Monday, November 30, 2015

Four Years...

I guess you could call this an obligatory post, as it comes on the four-year "trauma-versary" of my climbing fall.    I have not posted regularly for a while....but given today's significance, I figured I should.

It has been a whirlwind, for sure.   I have learned so many things and discovered many corners within myself which have made me a stronger, much more stubborn, compassionate, and resilient person.    I have met so many amazing people as a result of this journey....and I am grateful for so many things.  

Yet rebuilding with a "new normal" is not without its challenges.   We keep on, keeping on.    Climbing is a great metaphor, because this is what we do.  We forge ahead....climb back onboard, and embrace the struggle.   I'm proud of being part of this subset of the population....the survivors.    There are a lot of us, for sure.   If there is anything I can offer after rising from the ashes, so-to-speak, it is a sense of hope.    I'm not talking about the Pollyanna sort of hope, and I'm not talking about achieving anything.   The hope I'm referring to resides in our day-to-day relationships with one another and the courage to continue despite the struggle.   As Brene' Brown states in her book Daring Greatly, to be "out in the arena" and unashamed of our vulnerability.  

So....I figured, why not embrace the significance of today by climbing?   Truthfully, it was a hard day.   I got on a 5.10+ route I had done before and as I neared the top (and the crux) I just sorta shut down.   No warning.....the "four year" mark just hit me.   Life is different.  I'm still adjusting.  Yes, I'm still climbing!   If there is any way I can throw out there the tenacity to not give up......I'm hurling that into the universe.   For everyone embracing challenges in their life right now, I offer the encouragement to breathe, connect, and just....KEEP CLIMBING!  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Stella!!! Proof of the Healing Power of the Outdoors....

I haven't posted in a while, but I felt this story was compelling enough to share.  It has been a mini-confirmation of knowing first hand, the healing power of the outdoors. 

So....Meet Stella.
 We call Stella our "old girl".  She is 17 years old, missing all but three teeth, is completely declawed (which we hate), and a cranky old lady.   She's got a little tumor / cyst on her leg, is very inquisitive,and is quite the talker.   In fact, she has been known to say such words as "Mama" and "Elmo", and will actually answer us when we speak to her in conversation. 
A couple of months ago, we thought Stella was dying.   She showed all the signs:   accidents around the house, not eating or drinking, lacking in energy, lethargy.... all the telltale signs we have seen before with our previous lovely feline, Dylan.   We took Stella to the vet (who basically told us she was very old and arthritic, and to have a litter box on every floor), and brought her home.   I commented to the family, "I think it might be time for kitty hospice."   
Stella had been an outdoor cat in her toddler years, so she always had a longing to get back into her lifestyle of catting around (pun totally intended).   However, for her safety we had kept her indoors, since we live in an area where there are coyotes, raccoons, fox, hawks, and other wildlife who would tear her apart in a heartbeat if given the chance.   Since we felt she was nearing the end, we decided we would bring her outside with enjoy whatever time she had left. 
Stella loved basking in the sun, with her eyes half-closed and sniffing the breezes.  She was totally in her feline geriatric element.  We felt we could put Stella on a leash and keep an eye on her, allowing her to soak in the joy of being outside once again.    It totally took us by surprise when our toothless, clawless girl caught a bird!    (Gasp!)  Luckily, the little swallow was only very stunned and shaken up.   Scott took the little feathered friend away from the deck and placed him safely into an abandoned nest in a tree at the edge of the yard.   He flew away later, thank god.   But Stella?   She was quite happy with herself and was now prancing around like a furry little queen.   
And.....Stella has returned to her vocal, inquisitive, vital (albeit geriatric) feline self.    Coincidental?   I don't think so.   I have seen again and again how folks are imbued by a new sense of purpose and vitality just by getting outdoors.     Since my accident, I personally have felt depression lift and pain lessen when I'm doing my thing.....hiking, climbing, kayaking, or just being outdoors.   As always, the greater the scenery, the better.   But the sun, the breeze, the elements...they're healing.  Our Stella has proven it. 
We don't know how long our old girl will be with us...but we are glad she can enjoy the life-giving power of nature.  Now it will just be our job to protect the birds.
(This post has been brought to you by the "Black Cats Aren't Scary" Society in preparation for the Halloween Holiday.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It's about the JOURNEY

