Tuesday, June 11, 2019

On Survival Teams

I recently attended HobbleJog’s first annual Taste of Italy event to raise funds to provide resources for survivors of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other neurological traumas. I was there in several different capacities: Board Member, Events Committee Member, and survivor. It was a lovely event, and I am glad that I was a part of it. 

Survivor is an interesting term. It invokes strength, determination, and perseverance. When you think about it in those terms only, though, it seems like a solitary process - a fighting against all odds and doing it on your own kinda thing. That couldn’t be further from the truth. What we tend to forget is that none of us can survive anything, let alone thrive, without a team behind us. 

And really, we’re all surviving something, aren’t we? It might be illness, injury, the day, or even the minute. 

Despite my enormous drive to get better and to go back to my "normal" life, I know that I wouldn't have without amazingly talented doctors, nurses, and therapists at both UMD Shock Trauma and Sinai. I would not have made it without my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, other family, and countless friends. My team has built me up when I have been as down as I could be. 

Currently I am wondering if I will actually survive my daughter’s tween-ness. I am sure she is wondering if she will, as well. All of the drama and angst is really hard to traverse day-to-day. Neither of us would be able to without friends, family, friends’ parents, her teachers, my therapist... Our team has the capacity when we do not. Our team will help us survive. And this team, plus all the members we will add over time, will help Alli to grow into the person she is in the process of becoming. 

My son also has a team. We have teams of doctors, therapists, teachers, friends, and family. Each of these individuals comes together to help Simon not only survive the very real struggles of autism, anxiety, ADHD, etc., but they have also allowed him, over time, to create a version of life that is sometimes hard, sometimes enjoyable, and all the time survivable. Each day he grows, learns, and is supported in doing so. 

None of us thrive every day. Some days we may feel as though we’re barely going to make it. That’s okay. It is okay to struggle. I know it doesn’t feel good, but we all have struggled and are struggling in some way, shape, or form. 

Here’s the best piece of advice that I can give you... when you’re struggling; when you’re wondering if survival is even a possibility; when thriving isn’t even a thought in your mind... turn to your team. Your team - the group of people you've built throughout the years, and in the midst of all the surviving you're doing every day - will be there to help you. Don’t be afraid to add more team members - we can all use as many people as possible to love, support, and care for us. These teams should have really deep benches. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

On Trepidatation

My immensely talented cousin, Rachel Rickert, has recently been in Boise, Idaho, completing an artist residency. When I took a look at her site the other day, this painting jumped out at me as being really powerful.

It is called "Expulsion from Paradise." Immediately, I related to it. How many times do I stand in the shower, not really wanting to get out? Getting out means facing whatever the day will bring, and honestly, facing the day isn't always what I want to do. Sometimes, I'd rather just stay in the shower and hide.

After my accident, once I got home, I remember that feeling - the trepidation of facing my day, of not wanting to get out of the shower. Mostly, I felt this way because I had absolutely no certainty of what my day would hold. There were still so many things I couldn't do. Would today be a good day where I got stronger, or would today just be overwhelming and exhausting?

Now, instead of trying to figure out how to recover, leaving the shower can mean managing sibling arguments, making meals, or doing the laundry. It means dishes, packing lunches, and helping with homework. While I am on one hand grateful that I can do these things, they are also just the mundane part of life that sometimes I don't want to do. And, how these things turn out is still kind of uncertain, right?! I mean, sometimes my kids don't fight, and sometimes it's WWIII in my house. If I just stay in the shower... maybe those everyday challenges will disappear instead of grow larger.

Leaving the shower also means taking my kids on interesting adventures, reading books, and doing meaningful work. Occasionally, even facing the great things about my day-to-day life feels a little overwhelming. Perhaps I could just stay in the shower...

What I think is particularly impactful about this painting is that most people can relate to the trepidation it invokes -you don't have to have a major accident or a brain injury to get it. People understand not wanting to face what's on the otherside of that warm water cocoon. The thing that changes isn't the feeling - it's the source of it that differs from person to person, or even from day-to-day for the same person.

