Friday, April 1, 2016

It ain't me, babe

Lately I feel I've been getting an awful lot of credit for what I've accomplished thus far on my post-stroke journey, this makes me feel uncomfortable, so I want to clear some things up for the sake of my conscience.

First of all, pre-stroke Liz would have luxuriated in all of this praise and validation she gets on a regular basis, but this new, post-stroke Liz is verrry uncomfortable with all of that.


Well, let me tell you, I don't think I've done anything at all. All I've done is get out of bed in the morning, put one foot in front of the other and tried to be a better version of myself than I was the day before. The reason that I don't feel I've done anything to deserve any of this validation is because, in my opinion,it is all of the people who are around me all of the time that deserve the praise. Without Matt constantly pushing me to be better at, well, everything. I wouldn't even think to try to be good at everything. Without Charlotte's brilliant smile, kind heart and warm hugs, I wouldn't care about setting a good example for how a strong woman should behave when life deals you a shitty hand and, of course, without my co-op standing by ,me, believing in me and allowing me to find a place within the ranks of the workers all the while allowing me a safe place where I could find myself again, I would still be sitting on the couch playing the smallest violin in the world for myself.

So, what I'm saying, it's true what they say, it really takes a village, because without mine, I'd be sucking at life and, according to a lot of people, I'm not.

Even though hearing that makes me uncomfortable. So, thank you all, of you.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Reel Me In

Something happened today that left me reeling for the entire day; Our day started off as normal, Charlotte crawled into bed with us at 7am and promptly passed out on Matt, my alarm went off, I got dressed and Charlotte and I had breakfast, Charlotte got dressed and watched cartoons til it was time to leave to take me to work at the co-op. When we got to the co-op, Matt and Charlotte ran into the store ahead of me, as usual, I went straight to the back, attempted to find an empty locker to shove my giant coat and purse into, got my name tag and, clocked in and counted my cash drawer and began walking to the front of the store, as I was heading up front, Matt walked past me and said,
"your old therapist is here, I think she's looking for you." I immediately began going through my mental Rolodex of every therapist this could be and immediately settled on one option: Erica! Erica was my primary OT in rehab, the therapist I worked with most frequently. Erica was in charge of attempting to breathe life back back into my damn left arm, of teaching me how to live in a post stroke world and body. Erica spent many hours listening to me bemoan my existence and worry over whether Charlotte was going to like me or not. It was Erica who first told me I was not capable of returning to my position as Front End Manager at the co-op, a bitter pill to swallow.

It's been four years since I've seen her.

And seeing her after all that time really drove home how far I've come.

When I was working with her in rehab, I could hardly focus on a single simple task for longer than one minute. But, today I worked a cash register during a very busy lunch rush at work, I stayed focused on my tasks and even multi-tasked throughout the day, an impossible feat during my days in rehab; The last time I saw Erica, I felt that my life was crumbling apart in front of my eyes and that there was no way I could live my life this way. But today as the clear winter sunshine streamed through all of the co-op's windows I felt so happy to be alive and working, lucky to be having such a great day, one- armed or not.

So, I guess the point of all of this is, if anyone out there is reading this while in rehab or at the beginning of your post-stroke journey, I am here to assure you that, although it seems impossible right now, there is life after stroke and It does get better. Do not give up on life, or it will give up on you.

Friday, September 4, 2015

the big 4-0....Plus 2

Let me start simply, earlier this week I picked up a shift for a co-worker, no big deal, right?
Well, in doing this, I tuned my four day qwork week into a five day, but not a five day week like my last one, it was broken up into groups of days I had to work in a row, so I didn't think about it much.

as I was talllying up my hours for the week tonight at the end of my shift today, the number kept mounting. Until I finished.

I looked at the sheet after I had written my total hours for the week.
"holy shit." I whispered to myself.

42 hours.

I worked 42 hours and didn't even realize it.

I have been tired this week, but I attributed that to staying up too lat and having an almost four year old child who's really excited about getting up too early in the morning, you know, the same reason regular people get tired.

The more I thought about my work week all I could think about was this self-pitying and whiny post from three years ago and hoe different things are now.

Then it sunk in; I have officially taken my life back, the stroke hasn't taken anything from me .

And, in the words of my incomparable co-worker, Brett, I made this week my bitch.

boo-ya, stroke, take that!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

How Could I khave Known: alove letter to the People's Food Co-op of Kalamazoo

My Dearest PFC,
How could I have known when I walked into your cramped storefront, holding my application to be your new Front End Manager how important that decision  was  or how you were to impact my life?
A long haired woman with flowing skirts accepted my filled out application, she called me "hon" after taking the application from me.

