Tuesday, December 30, 2014

One Year Later

"I do not at all understand the mystery of grace-- only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us." --Anne Lamott

Happy Birthday to me.

It's not the day I actually made my way into this crazy world, but it's the day I was forced to begin figuring out my new way around this place. Today is my one year mark from my wreck. I am officially 1 year post-TBI, seizure free, and a little more like the Alexa I recognize.

MAN, I miss that car. It was a goodie.
I didn't know how I would feel about this day or the days leading up to it. Some people said they stayed in bed and hid from reality all day, not wanting to face the anger and hurt waiting for them. Others said they celebrated how far they had come in a year and looked forward to things being even better in another year.

I thought I would be the kind of person who would celebrate. I mean, why not? I love any excuse to eat cake. But my therapists warned me that it might sneak up and sweep me off my feet. That I would find myself wanting to stay in bed all day the closer it got. And, as usual, they were right.

This year was full of so much up and down, from thinking I had just bumped my head and was fine to trying to go back to life to suddenly realizing that the numbness in my feet was getting worse to not being able to walk. I spent more time with doctors than my own friends. I was thrown into all of the awful, annoying, and just plan weird things that come with brain injuries-- changing taste buds, constant migraines, car anxiety, pain that makes getting a tattoo or gashing open your arm feel like nothing, and my first experience with real, suffocating depression.

And I suffered through a lot of it very silently, afraid that if I didn't keep pushing through my normal life like my first neurologist told me to, I was going to let myself and everyone who counted on me down-- my daycare babies, my school partner, my friends, my family. I thought I could fight what was happening by burying myself in life.

I thought I was back in the life game when my neurologist cleared me to go back to work. It was hard on me and overly exhausting a lot of days, but I needed to pay my bills and knew I needed that time with my babies to look forward to in order to keep going every day. And although we are now finding out that the lining of my spinal cord was most likely just getting worse during that time, I don't think I would have been able to push through this without seeing my kids. Most days, they were the ONLY reason I could talk myself into getting up. My little saving graces-- I love them so dearly.

We now know that neurologists have lots of opinions about the best approach to TBI, and returning to normal life immediately is NOT a popular one. When my TBI doctor made me move to Jackson and put my senior elementary ed block on hold, I made HUGE improvements and started feeling so much like myself after a month or two of being able to really rest and let my brain heal. It's what needed to be done at the very beginning, but we didn't know that.

It was hard. These 12 months have been so hard. And as much as I hate it and wish it had never happened, it has made me so much stronger and more understanding and even more driven than I already was before. It's so cliche, but after this? After having to fix my broken memory? After having to reteach my brain and muscles how to balance and roll out of bed in the morning? After pushing through school and work and life with a head, neck, and back injury? After losing sensation in my feet and having to figure out how to walk like that? After ALL of that, the word "difficult" has a whole new meaning. Things like spending 4 hours on homework, paying my own bills, and having to do my own laundry are things I can't WAIT to be doing again after having to go through all of this. After all of that, how can there possibly be something that I can't get through?

(That is not a challenge, life. NOT A CHALLENGE.)

I learned even more about how we truly don't know what is going on with someone. Brain and spine injuries are essentially invisible. The most common response I get is "but you look so normal and fine!!" "One day you could kind of feel your feet and then something happened in your neck and spine and you couldn't feel them anymore?" Yes. Exactly. I learned that we take SO MUCH for granted and people complain about things that aren't worth complaining about. I learned that the people you think will be there for you when life kicks you down may not be the people who actually stick around when you aren't yourself. I learned that it hurts like hell when those people are the ones who you have always held nearest and dearest to you. I learned that people who never have and may not ever face a situation like this will judge and roll their eyes and continue to think that staying in a 3 star hotel and being too busy to get a massage are the biggest injustices in life.

My very first time walking with the Bioness braces!
I've experienced first hand the struggle my dyslexic reading students face every day, and the frustration of not being able to fix it. I've experienced feeling left behind because life is moving on without you even though your world has stopped. I've experienced being furious at God and wanting to kick Him out, only to realize that His unfailing love and grace is the only thing that's constant when Rock Bottom becomes your permanent residence. I've experienced feeling closer to Him in my own little apartment than in a church building. I've experienced feeling Him wrap His arms around me during every fall, curse word, and setback at rehab.

My little happy on the day I got discharged from speech/cognitive therapy!
So many of you are so sweet and constantly encouraging me. One of the things that is most frequently said to me is, "You are handling this with so much grace and positivity." But I have to make sure you know that there are many days that grace and positivity do NOT happen.

I try to be positive and humorous, because I get through things with jokes and laughter. I try to keep it light and breezy because I don't want people to think I can't be a great friend, babysitter, and teacher while I struggle. I can't begin to tell you how many "I'd rather get hit by a truck than (insert something I don't want to do here)" jokes I've made. (My mom totally doesn't think they are as funny as I do.) But I've also had so many days where I've been so furious, hurt, upset, and frustrated that I was in an awful mood and snapped at my precious mom who just wanted to know what I felt like eating for dinner. I've cursed and cried when I've fallen or can't get my body to do what we are working on in PT, even though we've been working on this one thing for WEEKS.

