Once Upon a Time…

Once upon a time, there was a young woman from a small farming community in the mid-West. She was healthy and strong. She loved music, “listening” (but mostly TALKING), and books. She went away to college and met a Southern boy. She had so many dreams! She met a “circle of 8” culturally Deaf friends in college and was welcomed into their small sub-culture on this tiny college campus. She learned sign language.

To her sorrow, she couldn’t have children, so she made big plans to go right into graduate school and eventually be in a place where she could help people. She told her husband, “Someday? I want to adopt some Deaf children”. He knew she had a heart for this culture with hearing loss and also knew she longed to be a mother. He supported her dreams.

Don’t you love “Once Upon a Time…” beginnings? My favorite books begin by transporting the reader back in time. “Time” may be a real time period, oozing with history and descriptions of bygone days. The setting may be in a make-believe time and place. Somehow, it still manages to wrap my mind and heart around the characters and story, despite the make-believe.

When I think of my own “once upon a time…”, I have to smile at my naivety and immaturity. NOT that I continue to be gullible and naive at times – even immature!  However, I find that I am forced to hide my “knowing smile” when I hear my 21-year-old daughter “dream aloud”, or my 20-year-old son outline his “life’s blueprint” for me. Life has a way of taking a person down paths that are only visible through the benefit of hindsight. Our story unfolds one day at a time. Decisions are made – some irreversible. We learn to live with consequences – both good and bad ones. We may “roll with the punches” and work hard to be refined like gold. Unplanned detours have a way of changing our direction in life. Our goals may change in order to accommodate our changed lives.

 

At the current age of 45, I look back upon my own “once upon a time…” story. I am late-deafened and have a balance disorder. I “hear again” with bionics and navigate life with a service dog. I have two children. I’m a teacher. I am still married to my college sweetheart. It has been over ten years since I have been able to visit my hometown in that small farming community. I am “mostly” shunned by the Deaf community as I chose a different life path. I am integrated and immersed in a new community of people with hearing loss and other disabilities that I did not know even existed. I actually love technology and even my books are now in an electronic library. I don’t listen to music – but I do listen. Better than most, in fact…

Chances are I have many chapters left in my story. Regardless of the number of pages, my heart’s desire is that I may make a difference – in even just one life. Occasionally, I hear from disgruntled readers who are exasperated at my viewpoint. “You don’t know what I live. You can’t understand how few opportunities I have now”. I gently remind them that whether they are using JAWS or Dragon software or are dictating to another, they have reached across miles to touch base with me. They have shared their ideas, frustrations, and heartaches. Others respond at times in frustration that they lack the support I have around me and cannot build a foundation for happiness in their own lives. I share with them some things I am unable to share in this venue – the people who have abandoned me and have turned their backs on my family and I. I remind them that every obstacle helps me to peel back layers of who I really am to reveal strengths that are hidden when “everything is perfect”.

No. Our lives are not the same. Where is the fun in that?

Hearing Elmo is actively soliciting other writers to contribute their own stories. In other words… I’m begging. GRIN! I prefer that 50% of the posts sheltered here be from people other than Linda Denise Portis. You can have a different viewpoint! Won’t you consider sharing your own “Once Upon A Time…”? You may not consider yourself a “good writer”. I’m not… and that hasn’t stopped me sharing my own thoughts and stories. I ask because I’m astonished at what kinds of things make a difference to another. We cannot know what others are going through and whether or not their own invisible disability or chronic illness forces them to reach out for help. Some are “pointed” to Hearing Elmo by others. However, most chance upon this “once upon a time…” venue. Won’t you consider sharing your story? It can be serious or fun. You can relay facts or express dreams. If you or someone you love lives with disability, chronic illness, or mitigates personal obstacles/disabilities with a service dog… Hearing Elmo would love to be your sounding board. Are you a trainer or health professional? I hope you will consider writing!

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

Entitlement

When you think of “entitlement”, do you picture someone with their arms crossed and a demanding attitude? Do you associate  negative thoughts with the word? I have heard the word “entitlement” discussed at length in various groups lately. Parents may bemoan the fact that “kids today have a sense of entitlement that promotes a feeling of justification for all they do and all they DESERVE“. My husband and I even “shake our heads” at our own kids from time to time. Don’t get me wrong… our kids are TERRIFIC. They are well-adjusted, do not use drugs or drink alcohol, their language is acceptable, they make good grades, they are responsible and willingly reach out to others. But sometimes? Sometimes they act as if they deserve certain things even before earning the right to have that luxury, trust, or understanding. Thankfully, we can simply remind them about the blessings they have and use a comparison or two between their own lives and the lives of some of their peers and they are quick to apologize for their previous attitude.

Teachers  confess that students in classrooms across the country are morphing into groups of individuals who demand respect and favors they have not earned. Elayne Clift (2011) said, “Whether it’s rude behavior, lack of intellectual rigor, or both, we are all struggling with the same frightening decline in student performance and academic standards at institutions of higher learning (para. 6)… when teachers refuse to lower standards, those students seem to resort to a new code of conduct that includes acted-out rage, lack of respect, and blame”(para. 8). From what I understand, this attitude is reaching epidemic proportions in classrooms. Thankfully, I have not experienced this in my own classrooms yet. I do, however, believe it CAN be a problem and is certainly happening in many schools. Parents and caregivers may unintentionally (or with very real intent) foster and promote this attitude in their children.

What about “Occupy… ” a city near you movement? I’ve listened to some of my peers argue that those camping out and “occupying” locations in cities across America, are individuals trying to make a point about those in power and wealth, yet harbor a sense of entitlement.

I’m not here to debate any of these issues. Instead, I wanted to point out that a sense of entitlement is alive and well in the disABILITY community. I support being a positive advocate and for educating individuals as to what their rights are under the ADA. I’m not here to debate these issues, however, and recognize that there are plenty of examples of people with disabilities being misrepresented, mistreated, and unfairly judged.

What is ENTITLEMENT?

Webster’s defines “entitlement” as:

1. a : the state or condition of being entitled : right b : a right to benefits specified especially by law or contract
2.: a government program providing benefits to members of a specified group; also : funds supporting or distributed by such a program
3.: belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges

When I first began losing my hearing at the age of 25-years-old, I knew next to nothing about hearing loss and how it can impact a life. I spent the first decade of progressive hearing loss learning about hearing loss in general. I sought support and information about how to better communicate and how to deal with the emotional consequences of an acquired disABILITY. When I developed Meniere’s disease as well, I challenged myself to learn all there is to know about a disease with no cure. As a result, I’ve learned what my own triggers are, what steps I can take to lesson the symptoms experienced, and reduce the severity of flare-ups. I’ve become an advocate for those with hearing loss… especially those who are late-deafened. I support and advocate on behalf of those who use service dogs to mitigate their disABILITY.

I’ve met PLENTY of folks who do the same. This does not mean, however, that I have not met people with hearing loss, Meniere’s disease (or other balance disorder), and people with service dogs who exhibit an attitude of entitlement. Many have taken laws that protect their rights and use them as a weapon of mass destruction. Instead of resting on the assurances these laws were meant to produce in the lives of individuals with disABILITIES, these laws are used to insist on more than what is deserved and intended. Don’t get me wrong! Companies and local and federal government should be compliant with specific criteria the ADA outlines and determines as provisions for equal access. A person with disability should be given any available means and technology at work so as to do their job in such a way they are on equal footing with another who does not have a disABILITY for promotions, raises, and opportunities. My “beef” with people with disABILITIES begins where folks insist everyone else in their life adjust their attitudes to satisfy their fragile egos.

