Always, I Must Begin Again
Leave it to a podcast to get me writing for my blog again. That's not really true, it's not only one podcast. Its the culmination of the last five years of healing and struggling that my life has been.
But, back to the great podcast that changed my life. The Good Life Project had Ruthie Lindsey (if you've never of her, join the club but, if I could have crawled into the radio, I would've within the 3 minutes of the podcast). With her southern, lilting accent and authentic generosity borne of pain, her story sounds like mine. Sort of.
If you not a podcast listener (what?), I'll attempt to summarize: Ruthie was in high school when she was in a horrific car accident with an ambulance. The EMT's that were there saved her life. After she had come off life support, she had neck surgery. After a month, she walked out of the hospital with only a neck brace. Ruthie went back to life as she'd known it. She graduated from high school on time, went to college (and graduated, again), got married, got a job in Nashville. She describes the accident as a dream, suffering no ill effects physically or mentally.
Then cut to a year into her marriage when she was outside Starbucks when she felt a searing pain in her neck, and she passed out. Over the weeks that followed, Ruthie saw countless doctors and they couldn't figure out what was causing her pain. What do all doctors do in this situation? They prescribe. All sorts of things. For the next five years, she didn't leave her bedroom, except for refills.
Eventually, one doctor took an old-fashioned x-ray and found out the wire had broken from her previous surgery was poking into her brain stem. She was told it never happens. (Except for her, I wanted to scream at the radio.) Surgeons were clamoring to do this high risk surgery. She settled on the Mayo Clinic. She had a successful surgery, which means she didn't die, wasn't paralyzed, brain functioning wasn't harmed. BUT, her pain didn't go away.
Back to living life from her bedroom. In pain that wasn't going to away anytime soon, grief-stricken over her father who died just before surgery. Around that same time, her husband filed for divorce.
It took a threat of going to a residential rehab program to wake her up. Eventually, slowly, her mind came back, not influenced by drugs. She reclaimed her life, relying on lists of things of things brought her joy in the past. At first, she didn't FEEL joy, but she vowed to do one thing every day from the list.
This is where I sat up. Because I lost that too. Not for the same reasons, of course, I didn't have physical pain after the stroke. Mine was spiritual and mental pain.
How did I deal with it? I was volunteering 6 months after the stroke: UW studies, starting a stroke group, mindfulness and writing groups, Centering Prayer/Lectio groups. I signed for Spiritual Direction training in Portland. Plus, I had to learn to speak and write again. Don't get me wrong, my volunteering saved me (and still does). And, it was more about seeming useful...still. Both things can be true at once. If the stroke taught me one thing, it's this.
This didn't leave much time for grieving the changes in my life, which were extreme. It was a couple of years ago, when school was done, therapies were done and, reflecting back on the years pre-stroke, I realized that I used to appreciate beauty, taking pictures all day long. I remember taking Cooper for a walk at lunch downtown. Or people watching anywhere there were people. Or driving on the highway and dreaming and singing. Building altars of found-things in the park.
What is one thing that connected my ability to see and experience beauty? I was writing. Making up stories all along the way. Some of them I would write down, but most of them I didn't.
Writing is so hard now. Thinking is too. Just look at my MRI and see the dark spots on my beautiful, broken brain. I type 22 wpm (up from 15!). I was a spelling champion before. The little words get forgotten as part of a language that assumes them. It takes a long time to figure out what I want to say and say it in a way that makes sense. I get tired easily. That's real now. But comparing is torture to when it was "easy." Writing pre-stroke was grueling. Now it's more grueling and takes more time. BUT, if it could be the key to seeing and experiencing beauty in a deep, down way, what could be a better way to spend time than that?
When Ruthie was still in bed, scrolling through Facebook or Instagram feeling like she was failure, seeing all the people living life outside their houses. That thought stuck with her and made her tell her story after she had recovered. She posted pictures and got comments like, "I want your life!"