Monday, October 31, 2016

I survived...

Hello, world...

Six months. It's been six months since my last post, and it's as if my entire world changed. Again.






I'm less than two weeks away from my 31st birthday. Pain has been part of my life for nearly eighteen years. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, much of my life has been a struggle. I've endured physical pain that most people can't even imagine. I've had heartbreak and loss repeatedly. Somehow, I've always found a way to see the light through all of it.


Two and a half years ago, my world was completely torn apart. The life that I was living, the story that I believed, the future that was talked of and dreamed about was nothing more than a series of lies. I did what I had to do to survive. I  moved to be closer to my family because I knew there was no way that I could heal when my demons would have been everywhere.

One day around the year mark of saying goodbye to a place I thought I would never leave, surviving turned to thriving. A couple of short months after that, in June of 2015, I experienced the loss of my father. For probably the first nine months or so, I was an absolute wreck. I wouldn't even say that I was surviving. I was waking up, crying, working, crying, sleeping, crying, etc... It was like Groundhog's Day, every day. What made it worse was the pain it brought up from my past. I hadn't healed entirely from what I had lost in DC. There was no way for me to separate the two. One day in April, I woke up and none of it hurt as much. I had made it through all of the firsts without my dad (except for the anniversary), and I realized I actually had survived. I started feeling like myself again. April through Mother's Day was really good. Fittingly, the day after that, the sky fell. Again.



On May 9th, 2016, I woke up with what felt like a swollen lymph node or possibly a cyst in my right groin. It hurt some but I didn't think too much about it. That night I could barely sleep because it had started hurting a lot and the swelling was growing. By the following afternoon, I was in excruciating pain, and the swelling around the area had easily grown by 100%. I went to the emergency room immediately. More than six hours later when I finally was able to see a doctor, the swelling had continued to spread and I was in so much pain that I was shaking and had a fever. My mom was there with me, thank God. The doctor said that they were going to admit me after I got a CT scan, but before they sent me back, she traced around the swollen area so they could see how rapidly it was expanding. They had to hold me down to do it because it felt like I was being sliced open with a scalpel (without medicine), and I remember just lying there, writhing in pain and screaming.

My scan showed nothing, but they figured it was just a skin infection of some sort so they hooked me up to pain medications and antibiotics. My temperature kept getting higher but they weren't concerned because it hadn't gotten above 101, despite the fact that I told them repeatedly that my normal is 96. 101 for me feels like I'm dying. The days passed by and my pain level grew, the swelling had wrapped nearly all the way around from one groin to the other and had started to radiate down my leg. By the morning of day five my fever had spiked to 103 (seven degrees above my normal) and they decided that maybe they should change the antibiotics again because the three they had me on weren't getting the job done.

My fever was roughly 7 degrees higher than my normal

Changing of the lines after blowing another one

And after blowing yet another vein, they used this scanner to try to find a new one.

Swelling on day 3

Swelling on day 5
By the morning of day five, the swelling had continued to wrap around to the back of my right hip, and all the way across the top to the other hip. By the time it was radiating down my leg, I had blisters that had been popping up for a day or so. Once they started to rupture, my pain level was out of control.

Oxygen, iv, and pain pump cords

I had to start oxygen after struggling to breathe through the pain

By the morning of the sixth day, I was truly in fear of my life. There was also an incident with my normal primary care physician and as a result I removed her from my case. I basically hadn't slept more than and hour or two at a time here and there the entire time that I was there. It already wasn't a good one when the primary did rounds on me that morning. The other doctors on my case were amazing, and had been in my room for quite some time that morning. They spent a lot more time seeing the physical anguish I had been under. They, along with two other doctors suggested a pain pump to her because all infection, swelling and pain got worse all weekend. The primary looked at me and said she would only sign off on this if I talked to someone in psych first. She felt like the only reason my pain was so bad was because I was grieving my dad. I stopped speaking or looking at her at that point. You should have seen the looks on the other two doctors faces who had actually seen the agony my body has been through--the infection, swelling, and blistering had done to my body. I missed my dad and she had known three months before I went in that I was still struggling with my grief. However, I had never once said that any of this had happened because he was gone.