Respect is earned…

Whether you have a disABILITY or NOT… respect is earned. We are not entitled to respect by our fellow man. Let’s face it. There are mean people out there… and mean people SUCK. But we as individuals who live with disABILITIES are going to get a whole lot further if we treat even mean people with – respect.

In the service dog industry mean people can “bring out the mean” in others. I’ve seen it happen time and again, and frankly? It’s happened to ME. Some wise-guy person in “charge” will barrel up into my personal space, put out a hand to physically stop me from entering an establishment with chest puffed out, hand on a hip and a look on their face as if to say, “over my DEAD, lifeless body“. My first reaction? “That can be arranged…

Nothing gets my back up quicker than a cocky, insolent ignoramus who chooses to invade my personal space as well! Especially since the latter may mean I over-compensate and “fall down go boom“. I know my rights. I have copies of the law. I’ve been trained (thanks to Fidos For Freedom). But I have learned that fighting “fire with fire” only leaves me with singed body parts. Sure, I may gain access, but at what cost?

One of my favorite Bible verses is Proverbs 15:1. I just love Proverbs! You could read one verse a day… strive to learn and apply something from it and be busy a very long time… or close to three years since there are 915 verses to be exact, but I digress (grin). Proverbs 15:1 (ESV) says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Pardon my grammar… but AIN’T THAT THE TRUTH? Nothing takes the “wind out of the sails” of an angry store associate quicker than to be gently confronted with the truth of the law. The law is on our side, after all. Some folks are “deaf” to the truth though and because of preconceived ideas will thumb their nose at the law and insist persons with service dogs STAY OUT. Even if you need to call the police to file a report and insist on your right of entry and service, staying poised and in control should be paramount. When we lose control, it only exacerbates the situation. Worse? It sets up the next person with a service dog to encounter this same store associate with an even BIGGER chip on their shoulder.

Tired of paying the same ticket price as person’s with normal hearing at a theater, only to hear VERY LITTLE? If you want to promote open captioning or rear-window captioning… do so with a positive attitude armed with information about who uses it, what the law says, etc. Marching up to a theater manager with both guns a-blazing… accomplishes very little. When theaters do provide these services and use this available technology, be sure to thank the management. I’ve heard some HoHearies say, “why should I? Folks with normal hearing don’t have to thank the management for being able to hear a movie they paid for!” But is that the point? We are trying to raise awareness and help companies like movie theaters to provide these things so that we all benefit. (Hearing Loop.org has a great article here). We need to earn their respect. Thanking management does a number of things:

1) it reminds them who we are… real people who enjoy attending things like movies.

2) it helps them keep the numbers in perspective… many people use and enjoy captions. These “thank you’s” equal number of tickets sold and helps them remember the big picture…

3) it helps them see we ARE appreciative… not demanding snobs or spoiled people with a sense of entitlement.

A great blog post by Shanna Bartlett Groves on this issue can be viewed here and here.

Are you trying to get your church on board with providing an induction loop for people who use hearing aids and cochlear implants? Is the task difficult because there are not very many this would effect… or perhaps there is ONLY you? You will have an attentive audience and lay the groundwork for actually achieving this freedom to hear in church if you handle it the right way. Do not march up to the deacon board with a self-righteous sense of entitlement. Should they care that ALL may hear and participate in church? Well duh – of course they should! But we need to ask in the right way… with the right attitude. Non-profits have more freedom to say “no”. However, we can help them understand what this may mean for those who utilize t-coils in a way that our churches are eager to spend that little bit of money necessary to put in a virtually hassle-free technology that allows us to hear. If you hurl accusations about their lack of “Christian love” and belittle and chastise them… you will only insure they begin to believe that people with disabilities are demanding folks with a sense of entitlement. You may even need to show them how much you care about this issue. Offer to head up fund-raising for this technology. For many smaller churches, funds may be very limited in what they can provide even if they WANT to do so. (Hearing Loop.org addresses this issue here). I have a friend in another part of the country that finally talked her church into purchasing an induction loop system. She then went straight to the local newspapers and pushed for a story to be done on what this small church was doing to provide equal access for those with hearing loss. Her church ended up getting a great deal of positive publicity… reminding all in the community what churches are suppose to be doing in the first place. (A great blog post by fellow HoHearie, Shanna Bartlett Groves can be viewed here).

Yes. I think knowing our rights and standing up for equality is important. It is the “how” that concerns me. Heaven forbid that the way I handle something negatively influence the NEXT person who has a specific life challenge! We influence the thinking of those in the general public as well…

Several weeks ago I was at Costco picking up bulk items that we insist on purchasing in case the world should end. The carts there are ginormous (hey… it’s a word!), if only to hold the huge packages of paper towels, toilet paper, and bottled water we purchase to save a little money. In the pharmacy section I was busy searching for generic antihistamine. An older couple noticed me, first by spotting Chloe and then by noticing the cochlear implant (after reading her vest). They sidled closer with genuine interest on their faces. The lady said, “That’s one of those bionic things that people use to hear better with, right?

Yes,” I replied with no small amusement. Noticing the hearing aids in the ears of the gentleman I added, “I have no regrets about getting one either!” I had to repeat this actually, for he didn’t hear me very well the first time! I started to share a little information about my own hearing loss when the man piped up and said, “Well if God wanted me to hear better than I do now, He wouldn’t have allowed me to lose my hearing.

Now I could have gotten all feisty about someone questioning my own acceptance of what God has allowed in my life. I felt a little “twinge” even – to set this man straight. But I knew this would help very little where as a gentle response would accomplish much more in the long run. “Really? I look at my cochlear implant as using technology available that HE allowed as a blessing in this day and age in which we live!” The man looked confused as he had not heard me very well, but the woman said, “Honey never mind him. He can’t HEAR. You hear so much better than he does! Where did you get your implant?” … and with that I had the opportunity to plant a seed of hope and to share information that may one day provide better hearing for this (ornery) man. It is, after all, all in the attitude!

What is your attitude as a person with disABILITY? Do you at times behave as if you are entitled? Learn to gauge the reactions of those around you as you share what could be done to help you communicate more effectively. Ask for evaluations of how you handle these situations from people who are close to you. Respect is earned. May I never behave or respond in such a way that another person with disABILITY is judged at the onset to be a person with a sense of entitlement.

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Clift, E. (March 27, 2011). From Students, a Misplaced Sense of Entitlement. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved November 14, 2011, from http://chronicle.com/article/Students-Should-Check-Their/126890/

Courage!

 

The Cowardly Lion from "The Wizard of Oz"

Cowardly Lion: Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the “ape” in apricot? What have they got that I ain’t got?
Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman: Courage!
Cowardly Lion: You can say that again!

cour·age

[kur-ij, kuhr-]

noun

the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.

What Kind of People Have Courage?