Sometimes it's hard to remember that life is a JOURNEY, not a destination, especially in our goal-focused and results-driven world.    This year Scott and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary.  So much has happened in 10 years!     This year we celebrated by climbing our first multi-pitch (as an amputee) at Red Rock Canyon in NV.    It was such a memorable experience.......
Looking back over the past 10 years......  and celebrating!

8 Year Wedding Anniversary


10th Wedding Anniversary....Celebration of Survival and


Friday, April 17, 2015

Genetics, Prosthetics and Prozac, Oh My!

One of the things my mom used to say to me whenever I complained about difficult situations or encountered adversity was "Hey, it builds character!"    I used to think....yeah right.  Character.   That is the consolation prize for falling flat on your butt over and over again, while you watch folks
around you go about their smiling lives and brag about their achievements (Okay....I'm adding drama here.)   Truthfully though....It is times such as this past Monday, as I limped in to see my hairstylist and her saying to me:  "My Gosh Chris, it seems like you're living a nightmare that just doesn't end..." that I think, "Oh, wow....things are really pretty stressful in our lives, I guess. Hmmm."  

We just keep on, keeping on.....don't we?

I've been working on getting a new leg for the past five months, and it has been frustrating. ask, has it taken this long?   Well....I have these little beings called children.  And they have some special needs.  Especially my son.  He is constantly a challenge.   And, I am trying to carve out some kind of career / employment.  Kind of.....because it is hard to earn money when you don't know from one day to the next what your walking situation will be, if you'll get a call from school about your son's behavior, or.....the list goes on.    Appointments are kind of like a job, actually.....for me, and my kids.   Every. week.  And they don't stop.  

So I'll say it.....Parenting is hard, and being an amputee is least right now.  Having any kind of uniquely challenging situation can be tough because it can tend to be all consuming.    I miss having a "typical life" and doing stuff I see other folks doing.  But.... at least I'm building character!!!   And I'm trying to etch some positive on the situation.....trying to make my contribution by taking on projects that sort of of help people because, keeps me from navel-gazing.  Or getting depressed.    Those things can wind you up in a bad way (like curled up in the fetal position or staring into space for long periods of time....or worse.).    There's nothing heroic or special about's called self-preservation. We grit our teeth and do what we do to keep forging on.

On the Saturday before Easter, this happened: 

Yes, my hubby was a stressed-out, distracted driver (thought the woman in front of him was yielding, not stopping.)   The situation in our house prior to hitting the road was as follows:   Our son was melting down and heel-dragging in a major way.  I was having leg issues and wanted to chuck the dang leg across the room.  Earlier in the day I read a story about a woman who has been an amputee for four months, and she was running.  That's good, I know....but I was feeling sorry for myself because of how a neuroma is keeping me from getting a good socket fit and doing things I love, like running.    I was a crabby mess and just wanted things to be easy they used to be (before my accident, before kids).  And I took it out on my husband (, poor guy.)    I yelled and swore about my f '-ing leg, and carried on about my son's behavior sucking us in like a "black hole."  As usual, we were running late.....   

Interestingly, the woman who we rear-ended was crying about her stressed out she didn't need this right now, as she has a son at home with special needs (the counselor in me read between the lines....thinking, probably financial struggles, child care issues, that fried feeling that I also knew very well).  I wanted to say "I know honey....I know...", but since we hit her, I wasn't in an appropriate space to offer psychotherapy.   I simply thought to myself, Wow....this is kind of like the movie "Crash" in real life.  We were all okay.  The Jeep, not-so-much.   It was a good wake-up call reminding us to take it easy, slow down, and be more "present" in the moment.