And then I lay on the floor like this because LIFE.
I've tossed my phone across my bedroom in anger when jealousy was eating me alive because Facebook was showing me that all of my friends and classmates were doing everything I should be doing in Starkville. I've made my family completely reschedule our plans because I couldn't bring myself to go to another public place where people would stare or talk to me like I'm dumb or just be rude. I've had to clinch my fists to keep myself from throwing a punch at someone who is bragging about their ability to drive irresponsibly, total their car, and walk away without a scratch as I sit right in front of them with a walker and leg braces. I've had to almost bite a hole in my tongue to keep myself from screaming YOU LITERALLY HAVE NO IDEA HOW GOOD YOU HAVE IT SO STOP WHINING at someone.

I've spent many of these last few days leading up to Christmas and my one year mark in bed swallowed up by anger and sadness while my family continues on with our holiday traditions that I just can't bring myself to participate in. And I don't know WHY. I don't know if it's because I spent yet another December night in the hospital this year or because my body is like STAY AWAY FROM CARS AND RED LIGHTS or because the holidays just don't feel as merry and bright anymore.

I've done so many things that wouldn't be considered handling this with grace and positivity, and I try to convey that as much as possible. I try to convey that sometimes life is--for lack of better words--full of shit, and there's nothing shameful about having to take a couple detours and being pissed about it. It's okay if our life plan has to be put on hold for a little bit. It's okay to say I AM SO MISERABLE on the bad days, as long as you somehow remember that there will be another great day ahead where you will say "God, I'm so blessed."

The day I learned how to shift my weight without being able to feel it.
And I'm telling you all of this because if there is anything I'm good at, it's using my words. And I don't know what I'm supposed to do with this mess I've been given, but if I can somehow use my raw and real words to convey SOME type of message-- whether it's about the impact of your driving decisions or how a normal, bubbly girl can suddenly be kidnapped by Depression and its pal Anxiety and feel so lonely or how someone can want to trust in God SO BADLY while stuck in a giant shithole but can't get past the anger-- then maybe I can somehow make myself believe that this massive, awful situation wasn't for nothing.

I don't have it all figured out, and I certainly don't have any magical powers or answers. But if things are sucky right now or you've just been unwillingly inducted into the National Depression Club, I can stand here with you, just like my friends in the rehab center and the cancer center and the neuro lab have stood here with me. I can stand here and say this sucks. And it's unfair. And I'm so sorry. I will stand here and say that the holidays SUCK when you feel like this, and there is no way to explain it to anyone else. I will stand here and say that I know you can't feel it right now but life isn't going to be like this every day for the rest of your life. I will talk it out or throw darts at a picture of someone's face or just sit here next to you as someone who gets it if that's what you need.

In the words of my Proverbs 31 Ministry devotion from a few days ago: "I want to be a woman who is willing to say, 'I'll trust Jesus even when it's hard. I'll be real with my weakness so you can see Christ working in me. I'll be brave so you know you can be, too. Watch, I'll go first.'"

A whole year later, and my life doesn't match the life plan I've been working on since I learned how to write. So here are a couple things that are on my NEW plan for 2015.

I've been asked to share my story at a SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) safe driving workshop that's being held in Biloxi in January. I will be speaking to groups of students from all over the state who are working to promote safe driving in their own schools and communities, and hopefully will have the privilege to continue to work with them and other organizations to promote safe driving. Needless to say, I. Am. Pumped. (And SO SCARED) I love being able to use my words in a positive and (hopefully) effective way.

I am officially going back to school full time, and will be completing my senior elementary ed block this spring. I will be taking the classes online and will do my practicum at schools in the Jackson area while I continue rehab. TEACHER ALEXA IS BACK, PEOPLE. I can't wait to be back in my element doing what I'm good at.

I will (fingers crossed) be discharged from rehab by summer, and will hopefully be making the move to the Washington DC area where I will complete my student teaching and graduate in December. I will apply to grad school to get my masters in Reading Education, and work on getting a teaching position at a struggling school in the city where I can work hard to play a part in closing the word gap and giving low-income students the education they deserve.

But the biggest, best, and most exciting thing I can say is that, thanks to my PTs and Bioness leg braces (the robot legs), I will be WALKING into this new year.

Here's to a new year, that will hopefully be filled with much more walking, teaching, and pure happiness than 2014. Here's to every single rehabilitation professional who loves what they do and works hard for those of us who find ourselves in an awful situation.

And here's to you. Especially those of you who have sat with me at the hospital and loved me in my bad moods and brought the party to me when I couldn't leave the house. Thank you all so much for loving, encouraging, and praying for me. I will always have so much love in my heart for every single one of you.

Happy New Year, peeps. Let's get this party started! xo.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

I Love My "Overachieving" Mom

It's that time of year again.

Time for everyone to start sharing those articles about why people hate THOSE moms. Oh, I'm not talking about those moms who scream at their kids for being kids or the crazy ones who get arrested for locking their kid in a closet for 10 years.

Nope. I'm talking about THOSE moms-- the ones who make homemade goodie bags for their kid's Christmas party and do silly things with their Elf on the Shelf and make snowflakes and other holiday crafts with their kids. The ones we all love to hate on.

Nothing says happy holidays like judging others, right?

When I first came across an article complaining about the "overachieving mom" a few years ago, I clicked on it thinking it was going to be about a "pushy mom" who puts a lot of pressure on her kids to make straight 100s and compete in the olympics.

But then I read the article. And I was like, well shit. They just described Rose Cacibauda. Also known as Mom.


This is my mother. She's an incredible artist (especially when it comes to pottery), a hard worker, and occasionally an expert at annoying her middle child who is basically Rose Cacibauda part 2. She's a woman of many traits, really.

But mostly? She's what today's world calls an "overachieving mother". Actually, I'm pretty convinced that one of my classmate's moms probably met her and created the term overachieving mother. 

