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Decisions, Decisions…

Posted Jul 16 2012 10:32am

For a totally unrelated reason, I was reminded this week that my husband cannot swim. I hate it when a discussion brings up old nightmares about the topic too! Goes to show how much our subconscious is at work… especially when sleeping. Anyway, this conversation about the fact that my husband cannot swim had me dreaming about one of the most terrifying events that led up to my banning him from going into the ocean.

The year was 2001, and my family and I were in Siesta Key, Florida. Terry was taking some classes to finish up his doctorate. Always nice when degree completion requires on-site classes in Sarasota, and you can time it where the whole family can be dragged down with you! Terry wasn’t getting much rest and relaxation. Going to class all day and putting the finishing touches on his dissertation were exhausting. At night he was glad to just catch whatever sunshine was left in the day and rest on the beach while I corralled the kids into a distance I could easily manage their activities.

I’m not sure what prompted a non-swimmer without a life vest to decide to get on an inner tube, launch one’s self into the ocean, and drift off to sleep. He swears up and down he had no idea he’d drift out to sea. After all, when he got past the breakers and could just snooze, the ocean was calm and serene. I’m the one with hearing loss (a fact I’ve made plain on this blog). But exhaustion and FREAKIN’ DISTANCE FROM SHORE will dissipate sound waves and keep someone from hearing shouted warnings; even from hearing ear-drum piercing screamed warnings. That’s right. Picture me on shore with kids, jumping up and down, screaming warnings that a riptide had caught him and he was oblivious to the danger. I remember thinking, “he has the room key around his wrist so I can’t even get into our condo and have one of the kids call my parents to let them know Terry drowned”. Morbid, yes? But I knew Terry could not swim AT ALL. The man cannot even dog paddle (something Chloe has told me since that she’s a little embarrassed about actually).

We may not have been able to attract Terry’s attention, but we did other folk’s. Soon a small crowd of people were whistling and hollering for “Terry!” A man, likely a native, stopped close to me and said something. I could hear the rumble and pitch of his voice. I stopped screaming long enough to sputter, “I have a hearing loss and have to see your face to hear”. So he touched my shoulder to get my attention and said, “He can’t swim? Want me to go after him?” I looked out at my still sleeping husband and agreed immediately. “YES PLEASE!!!!” (At least I’m polite...)

So the man went after my husband. He must have been shouting as he swam, because when he got closer to Terry, I could barely make out that Terry finally woke up. I saw a flail of hands, legs, and arms and prayed he’d hold on to that inner tube! The rescuer had started further up the beach to Terry and I think the tide and his strokes eventually got him safely to Terry’s side. He must have given him instructions to kick, which he did as well along with some steering, and eventually ended up on shore about a mile from where we all started. The small crowd of people had followed the kids and I down the beach. Some kind soul had picked up our things and carried them with us, knowing I wasn’t cognizant enough to even do that.

Drifting Off

A very popular topic for writers who discuss acquired disabilities and chronic illness, is social isolation. Isolation does not happen all at once. It is a gradual process; a series of small decisions and choices that eventually yield a self-perpetuated aloneness. We become “deaf” to the shouted (and well-meaning) warnings of people around us. Can we be rescued? Will we even allow a “strong swimmer” to intervene?

For people with hearing loss, isolation is almost a part of the process of learning to live with it. I know few people who are late-deafened that did not have at least a short period of self-imposed isolation. Why? Well experts have said of the late-deafened, “They no longer felt they belonged in the hearing world, and neither did they belong in the prelingually deaf world. Onset of deafness had left them in a twilight zone between worlds and had robbed them of their identity” (Barlow, Turner, Hammond, & Gailey, 2007, p. 442). Other acquired disabilities can produce the same isolation, however.

Physical difficulties can prevent people with a mobility impairment from creating social networks. Even the weather can keep some folks with mobility issues away from others. If you have a power wheelchair or scooter, you do not want to go out in the pouring rain or blistering heat. Despite the intentions of the ADA, not all places where friends get together are accessible. Whether you are born with some limitations, or acquired them later in life, disabilities or chronic illness may result in feelings of loneliness and isolation, and a lack of access to support information (Matt & Butterfield, 2006).

Not As It Seems

Not all decisions to RSVP to invitations with a “No, thank you” are because of isolation, however. Friends and relatives need to understand and trust that sometimes? Those “no’s” are not a pity party nor decision to pull back. I don’t go to pool parties. I have technology that cannot get wet and a husband who cannot be in the heat because of having one kidney. (And have you picked up yet that THE MAN CAN’T SWIM?) Sometimes there are very legitimate reasons for declining an invitation. A person may not be able to do evening gatherings because they have legitimate needs for an early night. Folks with disabilities and chronic illnesses often require more sleep than the average adult. It is not always possible to nap the afternoon before in order to go to some evening “shin dig”. Some people have to offer late apologies to activities they had planned to go to… but they have a “flare” when it comes time to prepare for an outing of fun and fellowship. The weather gets the final say for some of us. I can agree to go to a “Girl’s Night Out” a week in advance, only to have a weather system move in to where I can barely move in an upright position.

But…

I have also fudged about going to things I really could have had I really wanted to attend. Sometimes we say “no” because that is

EASIER or

HABIT.

We have to learn to police ourselves and ask ourselves some legitimate questions when our first impulse is to decline an invitation.

Social Networks

Nothing gets on this female’s nerves more than when I hear someone ‘pooh-pooh’ social networks like FaceBook, My Space, Blog networks, online support groups, and message boards and forums. I have heard holier-than-thou folks spout that these avenues “aren’t real people” and therefore are not “real relationships”. Drs. Patricia Obst and Jana Stafurik refute this much better than I can. “Online we are all able-bodied“. Online there is a “psychological sense of community and social support found through membership of disability-specific websites” (Obst & Stafurik, 2010, p. 525). These researchers looked at 160 different individuals who had various disabilities or chronic illnesses. “Results indicated that users did receive moral support and personal advice through participating in such online communities. Further, results indicated that online social support and feeling a sense of community online were positively associated with participants’ well-being in the areas of personal relations and personal growth” (Obst & Stafurik, 2010, p. 526).

I am always thrilled to have guest writers here on Hearing Elmo. (Interested? Email me at denise.portis@gmail.com). This forum has provided information and support to individuals “living it” and to family members and friends for information. I have been invited to write in other forums and welcome the opportunity. Ever heard the phrase, “dissemination of information”? The Internet makes us equal. It provides an easy, inexpensive way to find support, learn, advocate, and connect.

It can also serve as an avenue in which a warning comes through loud and clear… even to those of us who are late-deafened.

Are you avoiding outside activities?

Are the reasons you are doing so legitimate?

Are you connecting with others?

Are our decisions prompted by necessity or the result of anxiety, depression, and an attitude of giving up? These are important questions to ask ourselves. Please don’t find yourself adrift on an ocean with the shore out of reach. Ask for help. Discover a hero swimmer on their way to rescue you.

Denise Portis

Barlow, J., Turner, A., Hammond, C., & Gailey, L. (2007). Living with late deafness: insight from between worlds. International Journal Of Audiology, 46(8), 442-448.

Matt, S. B., & Butterfield, P. (2006). Changing the disability climate: Promoting tolerance in the workplace. American Association of Occupational Health Nurse, 54, 129–134.

Obst, P., & Stafurik, J. (2010). Online we are all able bodied: Online psychological sense of community and social support found through membership of disability-specific websites promotes well-being for people living with a physical disability. Journal Of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 20(6), 525-531. doi:10.1002/casp.1067


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