Thoughts After the Pain

While we were at Texas Children’s Hospital (my son was having neurosurgery work-up) we had at least 8 hours to occupy while my son had tests run on our last day there.. We passed by the chapel many times that week but I never had time to stop. The opportunity seemed right so my husband and I sat in the little chapel. It was round, the ceiling had tiny lights that looked like stars, and the lighting changed over the course of ten minutes or so until all the lights dimmed and the tiny stars seemed to twinkle. I admired the quaint little room for the ten minute round of lighting changes. As the lights went from dark to light, I felt a familiar presence I hadn’t felt in a while. It was the feeling of the most loved of friends. It’s the one friend that knows me like no one will ever know me and loves me more than anyone could ever love me. It was the presence of the Lord.

I have always thought of myself as a woman of great faith. I had inspiration to give to others in their times of need and I believed God could cover and heal any hurt, but for the past seven years, the hurt in my own personal life had grown and finally gave way to more doubt than unfaltering belief. Since my son was diagnosed, everything became more difficult. The older he got, the harder it was to deny what the disease was robbing from him. He has been denied the opportunities that naturally come to other little boys his age. Despite it all, my husband and I continued the same plans to grow our family as we had planned before either of our boys were born. He and I were blessed with our two daughters. Our life was indeed a mixed bag of blessings and sorrow. After his diagnosis, we would be blessed greatly with things like when our girls were born, but were faced with things like mounting medical bills that strained our finances so greatly that we’d barely were able to afford groceries for the month, if at all. Life felt more like a rollercoaster than the dream we had once envisioned.

Then I got sick. Many probably thought I became incredibly selfish when I anxiously wanted to find a cure for my Rheumatoid Arthritis when my little boy was still suffering. I may have been. I had spent the last seven years fighting for him and I didn’t want a disease to change that. I also didn’t want anything to take me from him, or any of my other children. I wanted to be here to experience the joys and sorrows because this life was meant for me and no one else, despite how much I wanted to rid our life of the lows we frequently experience. I wanted so badly to assure my place on this Earth with my family, yet my faith was weak. I didn’t understand why I had been handed this illness in addition to everything else we were given. “Why Lord do you give me a disease that is wrecking my body when you know I have a son with epilepsy? Have you forgot I NEED to physically assist him?” Enough was enough and I could not understand this cruel addition to our already full plate. I had no encouraging words of wisdom or anticipation of His healing. I felt lost and alone and I felt like He had abandoned me.

Many people can quote words of wisdom like I once did, or jump out of bed with boundless enthusiasm and a positive outlook when their life doesn’t feel like a constant tug of war. It amazed me how many people became judgmental and claimed “they would have done it better”. It’s like the first time parents who sit and judge those who already have children, claiming they will get it “right” just to eventually find out that parenthood isn’t about getting it “right” as much as it is about doing the best you can. Once someone is no longer sitting on the sidelines but rather in the situation, the answers aren’t so clear and it isn’t as easy as once thought. This is where compassion and understanding grow. It grows out of the times we are at the top of the rollercoaster of life staring down from the top of the hill almost sick with the anticipation of the next steep decline. It’s when we are facing fear, and maybe the unknown, that we possibly have our best understanding of those people we once judged. To be honest, I don’t like the person I once was, I lacked compassion and understanding. I still don’t like many of my own qualities and I know I have a lot to learn, but I do know most people only desire understanding. So this was my life; I felt like the Lord had abandoned me, I feared constant judgement, and all the while my disease, as well as Aiden’s, was getting worse. I was sick of the rollercoaster and wanted off.

One of the worst days I had this last week in Texas was the first day we were admitted into the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit. We had been running nonstop since we left home. I was already hurting but when I laid down in our son’s room (on the tiny pull out sofa barely big enough for Doug and I), the pain I was already in got much worse. Nothing I could do was enough to ease my pain. my husband rubbed my hands and wrists until I fell asleep but I eventually woke and crawled into bed with our son. His hospital bed allowed me to sit up a bit and we were already playing musical beds as we adjusted to our new surroundings. There is something more than cuddling next to him that gives me comfort. I feel like I have been allowed to understand him more since my own diagnosis, and maybe he understands me, you never know…  It is a blessing and a curse because I often wonder if he feels pain like I did that night, yet he struggles to communicate. Now I am more aware where I wasn’t before because I have been allowed to suffer. My eyes have been opened to many things since I now physically suffer.

So that afternoon when I felt the Lord’s presence so strong, I was reminded that we aren’t guaranteed an easy life. Many children in that very hospital were facing much more than I. You don’t have to be a Christian to realize this. Nowhere are we told life will be as we wish but we are given one gift, that is life itself. Life is precious. I need to accept that my life will never be free of pain, physical or emotional, but I am given the opportunity to wake up each day. Some would finish this by saying “it’s what you decide to do with it that matters”, well, I disagree. I often don’t have a choice what I can do with my day. It has been at the mercy of one disease or another for over seven years now. I just can’t wake up with a will to conquer over my disease. I can’t will my pain away anymore than my son can stop himself from having a seizure. We deal with what we can’t control first and then we decide what we can do from there. Things don’t change just because we want them to change, so reminds me of my need for people and a God who understand.