She was a stay at home mom when my siblings and I were younger. She filled our toddler days with educational activities, crafts, books, and trips to the park. When we were in elementary school, she did things with the PTA, went on our field trips, helped with field day, and painted sets for school plays every time one of us volunteered her because we told everyone how good of an artist she was.

When I turned 7, I had a Spice Girls birthday party, and she painted the Spice Girls on a huge piece of cardboard/wood/something with face cutouts so my friends and I could put our faces in and take our pictures. She created microphones out of styrofoam and fabric and created a "stage" for us to perform on. I was Sporty Spice and it was awesome. 

In my 4th grade Mississippi play, I played the role of the teacher and we made and decorated a "teacher vest" for me to wear. She never sent anything store-bought to our class parties unless I was signed up for chips. She was simultaneously my brother's cub scout leader and me and my sister's girl scout troop leader, and we ALWAYS went camping with the cub scouts. She planned and ran a cub scout day camp every summer, and created Camp Cacibauda, where she had tons of special fun activities and outings for us to do as a family all week. 

She played with us and let us get dirty and pick out our own outfits, even when I was 3 and wore my cowboy boots with everything, including my pjs and swim suit. She brought orange slices and juice boxes to our soccer games, taught me ballet positions when I didn't have time to play sports AND do dance, and spent most of her days sitting in the stands at the baseball/softball fields. When we go to Disney World, she spends months working on getting us a reservation to eat in Cinderella or Belle's castle because we still think it's magical.

She's made every birthday cake my siblings and I have ever had (except that year I discovered the cakes with whipped cream icing at Walmart and became obsessed). When I turned 13, she and my aunt took me and 2 of my friends to New Orleans for a weekend to stay at the Alexa Hotel. When I turned 21, she said she would take me to New York to see Derek Jeter play at Yankee Stadium before he retired. Even after my accident happened, she still did everything to make it happen this past September and pushed me all around New York City.

She let us "camp out" in our sleeping bags in the living room on the weekends, and made matching Easter dresses for me and my sister on a regular basis. And the holidays? Let's just say she's the reason I'm so obsessed with Christmas. We still do the same things we used to. We decorate and make homemade Christmas cookies and make all of our homemade Italian food. We make goodies to send to her best friend in California and we play family games. She writes riddles and sticks them in the advent calendar, and on Christmas Eve morning we get to hunt for our new ornament that is hidden somewhere in the house.

But here's the thing-- I know it sounds like it, but my siblings and I weren't spoiled. Were we so, so, SO incredibly blessed? YES. No doubt. But we weren't (and still aren't) rich, and I heard the word "no" (nicely) plenty of times. We were a family on a budget, and I know my mom didn't do it just to one up the other parents. She didn't do it because she thinks she's perfect. She's still a mom and a human. She likes to spend a day in her pjs and gets frustrated with her crazy kids sometimes and still isn't very good at taking selfies. ;)

Do you know why she did it?

Because she WANTED TO. Because she thought it was FUN. Because that was, and still is, her personality.


Maybe that's not your personality. Maybe you are a store-bought cookie kind of girl and think the Elf on the Shelf is too much work. AND THAT'S OKAY TOO! It doesn't make you any less of a good mother.

But we can't tell women that they are awful and "setting the bar too high" just because of the way they are choosing to be a mom. If it makes you feel bad or you don't like it, then you have two options. You can step up your mom game, or you can just ignore it and keep on keeping on and loving your kids the way you love them. 

Because at the end of the day, I promise that the "overachieving moms" aren't doing all of these things to prove that they're a better mom or make you feel like an inadequate mother. Because the secret is that all of those "overachieving" things aren't about YOU, they are about their kid(s).

I'm thankful that my mom fits the description of an "overachieving mom". I'm thankful that I have that same personality, and can only hope that I'm as awesome of a mom as she is. I'm thankful that she still chooses to go above and beyond for me and my siblings.

But mostly, I'm thankful for my overachieving mother, who went above and beyond even though she knew we didn't fully realize just how good we had it at the time. I thought all moms were like mine when I was younger. I thought she was just being a mom and doing what she was supposed to do. 

But man, I was so wrong. Rose Cacibauda is definitely one of THOSE moms. And she did it all before Pinterest because she's just that cool. But you know what? We love it. 

We love our overachieving mother. You rock, Mom!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I Should've Been Thankful for Cold Feet

I just went back and read my Thankful post from last year, and I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. I remember writing and tweaking that post in the Starbucks on campus where I would sit during the long break between two of my classes. I remember thinking about how good things were, and wondering what life would be like in a year. I remember getting excited as I thought about the fact that I would be a SENIOR in college, and so close to having my very own classroom.
One thing is for sure-- I never would have guessed that I would be where I am now. Living with my cousins in Jackson and going to brain and spine injury rehab. Not finishing up Senior Block with my friends and preparing for student teaching.

But I know I still have SO much to be thankful for, I really do. The people who have stood by me when it counts-- my parents, my sister, my aunts & uncles, my cousins, and my friends. My true friends who have stuck by me every single second of every single day and act like nothing has changed. My sweet, selfless, awesome cousins, Jamey and Molly, who are letting me live with them while I'm in rehab in Jackson. They offered without even questioning it and have been such a huge help. Plus they are just super fun to hang out with, so there's that. :)

And of course, I'm thankful for all of my rehab therapists in Starkville and at Methodist Rehab. They are all hilarious, caring, and so hard-working. They have all worked and are working so hard to help me get as close to 100% and they have never expressed one ounce of doubt that it's possible. Paul, Damien, Brian, Shannon, & Anna at Drayer in Starkville, you are all family to me and I hold you so close to my heart! Linda & Laurel at OCH Rehab, thank you for helping me get so many pieces of my life back and getting me through all of my tests that have me one step closer to being a certified teacher! Paula, Patricia, Erin, Allison, Jen, Danny, and Jennifer at Methodist, you all keep me smiling and laughing, even on my grumpy days. I love you all so much already!