Thank God the surgeon who had consulted on my case was convinced that since none of the five antibiotics or pain killers were helping, that we needed to do another scan. There were some spots that looked like they could cut into and hopefully drain. They went in that evening, essentially just exploring to finds areas they could remove the apparent infection from. They tunneled through a lot of infection, and removed as much as they could. It required two incisions, one on the inside of my right groin that was roughly about two and a half inches long, and another roughly and inch long just above my vagina. Such pleasant areas to be sliced open. The pain once I was back into a room, was ungodly. Because they tunneled so far into my body, the incisions couldn't be closed up with stitches. Instead they had to be cleaned and packed multiple times a day. When the packing would be removed, the pain was so unbearable (and that was with multiple pain killers) that all I could do was scream, shake, and cry. I had horrible experiences with nurses who were so careless we had to request they not be assigned to my case.

The morning after surgery, my cultures came back positive for necrotizing cellulitis, staph, and MRSA, any of which can kill you on their own. My room was instantly turned into an isolation room for the rest of my time there. Nobody could come in or out without a gown, mask, and gloves on...except for my mother, because nobody tells her what to do. The hospitalist told me that had they not gone in when they did, the infections would have spread to my blood, and I would have been dead in one to two days max.

After my eighth line blew, they finally moved to a picc line, which took two separate attempts.

I had more than thirty bruises on my stomach from the blood thinner injections I received twice a day. A month after being discharged, some of them were still there.

Day 14, still miserable.

This was the smaller end of the biggest incision, eight and a half days after surgery .
Eventually, on the fifteenth day, my blood counts had improved enough for me to be discharged. I was sent home with two antibiotics, a steroid, two pain killers, sleeping pills, anti-nausea pills, and anti-anxiety medication. I had never been so happy to go home in my life.

Removing the picc line the went from my right arm all the way over to my heart. I still have the scars from both lines.

I received so many phone calls, emails, texts, cards, thoughtful gifts and beautiful flowers from friends literally all over the country.
If you've followed my journey at all, you know that I stand firm on knowing that I would not be alive were it not for God. Were it not for my faith, I would have ended my life when I was in junior high because of the hell that I was going through. I will tell you this right now, from May 9 through much of August, I have never experienced such agonizing pain, and that is saying something. Without knowing that God has a purpose and a plan for everything in my life, I would not have survived. Without the prayers of hundreds of people, I would not have survived. Without my Momma taking care of me after I was discharged, I would not have survived. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't change my own dressings. I could barely walk. I couldn't lift anything. Going to the bathroom or attempting to bathe seemed like really stupid ideas because of how painful it was. The surgeon said it would take four to six weeks for the incisions to heal all the way...it took more than two months. Five months and six days after being discharged, I still have a ton of scar tissues that hurts sometimes.

I love writing. I love knowing that I'm able to use my journey to help others along the way. I couldn't write for most of the time I was recovering because I was at a loss for words, and just in so much pain. This fall has been great so far (more about that later), and I'm finally back into the swing of my Primal habits, too.


For now I will leave you with this. I survived. They say that you should do more than just survive. There are periods in our lives where sometimes it takes everything within us to merely survive. I made it through a year that for a while, I didn't know if I would. My body is literally covered in scars from nearly a dozen lines that went in and out of my body, dozens of needle marks, and huge incisions that I find myself fairly self conscious about. I survived. I'm alive. I don't had from the wars that I have been through. Somehow, God thinks I am strong enough to handle all of these things. And if for no other reason than to share my story and to give even one person enough hope to keep fighting their battles, then I'll take it.

Because I survived, and because I am alive, I did something this weekend that I never thought I would do. I had a scripture reference tattooed on my wrist-- Psalm 46:5. It is my constant reminder that God is within me and that is what gets me through all of it. I also had my Daddy's hand writing traced from a birthday card he sent to me, and tattooed onto my foot. I've struggled with the fact that he won't be there when I get married some day. His words are on the side where he would be standing next to me if he was. Every time I look down, I see his actual words and it makes me smile.


No matter the battle you are facing, no matter how scary life gets, no matter how hard you are fighting to just survive, you can do it. One day merely surviving will turn into more than that. One day you will wake up and realize that you've done more than just survive. This entire year has changed my perspective on absolutely everything, and that's not a bad thing.

xoxo

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Change a life, change the world...

Hello world...


This isn't necessarily one of my normal posts but this has been on my heart all week long. Please take a few moments and read this.


