Accepting my New Disability – HoH

A few weeks ago, I went to an audiology appointment I’d been avoiding for over a year. Internally, I knew I could no longer hear as well as those around me. But my fear of learning this from a doctor kept me from facing the truth. Sure enough, I was told I have sensorineural hearing loss; hearing loss so severe, it’s usually seen only in those in their late 60’s (I just turned 39); and my hearing loss will worsen as times ticks on, necessitating repeated visits to an audiologist – yet another specialist to work into my already overloaded medical schedule! The good news, or so I was informed that day by the doctor, is that I need hearing aids which will allow me to hear typically once again.

But I did not see any of this as good news. It devastated me. I began to cry thinking about having to deal with another regression of my body. I sobbed realizing I will need one more medical device just to have a ‘normal’ day. Tears fell as I contemplated yet another thing that was “wrong” with my body; how “broken” I am; how tired I am with all the diagnoses, medical equipment, modifications, etc. Quite simply, I suddenly missed my old life – before age 28 when my body worked like nearly everyone else’s; where simple, daily tasks weren’t challenging; where intense planning didn’t go into having a simple dinner out with friends or going to school. I was glued to a pity pot and couldn’t seem to stand up and flush!

Two things happened that precipitated my turn around in attitude. The first was a comment the doctor made on my way out. As I wiped away the last of my tears and struggled to get my brave face on for those in the waiting room, he said, “You know, hearing aids are just like your glasses or your powerchair. You don’t realize you need them and may not even want them, but they’ll be life-changing and life-enhancing.” This statement planted a seed for me to ponder later.

Dis acceptance pic    The other thing to occur that helped me change my perspective was a post from a friend in the disability community. It was about accepting our disabilities and all that we gain from doing so. It finally clicked in me that everything was fine. I’m not “broken;” nothing’s “wrong” with me; I’m wonderful the way I am with my splints, powerchair, Service Dog and soon, my hearing aids. I recalled how I felt at the appointment when I was age 35 – I’d gone in to discuss a prescription for a new manual wheelchair, but my doctor had decided I needed to be realistic and get measured for a powerchair instead. I remember feeling devastated. I worried that I’d look like an elderly person in a powerchair (you know, because that’s the worst possible thing! Ha-ha!). I didn’t want the powerchair but when I finally got it delivered and rolled around in it, my eyes were open to how freeing it was. It’s given me more independence and the ability to better keep up with my young child. I’ve accepted that I need my chair to live in the best way possible and to obtain movement through the world in which I travel daily as an active member of my community. And, speaking of community, I’ll have a new community within the disability community to go to for support, encouragement, ideas, and more and perhaps someday I’ll be able to help another HoH (Hard of Hearing) person.

I messaged my friend, Lindsey, thanking her for her post and telling her about my appointment. It’s something I’ve still not shared publicly even though the shame and devastation are gone. Lindsey’s always encouraged me, supported me and quite frankly, as a fellow wheelchair user, she inspires me. She was Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee 2018 and I enjoyed following her journey. She runs a website and vlog on YouTube which I urge you to check out.

Being HoH isn’t the worst thing that can happen to me. I’ve certainly dealt with worse already. I accept my need for hearing aids and am looking forward to finding out what I’ve been missing all this time. Like my powerchair and Service Dog, hearing aids will open doors for me in the areas of independence, dignity, freedom and give me the ability to hear that my disability has robbed me of.

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Celebrating Acceptance

When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of love. And this year, for me, there was that. But it was also a celebration of one of the principles that accompany love – acceptance. Allow me to elaborate:

Last year, my daughter began kindergarten at a new school. We found ourselves in a community of people where I was the only person, let alone parent, in a wheelchair. She and I both dealt with her peers’ questions. Some kids were curious in an innocent, friendly, compassionate manner while others would abruptly ask, “What’s wrong with you?” “Why doesn’t your mom walk?” “What’s wrong with her legs?” While my daughter and I are used to being stared at, pointed at and either answering or dodging questions while in public, this was her first experience dealing with all of this amid making new friends and find her place at her new school.