As for the little things that are really the big things, well, they are pretty different than what used to be my normal "little things". I always tried to keep myself in check and not take the little things for granted too much, but my injuries have been a big dose of reality. When I'm scrolling through Facebook or listening to people next to me at a restaurant and see/hear complaints about, for lack of a better word, STUPID things, I just want to scream THOSE ARE NOT REAL PROBLEMS! Which would be rude, because everyone has their own cross to bear (even if their biggest cross is something as ridiculous as the barista putting too much cream in their coffee) and I know that.

I'd like to think I've been a generally thankful person, but if I could go back to the days before my accident or at least before I lost complete feeling in my lower legs and feet, there are some things I would tell myself to be extra thankful for.

I would be so thankful for being able to stand in the shower. I love my shower chair, I really do, but there is no such thing as "jumping in and out of the shower real quick". And I would appreciate being able to just hop in the car and run to the store real quick. Now I have to have someone drive me and plan it out. How big is the place? Will it be too overwhelming? Can I use my walker or will I need a wheelchair?

I would be thankful for all of the mornings I woke up with sore ankles after dancing all night with my friends, and all of the pain my poor toes suffered through during my ballet & pointe years. Man, I miss dancing so much. Not even just dancing when I go out with my friends, but little things like obnoxiously dancing it out when my brain needed a break from studying for finals. I'd be sure to be so thankful for that.

I'd remember to be extra thankful for frustrating things like homework and projects and having to stay up late writing lesson plans. I'd be so thankful for being able to drag myself to the gym to do 60 minutes on the elliptical, even though I'd rather sit on the couch and eat a cookie.

I'd be thankful for annoying things like my feet being cold and being able to feel it when I bang my freaking shin on the coffee table. I'd appreciate being able to tap my foot to the beat of a song playing in a restaurant. I'd remember to be so thankful for all of those afternoons I played soccer with my daycare kiddos on the playground for the entire 45 minutes even though it was 90 degrees and sitting in the shade (or moving to Alaska) sounded like a better idea.

I would just be thankful. I always knew I was blessed to have a home, food, an education, a job, a car, and all of those things. I knew I was blessed to have awesome parents and an awesome gift of teaching and great friends. It just never crossed my mind that having cold feet (literally) and sore ankles and legs that could walk all around Disney World for 5 days was SUCH a huge blessing.

No doubt that the last 11 months have been full of losses, but I'm really just thankful to get to spend another holiday season with my family. I can't wait to see what will happen between now and Thanksgiving next year, but I'm crossing my fingers for lots of good things. :)

Please remember to make good driving decisions this holiday season (and always). Car accidents that result from things like running red lights, texting and driving, and drunk driving are 100 PERCENT PREVENTABLE.

Everyone deserves to be able to spend the holidays with their loved ones and dance around their kitchen table and tell when their feet are cold.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, sweet friends. I am so thankful for you.

And this. I'm really, really, really thankful for this.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Is That Your Final Answer?

Remember when that TV show Who Wants to be a Millionaire was popular? I always imagined what I would do if I were on that show, considering I'm the most indecisive person in the whole world other than my mother. Just the question itself, asking if that's the answer I'm ready to commit to, makes me squirm.

But for the past few months, I've been the one asking that question to everyone. My doctors, my specialists, my therapists, basically anyone who has been part of this whole injury and recovery shebang.

Because there is still a lot we don't know about them, and each one is different and complicated in it's own way, it's been hard to get an exact answer. That's why I was weak and felt like I couldn't completely feel things in my legs but was walking for some months, supposedly in the clear for paralysis the next month, in a neck brace on the weekend for a month or two, and then suddenly not walking and being diagnosed with partial paralysis. Whew.

My doctors and therapists have had me in so much testing the last couple of months to try and see if we can pinpoint where these problems are coming from. For a while I was having a hard time deciding if I'm a lab rat or a human.

FYI: your dignity kinda goes out the window the second you are diagnosed with serious injuries
So here's what the final (I THINK) prognosis is. I have a Traumatic Brain Injury, which we already knew. I also have a C6/C7 spinal cord injury (it's up by my neck), which we knew about, but Neurologist #2 didn't think it was a big deal. However, it is a big deal, and since no one paid attention to it at the beginning of all of this (except my amazing manual PT, Shannon, who KNEW something wasn't right), the damage just kept getting worse. On impact, there was a lot of damage to the ligaments on my spinal cord, which was another thing my PT could tell just by the instability in my neck and back. There's also damage to some layer of something (connective membranes, maybe? it's all greek to me) in my spinal cord. This damage is what's causing the signals from my feet to not make it all the way to my brain, which is why the tingling feeling in my feet and ankles has turned into paralysis/no feeling at all. We didn't know this until a couple weeks ago when I had the test that checks the speed of the signals.

So I'm just chilin' over here like...


So that's about as much information as we can get in a situation like this. Moving forward, all we can do is strengthen all of my muscles, work on my proprioception (knowing where to plant my feet/walk while keeping my balance, etc.), get me as close to "normal" as possible, and wait and see if it improves over time since I'm so young.

