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Who Is That Person?

Posted Sep 12 2010 12:36pm

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)


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