At the time, I thought I knew everything about everything. I was wrong. I didn't know anything, I didn't know anything about myself, family, community or faith,you have taught me about all of those things in the five years we have known each other.

In the days, weeks, months and years after the stroke, you have stood by me, patiently holding my hand as I discovered myself though tragedy. You accepted me at my worst, you made me feel like I fit in somewhere when I felt I fit nowhere, you made me feel normal and extraordinary when I never thought I would be either of those things ever again. As I delved into the darkest depths of my depression and came out on the other side knowing more about myself than I ever thought I would, you and your staff loved the new person who came out of that cocoon of darkness and despair, you accepted her when she needed someone to say, "it's ok, we like you, just as you are."

your workers we the first responders to my husband's late night call alerting you that Charlotte's birth had gone awry, your manager's were the first to see me in the hospital's ICU. My foggy memories of the ICU are filled with your laughter, reassurances and watching your staff members cradle my precious baby when I couldn't I felt your healing energy and the care you had for me, even though we had only just met.

Your staff constructed a system(the PFC loves systems!) to get me good food and good company three times a week while I was literally was trying to get back on my feet. These visits gave me something to look forward to when things looked their bleakest, when I was so desperate to return to your warm embrace.

You found new and creative ways to incorporate me back into your hustle and bustle when I could barely walk, you watched, waiting, patiently and faithfully, knowing I would eventually be able to work as I used to. You never gave up on me, even when I have wanted to give up on myself.

Even today, you are my safe haven, my safe space where I can just be the new me I have become.

As I've grown into this new version of me, I have built my new values, that look nothing like the values I had before, because of all of the time I have spent in your loving embrace.

You have never left me, and I will never leave you.

Thank you,
your most devoted,

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Big 4-0

For those of you following along, you are probably familiar with my love affair with The People's Food Co-op of Kalamazoo, this place has been essential and instrumental in my renewal process, not only has this place been a safe haven for me as I have gone through the process of becoming a new and better person, it is a place where I can be me in all my flawed glory and no one seems to mind.

the PFC has also been my therapy, challenging me to rebuild my cognitive and physical abilities; This week I have crossed another milestone with the help of this priceless place: I completed a five day, 40 hour work week, yes, I worked Mom-Friday, all eight hour shifts in a row, no breaks. Now, this may seem like it's not that big of a deal to most people, but let me put this in perspective for you, when I started back at the co-op post-stroke in 2012, I was working one two hour shift a week and that almost floored me, the effort it took to interact with people and stand for that amount of time was massive, but, as my brain started to come back online, my super-boss Simon and I started slowly but surely  increasing my hours, which took it's toll, rebuilding stamina is like building up any muscle, anytime I overdo it with my energy levels my body shuts itself down to the point where it's impossible for me to do anything but lay in a useless lump of misery, so jumping from 20 to 30 hours a week was a stretch, and, last week I was on the couch for four days straight after a 30 hour week and in preparation for this week.

When this week began, I was terrified that I would be miserable and sick by the end of the week, but, I realized that worrying about days ahead wasn't helping me enjoy the days that were happening and that I only needed to worry about that if it happened, so I started paying attention to how I felt at that moment, got enough rest at night and enjoyed myself at work all week long. Then today rolled around, the day I though I would for sure be a mess for, but I woke up bright eyed and excited to see what the day would bring, determined to kill it and to traverse this gauntlet Simon had thrown down for me. I felt great all day long, even when some sleepiness would sneak in, I would push it aside in favor of enjoying the company of my co-workers and the lovely environment I work in. Now that I've built up that muscle I can do it again and again and not doubt my ability to do so.

So, you see, my friends, in the end it's all about how you look at things, if you look at them in the right way there is nothing that you can't accomplish.

I made this week my bitch! Victory!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mrs. Happy Face

Charlotte and I recently returned from our yearly week-long vacation on her Grandma's farm in Ontario. The week we spend there is always fun filled and relaxing, but this time was different, it was different because I was determined to get all of the juice out of my days, to pour myself into every delightful moment spent with my rapidly growing child.

We had a wonderful time, we did farm chores, watering horses, cows and feeding the barn cat, Sophie, we went on wildflower hunts, discovered wild garlic, rode around the expansive farm on Grandma's Gator played everyday with Charlotte's new bestie, her cousin Alexa, everyday.