That precious little baby is Brenden. Brenden is a twin who was born six weeks prematurely on April 9, 2106. His parents, Jessica and Chris knew that he was going to be smaller than his twin sister, Briella (who is perfect and at home), and that he was going to be born with a hole in his heart. At the last sonogram before he was born, it was thought that he would weigh roughly 3lbs 10oz. Instead, he came out a whole pound smaller. Even more troubling is the fact that he was born with a condition they weren't expecting; PDA- Patent Ductus Arteriosus. After birth, the vessel outside of his heart was supposed to close up but it did not.

The doctors wanted to wait to perform any surgeries until Brenden is about five pounds, but they can't wait any longer. They tried a medication that typically helps to close it up but it didn't work. His tiny heart is pumping fluids into his lungs, making his body work overtime and as a result, he is on a breathing machine, too. The hole they were expecting is on the inside of his heart, is a condition called VSD- Ventrical Septal Defect. This is something entirely different that can't be addressed yet. They are doing surgery on him Monday (4/25/16) to try to repair the vessel. Hopefully after this, his tiny body can get some rest and start growing before they tend to the hole in his heart.

Besides having his twin sister, Briella, at home, they also have a big brother named Ben.


Although Brenden is three weeks old now, Jessica has only held him twice. I can't fathom having a sick and helpless child that I couldn't hold and comfort. It breaks my heart.

Jessica and Chris, both teachers, live roughly 45 minutes away from the hospital in Dallas where Brenden is staying. He will likely be in the hospital for several months. It's more than $3000 per day that he is there and a good portion of the costs aren't covered by insurance. That doesn't include the costs of his surgeries either.

I wanted to do anything I could to help this sweet family in their time of need, to somehow lift any ounce of burden from them. As you all know from reading my blog, I believe in the power of prayer. Please pray for him today, tomorrow when he has his first surgery, and in the coming months. Please share his story on your various social media outlets. This blog has been read in almost 80 countries now. If each of you share it, and if just one other person shares it...imagine the impact your prayers can have on this precious little baby and his family. Beyond your prayers, there is also a GoFundMe account setup in Brenden's name to help with the financial strains this is placing on his family. Anything you can give is appreciated more than words could ever say.

https://www.gofundme.com/helpbabybrenden

There is a song by Kutlas that says "I've seen dreams that move the mountains, hope that doesn't ever end, even when the sky is falling. I've seen miracles just happen, silent prayers get answered, broken hearts become brand new. That's what faith can do."


For my entire life, I have seen and felt the power of prayer. I have seen the amazing things that happen when we call on Jesus. My faith is bigger than anything that life has thrown at me these last 17 years during my struggles. I hope that you will join us in praying for Brenden and that if you can give anything financially, you will. Please share this sweet baby's story and help change his world.


xoxo






Thursday, April 21, 2016

Stories...

Hello, world...

Lately I've been thinking a lot about life and the stories that come out of it. I think we all have this inherent notion that life is supposed to be how we first envisioned it would be. The thing is, life is a series of twists and turns, love and loss, joy and pain, and we are supposed to adapt along the way. For most of us, it takes something huge and often heartbreaking to realize this.

For most of my life, I definitely dreamed of a life significantly different than the one I have. The first time I realized life was not all that I imagined it would be, I was thirteen. My entire teenage existence was a nightmare; mentally, emotionally and physically a nightmare. Every year I would tell tell myself "Don't worry, this year things will change and it will be how it should be." In college, with the realization that I would never be happy going down the career path that I had wanted for most of my life, I walked away from it. That was the first time that I realized I needed to adjust the dream. Shortly after that, there was a man who damn near broke me. I left Chicagoland and moved to Florida to find myself again.


Even though I had dealt with my dad's heart issues since I was eight, in terms of my parents at least, it never occurred to me that emotionally, I could be more terrified than I had been at seventeen years old. I had to drive my dad to the emergency room while he was having a heart attack and sit with him for hours by myself. It shaped me in so many ways. However, weeks after moving to Florida, my mom; my rock, my best friend and the person who has always understood the physical anguish I endured for so long, was diagnosed with cancer. It scared me like nothing else in life ever had before. During that summer, I lost my last grandparent and watched one of my uncles go through cancer as well. I realized then that life really is fleeting and again that life doesn't usually go how you imagine that it will.

Flash forward a couple of years to when I was living in DC and had a new life dream take shape. I thought that I was so happy and had everything that I had ever wanted, and for a while that was in fact the case. The one day I learned how much of it had been a lie, perhaps a mere figment of my imagination. From past experiences, I knew that if I stayed, it would break me like nothing else ever had before. I removed myself from that situation and at the time, I didn't know just how much that would change my life.


