It’s interesting being so depressed.

I had this funny thought the other day as I baked peanut butter cookies with Ellie. I put the cookies in the oven for the directed amount of time, but when I went to take them out, the cookies were still gooey (and trust me, I am a gooey cookie aficionado, but I also don’t want salmonella, so there’s that).

I kept having to pull the cookies out, prod them, then pop them back in the oven. And I thought, I am just like these cookies. Take me out of the oven, and I can pass for okay at first glance. But on closer inspection, I’m half-baked. Gooey. Not safe for consumption.

I am two disparate sides of a coin. Flat and spirited. Disheartened and hopeful. Lost but grounded. I am a balloon that some kid has set forth into the sky on some mission, and I have no idea where I am going to end up.

I am not where I thought I would be at this point in my life. I am not where I have worked to be at this juncture. This is not what I wanted for my family–for my daughter.

Yes, it is depressing. Yes, I am depressed.


And that’s okay.

Every morning I walk Ellie to school in whatever I can find to throw on. Then I go back home, eat, work out, shower, put actual clothes on, and get to work (or class).

And every day I wonder what gives me the gumption to actually put my pants on in the morning (apart from the odd looks I would get if I didn’t–and probably the public nudity citation). Because honestly, I don’t usually want to. I don’t want to put jeans on. I don’t want to do data entry. I don’t want to get off the couch. I don’t want to take the dog out. I don’t want to put dishes away (again). I don’t want to re-write that paper.

Often, I have to tuck these thoughts away and just be okay with the not wanting to, and with the doing it anyway. Flipping the autopilot switch on if necessary.

I know somehow that this won’t last forever. That sometimes the only way out is through. One foot in front of the other and all that. I don’t take that for granted–that insight gives me privilege. It does not, however, make the day to day easier.

What does are the little things, which in the end add up to be the big things. The things that make life not a monotone palette of grays but a complicated rainbow.

Walking into Ellie’s room every morning and seeing her (usually) smiling face. Biking to campus, feeling the crisp fall air and watching the fall leaves flutter through the sky. Seeing glimpses of my dad in Ellie’s mannerisms and goofy attitude. Supportive messages from friends (and let’s be honest, sometimes just inappropriate gifs are sufficient). The smell of a pumpkin candle. Getting lost in a good book. Sweating through another workout or run even when I didn’t want to.

These little/big things add some balance where it is needed. They keep me from floating too far away.

I know this is the path called life, and life does not owe me anything. It is up to me to traverse the bumps and roadblocks, and it is a choice I make. I am okay with this, and if you are struggling through your own circumstances, I want you to know that you can also be okay (one day).

I often feel like there are two of me–one slogging through the mud and the other just up ahead and around the corner, reaching out a hand. If you also need a hand, I’d like to give you one.

I can’t say that I know what I’m doing, but we can walk together and figure it out.



My Reflection

Twenty-five was a good birthday. You know how some years are just better than others, at least as you reflect on them? Of course, every year has its ups and downs, but some just shine brighter in our memories.

Highlights from my 25th birthday glitter in my mind. Tacos. Karaoke. Beer (okay, probably too much beer). Friends. Possibilities.

I was about to embark on (what I thought was) my last year of grad school. My “job” consisted of spending time with a remarkable young man with autism, and he and his family grew to be very dear to me (and continue to be).

The future rolled out before me like an infinity pool, the water just begging me to dip my toes in,  as it does on a hot summer day.


I didn’t know that at 26, I would be engaged. Married at 27. That my dad would die when I was 29. That I would almost die at 30. That I would give birth to Ellie at 32. That I would be separated at 34.

No, the future was uncertain, but I was a good blend of hopeful, idealistic, and naive. Maybe that’s the way we should be in our early 20s.

My dad used to say that he didn’t understand the person staring back in the mirror. That his reflection belied how he felt inside. He was certainly a kid at times, trapped in a 63 year old body that would never see 64. I can only hope and wish, during the desperate dark times that I allow myself to reflect on the night he died, that he was already long gone, maybe looking at a different reflection.

When I look in the mirror now, I see streaks of white hair that I just can’t bring myself to hide. My belly is softer now and may always be, due maybe to my propensity for eating chocolate covered almonds every day but more likely because I spent over nine months growing a fantastic, wonderful, terrible, kind, considerate, tenacious human being who is somehow now two years old.

I see a woman who, for the first time in eight years, will not be celebrating her birthday with her husband.

I see someone who was focused so much on the surviving the hurricane that she couldn’t see the cracks in the foundation of her house.

We made it through the storm alive, but we lost our shelter. How do you rebuild after a disaster? Can you?