Then the best  and most anticipated event of the trip happened:

Charlotte's first sleepover! When we were planning the trip I mentioned to Charlotte's grandma, Marcia that she would really love to have a sleepover with Alexa, so we started plotting, then the day finally came, Charlotte and I woke up ecstatic that morning, me, because I was excited to experience this with Charlotte, Charlotte because, well, it was exciting, the girls swam in the pool with me and Aunt Amanda, watched Chicken Run and the two three- yearolds even ate some of their dinner. After dinner, Charlotte's Grandpa Robin went outside and got a campfire going, I may have suggested that Charlotte would love that too, and we went outside to sit around the fire, roasting marshmallows and making smores, Charlotte managed to get smore all over herself, right after her bath, mind you, I may have eaten more smores than a grown woman should, the night was perfect, it was warm, the farm was peaceful, the sun setting, I was with my favorite people, eating smores, then Amanda snapped this photo of me, and posted it on Facebook, afterwards theere was an outcry of jot from all of my digi friends, it was so good to see me happy! These comments made me step back for a moment, I took stock of the last three years and, yes thus is probably the first picture of me since the stroke where I am experiencing blissful joy, before and after, before the stroke, I wa on the samr quest everyone else seems to be on, the search for ultimate happiness;

Now, let me be clear, I am not a spiritual or happiness guru, but here's what I think about happiness: the search for this slippery emotiuon is really hard, because we think we will find happiness in possessions, people and how attractive we are, I think happiness lies in living and loving your life, regardless of the circumstances. Sure, I ealk kind sloww and trip over my words sometimes, and, yes I have an arm that has decided to go on a permanent vacation, but I'm here and as long as there is breath in my body I am going to live the shit out of this life, so when I'm at the end of it, I die with a smile on my face.

Stop chasing happiness, people, it's right in front of you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Unexpected Therapist

As soon as a brain injury occurs, be it a closed head injury, concussion, stroke, etc..., the survivor is immediately inundated with therapists, physical, occupational, recreational and speech, these therapists are there to help the survivor learn how to live their live post injury.

For the month I was at the rehabilitation unit at Borgess hospital, I got very accustomed to what these therapists did, they helped me re-learn to speak, eat, dress myself and bathe.

When I was told I was being released from rehab, I was ecstatic, I thought that returning home would make everything seem normal again, after all, home is where routine lives, home is comfortable and normal, but what I discovered upon returning home was that life was anything but normal, returning home was when my real rehab began, it was when I had to start learning how to live in my new body, with my new mind in earnest. The only thing on my mind at the time was getting back to work at the Co-op, I started working again in May of 2012, I was working two hours a week, greeting customers, answering phones and occasionally ringing customers up, a job that been created to suit my needs and abilities at the time. After being elbow deep in practically every aspect of the co-op right before the stroke, doing this job was a hit to my pride, I was embarrassed to be standing there by the door, greeting customers, doing minimal work, now I understand, it was what I was capable of, but at the time, I felt like my life was crumbling apart in front of me, I was determined to find a place for myself at the co-op again.

Then the planets and universe shifted again. The Front End Manager(FEM) who had taken over for me when I had to step down decided to move out of state, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to reapply for the job when the posting went up , but I knew better, and I had my sights set on s different job that I was not ready for, I was nervous, wondering who would get the job, knowing whoever got the job would be instrumental in helping me get back into the swing of things, the universe always knows what it's doing and it swung in my favor this time because the new FEM was the former's Lead Cashier, Simon. I lept with joy when I found out, Simon was one of the last cashiers I  hired before the stoke, he showed great leadership and knowledge in his role as Lead Cashier, I knew my future at the co-op would be secure in his hands. Simon and I began sitting down and talking about my goals almost immediately after her took over as FEM, my goal, as always, I wanted to work more and become more comfortable cashiering. Soon, my hours started increasing and I started working more cashier shifts, mainly on the weekends, so I had to start relearning out Point of Sale System, soon Simon was working with me, re-training me on the POS, teaching me how to count down my drawers at the end of my shifts, a task that was not easy for me and my addled mind to accomplish calmly. As this process progressed, I was embarrassed every time he had to sit down with me and explain how to count down my drawer, after all, I had trained him to do the same thing he was teaching me to do in the not so distant past, it was an awkward position for us to be in, but Simon treated me with kindness, understanding and patience and he never made me feel stupid, which was how I felt, or like a special needs staff member, he treated me the way he would treat any new hire, with respect.

Now I work multiple times a week, this week I'm working a 20 hour week, Simon's loyalty, patience and faith in my abilities has pushed me in positive ways, just like any good therapist, he doesn't ask me to do anything he doesn't think I can do, I have re- found my niche at the co-op and I am pleased as punch to be a cashier there, any day you see me behind the register at the co-op is the best day of my life, because I am doing it, with the help of my most important therapist.