The conclusion of my Mental Illness Awareness Series is centered around thoughts and lessons I have learned in the time since the previously shared manuscript was written, which was two years ago. I wanted to touch on some feelings regarding my mental illness, my continued struggle with needing medication, the added benefits I’ve enjoyed from a changed diet and exercise, and the importance of finding the right therapist. Continue reading
Okay, so I have sat staring at a blank screen long enough. It’s time to Just Begin. I have a lot of thoughts running through my head and I’m struggling to get them from head to print. It’s an issue that’s been plaguing me for some time. It got particularly bad right after my surgery this past November. My guess is that the anesthesia had a role in the brain fog. But then I got to thinking about how there has been a piece of me missing ever since I had my Stroke of Luck. It’s nothing drastic, but there has been a barrier that I have felt when trying to have thoughts at a deeper level. I’m sure there is a word for it, but, ironically, I wouldn’t be able come up with it anyway. This realization was a secondary reason for me taking a bit of a hiatus on the blog. I stopped liking what I was putting out, because I wasn’t able to transfer my thought process into sufficient words. Honestly, I still feel at odds with my writing, but I also feel that itch I get when writing is the only outlet that can scratch it. So, here I am.
Topics that have been on my mind include: the shame I feel having a mental illness that requires prescription medication, the paradox of motherhood, life on survival mode, humbling myself, making sure I’m making the most out of this time in my life, and my struggle with distorted thinking. Seeing as how the latter is the easiest matter for me to express, let’s start there.
When I started this blog, at the encouragement of a friend, I was telling her how I wanted to talk about all the things I learned in therapy about my distorted thinking. She kept saying that the term wasn’t clear enough and therefore needed some tweaking. So, let me start by sharing what I believe to be the best analogy for distorted thinking. Imagine you have a kaleidoscope with loads of pretty gems in it. If you took the kaleidoscope outside on a beautiful day and looked at flowers, it would distort the natural beauty of the flowers. It would still have its own beauty, since the kaleidoscope was filled with pretty gems, but it’s distorted nonetheless. Now imagine you have a kaleidoscope with coal and dirt in place of gems. How do you envision those flowers looking as you gaze through the kaleidoscope of filth? Now imagine your thought process was continually looking through that same dirt-filled kaleidoscope. That is what my thought process did, for years, with several aspects of my life. I still catch myself battling it, but I was taught methods, in therapy, to recognize and squelch that way of thinking when it resurfaces.
Some people think that therapy is a place they go to for a quick fix or, worse, a place where they can figure out who to blame from their childhood for their distorted thinking or lot in life. I’m not saying that our childhoods don’t have an impact on our lives and who we become, they most certainly do. However, I find that successful therapy is achieved upon acknowledging things that have happened, moving past them, and working, truly working, on the here and now of the problem. Even if there was a source from my childhood for my acquired distorted thought process, what good would have come from placing blame? For me, the solution came in getting to the root of the problem and allowing myself to grow, not hunting down the planter and yelling at them for not planting me in optimal sunlight. I use the term “planter” loosely, not as an analogy for a parent or any one person, but as a source beyond my control. The healthiest way to make emotional progress is to be accountable for your actions, and realize there is no quick fix.
At the time when I was sincerely ready to attend therapy, I had to address the fact that some of what I felt jaded about was not really even happening. For instance, in my mind, any compliment given to me was only out of obligation or a form of manipulation. Somehow I couldn’t take a compliment as a sincere gesture of someone’s amiable feelings towards me. How could I feel good about myself when I wouldn’t even accept that there was good in me? The flip side to this is when, someone really did think less of me, and I automatically took their thoughts as truth. My worth is not dependent on another’s set of ideals, and yet somehow I still struggle to think of it as such. It’s this way of distorted thinking that has left me feeling shame for my mental illness and my use of medications for proper treatment. However, that topic is for a whole other day.
For today, I think the message I want to send out into the world is simply to become aware of distorted thoughts that you may be having, perhaps unknowingly, and try to debunk them so that they do not consume you. Also, don’t let your worth be dependent on another’s set of ideals. And, lastly, progress can be made, but First You Must Begin. This post would not have come to pass, if I hadn’t simply begun and let my thoughts land where they may.
**As a footnote, I’d like to add my advice when it comes to attending therapy. Please don’t assume that if you went once and it was horrible that it will always be that way. I have sat down in front of six separate psychologists, starting as early as 11-years-old, and only ONE proved fruitful in my healing process. Three of those six were so terrible that I couldn’t even bear to go back and sit through that kind of misery a second time. I am a huge advocate of therapy, and I believe each of us can benefit from seeing a psychologist. It is not a sign of weakness, mental illness, nor anything of the like. It is a sign of someone desiring to be a better version of themselves. Don’t be discouraged if you have had bad experiences in therapy. We meet loads of people in our lives, some become friends, some don’t. Similarly we are able to connect with people in their chosen professions and within the services they provide. Recently, I had a dreadful session with a therapist, but I will not let that experience keep me from finding the right fit. While I was previously given several tools to help me with my distorted thinking, I know that I stand in need of a refresher course. Too bad that ONE psychologist that provided me with those saving tools resides in Southern California. WAAAHHHH!!!!**
It’s so cliché, “everything happens for a reason,” isn’t it? But if the saying is a source of comfort and greater understanding, is there such a thing as overuse of the phrase? As I continue to reflect on Mom Season and other events that have brought our family to this point, I continually take comfort in my belief that, inconsequential things aside, everything happens for a reason. Of course, at the time, we don’t always recognize or understand the reasoning behind certain events.