The world I knew before has been slowly but steadily shrinking. But when I feel the weight of that realization, I can’t also help but think that my world has expanded, buoyed by the support and love of friends both old and new.

I drink in every moment I have with this tiny human who reminds me to pause and appreciate the ants on the sidewalk, the ice cream dribbling down a waffle cone, the glory of jumping barefoot into a sandbox. Mindfulness is just the way that Ellie lives, always present.


I don’t know how I will look back on my 35th birthday in 10 years. That’s okay. It is okay to live week to week, or day to day. Even moment to moment when it’s necessary. Sometimes when I run or bike up a particularly steep hill, I stop looking ahead and just focus on the ground right in front of me.

I am focusing on the reflection in front of me. What is in my control, and what is not.

Thirty-five is not within my control. How I treat the person I see in the mirror is.

You’re the Problem

When you have a goal, how do you measure progress?

In my personal and working life, I tend to be goal oriented. I like to have well defined, measurable goals and an idea of how to mark my progress toward those goals. I don’t need someone to hold my hand, and I prefer not to be micro-managed. I much prefer for someone to tell me what they want and when they expect it, and then let me do it. Consistency is my safe, happy place, and I tend to get flustered and somewhat crotchety with change. My dad was the same way. Every time I can recall ever needing his help with something, I got the same response, “Just tell me what you need.”

Recently, I accomplished a short term goal of running 5 miles in the Bull City Race Fest. When I picked up running again back in the summer, I thought I was pretty bad ass when I was able to run five full minutes again. At the time, I just wanted to make it through the Couch 2 5K app and call it a day. As I progressed in my fitness and stamina, I began to actually enjoy running again. As I’ve written here before, pounding the pavement with just my legs and my music became somewhat addicting. That’s not to say that every run was easy, but most were enjoyable. I found the more I got into running, the more I got the same high I get after a great ride on my horse – the high of not thinking about anything else in the world except what I am doing right at that moment. It’s really a high of nothingness – just being purely in the moment. Since I am always thinking, rushing and planning, I value these moments – this time of nothingness.

On my horse, it could be focusing on not collapsing my hip so I can achieve a perfect leg yield, or it could be working to ensure that I sit back and patiently wait for my horse to jump instead of attempting to get ahead of myself (which I often do). When I’m running, it’s all about just putting one foot in front of the other, literally. Sometimes, I think about my alignment – making sure that I don’t swing my foot out too wide and hurt my knee. Or making sure that I keep picking my feet up for a clear stride even when I’m tired. Other than that, it’s just me and the road and my music.

Riding and running goals are very measurable and allow for constant progress. In riding, you never stop learning. I’ve been riding for 11 years, and I feel like I’m just now scratching the surface of learning to ride effectively.

In jumping, you can set your goals as high as you’re willing to jump. I’ve set a low bar and consider any time I come away from my jumping lessons still on the horse a wonderful achievement. However, the same goes for dressage, my other passion in riding. I can measure my progress and how well my mare and I are doing by competing from level to level and determining if our scores are on the right track. Similarly, running allows for endless goal setting – now that I have accomplished the 5 mile race, I’ve set my sights on the Tar Heel 10 Miler next April, which seems reasonable. Who knows – maybe this time next year, I can aim for the half-marathon. Never did I think that would be possible, and now it doesn’t seem so unfathomable.

And yet, I am back to my original question, this time with a twist.

When you have a goal, how do you measure progress – when the outcome is nebulous?

What do I mean by this?

Like I said, certain activities and goals in life are solid, well defined – easy to assess progress and whether or not you ultimately achieve your goal. Either you showed you horse at First Level and achieved your goal of scoring 65% or not. Either you ran the entire 5 mile race without walking or you didn’t. This suits people like me who thrive on consistency and a definite outcome.

After my injury, there was no question that I wanted to get back to being 100%. My goal was to speak and feel as if I had never been injured. I thought for sure I could accomplish this in six months. After all, I am young, in decent physical shape, and more than that – I work hard when I want something.

When that “deadline” came and went, I set my sights on a year. The twelve month mark seemed do-able; moreover, it was a very neat, clean timeline. As if my body would re-set itself after a year like the calendar re-sets every New Year’s Day.

Clearly, I wasn’t being realistic, and I wasn’t being fair to myself. It took me a long time to realize that other, more meaningful milestones were passing me by as I kept my focus so very narrow. I thought setting the goal to return to 100% was admirable, but in reality, I was setting myself up for disappointment if I never achieved it.

And what exactly is 100%, anyway? I guess it means different things to different people. But for a time, I was like Sisyphus – rolling my boulder up the hill every day and feeling run over every time I perceived myself to be making an error.