My fear of my disease has been mostly about my own fear of death. Although my faith teaches me that there is more to life after death, I was afraid. I began to allow this fear to control my faith. It was a reminder of Jesus’ prayer in the garden before his own death that allowed me to once again embrace my faith. Jesus, knowing the outcome of his own death and what it would accomplish, still agonized over it so much that he sweat drops of blood. Whether this is a metaphor doesn’t matter as much as the fear even he had over the events before him. God wanted me to know it’s okay to feel unsure of what is before me.

My son and I will still struggle but we will do it together. The path we face is unclear but we are reminded of his presence in quiet moments in a small room with twinkling lights or through people put in our lives for a reason. We are either on the sidelines watching the rollercoaster of a life someone else is living or we are in the front seat of it, it’s the understanding and unconditional loves that helps us get through because you will never know when you will be in the unexpected. All you have is right now, the precious life you are gifted. I’m going to take it, pain and all because sometimes pain is the only way God saves us from ourselves. Pain is a despised beauty that can shape our understanding and allow us great compassion. Just because it isn’t understood doesn’t mean it has no purpose. I’m grateful I still have today to learn.

*d*

Finding Hope

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There are times like tonight when the reality of my own life is overwhelming. It usually happens when the house is quiet and all the kids are in their beds. It’s at this time of night I have a chance to really think about things. Every day seems to move faster and more furiously toward too many events I cannot understand or control.

In the quiet night air is where anxious and stomach churning thoughts often disrupt what should be a peaceful end to the day. It’s hard to ignore the pain I feel at the end of each day when my body starts to feel the repercussions of any physical activity I may have been a part of. It can get so intense that it feels like punishment for participating in my own life.

It’s when I retire to my own bed earlier than almost every other person my age that I think of my sick little boy sleeping in his own bed. I worry about seizures that may go unheard. I sicken over the knowledge of my own weakness when he is in need. If an emergency arose, would I reach him fast enough? Could I physically do what is necessary if needed? I usually push these thoughts from my head the moment my husband appears in the doorway of our bedroom. “What would I do without him?” A thought of appreciation but also a bit of a morbid one, but a thought most parents with a sick child have frequently. We wonder how the delicate balance of our family could be repaired if we lost one of us. The magnitude of such a reality is frightening.

Often, when I recall my own thoughts of the day, I realize death lingers in my own mind more often than I am willing to admit. I have a chronic disease. My disease is running rampant while I am holding on with any last scrap of optimism I can muster. I wonder how I have any thoughts that even resemble positivity because life certainly hasn’t handed out a fair share of difficulty. It seems like the scale is not tipped in our favor. When one terrible event happens, another is rushing toward us.

The big issue with chronic illness is the “chronic” part of the phrase. It’s definition; constant or having a long duration tells me what kind of hope my son and I have at a release from disease and pain. With incurable disease, the disease never ends and freedoom from it comes only through death. With pain a constant companion to incurable, chronic disease, it isn’t a wonder why my thoughts seem quite morbid. It’s also easy to understand why I’m depressed. There isn’t an end to the pain or side effects of disease…….. there is no end. There are no cures or a remission for us. Medicine and surgery only treat the symptoms and based on the drastic measures we are taking to treat our son’s symptoms, it sometimes doesn’t feel like much of a life at all.

Dreams are put on hold, plans are cancelled, and hope seems lost. But it’s that small word almost at the end of the last sentence that have given strength to so many in worse circumstances than my own. Sometimes it’s the only thing people who feel weary and burdened use to overcome. Hope.

Hope is a word manifested through people, actions, and words. Hope is sometimes given, sometimes it’s stumbled upon, but hope is often the only thing left when everything else feels lost. On those days when I am focused on going back to bed because of the relentless pain, I cling to the hope that tomorrow will be better. I have hope that I can make each day wonderful in spite of it. Hope is the echos of a good deed. Those echos reverberate in my heart, especially in recent times, and have often brought me to tears. From gesures of kind thoughts or prayers to giving generously with no ask of recognition, we have felt more love than we may have felt in a lifetime with no difficulty. We have been humbled by pain but also by love. What a feeling it is to have a breaking heart also feel so full.

When it feels like life is too much, I don’t have to look far to find happiness. It’s the smile on our children’s faces. It’s their endless desire to love and be loved. It’s those who see past our absence from their lives due to the circumstances we can’t control and choose love us anyway.  We feel loved when we finally crouch out of our darkness and into the world and there are people still waiting with open arms.

I have hope when our children display compassion learned through circumstances that ask them to miss out on so many things by no fault of their own. Every time they offer me one of their little hands so they can help me up the stairs or care for me in concern, I have hope. They have compassion learned by trials. They don’t get to do many of the things other kids their age do like play summer T-ball or take swimming lessons. Our abnormal circumstances don’t always allow normality. I make myself sick thinking about what disease takes from everyone in this family. I feel like the little part of their childhood taken away will be the big things when they get older so I hope we offer them other beautiful memories in return. Right now, it’s that quiet time of night when they are asleep and I am awake to think of these things. I think about the smiles on their faces. I think about how much love they have for me regardless of how I feel about myself, or still, how others feel about me. They see me at my worst and still love me and I them. I realize I have much to look forward to tomorrow.