Exactly what kind of people have courage? In my opinion, courage is not found in a specific “kind” of person, personality, gender, or culture. Courage can be found in the heart of any individual. Facing life develops courage in our hearts. I began thinking about courage this past week. I was waiting outside a classroom as I had arrived a bit early. I have no idea what kind of class was being held in room 406, but I heard the professor say, “When you think of someone who is courageous, who comes to mind?

I couldn’t hear all the responses, but some that I did hear included:

men and women in the armed forces

parents

law enforcement officers

and firefighters.

As I sat leaning against the wall eavesdropping on the class discussion, I thought about how I would answer that question should anyone ever ask me.

“People with disABILITIES have courage”

Part of the reason I love Fidos For Freedom so much is that the clients, trainers, and volunteers have become like family to me. There are a number of disABILITIES present in people who are “family” at this organization. People who are “differently-abled”. Some of the clients are deaf (or Deaf), some have balance problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain (from accidents or illness), CRPS, MS, and the list goes on. No matter the background or current health status of any one individual, one thing I see in the face of ALL is – COURAGE.

How can we be SO different and struggle with such a wide variety of challenges, and yet all have courage? Bill Tipton said, “Increasing your courage to take calculated risks can improve your general well-being and attitude in life. Learning to transform the negative reaction of fear of failure to a positive sensation of opportunity can enhance your chances for success. I believe people with disabilities, or perceived differences, get more opportunities to demonstrate and practice courageousness” (Global Dialogue Center, 2011)

I believe when a person takes a “calculated” risk and strives to improve their life, courage results. I have seen people work very hard to train assistance dogs. I have seen people work very hard to train to be matched with an assistance dog. Different people have different obstacles, but all push on… reaching for that goal of more independence. I’ve seen clients training who are in obvious pain. I have seen people work hard at taking risks and learning new ways of doing things so that they may safely and confidently handle a dog partner. This is courage.

How Does One Find Courage?

Jayne Leone said, “Related to the word courage are the words encourage and discourage. (In fact within the word courage is the word rage.) Think of the times we have encouraged ourselves or encouraged others. Now think of the times we have discouraged ourselves and discouraged others. There are many buzz words being used today — such as empowerment, challenged, support — used by many professionals, when in reality the operative word is courage, encourage or discourage. As we well know, many social institutions can encourage us or discourage us as disabled persons. They can help us be empowered, help us to maintain self-control, help us be self confident, help us gain courage. By discouraging us they can do the opposite” (Independent Living Institute, 1997).

I believe that courage isn’t an attribute one learns and then “ya got it“. I do believe that courage, though hard-earned and a difficult teacher, is practiced by choice on a daily basis. This is why we have “good days” and “bad days”. I think the key to having an abundant life is to have more “good days” than “bad days”, but allow “bad days” to act as a learning experience as well. Let’s face it. We are going to have bad days. Don’t you think the key is in how one RESPONDS to a bad day? Courage doesn’t disappear on bad days. Courage doesn’t guarantee success.

Sometimes? Courage is going to bed after a “bad day”, with resolve to try again tomorrow. Courage means you simply refuse to accept defeat.

The Lion now walked to the Throne Room and knocked at the door.

“Come in,” said Oz.

“I have come for my courage,” announced the Lion, entering the room.

“Very well,” answered the little man; “I will get it for you.”

He went to a cupboard and reaching up to a high shelf took down a square green bottle, the contents of which he poured into a green-gold dish, beautifully carved. Placing this before the Cowardly Lion, who sniffed at it as if he did not like it, the Wizard said:

“Drink.”

“What is it?” asked the Lion.

“Well,” answered Oz, “if it were inside of you, it would be courage. You know, of course, that courage is always inside one; so that this really cannot be called courage until you have swallowed it. Therefore I advise you to drink it as soon as possible.”

The Lion hesitated no longer, but drank till the dish was empty.

“How do you feel now?” asked Oz.

“Full of courage,” replied the Lion, who went joyfully back to his friends to tell them of his good fortune.

Swallow Courage

Ever get caught up in wishing things were different? Do you ever wish you were simply “normal”? (Who defines what is NORMAL, anyway?) I’m at various stages of accepting who I am today. Sometimes I have a clear vision of my “new normal” and seem to understand the “new me”. At other times though? I’ll be honest – I flounder. There is a part of me that wants to “fit in” and do things like “normal” people do.

Why do I have to find batteries so that I can continue hearing when my CI “dies”?

Why do I have to stand and sit slowly?

Why do I have to remove my hearing aid at times when the ear mold leaves a sore in my ear?

Why do I have to use my hands (or Chloe) on the stairs to safely navigate “UP”?

One must “swallow” courage – to believe!

My husband reminded me the other day that even people without disABILITIES struggle with acceptance. As a psychologist, he has seen folks from all walks of life struggle with accepting the way things are TODAY. Age may have made a change in your “normal”. An accident, illness or disABILITY may have changed your “normal”. He said, ““You have differences that make you uniquely you, but that also require some assistance. Without Chloe you’d fall more and miss more. Without your implant you are deaf. You need to accept who you are without apology and stop looking to be treated normally”.

Courage ≠ Never Being Afraid

“But how about my courage?” asked the Lion anxiously.

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”

“Perhaps I have, but I’m scared just the same,” said the Lion. “I shall really be very unhappy unless you give me the sort of courage that makes one forget he is afraid.”

You can have courage and still feel fear. The unknown can be a scary thing. When an acquired disABILITY occurs in the life of a person, there are no guarantees things will not get worse. Many have progressive symptoms. Courage does give us the ability to deal with change, however. Few are born with courage. It is a learned skill, an acquired characteristic.

The Cowardly Lion has always been a favorite of mine in “The Wizard of Oz”. I loved both the movie and the books. I smile when he uses his tail to wipe his self-pitying tears away. I grin when he “shakes” in fear of the Wicked Witch and trembles at the sight of the flying monkeys. I know the end of the story. The Cowardly Lion shows courage time and again throughout the movie, putting himself at risk for others and to achieve his own ultimate goal… a gift bestowed from the Wizard – that of courage. Unbeknownst to the Cowardly Lion, courage lay dormant in his fearful heart. He only had to exercise what was already there.

I hope that YOU believe that courage is in your heart. You may not even recognize it. If you take risks and live life “in spite of”? You have courage!

Denise Portis

© Personal Hearing Loss Journal

http://globaldialoguecenter.blogs.com/disabilities/2011/05/courage-enabler-for-people-with-disabilities-or-perceived-differences.html

http://www.independentliving.org/docs5/Leone97.html


 

Timeless Reminders

In 483 B.C., Medo-Persian King Xerxes (also known as Ahasuerus) threw a huge, 7 day party. What was strange about this party is that it FOLLOWED a 180 day, kingdom-wide celebration. I mean… who has THAT kind of money? I guess Xerxes did – and he had no qualms about spending it. At some point in the party, Xerxes makes a mistake. He assumes his queen, the beautiful Vashti, will want to come to the men’s party and parade around for everyone. She set him straight pretty quickly… all through the channels of the first private messaging system… eunuchs. After consulting the fellas in his “boys club”, Xerxes boots Vashti to the curb… or actually to a part of the harem where he’ll never see her again. ‘Cept… now he’s lonely. This lonliness sets in play a kingdom-wide search for all the beautiful single women in the kingdom. That’s right… there’s a job opening in the palace.