I finally realized that my problem, really, wasn’t my injury. It wasn’t my speech. It wasn’t the wonky sensory issues on my right side. It was me. When was I going to stop and let myself be enough?

When was I going to let life be enough?

I had a very striking moment of humility (again) yesterday. Paul and I went to a tasty local bakery for breakfast. Even though there was not much of a wait to order, there were no tables available. It was a cold, blustery day – fairly fitting for the first day of November – and our prospects for enjoying our biscuits inside were looking dim. As Paul opened the door to go outside and sit, I dropped the butter on my plate (it went crashing ceremoniously to the floor) and seemingly my ability to be a mature adult.

After muttering a couple of expletives (under my breath or so I thought), I made it clear to Paul that I did not want to sit outside. This was not the vision I had in my head when I suggested breakfast out on this gray November morning. Instead, I envisioned Paul and I sipping on hot chocolate at a cozy table, eating warm biscuits and watching the leaves dance outside – this reality did NOT match what I had wanted. I felt like a temperamental five year old.

As soon as we set our plates down outside, an older lady got up and stuck her head outside. “Come on inside, it’s too cold to sit outside, and we’re just leaving.”

I literally felt my head hang in shame at this act of kindness – perhaps they were really about to leave anyway, but it didn’t matter. I got the picture.

Reality – it doesn’t always meet our expectations. Actually, it frequently doesn’t. But mostly, we’re the problem when it doesn’t, because we have the choice of how to proceed when our goals or hopes don’t align with reality.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept, it just means we shouldn’t be so narrow in our focus. I will always strive to improve in whatever I do, and I’ll also always just be human and prone to imperfection. But, I will resolve to appreciate again the doors that have been opened for me.

Enabling: It’s Disabling

A few weeks ago, some girlfriends and I ventured on a beach getaway. That Saturday, while cooling off from a few hours in the sun, we somehow ended up watching several episodes of a show called My 600 Pound Life. It seemed only natural to munch on the Krispy Kreme doughnuts we had procured the night before. Before we knew it, we had been sucked in to a downward spiral of television watching. Much like watching a car crash, we couldn’t seem to turn away. Or change the channel. 

A common theme prevailed: either the subject of the show was ready to make a change, or she wasn’t. Sure, most people say they want to change (something – it doesn’t have to be a weight thing), but we all know that it’s easy to say or wish or think about change. It’s much harder to actually do it – to make the change happen. 

Frequently, those on the show who weren’t truly ready to change–to adopt a new lifestyle–were surrounded by people who enabled them to stay mired in their habits. To stay stuck in their comfort zone. Many times, the enablers were family members, and they didn’t know any other way. Or they couldn’t stand to see their loved one struggling. So, of course, it makes sense to bring McDonalds to someone who is grossly overweight and bedridden. 

This is an extreme example, sure. But in my experience, it’s not all that far fetched to say the same type of enabling occurs in other ways. And again, it all stems from the family member or friend not just wanting to help but to avoid the inevitable–the frustration, the heartache, the difficulty–of change.

The first post I wrote when I started this blog was called “Let Me Finish!”. At the time, I spoke in very halting sentences and often took a very long time to finish my thoughts. People would frequently want to help me out by finishing my sentences. But what they didn’t realize was that they weren’t helping me at all. They meant well, of course. But they were actually hindering my recovery, because the only way I was going to become faster and more fluent was just doing it myself–no matter how long it took. 

Additionally, when I first began using my phone and computer again, I frequently misspelled words or else completely left them out. My aphasia made it very difficult for me to string words together in a way that made sense, even though in my head, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I have heard this example many times throughout my recovery, but having aphasia is akin to have all your words–your “files”–overturned and jumbled around in your brain. 

Now, mind you, I have always been an avid reader and writer at heart. I typically was also quite compulsive about correct spelling and grammar. Obviously, suddenly not being able to make sense with written or typed words drove me crazy. I immediately began to ask Paul to review and correct all my texts and posts. He indulged me at first but soon wised up after our first meeting at TAP. He then agreed to read my work but refused to correct anything that was wrong.

Not surprisingly, this development was hard to take. I would stare for what felt like hours at whatever I had written, trying to figure out if it was sensical and correct. And yet, it was exactly what I needed. By using Paul as my editor and lifeline, I was never going to learn how to recognize what needed to be corrected. By refusing to enable me, Paul actually helped me quickly recover my propensity for writing and honed my eye in order to carefully QC my own work, something I still have to do today.

Another way in which Paul stopped enabling me was refusing to order food for me in public. It seems very basic, but that was so key in my recovery. I live in downtown Durham, which means I am within biking distance to some of the tastiest food the state (dare I say, the entire South) has to offer. Not being comfortable speaking in public, even if it was only to order my egg and cheese bagel from Monuts, was disheartening. 