I am working really hard on learning how to shift my weight from leg to leg even though I can't feel it. We have been using some Wii games and the Wii Fit Board. It's hard as hell, but it's pretty fun! We are going to try putting me in some AFOs (ankle-foot orthosis, which are just braces on my lower legs/ankles/feet) to help with the walking. I can bend my knees since I have some feeling there, but it's hard for me to move my foot near my ankle and pick up the foot so my toes don't drag since I can't feel my feet. So basically these braces will hopefully help me walk "normally", which is great!

Since I'm doing rehab in Jackson permanently now, I've been staying with my awesome, loving, incredibly supportive cousins. They make me feel right at home and take such good care of me. I am such a lucky girl to have such a great, close-knit extended family! They mean the world to me.

I am constantly in awe of how much these doctors and therapists know about brain and spinal cord injuries, and all of the advancements doctors have made to improve the lives of those who have these types of injuries.  

The most frustrating thing is that I am constantly being told that a big problem is that I didn't get the right treatment from the hospital and the 3 different neurologists I saw at the very beginning. It just kept being brushed off as a small concussion, and no one ever looked into my spinal cord.

Neurologist #1 told me that I needed to go back to my life so my brain could re-learn to adjust, and at the time, I was okay with that because I would crawl all the way to Starkville just to be with my daycare kids again. I thought I could do it because that's what he told me to do, and he's a doctor so I listened. Neurologist #2 told me paralysis was not possible, and here I am now with paralysis in my feet.

Here's the worst part: THIS HAPPENS TO TBI PATIENTS ALL THE TIME!! Every day. Every year.

As common as TBIs are, they are NOT talked about often enough. Not in the general public and definitely not in hospitals and medical offices. 1.7 MILLION people in the US are diagnosed with a TBI every year. We have to talk about these "invisible injuries" more. We have to keep ourselves informed and not be so quick to judge just because there might be more to it than what we can see.

And we must be SMART, RESPONSIBLE DRIVERS! So many of my rehab friends are there because someone was being a stupid driver. Put down your phones and stop at the damn red light, people! It's maybe 60 seconds that you have to sit there and wait. At the end of this year, I will have given up 525,949 minutes of my life simply because the woman who hit me couldn't give up 1 minute. It's selfish, and it's not worth it.

But in light of all of this, I sure have learned a lot. When you have an injury that changes your daily life and keeps you from doing things like going out and partying with your friends, you sure do learn a lot about the people in your life. All of them love being there when life is a rainbow, but the ones worth keeping are the ones who stick around and refuse to leave when the hurricane hits.

The craziest part is that sometimes the people you think will stick around are actually the ones who aren't there at all.

And finally, life is absolutely awful and relentless sometimes. It really is. But somehow, even when you are so sure that the light at the end of the tunnel has burned out, there will be moments that come along and are so wonderful that the dark tunnel seems worth it.

My recent wonderful moments:

Being there when this sweet new baby boy cousin of mine made his grand entrance into our wild family. We love you Liam, so very much!

Getting to spend so much time being the older cousin to these beautiful kids who make me feel like a rockstar with my walker.

Finally getting to go on my 21st birthday trip to New York to see Derek Jeter (my favorite person in THE WORLD, in case you don't know me in real life and aren't aware of my Yankees obsession) play at Yankee Stadium during his last season. Thanks to my parents for working so hard to make my dreams come true despite the setbacks my wreck caused. And a big thanks to Mr. Captain for a great 20 years. I tip my hat to ya.

And finally, getting to spend lots of time with the coolest parents in the world, who have altered their life once again to take care of me during all of this rehab. It's not every 21 year old's dream to move back in with her parents and not be able to drive herself anywhere, but since I had to do it, I'm glad it's with these two. 

Even in the messiest of times, life is still good. Keep on keepin' on, sweet friends.

"I do not at all understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us." -Anne Lamott

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Monday, September 15, 2014

The Plan

It's a funny thing-- the life you plan for yourself versus the one God has planned for you.

At my first rehab evaluation at the Traumatic Brain Injury unit in Jackson, the doctors and therapists looked through my file and asked me and my mom questions about my pre-injury life, trying to get an idea of what my "normal" used to be. I was a daycare teacher who was truly in love with her job, and loved those kids so much that I spent my free time babysitting. I loved being in school. I loved playing sports. I loved going out with my friends. I was so active that I didn't even have time to watch the cable I was paying for. I was independent. Some nights I practically collapsed into bed, wishing for a day I could spend just laying in bed watching tv.

Well. Be careful what you wish for, huh?

Sometimes I think about what my life is like right now and I laugh because of how absolutely bizarre it is. I am only taking 2 college class and they are online. My college graduation that was supposed to be in May is being pushed back. The only time I'm around kids is when I'm around my little cousins. If I want to walk, I have to use a walker and I'm exhausted after 6 steps. All of my friends are hours away. I spend my days in a brain and spine rehabilitation institute.

How can that be? I was sure I had finally made peace with it. It is what it is. I've never been the jealous type, ever, but when I see my friends' Facebook posts about school and student teaching and graduation, I'm just dumbfounded. I mean, that's supposed to be me.

I wasn't born to spend my time re-learning how to do basic skills. I wasn't born to spend my days in bed "resting". I wasn't born to be the person who takes forever to graduate college. I was born to teach and dedicate my life to helping others and live a beautiful, successful life that I created by working hard. I'm so good at covering it up that sometimes, when I'm just watching a movie with my family, I forget. Internal injuries are sneaky-- other than a couple scars under my clothes, I look just like I always have.