I love when art, in any form, gives me a feeling of recognizing myself. It makes me feel that no matter how different our lives are, we still have a lot of the same core feelings. It is a relief to feel that someone else feels the same. It is liberating to not be alone in how we feel, even when we are alone in our individual experience.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

On Anchors and Melancholy

As most of you know, I’m a fairly positive person. When bad things happen, I don’t typically assign them more weight than what they are or think they are a sign of things to come. Instead, I pretty much believe that everything is going to work out eventually, and I’ll grow and learn along the way. Things that are difficult to achieve are generally worth it, so I don’t fear a challenge. 

There are people in my life that see me, and my outlook, as an anchor for themselves. I continue to be steady, no matter how big the crisis. My calm allows others to stop and think before they react to the situation at hand. Certainly this isn’t always the case, but I do handle crises and catastrophes quite well. 

It comes as a shock to the system, then, that this anchor sometimes has a weak spot or two. Despite my positivity, I have a propensity for depression. Those I hold steady can feel a bit adrift when I am not responding with assurance and calm - or worse, when I respond with hopelessness. 

This Fall was particularly difficult for me. I had no dramatic crisis, and maybe that was part of the problem... nothing terribly chaotic for me to make certain. And oh how I love to make life certain. It’s what I know for sure that I am good at doing. I feel a bit lost in the world when I don’t have something to manage. 

When I am depressed, I have a hard time categorizing the things in my world. Not being able to put small, irritating, everyday things in order keep me from being able to get myself into a groove. No groove and I am not able excel at managing the world around me. I have a very difficult time with this. 

Fortunately, depression isn’t a new thing for me. This means I have a road map for how to address it. When I start to feel that cloud of melancholy take me over, I exercise more and I go to therapy. Sometimes if those two things don’t work, I take antidepressants. It isn't a quick turnaround, but it's a path that I can travel that will eventually put me back on even keel.  

The New Year is always a time of fresh starts and hopeful beginnings for me. This year, thanks to that road map of exercise, therapy, and antidepressants, I am able to approach it feeling refreshed and ready to take on whatever new chaos comes my way. I’m feeling like myself again. I believe that 2019 has some phenomenal things in store for me. I intend to make amazing things happen. This anchor is holding steady. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

On Guardian Angels

Yesterday I had my CT Scan and five year check-up with my neurointerventional radiologist. Good news - all is completely stable and exactly the same as it was two years ago at my previous check-up. Next appointment in another two years.

As I was riding to the appointment yesterday (my mom drove in this yucky weather), I was thinking about my guardian angels.

Let me back up, I think I've mentioned this before in a previous blog, but when I was in Shock Trauma, the soon-to-be-MIL of the woman in the room next to mine, came in to see me one day. She gave me a guardian angel coin. I keep that coin in my car (seems obvious). I bought more to - I like to give guardian angel coins to the people who have been a guardian angel to me, or that may need a guardian angel. It's just a little symbol that says how much I appreciate them for their kindness, or that I'm here if they need me; sometimes both.

So, back to yesterday - I'm thinking about my guardian angels and how fortunate I am to have so very many surrounding me on a regular basis. Certainly my mom is in this category - she rarely left my side while I was in the hospital - not even to sleep. And, the doctor I was supposed to have seen yesterday - Dr. Jindal.

Dr. Jindal saved my life. More than once. He performed the 10 hour surgery to repair the aneurysm near my brain stem. He has taken amazing care of me, during my time in Trauma, and for these five years since. Yesterday Dr. Jindal was not available for my appointment - he was busy in Trauma helping to save other lives. We waited forever for his poor overscheduled nurse practioner to see us. She was so apologetic for the delay, and I was sad not to see Dr. Jindal. Even so, I am grateful in knowing that like the day he probably missed scheduled appointments to save me, he missed my appointment to save others. There isn't a better reason to miss an appointment.

While the rest of my guardian angels have not literally saved my life, I would say they have at least figuratively saved my life. Without them, my life would be significantly less. Each of them have given me opportunities to live a fulfilling life.

I am so fortunate - I know my list of guardian angels is going to grow each day, month, and year. I surround myself with good, kind people. I surround my children with good, kind people. And, I work to be good and kind in return, as well as to teach my children the same.