***Look for hope, even of you have to make yourself. Wake up and make the best of the day, even if you require help to do it. This doesn’t mean trying to do things beyond your capabilities, it means trying to smile or laugh, even of you have to spend the day in bed. Love to the fullest of extent, even when you feel like you have nothing left to give. You aren’t guaranteed a long life, you’re not even guaranteed a fair life. Take it from someone who knows how unfair life can be, good things are not promised and someday, the end may seem closer than it has ever felt before. Take time to cry when needed. Don’t expect to feel great about every person or thing that comes into your life. Sometimes you have to work at what’s important and let go of the rest. Most importantly, find what makes today beautiful, I bet it’s closer than you think.***

*d*

An Invitation

I want to invite you in to my life. This will be extremely difficult for me. I am a private and sometimes quiet person but what I have to show you is important. It is a glimpse into the life of someone who is living with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia. I also have four children and one of them has a disease called Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. He is multi-disabled. Among several secondary diagnoses, he has epilepsy and autism.

I want to capture my life in pictures to put a face to invisible disease. I want to give a voice to others who also struggle silently. Many people, like my family, face difficult daily challenges so I hope my story will serve as a reminder to be kind to others. You never know what challenges someone else is facing.

This is how you might see me in public on a typical day.

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(I say might because with four kids, I don’t always have a lot of time to apply make-up and fix my hair before I leave the house.) Yes, I “look normal” yet I am very different. Here is life from my perspective:

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On this day I had another rheumatologist appointment. I was brought back to the exam room and four needles were arranged neatly on a tray. I have never been too excited about needles and this had me nervously thinking about the five injections I had already received since the beginning of the year. I suspected these syringes had something to do with the problem of pain in my shoulders the Dr. and I discussed at my last appointment. I tried to prepare myself mentally for what was to come. Waiting thirty minutes gave me time to doubt accepting these additional injections, but I reluctantly elected to take them in hopes of increased mobility. Unfortunately, it landed me in an ambulance with a suspected allergic reaction. It also altered how I could be treated in the future.

A few short weeks later the only positive side effects of my shots had worn off. The anti-inflammatory properties were gone and my RA took over. I was experiencing my first RA flare. I could describe it simply by saying, “it hurt to move” but I was unprepared for this kind of pain. I was shocked, reeling in pain from the smallest movements. Fibromyalgia gave me a secondary blow as it pained the area around the joint effected by RA. In a matter of weeks, I went from a 34 year-old mother of four who was keeping up with her children, to a woman unrecognizable to even myself. I revisited the rheumatologist and began physical therapy in hopes of any relief. At the advice of my physical therapist, I purchased a rollator. It would help with my mobility when the pain made it too difficult. My hands hurt so bad that I could hardly grasp the handles. My body retaliated against me and it hurt to stand up straight.

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At the peak of my flare, the morning hours gave me the most pain and I had difficulty getting out of bed so my husband began to help me….

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He helped lift me to my rollator….

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And had to help me on and off the toilet.

My knee was so full of fluid that I couldn’t get my leg over the bathtub. My hands hurt so bad that I couldn’t wash my hair, let alone squeeze my shampoo container without assistance. He waited outside the shower to help me wash my body and hair and help me in and out of the tub.

Each day would carry on and each night I would cry out and wonder, “Where is my life?!”

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Even my hands swelled to the point of making everyday tasks difficult, so I started a small dose of oral prednisone. I eventually had to take two a day. It has it’s own unpleasant side effects, like sweating and mood-swings, but it helped me function. It was enough to reduce some of the problematic swelling but I was still in constant pain.

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It wasn’t the only medication I was taking to help me through my flare…. and there were more side-effects…. My legs were bruised from taking Naproxen. I was also getting headaches from my pain medication.

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My son’s epilepsy didn’t wait for me to feel better. Sometimes he falls at the onset of a seizure. After, his limbs are immobilized and he is frequently exhausted. His seizures are physically demanding for both of us. I often have to lift, hold, or carry him to a safe place before and/or after a seizure. On this day he had a two minute seizure that took over his body. He could not move so he begged me to lay him in bed. It was hard for me to carry his worn body to his bed. We were both exhausted. It was all too much and I sobbed as he lay there.

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It was no surprise that the physical demands of motherhood and my special needs son began to take a toll. The pain became intense in my shoulder so the doctor ordered an MRI. I found out that RA has torn my shoulder to shreds. The six paragraph explanation made for interesting reading. I have refused surgery as 12 weeks of recovery and therapy isn’t realistic for a mother like me.

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(I couldn’t even get the full summary in this screen shot.)

Another doctor appointment. Here I am waiting to see a pain management doctor. Nothing seems to be as cruel as living with chronic pain. It’s a daily struggle that I am desperately trying to conquer.

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Another bad day for my son’s seizures. On this day he fell to the floor before I could reach him. My leg had been so full of fluid that I could not get to him before the seizure knocked him to the ground. Although I was thankful he was inside and on carpet, the guilt of being unable to reach him before he fell ate away at me. He is pictured here after he finally stopped shaking. He once again had no control over his arms or legs so I had to lift him to the chair and sit with him until he could move.

