gets me. I can bellyache to her and not have to worry that she will think I’m a wuss, a coward, or whiner. She and I have some similar challenges, yet shoulder different ones as well. For example, I do not deal with chronic pain. I’ve always admired people who persevere and live a victorious life and yet deal with chronic pain. Deb is always quick to remind me that we shouldn’t try to improve our outlook by comparing our challenges with others. Our challenges are our challenges, period. (Pretty profound, huh?) It only undermines our own value to fall into the habit of thinking we should suck it up because we aren’t as bad off as someone else. By whose measurement is bad — bad? Our struggles are just as real as the next person’s. It’s OK to acknowledge a bad day. It’s OK to say, “I’m struggling. I’m discouraged. I need help”.

This kind of “comparison thinking” is especially harmful to those with invisible illnesses and disabilities. You don’t have to have an adaptive device on your person to prove you are a person who has been forced to ADAPT.

Service dog bookends. Milo (left), Chloe (right)

I am currently partnered with my second service dog from Fidos For Freedom. My first service dog, Chloe, entered my life in 2006. At the time, hearing loss was my biggest challenge. New to the cochlear implant and in the early stages of a Meniere’s disease diagnosis, I had more than one encounter in public where people thought I was Chloe’s trainer. Looking at me, it didn’t appear that I needed a service dog. I had not yet “blinged-up” my cochlear implant and hearing aide, and was not yet a wobbly weeble. When I explained she was actually trained to assist ME, people were surprised. Now that my balance is so significantly impaired, no one asks if my current service dog, Milo, is my partner. We should never judge someone on appearances alone.

One of my favorite extra-curricular activities is my involvement in SODA. A co-advisor of one of the college’s student clubs, SODA (Students Out to Destroy Assumptions), currently has just as many active members with invisible conditions as we do members with visible ones. Yet all these fantastic young adults adapt. They struggle. They are all samfferent (same + different… did you just roll your eyes?)

I don’t know if it is young adults in general, or THESE young adults specifically, but I believe they are really adept at valuing each individual person and not comparing themselves with others. My co-advisor and I may use the word “super hero” too often within this fantastic group, but truly each one is a super hero in their own right and might.

And so are you.

Denise Portis

©2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

This is My Fight Song

On “match day”, 2015.

The first time I heard Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song“, it was actually sung by a different  young woman who had faced a life threatening illness and “won”. You can find Calysta Bevier’s audition for “America’s Got Talent” HERE.

Yesterday, Fidos For Freedom, Inc. held its annual certification day. Service dog and hearing dog teams re-certify their skills and clients take a written exam. Milo and I passed with flying colors. While there, I was able to catch up with other teams. I overheard various teams refer to their service dog as their “partner in crime”, “wing man”, “partner”, “side kick”, “best friend”, and “best buddy”.

I’m a believer in the power of the human spirit. I have also seen many people who are differently-abled, dig deep and find the wherewithal to “just keep swimming” (as our friend Dory from Disney’s “Finding Nemo” taught us). At certification day, there is understandably some waiting in line. In an “all volunteer” organization, it takes a village of caring and committed volunteers to make certification day happen. However, clients do have to spend some time waiting for the next station to open up so that they can be tested on those skills. While waiting, I people watch. I’m easily caught up in emotion and found myself getting choked up looking around at various teams performing like super heroes. Can these individuals FIGHT without a service dog at their sides? Yes. I have no doubt. However, having a service dog makes each and every day a little easier.

It’s more than the skilled tasks they do, y’all! Milo retrieves dozen of items I drop each day. He is my alarm clock. He opens and closes the dishwasher, refrigerator, and gets clothes out of the dryer for me. He braces when I stand from a sitting position. He walks along side me and is only a touch away. Yet, the biggest benefit Milo brings to my life is psychological and emotional strength. Can I fight alone? Yes.

But I don’t have to do so.

Milo is with me 24/7. If I’m having a bad balance day, I go to work anyway knowing he’s got my back. If I’m dreading a large meeting, knowing in advance I will have trouble hearing, he provides the courage I need to do what needs to be done. I consider myself an advocate and “assumption destroyer”. However, Milo makes me a super hero. I think service dog partners forget those “under the radar” strengths our service dogs provide for us. On annual certification days, I am often reminded. Observing these teams and the trainers who coach/love them, brings these hidden benefits into startling clarity for me. We can count on other caring human beings to help and support us as needed. However, it is only a service dog partner that can be there ALWAYS.