Hadassah was a young Jewess being raised in Susa by her cousin Mordecai. Was it because she was near the palace at Susa that she was picked up so quickly? We don’t know, but we do know she was a “hottie”. Beautiful in form and face. Her name was changed to Esther and she began the year-long process of getting her chance with Xerxes to see if he liked her well enough to become his new queen. History tells us that in 478 B.C., Esther becomes queen. Guess she made an impact…

Xerxes was a “strange ‘un”. He paid attention to seemingly unimportant things and completely overlooked really important details… like signing a law from a “Jew hater” named Haman to wipe out and annhilate all the Jews on a specific day. Haman is conniving and manipulative and leaves out the little detail about exactly WHO the race was to be destroyed. Xerxes didn’t have a problem with the Jews – one saved his life even (wouldn’t you know it was Esther’s cousin Mordecai?) – but Haman certainly did. If you are familiar with the story, you know that Queen Esther is given the opportunity to save her people from this vengeance edict that was drawn-up and pushed through into law by Haman. During a pep talk from her cousin Mordecai via that early private messaging system… he tells Esther something that has reverberated down through the years to words we all know. “FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS”. Those six words are profound, aren’t they? Unfortunately, Esther 4:14, has an even greater timeless reminder that is often overlooked. Mordecai actually says, “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this”. Yup. Esther saves her people by exposing Haman and suggesting to Xerxes to write a counter-law that will allow the Jews to fight for their very lives instead of rolling over and giving up. It seems no one wants to face a Jew with a sword. They are saved.

I think we miss an important reminder when we take only those six words out of context. All the pieces were in play at the right time, right place… all for a very important reason. I’ve often thought about my own life and tried to look at opportunities available to me that I have as a result of – all the pieces being in play at the right time and right place. Who knows whether or not I became deaf for such a time as this?

You Have a Disability. Now what?

I’m reasonably certain that if I asked for a show of hands for anyone who signed up for developing a disability or acquiring an invisible illness, I’d see a “room” full of people sitting on their hands. To be painfully honest with you, there are days that I really hate being deaf and only being able to hear if I wear bionics. I can get extremely depressed after experiencing a day where I had to navigate my space hanging on to walls or using a cane. I didn’t ask to become deaf, nor aspire to being a person with Meniere’s disease. Yet I firmly believe that everything has a purpose. So I’m deaf and hear again with a CI. What can I do with that?

Do you know that you have access to people that may be unique to YOU? The Internet may bring like-minded people together for discussion and support, but many of these people you may never meet face-to-face. Yet in YOUR life, there are real people that you have contact with that I do not. You don’t know the sad-eyed waitress at my favorite locally-owned restaurant. You don’t buy stamps from the grumpy postal worker I see once a month. You don’t stop and wait your turn at the crosswalk where a harried, sweaty, “I can’t take much more of this”, crossing guard faithfully sees school children across the busy street each weekday. These folks are unique to me, just as specific individuals you know at work, school, church, and PTA are unique to YOU.

Do you literally navigate life by using a power-scooter or walker? Then you are mobile in a manner I do not understand. Do you have fibromyalgia? I don’t understand that kind of pain – symptomatic of an invisible illness often misunderstood. Even those I know who have hearing loss and Meniere’s disease face different problems, frustrations, and symptoms than I experience. Hearing loss is often as unique as the individual. Yet all that is YOU, puts you in a unique position to make a difference where you are. I cannot influence the people that are unique to you.

You know something? It helps me to remember this timeless reminder when I am feeling particular frustrated about my life. I’m in a specific time and place with specific gifts, skills, and personality to influence those around me in a positive way. What is frightening is remembering that I can also influence others in a negative way. Going back to Mordecai’s pep talk to Queen Esther, he also reminds her that if she keeps her mouth shut and doesn’t ask Xerxes for the life of her people, then deliverance will come from another place.

Esther 4:14, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

I don’t know about YOU, but I want to seize my opportunities. Sure… some may seem like small opportunities for impacting the life of another, but who is to say that opportunity is without worth? If I don’t live my life actively looking for opportunities to make a difference, then someone else will be in a position to do it instead. Especially if it is an opportunity to be a blessing and to make a positive difference in another. You are unique. The opportunities available to YOU are unique.

President Harry Truman said, A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties”. Yup. I realize there is some therapeutic value in the occasional pity party. However, don’t stay as a permanent guest. You are missing opportunities if you keep your eyes on SELF. I believe living a life looking for opportunities makes life worth living. I try to re-evaluate where I am in finding and seizing opportunities every Monday. Mondays are dreaded by most; however, I’ve come to look forward to them as I’ve discovered self-evaluation can be invigorating – or at least a KICK IN THE PANTS.

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

 

When Family Can’t Forget

For the sake of this post, I’m brave enough to admit my age. I’m 45-years-old. I remember thinking that 45 seemed really old when I saw my parents celebrate that birthday. Now that I’m 45 myself, it doesn’t seem very old at all. As a matter of fact, I spend a lot of my time wondering when I will grow up.

Are you who you were at 10-years-old? (Can you remember back that far?)

Are you who you were at 16-years-old?

How about 20-years-old? Are you the same person you were then?

I think about who I was at these *mile stone* birthdays and realize how much I’ve changed over the years. Oh sure, our personalities, quirks, and even some habits remained ingrained in our make-up even decades later. But something happens to an individual growing older.

Life.

And you know what? Life can be hard. Oh yes – I know! Life can be very good. However, in my own life the more positive changes in who I am, occurred as the result of crisis and difficulties. One of the more frustrating things about “growing up”, however, is that our families won’t let go of who we were.

Think about it for a second. I left home at the age of 18-years-old. Many of you did the same, or perhaps even younger. Our parents, siblings, and close relatives who sat in the same pew as we did at church and attended the same high school football games, very likely have had very little participation in your growing up since that time. That’s what leaving home is all about. We make our own lives, invest ourselves in our own families, make mistakes, and grow. All this happens with very little influence of the people that were ONCE a major influence!

It’s very frustrating to me, however, to not be seen as who I AM around my family as they think I’m still who I WAS. I wasn’t the best big sister in the world. Having dealt with a number of emotional issues in my late teens, I can admit I wasn’t the best daughter in the world either. Now that I’m 45-years-old I don’t get to see my family nearly as often as I prefer. I have seen my sister 5 times since 1986. I have seen my brothers one time in the last 9 years. We all live in different states – spread out all across the U.S. I am able to see my parents at least once a year. However, I haven’t seen my grandparents since 1999 – which grieves me to no end bein’ they had such a major influence on my life in my developmental years. (Colorado is a long way off from Maryland). I was getting a bit aggravated when family members would make comments about me – even in a teasing fashion -as if I’m still the same person that I was. But then it hit me! How could they know who I AM, since they have not been involved in my life on a daily basis for the last 2 decades? The answer to that is that – they cannot!

As a result of this “middle of the night” epiphany, I began to ease out of feeling frustrated at not being able to leave my past – in the past – around my family. Worse? Try evolving into a person with an acquired disability when your family can only remember you “disability free”. I feel for them! It can be very hard to understand exactly what it may mean for you to live life on a daily basis – different now- solely because of an invisible disability or acquired chronic illness. For my immediate family members the process was gradual and progressive. They would be unable to pinpoint a point in time when I began to be who I AM. But for other friends and family members it can be very difficult to understand who you are now that acquired disability or invisible illness has changed you.