These "issues"....well, they simply morph.  In the old days (eg. my early parenting days) I had a belief that we would turn a corner with my kiddo's issues.  He would see the light, we would find the perfect medication, teacher, or therapy.   The same temptation holds true for being a survivor of trauma... The belief that some healing magic bullet is right around the corner.  Nope.  Not the case.  

So, we had our annual appointment with the Craniofacial Team at Children's Hospital.   Luckily, the folks on the team know us well, and can eyeball our kiddos from a clinical perspective every year.   Jade is your typical, happy-go-lucky kid who happens to have a bilateral cleft.   Kai....well, he is a can of worms.    There is some reason to think that further genetic testing will reveal what is going on with him....why he has so many quirks, odd physical characteristics, delays and behavioral challenges.    We will be repeating some neuro-psych testing as well, since the last report was done when Kai was four.   AND...we will gear up for a bone-graft surgery in August, continued orthodontic treatment, and behavioral interventions at school.  These are times where it really does take a village..... 

We have an IEP in place and are looking forward to a better leg soon.  Hopefully.    Who ever coined the phrase:  When momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy?   Unfortunately that does seem to apply.  My husband, bless his heart, does his best.....and we are lucky in that way.   We embrace our family oddities and treasure them, believe it or not.   Our sense of humor remains intact the majority of the time.   (Except the times when I'm throwing my leg across the room.)

Other parents of kids w/ special needs struggle, and other amputees struggle, and well....everyone has their hard time now and again.   Truly, we ALL need a village!

So that character thing.    I guess I've got some equity in the character department.   I wish there was a barter system though...... because I'd love to trade character for contentment and peace one of these days.   I think I would even settle for boredom.  

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Telling Our Stories

Part of what prompted this blog post is the publishing of an article in Milwaukee Magazine this month about my accident, and how we began an adaptive climbing program with Adaptive
Adventures in the Milwaukee area.   Overall, the article is great....but I struggled to see in print, a comment I made in reference to how my accident happened:  “I was really wound up from taking him to medical appointments, you know, signing over my life to take care of [my son], who had some behavioral challenges as well,”   Even prior to doing an interview about my experience, I struggled as to how to broach the subject of my parenting challenges and how the reality of the intense stress I felt [parenting a challenging child] led to the judgment error I made almost 3 1/2 years ago.  I struggled with the perception that I might have some resentment toward my child, or that my comments might be viewed as blaming, somehow.  Nonetheless, I kept coming to the same place understanding in my heart....thinking, things happened as they did.  This is my truth.  

And thus, over the past 3 1/2 years I have shared some variation of how parenting stress played into my accident, but I have never written about it.    At this point I feel I have earned some degree of respect as someone who has weathered struggle....mostly as a survivor of [physical] trauma (and if you can't believe a one-legged mom trying her best, who can you believe, right? ).   What continues to occur to me most at this point is how I continue to be a parent of a CHILD who is a survivor of trauma.  A child who brought a profound degree of trauma into our home when he joined our family.   While I have struggled to make my way back to health from injuries, the scars imprinted on my son's psyche after suffering over two years of horrible orphanage neglect are less easy to recover from.   We continue to deal with them every. day. still.  I cannot begin to tell you in a single post, how mind-wrackingly, soul-wretchingly difficult it has been to parent our son, who suffers from a laundry-list of issues (Developmental Trauma / Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified) , ADHD, Speech and Language Disorder, and others).  It is tempting to think, "Why wouldn't we be the perfect parents to parent a challenging child?  We have backgrounds in mental health / counseling, psychology and'd think the match would be perfect, right?" Um.... Realistically, the daily grind of parenting a child whose life-goal has been to keep from attaching, to prove how unlovable he is, and whose brain is still stuck in survival mode 75 percent of the time is very taxing on a mother and a family.    All sugar-coating aside....every day is a struggle.   I am at the stage (call it maturity) where I don't care about impressing others with a Susie-Homemaker mommy image or a need to prove something.   I was and am a struggling mom...with a child with special a family trying to do our best.  I am also parenting with a disability, which makes life quite interesting. One of the good things that comes out of surviving something tough is that it helps keep things in perspective while peppering one with a good dose of grit.