To be honest, when you have a language impairment, talking in public is really intimidating. Now, of course, I have made so much progress that I don’t hesitate. But at the time, it was scary as hell. I really just preferred to hide in the corner and have Paul speak for me. But, obviously this didn’t correlate well to my goal of getting better. In order to get better and more comfortable speaking in public, I sort of had to…speak in public. Plus, Paul started to refuse to speak for me. So that was that.

I suspect sometimes that people with similar impairments seek the easy way out, at least initially like I did, because (surprise) change is hard–more than that, change is painful.

You can’t go from 0 to 60 the first time out. Sometimes, all you can do is to take a walk down to the mailbox and go back inside. Then the next day, maybe you take a few more steps. But the point is, you still have to take those first few steps. No one else can do it for you. You can’t write a book without first writing a basic sentence. 

But, one thing I have learned for sure over the past year is that it is never too late to make a change. No matter what that change is. Improvement is always possible, though it may not come as quickly as we’d like.

Change starts with learning how to advocate for yourself and how to recognize the best avenue to improvement, even if it’s difficult. Change starts with taking that walk or re-learning how to order that bagel sandwich. Or by sending a simple text. Change starts by taking ownership of your goals and recognizing your weaknesses. 

Now I’m off to order my own beer, thanks.

An(other) Inconvenient Truth

Death, much like sex, is still a taboo topic of conversation.

Oh sure, we like to watch it. Just turn on the TV. Heck, I have turned watching Forensic Files into a nightly bedtime ritual. Or maybe you ate dinner last night, half listening to a news story about another bomb in Gaza. Absentmindedly chewing your chicken, thinking about your weekend plans while the news anchor drones on about another school shooting or chemical weapons in Syria.

Yes, we are surrounded by death every day, but most of the time, we remain insulated from the reality of actually experiencing it close to home, save for the kinds of deaths that occur with the passage of time and in their rightful order: the loss of a grandparent; a beloved pet; an elderly relative. No, these kinds of losses are not easy, but we accept that they are bound to happen eventually–one of the natural consequences of time.

Yet, why is it that we never talk about or seem to accept the fact that our own death is a natural part of living? It’s sort of like pretending that abstinence is the only appropriate lifestyle to teach our children in school. As a large number of teenage moms can probably tell you, there has to be a better way to address these sometimes uncomfortable topics.

I’m not saying that the next time you’re out with friends, you should have a will signing party. I’m just saying that it’s time to stop avoiding what is, in fact, a very unavoidable part of life.

I mean really, we have books like, “Everyone Poops.”

I guess the sequel, “Everyone Dies,” probably wouldn’t fly off the shelves, huh?

If I have learned anything over the past two years–first from my father’s sudden and unexpected death to what could have been my own–it’s that yes, death in and of itself just plain sucks. Of course it sucks. But it flat out sucks even worse when you have no idea what you want–both for yourself and for people whom you love dearly.

On October 13, 2012, I had to make the most difficult decision of my life–the decision not to resuscitate my dad should the need arise. He had been in the hospital for just over two weeks, and the latest CT scan showed an additional bleed in his brain. A very kind doctor sat me down, showed me the scan, and talked to me honestly about my dad’s prospect for recovery.

I then had to ask myself what kind of life my dad would want for himself should he ever regain consciousness. My dad was my buddy; I knew him very well, and I was certain that he would not wish for the type of life he would experience should he wake up. Making that decision–though it was the right one–was the single most terrible moment of my life.

And you see, my dad never talked about what he wanted for himself. He never said, “If I should have a terrible stroke and lose all prospects for recovery, please let me go.” Instead, I had to place my faith in how well I knew him. But, would I have breathed a little easier if we had talked about it? If he had made his wishes clear? I would like to think so. Somehow, just knowing that you are carrying through with someone’s clearly stated wishes, provides more of a sense of purpose.

As for myself, Paul and I signed our new wills and health care power of attorney the day before my last surgery. While we both knew the risks associated with my cranioplasty were much lower than my initial craniotomy after the accident, we also didn’t want to take any chances. I was very clear in what I wanted for myself.

Yesterday, I took the day off work and drove down to the radio station and tower building to do some cleaning up. That way, Paul and I could still have the weekend at home.

When I pull up to the station, I always feel a little tug.


The yard is sparse and weedy. Clearly, it is untended, as my dad was its sole caretaker. Inside, dust and debris seems to collect even though no one really walks through the door much anymore. I had packed a lunch, and as I ate my peanut and jelly and applesauce (because apparently I’m 12) in the half empty lobby, I thought about how much work death really is.