My story felt like chapter after chapter of pain, loss and uncertainty. After dealing with sickness (my own and that of many family members) for such a long time, love and loss, and dreams fading away, I decided that enough was enough. My dream was no longer that life would be a certain way, but that I would live life a certain way from there on out. For so long I placed my happiness and my dreams into the hands of others, and not surprisingly, I was always let down. I realized one day that while God holds my future, and he knows how my story ends, I am the one who tells the story. I am the one who gets to close out a chapter to better myself. I am the one who determines my own happiness.

Last year in my little corner of the world here, I talked a lot about changing your story if you don't like it. I've allowed so many things in life to hold me back from embracing who and what I am called to be. I don't anymore. After I left DC, I realized that I hadn't loved or liked myself even in such a long time. I allowed myself to be jaded by others. What power do you give to others that you shouldn't? What's holding you back from thriving and truly loving yourself?

Before my dad died last year, I had been truly living and loving myself. After he was gone, it became so difficult to believe that I could ever be happy again. I have openly talked about my struggle with grief, and it's likely that m past issues with depression made it even harder. I've said that I cried daily for months. The pain would let up for a while and then something would set me off. I read earlier today that grief is not a normal wound. Truer words have never been spoken. We all grieve differently and there is no wrong way to do grieve. Eventually though, we adjust to a new normalcy that we didn't sign up for and it's okay again. I'm happy in this new normalcy and there is peace inside of me again.

We don't always get to choose the things that happen to us. The choice we get to make is whether or not we want to stay where we are at in life. If you're unhappy, do something about it. If you don't like your story, you have a few choices. You can stay in that chapter and hope that it gets better and maybe it will. You can close the chapter all together and start the next one and maybe that will be enough for some of you. However, if you're anything like me, there have been so many chapters filled with physical pain, emotional struggles and loss that simply starting another chapter just won't cut it anymore. Write a new story.
Decide that you deserve more and go after it. Don't allow yourself to stay stuck in situations that do nothing but shatter your hopes and dreams. Place your happiness into your own hands. And when you come to a place of happiness and peace, share your story and make a difference in another persons life. I know that for being thirty years old, I've gone through more than most can fathom. I could have decided a long time ago to be angry and to question God for why he would allow all of these things. Instead, I chose to believe that there was a purpose to all of it. For the longest time, I didn't understand the purpose. My journey and my story has been read by people in almost 80...EIGHTY countries now. I've had people tell me that because of my story, they had hope again, that they had courage and found strength. My soul lights up when someone thanks me for being able to share my stories. Knowing that I help even just one person makes all of it worth it.


Share your stories; not only will you help others in the process, but it will bless you, too.

xoxo


Thursday, April 14, 2016

The after life...

Hello, world...

It's been a few months since my last post. As you all know, life after my dad's death has been really difficult for me. Every time I thought I was in a better place, some memory or dream would knock me down flat again. Mentally, emotionally and physically I was a mess...and not even a glorious one at that!

A week after my last post, I was in a car accident. I was hit from behind and the driver fled the scene. I had a lot of damage to my neck and have gone through a lot of pain to get back to a place of full function again. The mental and emotion pain from it the first six weeks are so were comparable to the physical anguish. You've all read my story so you know everything I've overcome before, especially the horrible migraines and joint pain. Shortly after the accident, I was terrified that the pain I had worked so hard to to overcome in the past, was not only back with a vengeance, but could possibly be here to stay. It crushed my spirit and threw me back into my grief in a pretty powerful way.

In February, I had an appointment with my primary doctor and we were talking about where I was at with my grief eight months post losing my dad. She told me that every time we've talked about it, I kept putting so much focus on who I was before he died. She said it was as if I had been denying that I really could have an after life; a life after my dad, one in which I was happy again. Wow. In the months leading up to that day, nobody had said such to me. Later that night, I finally slept well and woke up feeling hope, something I really hadn't up until that point. It was a feeling of hope for my future instead of sorrow for yesterday.


In the nearly two months since that appointment I've found myself in a place I haven't been in for quite some time. I started fighting for myself again...fighting for what I need. I've talked about my dad without feeling pain inside of me while doing so. I've rejoiced for great things going on in my family, without feeling bad for doing so. I've made really hard decisions that were best for me and my future, rather than simply staying comfortable. I've learned that my darkest days have amounted to the biggest season of internal and spiritual growth I've ever experienced. I've gotten to know myself in a way that I never imagined I would have to and it's been an amazing thing.