This was the case with an event that took place three years ago this month. It was Memorial Day Weekend and we still lived in Southern California. My husband had already left for his swing shift at the hospital. My cousin was having a BBQ and swim party at his home. I decided to bring the kids to the party on my own. I let the girls swim with family, while Auggie and I sat poolside. It was time for us to go home so I went in the bathroom to help my daughter get out of her swimsuit. I wanted to wash my hands before helping her, so I reached out for the soap and my left arm went limp. It came down like a ton of bricks and knocked the soap over into the sink. Before I could even process what had happened, my left leg went limp and I leaned into the sink to hold myself up. I remember being inside my head saying, “Call for help! Scream! Why can’t you talk?!” No sooner had panic sunk in when all of my strength returned and I was able to talk and move about as if nothing had happened. Still shaken up from the strange event, I left my daughter in the bathroom to let my aunt know what had happened. I asked her to check on me if I didn’t come out in a normal amount of time. I still felt fuzzy headed and disoriented, but I seemed to have all of my facilities about me so I pressed forward.
Not knowing what to do and having no witnesses, except for my unaware daughter, I tried contacting my husband to get his insight. No answer. I shared my event with a couple of family members, as I was concerned about driving home. However, seeing that I was now fine, it was presumed that the heat had gotten to me. Having lost my strength in my left arm, I had immediately thought that I was either having a heart attack or a stroke. My heart felt fine, so I crossed that off of my list. If it was a stroke, it wasn’t what I had understood of them then. So, I got in my car and drove my three kids home and asked my eldest, who was only 6 at the time, to help keep an eye on me. What she could have done to save us while driving on the freeway should another episode occur, I knew not, but somehow I needed her eyes on me as back-up.
As soon as we were home, I did the bedtime routine and sat on the couch and did what any sane person would do – hit the Internet. I went down the Wikipedia rabbit hole in relation to TIA‘s (mini-strokes) that night. I also happened to remember about how my physician had told me that I should take a baby aspirin due to a blood disease I was born with called Spherocytosis. The blood disease is noted by the red blood cells being in a spherical shape versus a disc shaped, thus increasing the chance for stroke due to clotting (though Wikipedia is not stating this, multiple physicians have discussed this connection with me). Somewhere in the middle of the rabbit hole, my husband finally had a chance to call me back. His first response was, “It sounds like a TIA.” He then asked some of the Emergency Department (ED) Physicians their thoughts and they all said the same. I then realized two things: I should have gone to the ED immediately and I should have been taking that baby aspirin for years.
A round-about diagnosis isn’t iron clad, so I thought I would head to a specialist. I’ll skip through this part a bit faster, as I don’t mean to draw this story out. An MRI was ordered. It came back clear. An Ultrasound was ordered for my heart. It also came back clear. One final test, per the Neurologist’s orders – an EEG. As soon as the electrodes were taken off my head and the tester let me walk out the door, I assumed I was fine or else she wouldn’t have allowed me to drive myself home. A few days later I got the call straight from the physician. We all know that when the call comes from the physician it is not good news. So, as I sat poolside again, plugging one ear with my finger and trying to hear the physician through the phone in my other, all I heard was “non-epileptic seizure.” What the freak was that supposed to mean?!
Oh heavens, I’ve gone and done it again. Too many details. Let’s just get to the part that pisses me off, whaddya say? Based on this lame-I-don’t-even-know-what-that-means diagnosis, my driver’s license got revoked. That’s right, folks! Because the physician deemed it seizure related, he notified the DMV that I should have my driver’s license taken away from me. It still enrages me. So, I got a second opinion, obviously. The new physician calls BS on the first diagnosis and signs off on the paperwork for me to get my license back. The second opinion was that I had a stress-induced episode or severe migraine that resulted in weaknesses. Also, a pretty lame diagnosis, but it got me my license back. Plus, by that time, there was no way to prove I had experienced a TIA, though all signs seemed to point in that direction.
The description of this event took me five lengthy paragraphs to convey, but I feel that it accurately captures how the episode disrupted my life for several months. It was a scary and frustrating process to work through. But, everything happens for a reason, right?
That same Memorial Day Weekend, my Dad and Step Mom were up visiting Central Oregon to scout it out and see if it was where they wanted to retire. My husband and I had toyed around with the idea of leaving Southern California, but it never seemed to feel right. I specifically remember, while driving home from my cousin’s house, thinking, “I can’t do this anymore.” Whether it was heat stroke, a TIA, a seizure, or whatever, it felt scarier dealing with it alongside the stress I was already feeling in my daily life with the pressures of living in Southern California. I desperately wanted Central Oregon to be the answer for my parents, so it could also be the answer for our nuclear family. It turns out that it was. That episode, whatever it was, was one more confirmation for me that it was time for us to leave Southern California. As much as I miss my family, friends, Disneyland, the beach, and sporting events down in Southern California, our move to Central Oregon was one of the best decisions my husband and I have ever made.
