Changes and a New Focus: Dealing with Family Crises and Finding Balance

So much has happened in the many months since I’ve been here. Too much, really. My family and I have faced so much upheaval that we’re just now beginning to settle into our new normal. That has taken eight, long months and it’s a tentative settling at best. Let me back up and explain.

Eight months ago our definition of normal imploded. All within one week’s time we found out that a close relative was diagnosed with breast cancer, my husband was diagnosed with diabetes, and I had pernicious anemia (PA) and possibly multiple sclerosis (MS). It’s been an arduous journey to health and we aren’t even at the end. Jim has stabilized with changes to his diet. Our relative is (all fingers crossed) in the last leg of kicking cancer square in the ass. Me? Still in limbo, I’m afraid. I can control the PA with bi-monthly shots, but the other symptoms…not quite.

It all began because  I couldn’t walk without falling. The fall that sent me to the doctor frightened me. I was coming down the stairs after my morning shower and I toppled and hit the wall hard, literally and figuratively. I can no longer walk unassisted. I use a cane to navigate stairs and a rollator for all other ambulatory needs. I can drive only short distances, and then only if I absolutely have to. There are days I can’t drive at all because I can’t trust my feet or hands to do as I command. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for me. There are so many other physical changes in my life that I won’t go into here. It all boils down to one thing: I have to accept that I am handicapped now.

And that’s not something I am doing well with. I have always been fiercely independent. Asking for help was not an option I ever employed. If I wanted to go somewhere or do something I just did. Nothing stood in my way. And if I couldn’t do it, well, it just didn’t get done.

But here I am. Needing help every damn day of my life because you can’t just not wear pants because you can’t put them on yourself. You can’t just leave the house without shoes because your foot won’t lift off the floor. You can’t just not eat because walking across the room isn’t an option for the day.

And I hate it. I resent it. I cannot stand it!

The worst part? I am eight months into poking and prodding and testing and multiple doctors and I STILL do not have an official diagnosis. Ask how many Type A people would enjoy that. If you find one, please introduce us. I need help.

All this to say, I am grieving the loss of my independence something fierce. It truly feels like some part of me just up and died. Last August I was walking, driving, and living my life like every other person–going to my nieces’ dance recitals and soccer games, going to the grocery store, taking my kids back and forth to events, going to have lunch with my husband at work. Four weeks later I just wasn’t anymore. Two weeks after that, I was using a rollator once in a while. Eight months later, and the rollator is a part of my body. The fear that a wheelchair looms in my near future is so very real that I want to cry.

Don’t get me wrong. I know things could be exponentially worse. I’m still here, alive and watching my kids transition into the next big phase of their lives, watching my nieces grow, and reconnecting with long lost family. The recent loss of a friend who was only 12 days younger than me drove that realization home hard.  I sat at his memorial last week, weeping for the loss, aching at his mother’s face, his widow’s sobs, and I knew I was being selfish. Talk about forcing some perspective.

However, it’s still a loss I am feeling and grieving. I know, at some point, I will rise above this. I will learn how to navigate this massive change. Until then, I am trying to remind myself that this is not the end of the world. It’s just a hefty bump in my road–a road that I am travelling, like it or not.

For now, I’ve chosen to focus on what I CAN do. It’s the only thing I think will help. I’ve decided to kick my writing goals into high gear while I still can. I’m going to be sharing here about navigating the traditional publishing slopes. I am querying agents for my first novel. I am working steadily on my next novel. I am blogging again. Most of all, I have to remember that I am more than just my rebellious body.

I’m still a wife.

Mother.

Aunt.

Friend.

And writer.

I’m still me.

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Treatment: Hope

The summer of 2017 has not been kind to me and my family, both close and extended. So many people I care about have had diagnoses that literally upended their lives this summer, some temporarily, others forever. I’ve been operating under the mire of worry for the last month, trying to find my way past the grey clouds swirling about my head. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying, researching, crying and angry, pondering why things seem so damn unfair. No answers, just the echo of my questions as a reply.

This week I realized something, though. As I watch the stress mount on everyone, as I watch the numbness, shock, and dismay turn to anger, I ask, “How much more? How much before we break?” While I do not get the answers I seek, I do get the picture in my mind of a mountain.

Why the mountain? Well, when you think about it, it’s a steep climb with few footholds to make it to the top. It’s a tough journey, the toughest of your life, and questioning whether you can conquer what seems impossible. That’s exactly what we are all doing. We are standing there facing that treacherous climb and asking ourselves, can I make it? Do I have what it takes? What if…?

You have to embrace your strength. You have to face that mountain with every ounce of tenacity, guts, and grit that you can muster, if for no other reason than that the minute you doubt your own strength, the battle is lost. Even before that first step is taken, you will lose if you don’t embrace hope. Hope becomes all you have. And it can be enough.

You have to have the hope that you will reach the top of that mountain, that you will stand at the peak and scream to the world, “It didn’t beat me! I faced my battle and it didn’t beat me!” Keeping that in mind is what will keep you going. It will see you through. It will be enough.

I am looking at all this that our family is going through and trying to convince myself that this bump in the road may be more like a crater, but it isn’t insurmountable. We are a strong group of people. We are fighters. We are stubborn. We are strong. We have hope. And that is enough.