A young woman with fibromyalgia said: “I guess, where i’m very frustrated today, is, i’m having a fibro flareup, no doubt due to stress, i work at a bank, and we’re getting audited tomorrow, so checking, double checking, to make sure everything is just right, and i am so tight, and sore today, and NO ONE gets it, to look at me,i might look tired, but they just assume i’m ok, well, i’m NOT. It’s one of those diseases that no one can see that you have it, they have no idea how much pain we’re in, and they just assume everything is ok, and they don’t understand why I’m being so quiet, and they think i’m mad, and it is not that, i just feel like dirt” (Dannape, 2011).

Invisible illness with invisible symptoms are difficult to explain or even complain about. You LOOK fine.

On a hearing loss forum, 16-year-old Xatego explained:  “How do I deal with my family who claim they completely understand my hearing loss? I appreciate the fact that they were supportive and gave some of their time to look after me. But it annoys me when they like to think that they understand my hearing loss and the implications it has on my day to day life. I basically have a 90% loss of hearing. For example, my parents question my need to have subtitles when I’m watching TV. They say if only I watch TV without subtitles, it would reduce my need for it. I explained to them why, they didn’t listen. My cousin and I are basically the odd ones out of our whole family. He has severe autism and behind his back he is labeled by other relatives as the “crazy” one. I wonder what they call me since they treat me like an idiot. One of them even asked me if I was ‘still’ deaf. My sister and my mother gets irritated when I ask them to repeat their words. I get so frustrated; it’s not like I like having to ask them to repeat what they’re saying continually. When they say they understand.. They don’t. If you don’t have a hearing loss you don’t understand the way it cuts you off from people” (Xatego, 2011).

It can be really hard to explain what life is like for you when you are only beginning to understand it yourself.

Trying to Leave your Past – in the Past

Have you ever lived with someone who was losing weight? Someone with a great deal of weight to lose has learned that in order to keep it off, weight loss should be gradual with numerous lifestyle changes. The people who live with you may not SEE a lot of weight dropping off of you. But if a friend or family member came to visit who has not seen you in a long time, they are astonished at how different you look! I think it is the same for family members who spend time with me that have not seen me in a really long time. They are taken aback by the cochlear implant, hearing aid, and assistance dog. They remember who I WAS.

Earlier I asked if you were the same person you were when you were 10, 16, and 20-years-old. As for me? I didn’t really like who I was at any of those ages. Did you make stupid mistakes when you were younger? Did you ever make a decision that left long-term consequences? Ever feel as if you are wearing “scars” as the result of some past experience? I think some of the most crucial, vulnerable moments are in the weeks, months and years immediately following a firm decision to be DIFFERENT. An alcoholic may remember the day and time of their last drink – even if it was decades ago. But they will be the first to tell you that family and friends hurt by their alcoholism had a hard time believing “this time” was for real.

The ex-con will tell you that when they made 180 degree turn and CHANGED, their skeptical family and friends had a hard time believing it was for real!

The drug addict who is now free from the poisons they once put into their body will tell you that family and friends who had “seen it all” – wait around waiting for the other shoe to drop! For a significant amount of time everyone’s expectation is that the person will go back to being who they WERE.

Why do we long for people we love to break bad habits, yet make it hard for them to really do so? Why do we believe they will only fail again? In spite of testimonies of people who have gone on to serve in their communities and churches, raise families of their own, and be contributing, POSITIVE influences in their homes and workplaces, we who knew them “when” expect more of the same. Shame on us! I have seen God use people who were once drug addicts, alcoholics, and criminals in ways He could never use people who look perfect.

At some point in time these changed people made a choice.

and they never turned back.

Victor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”. God uses hardship to change us. But our biggest skeptics may be those who love us best. We may be misunderstood and even spurned. You may feel as if your family cannot let go of who you were. But I’ll never be that needy, selfish, emotional basket-case of young womanhood again. My trials have made me strong. Angela Barron McBride once said, “Full maturity is achieved by realizing that you have choices to make”. I made choices. You’ve made choices. Hopefully we are ALL continuing to reach towards what being mature is all about! For the Christian, it is becoming more like Christ. We’ll never “get there” – but our goal should be to become more like Him day by day.

Because I’m not who I was 2 decades ago, I long to be the kind of person who believes that people who hurt me years ago are not who they were either. That sister-in-law you couldn’t stand? Twenty years may have changed her into someone you can now not only like – but love. That brother who was in and out of rehab and managed to drag the family through the disaster of three failed marriages may not be who he was. At what point do we believe the BEST of people? If God can change ME, He can change anyone. I’m not perfect… and I have not “arrived”. But I do like who I am. I wouldn’t change a thing. The process was (and IS) painful, but worth who I see in the mirror each day.

Try not to be aggravated when family members have trouble letting go of who you were. Time will tell – and if you are lucky? You may live to hear one of them say, “You aren’t who you were… you’ve changed!”

Dannape (2011, April 27). Fibromyalgia General Discussion. Message posted to “The Pain No One Sees”. Retrieved May 25, 2011, from http://www.fibromyalgia-symptoms.org/forums/Fibromyalgia_General_Discussion/The_pain_no_one_sees/
Xatego (2011, April). Yahoo Answers: People with disabilities. Message posted to “How do I deal with my family who claim they completely understand my hearing loss?” Retrieved May 25, 2011, from http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110424135942AA52fMB

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Soul Surfer

My daughter was home for Easter weekend so the family enjoyed a rare night out to the movies. The movie “Soul Surfer” had been recommended to us so we chose to attend on Sunday afternoon. I was in a bit of a huff when I arrived due to some family conflict, missing the first part of the movie while I sat and fumed. (Yup… I definitely need to learn to fume a little quicker).

Once I started paying attention, however, I really enjoyed the movie. When you “hear again” with a cochlear implant, you really do have to make the concentrated effort to PAY ATTENTION as listening is no longer a passive exercise – rather an active effort. On occasion, I’m lucky to snag a movie we are attending that is open captioned. I do not have to focus with nearly the same concentrated effort when the movie is open captioned. As it was, I finally TUNED IN and really enjoyed the movie. I won’t spoil it for you in case you haven’t seen it, but basically a teenager learns to live life differently due to circumstances that were neither predicted nor expected. She learned that “in spite of” she can continue to make a difference in the lives of others… to touch souls.

Individuals with acquired disabilities of any kind have to do the same, don’t they? I mean the alternative is isolating yourself and giving up. That isn’t a life I’d wish on anyone. (Believe me I know, because I tried it for a short time!) It takes a lot of courage to persevere and learn to do some things differently when life throws you a curve ball. I’ve always been a lousy “catch”, so wouldn’t you know when my own disabilities took hold and changed my life that I was totally unprepared?