So, that puts a little purpose behind the actual episode itself, but what about the misdiagnosis? Why call the episode a seizure when the symptoms were the opposite from the way a seizure behaves? It’s safe to say, based on my very real Stroke of Luck, that the episode three years ago was in fact a TIA. Had I been taking my baby aspirin, perhaps it would not have happened. The full stroke that I had recently was believed to be postpartum related, which I have learned is quite common. The baby aspirin can only take on so much. Due to my stroke, my current Neurologist has now diagnosed that first episode as a TIA. per the knowledge we now have with more EEGs, MRIs, and CT Scans having been performed.
With the proper diagnosis of my 2012 episode in mind, I recently sat on the couch befuddled about why we had to go through that whole drawn out process. I told my husband how annoyed I was with that first doctor, his misdiagnosis and the actions he took to revoke my driver’s license. He simply responded, “He was a blessing to us.” I sat there trying to come up with any possible reason as to how this physician, who was generally annoying to begin with, could have been a blessing to us. My husband, obviously seeing my confusion, added, “If he had diagnosed you with a TIA, we would have never had Hans. We would have known the risk of a postpartum stroke and stopped having kids.” His words hit me so hard that I immediately thanked my Heavenly Father for His tender mercies in our lives and took comfort in knowing that everything happens for a reason.
We don’t always see it at the time, but there is a bigger picture with greater purpose in our lives. I cannot imagine our family without Hans in it. He completed us. Yes, the period of postpartum after Hans did result in a stroke, but even that happened for a reason. That stroke happened for reasons already known and reasons yet understood. I am truly humbled by my husband’s insight and how it has strengthened my faith. And this is just one experience of many. I look back at events that seemed to have no greater meaning than heartbreak and pain, but that is not the case. I have a testimony that everything happens for a reason. That reason is that we have a loving Heavenly Father who knows each of us, knows our needs, and knows our potential. These things happen for a reason, because He wants to give us every opportunity to succeed. He wants this for everyone, believers and non-believers alike. I know that if we are pure in heart, He will provide a way for us to return to Him and everything leading up to that moment will have happened for a reason.
Whew! I’m making it in under the wire to keep with my one post a week goal. There was only one week that I missed since I set this goal for myself and it was the week that I had the Stroke of Luck. I think that’s a fair enough reason to go dark for a week, don’t you? That being said, this post hardly counts as legit. I’m merely writing to give you a couple First You Must Begin updates.
First, I have set up an Instagram account specifically for FYMB. If you are on Instagram, I would love to have you follow me at FIRST_YOU_MUST_BEGIN.
On an entirely different note, I felt this urge to give you all an update on the status of my post from last week Who Do I Want to Be?. In that post, I set a total of five goals for myself: eat only one burger a week, stop yelling, read my scriptures daily, say my morning prayers, and cut my restaurant budget by 20% per week. I’m close to wrapping up week number two and this is my report. This is me keeping it real!
I have stuck with my one burger a week. I almost caved today out of convenience on the way home from CostCo. Costco took longer than expected and I wanted to keep my toddler awake on the way home, so I almost went through Drive-Thru to make life easier. Nay, nay. I held strong.
I need to get the swear jar and use pebbles in place of money, as I never have cash on hand. Each pebble will represent 25 cents. I’m thinking when the jar gets full, I’ll transfer the pebbles to cash and put it in my kids savings. Since I have yet to purchase a jar or pebbles, I really don’t know how I did. I do know though that I had to catch myself at least five times in the past 10 days.
Scripture study was hit or miss. Honestly, it was probably worse these past couple weeks than it has been in the past. Usually, I can at least count on family scripture study with my kids before school, and even that we were pretty lazy about these past few days. My eldest began taking uni-cycling classes before school twice a week and it’s messed with our morning routine a bit. I need to come up with a new plan, and I fear it involves me waking up earlier.
As for kneeling down for my morning prayers – WOW. Thursday of last week I was an absolute wreck. It’s worth noting that this day did not start with prayer. I can’t count how many times I screamed inwardly at every little thing in my life that did not flow smoothly. Those five times of yelling, that I mentioned above, may have very well all happened in that same Thursday. I was just a mess. The following morning on Friday, I rolled straight out of bed and onto my knees for my prayers. We spent that day traveling to Portland and we had a few hiccups in the day. Had it been the previous Thursday, I would have flipped my lid. However, on this Friday that began with prayer, I felt oddly at peace. I kept watching myself handle things calmly and thinking it was such a contrast from the day before. It wasn’t until the end of the day that it hit me. The biggest difference between the two days was how I started it. Starting my day off with humble prayer made such a difference for the better! Each day that I remembered to start with prayer had a similar outcome. I really felt more at peace on those days than I could have anticipated.
As for the restaurant budget, well, let’s see…um…well…yeah, I got nothing. BIG FAT FAIL. Last weekend we were in Portland so we ate every single meal out. This week was a touch better, but since I have yet to actually figure out what 20% less equates to, I can’t provide an honest answer on my success. Oops.