"That" day...

People will often ask what came into my mind at the moment of my fall.  Truthfully, after the initial "oh shit" moment and self-berating over the "stupid" mistake of not clipping in, as I laid on the floor I lamented over and over to the gym manager how stressed out I had been to the point of being completely fried.    Over and over again, I said "you have no idea how stressed out I have been.  Oh my god...I can't believe I did this.  I have been so, so stressed in parenting this kid."   The day had been packed with appointments, my kiddo had just had his three-hour long in-home ABA (autism) therapy that morning, and I thought I'd squeeze in an hour or so of climbing before another appointment with the developmental specialist.   Yes, I had been horribly injured, but my mind immediately raced to all of the all of the responsibilities I needed to reschedule.  I never lost fact, I could give the phone numbers of places needing to be called to the gym staff, while still in shock.   It wasn't until I was safely strapped into the ambulance on an IV drip of dilaudid that I could take a deep breath and tell myself:  "Okay....this is your wake-up call.  Now you're gonna NEED to take care of YOU." 

After all of the ugly stuff that went on in the ER and I was wheeled up to my hospital room, I verbalized to the nursing staff that it felt good to finally, finally have some peace.  Obviously, because I had these bad injuries I did not even feel guilty this time. (guilt is another bad habit we moms of kids with special needs pick up).   While I had been on perennial auto-pilot and constant worry-mode about my son (in trauma-language this state would be called hypervigilance [Here is a good article on that: Autism Moms Have Stress Similar to Combat Soldiers. ), I realized that I had now been forced into a situation where I needed to confront this reality.  Luckily (yes, luckily) I would be going home to a hospital bed in the living room, and a competent group of therapists from Easter Seals would continue to work with my son.  In addition, family would be needing to step up to the plate and help out as well, which gave everyone a taste of what it was like to deal with the challenging behaviors of my kiddo on a first-hand basis.   


Perspective is a good thing, and sometimes the enduring of a life-changing experience gives a person a kind of permission, or authority, if you will, to be taken with a bit of seriousness.   My hope is that by sharing my story, folks will begin to understand just how difficult it can be for parents who take care of children with special needs, and how our lives are affected.    As a parent who sits on an advisory committee at Children's Hospital of WI, one of my main goals has been to champion the need for more emotional parent support.   (Emotional support, peer support, or anything which is not "medical" per-se, does not receive nearly enough funding or attention.   Apparently, specialists can medicate and treat our children and the parents will magically patch themselves together somehow.)  It has taken a horrible accident to be able to speak honestly about this, and to be at a point where I can truthfully admit these struggles.    (Parenting a child with attachment challenges and a history of trauma / neglect is a topic worthy of its own post, for sure.)

There have been several learnings over the past few years.....  
  • Self-care is not an OPTION.  It is a NECESSITY.
  • Remaining ACTIVE is healing for the body and the soul.
  • We NEED each other, and we need to stop pretending that we've got it all together...because let's face it, none of us do.
  • I needed (and maybe WE need) to stop feeling as if I am / we are not doing enough....for our children, for our jobs, etc., and replace that feeling with self compassion.
  • There is power in finding and embracing your truth and your passion.....which can be used to ignite new ideas..
  • It is very important to refrain from judgment, and try to embrace the belief that we all do our best, given the circumstances within which we find ourselves.   We need to be compassionate with others as well as ourselves.
  • Our stories are powerful, and no one should be ashamed of their story / their truth.

Friday, January 9, 2015

One Year "Ampu-versary" and Looking Ahead...

It occurred to me earlier in the day (once I realized the date) that today marks exactly one year since my amputation.   What a year it has been!
Life as an amputee.....each day brings a new and 
different challenge! 

