But I’m afraid…

But I’m afraid…

This morning my assistance dog, Chloe, was out on the porch barking her head off.  I’ve never appreciated how she looks without a head, so I found myself hustling outside to see what all the fuss was about.  At first, I couldn’t figure out what she was barking at, but it was very clear that Chloe was afraid.  Each muscle in her 4 legs were trembling with fear and tension, her forehead was wrinkled, and she whined in between high pitch barks!  I had to step closer in order to finally see what she was fixated on… a tiny bird feather.

Now I’m the first to brag that my working dog is a very smart canine!  She loves to learn, loves to work, and loves to train!  But sometimes… her fear keeps her from putting all the pieces together.  Sometimes… she needs help to look past her fear and approach things a little more logically.  I continued to reassure her that everything was fine.  I wanted her to investigate it a little closer with a little more, erm… backbone!  Grin!

Me: “Chloe… it’s OK girl!  It’s just a feather, and it won’t hurt you.  Show me!  What is it?”

Chloe: (Looks at me like, “Don’t you SEE?  Oh my gosh!  LOOK!  Show you?  But I’m afraid…“)

It seems that feathers have a smell… at least they do if you are a dog.  Chloe could smell a recent “alive kind of smell“.  When she would get close enough to sniff the feather, her sniff would MOVE the feather… and much to her dismay TOWARDS HER!!  Therefore, Chloe was convinced it was alive!  What does a hound dog do when they think something is alive?  They bark!  When Chloe would bark at the feather, it would move even MORE, but away from her!  Feathers are so light that they tend to want to follow the natural rules that feathers follow when applying physics… a hound dog’s hot air.

Even holding the feather in my hand, had her cowering in fear!  I sat on the porch and talked to her, all the while holding the feather out towards her.  Finally, she crept up behind me and with head on my shoulder sniffed and huffed at the feather in my hand.  I could feel her trembling, with her fearful “self” pressed up behind me!  Eventually a good, stiff, Maryland-September breeze picked the feather up and flew it up over the railing and out into the yard.

Chloe cocked her head to the side and looked at me like, “Well! What did you do THAT for?”

She was afraid of the feather, but wanted the feather.

But I’m afraid…

Last night I attended our school’s kick-off meeting.  All the teachers were present, and I knew I would face supper, entertainment, games, dessert, announcements and fellowship.  I have to admit it was something I had to make myself attend.  The night before I had even cried all over my husband, trying to find a way to get out of having to go!

When you have a hearing loss, there is just something incredibly intimidating about going to a group function that reverberates with the background noise of a large number of excited and “pumped” teachers!  I planned in advance, and made sure my cochlear implant batteries were fresh so that I wouldn’t “go dead” in the middle of a conversation.  I brought some assistive listening devices that work in conjunction with my t-coils on both my CI and my hearing aid.  Due to some recent rains, I knew I was wobbly enough to need Chloe’s special collar.  I was prepared.  I wanted to go.  I needed to go.  But I was afraid…

I talked to my director via email prior to going.  I’ll admit that I was trying to see if it was something I did indeed have to attend.  I did… and my director knew I needed to for more than the information we received as teachers.  She knew I needed to go in order face my fear.

My fellow teachers are very nice people.  I WANT to get to know them better… to even gain the treasure of a friend or two.  But in year’s past I’ve seen the look of panic when I put a microphone nearer their face in order to hear them better in a crowd.  I’ve seen their faces as they inwardly castigate themselves as they said something behind their napkin and I had to ask, “Pardon?”  (I’m a transplanted Southern gal, what can I say?)  I’m 100% sure that if these teachers knew how afraid I was of them, they would be devastated!

In my HEAD, I know that I have nothing to fear.  And yet, when I go to these things I find myself saying, “But I’m afraid… ”

My consolation, is that it is getting better.  The more functions I attend like this, the more comfortable I become.  The “feather moves”, and I’m a little jumpy about it; however, I’m learning it’s just a “feather”.

I’m thankful I do not seem to have the same illogical fears towards my students.  Young people seem so incredibly natural towards me.  If I have to ask a student for a repeat… seven different times… they cheerfully do so without any visible qualms at all.  Perhaps it’s because my classes are “electives”, (although many take them as alternative foreign language).  I know they CHOOSE to be there, and it doesn’t bother them that their teacher has a hearing loss.  I do not feel disabled around them.

With my peers it is different.  I hope it isn’t always so.

I want to attend meetings like these, but am afraid of meetings like these.

At least with fellow teachers, I am becoming stronger and more confident.  Perhaps I need a good, stiff, Maryland-September breeze to convince myself I’m in a “safe place”.  At least with every one I go to, I’m less “trembly”… and heck!  I quit barking months ago!

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal

Psalm 56:3: “But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.

Helping to Change a Fearful Heart

Kyersten and Tyco at Gambrill State Park, hiking near our home.