A couple reasons I wanted to offer an update is because I really was impressed by how much of an impact doing my morning prayers had on my daily life AND I wanted everyone to know that I am just trying the best I can. I am not a woman of answers. I am just a woman trying to find the best way that I can to live a positively purposeful life. Anything I suggest on this site is as much of a suggestion for myself as it is for anyone that stops by to read a bit. Usually the things that I set out to accomplish on this site prove fruitful. I hope the same proves right for you.
What it comes down in regards to these First You Must Begin updates is that I am doing what is stated in Ephesians 6:18 – “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication….” I’m trying to make a difference in the world around me through this blog and by the actions I make in my daily life. I stumble. I fall. I pray. I persevere.
Recently, I listened to a talk given by a religious leader, Dale G. Renlund, which spoke about our ability to try to be something more than what we are now, persevering in our efforts to do so, and being patient with others who are striving to do the same. The essence of the talk was that our focus should be more about who we are now and what we are becoming rather than what we once were. In his talk, Renlund quoted a line from As You Like It by William Shakespeare. In the scene, the eldest brother, Oliver, is being questioned as to whether or not he plotted to kill his younger brother, Orlando. He responds to the inquiry with, “‘Twas I, but ’tis not I. I do not shame to tell you what I was, since my conversion so sweetly tasted, being the thing I am.” In modern terms, Oliver is expressing that he did plot to kill Orlando and he has no shame in confessing it, as he knows he has since been converted from his evil ways. As I listened to the line from Shakespeare, I kept repeating the words in my mind, “‘Twas I, but ’tis not I,” and then I asked myself, “who am I now and who am I no longer?” I’m thinking now, though, that the best question to ask would be, “who do I want to be?”
So many different thoughts race to my mind when I ask myself, “who do I want to be?” The overwhelming thought being that I would like to be healthy. My greatest desire for myself is to be physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially healthy. When I put it that way, though, I see the list, get overwhelmed, and prevent myself from trying at anything at all. Then, I get the idea that maybe if I just pick one thing that is of the utmost importance it will have an affect on the other categories? Or better yet, maybe I need to pick just one thing to improve upon from each category? The physically healthy category should be the easiest, as right now I’m at Level Zero, despite the fact that Master Shifu in Kung Fu Panda claims, “There is no such thing as Level Zero.” The other categories may be a little more challenging.
I recently posted the image above on my Facebook timeline because, while this is not actually a picture of me, it is me to a T. Would you like some proof? Go ahead and type ‘burger’ in the Search field on the top right side of my website and see how many posts reference my love for burgers. While the image perfectly captures my current stance on fitness and burger intake, I am embarrassed that I make light of the topic so much. Contrary to my actions, I really do believe in the importance of being physically healthy. My road to being physically healthy will look different than your road, as cheeseburgers may not be your weak spot. So, if you are seeking a healthier lifestyle, then ask yourself what steps need to be taken to make that a reality. I have plenty of things I can improve upon in the realm of diet and exercise. If I’m only picking one, I think I’ll go with only allowing myself one burger a week. Yes, this is a challenge for me. Remember, Level Zero.
I’m picking this one over an exercise related one, as my cholesterol numbers are less than favorable. After the Stroke of Luck, they did some customary blood work. In the past, my numbers were of borderline concern, but these new numbers were embarrassing. I did learn that postpartum cholesterol numbers are skewed, but to avoid added risk post-stroke, they placed me on cholesterol medicine. Apparently, cholesterol numbers do not level out to an accurate reading until one year out from delivery. This means that in July I have the chance to get off of cholesterol medication. While I am a big supporter of medicine, I think it’s silly to be on medicine for something that can be controlled with proper diet and exercise. So, long story short, I’m starting with my cutback on cheeseburgers. I’m going to imagine that in five years from now somebody will confront me with, “Did you once eat so many cheeseburgers that you were on cholesterol medicine?” Then I can respond, “‘Twas I, but ’tis not I.”
I often wonder what “level” I would be at in the emotionally healthy realm if I did not suffer from Bi-polar II? Mental illness is a tricky beast because sometimes you fall for the old-fashioned beliefs that if you just do XY&Z, then you can be cured from such an illness without medication ever being needed. I don’t doubt that doing XY&Z can lessen the blow of a low in the depression cycle, but I’ve yet to witness a natural solution in my nine years with the illness. So, what other options do I have in this category? I would like to stop yelling at my kids.
I am not a frequent yeller, but the fact that I yell at all upsets me. I may be the worst type of yeller, because I don’t yell at all people. I imagine a person that yells at everyone in their life just doesn’t know any better. But if I do not yell at strangers, nor my husband, nor my friends or extended family, then I must know better. My children are the only ones that seem to get my wrath. I hate it. It’s such an ugly trait. It’s definitely less than it once was, but I have yet to eradicate yelling from our home. I’m not even going to excuse it, per my previous post No Excuses, No Explanations. No excuses; just solutions here today. How about a “Yell Jar” instead of a “Swear Jar”? Heck, this could end up helping me with being financially healthy. I may have enough money to buy myself something nice.