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I pray for days when we cuddle just for the sake of cuddling, not because a seizure has prevented him from moving his own body.

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I may not be strong but I am determined to hold my baby when he needs me…

Between my special needs child and I, we spend a lot of time at doctors’ offices and in hospitals. What’s startling still is the realization that we will never get a financial break from the burden of disease and disability. It’s disheartening when my medicine cabinet is fuller than our pantry.

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In the evenings the kids often find me elevating my leg. Since my scare with steroid shots, I have been trying to allow my body to absorb the excess fluid naturally. It hasn’t been easy and I often need to elevate it to find relief. I also have a cyst on the back of my knee that may never go away, or so I have been told. On this night, my daughter found me, and I’m glad she did.

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Most of the time I look like a normal mom. I snuggle with my babies.

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That’s my family posing for lots of pictures during a rare trip away from home.

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I can also be found at the bowling alley with my family although you won’t see me bowl. My hands hurt too bad to pick up a bowling ball and my body hurts too bad to roll one down the lane.

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….but I am still much different. I know, it can be hard to see. And although I am allowing a glimpse into my life in hopes of changing the way others perceive it, there are still those remaining invisible facets to my life that are the most important.

In the early morning hours during my RA flare, my husband got out of bed and helped me do things he never would have imagined when we wed a short ten years ago. The jokes we made about caring for each other in old age have abruptly ended–just like my once healthy youth. And I realize in my worst moments, love and the affectionate care of my spouse intertwine much like his arms embracing my weak frame. In our darkest and hidden moments, we find love. It triumphs over every minute I wake in pain and he comes to my side, over every seizure that crushes the delicate body of our little boy, and any doubt that we will make it through every last setback together. So when I am asked, “How do you do it?” I may not always have the best answer but I do know I will make it because I don’t have to do it alone. I know I am loved unconditionally. And that is the most important thing you should know about my story…true love is not conditional…true love sees past differences, disability, fear, sadness, and disease. Love is my husband looking past my suffering and weakness and still seeing the woman he loves. Love is the confidence I have in his fulfillment of the promise to love me “in sickness and in health.”

Today, I am getting better and working with my specialists to find the right plan to manage my disease. This will not be the last flare I will see but the goal is to reduce the number of them, manage my pain, and slow the progression of my disease. The most important goal for my health is to be a productive wife and mother. I most likely have a lifetime of care with my special needs son and I want to have that privilege as long as my health allows. We also continue to work on improving his life despite his disease. It has been hard but I look forward to every moment I am given, good and bad. The good times give me hope and the bad times allow me an appreciation of them. And love sees me through it all.

*d*

Finding the Right Umbrella for the Rain

It has been months and my son and I have been standing out in the pouring rain. The intensity of the storm brought on by chronic illness and disease increased quickly and unexpectedly as we found ourselves gathered under an umbrella barely big enough to shelter us from a light sprinkle. I was praying for sunlight and more ominous clouds were on the horizon. I felt hopeless.

In it all, I was focused. I was focused on living my life as if I were dying. My health has been on the decline, as also the health of my son. Any opportunity to wake and enjoy another day is a reason to be thankful, even on a stormy day. So, I would wake and my thoughts would focus on things like if I’d be healthy enough to throw a holiday party or if he would be strong enough to participate in the next school activity. I’d try to remind myself to make the most of of today because I know tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. And what about next year? What could be assured to us 365 days from now? I thought through our circumstances. I was given this gift to appreciate the moment and live for today, but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t meeting my life with the satisfaction I thought would be a product of this new way of thinking. How could this be? The answer didn’t emerge until recently. Out of fear, I was living like I was dying but I wasn’t focusing on the living. It had become so easy to focus on the worst case scenario. Here we were battered by a storm and I expected he and I would be swept away.

My son and I both live with life altering diseases. Both of us have weathered our fair share of storms, my little boy more so than myself. We now stood together and wondered if we’d see the sun again. He lives with epilepsy caused by Tuberous Sclerosis Complex, a genetic disorder that causes tumors (tubers) to form in various organs. Many of his organs are effected but the thirty-five plus in his brain cause him to have a severe form of epilepsy that has been becoming increasingly difficult to control. In the last few months the seizures have caused developmental regression and physically weakened his body. He often looses all bodily control post-seizure. He is now in need of a wheelchair to help us transport him when incidents like these occur. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis so I have difficulty physically helping him when he has these seizures that revoke his ability to move. I am having trouble keeping my own body healthy as my RA has destroyed enough of my joints to warrant three surgeries in my future; shoulder and double knee replacement. I am awaiting M.R.I. results on my other shoulder. I am hoping the list of needed surgeries does not increase to four. My son is waiting for an evaluation of just one surgery, neurosurgery.

We know what is coming within the next 365 days and it doesn’t look good. I know I will hold off any treatments I may need until we take care of him. We never wanted to come to the conclusion of neurosurgery. We have tried all other methods to control the epilepsy and all have failed. Neurosurgery is now his best chance for him to be seizure free and hopefully gain back what progress epilepsy has taken. There is hope but I am also scared. It’s this fear that drove me to take on the motto, “Live like you are dying.”