I want to leave you with the lyrics and original video of “Fight Song”. I also am not ashamed to acknowledge that I found my own fight song with the support of a service dog. For me… it made the difference.

Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion
And all those things I didn’t say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me
Losing friends and I’m chasing sleep
Everybody’s worried about me
In too deep
Say I’m in too deep (in too deep)
And it’s been two years I miss my home
But there’s a fire burning in my bones
Still believe
Yeah, I still believe
And all those things I didn’t say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me
A lot of fight left in me

ORIGINAL VIDEO

L. Denise Portis

© 2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Sometimes It Takes Work to Stay Positive

uphill-battle

When my alarm goes off, Milo (who is laying in a ginormous dog bed on the floor by me) hops up and nudges my face and arms. There are days where my eyes pop open and I lay there for a few minutes giving myself a pep talk. Milo isn’t into pom-pom’s and cheering… he just wants breakfast. This means I can’t lay there contemplating all that is “Denise” very long.

Do you ever have trouble getting out of bed? I’m not talking about because you are sleepy. I do not mean the kind of lazy-bone feeling you have when it is rainy and cold out and you just want to stay cuddled up in the blankets. I’m talking about the weariness that comes from having to psych yourself up

one

more

day.

It can be difficult. Don’t get me wrong. I recognize that I have so much to live for and that I am blessed. PsychCentral recently wrote about what NOT to say to someone with depression. The piece included a great number of platitudes that people say to someone who struggles with depression. Some that I hear a lot are:

  1. There are a lot of people worse off than you.
  2. You have so many things to be thankful for! Why are you depressed?
  3. Happiness is a choice (this one kills me because it is actually the title of one of my favorite books!)

Several years ago I saw a quote on social media that said, “Telling someone they cannot be sad, depressed, or anxious because others have it worse is like saying someone cannot be happy because others have it better.”

Yes. I do know people who are “worse off” than I am. But by what measure?

Like many with chronic illness, or visible/invisible disabilities, I have good days and bad days. I would suspect that most people who talk to me each day in person – at work, class, check out lines, or walking – believe I am a very cheerful person. Fact is? I work at it. It does not come easily to me.

At 50 years old, however, one thing I have learned is how powerful a smile and encouraging word are to others. I try not to think about my limitations. That’s so… limiting! Instead, I work to make a difference each and every day, even if all I have the energy or ability to do is be genuinely friendly and encouraging.

I love Fridays. On February the 17th, I posted this picture and caption on FaceBook:

Sweet and loyal ❤️ beat at my feet. Ready to work as soon as I need him! Which... was two seconds after this pic since I looked up too fast, got dizzy, cracked my head on the podium, and dropped my remote. He takes it all in stride. 🐾
Sweet and loyal ❤️ beat at my feet. Ready to work as soon as I need him! Which… was two seconds after this pic since I looked up too fast, got dizzy, cracked my head on the podium, and dropped my remote. He takes it all in stride.

What I did NOT post, is that later that day when I arrived home weary but safe from a long week doing what I love, I had a seizure. Right there on my front porch. It lasted all of ten seconds and I knew 20 minutes beforehand it was coming. Milo was safe in the back yard and I a l m o s t made it to the door. (No worries – I know that a frontal head bump, fatigue, and Meniere’s flare are the recipe for a “fall down go boom”. I have regular contact with my doctors and “we’ve got this” – promise!)

When I got home from work today, one week later, I find I am still thinking about that and a little peeved about the permanent issues of having multiple concussions. Each Friday, I feel as if I have pushed a “happy Denise” uphill all week long. It is hard. It isn’t so hard that I cannot do all that I CAN DO. Sure, I may be naive to think that my smile and small acts of kindness make a difference. But I choose to believe. I believe because someone else smiled at me and encouraged me. When they did I had the wherewithal to press on – one more day.

smile-and-encouragement

Denise Portis

©2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

Half a Stick of Juicy Fruit Gum

juicy-fruit

I miss my grandmother (Vina Jewell Burhenn – Isn’t her name the GREATEST?). As I stopped to think about how to approach my subject for Hearing Elmo this week, I found myself thinking of a very special memory.

