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!

WELCOME TO THE PITY PARTY!

hello my name isCome on in! Sign the list with your name and your particular angst. The comfort food is over there. You’ll be hearing songs like “Sad Songs” by Elton John, Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle”,  Roy Orbison’s “Crying”, and R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”. Dolly Parton will sing about Joleen while Kenny Rogers cries about Lucille leaving him – with four hungry children and a crop in the field no less! Don’t hear your favorite? The DJ is taking requests. Sinead O’Conner’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”? Sorry, no. Just…no. So grab a box of tissues and we’ll get this party started!

I’ve never liked the phrase, “Get over it.” I think it’s dismissive and, quite frankly, insensitive. OK, I suppose there are some things you can “get over” – like your McDonald’s fries not being hot enough or having someone take the last doughnut in the break room. Although those can be really disheartening.

But cold fries and an empty doughnut box aren’t the same as losing your job, losing your home, or having a spouse ask for a divorce. Of course, everyone knows that you don’t tell someone who’s suffered losses like that to “get over it,” do they? No.

No, they say kinder things like, “It was God’s will” or “Something better will come along.” Which I believe may seem a smidge more sensitive (especially if you squeeze God into it), but they’re no less dismissive.

silent cryingI think there’s a pretty long list of things we shouldn’t be expected to get over because we need to get through it. The psalm doesn’t say, “Though I take the bridge over the valley of the shadow of death….” It tells us that we can trust in God is as we walk through it.

I have never been much of a hostess because, frankly, it terrifies me to have people in my home. I used to think it was because I thought my housekeeping wasn’t good enough (which it’s not) or that I wouldn’t know what to do with them once they’re actually in my house. I’m beginning to suspect that it was too intimate for me.

For the most part, I’ve kept my home life separate from my life at work or church. Not that people at work or church never knew about my home life. (They wish!) I think I’ve used my home as a sort of dressing room in which I prepare before a performance and in which I can remove the makeup and costume after a performance.

I can tell those of you who don’t know me that I had a painful childhood. I can tell those of you who think you know me that I cried myself to sleep most nights as my mother laughed with my younger brother in her room down the hall, without me. (Yes, I suspect it was unhealthy.) There were nights I laid very still in my bed as I listened to her go down the stairs because her hatred was so palpable that I was prepared for her to return with a knife. I learned to watch for the slightest change in her voice or face to alert me to a change in her mood.

I lived with my own particular brand of unhealthy until the day before my 21st birthday. Now, I’d like to say that I moved in with a friend or another student at college or even a boyfriend, but I didn’t. Until today, the closest I could come to explaining what I did was to say I ran away from home. I took absolutely nothing with me except my purse, my car and the clothes I was wearing; and I didn’t have a plan.

tiredToday, I realize that what I truly did was escape. That was the only way I could have left. Running away would suggest some degree of rebellion or emotion. I was simply tired. Those of you who have been in a similar relationship know what I mean.

The whole thing didn’t turn out as well as I’d have liked, and within a year I spent a couple of weeks in the local state hospital. (Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, really. Looking back on it as a mother and a woman who’s worked full-time for a few decades, I’ve often thought it has the trappings of a nice vacation. Your meals are prepared for you, the dishes are washed by someone else, you get to choose who your visitors are, you get your own room, make crafts, watch TV, get pretty good meds, have a captive audience with whom to share what’s on your mind, and meet the most interesting people. Not altogether bad – with the proper perspective.)

But I digress!

I’ve had an unpleasant life that left its mark, but not all marks are bad. For example, five years ago, I had an emergency open-heart surgery. Against most odds, I survived. The scar down the middle of my chest is a reminder to me of all the things I still get to enjoy – my husband, my daughters, warm showers in the morning and a comfortable bed at night and wonderful, compassionate friends.

Our scars show that we survived something. What I survived may not be anything like what you survived. But we all have scars, if not on our body then in our spirit.

strengthI don’t necessarily believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s far too simplistic. In fact, I think there’s much more to it than that, because honestly, what doesn’t kill you can really beat the hell out of you and leave you for dead sometimes.

But this much I know. I’m a damn sight stronger than I think I am. I’ve had the air knocked out of me often enough, and have wanted to quit often enough. I’ve wanted to stay down for the count plenty of times, but I’ve always gotten back up again…eventually. And I didn’t get back up because of any clever motivational sayings like “Fall seven times, get up eight” either. If it were that easy, any one of my therapists would have just handed me a book full of quotes.

No, I’ve gotten back up – slowly, confused, disoriented and exhausted – because that’s what people do when they choose to not take their own life. They get back up, take a shower, brush their hair, put on some clean clothes and  leave the house again to go to work or get groceries.

I’ve been angry, confused and frustrated a lot lately. There’s plenty to be angry, confused and frustrated about – money, health, a roof that leaks, a car that’s so badly bashed that it probably shouldn’t be driven, yet still takes up room in our driveway. And what I can’t figure out is why? And when does my family get a break?

weakness to godIf what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, my family – and yours – would be a bad-ass team.

You know what I think? I think God uses these trials to bring us closer to him. Do I think He gives us these trials? Sometimes, and I’ll make a case for that another day. But for the most part, I don’t think He has to. There are enough trials as a result of our own poor judgment, from the natural progression of time, from the acts of others or from Satan, that God doesn’t need help.

That doesn’t mean he he’s not interested in taking advantage of the opportunity those trials create. I think God uses those times in our lives for two primary purposes: to invite us to let him tend to our wounds, heal us, comfort us. He wants to be the one to restore us to the person he intended for us to be when he knit us together in our albeit mentally unhealthy, broken mother’s womb. In doing so, he demonstrates his sovereign power to the world.

God doesn’t give us trials because he knows how strong we are. There is no carnival game in Heaven in which we sling a huge hammer and try to ring a bell to test our strength just so God can determine how much crap we get in life. You’re not like the teacher my oldest daughter had who was so good with challenging children that he ended up with six in his class one year.

I am not that strong! I just don’t have anything better to do but to keep getting up every morning and doing my thing. But I’ve wallowed long enough, I think. You know what they say about sitting in a dirty diaper. It might stink, but it’s warm and it’s yours.

surrenderSitting in a dirty diaper is not fitting behavior for anyone, much less a child of God. His word says that it’s in our weakness that his strength is demonstrated. I’m not entirely clear about how that happens, but I think it’s time try to give God my weakness and quit carrying it around like a worn out, tear-stained teddy bear that’s served its purpose.

Your trials  – whatever the source – should serve to allow God to show the world how strong he is. If he allows more than we can carry, it’s so we can ask him to carry it for us, because his yoke is light.

So feel free to linger at the pity party a bit longer if you like. The food is really good and the DJ gets paid no matter how long he’s here! But when you leave, put your nametag in the trash – you know, the one that says “Hello, my name is defeat” and be sure to take one that says “I am a child of the one true King!”

It’s time to get moving along!