If I had to pick a category that I was the healthiest in, it would probably be this one. However, I am still lacking plenty. I’ve always been good about bedtime and mealtime prayers, but morning prayer tends to be a hard one for me. Mainly because I am not a morning person. I stay in my bed as long as humanly possible, thus not allowing for a couple extra minutes for morning prayer before having to tend to children. However, studying the scriptures can be just as crucial as morning prayer in becoming spiritually healthy. Ugh! It’s a toss up. Perhaps I will cheat in this category and do two? Morning prayer and scripture study combined are likely to have the greatest impact on improving my health in all categories. For the non-Christians out there, a good alternative may be to add time for meditation to your daily routine.
Remember my love for cheeseburgers? Well, I don’t eat them at home. I eat them at my favorite restaurants. It turns out that eating out adds up when you have five other companions joining you. Meals out are pricey with our family size. Eating out is a huge weakness of mine. I would much rather spend money on eating a meal out with my family than buying myself a new outfit. I don’t even have the courage to admit to the amount of money spent from our budget on eating out. Let’s just say that I will cut down on our restaurant budget and frequency by at least 20%. Whew. That feels like a lot to swallow. I suppose with my burger cutback, this may happen naturally.
It’s as I suspected, improving something in one category has an affect on other categories. As mentioned in It’s a Habit!, the average length it takes for something to become a habit is 66 days. To help me with my goal, I just went and installed the app HabitBull on my smartphone. Only three of the five changes mentioned are really habit forming. I added the following habits to HabitBull: daily scripture study, daily morning prayer, and a one burger a week tracker. The yelling will be managed by the “Yell Jar” and the 20% cut in restaurant budget will be tracked through You Need A Budget (YNAB).
Wish me luck in helping me become who I want to be. Thankfully, like Oliver in As You Like It, I do believe that I can be converted, as I have seen changes already in my life from what I once was. What a remarkable thing it is to be able to grow and develop into something more than we are today. Think of all the opportunities that lay before you, if you just ask yourself, “Who do I want to be?,” and then strive to become that person.
A new year is upon us, so I took a moment to re-read my post stating my resolution for 2014, Bright New Year. By the end of the post I found myself getting choked up. I’m positively awful at keeping resolutions, to the point that sometimes I don’t make them at all. But, for the first time ever, I can confidently say that I kept my new year’s resolution. I’m not one to toot my own horn, but gosh darn it, I’m going to on this one. I made my year bright not because of fortunate circumstances, but because I made it bright in all circumstances. As a result, I have beautiful memories to show for it, despite the setbacks with health issues we encountered.
While I do have desires for a healthier body and financial situation, I’m going to make this year’s resolution broader, as I did last year. This year my goal is to have greater patience. I heard a very inspiring talk in church this past Sunday and it helped me better understand patience and my desire for more of it in my life. The speaker was referencing the scripture found in Hebrews 12:1 – Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. She then went on to discuss her confusion with the “run with patience” portion of the scripture. She spoke of her knowledge of the word patience meaning “to wait” and how running to wait didn’t make much sense to her. I happen to agree. But patience is more than that. Patience isn’t just about waiting. She went on to include a definition she had found in the book Word Meaning in the New Testament, which stated that, “patience is the quality that does not surrender to circumstance or succumb under trial.” Patience is strength and endurance. The reason this definition hit me is because it speaks of patience not being affected by circumstance. This echoes my 2014 resolution. It wasn’t just that I wanted a bright new year with ease. I wanted to make my new year bright despite the ease, because let’s face it, life is not easy. The same goes with patience. I don’t want to get greater patience by things being handed to me, I want to truly gain the strength and endurance that comes from being patient in all things. I say that now and I already fear what may come my way. In 2014, I had resolved to keep a bright outlook in all circumstances and I got challenged with having a stroke and finding a tumor. Who knows what may come with my desire to become more patient? I can’t help thinking of the meme I saw regarding patience, which read, “Bless me with patience…Not opportunities to be patient, I’ve had plenty of those and they don’t seem to be working. The actual patience…” And here I am hoping to gain true patience, which requires opportunities to exercise the attribute.
Without knowing what’s in store for 2015, my guess is that I will have to exercise patience predominantly with myself. I’m the type of person to do one workout and then race to the scale in hopes that I’ve magically gone down 5 lbs. Logical Sara knows that’s not how it works, but pathetically desperate Sara hopes that it is. I need to realize that becoming healthier physically and financially are not sprints, they are long distance runs. I guess that means I need to long-distance-run with patience. HAHAHA! I crack myself up. Seriously though, this is going to be quite the challenge for me. Patience has never been my strong suit, just ask my husband. Then, when 2015 comes to a close, we can ask him again and see if I’ve made any improvement.
If you are a patient person, please teach me your ways by leaving a comment of enlightenment. I know my husband is a patient person, but I have yet to figure out how he does it. He’s so laid back in general that it’s hard for me to comprehend. I wonder, are men generally more patient? Is greater patience only accomplished by greater opportunities to exercise it? I sure hope I’m not opening a can of worms in my efforts to be a little stronger this year than last.
Whatever your resolution is this coming year, I imagine it would be better accomplished with a little bit of patience on your side. So, be patient with yourself, with others, and with all circumstances. And remember, patience isn’t just about happily waiting but rather, “a quality that does not surrender to circumstance or succumb under trial.”