It was always a treat to sit with my grandparents in church on Sunday. I think I convinced myself that Grandma would let me get away with more, and my mom and dad were going to make me be “super good”. The pastor was my uncle, Cecil, and so even as a little kid we were expected to be an example to other little kids in the church because we were “kin”. So whenever possible, I always sat with Grandma because I could get away with more – AND… she always gave me a 1/2 stick of Juicy Fruit gum.

Naive kiddo that I was, the truth was that Grandma made me be even more “golden” and because we sat three rows from the front, my parents sitting behind – and to the right of us – could STILL see everything I did.

In the earliest years, I don’t think I ever questioned, “why a HALF stick of Juicy Fruit gum?” I will have to hazard a guess that around  8 or 9 years old, I finally whispered and asked Grandma, “why a HALF stick?”

“When you break it in half, does it let the magic pour out?” I whispered.

Response: Blank Stare

“When you break it in half, is it teaching me to share?” I queried.

Response: Blank Stare

“When you break it in half, is it to make sure I come back for the other half?” I said softly, and with strategic wisdom.

Response: “Denise, I gave you a half a stick because it is ENOUGH”.

Oh. Well gee. I know my child-brain kinda hated the logic of that.

My grandmother would dole out half sticks of Juicy Fruit gum because it was ENOUGH. (Side note: What a shame that it was never Doublemint gum as I would have discovered at an earlier age that I was allergic to spearmint).

It Simply Doesn’t Take MUCh to be ENOUGH

I’m told I take after my grandmother in a lot of ways. Here are just a few FREQUENT reminders from siblings and parents:

  1. I doctor my own ailments to my detriment. And I have Google, which Grandma did not!
  2. I love animals – many times more than people.
  3. I expect justice and fairness.
  4. I will respect you, but by golly you better reciprocate. If you don’t we’re gonna argue!
  5. I can be stubborn.
  6. I don’t mind confrontation. (Likely only recently doing confrontation in the right way).

I think one of the things I get down about the most as a person who is differently-abled with a chronic illness, is that I often worry and fret about my limitations.

I can’t hear on the phone so I am not able to easily call up a friend and ask how they are doing.

I can’t see to drive at night (headlights trigger vertigo), so I cannot go to parties, meet-ups, etc. with friends at night. Most folks do stuff later in the day.

I can’t just drop everything and go to a friend’s rescue. My own limitations require that I determine if I’m physically ABLE. I must ready my canine partner, Milo. I am not a 9-1-1 friend. That grieves me.

You may have limitations that at times, cause you to feel as if what you have to offer is not as valuable. You see how other friends reach out to each other and are discouraged that you cannot offer the same kind of friendship. (If you’ve never read “Spoons” – you should. It eloquently describes life as a differently-abled person). You can only offer a HALF stick of Juicy Fruit gum and you are a little bit pissed off by that.

Do you know what I have learned? A half a stick of Juicy Fruit is enough. I may only be able to touch base with friends via text or Facebook, but taking the time to touch base is STILL appreciated. I may not be able to go to things at night, but when my daytime schedule allows, I can drop off a meal or come by for a quick hug. I cannot be a 9-1-1 friend and be able to just physically show up at an emergency. However, my friends know they can text me or private message me and I will drop EVERYTHING to pray, encourage, and be there for them.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

We want to make a difference. We want people to see our value. We need to be needed. We all strive for that purpose in different ways.

Maybe you are passionate about social justice issues and do all you are capable of doing.

Perhaps you are a writer – and do so to encourage, educate, and advocate.

Maybe you are an artist. Your drawings, photos, paintings, and sculptures reach out and change people.

You follow up with hurting people and ask them how they are doing NOW.

Your HALF stick of Juicy Fruit is pretty darn important. What you CAN do… what you are able to do… is ENOUGH.

Don’t let anyone tell you anything differently. If they do, give them my number and I’ll take care of it. <wink>

You have value. Believe.