We all have guardian angels around us - sometimes we have to look for them, and sometimes they just show up exactly when we need them. I have found that when I expect good from others - when I expect to find guardian angels - that is exactly what I've gotten. So, in the spirit of a fast approaching Thanksgiving, thank you.

Monday, November 5, 2018

On A Hobble Jog

My daughter recently bought a wheelchair for her American Girl dolls. As soon as we got home, she ran upstairs and immediately started playing with it. About 30 minutes later, she called me up to her room to see what she'd been doing.

Alli was so excited - not just because she wrapped the doll's leg with a "cast," but because she also put her doll into a Hobble Jog shirt that she took off her Hobble Jog Bear. She said "look Mommy, my doll is going to have to Hobble Jog for a bit until she gets back on her feet. It's going to take a lot of work, but she's going to be fine."

The Hobble Jog Foundation is close to my heart. I am a member of the board and both of my kids have met Susan Hahn, the founder - each spending time listening to her talk about what it means. It gave me such a sense of pride seeing the connection that Alli made between her doll, struggling, and Hobble Jog.

The Hobble Jog Foundation supports teens and young adults recovering from neurological trauma, inspiring them to meet their full potential. You can see why this would be important to me and why I am a part of the organization. The idea is that as long as you keep moving forward, it doesn't matter if you have to hobble while you jog - you're still jogging. Use the analogy in any challenging situation.

I certainly have done my fair share of "hobble jogging," while recoving from my TBI and with the other challenges that I've had, both from the accident, and with those not related. We all hobble jog at some point in our life. It's part of our growth as a human being.

I am so excited to be a part of this organization. I look forward to making a positive impact on others who have experienced neurological trauma. I am especially thrilled about continuing to allow my children the opportunity to understand and value a growth mindset - that challenges have to be worked through, and with time, perseverance, and a whole lot of hard work, you can get through it and make the best out of a given situation. Additionally, they get to understand that everyone hobble jogs at some point, and we should approach those individuals that are having trouble, with patience, compassion, and empathy.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

On Milestone Anniversaries

It's been five years. FIVE YEARS! Like with most anniversaries or birthdays, it feels both a lifetime ago and just yesterday.

I was struggling a bit before I had my accident. My struggling was more emotional than physical during that time. I was navigating a separation and subsequent divorce, my kids getting used to living in two homes, not to mention the regular daily challenges of parenting and working full-time.

Certainly, immediately after the accident and for quite a long time thereafter, I struggled. This time the struggle was physical and emotional. I still had all those other things on my plate, and I also had to fight for my life. And then, I had to recover from that fight. I had to learn how to navigate the new normal. Happily, normal is always changing, and for the most part, getting better.

Here's what I've learned in the past five years that I think will help me continue to maneuver this bumpy road of life:

  • To be grateful - For the big and small things, and that I've been able to handle what's been thrown my way. It gives me hope for future challenges.
  • Asking for help isn't a crime - Sometimes the challenge is too great to handle by oneself. I'm learning that I can ask for help and it doesn't mean I'm weak - it means that I have a greater understanding of my immediate capabilities.
  • Neither is being independent - I can and will do things by and for myself. I am not going to apologize for not needing help.
  • I'm stronger than I knew I was - I've always known I have strength in me, but there is something eye-opening about looking back over the last five years and seeing what I've accomplished, and just how strong I've had to be.
  • To fill my life with the right people - Now, I actively seek out friends who are kind, considerate, and compassionate. I look for the people I want to help and who I want to help me. I look for the people who care about my children and seek to help them when they need it. I look not for friends, but for people to add to that ever growing category of "family I picked."
  • To roll with it - I love making things certain, but I also value change and a quick pace. I have learned over the last five years to let go (mostly) of the things that don't really matter and focus on the things that do. Stuff changes, in dramatic large ways and teeny-tiny ways. Rolling with it has served me well.
  • Quality time matters - Quantity is nice. Loads and loads of time to do what needs to be done or to spend with the people that matter is great. It is also unrealistic. I try, instead, to focus on the quality of what I'm doing when I'm doing it, whether that's with my kids, my friends or family, working with clients, or working out. I may not be able to do something 24/7, but I can do a really good job in the hour I have.
  • Enjoy something about every day - This isn't always easy. We all have bad days. We all argue iwth our kids, or have a project that doesn't go quite as planned. Still, there's always something enjoyable that you can find. I love the end of the day - when the arguing stops and the kids and I read books together and snuggle before bed. There's always a good part of the day - sometimes you just have to look for it.
As I am sure you're all a little curious about how Emily and I are doing since that day five years ago when we survived our accident:

I have an upcoming CAT Scan and follow-up appoingment with Dr. Jindal, my neurointerventional radiologist. That appointment is in November, but as I haven't experienced anything to be concerned about, I'm guessing all will be well. I continue to experience pain in my hand, but it isn't stopping me from doing anything I really want to do. It just makes zipping zippers and buttoning buttons a little tricky - not to mention helping Alli with her earrings. I have great clients that I'm enjoying working with. Simon is in a new school and program this year which is good, and also an adjustment. Alli is loving field hockey, school, and her friends. All-in-all, I have no complaints.

Emily is also doing well. She has . arelatively new job that brings with it some interesting travel and new people. Her kids are growing at an unbelievable pace and she, Ryan, and the kids moved into a new home this past year. Emily still has some challenges with zippers and buttons too, but like me, all-in-all, things are well.

We are celebrating this milestone anniversary tomorrow night! I'll be sure to update the blog with pictures.

Finally, I want to say thank you to everyone who supported me (and Emily) through the immediate aftermath of the accident and over the last five years. I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we wouldn't be here without you, and we are undeniably grateful for every kind throught, word, and deed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

On "The Worst Day Ever"

To say that my daughter is dramatic would be an understatement. She feels things in a big way, and expresses them that way too.

While I truly believe expressing one's feelings is important and I appreciate that she feels things significantly, these same traits can be challenging for her mother (me).

First of all, I feel things in a big way and I'm expressive with my feelings, also. This can mean a lot of drama in one house.

Second, Alli's drama tends to be gloom and doom. She frequently says "this is the worst day ever," no matter how small or insignificant the challenge actually is in the grand scheme of things. To her, in the moment, it is very significant

Perhaps I tended toward gloom and doom at her age. I don't really remember that I did, but maybe it's an age and experience thing.

When Alli says "this is the worst day ever," I respond by saying "I hope this is your worst day ever. If it is, you are a very lucky girl." She answers back with a 9-going-on-19 eye roll and a "you just don't understand me, Mom."

I know this isn't her worst day. This is a child who has lived through her parents' divorce, her mom's life threatening car accident, and a tornado hitting her house. She's only 9. She's had worse days, months, and even a year. And, I'm sure there will be other things that will qualify as worse.

I try to explain to both of my children that there is always someone in the world having a harder time than we are, and there's always someone in the world who is having an easier time. The only thing we can control is how we respond to our own situations and challenges. I try to move their perspective out of their own personal bubbles to the world around them. Not suprisingly, this is one of my bigger parenting challenges. Kids are egocentric. I know they have to grow into opening themselves up to others' experiences and perspectives.

It seems as though my children are listening to what I say less and less as the years progress. I know this is developmentally appropriate for their ages, and it is still frustrating and disappointing. I can only hope that I am modeling the lessons I think are important for them to learn.

I hope they learn, from my example, to take things as they come, and to do the best with what they have. My desire is that they will some day understand the value of working hard to make changes in themselves and in their situations. I want them to get the value of serving others. Finally, my intention is that they learn, through my actions, to be grateful for what they have, as well as to be grateful for the challenges they haven't had to experience. I believe that it is our gratitude that allows us to muscle through the "worst days" so that our experiences can lead us in a positive direction.

Think about today. What if this is your "worst day ever?" Doesn't that mean tomorrow will be pretty good? And, when you get through this worst day, won't you have proven to yourself that you are strong and can get through some pretty tough things? Isn't that worth having a "worst day"?