First, it is mental work, because the grieving process is ever present and evolving. And if that wasn’t enough to deal with, it socks you in the gut again with all the “arrangements” and “business matters.” If you thought running a radio station was complicated, imagine trying to clean up after 40 plus years of memories and a lifetime dedicated to work.

One of the other most important things I have learned in this process–this process of learning about life and death–is that your stuff doesn’t go with you.

I know, it seems obvious, doesn’t it? But how many of you are holding on to boxes of junk you can’t bear to throw out but haven’t opened in weeks, months or years?

Yesterday, I found a box full of my childhood school papers. I had to stop myself from getting nostalgic. While I immediately wanted to go through every single thing, I took a step back and reminded myself that these things have been stuffed away in this box for a couple of decades, and life has gone on.

I’m not saying that certain mementos aren’t special. I’m just saying that just know–holding on to every single thing that holds some sort of meaning or perceived significance is fairly pointless. You make memories with people that you love  and via experiences – not things. When I am 80, if I am lucky enough to live that long, I doubt I will feel cheated that I threw away my high school yearbooks.

At home, I have slowly begun to shed the things I don’t regularly use. The process is freeing.

My perspective has gradually but definitely been changing. Perhaps this is just growing up? Regardless, the point is that by accepting the inevitable in life–which is scary, yes–you truly allow yourself to begin appreciating what you do have. What’s really important.

And by being clear in what you want for yourself, you just might save those who love you some heartache.

Because I Can

I still remember my first cross country practice in high school. It was the summer before freshman year, and I’d never really done much running before. At first, I was more concerned with the cute guys on the team than the actual running. The first practice was held at a local park that had a very flat, simple trail. Run a mile down, run a mile back. Easy peasy, right? My screaming lungs and legs begged to differ.

I struggled my way through my first few races, and then at some point, something clicked in my mind. I began to like running, and it became much easier.

It became–dare I even say it–enjoyable.

I even became somewhat competitive, though I was never going to be a star athlete. By the time I entered senior year, I was in the best shape of my life (well, who isn’t at 17?).

When I got to college, I tried to maintain my relationship with running. But then I found riding, which quickly became an all consuming passion. Running slowly faded to the wayside, an old habit I tried to pick back up every now and then but that otherwise sat around, dusty and neglected.

Years later, I often thought about trying to reignite my relationship with running. But as is often the case, I let excuses get in the way. I knew that I should be more active, but it was easy to convince myself that my riding alone was doing it. But let’s be honest, I’m no trainer. I’m not riding five horses a day, six days a week. I needed something more.

Even after my dad’s death and my  own accident, I had a difficult time re-asserting my desire to change. Here I had two very big life changing events occur:

  1. My dad’s death from a catastrophic stroke despite losing a significant amount of weight and leading a pretty healthy lifestyle. Not helped in any way by his diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes a few years earlier.
  2. My accident – a very real reminder that I only have one brain, one body, and one life.

The day I started running again, nothing significant happened. Similar to any other major life change, you can’t force it. Trying to force change into some pre-molded idea or timeframe is a recipe for failure. First, you must actually want to change. And then you have to be willing to do it.

One day a few weeks ago, I just decided I was ready. So I started running again. Cue the Forrest Gump quotes, because I just felt like running.

This time, I set myself up for success. Similar to my rehab over the last year, or even the grief process of losing my dad, I knew it might be slow going. I downloaded the Couch to 5K app, and I just went out and started.

This time, running came back to me like an old buddy. Maybe it was all the riding I’ve been doing or the biking Paul and I have been enjoying around Durham, but I came away from each workout feeling refreshed.

Hold on, what? Did I just say I ran and felt refreshed? Who am I?!

Over the next few weeks, I felt more energetic and actually began to see my productivity in other areas improve, as well. I felt a little more positive. I did a little more each day. Hell, just Monday I worked, rode two horses, and mowed the yard just because I felt like it.

I took the past week off due to some unfortunate knee issues but was back at it today. Something about having come through the past two years alive – just out there on the street, sweating and pounding the pavement…well, it just feels good. Just me and my headphones and the city. Knowing that despite all it’s been though, my body can still rally and carry me around – it’s an oddly exhilarating feeling.

A couple of weeks ago, we were at the beach (for enjoyment, for once) and I took a run out on the beach. It took me back to my training in high school. We spent all summer at the beach, so pretty much each day, I headed out for a run on the beach or around the neighborhood. Often, I would see my dad out riding his bike.

On this particular day as I was returning from my run, I saw a young girl out for a run, accompanied by her dad on his bike. A very tangible sense of nostalgia came over me. To think about the things that were – and the things that are now.