The Fearful Heart of a Dog

My family and I recently adopted a beautiful Norwegian Elkhound named Tyco.  Tyco is a year old male and came from a local rescue .  The rescue had picked him up from a shelter in Pennsylvania.  We have a form that his previous family filled out when they took Tyco to the pound to give him up.  All the problems they claimed Tyco had, we have never seen… but then again we don’t have him chained in the yard like they did.

My trainer (and friend) actually “found” Tyco for us, and they as a rescue always do some preliminary testing with a dog they take in for fostering.  She had told us that he was not aggressive nor mean at all.  However, although she didn’t think Tyco had been abused, it was obvious he had been hit.  When we first brought Tyco home, he was very timid around my husband and 17-year-old son.  It may be that he was not treated kindly by the men in his previous home.

Therapy that Works!

Tyco, like most puppies, chews.  When he’d pick up an iPod to chew on, (something my teens have now learned to not leave lying around), I’d say in an authoritative tone, “Tyco…. DROP IT!”  He’d drop it and sit apologetically with his ears down.  I’d come towards him to pick it up and say, “Good boy!  Good ‘drop it!’ “, and he’d cower and look away.

If we were all in the back yard “playing hard” with our canine family members, he’d cower in fear if we ran up to him to tussle over a ball… dropping it and cringing away.  So, I did what any good dog owner would do with a dog with a problem when people ran up to him in play.  I began running at him all the time in the back yard… throwing my arms around his neck and cooing, and praising him like crazy.  I gave instructions for the rest of the family to do the same.  He quickly realized that these boisterous “Tyco interceptions”, only meant lots of belly rubs and scratches behind the ears!

We’ve had Tyco for 6 weeks now, and he is still a little timid when verbally disciplined, but has really come a long way.  We taught him that we can be loud and even authoritative, but that we’d never ever hit him.  When he stops doing what we are fussing at him for, we immediately change our tone and praise him like crazy.  He’s “getting it”.  He wags his tail and “grins” at any family member loudly headed his way in a full sprint!

Denise with Chloe (who is off duty), brave enough to hike miles from home

The Fearful Heart of Someone New to Hearing Loss

Whether you lose your hearing suddenly, or have a progressive loss, it is not easy to go from hearing “fine” – to hearing poorly.  Every individual has their own issues.  These vary from person to person, due to factors which include: gender, age, relationship status, self-esteem, and even “faith history”.

My first reaction to hearing loss?  I dropped out of life. I holed up in my home and “waved a white flag of surrender”.  I felt powerless to fight the self-imposed isolation, and my self-esteem plummeted.  I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, and I’ve always been grateful I wasn’t working outside the home.  I’m sure I would have quit work unprofessionally and with a chip on my shoulder, certain that the hearing people I worked with were out to get me.  As it was my marriage and friendships imploded, and activities in my kid’s school and our church came screeching to a halt!

Therapy that Works!

Patiently and stubbornly my husband helped me see all that I still had to live for… in spite of not hearing well.  Even my audiologist handed me a flier about a support group that met in her offices one Saturday a month.  (Don’t you wish all audiologists cared enough about their patients to give them support information that will help them when they are not an an appointment WITH THEM?)

At the time HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America) was SHHH (Self-help for Hard of Hearing People).  Self help?  My first reaction was that I wanted someone ELSE to help me… I didn’t want to help myself.  I was a whiny, bitter, angry, young woman.  Finally, a friend at church who happened to be the leader of the support group, talked me into attending.  Part of going to a support group is the satisfaction and “growth” one experiences when you reach out to help someone who needs it more than you.  I needed plenty of help… AND FOUND IT.

No organization is perfect, and HLAA has it’s faults as well as benefits.  (On the side-bar of my blog, you will see the links to numerous organizations that help people with hearing loss.  All provide great resources, and serve a purpose).  In a support group, I was able to find people just like me… those who had lost their hearing later in life.  This meant the WORLD to me.

Now I am part of a hearing loss support group in Maryland.  I look for people with a fearful heart.  They are easy to spot!  They look like what I saw in my own mirror every day for a long time.  Sometimes that person needs somebody to catch their eye and then sprint towards them with open arms and praise them like crazy!  Sometimes a “fearful heart person”, needs another peer to quietly listen and empathize.  I’ve even met people that I could tell needed me to gently scold “DROP IT”.  Their fear and pain were destroying who they were meant to be.  They needed help to recognize that.

I see some of those changed people every month at support group meetings.  They don’t wag their tails like crazy, but their smile of welcome is like a beam of sunshine shot straight from what was once a fearful heart.  They hug my neck, but only briefly… someone has just walked into the building with a fearful heart that they recognize needs THEM.

The thing I love about HLAA, is that even if you do not have access to a local chapter that meets physically as a group, they offer support, networking, friends and advice through their online chapter and message boards as well.  You can live ANYWHERE, and find the help your late-deafened fearful heart needs!

Denise Portis

© 2008 Hearing Loss Journal