As I have shared previously in my posts (Stroke of Luck, The Truthiness About Strength, and Living Cheerfully Amidst Trials), I recently suffered from a stroke, which led to a serendipitous find of a tumor in my optic nerve. The tumor is currently deemed as stable, thankfully. What I had not previously shared is that the tumor’s location is indicative of a tumor disorder called Neurfibromatosis Type 1 (NF-1). The long and short of it is that it causes a person to get tumors along the nervous system. The spectrum of the tumor disorder ranges from a benign tumor that creates no pain to cancer and chemotherapy treatments. I handled all that news okay. It wasn’t until I put together the pieces that my daughter is showing the starting signs of this disorder and it is deemed much more dangerous for kids, that I became heartbroken. However, I’m not here to discuss the battle that my daughter may or may not face. What I wanted to share was some uplifting insight I had regarding events tied to this knowledge of hers and my health situation.
To understand my insight, you need to know that there is the potential for me to become blind and that my daughter may battle cancer before she’s eleven years-old. Those are our worst-case scenarios right now and neither are pleasant. That being said, I am currently not blind and my daughter currently does not have cancer. Right now we just have the possibility of such an outcome. Now, I have two options. Option #1- I sit here and worry about the possibility of the worst-case-scenario outcomes and hypothesize how long before things start to deteriorate in each of our bodies. In essence, I worry senselessly but try to pawn it off as though I’m just preparing myself for the future. Option #2 – I let my worry go and embrace the able body and mind that she and I currently have. In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m opting for the latter. I was having this discussion with a friend of mine and she shared with me this awesome quote by Michael J. Fox that speaks to this matter, “Don’t spend a lot of time imagining the worst-case scenario. It rarely goes down as you imagine it will, and if by some fluke it does, you will have lived it twice.” This quote from a man who has suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for over twenty years and still continues his role as an actor and, now, an advocate for the disease. Proof that we can’t let our worst-case scenarios keep us from living to our full potential.
This came to my mind again yesterday, as I drove my daughter three hours to the closest pediatric specialists available. My daughter has become terrified of doctors ever since she underwent her second eye surgery two years ago. As a result, my husband and I did tell her that they might need to do some tests, but we did not tell her that the tests would include them drawing her blood. We didn’t see the point in having her worry about it for days. I finally told her in the lab waiting room and as soon as her name was called she went into panic mode. I physically dragged her into the lab, fought to get her jacket off, braced her down in my arms, and stayed strong while she yelled at me, “MOM! LET ME GO!” Once the needle was in and she realized that it wasn’t that bad, she immediately calmed down and said, “Sorry; I was scared. It was my first time.” I had tried so desperately to explain to her that she was making it worse by freaking out and that it wasn’t nearly as bad as she thought it would be, but she just couldn’t believe me. I even tried to reference the last time she freaked out at the doctors when her eyes needed to be dilated. I reminded her that her tantrum then didn’t change the fact the dilation was going to happen, just as this blood draw was going to happen regardless. She could either go about it calmly or freak out and make it worse. Unfortunately, she chose the latter, but she assures me she will not freak out next time.
These events served as a confirmation that I don’t want to waste time worrying about the worst-case scenario. I fell into this trap before when I was mourning my mom’s death while she was still alive. I was wasting time fretting about how I wouldn’t survive once she was gone, instead of enjoying all the beautiful time that I still had left with her. I’m thankful that I learned this lesson then, so that it could prepare me for the situation I currently find myself in now, where it would be so easy to cry over the possibility of me going blind and not see the life I currently live before me (pun intended). My goal is to somehow instill this same lesson in my children’s hearts and hopefully save them some angst down the line.
This way of thinking has proved freeing for me. I worry about the future from time to time, just as the next person, but somewhere along the way, I learned to embrace the present as well. Right now, my daughter does not have cancer and I can see the world around me and that is a glorious feeling. And if, by chance, she does get cancer and I do go blind, at least I can take comfort in knowing that I didn’t waste the time leading up to those events. Plus, I will hopefully have gained a better understanding of the power of a positive attitude and use that strength in whatever battle me or my loved ones will have to face.
I have to laugh. The quote that’s been on my mind lately is Steve Maraboli’s quote that, “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” I’m sure you could guess why that quote has been on my mind based on my post from last week A Stroke of Luck. I had full intentions of writing a post around this quote, only to find that I already did a similar post back in June called Strength and Purpose from Our Trials, which compliments and references yet ANOTHER post Finding Happiness Amongst Trials. You think maybe I have a strong opinion on the matter of trials in our lives? I guess it’s a good point of view to have, as many people have been telling me that I’m such a strong person in regards to my recent news. The remarks got me thinking though, what qualifies someone as strong, as I certainly don’t consider myself such a person?