Denise Portis

©2017 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

One-Eyed, One Horn, Flying Purple People Eater

one-eyed-one-horn

Sheb Wooley released a song in 1958 called the “One-Eyed, One Horn, Flying Purple People Eater“. I know this not because I was there (ahem), but heard the song throughout my childhood. If you have never heard this “gem”, you are MISSING OUT. To help fill that void for you, click here for a captioned version: Enjoy

Now I mention this because this song has been going through my head for a solid week. I know! I do have better things to do! However, I’m in the car enough that I tend to fill the time with singing… or maybe BELTING out the OLDIES is a more truthful admission. For some reason, this song is just stuck in my noggin’. It is a song that frankly? It doesn’t make much sense. Maybe it did to Mr. Wooley. Something doesn’t have to make sense to get stuck in our head though. It doesn’t even have to be the truth. It doesn’t even have to be healthy.

Negative Broken Record

Sometimes unhealthy thoughts and labels stick with us because at some important developmental milestone, we heard these negative things enough we have come to believe them. These negative thoughts can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. These negative, perpetually repeating thoughts can bring us down and keep us in a state of defeat. Experience tells me that a state of defeat = dissatisfied and unfulfilled life.

A get so aggravated when people (and sometimes counselors) say you should erect boundaries with people who tell you negative things that you take to heart. Easier said than done. What if they are family? What if it is someone you work with daily? Most of the time, if someone tells me something negative I try to:

  1. Determine if there is any merit in what they are saying. If so, does it mean I need to change some behaviors?
  2. Determine if I respect the source. Should I spend any time at all contemplating what they’ve said as constructive criticism, or is something I should immediately release as misdirected and poisonous barbs?
  3. Determine the level of influence. Do I work with this person? Is this someone I must see either occasionally or frequently?

Sometimes the “stuck in my playback feature” of my brain are negative comments, labels, or criticisms from people I care about. I can set up a boundary (and have… mentioned below), but I cannot just shut the door and throw away the key (although there is a time for that too… read on!).

I’m no expert in rebuttal of mean insults, however I learned at a fairly young age that “fighting fire with fire” only burned everyone. Frankly, I can stand the smell of scorched material.

I learned that getting defensive often only made me look petty, childish, and well… DEFENSIVE. A defensive stance and demeanor is not attractive on me (perhaps on no one).

I have learned two responses that work for me:

  1. What you have said has upset me. I need some time to regroup and then I would like to talk about what you just said (or called) me.
  2. I don’t believe in labels and discussing things with mean-spirited people. I would love to continue this conversation in a more healthy way when you are ready to do so.

You-re Ugly. You-re Fat. You-re Disabled. You-re Embarassing.

It makes me so sad when I hear people say self-deprecating things, knowing they heard it somewhere else first. Those “stuck in our head” kind of hurtful descriptions are usually hurled from the mouth of someone who claims to love us. It doesn’t always have to be wounding comments either. In my Developmental Psychology course, I ask my students to write down 10 things they have heard from friends and family members about themselves that were hurtful “to date”. It takes most students 10 minutes to write down 10 things; or, about 60 seconds per recalled comment. Then I give them a new piece of paper and ask them to write down 10 things they have heard from friends and family members about themselves that were encouraging, uplifting, and positive. It takes a student three times as long. That’s right. At 30 minutes I call “time” and there are always some who have not been able to come up with a full ten items. What does this tell us? Are humans more prone to remember negative or positive?

Negative comments are like wounds. They may cause us to bleed and to fester. Maybe infection sets in as well and our wounds begin to affect other body parts. Negative comments leave scars. No amount of vitamin E, cocoa butter, or cell activator products will remove the scar. Sure! Both time and perhaps counseling and support can reduce the visibility of scars, but the scar remains.

Positive comments seep into the skin slowly. Yes, perhaps our ears are the conduit, but our hearts are what build up our self-esteem. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson (OCDE.US, 2016), explains that there is a 3:1 ratio of necessary positive to negative comments to equalize the impact. In other words, for every negative comment you hear and take to heart, it may take three positive comments to remove the potency and harmful effects of the negative comment.

Permanent Brick Walls

Sadly, there are times when you must love yourself enough to initiate self-care in building a permanent brick wall to toxic people. It isn’t easy. There may be a price tag. You may alienate others who are affected by your choice. You may become the target for people who insist that forgiveness AND reconciliation are mandatory. My friends? There are times that this is a small price to pay compared to the continued damage a toxic person may deliver.