It was a bad feeling; letting our health issues dictate how I approached each day. Each time my son had a seizure and it left him unable to move, I’d nervously anticipate him regaining movement and I’d pray it wouldn’t be the one seizure to send him to the hospital. As I lay him in bed, I thought of those seizures I may not hear as we sleep. Moreover, I feared my own disease would leave me unable to care for my children, especially special needs son as he requires a great deal of care. I was determined to fully live out each day but when that didn’t go as planned, I worried, stressed or got overwhelmed. At the end of the day, I’d then be wrestling with regret. I was frozen with fear of the unknown and fear of what I couldn’t control. My emotions were dictating my actions and I’d allowed my emotions to end my days in regret. I’d finally had enough. It was time to live without the fear, live without fear of dying.

How could I accomplish this? I began with a smile. When I felt like giving up or giving into my negative emotions, I’d smile. When I felt like throwing my hands up, I’d throw them around someone. When awful things happen, like when my son is paralyzed by a seizure, I’d smile to comfort him. I’d wake in the morning and focus on the endless possibilities for joy and if I felt that regret at the end of the day, I’d remind myself how hard he and I fought through the day….. together…. I told myself I can’t regret our best effort.

Fear and regret gave us no shelter from the storm but smiles invited sunshine no matter how bad the storm. I didn’t need a motto to bring happiness, I just needed to try to bring happiness.

*d*

Letters to My Son

This begins a series as we prepare for the next step in the care of our special needs son. He is being referred for brain surgery in the next few months. To follow our journey, I have decided to express my thoughts about the process through letters I will write to my son. This is the first of hopefully many over the course of this scary and hopeful journey.

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Letter 2:

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Dear Little Buddy,

We are still waiting for the call to schedule your visit to the neurosurgeon. The longer we wait, the more I ponder the impossibility of this trip. There are so many things to consider; the expense, the logistics, the care of your siblings, and the possibility of being away from home for a considerable amount of time. I am very saddened that your declining health has made it necessary to go to this extreme but it’s not your fault and I don’t want you to feel bad. It can be easy to carry guilt when you need help due to your disease. I know because I also have a disease that has made it necessary for me to ask for help on occasion. I have a disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis and it has changed my life in many ways that mirror how your life has been effected because of your disease, Tuberous Sclerosis.

Since I found out that I have this disease, I have needed to take different medications, some very similar to medications you are or have already taken. One of my medications could effect my vision and I have to it checked every three months. It wasn’t that long ago when we were taking you to the optometrist for the same reason. Although our specific medications are different, I also take an anti-epileptic and a medication that is used to treat cancer in high doses. I look in the mirror and see how the appearance of my own face has changed just like yours did as an infant when you took a medication that I am taking now. The physical changes we both have experienced doesn’t end there, we are both weaker than we were a year ago. I have benefited from a rollator and we will be meeting to fit you for a wheelchair next month. It could all be a coincidence but I think it’s more. Through my struggles, I get a rare chance to understand you more.

It is also through these similarities that I can sympathize with the side effects of your medication, the frustrations when your body feels the effects of failed medications and therapy, and the never-ending rotation of doctor appointments. Unfortunately it also means all of these things double for our family. We spend twice as much time waiting at appointments, twice as much money on medications, therapy, and surgery, and double the worry over getting through each day. Those are big issues for us, but we care about you above all.

We are always thinking about how to make your life a bit easier. It is in these thoughts where I have struggled to help, and sometimes, understand you. You have done things that seem irrational; sometimes you scream, hit your face, beat your head on the wall, or you will hit me or someone else in the family. It wasn’t until I too started to feel quite irrational that I began to understand you. In the last few months I have had to start numerous medications and I didn’t anticipate the variety of side-effects I began to experience. Unlike you, I have a full understanding of what is happening to me and yet I still cried and wanted to shut down. Since you don’t understand your situation as I, it must feel like your life and/or your body is out of control. How can I expect anything but an occasional meltdown or outburst from you? I have nights where I can’t verbalize my own emotions, yet I have expected that from you. I have expected you to do more than I have been able to do myself, and for that my little buddy, I’m sorry.

I am sorry for all the times I haven’t been patient and understanding. I am sorry when I haven’t searched beyond your anxiety and outbursts. I am sorry when I haven’t been a safe place for you to fall. I know I have needed a safe place where I can have no fear rejection or judgement. You deserve the same. It has been hard for me when you have had terrible days and have taken it out on me. It’s hard to be hit or kicked by someone you love. It hurts my heart because I want to spend my time enjoying you, not fighting with you.

Don’t forget that little buddy! You are amazing. I may wish we could enjoy our time together without the some of the bad things that come our way, but I will take you and our situations just as they are as long as we can be together. I am also thankful for my own struggles that bring me a closer understanding of you. It makes me a better person and a better mommy. You have taught me a greater compassion for others and the value of patience. I also promise I will do my best to remember you are doing the best you can despite the mountains that stand before you. You have prepared me for all the difficulty I personally face because you have been an example of bravery. Yes, you are brave. You don’t have to know you are brave to be brave.