In trying to answer that question for myself, I analyzed how I was handling all the events of the past couple weeks. I still came up without answers. So, I decided to contemplate how a weak person handles things? Perhaps I don’t know a weak person to reference, as I was still stumped. Does a weak person cry? If so, then I am weak, as I sobbed hysterically when they told me I had had a stroke. I saw no point crying over the prospect of the tumor, as it’s level of concern had not yet been determined. As a side note, I have since received word that my tumor did appear on the MRI from two years ago and is the same size now as it was then. This means that the tumor is deemed as stable and I will now receive annual MRIs to ensure it stays that way. So, you see, there was no sense in crying. I was worried, of course, but I think that’s understandable. I imagine a weaker person worries. This leaves me 2 for 2 in the weak department. However, people kept telling me I was strong. Is that just something someone says to make you feel like you can handle the scariness of the unknown? I genuinely wanted to know so I asked a dear friend of mine her thoughts. As any kind friend would, she said lots of nice things about me and indicated that I was, in fact, strong. Her thinking was that I had been through a lot in my life thus far and didn’t seem to let it get me down. I also got remarks about how some marveled that I would be out and about doing stuff so soon after my baby was born and shortly after the stroke and tumor news. So, I’m deducing a positive outlook and movement is the sign of a strong person.
So, lets talk about a positive attitude. I hardly consider myself an optimist. That’s always been my husband’s role in our relationship. I rarely think positive when it comes to matters of my own. But I am quick to see the best case scenario for someone else. Does anybody else do this? The times when I do feel at peace or seem to have an it’s-all-gonna-be-okay attitude are when I have spent much time on my knees in prayer. My positive attitude comes from answered prayers and the comfort and love felt from my Heavenly Father and my dear friends and family. It is not my own doing. And, if I do seem to have a positive outlook on a difficult event in my life, it is because I believe 100% that every trial I have faced has made me stronger for the next. Maraboli’s quote is truthiness. And, in case you’re wondering, truthiness is a word. Go ahead and click on the word for proof. Thanks, Stephen Colbert, for getting this word officially added to the dictionary. It should have been there all along and that’s truthiness. Alas, I digress. Oops. I just realized that if Maraboli’s quote is truthiness, which it is, then I am strong; or at least stronger. I am not stronger from any magical thing that I am doing. I am stronger by enduring each trial. This means that each of us grows stronger day by day with each hit we take and get back up from afterwards. Certainly, I am not the only one experiencing trials in life.
Although, I imagine the key to becoming stronger after a trial would be the whole get-back-up part. This brings me to the topic of movement as a sign of strength. Yes, I have been doing my best to keep moving as though nothing has happened. Who wouldn’t? A full recovery from a stroke tends to bring the marvelous abilities of a healthy body in to perspective. Just being able to sign your name or brush your teeth seems to have a whole new appreciation. So, yes, I’m going to get out there and use this full-recovery-stroke body I have. That’s one reason that I keep moving. The other reason that I keep moving may seem confusing to someone who considers themselves as weaker. I’ve spoken to a couple people on this matter and they told me that if it were them they would just hide in their home. Well, I suppose hiding in their home would be the method that would bring them comfort. The thing with me is that hiding in my home tends to bring me down. I don’t go out and do do do because I’m strong. I go out and do because that is my medicine. That’s what I have to do for myself to keep my sanity when life has me down. I will admit that there are many times that I do choose to hide in my home and let myself throw my very own pity party. I am quite good at hiding out so no one has to deal with Debbie Downer Sara when the time comes. But, overall, if I want to feel better, getting out and moving is my therapy, because life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. Thanks, Albert Einstein, for that quote. Oh, and thanks for all that other cool physics stuff you came up with too. Much obliged.
So, if the conclusion is that strength comes from a positive outlook and moving, then I am surrounded by people that are stronger than they realize. Because aren’t we all trying to survive the challenges of the day? Sometimes our days have harder challenges than others and sometimes we handle our challenges gracefully and sometimes we sit and pout. However, I think if you’re facing each day, then you’ve got enough positive attitude left in you to believe that things can improve and you’ve got enough movement in you to give that day’s challenges a go. And, as life tends to do, things do improve and the movements become easier. Then you’ve done it, you’ve come out stronger and more resilient. So, while I still contest my being strong, I do consider myself stronger. And that’s the truthiness about strength.
Perhaps you noticed that I did not publish a post last week, perhaps you did not. I noticed. It wasn’t for lack of wanting to, it was because I had something quite big to process myself. I’ve debated on how to share this bit of news with the public world. I thought of keeping it light, I thought of going in deep, and I tried to figure out if there was an in between. I’m opting for “in between” for now. I took this same approach on my family blog years ago regarding my Mom’s battle with cancer. It wasn’t until her final days that I switched over in to “deep” mode. Perhaps one day I will change my mind, but for now, the following post is somewhere in between the full spectrum of what we’ve experienced over the past couple weeks.
As you know, we had a baby boy. He’s perfect. He is by far the most mellow baby we have ever had, which is saying a lot since our second daughter was immensely chill as well. He was over 24 hours old before we even heard him cry. He is still such a sweet little baby. Hopefully he is not lulling us into a false sense of security. Here he is on what would have been his due date. Instead, he was already 1 week and 6 days old when this picture was taken.
The first week following his birth consisted of a couple days of getting in to a new routine as a family of six and a couple days of adventure. I like to keep moving, so adventure is as much a part of my healing process as a good nap is.