At any rate, it really doesn’t matter if you run or choose to enjoy a different activity. The thing is – we seem to be so focused on loss as a society. We talk so much about eating less, losing weight, etc.

Instead, can we focus on what we gain when we choose to be more active because we can? Because we appreciate the way our body works and we want to feel better and enjoy it more?

There is a very simple kind of joy that can be found in your own strength, and you don’t need to run a marathon to find it.

Stage 5: Acceptance

At some point over the winter, I stopped wearing makeup. Now, I never wore a ton to begin with, but I still felt naked leaving the house without at least a swipe of powder. I never had the best complexion, and I was self-conscious.

Just after New Years, my face was angry. My body was angry. And my mind was angry. I had accomplished some big milestones–I flew to Texas for a work meeting and presented in front of a large group of (sometimes intimidating) people. Paul and I finally got my parents’ old house cleaned out and listed for sale. And I had competed in my first dressage show in almost three years.

But I was tired. Really, really tired. Not from a lack of sleep, really, but just from being bone tired. I had been carrying around so much stress internally that I felt like I was going to lose it, and it showed, both in the way I felt and the way I looked.

I’ve never been afraid to ask for help, but I’ve always tried to do things on my own first. I actually think considering the past year and a half, I did pretty damn well. But, it was time to wave the white flag. I got to work making some appointments for myself.

So somewhere along the way, as I stopped to take care of my body and mind, I stopped wearing makeup. It was weird at first. It had always just been a part of my routine. Shower, get dressed, makeup, go. Suddenly, my routine got a lot simpler. And that was odd at first.

But then it became natural. Sure, there is absolutely nothing wrong with makeup. But suddenly, I was enough. I didn’t need it to feel put together.

Acceptance. It’s not just about accepting other people. It’s also about accepting who you are.

For me, it’s been a long process.

I am now a girl with a speech disorder, and that’s alright. Please note, I didn’t say it was fun. But it’s okay. It’s just who I am.

Many people wear their physical scars proudly–as a testament to strength and recovery from some traumatic event. I think of my apraxia in the same fashion. The fact that I can mostly control it at this point just symbolizes how much I have been kicking its ass over the past 11 months.

I am also a girl without a father, at least in the sense that I no longer have my dad to call on when things get tough. Or to surprise on birthdays. Or simply hug. That new identity has been much harder to accept. And yet, I have been working on it.

Acceptance doesn’t mean forgetting.

I accept that these facts are immutable. There is nothing I can do about it. But after one of the longest winters I can remember (or at least it felt that way), I, too, am changing with the season.

Do you think that the little caterpillar is always ready to break free of his cocoon and fly? In truth, he probably doesn’t really think about it. He just does.

Well, however we work our way out – does it really matter?


Reality Shows

The infamous recovery board.

The infamous recovery board.

I haven’t written or recorded a video in almost two months.

Today, a friend at work asked if I was still writing.

I have sat down countless times over the past two months, and sometimes, I even started a post. But they were never good enough. Never telling enough. The issue is not a lack of things to write about – the issue is where to begin.

When I first started this blog, I did so in hopes of sharing my journey in recovery. While the way in which I lost my voice was rather unique, there was nothing unique about the end result: I was lost without my voice, and I would do anything I could to make myself heard, like the numerous other people blindsided every day by accidents, strokes, heart attacks – the list goes on.

I just wanted someone to HEAR me, and in turn, I hoped that I could help others going through a similar journey. For those of you who have not gone through a similar journey, well – I hoped that I could help you to understand just what it’s like. I lost my speech. Others may have lost something else. In the end, the recovery process is similar anyway. We’re all starting from scratch and clawing our way back to the life we once knew.

But what happens when you get there? Or some version of what you once knew? I haven’t recorded a video in a long time, and to be honest, it was because initially the progress I made each week was readily audible. As time progressed, it got harder and harder to hear a noticeable difference on the tapes.

I started to ask myself, “Is this it?”

“Is this as good as it gets?”

People who don’t completely understand hear me ask that, and their response is usually something like, “Well, look at how you started! The difference is huge. You should be so thankful!”

Friends, let’s not make any mistake. I am SO thankful. I am thankful to everyone who has helped me to this point. I will take how I am today for the rest of my life compared to the life I knew on June 5, 2013 when I woke up, speechless and aphasic. I have worked so hard to get to this point, that I would be amiss to not appreciate what I have now.

That being said, when you get to the point in the recovery process where you find yourself asking if that’s the best things are going to get, it can be difficult. And the precise reason why I have made so much progress is the blame – I am a Type-A, OCD, perseverating, perfectionist. I am my own worst critic. And while I have the insight to understand that, it’s hard to change.