Thanks for being my companion in a journey two people rarely get to have together. I look forward to climbing the next mountain……together……because bravery doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.

*d*
(Mommy)

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Dear Little Buddy,

It was about eight years ago when we found out that you were going to come into our family. You weren’t planned, but most miracles aren’t planned. You were born on a beautiful July morning. You were perfect. We brought you home and I imagined a bright future for you but some of those dreams quickly became lost. You were three months old when you had your first seizure and the words Tuberous Sclerosis Complex came into our lives. A few short weeks later and we learned you had also developed a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy called Infantile Spams. These innocent looking seizures made it a very real possibility that you would experience developmental and physical delays. It was hard to imagine the same bright future as we did the day you were born. We were so very sad and the future looked as gray and solemn as our broken hearts. We had never heard of this disease and here it had changed the way we looked at you.

Yes our hearts were changed. We loved you even more and we were more determined than ever to help give you a wonderful life despite this new knowledge. Your disease was now a part of our family because it was a part of you. You weren’t the same kind of perfect we once thought you were, you were a unique and special kind of perfection. You see, sometimes the world can have a different definition of what perfect should be but that isn’t how we define it. We want to love perfectly with all our imperfections because none of us are perfect. Because you are loved so very much, this letter is now going to be even harder to write.

After seven years, we have been unable to control the seizures that are a biproduct of your disease. Daddy and I have tried very hard to get you every resource possible to help you in your fight. We made big changes when we decided to take you to a clinic that specializes in Tuberous Sclerosis. We did this so you could be in the care of neurologists that are the best at treating others just like you. We have spent the last seven years exhausting every avenue and turning over every stone to control your epilepsy and help you make the most developmental progress possible. You have worked very hard too. You have been in numerous therapies since you were a baby. You have fought hard after every seizure increase and every regression that happened as a result of those increases. We have all fought so hard together for a very long time. I am so sorry that we couldn’t make it all better. This reality makes me sad when I see the look in your eyes during a seizure. You want Mommy and Daddy to make it all better and we can’t. All we can do is be strong and comfort you.

Because of all of this, a big decision had to be made. We know the last few months have been hard for you. Your epilepsy has been making you weak. On school mornings, I see how hard it is for you to walk down the steps and up into the bus. I see how hard it is for you to do so many things that were simple to you just a year ago. I cry at night because I know it’s been harder for you to understand and communicate with me. I see all the terrible things epilepsy has done to my wonderful boy. But I know there is still fight left in you, I can see it. I see your fight every time you get angry and scream in frustration or have an outburst of anger. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to have so many things going with you and to you while having no control over what happens. I try to remind myself of this every time you get angry with me. I try to remember that you need me to be strong because you are still so little and you really have no way of understanding what has been happening to you. I will continue to be strong with you because we have one more fight we need to face together.

We are going to see another doctor in another hospital that may be able to give you another chance at living a life free of the seizures that done so much to you. He is a neurosurgeon. He may be able to get to the root of the problem and remove what is causing your epilepsy. It is a long trip and we may be gone a long time but there is hope. This is just the beginning of a long process and we have no idea how we are even going to make this happen. The wheels are in motion and it began with a referral to this hosptial. There are still a lot more details to work out and a lot of people want to help you little buddy. Many, many people would like to see you seizure free and making developmental progress.

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Remember when I said you were a miracle? Well, you are for many reasons. At one time I thought a lot of good was gone from this world. I had lost a lot of faith in myself and in others. Then you came along. In the middle of all the tears, worry, and sadness surrounding your life, many people came to help. Friends and strangers alike reached out to give us hope. When we needed hope and love, someone was always there to show us that there was indeed good still left in this world. You taught us many wonderful things too. You changed the person I am and who I want to become. You make me see that every single day is a gift. Through you, I have a daily reminder that I can only appreciate those things that are here today. I wanted so badly to live in a future made up of my dreams. When you were diagnosed, I could no longer do that. At first I was sad that I could no longer clearly envision your future, but now I see the true blessing of living for today. Your life is a miracle because of how you have changed lives just by being here. You may be small, you may deal with more than most do in a lifetime, but you are capable of doing even more. We may be in charge of seeking the best help possible and doing it in a big way, but in the end, you will have the victory because you will win this fight.

I know I may never read this letter to you. I really don’t know if you would understand. I’d like to think that despite your developmental delays, you do hear and understand more than I know. So we will talk about the next battle we will face together. I will remind you of how strong you are and how much we love you. Your daddy and I would give all that we have to help you. It seems like an impossible journey but we will get there one way or another because you are worth it. Don’t ever forget that. Even when you have had the most terrible day and you take it out on one of us by hitting, screaming, or spitting, or even when you have a terrible meltdown because life is overwhelming, we still love you. We see the hurt under it all and we want to help. No matter what happens, you will always be our little buddy and you will always be loved. Remember this when the next leg of our journey becomes difficult. Sometimes we must decide to take the most difficult of roads because they lead to the most hope. I pray we get there and the best is waiting for you at the end.