By the time Valentine’s Day rolled around last year, us parents were sending out sign-ups and emails for the party that was to take place in her classroom. I helped her pick out treats and cards for her friends. And then, one night during dinner, I mentioned being excited about coming to her party the following week. She glanced shyly at me and asked, “Would it be okay with you if you didn’t come?” I asked her why? She said it would embarrass her; that I was the only mom in a wheelchair and she just wanted to have fun. I was crestfallen yet I couldn’t show her how bad I hurt. I told her I understood and only wanted her to have a good time. I promised her I wouldn’t come. She thanked me. It was the first time she’d ever told me I embarrassed her or told me she didn’t want me to join in on something she was doing. While it hurt my heart so bad, I knew it wasn’t about me. I couldn’t let on how I felt because it would make her feel guilty. The day of the party, I sat out in the carpool line waiting for her festivities to be over so I could hear all about it. A fellow mother sent me some pictures since I ‘couldn’t be there.’ That was my undoing. I started sobbing. I wanted to be in there watching her smile and have fun. I cried harder as parents and kids began coming out of the school with bags full of treats and cards, smiling and talking a mile-a-minute. But by the time my little girl got in the car, I’d dried my tears and listened as she told me all the fun things they’d done and what she’d gotten from her friends.

So, fast forward to this past Valentine’s Day. The same planning began taking place leading up to the holiday. The parents signed up to volunteer time and items and I took my daughter shopping for her classmates. I assumed I wasn’t coming and so made no plans to do so. The night before Valentine’s Day, she asked me if I was coming. I asked her if she wanted me to and she responded, “Of course! I love you! You have to be there!” I was elated! I realized she’d come to a point where she no longer cared about how I functioned as a mom; she cared simply that I was her mom and she wants me to be present. Her friends and classmates have also become less shy and inquisitive as the year has progressed. I wonder if they’re realizing I’m just like their moms, except that I parent from 6 wheels instead of 2 legs. I feel accepted there, even by other parents who didn’t know quite how to interact with me at first.

The party this year was so much fun! And to be a part of it; to be wanted there, needed there felt divine! The teacher had taken the students out of the classroom so that me and a few other moms could set up the party. When the students began filing into their newly decorated room, my daughter spotted me, yelled “Mommy!” and ran into my arms. Our embrace was caught on camera by another parent and it embodies the love my daughter and I feel for each other. And, this year, along with that love has come major acceptance of our situation, of each other. Yet isn’t that what love is all about?

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photo credit: Steve Slone

Mindfulness In Chronic Illness

            Throughout my childhood and early adulthood, I never gave much thought to mindfulness. Even during my short foray into Soto Zen Buddhism in my late teens, staying present, being aware of my body, emotions and mentality didn’t seem like something I should give much import to.

            All that changed, however, at age 28. I was finishing my internship at a public school teaching a low-functioning, medically-fragile population of elementary students and working on my thesis for graduate school. Yet, suddenly, all that I’d planned for and worked towards became null and void. My whole life was turned completely around by the unforeseen onset of a rare neurological illness which left me physically disabled and visually impaired. It would take 1 ½ years for my eyesight to be completely restored and 3 years before I could walk again. I walked unaided for 15 months before my balance and mobility began to fail again. Since then, my prognosis is a slow regression of mobility though with no clear timeline. Since then, mindfulness has been forced upon me as a necessity and constant practice.

            I have been a single parent for all 7 years of my daughter’s life. Since her birth, I’ve progressed (or regressed, if you’d rather) from a cane to a manual wheelchair to a power chair. Recently, she and I were both diagnosed with another rare disease; a genetic disorder of our connective tissue. Any parent must take inventory of their physical ability to handle a given situation. Yet, as a parent with 2 chronic illnesses, I must maintain vigilant awareness of how much sleep I’ve gotten and whether or not it was sufficient; I must take stock of any aches and pains that are either currently beyond or have the ability to surpass my pain threshold; I must ask myself if I have the energy I need and how I might feel after the birthday party, field trip, visit to the park, etc. Will joining in be something my body will pay for later? Will it drain me of energy? Will it cause new aches or worsen current ones?

            It can be overwhelming trying to determine whether I can do something. I make mistakes often and must leave events early or I’m bedridden for a length of time afterwards. But I’m getting better at mindfulness. I’m learning more about my body. What’s surprising is that I’m not learning so much about my limitations as my capabilities. I’m stronger than I am weak. Mindfulness is a practice I think can strengthen us all, whether we’re disabled or not and whether we deal with chronic illness or acute ones.