I was watching a documentary called Sole Survivor–ironically before I took my first plane trip after my injury–about people who were the only ones to survive a horrible plane crash. Many of them shared the same feeling that I have felt but struggled to pinpoint: after surviving and returning to relative normalcy after something so horrible, you find yourself wondering whether you deserve it.

You feel as if you should be doing something SO great with your life. So meaningful. Like you should be single-handedly changing the world.

This second chance at life has been given to you. Why are you not DOING anything with it?

The thing is, immediately after an injury or other catastrophe, time seems to slow down. Like those action movie previews, when the bass goes way up and the camera pans out to a car exploding in slow motion, or something of the like. At least, that’s how the few months felt subsequent to my accident. My days were punctuated by naps, speech and occupational therapy sessions and the focus was a sole objective: get it back – life – get it ALL back.

And then somehow, as I got better, life resumed its normal pace and in fact, sped up. The thing was, all the things that I got to put aside for a few months came rushing back – all the things that I wanted to get away from, though I could think of about 500 other ways I would have preferred to escape.

My dad was still gone. No, scratch that. Dead. I don’t like to say it, THAT word. But it is what it is. And a year and a half and a TBI later, I still can’t believe it.

I still can’t believe that I can’t call him and tell him all about the past seven months and what I’ve done. I can’t call and tell him that I just flew to Texas and presented at an important work function. Something absolutely unthinkable seven months ago.

I can’t tell him that I am really enjoying riding my “half horse” and that my own horse is on her way to recovery. I get to put tack on her next month, again. Finally.

And I certainly can’t tell him how stressful moving my mom closer to us has been. Finally, finally she is closer, and I’m so glad. But packing up the house and knowing that I still have to go back down and clear out what’s left is, well, completely surreal and also, agonizing.

So, it occurred to me that I have finally reached the goal I so badly wanted to achieve last summer. I made it back to my life, as I knew it before. Except, there were so many parts of it that I didn’t want to re-visit. Reality shows, and it’s not like the crappy, vacant shows I enjoy watching (much to Paul’s disdain) on the Bravo channel.

I started this blog, as I said before, to help others to relate or to understand. But really, I’m the one who has gained the most benefit.

I don’t have to be defined by what happened to me. The fact that I survived a horse kick to the head and a fractured skull doesn’t earn me any badges of honor, and it shouldn’t. The fact that I regained my speech well enough to fly to a work function and speak in front of a group of raters and medical professionals doesn’t mean I deserve a ribbon. It’s just life, and it just is.

Yet, it does mean that I will always wonder why. Not why did this happen to me, but the “why” of why I’m still invested in thinking about my life and what I want to do with it. Am I doing enough to help other people? To pursue happiness? To appreciate the moments I’ve been given, despite the stresses of reality?

I’m still thinking about it, and in the mean time, I’m still writing.

Heads or Tails

Allow me to “geek out” for a minute.

No, I don’t have a comic book collection. I DO love my MacBook.  And I love the Batman movies. But really only the Christopher Nolan trilogy.

Maybe that makes me more of a semi-nerd?

At any rate, I really loved Nolan’s take on Batman – if you’ve watched any of his other films, they pretty much all have this tinge of darkness. Batman became more than just a figure leaping around with colorful balloons announcing every fight with a “POW” or “BAM”!

He became a man, and the evils he dealt with–with some artistic license—were real people.

Sure, it’s easy to put the monsters away at night when they’re not real. But, it’s a lot harder to put your mind at ease when you understand that our greatest enemy is usually each other – and sometimes, ourselves.

Ironically, in the Dark Knight, one such enemy was Harvey Dent. His transformation from good to “evil” was quite literal as he became Harvey Two-Face. Now, if you’re not a big Batman fan or haven’t seen the Dark Knight, bear with me here. I do have a point.

You see, Dent worked to pursue the “bad guy” for most of the movie, until he and his love, Rachel (I’ll spare you the other geeky details) were captured by the Joker’s henchman and taken to two separate buildings, each filled with oil and an explosive device set to explode in a matter of minutes.

The Joker’s idea was to make Batman choose between love (Rachel) and the goodness that Dent represented for the city at the time – the hope of a new beginning and a life without crime (or at least, less) in Gotham. The Joker was certain that Batman would follow his heart over his brain.

But, he didn’t. And Dent was rescued, but not before he suffered from serious burns to his face (really, how was he still alive? Anyone?).

The former “white knight” of Gotham became an embittered, vindictive man instead. He didn’t understand why he had to live and Rachel didn’t, and he was suffering – the “greater good” was lost on him in the face of his own loss. And so, he sought to make other people suffer.

