THAT ONE TIME WHEN I DIDN’T DIE

I love TED Talks! As in anyone-who-says-they-enjoy-TED Talks-is-automatically-my-new-best-friend kind of love. And, no, the poor souls never see it coming. This morning, this 16-minute talk showed up in Twitter and I’ve been excited to share it all day long!!

The title reminded me of my friend who celebrated his first birthday after surviving necrotizing faciitis (flesh-eating bacteria) as his I Didn’t Die birthday. And it reminded me of so many of my fellow survivors in the Aortic Dissection Support Group on Facebook. I hadn’t expected to hear so many of my own thoughts come out of someone else’s mouth.

On the other hand, I wasn’t surprised that someone else had those thoughts. Suleika Jaouad gave voice to an idea that I’ve been pondering. In the years since I survived my ascending aortic dissection, I have noticed that I have as much in common with cancer survivors as I do with dissection survivors. I also have a lot in common with people who have dealt with break-ups, being relieved of job responsibilities and the key to the employee entrance, financial losses, etc. You can add whatever you want to the list.

These are the 9 things I’ve noticed so far:

  1. You are not alone. Everyone has either already endured a struggle or will eventually endure a struggle. No one finishes without at least one, and some people should probably just get their own punch card.
  2. Any loss is still a loss, any pain is still pain, and no one else gets to determine how big, bad or scary your struggle is.
  3. More often than not, you weren’t asked if it was okay with you. No, you didn’t get a vote. Yes, you get to clean up the collateral damage.
  4. Surviving wasn’t necessarily a matter of being a warrior. Let’s face it – it’s intuitive for us to do what we can to not die, and everyone around us from family to physicians is doing everything to help us survive. That being said, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to work your guts out getting to the other side.
  5. These things can change you in ways you may not be able to articulate. In fact, you may not want to share your thoughts at the risk of sounding ungrateful, because…
  6. Your new life might suck. (I’m no angel, but this blog hardly seems the right place for a word that may offend some. So I apologize for any offense, but maintain that this is the most appropriate inappropriate word I can think of.) But honestly, “new normal” is a phrase only used when the change in your life is no picnic, right?
  7. You are not the only one who went through it and came out on the other side a changed person. Your friends and family (and even your coworkers) are now the friends and family (and coworkers) of the person who survived. They have a “new normal” to adjust to as well.
  8. Your recovery doesn’t have to be pretty or polished to be progress.
  9. Finally, the biggest lie you may ever believe is that you’re the only one. Your story, statistics and survival may certainly be unique, but…See #1 again.

That’s it. That’s all I have right now. No confetti, pep talk or words of wisdom to end this post. But while you’re here, feel free to share something you think might help someone else not feel quite so alone.

Oh, you are so loved!

A MILLION PIECES

I haven’t written for awhile because I haven’t known what to say.

I feel broken. I feel defective. I feel confused.

I’ve been in the process of healing, of recovering, most of my life. And just when I’d gotten so far in healing emotionally, I’ve needed to recover physically. And I think I’ve had enough.

The thing about recovering and healing is that it’s always a partner to pain or illness. If you’re “getting better”, then you weren’t well. The unfortunate truth is that we don’t get to choose, do we?

By the time my family got home last night, I’d decided that I deserved pity. Pity and potato chips. (Don’t judge me! This was my pity party.)

I’d spent the week making a mental checklist of all the things I couldn’t do any more since I’d fallen and ruined my shoulder two months ago. And I got bonus points for the fact that I will most likely never be able to do anything on the list again. I had begun to see myself as broken. But I’d found this photo of a sunset reflected in a broken mirror. “Ah!” I mused. “Perhaps if that mirror can reflect beauty in spite of its brokenness, so can I.” (I know, right! Even I’m gagging.)

I considered doing my own rendition of a phoenix. But I really didn’t feel like rising from the ashes. Honestly, I was far more inclined to wallow in the ashes. At my best, I might have lain on my back and made ash angels, buy I’m unable to straighten out my left arm enough to manage even that!

Seriously, though, this “new normal” stuff stinks! And it seems that the only time you hear about someone’s “new normal” is when life hands them a cruddy plot twist. I haven’t researched where or when this phrase originated, but I have a feeling it was first used by a doctor who couldn’t fix someone or make them feel better and had no idea what to say. It would have been unprofessional to say, “Gee, you’re one really unfortunate person.” So they said, “This is your new normal now. You’ll learn to adjust.”

And most people do. They have no other option, really. At least not a good option. Their family adjusts, too, because this is now their “new normal”.

When you think about it, though, isn’t your life just one “new normal” after another? My daughter will have graduated this time next year. Her father and I will navigate the new normal of sending our baby out into the world, and she’ll work out the grown-up details of her new normal. My marriage to my husband almost 23 years ago was a pretty big new normal. Every new job was a new normal. Bringing a child into the world was a new normal.

So what we really have is a lifetime of constant new normal’s. And they all fall on a continuum between tears of unspeakable joy to tears of unspeakable despair. But God is there for all of it. None of it comes as a surprise to him. The hard part for most of us is not knowing why. “Why me?”

It is just as reasonable to ask, “Why not me?” The day after my pity party, I learned that a man who was less than two weeks from retiring when a car failed to stop at the stop sign. and hit the car he was a passenger in. He was less than two weeks from retiring. Chances are his wife had a Honey Do list waiting for him. He’s now beginning his retirement as a quadriplegic. That’s not a new normal that I think I could handle, and that humbles me.

Last night, my search for some inspirational words lead me to a video that I hadn’t planned to watch – because it was about miracles instead of a miry pit. It, too, shushed my whiny thoughts. It’s worth the five minutes you’ll spend listening to it.

Here in southern Minnesota, people are quick to say, “It could be worse.” Well, it could be better, too, don’tcha know.

I have no idea how to wrap this up. I guess – for me anyway – it comes down to two words. But God. I don’t understand…but God does. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this…but God does. I can’t find the good…but God can.

It’s easy to feel alone…but God is with me, even if I don’t feel him.