I was at a Fidos For Freedom training with my assistance dog one Saturday and a fellow client that I have come to know quite well wasn’t at all surprised by a blunt question. We had learned to be “straight” with each other early on because we discovered that by doing so we could learn from each other. She is a client who has been matched with a service dog trained to assist her with mobility tasks. Having experienced a recent “wet week” due to spring showers in our area, I asked her how she found the wherewithal to come to trainings after having a “bad week”. She has had to learn to do things differently because of her disability and must prepare well in advance when attending trainings that other people may be able to spontaneously decide to attend! She said, “I simply remember that by coming I have opportunities to encourage someone else. I don’t want to miss those opportunities so I get my butt out of bed!”

I’ve never met anyone that was not able to MAKE A DIFFERENCE in the life of another. I don’t care who you are or what your circumstances are. The only necessary ingredient to successfully touching the life of another is BEING WILLING. If you aren’t willing, it will never happen. People with acquired disabilities have learned to maximize technology. We have learned to perhaps do something DIFFERENTLY in order to accomplish a task. We have also learned when to cut ourselves some slack. People with acquired disabilities have learned to ask for help at times. We are malleable, persistent, and BRAVE. No worries. I’m not “tooting my own horn” here, I’m simply pointing out the obvious having met numerous people with acquired disabilities.

Surfing for Souls

There are numerous ways individuals can make a difference. My “short list” is below. Feel free to leave comments and add to this!

1. Join online support groups and be active in the group. Reach out to others who are perhaps struggling with a new acquired disability.

2. If possible, participate in local support groups or chapters that meet physically each month. Go prepared to learn, but look for opportunities to serve.

3. Be open and honest. Don’t hide the fact on your Facebook. Don’t make your disability invisible. Visibility allows others to see you active in your community, doing things others do without thought. Shopping, church, or GOING TO THE MOVIES are all activities we can still accomplish. Welcome questions and be prepared to be a positive advocate.

4. Have business-card sized cards available to give to people who stop to ask questions about the: Cochlear implant bling, service animal, hearing aids, wheel chair, walker or bright purple cane! In this way they can contact you at a later date and ask questions in a more controlled, confidential way. They may need the information for themselves, or for someone they care about who struggles with their own acquired disability.

5. Don’t apologize for being different. Celebrate it!

6. Advocate, advocate, advocate! When the support groups and organizations to which you belong do annual fundraisers, DEMOS, or community service appearances, do not hesitate to get involved and advocate! At times you will be called upon to write local or state government officials. Take the time to do this!

I remind myself as I encourage you to do the same. I need to be be aware on a DAILY basis. I can surf for souls to touch. I can make a difference!

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Is INVISIBLE good?

Chloe and Denise at 2010 Fall Family Weekend

A person that I know with invisible challenges (Fibromyalgia, IBS, and Chronic Fatigue) said to me recently, “Denise… you have mostly positive advocacy experiences because you make your invisible disability – visible. That isn’t always possible for other people with invisible problems!”

I thought about that statement for a week. Then I thought about it for another week. I actually thought about it for a third week, which for me? It’s nearly impossible for me to “simply think” on an issue without going ahead and blogging about it! I decided to do a “test”. I would dampen the visibility of my disability and see if I had any problems as a result. If you don’t want an invisible disability to ever become apparent – don’t get an assistance dog. Nothing shouts, “THERE’S SOMETHING DIFFERENT ABOUT YOU” more than having an assistance dog with you. Let’s face it… it’s not the norm to see a dog in a public place. Having a canine partner is not for the faint of heart, for you will have questions, be stopped constantly by admirers, skeptics and the occasional unattended child. Because of my balance problems, having an assistance dog has yielded far more benefits than any negatives. I wasn’t about to leave my assistance dog at home for the sake of a “test” so I had to think of other ways. Thankfully, those who know me well are so accustomed to seeing Chloe with me, she is almost invisible as well.

I have always worn my hair up since acquiring hearing loss. I made the decision early on to make sure my hearing aids could be seen. The decision came as the result of being knocked out of the way in a Sam’s warehouse in 2000. Someone had been trying to get by and I continued to look at the shelves since I couldn’t hear the “excuse me” in such a cavernous place. I think the woman who knocked me down was equally as startled as I, for she certainly had no intent of sending me to the floor. She said, “Why didn’t you move?”

I replied, “I’m deaf”, and watched the color drain out of her face. She helped me up and hurried away. That week I began to wear my hair up AND I opted to purchase brightly colored earmolds for my hearing aids. In 2005, I was implanted with the cochlear implant. It was very natural for me to continue to wear my hair up and to add the CI “bling”. Making an invisible disability – not – has helped me. The only time I’ve had a problem with my CI being so visible is when I would on very rare occasions run into a defensive, belligerent, culturally Deaf person who was vehemently against the technology.

So for my “test” I thought I’d wear my hair down and not have any visible assistive listening devices. I chose to do it on a “long” work day. Shortly after arriving at school I ran into one of my student’s parents. I couldn’t discern any difference in the way we interacted and communicated. I went to the office and made copies for my classes, and checked my folder for any notes from the administrator. My first class seemed to go OK. During discussion time, it can get pretty noisy. It seemed to me students addressed their desk instead of looking up when speaking, but I was very aware I could just be guessing at that. Another student helped me pull the overhead projector screen down and I could tell he was responding to a question with his back to me as he reached to pull it down. Again, I was very aware this was probably just my imagination and… after all what proof did I have that this doesn’t happen on a normal school day?

I was well into the afternoon classes and began to think that this was a poor test since all of my students know I have a hearing loss. I was already “plotting” to venture into a store or restaurant with my hair down for a more accurate test. That may actually BE a better way to test my theory, however I was surprised by a late afternoon comment.

After a requested “repeat”, a student said, “Oh sorry! I forget you have a hearing loss when your hair is down!”

Yes. I realize that my students interact with me quite a bit and are more likely to notice a change in my hair. This meant I needed a new test.

I went to Costco this weekend with my son. He’s 6’3″ and strong enough to assist with all those items we buy in BULK to save money. I deliberately wore my hair down. I hate going to Costco on a Saturday because it is always so much busier. However, I figured for this test… that would be a good thing. I pointed out items and my easy-going, “glad to be of help” son would load them up on the big cart. I had several people stop to admire Chloe and ask questions about her. It seemed pretty standard until my son pointed out…

“You know they only ask how long you’ve been training her because they can’t tell you have a hearing loss, right?”

Ta da! This was the proof I needed, right? Who knows. I did know that my friend with invisible challenges was right about one thing. I do try to make my disability visible and usually it is to my benefit.

I enjoy answering questions about my CI and my assistance dog. People ask great questions for the most part, and most are curious because they know someone who has hearing loss or someone that could use the assistance of a canine partner.

Should everyone with an invisible disability make it visible?

No.

Cochlear implant manufacturers produce the CI’s in a variety of colors… usually HAIR colors. Individuals choose a processor and magnetic coil based on their hair color in order to eliminate the visibility. The idea is to help you keep it “your business” if that is what you desire.

I’ve heard from others with invisible challenges or disabilities who have said:

1. I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. If I want someone to know about it, I’ll tell them at an opportune moment.

2. I don’t want my co-workers treating me any differently. It would be terrible if they thought any advancements or promotions I got were the result of special privileges.