During a life changing tragedy, we are all faced with a choice. Dent chose to act out the anger and suffering he felt at his injury and his loss by opting to take vengeance on others he felt were responsible. And of course, I am talking about a movie here. But to Dent, there was only one choice, one path on which to proceed.

Any time we endure a life changing event such as a serious injury or a loss, as I wrote about before, we face a choice. No, I don’t mean to imply that choice is simple and easy, but in reality, it’s true – we face a choice between moving on and making the best of what we have or allowing ourselves to become angry and mired in bitterness. Again, I’m not saying that choosing to move on automatically means you will no longer feel angry that this happened to you or that the path won’t be tough. But, we do have a choice in how we approach things going forward.

I always tend to relate these topics back to my own loss (both in my injury and my father), because that’s personal to me. I strongly believe we always, always have a choice in how we proceed with things. Even then, we don’t always choose the right path, but it’s there, and we always have a chance to get back on it.

Choosing to go forward and accept what has happened (whatever that may be) requires a degree of resilience, and some people have more than others. Yet, it also requires support. Resilience is vital, yes, but I don’t believe that the majority of people want to end up feeling angry and bitter for the rest of their lives. Maybe they just lack the resources and support to know how to best move forward. Or it’s possible they just don’t know how to access them.

Recovering and moving on from a loss, an injury, a disability or other life-changing event requires work. We can’t just make the choice to be free of our feelings, gather them up and release the tether like a balloon. But we can learn how to slowly deflate it. What are we doing to ensure that others have the same tools?

This blog is my balloon – every time I post, I release a few more through my words. And that’s helpful for me to process everything has happened to me. And I hope in some way, it’s helpful for others. I’ll never be a superhero, but that’s okay. I’ll make my own luck.

On Loss and A Volleyball

A couple of weeks ago, we saw the new Tom Hanks movie, Captain Phillips. And I thought to myself, “Man, I really love Tom Hanks.”

Now, I have no idea what he’s actually LIKE. For all I know, he could be the worst human being on the planet in person…but I like to think not. And, he’s in one of my all-time favorites, Forrest Gump (which STILL makes me bawl).

Though, you have no idea what it was like being a “Jenni” in the ’90s when that movie came out. If I hear, “Run, Forrest, run!” one more time…But, I digress.

The other day, I was thinking about loss. October is such a mixed bag of emotions for me now. I have always loved the month and all its accoutrements. Fall. The leaves, a fiery hue, streaming to the ground like little meteorites. The scary movies (!). And clearly, the excuse to eat way too much candy.

But, October has also become a season of loss to me. I suppose technically it has always been that way – the excitement for fall layered with the sadness of watching summer slip by. And yet, now it
is literally a time of loss, as we mark the one year anniversary of losing my dad and the way of life I knew before losing him and before my injury.

You may thinking, “Okay, Jenni, I’m with you here, but what does Tom Hanks really have to do with anything?”

Does anyone remember Castaway? Maybe it wasn’t your favorite Tom Hanks movie, but I bet you remember that volleyball (why, by the way, you can apparently purchase, fake bloody handprint and all). There was nothing quite so sad as watching poor Wilson float away from the raft,
and nothing likely mocked so much after as Tom’s character screaming after it.

You know, people made fun of that scene. Why be so upset? It’s JUST a volleyball.

And that’s the issue here, really. When we start prefacing our speech with “JUST,” we sort of miss the point, don’t we? It doesn’t matter if it was just a volleyball to you. To his character, at the time and given the circumstances, it was the biggest loss he could face.

Conversely, making these type of justifications or comparisons lessens our ability to emphasize with other people who we feel have it “easier” than we do. Saying, “It’s JUST a ____ (fill in the blank – horse/house/cat/car/whatever)” just isn’t fair.

On the hand, constantly comparing your own loss to someone else who you feel may have it a lot worse can sometimes make your own feelings seem invalid. But they’re not.

There is a very entertaining gentleman in my local “Back to Work” support group. He has a lot going for him. He seems to be very bright and his speech is quite clear. People might wonder what he’s doing there. But when asked how his disorder has impacted his employment, he was very specific. For the first time, he can no longer walk into a group of colleagues and feel proud, self-assured.

In this case, his loss was one of confidence.

It’s okay to be grateful for what you’ve been given–life–but still want more. The loss is very real even if other people think it’s JUST a “something.”

I feel like I am constantly chasing my own Wilson – the version of myself that stopped existing on June 4th this year. I feel that it always within reach, but depending on the day, the tides change. And that’s okay.

The important thing to remember is, just about everyone is riding the same ocean – the circumstances might be different for each one of us, but we’re all chasing after something.