If they are incapable of remorse and change, who will protect us? Though it may sound attractive at our low points, putting out a hit on the toxic person is not a good choice. If we do not permanently dis-allow them opportunities to harm us, who will? When I have had to do this, I do so with heavy heart. However, I also do so knowing my children are looking to me for an example. Cuz ya know what? They are going to have toxic people in their lives. When I disassociate with a poisonous soul, I do so knowing that younger adults learning to live with acquired disability or illnesses are watching me.

It Doesn’t Take a Gift of Words

I don’t know about you… but I want to be a part of the group that is telling another something positive, uplifting and encouraging, and genuine. I want to be a part of the THREE that helps to cancel out the negative things another has heard and believed. All day–each and every day–I look for opportunities to say positive, genuine things to others.

“You look great in that color!”

“Wow, look at how well you did on this exam!”

“You always have the greatest things to say during class discussions”

“Thank you for emailing me about your current crisis. You are so responsible in that and I want to help you”

To people I know who are differently-abled:

“Those running lights on your wheelchair are freaking AWESOME!”

“You have the best hearing of anyone I know” (to a student with vision loss)

“You’ve told me about your personal demons. I love how you bravely and courageously face life with a smile”

“I love how Milo (my service dog) loves you. He must sense what a caring person you are to seek you out each class period”  (to a student with recent TBI who is still coming to terms with new challenges)

That’s All Fine and Dandy – But I Cannot FORGET

Yup. I can determine to be part of the solution (instigator of the positive in the 3:1 ratio), and still have STUCK negative comments playing over and over in my head. “♫ ♪ This is the song that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friend. Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was, and they’ll continue singing it forever just because… ♫ ♪ 

So what’s a person to do?

  1. Surround yourself with people who are positive contributors. You may not be able to pick your family and have tough choices to make about boundaries, but we can pick our friends. Make wise choices.
  2. Learn self-talk. “With practice, you can learn to notice your own negative self-talk as it happens, and consciously choose to think about the situation in a more realistic and helpful way” (Martin, 2016, para. 5).
  3. Be realistic about extremes and over-generalizing. I love these 7 “steps” to eliminating negative thinking. Check them out here: CLICK
  4. Affirm yourself. CUTE VIDEO of a little girl saying all the right things in 50 seconds: CLICK.  Perhaps talking to yourself in the mirror has fallen out of style (but should it have?). Regardless, we can learn to dispute that negative STUCK phrase in our heads. You gotta identify it first, then figure out where it came from, decide if it is true, decide how you want it to CHANGE, and then do #3 above. And hey… if preachin’ at yourself in the mirror helps? Go for it!

I leave you with the challenge to be someone’s 3. Be the positive, uplifting and affirming influence for another individual. Make it genuine (no lying… who does that help? I never say something positive I don’t mean/believe) It may take some practice. You have to learn to be watchful and observant. May God grant me the opportunity to be the 3 for someone! That these comments may re-play in a person’s head with the frequency of one-eyed, one horn, flying purple, people-eaters? Well, color ME PROUD.

Denise Portis

©2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Fredrickson, B. (2016). The magic ration of positive and negative moments. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from https://www.ocde.us/PBIS/Documents/Articles/Positive+$!26+Negative+Ratio.pdf

Martin, B. (2016). Challenging Negative Self-Talk. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 10, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/challenging-negative-self-talk/

 

Let It Go – Or It’ll Kill You

img_3382

I am home today grading papers, writing my dissertation, and doing laundry. I love laundry.

No. Really! I love laundry!

So needless to say, I’m in my “happy place” today in spite of some sprinkles, high humidity, and lots of wobbles. Heck. I didn’t even put on make-up.

This morning around 7:30, I noticed this cluster of acorns by the pond. They were still on the branch (and at the time, INTACT), surrounded by some pretty Autumn leaves. I thought, “Wow. That’s kinda purty. I’ll bring my camera out later and take a picture“.