3. I don’t want to appear weak. I have bad days but do my best to camouflage them.

4. I don’t want to draw a bull’s eye on my disability, putting me at risk for crime or making me a target.

5. I want people to know who I AM, and not judge me or define me by my disability.

These are legitimate and persuasive arguments. If you have an invisible disability or challenge, it is YOUR CHOICE how open you want to be about it. My heart goes out to those struggling with depression or mental illness. These challenges can be very difficult to disclose. Sometimes invisible challenges carry with them a stigma that can wound and demoralize an individual. Never forget that we are people first. We are NOT our disability or challenge. I chose to look at it as my disability is simply a part of who I am now… a new me. As we mature and/or age (as the two do not always coexist), all of us change. We may choose to color our hair, or take care of wrinkles through the help of a trusted plastic surgeon. Maybe we wear glasses or contact lenses now. Many choose to do what they must to avoid the stigma of an invisible challenge. Those who choose to keep their challenges hidden have the right to do so. I do not judge them and trust my personal choice is treated with the same respect.

Care to comment on why you do or do NOT make your own invisible challenges or disability more visible?

Denise Portis

© 2010 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

We’ll Never Be the Same

“observe a leaf falling from on high…listen to the sounds it makes as it touches branches on the the way down…then the sound of landing. I didn’t realize until today that I can do that. I cried. Good thing no one was there. 🙂

A friend of mine penned the above words in her “status message” on Facebook, yesterday. Honestly? When I read the words, goosebumps erupted on my arms and neck and I felt an overwhelming emotion well up in my chest. I sat at my desk and “cried like a baby” if you must know. Deep, wrenching sobs that shook my entire body and caused my assistance dog to lay her head on my knee and look imploring up at me … asking to “help” as best she could.

Why?

Unless you’ve lost something and regained it through surgery, rehab, hard work, and perseverance you could never understand completely. When an individual chooses to be surgically implanted with cochlear bionics, they can only do so after their “natural hearing” has reached a point that other assistive devices provide little help. Many resign themselves to not ever hearing again “this side of Heaven”. To regain that and as an added benefit, the ability to interact and communicate with others, strengthening old relationships or forging new ones, repairing self-confidence and esteem, all “sweeten the deal” and make the decision even more lifechanging. For some, aural rehab goes very quickly, while for others that first year can be frustrating and challenging. In the end, we’ll never be the same. We will never take for granted our hearing and the ability to listen to the sounds around us. One becomes a part of a “family” of other folks who are “hearing again” as well. We get it. We understand. We’ll never be the same.

The Internet has changed our world, but there are some unheralded benefits of having the Internet. It has provided a connection for people with disabilities, health concerns, or chronic illness. Support groups and message boards exist for every type of health issue.

Those with the invisible illness/disability of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome are connected to others who live with the knowledge that today things might be pretty good – but tomorrow you may be bedridden. Those with chronic, hard-to-explain pain disorders can communicate with others who live the same life and share the burdens and triumphs of living with a disease that WILL NOT squelch their inner spirit.

Those who have a loved one that has survived a traumatic brain injury can find others who “miss the person they once loved” and are “learning to love the person left behind”. They can share successes and set-backs, fashioning relationships with other parents, spouses and loved ones who understand because they LIVE IT.

Individuals who live with mental illness can connect with others who understand the stigma and prejudices. They can connect with others who are SURVIVORS.

People (finally) diagnosed with the new epidemic of Lyme disease can find a community of people who have learned how to talk to their doctors, discuss holistic practices that provide relief, discover medications and lifestyle changes that can make a difference in the number of recurring flares, and how to remain positive and proactive in living with the illness.

I have a cousin in the latter stages of treatment for breast cancer. Her “voice” has changed throughout this process and I can tell by reading her penned words that she has a new fascination, anticipation and appreciation for life. She will never be the same.

I think we are slow to recognize how hardship, tragedy, trials, and adversity can provide the surprising and unexpected benefit of a permanent change in hearts, minds, and bodies. For many of us our very foundation has been rocked and rebuilt. Life is different. Sweeter.

We’ll never be the same.

Denise Portis

© 2010 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Markers

Sunday I had the rare treat of hearing my husband, Terry speak. In the past I was able to attend and listen to numerous speaking opportunities that he had, but our lives do not “intersect” outside of HOME as often as they once did. So the opportunity to hear him speak on Sunday when our pastor invited him to “fill the pulpit” while he was gone was pretty special. Our church is beginning a study on the book of Ezekiel.

We don’t have a “deaf ministry” in our church. We also do not have a loop system. Our church family is a pretty small group – but we love it! There are two of us with cochlear implants. Myself and a young teenage boy are the “hearing again” crowd in our church family. When you hear with a CI, there is a teeny, tiny delay in processing what you hear until you understand what it is you hear. Most of the time I do not notice the delay at all. However, in large cavernous place like the auditorium in which we meet, plus the fact I have all this noise around me which includes children, rustling of papers, sneezes, adjusting body weight in chairs, etc., I’m a little more distracted by what I’m hearing! It’s also strange to focus your attention on a speaker, but the sound of their voice is coming from another place. I suppose since I was without sound completely for almost two years, I still habitually speech read. Looking at Terry, I “understand” much of what is enunciated on his lips. However, Terry’s voice was coming from the two large speakers from the side. Since we aren’t “looped” for hearing assistive technology, what I heard was what everyone else heard… coming from the speakers. (BIG GRIN). It’s hard to explain… but trust me when I say it can be difficult when you hear with a CI!

Anyway, Terry began by talking about his past work with BIANC (Brain Injury Association of North Carolina). He brought up examples of people talking about markers in their life. As I’m playing a constant game of “catch up” throughout the study… when he said this the first thing that came to mind was Crayola Markers. After I understood what he meant, I was pretty cracked up. Some examples he gave:

“Well before my brain injury, I ….”

“After I lost my hearing, I…”

“Before I got married, I…”

“After we had kids…”

We all have these markers in our life. At some point – LIFE HAPPENS. And when it does, you are left with a permanent “marker” in your life. Things at THAT POINT changed and your life would forever be different. These markers are not always a BAD thing… they can be a good thing too! These markers in our life indicate a point in time where our focus changed. They indicate where we ‘chose a new road’, or embraced a new calling or mission. The markers can also indicate a point in time where the “bottom dropped out” of the world as we knew it. Tragedy, loss, and heartache have a way of searing a painful scar on our hearts and minds, leaving a point in time where we recognize our lives changed.

Terry had some main points from Ezekiel chapters 1-4. Ezekiel’s marker was an encounter with God. Before this “marker” in Ezekiel’s life:

BEFORE

He was entering a new season of life.

He was with people who were dealing with problems.

He was looking for opportunities from God.

Then during the “great moment in time” that would forever change Ezekiel’s life:

DURING

It was impossible to ignore.

Impossible to explain

and Impossible to get over.

After the encounter, Ezekiel found that:

AFTER

What defined him would be different.

What discouraged him would be different.

What satisfied him would be different.

