How to Avoid Unhealthy Responses to the Challenge of Hearing Loss – Part 1

Presented by Denise and Terry Portis

This is part one of two parts.

I almost missed this presentation. I had originally decided to attend a different one (each workshop time slot had four workshops scheduled, so many of the choices were difficult), but decided at the last minute to attend Denise and Terry’s workshop. I’m so glad I did.

Terry began the presentation with one of his humorous stories, but soon got down to work. He reiterated his earlier comment that hearing loss is not an issue of national concern. He note that the American Academy of Audiology recently held their annual convention and their number one concern is that hearing loss is not understood by the general public, and much of what they think they know is wrong! People think hearing loss is a minor inconvenience. Even doctors fail to understand the challenges that it raises. And the challenges are not just about hearing; they are also about loss.

Terry noted that Denise began sharing about her unhealthy coming mechanisms about 18 months ago, and has since heard from about a hundred young women who are using unhealthy practices.

Denise opened her portion of the presentation by saying that this topic is so personal to her that she can’t talk about it without falling apart. It is so important to her, especially since she went public, and she has heard from so many women with similar issues. She encouraged anyone who is struggling with similar issues to contact her at

Denise first noticed her hearing loss after their first child was born when she was about 25 years old. She was having trouble hearing on the phone. As a stay-at-home mom, the phone was her lifeline, so not being able to hear on it was a real blow. She was using an inexpensive phone at the time and thought that might be the problem. So she talked Terry into getting an expensive phone, but it didn’t help.

So she typically waited until the kids were napping and the house was quiet to make her calls. She convinced herself that she did this because she wanted to give her full attention to the calls. She also refused to answer the phone if it rang when the house was noisy.

Denise was also bluffing a lot and never asked for repetition. She told Terry that they should save money by not going out to eat, but the real reason was that she didn’t hear well in a restaurant.

When Terry complained that the television was really loud, she explained that the commercials are much louder than the program, and she didn’t bother to constantly adjust the volume.

She says that she had excuses for everything. When Terry first suggested that she wasn’t hearing well, they had a big fight. Terry doesn’t like confrontation and he backed down. Denise conceded that she can act in a really ugly manner when she is trying to make a point.

Soon she joined a weight loss program at their church. She thought it was great, because the program required her to record everything – what she ate, how much she exercised, what she drank, etc. Denise is a detail person and has journaled all her life, so this was right up her alley. She lost 65 pounds in four months! The program called for her to work out three days a week, but she worked out every day! She never cheated!

But then she hit a plateau and the weight wasn’t coming off. And then she got the flu and discovered that there is another way to lose weight! Terry was starting to be concerned, but when he voiced those concerns, Denise became very defensive with comments like, “You never support anything I do!” Terry is a psychologist, but being so close to the situation, it was really difficult for him to help.

Denise continued to lose weight, dropping another 25 pounds, for a total of 90 pounds! She had become a leader in her weight loss group, so she was able to control the meeting and the discussion. They had a sound system, which Denise told herself was for the benefit of an elderly woman with a hearing aid. Of course, it was really for Denise, and she kept the microphone!

One of her friends had two kids about the same ages as Denise’s four and five year olds, and they would often get together. After they got to know each other, her friend confronted her about her weight loss. By that time she had started to lose her hair, and whenever she would bend over and straighten up she felt like she wanted to throw up. She comments that today she just can’t believe that she didn’t see what was going on.

When her friend confronted her, they agreed that her friend would take Denise’s laxatives home with her. So she went to her medicine cabinet and got the laxatives and gave them up. Then her friend asked if she had any more. Denise admitted that there may be some others around, and the two of them searched high and low for about two hours, and eventually came up with about 700 pills! Her friend took them home, and Denise sat down and cried and cried! She didn’t tell Terry about this until several months later.

Terry picked up the discussion at this point by addressing the question of where he was during all this. After all, he was getting a Master’s Degree in psychology at the time. Terry had expressed his concern, but his remarks went unheeded. As is so often the case, a person was more willing to accept something that comes from someone other than a spouse.

Terry found it very difficult to bring this up. He notes that most marriages don’t survive hearing loss. Most of us are busy going about our daily lives and may not deal with the topic well. He’s heard from many people with hearing loss that their spouses tend to not give their full attention when discussing the topic, preferring to watch TV or read the paper! Even those of us who are most affected by hearing loss often fail to understand its importance!

Here’s Part Two