Fast FOR..W….w……w…ard……….  2 hours:

The next time I took the dogs out I grabbed my iPhone and thought to myself while springing the screen door open with a flourish,

  1. Deb will be so proud.
  2. I, too, can spot beauty.
  3. Hope the showers hold off.
  4. Did I skip breakfast? (Just keeping it real…)

I got out to the pond and searched first for the ROCK, then for the little oak tree branch with acorns. The picture above is what I found. Every single acorn gone, y’all.

I looked around a bit thinkin’… I must be in the wrong spot. The thing is? There are only so many rocks around the pond! Besides! Right there was the wee little branch, surrounded by perhaps a few more leaves, with ZERO acorns on it!

Do you know I had to sit down a second and ponder on it? I mean… what in the world happened in two hours?

img_3383

Well a clue, was that this guy <points up> was very, VERY interested in the wee little branch. He sniffed and snuffed. He circled around the spot. He sniffed some more. Then he lay down next to me and continued to sniff while I slowly but surely turned my investigator meter off.

A critter! It had to be. Something sly and sneaky… something small and (evidently) smelly… something HUNGRY was here.

Sigh. I stood up and brushed myself off thinking, “Let it go, Denise. Let it go!” It’s not like I could glue some acorns back on the twig and make it work (though I DID think about it long and hard). “You missed this photo opportunity. Let it go, Denise. Let it go.”

Now, I’m fully aware that most of you have launched into song. Your arms are flung wide, you twirled at least ONCE, and you are belting out, “Let It Go” for all you’re worth. Raise your hand if you’re guilty…

Do you know I have not seen “Frozen“? Oh, I have seen the video of the song, and numerous other parodies. I’ve seen adorable videos on FaceBook of folk’s kiddos singing the song as if it were their own. Needless to say, after I looked up the lyrics for the first time (necessary when you hear a song and are trying to make out the words with a hearing loss), I wasn’t that impressed. I mean, “The cold never bothered me anyway” was SPOT ON for this cold-weathered girl. The rest of the lyrics are kinda harsh, IMO. No worries. I’m not getting ready to dissect and demonize the lyrics to a favored song.

Why Letting It Go – is GOOD

hold-your-breath

I hold my breath. I do so,

… when I’m concentrating

… when I’m nervous

… when I’ve just fallen

… when I’m about to fall

… when I have panic attacks

… when I’m afraid.

That’s right. I have excellent diaphragm control and lung capacity. (Not really… I just pass out a lot). Any-WHO, I learned to “let it go”; my breath, I mean. I was chanting “let it go” before Disney made the phrase famous. (Sorry, Disney… I checked the published date for the song).

Don’t you wish we could “let it go” as easily as a breath being held? I get a little disgusted when people tell someone to “let it go” when they are hanging on to something they need to let go of to be free.

Perhaps you are waiting for an apology that will never happen. 

Someone hurt you and you are still waiting for them to make it right.

A complete loser made your life miserable for years, and you still hear their voice in your head.

You are so accustomed to things going badly, you are in a perpetual state of waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

You cross your fingers and wait for God to finally punish someone who really needs punishing.

You wait around for the Cubs to win the World Series.

Let it go. The problem with holding your breath – AND – holding on to things like this, is that a state of increased tension and anxiety only harms YOU. It’s like a burning feeling in your lungs. Holding on to things like this can harm your health. Blood pressure, mental health, heart disease, and many other conditions are affected by “holding on”.

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things in the world for me. Yet, I have been forgiven for so much. Pretty arrogant, aren’t I? Forgiveness became easier when I realized it didn’t mean I had to pretend something didn’t happen. It did and it hurt. However, holding on to grudges, bitterness, and anger was only hurting ME (not them). “Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life” (Mayo Clinic, 2014, para. 4).

I recognize that part of the human existence is missing opportunities, forgiving others, and learning to “let it go”. One of my favorite songs (To Forgive by Al Denson) can be found HERE. I’m not saying it is easy.

You know what, though? As a differently-abled person who also struggles with depression and anxiety, I have learned that holding on to stuff only makes my life more difficult.

And I can do without more “difficult”.

So if I can be proactive about my own health and lay the groundwork for having more good days than bad… simply by “letting go”.

Whoosh….

That’s what an exhale sounds like.

Mayo Clinic (2014). Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness. Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692

Denise Portis

© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal