Crickets Here

Sometimes I get asked why I share the things I do about my stroke. I’ve even been told that I am brave for sharing such private information. I don’t think that bravery is exactly how I would see things. Bravery is a different animal altogether…or at least it seems to be to me. I’ve been thinking about why I share.

I am presently fascinated by the show Alone on History channel. Although the third season just ended not so long ago, I think about the show often. It is yet another reality show that’s premise is about survival. With a twist. The contestants are actually taken to remote locations with a very limited amount of survival gear and they are completely on their own, with only a camera to record what they are up to on a daily basis. Each season seems to keep getting stretched out longer and longer as the contestants have the inspiration of those who were out for over 60 days all by themselves, surviving off of what they can hunt or gather or fish for. If you watch the show for action and quick plot line unfolding, you will be sorely disappointed, as most of the video footage is of the contestants in the show eking out their daily existence and facing the challenges of being on their own. But that’s the compelling and actually riveting part of the show. The part where the figurative brains and hearts of the participants are spilled out for all to see. Producers and editors must spend hours going through footage looking for the moments of revelation that the contestants reveal the thought processes they are going through. There are moments when the anguish and psychological torment of being alone come to a boil and they come out in the speech and actions of the contestants. The challenge of foraging for food and safe shelter, the activities of making safe shelter and going up against the predators and intrusions of wildlife would be enough for most, but the real challenge comes in being alone. If it weren’t for the camera, there would be no one to talk to but themselves. Fun happens when they talk as though they are talking to themselves, while the camera is rolling.

For some of the people on the show, there are simple obsessive loops that start to play in their minds, from which they cannot seem to escape. I think everyone who watched season 2 will remember the fact that David, the eventual winner, was really stoked about Kentucky Fried Chicken. He even went through an imaginary scenario where he was at the order desk, and he clearly ordered what he was dreaming about. If you weren’t ordering right along with him, that may be a sign that you need a therapist or something because we all love the Colonels wonderful chicken. There are others on the show who seem to lose their focus early on and instead of following through on their intent to survive and win the show, they begin to think of their family in such a way that they cannot handle being away from their presence for a moment longer. Each contestant on this show has the ability to “tap out” by calling rescuers on a satellite phone so that they will immediately get medical attention or actually get a ride out. Still others have to call because they cannot sustain warmth in their body or the starvation has depleted them to the point where they make the call because they feel they are on the verge of making bad decisions. To watch it, you can sense the disappointment in those who tap out because they have lost their ability to sustain health or life. A few medical emergencies, a couple of cases of hypothermia and various other reasons come up, but for the most part, it is the alone factor that gets the contestants. They get themselves in a thought loop of thinking about all the other people in their life. Lonliness motivates all of us in different ways, but being alone is never considered a state that we seem to be able to sustain for long periods of time.

I don’t have an extensive group of friends that I hang out with in Kelowna here. It just hasn’t seemed to work out to find people that are available and able to get connected with. As the business I was developing got busier, I was able to connect more regularly with a bunch of people who were constantly coming through my day as I went from task to task and place to place. Without knowing a lot of people, the work connections I had made became a constant outlet and input for me that I looked forward to. I’ve met alot of really interesting people. I’ve learned of conspiracies that would make YouTube dark side of the internet lovers blush, and found out how exactly the world trade center could be an inside job and the like. I’ve learned some ways to tell off people that I like as much as I’ve learned to tell off people that I didn’t like. Construction/trades are some of the most wildly interesting people with ideas and sayings that bring to life a side of society which most don’t regularily see. I’ve learned more about Kelowna in a single lunch time conversation than I’ve learned in the 4 or so years that we’ve been here. There is a different perspective on the world just waiting to be revealed if you get to know people that you don’t normally hang out with. And there is a human side to the rank and file that I don’t find in the hyper educated who seem to grab everyones attention most of the time.

I’ve had to learn to like myself a lot more since I had my stroke. Just more of me time and that means more of me to go around than the “other”. There are visits from some folks, and I do get out quite a bit more than I did in the beginning, but there are much fewer interactions than what I used to have, so it’s been an adjustment to say the least. Talking to myself happens on occasion, yes, but I promise that I keep the arguing and swearing to a minimum. That kind of stuff is not even fun to hear coming from my own mouth. All those around me get concerned when I raise my voice at myself as well. Made for TV movies may be entertainment that we switch the channel to from time to time, but when that s*!# gets real, we actually run away. So I’ve always been aware of this fact and have worked to keep things in check. I know you’re all relieved. There is always something that I can find to do, even if I get caught like a dog tearing apart the couch for entertainment.

Embracing change has become more difficult as change isn’t always welcome when it comes. Change can actually make demands on us that we didn’t expect and it holds a lot of anxiety for those affected. The changes may still come and I will get used to it. Dealing with change in a more disconnected life has lots of interest. Blogging like this is a way to reach out and interact with people that aren’t always able to spend real time with me. Encouragement is not immediate, but shows up in the comments and revelations that come from someone who has read Facebook or this blog and makes reference to something I’ve written about. Those are the true tidbits of encouragement that come in a different form of interaction. And I believe for as much of a struggle as it is to write all of this stuff out at times, it is the reason for writing. I still need to be connected with people. I appreciate it when you read these blogs and show you’ve done so with words of encouragement or reflection. Thanks to you, my friends.

 

Why Not Me?

At my mom’s inurnment (yes that’s a word) we were out at the cemetary in the middle of the Alberta prairie waiting for others to arrive for the little family ceremony we were going to have, and we spent the time wandering around looking at some of the headstones. We came across one headstone of a guy who died at a pretty young age. My dad, who was walking with us said right away when we read the name on the tombstone, “Now that’s an interesting story” as he went on to tell us about a young man who was to be taking over his family farm. He was sweet on a local girl and when he made his crush known to her, she spurned him in a most unkind way. It caused him to snap, so he left the farm and told no one that he was going to the city to drown his sorrows and rejection in booze and destructive living in order to kill himself slowly and miserably. His father loved him and with the help of another family member went and looked for him, found him, took him back home and his parents nursed him back to health and mental wellness. He came around completely and was even excited about eventually taking over the farm again and living fulfilled in spite of being spurned. He was back to living happy and looking for all the good in life. Then one day while on the field with the tractor, something happened and the tractor flipped over and he was crushed underneath the machine.  My brother made the observation, “I don’t understand… a young man that looses desire to live because of significant loss is saved from destruction of himself only to come back to a life where he is excited and enthusiastic about living, and then be tragically killed. It’s hard to understand.”

And then there was my friends younger brother. He wasn’t really someone I knew well, even though I lived in the same house as he did. Age separation was a big part of it. I was a young adult with the cares and concerns of a young adult, only boarding in the house of a friend while working in a small town in the middle of a province far far from my parents and families home and all things familiar. I had bigger fish to fry. This young brother to my friend was just an average kid who had tons of potential. Turns out he had a kind heart, a desire to love on people, natural musical talent and a really magnetic personality for those who spent the time to get to know him better. After I had gotten to know him, he went on to college and got his degree, and also managed to connect with a young lady who he ended up marrying. They had an awesome wedding and were set to go on a honeymoon in Brazil. It all went down as planned and he and his new wife flew off to Brazil to enjoy their honeymoon in sunny newly wedded bliss. The morning after their arrival, he informed his wife that he was going for a walk on the beach to do some praying and stuff. She got worried when he didn’t return as quickly as she expected, so she went out looking for him. There was a gathering of emergency service workers on the beach. As she approached the group, she was able to find out that it was indeed her new husband, my friends brother, who had been struck by lightning and killed. It devastated everyone who knew him. None of us knew how to handle it.

A good friend called the other day to catch up and find out how I was doing. It was a good chance to connect and find out how we were both faring with our lives and just everything in general. I was asked to share about how recovery from the stroke was going and he was able to relate with some of the physical challenges as his body parts were wearing out from the damage caused by an accident a few years earlier. The things that people live through graciously and with perserverance humbles me on a daily basis, if they actually open up and let you know what their challenges are. (I have had more people tell me what they face silently and privately since I began sharing about my recovery and it often leaves me in awe). For all the personal challenges that my friend faced and did well with, his biggest struggle was with the things that his youngest son was going through. In order to maintain a trust I won’t go into detail …that is for the family to disclose, not me. This boy faces a life of psychological terror and uncertainty, with the options being long term treatment of psychotherapy and intense supportive parenting coupled with medications to assist in dealing with thoughts and fears that most of us deal with in much different fashion. We are able to work through issues that this child will struggle with for some time. He has done nothing to deserve this torment. It is nothing that has a quick cure. It was the look forward to this life of struggle and pain that caused my friend to begin to utter the word, “Why……?”

And the trigger to all of this was on my social media feed the other night when another Facebook friend posted the question, “Why me?” The conversation with my friend and the question posed on social media gave me a link in my mind to think back to when I first discovered that I had experienced a stroke. I can honestly say that the question of why never entered my mind, except in one way. The question is usually “Why Me?”, but I have to say that I have reflected on how that question seems to ruin everything. In any case, it is a question that deserves a closer look, because we all ask it. Sooner or later. My experience is so small in scale compared to many others I know who face struggles. What then do I really have to offer to anyone who is up against it and facing huge challenges? Do I have anything to offer and can I really understand pain and loss? Well I don’t know what anyone else faces, but I know what pain and loss was for me, so please allow me to tell you

I remember laying in the hospital bed in the rehab unit just after my stroke and the thought came up of how to frame what had just happened to me in light of what I believe about God and His goodness and how what was happening fits into that whole belief. Maybe it will confound some of you, I don’t know. But I do not believe that “why me?” is a legitimate question to ask. For one thing, if we actualy got the full answer, would we be able to understand it all? More importantly to me, I have come to understand the world in a much bigger way, and the question is more appropriately, “Why not me?”. I always have to remember who I am, what I truly deserve, and who I am speaking to. If I am able to remember these things in the heat of the moment, does that diminish my pain and/or suffering or my sense of trying to seek personal justice? Maybe not, but it is always better for me anyways to remember who I am, what my place is, and what I TRULY deserve before I ever get it in my mind to be asking the “why me” question, which really assumes that I know what is best for me, and that I think I deserve anything better than what I get.

Since I had lots of time to think about things in the hospital, and the ceiling wasn’t at all interesting enough to hold my attention for more than oh say, half an hour or so, I turned my attention to looking at my newly acquired physical challenge as a “why not me?” situation. Does turning the tables like this take away the pain and loss? NO! But how is it going to help anything in the moment or the future to look at it in any other way than what you have to work through and make the best of in life? It doesn’t make the moment or the future any easier to deal with if you start off thinking you didn’t deserve it. Even if you didn’t!!! Especially if you didn’t deserve it. If you recognize that you are in a less than ideal situation, or a situation that you wouldn’t have chosen to be in, and the only choice you have left is how to deal with what comes next, to refuse to choose the best that you can in that moment only puts you backwards, not forwards.

 

Make the most of moving forward, no matter how bleak and impossible it seems. For anyone who claims to have a relationship with Christ, our brother went before us in walking a terrible and treacherous path and knows what it is like to go through darkness and horror. We have a constant companion who knows all about suffering, knows how painful it is, and can sustain us in all our trials and challenges. In many ways this topic is so huge that I feel I will never be able to share everything on my heart and mind with regards to it. I just want to encourage all who struggle that there is, or can be hope in the really bleak and awful stuff that can happen in life. It doesn’t take away the pain, sorrow and challenge. It does bring comfort that we have a sympathizer who has experienced it all. Keep the faith.

Rollercoasters

I can’t remember when exactly I stopped being thrilled with roller coasters. I’ve never ridden one until I puked, or had an incident where I passed out because of pulling insane amounts of G force out of a corner, or any other such thing. Maybe it’s because the actual ride can be seen to be so controlled and the outcome assured that you really don’t need to do anything other than find a way to cap off the vomit as it tries to make its way up the tube. A long time ago, when I was still wild and free and living in Edmonton, I recall the day that the roller coaster came off of its track at West Edmonton Mall; there was a person killed in that incident. For some reason, I was at the mall that day. I doubt it was because there was someone killed and I was a rubbernecker looking for a way to gawk at the destruction and carnage. But I do recall being drawn in further to see what was going on because I was there already and seeing a lot of commotion. Knowing that this actually happened by seeing it first hand didn’t turn me off or make me doubt my safety either. Ir seems that the allure of a “contained” thrill just didn’t do much for me. My stomach can only handle so much because of overactive balance and yet that didn’t stop me all the time from jumping on a ride like that going for it if that’s what I felt like. The whole process just stopped being fun. Rollercoasters haven’t stopped for me though…just the fun.

Tears actually came to my eyes yesterday for reasons other than sliced onions, cold wind in my face or hot wind from my backside. It was a fantastic day overall! There was very little extraordinary about the events of the day which included a coffee meeting with an acquaintance and some other errands which I fit in while I was out. I drove, I walked, I shopped, I interacted, I made a list of things to do and scratched them off as I went through the list and many other little things (probably even got a good deep nose picking in there at least once). The drive home was uneventful and I parked the truck where I usually park it, walked in to the house so that I could take care of the urge that had been knocking on the door for quite a while at that point. Details of the visit to the great white throne can be spared for the purpose of this conversation, so I’ll move on to the hoisting of my pants, and the quick latch of the button and zip of the fly as I walked over to the sink and turned the water on, squirt some soap in my hands to rub away the sins of my previous executive actions as king of the porcelain…..and as I rubbed my hands together it hit me and that’s when the tears came to my eyes. I realized that I had just done things so normally and fluidly and unconsciously, the way I hadn’t done them since mid September of last year. In fact in mid September I remember not being able to bunny hop the chair at the table closer after I sat down, so I would make it as close as possible even though my dead arm would clear the table as I swung it around during sitting. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed looking at all my pants and seeing the buttons and zippers that I had no chance of doing up and deciding on sweats instead. It all flashed back in my mind, playing like a movie of my recent life.

Maybe I was sad that it seemed like I had just taken the whole day for granted. Whatever the case was, it momentarily overwhelmed me to realize that this was a day unlike many I’ve had in the last number of months. It all seemed to come so easy, and that was nothing like I had experienced in a long while. In fact the previous day had not been one that had come nearly as easy, and it seemed like every detail of the day had to be fought like a battle of submission in order to get things to turn out the way I want them to. My leg still wanders from what I tell it to do and my left arm is not strong enough to keep up with my right arm and the two are constantly fighting while I’m just trying to do simple things here. “I’m walking here!” But most days if I’m honest I still feel like I’m the drunk in a convenience store trying to hide the fact that I’m totally loaded and staggering around looking for the corn dogs. Personal criticism is constant as I have to always be aware of how I’m moving and using my body parts so that I can continue to relearn natural fluid movement. I have to give myself a pat on the back from time to time in order to keep myself going. And I know through realizing the little changes from time to time that I am making good progress on a daily basis. It’s that momentary “view” that I get at the top of the coaster once the train of cars reaches the apex of the long climb.

You know that long “hang time” there is as the back of the train of cars all have to make it to the top in order for the full impact of the climb and that momentary realization that you are about to really get into it? Well there are lots of days that feel like that as well. Just hanging there, waiting for things to really get rolling. I’m sure that the twists and turns are yet to come, the ups and downs and barrel rolls along with the screams and wide eyes. Once that coaster gets into it, there is nothing left to do but ride it out. I got into this whole thing without realizing I was in line for a rollercoaster. But now that I’m into it and there’s no choice but to ride it out, it’s exceptionally nice to have those frozen moments in time to have a little mini movie of where I was and where I now am. I’m very grateful to be able to have tears come to my eyes in a moment of sober realization. Yes tears and laughter and every other emotion still come out way easier than they should (lability) but I’m okay when I get a chance to see the change and just be grateful. No moments should be taken for granted, or lived without the intensity of a roller coaster ride.

High Five

I just spent a couple of days being a chaperone for my sons basketball team at a tournament in Salmon Arm. The chatter in the car on the way was in some ways amusing, but I was impressed with how they were so excited about the actual tournament. Seems like every time this particular school in Salmon Arm puts on a tournament, it is a great time and the team really enjoys themselves. It is sometimes no small task to win the hearts and minds of teen boys, even though they may be old enough to be on the edge of that teenage mentality. These boys were bordering on the edge of adulthood. I only knew a few of them on a very surface level, and after a car ride there with a few shuttle trips around town and a trip back to hometown Kelowna, it would be unfair for me to say that I really got to know these guys on a deeper level. However when it comes to knowing people and understanding them better I think it can be safely said that going from almost nothing to something more is generally a really good thing.

Sitting back and taking the role of observer is a fun position to be in as well. When you can be quiet and the yourself is a small part of the equation, others themselves have more room to fill in the space. The trick is though, they have to reveal who they are. And that takes time for trust to build. It took long hours of sitting on bleachers, being there with and for the team to wait for their game time and their chance to do what they have been practicing to do. As a parent of one of the team members, it is of course easier to cheer for my very own flesh and blood than it is for the rest, but they all have their parts to play and their strengths and weaknesses. They at times laid back and seemed to coast, and at other times dug deep and pushed as hard as they could. They made it exciting to watch, executing passes and handling the ball like well oiled machines, taking advantage of the moments when other teams let down their guard or seemed to be doing the kind of coasting that they did at times. There were moments of silliness, too. My favorite part (and of course it’s also because it was my son doing it) was when  some pure cheekiness took place out on the court.

Play had stopped, and our team was to gain possession of the ball under their own net. Something had happened with the time clock or something, and the play stayed haulted for quite some time. My son was under the net, waiting to be handed the ball when play was to resume, but for some reason, the ref was just standing there holding the ball with one hand and had his other hand raised in the air the whole time. All of a sudden, my son looked at the ref who had his hand in the air but not really paying attention to him as he stood beside. With a mischievous glint in his eye, he turned to the ref and high fived his raised hand. No reason, just seemed like a fun thing to do. The ref smirked at the quirky unexpected gesture while those in the stands that saw it had a chuckle. It was an intense game against a worthy adversary, but at that moment, everyone who saw the gesture realized that even though fur was flying in the game, and the boys were putting in their all, at least one of the participants was there to make even that fun.

There are lots of times that we all seem to get so wrapped up in the intensity of life that we forget to look at anything about it as fun. I guess it’s all about balance as well, because fun can be as much of a distraction as it can be a life giver. Let’s face it, sometimes we need the distraction of fun to deal with the intensity of life, making the intensity of all of it somehow more bearable. Livable. Able to be endured. But at other times, we use it to keep us away from the intensity and we don’t face up to things that we need to face, allowing us to avoid finishing well. Sometimes it isn’t even the fun itself that is the problem; it is how far we take the fun and going to the point of letting our “fun” activities cause danger for ourselves or others or taking the fun to levels of self harm. That’s going to leave a mark.

These blog posts are about stroke survival and recovery, so what does this all have to do with the purpose of this blog post? Well, for starters, stroke survival is also intense. Especially if you stop and think about it and take the time to recognize that things could have turned out worse. Recovery is even more intense that the survival, because every day the fight to gain back what was lost is there in front of me whether I want it to be or not. No escape from the recovery means that there is always a temptation to find escape in something else. How many days in a row can the average North American push themselves to greater things without wanting a break? I’ve had to see what taking a break from recovery actually does…. the hard way. It seems if I let up on the stuff that I know I need to do, it causes some real setbacks. And that’s just the mind and body stuff happening without any of the external things that can happen. I’ve written about the new enemy I discovered when my truck broke down and I sat in the cold for a while. That fight took me by surprise, so it had a wake up call effect on me that I won’t soon forget. I’m also fighting some stuff that is purposely inflicted on me for my own good. The reference is to the stinkin’ meds that I have to take as a part of betterment of health and self care from this point on. Wouldn’t you know it, but finding the right dosage of some meds can have negative effects on my body as well. I had to tell the doctor the other day that one of the meds he changed to a higher dose was causing some grief. It was the first time I recall a doctor apologize for inflicting deep misery on me. That sent me off on a tangent of trying to think of other situations in life where we subject ourselves to misery with the expressed purpose of doing ourselves good. Health and physical fitness are the focal point of this kind of activity.

I thought that doc and I had figured out the meds problem, but it looks like we have some changing to do. In the meantime, I will look for the moments in every day when some unsuspecting ref is standing there with his arm raised for no apparent reason, and slap a big old silly high five on him just because. Have fun. Don’t take it so far that it stops being fun anymore. High five!