I kept trying to fit myself into this pre-accident box. Maybe if I go back to Starkville, things will be like they used to be. Maybe if I try to keep myself busy in between my therapy sessions, I will forget how vastly different things are. Maybe if I just keep pushing myself, I can make MY life plan happen.

I like to be the best I can be. The best daughter, the best sister, the best friend, the best student, the best teacher, the best babysitter. I knew I needed to take care of myself first, but I didn't want to walk away from all of that.

But finally, I found the right doctor who knew what she was talking about. And she looked at me and she said, "I'm going to lay it all out on the table for you, okay? You. Have. To. Stop. If you don't put the rest of your life on pause and come do your rehab here, you won't get better. And you are just too young to let this take everything away from you."

For about 60 seconds, I was crushed. I saw my life plan swirling the drain. What about school? What about my kiddos? What about my life in Starkville? But then I was suddenly relieved. Because someone finally told me that it was okay to just stop, and I didn't feel like I was just throwing in the towel. I wasn't failing because this wasn't my fault. I wasn't choosing to leave everything in Starkville behind for now, I was being forced to. I can finally rest. I can finally let myself breathe long enough to heal. I can stop trying to do everything at one time, and just focus on getting myself better first.

And you know, I think it's alright. I've always thought of it as admitting defeat and letting these injuries define me, but really I think it's just the opposite. It takes a lot of strength to give up your color-coded, neatly organized life plan. It's hard to feel like you're standing still while the world is still moving on without you.

So that's where I am. I'm a patient at the Methodist Outpatient Rehabilitation Institute in Jackson. My "window of opportunity" is closing very quickly. When it comes to serious nerve damage, you typically have 6 months - 1 year after the accident to regain sensation. December 30th will make it 1 year (umm CRAZY), so after that it's pretty much all about adjusting to the new life for good. (Fingers crossed for the best results possible!) So they keep me busy with all kinds of stretches, nerve tests, upper body workouts, and crazy things for people with partial paralysis like an underwater treadmill. I work hard, and when I'm drained at the end of the day, I'm allowed to crawl into bed and rest. I'm a senior in college, just with a few modifications and a later graduation date. I'm also a godmother to the most beautiful, precious, and perfect little girl there is. She is my sweet new baby girl cousin Gemma, and it's safe to say I'm head over heels in love with her.

Like I said, it's a funny thing-- the life you plan for yourself versus the one God has planned for you.

If you think about it, it's kind of scary, too. Sometimes I am so comforted by the idea that I don't have to worry, because someone, who is so much bigger than me, has a plan just for me. Other times, the control freak in me spazzes out over the idea that the life plan she has worked so hard for isn't the plan that's actually going to happen.

But this is my life. My "new normal" as they like to say at rehab. I miss my friends and my kids and going to 2-for-1 Tuesdays and being a fun-loving 21 year old.

And I don't know when I'll finish rehab, or when I'll finally get to graduate from college and have my own classroom and then have a house full of kids. I don't know if I'll ever be able to walk, skip, and jump down the streets of Disney World with my family again. But I do have a plan. And the best part? If my plan doesn't work out, someone who is so much bigger than you and me has something planned just for me. And maybe it seems silly to some people, but that's what I'm holding onto. That's what I have to hold onto in order to keep going.

After all, I hear His plans tend to be the greatest.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

June: Currently

Loving this sweet picture of me and my people. My doctors and therapists decided I needed to go on my family's annual Disney World trip that was planned and paid for long before my accident. I was so nervous and worried, but-- these words taste like vinegar-- they were right. It was just what we all needed. That girl you don't recognize is Clara, Zoe's friend and the newest member of the Cacibauda family. And let me just say that while Zoe's friends are nice, I don't usually want to hang out with them, but I do it because I want to hang out with my sister. But Clara? She fits right in. I had a blast. Wheelchair and all.

Missing my sweet, hilarious, sassy little sister. I've always thought it was silly that people always think we are twins because we are so different, until I realized that she's just the other half of me. She's the one who grabs my arm and pulls us to the next risk-taking event while I frantically try to sort out the logistics and do the research while running behind her. She makes a grand entrance when we walk into a room and I sneak in behind her, because she loves the attention and I love to watch her shine. Her free spirit dives fearlessly into anything and everything, while I walk carefully behind her, ready to deal with anyone who tries to get in her way. She's the marshmallow cream to my peanut butter sandwich. The one who pushes me in my wheelchair down the ramps at Disney World while our mom covers her eyes behind us. I couldn't ask for anyone better. I love you, Z.

Enjoying these last 6 weeks with my sweet babies before they move up to pre-k 4 and don't need their "Ms. Awesa" anymore. They are so grown up, and their sweet hugs and giggles do more for my heart than they could ever know. So blessed to be part of their lives.

Obsessing over the uncertainty of my future until I send myself into cardiac arrest. My car accident and injuries have made things I've always wanted seem so different and sometimes out of reach.

Preparing for another intense week of rehab. PT and OT are hard and exhausting and frustrating, but cognitive therapy is what kills me. My brain controls everything that makes me Alexa. Having to re-learn how to read and do math, two of my favorite things, with this newly acquired dyslexia is frustrating. That's what we are working on now that my 3 summer math classes have started. I am praying this experience makes me a better teacher. It has certainly made me even more passionate about getting my masters in reading education to become a reading specialist.