On the eve of our little man turning one week old, my mother-in-law flew in to town to meet our newest addition. I was originally scheduled to be induced on the Saturday that our son turned one week old. My mother-in-law was in town to help with that process. Instead, she ended up helping with something we could not have possibly anticipated would happen.
On Sunday, July 20, at 6:05 PM, I walked in to my kitchen to help my husband and mother-in-law prepare for our celebration of National Ice-Cream Day. I tried to say something and I couldn’t get the word out. Then I began to apologize for my lack of ability to talk and couldn’t get my tongue to work. It was as though my tongue weighed a hundred pounds and had swelled up in seconds. I tried to say, “What the heck?” The next thing I know, my husband is rushing towards me and my mother-in-law has pulled up a chair for me to sit. I’m aware of something happening to me, I’m just not sure what. I flash back to two years prior when I had what was then deemed as a stress-induced seizure. Now, as this is all going down and I begin to cry and panic, I can hear my husband telling me, “You’re not alone. You’re not alone. You’ve been under stress. This is a stress-induced episode. You’re not alone.” My husband runs me through a series of tests they give in the Emergency Department to determine if you’re having a stroke. I struggle to perform most of the requested actions and fail at the others that I assumed I was passing with flying colors. I am now aware that my mother-in-law is trying to get my kids upstairs and spare them from the scene. I feel my speech slowly start to return and try to shake off the whole episode, as my husband debates back and forth as to whether or not I need to go to the hospital. I try to maintain my composure and keep things looking and sounding normal, but my husband notices my feeble attempts at normalcy and soon I am on my way to the Emergency Department, where my husband works as a Registered Nurse.
As my husband walks me into triage, he says the right words that get me a bed immediately. It’s not long before a doctor is running me through the same stroke tests that my husband ran at home, I have an IV in my arm, and I’m off to get what would be my first MRI of three. At this point, I’m vacillating between keeping it light with jokes and being terrified of the events of the evening. Moments after returning from my MRI, the doctor comes in to inform me that I have had a stroke. All my fears are confirmed and I began to bawl my eyes out. My husband assures me everything is okay. I respond through sobs with, “No, it’s not. It’s not okay. This is not okay.” The doctor has since walked out to give us some time to process everything. Once I’m calmed down, my husband steps out to review the MRI firsthand and doesn’t come back with a look that tells me that everything is okay. I later see this picture of the damage from my stroke (indicated by the white portion of my brain) and marvel at the size proportionate to my full recovery. A full recovery that still managed to buy me a couple days on the IMCU floor.
But, as I mentioned, I still underwent two more MRI’s. I had to have a second one in an effort to find the actual clot. No clot was found. Unfortunately, what was found was a tumor in my left optic nerve. Yes, a tumor. A tumor which called for a third MRI to get further answers. However, the third MRI did not give them sufficient answers. The real problem with this discovery is that even the doctors currently don’t know what to make of it. It could be something that is really slow growing, like really really slow-growing, and I’ve had it since my youth. Or, it could be malignant and then I have a completely different battle ahead of me. So, do you remember me saying I had a stress-induced episode a couple years ago? It was not to this caliber, but it did earn me an MRI back then. An MRI that will now likely hold the answers to the level of concern that this tumor will be for my future. If that old MRI shows no sign of this tumor, I’m in trouble. If there is an indication of a tumor being there previously, then we know it’s growing quite slow and is not an issue. So, now we play the waiting game. We’re waiting for the snail mail to deliver my previous MRI images to my new Ophthalmologist. A waiting game that is getting tiresome for both my husband and myself.
As I mentioned before, I am giving you the “in between” version. It may come as a surprise, but I can bore you with more hypotheses, concerns, and details, but this seems like sufficient details for now. I just have some closing thoughts to offer on the matter.
Customarily, I try not to get too spiritual or religious on this blog, but I would be lying if I didn’t say how many tender mercies from my Heavenly Father that I have witnessed in these events. Honestly, there are almost too many to mention. The things I am most grateful for are that my mother-in-law happened to be in town to help with the kids, my husband was at home during the stroke to evaluate me, that I was able to have a stroke with a full recovery that gave us this serendipitous finding that will provide us with a fighting chance if it comes to that, and that I had an episode two years ago that will hopefully provide clarification on what we’re dealing with now. For those that do not believe in a Higher Being, I am sure these are just considered coincidences. For me, I know of a surety that these blessings are directly from a Father in Heaven who knows and loves me. These events, as with each struggle I’ve endured, have reconfirmed my testimony in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I also feel the need to reiterate in this post the thoughts that I shared in my previous post Living a Life with Laughter. I can’t stress enough how important laughter is in physically and emotionally healing from difficult events. Friends and family seemed shocked at how well I was handling everything. While I had moments that left me overcome with emotion, I just kept repeating to myself the quote by Marjorie Pay Hinckley, “The only way to get through life is to laugh your way though it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.”
This post may have left you with more questions than answers. I feel your pain. Our family has been left with so many unanswered questions that all we are left to do is have faith that our Heavenly Father’s hand will continue to be in our lives going forward as it has been thus far. I know for me, personally, I feel beyond blessed that I am home with my family and currently able to care for them in the manner in which I always have been. I feel great joy in counting my many blessings.