I think all of us can say that these points hold true to any “marker” we have in our own lives. Invisible disabilities may define individuals in different ways but there is one thing we have in common. Our lives will never be the same. That isn’t always a bad thing… for even in “losing something” we often gain so much. It may be hard to recognize at first, but the ‘gain’ is there if you really look for it. I think of my own life and the marker of “After I lost my hearing…” What now defines me and discourages me is different than before the marker. What SATISFIES me is different. My goals, desires, and passions are much different than they were. I have a friend who deals with numerous invisible disabilities. I love her. She has ministered to me in ways she does not understand. She once wrote about her new satisfaction about what a friend was. Allow me to share…

“Several years ago I fell ill, unable to continue a life that was full of people. They were genial folks, kindhearted and interesting. As they faded away when I was no longer able to do things with them and for them, I discovered the difference between a friend and a friendly acquaintance… A good friend changed from something I was owed to a breathtakingly beautiful gift. The sorrow and grief made that change possible, leaving behind it a bit of wisdom. There have been many an acquaintance made after I lost my pre-illness social circle, but now they are held rather lightly. I enjoy them, but resist having expectations of them. Often I will find myself sensing when a relationship feels more like a requirement, or when I seem to be taking more than I give back. Not in IOU or UOME terms, but in an awareness of balance.”

She goes on to explain that really the only ONE who can meet our needs is God.

I am reminded of an Ebenezer. To some of my readers, you may recognize that word from a VERY old hymn, rarely sung in churches today. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is not widely known in today’s churches. I had a grandmother who was not only fond of old hymns, but also of explaining what words meant. Ebenezer comes from two Hebrew words Even and Haazer. It looks like this:

It means “stone of help” and represents a memorial stone set up specifically to TESTIFY and REMEMBER.

These markers in our life are indelible, permanent fixtures on our own hearts and minds. For some things, however, I like to have a literal Ebenezer. Something tangible, something I can hold, and something that forces me to remember.

You are going to think I’m crazy… but check out this Ebenezer:

Nope! Your eyes do not deceive you. These are two shed cicada skins. Before you think I’ve lost it and am “gruesome beyond belief”, read the LID of the box:

Unless you’ve lost your hearing… only to regain it through a cochlear implant, you cannot understand what it means to hear and recognize a sound from your past.

You cannot understand what it means to bend and pick up something unless you live with arthritis.

You cannot understand what it means to see again unless you’ve lived with cataracts and then had them removed.

You cannot understand what it means to stretch for a glass from your cubboard and realize you feel no pain today, unless you live with fibromyalgia.

You cannot understand what it means to have independence because of an assistance dog, unless you live with mobility issues and difficulties.

You cannot understand what it means to look forward to “today”, unless you live with mental illness.

Life challenges bring a new appreciation… a new satisfaction for what once were mundane tasks. If you haven’t yet identified markers in your life, well my friend? It’s one of two things… you either aren’t living life, or you haven’t lived enough of it YET.

One of the hardest things about being a parent is seeing my young adult children identify and experience things that etch permanent markers in their own lives. Perhaps you aren’t a parent, but you know someone who is experiencing a first “marker”. Do your best to encourage them. Be a living testimony of someone whose own life markers made them “better”. Make a difference…

Denise Portis

© 2010 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Who Is That Person?

The bathroom downstairs is decorated with cats. Lots of them. (Yes I know… decorating a bathroom with “cat stuff” is unusual, but it is what my cat-loving children picked out!). The above picture hangs in the bathroom near the sink. As a result, I’ve given a lot of thought to this painting!

Who IS that?

This morning I was getting ready and caught sight of myself in the mirror. I had already fixed my hair, put on my make-up and “made pretty”. Yet, I was taken by surprise at what I saw in my reflection.

It’s raining today. We really need it too. Yet… I really dread rainy days. I usually know it’s raining even before I roll out of bed in the morning. I get this “sense” that all is not right. Weather systems do a number on my balance and I walk like a drunken sailor if bad weather prevails for more than a day or two. Looking at my reflection I could see IT on my face. Fatigue, dread, worry, and acceptance of the unavoidable. There it was in the reflection in the mirror. You would have to really know me to notice. Something in the eyes… tension in the facial muscles. Since I know myself pretty well (grin)… I could spot it right away.

Am I Defined or REFINED by Acquired Disability

The people I find most difficult to be around are those who “knew me when”. Folks who grew up with me – my parents, siblings, and family members – have a hard time being around me I think. I’m not who I was. My family are spread out all over the United States. We are currently in four different states, and unfortunately this necessitates rather infrequent visits. (Thank goodness for Facebook, email and SKYPE so that we can at least touch base virtually). My immediate family (husband and children) transitioned along with me as my life gradually changed from “what was” to “what is”. It seemed less like CHANGE to them, for life changes gradually grew who they were as well. However, when you haven’t seen someone in a very long time and then have the opportunity to be with them, changes are not only obvious they can be surprising!

I’ll never forget shortly after receiving my bionics and cochlear implant, I was visiting my sister while I was in Texas on business. I reached up to remove my CI to hand it to her so she could look at it because she seemed a trifle intimidated by it. She screeched, and said, “No, NO! Don’t take it off!” I got the impression she thought I was going to remove it from my brain or something! As if removing it meant you could peer down into the cavity of my skull! Her grimace and horror at what I was trying to do really threw me off! At first I was REALLY hurt (I’ll just be honest here). I couldn’t believe that in something so life changing for ME, that someone this close to me had done so little investigation themselves about what my having a cochlear implant would mean. But honestly? Researching and finding out more information about the CI that would change MY life is not HER job. I should continue to be the best DENISE I can be, using whatever means necessary to “do a good job” at that. It isn’t her job to completely understand what that transition will look like nor to completely understand the technologies I use to cope and HOPE.

Adaptation is “A change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment” . My family and I have made adaptations. I don’t believe my disability DEFINES me, but it’s ridiculous to pretend it isn’t part of who I am now. I do believe it REFINES me. This isn’t a NEGATIVE thing. I’m still me… but a BETTER me because of the things I’ve adapted to as the result of having an acquired disability.

But sometimes… like this morning… I do a double-take when I see IT in the reflection of the mirror. I suppose it’s because there are days – thankfully few and far between – where my hearing loss and Meniere’s disease get the best of me. It would be so easy to just turn around and crawl back into bed. Heck! Honestly? There are days that would be the WISEST thing to do! I think of the people I know who are living with Lyme disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, MS, HIV, or cancer. Invisible disabilities and chronic illness that, unless you knew the background and testimony of the person standing in front of you, one would never know the courage it takes to live life each and every day with some semblance of normalcy.

Standing and looking in the mirror – you may notice a little bit of IT peeking out at you from time to time. I walked away from the mirror this morning totally OK with the fact that the stress of my life was showing a bit in my reflection. I don’t have to let how I FEEL influence the way I BEHAVE. Frankly? I think every person has days they have to try a little harder to PUT ON A HAPPY FACE. They don’t have to be people who live with invisible disabilities. It’s normal to have bad days. And normal? Well… that’s just exactly how I want to be.

I’ll leave you with a super song that I discovered long ago when that animated movie “Mulan” first came out in 1998. It wasn’t until I saw the lyrics for the first time that it was really driven home – the truths of reflection for every woman, every person, every individual living with invisible disabilities or chronic disease. When will my reflection show, who I am inside?

Truthfully it shows every single day. You just have to look harder on some days than on others. I don’t ever stop being ME though. I usually walk away from the mirror pretty satisfied with the evidence of things not seen on the surface. May we all be great reflections of who we are INSIDE

Denise Portis

© 2010 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”(Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)