Wondering what the last 5 months of my life would have been like if my accident had never happened. I'd be in Spain right now, studying abroad for the summer and finishing up my Spanish education endorsement. I'd have no idea how lucky I am to have a perfectly healthy brain and spine, and that being able to balance on one foot is, in fact, a lot harder than we think. My biggest worry would be whether I should stay in and study or go out and get drunk in Spain, and I'd probably pick the latter, because how often do you have the chance to get drunk in Spain?

Packing my apartment because I'm moving to one that doesn't have stairs or neighbors who scream at each other every night at 3am.

Checking to see if there's anything on TV besides Finding Nemo, because a few weeks of nonstop rain when you're a daycare teacher will make a lot of kid-friendly movies get really old really fast.

Wishing my family, daycare babies, rehab therapists, and college classes were all located in the same place. 

Drinking an Ocean Water from Sonic, because I normally only drink water and coffee, but Saturday is for breaking the rules.

Planning my first tattoo that I want to get when all of this rehab stuff is over. I know, I know. Me? A tattoo? BUT my brother and sister both have multiple and hello, I can't be left out!

Reading Over My Head: A Doctor's Own Story of Head Injury from the Inside Looking Out. And a bunch of kid books that I have to read for cognitive therapy to practice reading with dyslexia. Boo. I don't get to do a lot of reading for fun these days, because it's not as fun when it makes your brain hurt after 5 minutes. Double boo.

Listening to my Ben Folds playlist.

Watching Downton Abbey. Finally. Not right this minute, but I just started season 1 a few days ago. I needed something to move on to after I finished season 2 of Orange Is the New Black in a day and a half. So there's that.

Marveling over the BEAUTIFUL quilt my friend/former neighbor/former babysitter made for me and sent me all the way from England!! (She gets to live in England with her husband and 4 kids and make quilts all day because she has a badass life.) I am not even putting this in my blog because I feel like that's something you should do when someone gives you something. I am legitimately in love with it. Thank you so much, Jenn!!

Thanking all of you for reading and sharing my last blog post about my sweet friend and guardian angel, Dane! It's gotten almost 3,000 views and I saw so many people who aren't even my friends on facebook sharing it on their page! Wow! Thank you so much. I had no idea it would take off like that. Dane is just as great of a guardian angel as he was a friend to me during his time here. Thank you.

Feeling good. Really good. That's not something I've been able to say a lot since my accident. I'm finally starting to almost have an equal number of good and bad days, which is way better than having a lot more bad days than good. My rehab doctor has me on some steroids which have been decreasing the swelling near my brain and spine, which helps decrease some of my pain. And that is a lifesaver. Our next obstacle is to figure out why my legs go numb. BUT today I feel good. I feel like maybe my whole life isn't completely ruined and that there are still good things up ahead for me. I will not let one person's stupid decision to run through two red lights take all of my dreams away from me. She does not get that power. I will push through the bad stuff because I do not want this to be where my story ends.

One day during my pool therapy, we were working on strengthening my spine so I could re-learn how to float. Every time I would start to go under, my therapist would say, "Try to come back up. You can do this. Don't let yourself sink." So now we always say stuff like that. I refuse to let this defeat me. I refuse to sink.

**I got my idea for this post from my friend, Jenn. The same one who made the quilt. You can check out her blog and read about her badass life here.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Visit from My Guardian Angel

I don't remember anything from the night of my accident.

I don't remember that day or the days before or most of those couple weeks after when I was mostly sedated with ten different types of pain meds and muscle relaxers. I don't remember Christmas or even things that happened weeks and months before. I look at pictures of events like Thanksgiving and my brother's wedding, and it's like it doesn't even exist in my brain.

I have the story of my accident memorized from listening to it be told so many times, but I remember nothing, which means maybe the story I'm about to tell you didn't really happen. But I will forever believe that it did.

Apparently, during the 2-3 weeks after my accident that I was basically a medically sedated blob, I put a few things in my notes app on my phone that I wanted to remember. It's choppy and doesn't make a lot of sense, because obviously my thinking and language skills weren't in good shape after smashing a window with my head.

January 6, 2014: I in wreck. Dane stayed. Was with me he there. Help got me. He left. Angel.

You may remember me talking about my dear friend Dane who passed away in November. I was really struggling with it around Christmas and sometimes I would talk to him when I was in my car by myself. I've had a recurring dream about him since my accident, but I don't think it's just a dream. I think it's a memory.

(You might be starting to worry about my mental health right now, but stay with me.)

The dream starts the same way. I'm suddenly in my smashed up car on Highway 90 in Ocean Springs, in the spot about 400ft from the red light that my car landed in after a truck ran a red light, hit me, and sent me and my car spinning down the highway. (Side note: Thank God for seatbelts. My groceries went flying out of the car. If I hadn't had my seatbelt on, I would have gone flying with them. WEAR THE SEATBELT, PEOPLE.) I'm crying and screaming for help and there is glass everywhere.

I see someone standing by my car on the passenger side with their back to me. I can't move or feel my body but I manage to lean forward enough to lay on the horn in hopes of getting their attention. Why aren't they turning around? I have finally figured out how to form the word "help" and I'm saying it as loud as I can but the person isn't moving.

Then after what seemed like hours (in reality, they said the guy behind me pulled over immediately so it was literally two minutes, if that, but I obviously had no concept of time) there were people on my side of the car. The guy who called 911 and my parents (his name is Brandon and my family and I will always be thankful for him) and EMTs and policemen and people saying a lot of things that I can't figure out.