The year has had its ups and downs for sure, and while it has been filled with frustrations, excitement, learnings, grieving, and constantly morphing expectations, it has also been a rich year packed with some wonderful experiences.  While one year ago I had envisioned that I would be crushing life's obstacles along the way by forging ahead in this new "amputee" reality, it has really become more of a gradual embracing of what life really is......

As always, there is an ideal as well as the real.  There are things which we strive for and realities we learn to accept.....and sometimes, coming to terms with reconciling these can be challenging.   Keeping this in mind, these are my goals for the new year

To be Gentle.  I have strongly considered getting a tattoo under my collarbone reading the simple words:  Let It Be One thing I have learned from healing from trauma and adjusting to life as an amputee, is that the human body has a way of healing itself on its own timeline.   I tend to get stubborn and judge myself harshly if I'm not able to meet the goals I set for myself as quickly or easily as I had envisioned.  Having grown up a competitive athlete, this is a tough pill to choke down because I had always thought that hard work and dedication generally win out in the end.   While that IS often the case, there is no way I can force my leg to not change shape (affecting socket-fit and comfort...expected in the first year or two), or to deny that I've got some nerve damage that is permanent and long-lasting.   At this stage of the game, my driven nature sometimes does not serve me well.....I'm much better off listening to my body and laying off of the self-judgment (easier said than done.).   Of course, stubbornness is still my default-mode (probably always will be, dang it!)     

To Seek Deep, Abiding Joy.   When dealing with stuff that can get stressful quickly and easily (such as behavioral challenges with my kiddos, a socket that is fitting sub-optimally, or persistent back pain), finding deep, abiding joy is hugely important.   These moments can be found in shared heartfelt conversations, rich and meaningful experiences with friends and family, getting crazy and silly with my hubby and kids, connecting on a "soul" level with those who really "get" you, or laughing with someone so hard that you pee in your pants.  For me, it has meant finding my tribe and embracing the understanding that life with a disability CAN really suck, but it can also be beautiful, rich and deep......and yes, extremely FUN too!

To bring hope.   I know it sounds moralistic and simple, but the concept of hope is delicate and powerful at the same time.   I remember clinging to stories shared with me by others who had gone through very difficult circumstances, and these stories were like manna from heaven.   They stayed with me even during really painful, challenging times, or days when I wanted to give up. 

The most therapeutic experiences for me the past few years have been getting to know other "survivors," through the adaptive climbing program we've started, and the trauma survivor peer support program we are creating at Froedtert Hospital.    It is POWERFUL to be with people who you know KNOW struggle.....To share in the experience of their getting up on the rock / wall, climbing....perhaps doing something they never believed they would ever be able to do.   To give folks an experience of embracing life fully and doing something that feels amazing....THAT to me, is sharing hope.   Every night we have a climbing program, I leave feeling exhilirated and empowered from hearing the stories of others.

When people are newly injured and grasping for any last shred of reassurance (as I remember all too well), to be able to say, "Look, I know this is reeeally hard.  It will be hard.  But you WILL get through this....I know you will, and it will be worth it." is a place of great honor and priviledge.    When I'm having a tough day emotionally or am dragging, connecting with newly injured survivors helps me to remember how far I have come, which is pretty important (it is easy to forget!).  It is helpful to know that we are not alone, as we look around and are hit smack-in-the-face with how our lives have changed.      

To keep moving.   While this is probably an easy goal to list, the temptation to inactivity is constantly there.   I am intimately aware of the propensity toward inertia and depression that is always right around the corner, lurking behind every excuse: "I'm too tired, I'm too sore, my leg isn't fitting well, it is too cold to go out, etc.).   It is true that exercise boosts our levels of endorphins, which are our body's natural pain killers.   It is also true that movement is one of the best ways to keep arthritis at-bay (one of the natural by-products of lots of orthopedic injuries unfortunately.)   So oh yeah, doing whatever I can to keep my mind and body active will continue to be important.

As 2015 begins, I am thankful for all of the amazing people I have met, the cool experiences I have had, and I look forward to what lies ahead.