Love,
Mommy
(*d*)

The Clean that Holds the House Together

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If someone were to walk in my house, they may be tempted to say, “Wow! Her house is so clean and organized, she must have herself together!” And that’s exactly what I’d want you to think. The honest truth; what is going on inside of me looks nothing like what I allow to show on the outside. In fact, if I kept my house in the same condition as my mind, I’d be the next to appear on a television show that exposes hoarders. I can imagine a host strolling up to a tiny little door and hyping up the audience at home by saying, “This will be the worst hoarder ever exposed on television!!” The door opens and there I am in my ratty pajamas standing knee deep in the dark and dirty crevasses of my mind. Spiderwebs hanging where a college degree should be, rodents are gnawing holes in the time I take to care for myself, and I’d be balancing knee deep in the garbage of disease. Behind him come all those shocked faces of my family and friends who thought they knew me better.

As sad as that exposition would be, it wouldn’t be too far from the truth. I admit that I am sometimes a prisoner to my need to keep the world around me in order. If I know someone is coming over, even if I know they won’t be coming into the house, I straighten it up. I make sure I include cleaning the house as part of my afternoon routine. I squeeze it in between baths, making supper, starting homework, and all before my husband gets home. I’ll even do it if I am already running on fumes. He never asks to have the house clean when he comes home and he knows the mess I can be on the outside and inside but I still want him to know I am trying. I still want to feel like I have a purpose despite my disease or difficulty.

I have been this way for a long time, way before my son or I was diagnosed. It started with a family saying, “Everything has its place, everything in its place.” I think I was told this every time my childhood room looked like a disaster, and that was most of the time. I had the smallest room in the house and the most junk. Trying to keep it organized and clean was like trying to take out the weekly trash in a lunch bag. No matter how hard I tried, I never could get it clean. I eventually mastered the art of making things look clean when they really weren’t. I learned many tricks to accomplish this task, there was stuff the closet and hurry up and shut the door before it all comes out, shove it all under the bed and leave the comforter hang over to hide the mess, or my least favorite, don’t play with anything. I never really dealt with the mess, I just mastered how to keep it looking like I didn’t have the said mess. I was a kid, I hated getting rid of anything. I am still that way. I won’t get rid of anything that could be of use to me someday (yes, this thinking has come in handy). My house has refurbished decor of all kinds. I use and reuse things when I can. I don’t like to re-purchase something I once owned.

I get my hoarding tendencies honestly. My paternal grandmother is known for her need to collect things she sees as valuable. Anything antique is her specialty. I admit, the older the better when it comes to many items I wish to collect, but with limited funds and space, big or expensive items are not for me. I, like my maternal grandmother, find value in the little sentimental items that are easily collected and easily hid. My attic is full of school papers and artwork of my children that I don’t want to let go of. This spring I bought two extra large three ring binders and filled them with my favorite papers that the boys brought home from school. I filled up both binders right away. I know I should let go of certain items, stop cleaning my house to portray a less than chaotic life, but it’s how I cope.

Everyone has their own ways of coping with life. Some people shop (yes I have been known to do a bit of that when I have been depressed), my husband prays, some people drink, and other shut down. The list is limitless. It is important to cope with the difficulties of life in a healthy manner. Poor methods of dealing with these issues can lead to further destruction. I don’t know of any cleaning anonymous groups out there but if my habits were going to further stress my life, I’d find one. Thus far, I take the hurt or negative energy and channel it through a can of dusting spray or a vacuum cleaner. A can of cleaner is the only thing that has to worry about meeting my angry or distressed hand. At then end of my cleaning rage I can look around and feel a small sense of accomplishment. I know that sounds silly. There are many things in my life that feel out of control; my health and the health of my son, his autism, and our mounting financial concerns worsened by the burden of our diseases so I keep trying to do my best at those things I know I am good at like loving my children, trying to be a good wife, and yes, keeping our home kept nicely. It reminds me that I am still trying my hardest despite my difficulty. Since my job is to be a wife and mother, I’ll do the best I can at what I have been given. The day of concern will come when my house really does look like it should be on a hoarding show because that will be the time I have given up. Sadly, the illusion of a put together life is the only thing that sometimes holds me together. There are so many days when I feel like I can’t give anymore and any bit of accomplishment is a big deal.

I am continuing to work on those areas of my life that seem out of my control. Every day is a new chance for me to clean up those tattered crevasses of my mind and not just my house. Someday, I do dream of having the confidence of being able to open up my mind without fear of the mess inside.

*d*

More Than Just Coffee

Lately I have been wondering if I have been truly in love with something or just the idea of that something. For example, I decided at our last monthly grocery run that I wanted to try to be a coffee drinker. It isn’t that I haven’t had coffee before, I was one of those people who got a coffee maker for a wedding gift ten years ago and used it maybe twice. I love going to our local specialty coffee shop and indulging once a year but making my own wasn’t anything I was ever interested in. Now I thought I’d give it a try for a number of reasons; I would rather get a small boost of caffeine from a small cup of coffee versus pop first thing in the morning, my RA has had me running on fumes, and I love the smell of coffee. I have been spawned by long and large group of coffee drinkers. I would smell the lingering aroma of it from home to the home of a relative, and every Sunday morning at church. The Baptist couldn’t wait for a coffee fueled sermon followed up by coffee fueled fellowship. The thought had occurred to me that I had an emotional attachment to the smell, and not the taste. It’s probably true. We were between housing when we lived with my eighty-something year- old grandparents who brewed coffee in the morning, reheated it in the afternoon and anytime they got a chill, which was quite often for my late grandfather. I miss him dearly and my decision came upon the heels of a year since his passing.