My parents anniversary would have been last month, as well as my dad's birthday. I thought those days would wreck me, and although I missed him terribly, and felt sad, the feeling passed and I just kept living. In the last few weeks, I've realized that while my dad is having his own afterlife (and it's more than he ever dreamed of), so am I and I'm happy.



It's been a little over ten months now since he left us and life has changed so much. There have been other endings and new beginnings, job changes, moves and a new baby joining our family later this year. While I do wish he was here, I know he's watching over us and finds ways to show me that often. I started working on a book and the process got sidelined during recovery and some big changes. I've started writing again and it feels so good. It heals me and I hope that when it's finished, it helps other do the same.

There is a song by Danny Gokey (though it was written by Matthew West, who I also love) called "Tell Your Heart to Beat Again" and the message has been on my heart daily since right before New Years. This is my favorite part... "Let every heartbreak and every scar be a picture to remind you, who has carried you this far. 'Cause love sees farther than you ever could. In this moment Heaven's working everything for your good. Tell your heart to beat again, close your eyes and breathe it in. Let the shadows fall away, step into the light of grace. Yesterday's a closing door, you don't live there anymore. Say goodbye to where you've been and tell your heart to beat again."

It beats loudly now. More than that, I have peace and it makes all the difference in the world.



xoxo



Monday, January 11, 2016

Beauty in the breaking...

Hello, world...

This post was supposed to have been uploaded last week after I finished it but life happened...as usual!

I don't know if anyone was happier to say farewell to 2015 than I was. Strangely enough, ending it was difficult.

Let's back up to the week of Christmas. I was very thankful and happy to have my nephews for a few days at the beginning of the week for many reasons. That Wednesday when we were driving to our hometown, it was TORRENTIAL rain the entire way. Last year for Christmas, my dad gave my sister and I angels for our cars that say "Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly." I have actually kept mine in purse every single day since so that it is always with me. So, we had just crossed the Missouri/Illinois line and I told my oldest nephew that we needed to pray and ask God to get us home safely. About a minute later a semi merged into the lane next to me and all it said on the truck was BJT Express...my dad's initials. It took everything in me to not cry and lose it in front of the boys. I hadn't seen any real sign from my dad in more than six months and I needed it.

I somehow got through Christmas but it was New Years Eve that broke me. That morning something unexpectedly crappy happened and the first thought I had was "Dad would fix this." Soon after the first breakdown, the perfect song for that day came on. "Staring at a stop sign watching people drive by, T Mac on the radio. Got so much on your mind, nothing's really going right, looking for a ray of hope. Whatever it is you may be going through, I know He's not gonna let it get the best of you. You're an overcomer. Stay in the fight ‘til the final round. You're not going under, 'cause God is holding you right now. You might be down for a moment, feeling like it's hopeless, that's when He reminds You that you're an overcomer." 


I spent that entire week listening to nothing but Praise and Worship music because I was just feeling like even though I know that I always come out on the other side, I had nothing left in my fight tank. The culmination of the entire last year and a half has been enough to nearly break me. The one song I kept hearing over and over is a song called The Unmaking by Nichole Nordeman. I've loved it since she released it but it's finally struck a chord with me. "The longer and the tighter that we hold, only makes it harder to let go. But love will not stay locked inside a steeple or a tower high. Only when we're broken are we whole. What happens now, when all I've made is torn down? This is the unmaking. The beauty in the breaking. Had to lose myself to find out who You are. Before each beginning there must be an ending. Sitting in the rubble, I can see the stars. This is the unmaking."

Someone recently told me that I'm not an optimistic person. They were right, I'm not. What about my life would ever make or allow me to be an optimistic person? I've had more pain inflicted on my body in seventeen years than most will ever experience in a lifetime. I've had more loss and heartache than most people who I know. It's generally been one thing after another for as long as I can remember. I am still standing though in spite of every trial I have ever faced. I am a fighter. I am a survivor. That is what I know. I fight because I have always known that there is a plan for all of it. I survive because I hold onto my faith and know that this life would have killed me a long time ago had it not been for grace that I don't deserve. I believe that there is purpose in pain, whether it is physical or emotional and I've had ample supply of both.






xoxo