Hello 40’s, Goodbye Freewheelin’

What is it about entering your 40’s and the rapid decline of health? I find myself asking this question more and more as I sink deeper into the quagmire of midlife. I’ve had many health victories this past year, not the least among them a whopping 84 pound weight loss. But, alas, weight loss, awesome as it is and still on my list of focal points for my life, is not the magic bullet we think it is. Friends, sometimes life happens and it cares less about the scale than anything possibly could.

2017 is shaping up to be the bane of my insurance company’s and wallet’s existence. It’s six months old and already I’ve had a five day hospital stay, sleep apnea diagnosis, am unable to see much of anything without my glasses (no shock, I come from some serious mole people) and my asthma. Lord, help me, my asthma.

Before now, for decades I had an inhaler banging around in the bottom of my purse, an accessory I carried only when I didn’t have pockets or had more to haul around than one hand could easily manage. I’m not a high maintenance woman. Less is more in all aspects of my life, whether it’s makeup or possessions. However, the recent diagnosis of sleep apnea–a total accidental find to begin with–sent me back to the lung specialist.

Turns out that my lungs are revolting. Enacting a coup. Plain old being more than just a pain in my chest. I went from one lonely, probably expired inhaler, to having one on my person at all times and one for each floor of the house. In addition to that lovely aerosol accoutrement, I also have three pills and an inhaled steroid to take daily. As if that wasn’t enough, I am also tethered to a nebulizer and peak flow meter every four hours. And, like this week, if I have an exacerbation, add a butt ton of prednisone and antibiotics to that list. For the first time ever, I have to wear a medical alert tag at all times because, like Tuesday, there may come a time where I am unable to speak because I can’t breathe.

It’s overwhelming for me and my family.

I have an emergency paper laminated and hanging on the fridge so the kids know what to do if days like Tuesday happen again. I have a bright yellow folder accessible at all times that lists all my meds and allergies should they have to call 911 and speak for me.

It’s scary stuff.

While there are more health issues I’m dealing with, and will undoubtedly blog about, I am trying my damndest to remain upbeat, to not let asthma have the last word. The Type A in me is pissed that this was not part of THE PLAN. You know, the preordained by me PLAN of how my life was supposed to go. But the normal part of me, small as that may be, knows that life is unpredictable. Because of that I have to roll with the flow. Accept what I can change, right?

So, for now, asthma calls the shots. But while I struggle to learn how to keep it in check, I am not going to give up the hope that I can go back to my untethered to machines, freewheelin’ ways.

Someday.

Hopefully soon.

Do you deal with asthma? What are your triggers? How long have you dealt with it? Let me know in the comments!

IWA Podcast interview

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the International Writers Association’s Robert J. Moore. In November I joined this group and met Robert, a truly kind and, I must say, the happiest guy I’ve ever met.

Stop by the podcast and follow it to get it in your inbox. Give it a review on iTunes and pass it along to friends and others you know who might like it or benefit from the great info there. Thanks for listening!

Click here to listen to the interview or click the IWA logo below.

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Thoughts on body image and anchors

A comment from my last post got me thinking and I wanted to respond to her with this, but it was much too long to leave in the comments section. So, this post is for her.

My husband is half Polish and half Serbian. The matriarch of the Serbian half of his family was Grandma Mary. She was the epitome of every stereotype one has of what grandmas should be. She was sweet and kind, always filling you to overflowing with food and never ran short on love. I was fortunate enough to have a few short years with her before she passed away in 1998.

She was a member of St. George’s Serbian Orthodox Church in Lorain. At her funeral, her priest, a young, handsome man from the former Yugoslavia, gave a eulogy that has stuck with me. In my sadness over her passing, his words had a profound effect on me and they apply to so much, in so many instances.youaremore

He was talking about how we shouldn’t be sad that she died. She had gone on to do the thing God created her, created all of us, to do. He placed his hand on the highly polished casket and said, “Do not mourn this body. This is vanity.” He went on to explain that our bodies are only anchors to this earth and aren’t meant to last.

Anchors.

Think about anchors for a minute. What are they? They are nothing more than huge hunks of heavy metal that keep boats and ships from sailing off into the horizon. No one pays much attention to them or what they look like. Some anchors keep fishing boats in place so fishermen can catch dinner for their families, or trawlers can catch seafood for many families. Some anchors hold luxurious yachts in place, vessels so beautiful it staggers the imagination. Still others hold humble boats where they need to be so someone can travel from one place to the next. Regardless, anchors have one simple job and that’s all they’re good for, right?

Maybe.

Or they could be more.

The way I see it, they ARE more. Anchors, and the job they do, can be an allegory for ourselves and the lives we lead. Our bodies are like anchors, very much like what Grandma Mary’s priest said. They keep us here, focused in our lives, on what we are supposed to do. They are attached to the bigger picture of what our lives were meant to be. Some of us were meant to be here to tend to our families the best way we can. Some of us were meant to take care of others. Some people are here to lead beautiful lives, while still others are here to spread humility. None of those are possible without their heavy anchor.

If we can look at those yachts, trawlers and boats and see the goodness and beauty there without a second thought to what their anchors look like, why do we spend so much time on the vanity that surrounds what our bodies look like? The real beauty of what we are, what makes us the beautiful creatures God intended, is within us. It’s what we take with us when we’re called home. We leave our anchors behind and sail off into the horizon.

Remember that the next time you look in the mirror and criticize yourself.

You are more than your anchor.

You are more than your body.

Your body is linked to the very best you have to offer, and that is so much more than the outside.

Plus Size Mama is now available for pre-order here! Publication is May 10th!

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