So we’re at the grocery and I stopped and stood in the coffee aisle taking in my limitless possibilities. I admit that I was a bit shocked by the number of choices I had and I am not a decisive individual. My son cheered me on as any bad influence of an eight year-old would. Apparently drinking coffee is a huge thing for third graders at his school…. So after telling him to stop taking out every interestingly packaged coffee and coffee mug for his new habit, I chose a very girly vanilla cupcake flavor coffee. Heaven forbid my coffee would actually taste like coffee. One package of coffee filters and a over indulgent container of chocolate caramel creamer later, we were headed home.

I returned home more than eager to brew my first cup, but where was that coffee maker? I had a frightening thought that I may have pitched it in our last move. Why not? I never used it anyway. I kept frantically searching as I secretly began to repremand myself for throwing it out. I don’t like throwing anything out for this very reason, I’d have to buy another one and I know that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Finally, I found it! But then I didn’t know how to use it. Luckily the people at the girly coffee factory want to make sure all of us novice coffee drinkers could make a cup so we could thus get hooked. Great idea! I got it ready and began to unload groceries as it brewed. My husband thought I’d surely made it wrong when it only took a few minutes to brew my quarter pot of coffee. Then I had to find a cup to put this newly acquired liquid gold in. I certainly had some coffee cups as I am avid cocoa drinker in the winter months. One coffee cup is all I found. Darn. Then by chance I found an awesome mug fit for a coffee pro. I washed it, poured my first cup, and it was weak. I made it too weak. I was going to need more zing than that keep me going during the day. The second cup was amazing and I felt special sipping out of my fancy cup. For the next few mornings my coffee was already auto brewed by the time I came downstairs. I had a bit more zing in the a.m. and I began to see why people insisted on starting their mornings with this stuff. Then the disappointing happened, I started having terrible heartburn. I cringed when my mom suggested it was the coffee. After all that trouble, it was causing me heartburn that could be mistaken for a heart attack.

This afternoon rolled around and in the true spirit of the Midwest, it was below normal temperatures and a hot cup of coffee sounded great. I brewed it and it is still sitting there an hour later. I haven’t touched it. Do I dare chance the feeling of looming death for my newly acquired taste? Today I may be satisfied with my emotional attachment to the smell.

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I am more disappointed that I once again can’t be like all the other “cool” people and start my day off with a jolt of girly coffee goodness. I can live with reducing my consumption but what about that smell? It reminds me of home, loved ones, and a church family that felt more like my real family. Maybe I need to think a little harder about sporadically falling in love with an idea because it seems like those ideas for me don’t pan out in real life.

My daughters have been playing together more as my “baby” is now a year and a half of busyness. She follows her big sister with her ride on toy, they play with the tea set together, and they frequently say “Bye!” as they leave for their pretend jobs . It makes me wonder what it would have been like if I had a sister. I have been in love with the idea of a having a sister forever. I have seen cute little posts on social media comparing a woman without a sister to one without an arm or some other nonsense. Like I had a choice about how my family dynamic played out. I hoped I’d someday have that faux sister that I could go shopping with, call on the phone, and we’d celebrate all of life’s joys together. But from what I see, it isn’t as glamorous as I had imagined. Sisters fight. I don’t like to fight. But I still wonder.

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And then I wonder about all the things I may have missed out on; a college degree, a full time job, and all the dreams I watch others live out. Those notions are so much harder to live out than buying a four dollar package of coffee off the shelf. So I learn to accept life as I have it. I have notions about what I think life is all about and no one knows what my life is really like. So I keep dreaming about those little things. Are they what I really want or do I just like the idea of it all?

I am awful good at looking idealistic. I often seem like a pillar of strength or maybe a beacon of hope, but I complain about the circumstances out of my control just as well as the rest. Why does my coffee have to give me heartburn? Why am I not worthy of meaningful friendships with other women? Why am I sick? Why are we drowning in medical debt? Why are we not living out this dream life? And on and on….. The truth is, things aren’t easy. We spend time doing a lot of things we’d rather not. Last night we spent three hours preparing and sorting paperwork to fight social security. Yes, they want to take back payments from two years ago just in time for the holidays. My desk is full of paperwork only special needs parents or the chronically ill can appreciate. “Here is your half ton of paper work Mrs. M.! Good luck with all of that because life understands how easy you already have it.” Yes, nothing is easy or as it seems. I can be joyful in the face of adversity but I can be equally as disappointed in those things beyond my control. I just keep trying. I keep smiling and I try putting my faith in things that have a special place in my heart whether it be a friend as close to my heart as a sister or my husband who spends three hours on the floor digging through paperwork. As for the coffee, the trouble was almost worth that smell of home but then again I guess I can find a candle for that.

*d*