I look back at the person standing by the passenger side of the car whose back is still to me. They start walking down the highway. They are wearing jeans and a gray hoodie. They are tall and have blonde hair.

I can't find the words but I know who it is. They have to stop him. I want to see him. I try to move my head to look at the policemen but I can't, so I try to make out a few words.

"Dane," I try to mumble to them. "Stop. Dane."

The policemen and EMTs are trying to pry my door open so they can pull me out of the car. I look back up at the road and the person isn't there anymore.

And then everything goes black and I wake up from my dream, which I'm assuming is about the time in reality that my body shut down for the second time and knocked me unconscious until I came to again in the hospital.

I know I don't remember anything. I know I smashed a window with my head and then was unconscious. I know there are stories of people being extremely delusional in situations like this.

But I know he was there. My beautiful guardian angel. He stayed by my car and didn't leave until help arrived. He was wearing jeans and a gray hoodie-- the same thing he was wearing when I saw him before he passed away.

Even though I wasn't fully conscious or in a good state of mind, I know it was him. Because that's the kind of sweet, caring friend he was to me when he was here. Every time I wake up from that dream, my muscles and nerves hurt. It's the same kind of pain that happens when I look at a stoplight or see a truck speed by. My muscles and nerves remember the accident even though I don't.

But I'm also in a weird, peaceful state when I wake up from the dream. It's one of those things you can't explain but you just know because you can feel it. Dane was there with me. And sometimes I think I have that dream so much because it's his way of reminding me that he was and is always here with me.

I don't know if you believe in ghosts or spirits or whatever, but I do. I believe the people we love are always watching over us, and I have a lot of other weird stories to back that up. And those stories happened when I didn't have a brain injury. ;)

I told Dane's mom this story months ago and had considered blogging about it before now. I couldn't decide how far-fetched it would sound, but I thought today was a good day to share it because it's Dane's birthday.

Sweet Dano, you are the best guardian angel anyone could ever have. I am selfish when I think about how much I'd rather have you here with us instead of up there watching over us. Thank you for staying with me and protecting me until help arrived.

Happiest of birthdays to my sweet friend and beautiful guardian angel. You are so loved and missed! Your hug is on the way, and it's one of those running start, squeezing you until you can't breathe kind of hugs. :)

When I start to get frustrated during rehab, my therapists and doctors always remind me how big of a miracle I am. "You can do this, Alexa," they say. "You can do this, because by some miracle, you survived your wreck. I don't know how you did it. You must have someone special watching over you."

I sure do. And he is more special than you could ever possibly imagine.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I Am Making It.

If "take a college class with brain & spine injury while enrolled in full time rehab" was ever on my bucket list (It. Was. Not.), we can officially CROSS IT OFF, people.

During those two weeks right after my accident where I was in so much pain that I didn't focus on anything other than trying to remember my own name, I just assumed I would be going back for my last semester of junior year and everything would be normal. 

But then I was thrown into reality. How could I go to school if I couldn't even remember my own middle name or focus for more than 0.7 seconds? I wanted to quit school. I couldn't do it. And then I was thrown into reality: part 2. Because I have a brain injury, all of my brain connectors that knew how to go to school, how to be social, etc. were basically dead/killed/gone/whatever. So my brain needed to re-learn everything, including how to go to school. And it needed to start re-learning now or it would be even worse later. So they made me stay in two classes.

Guys, it was ugly. UGLY. There are absolutely no words that could help me explain what it's like to go to school with a brain injury. To go to school when you are now dyslexic and have no idea how to deal with it, your brain literally cannot concentrate on anything at all, you are having speech problems, and you can't retain ANY information. Not to mention when you hyperventilate every time someone talks to you too fast or too many people are speaking at once. 

My saint of a mother is getting the biggest room in Heaven, without a doubt. I have screamed, cried, and yelled just about every day, even though I know there is absolutely nothing she can do or say to make me feel better. And I'm not a mama, but I know it kills her.

But I did it. I DID IT. 

I took two classes and I (barely) made it.

This end-of-the-semester reflection is going to be a little different, but here we go.

1. Fitz from Scandal tweeted back at me.
I know, I know. That's silly. BUT. I'm obsessed with Scandal. And I love Tony Goldwyn. And I loved the scene between Cyrus and Fitz. And regardless of how you feel about same sex relationships, Cyrus and James are SO SWEET. And you know it.

2. I had to embrace the neck brace.
That "love the skin you're in" shit got reallllly real, reallllly fast. I'm pretty used to it now, but I'm still contemplating getting "IT IS A NECK BRACE, IT IS NOT CONTAGIOUS" tattooed on my face.

3. I turned 21.
And spent it in rehab. And forgot it was my birthday 4 times that day. And was in bed by 10pm. But HEY-- I did talk my doctors into letting me have one teeny tiny drink. And at least I was here to hate my birthday and the birthday attention for another year. Otherwise it would've been a very sad day for my parents, and my uncle would've forgotten it was the deadline for taxes. ;)

4. I did this at OT.
It looks simple, I know. But it's not when you have brain and spinal injuries. It's taken my 4 months to do this and I cried so hard when I was done. Still not sure if I was crying because of the unbearable amount of pain, or if I was experiencing happy tears for the first time. I used to think those were so dumb.

Rolling myself over (mostly) by myself for the 1st time

Balancing for the first time with help from my OT holding my hips so I wouldn't fall for the 100th time.

5. I have a new found love for hammocking in an eno.
IT IS SO GREAT, PEOPLE. My rehab doctors are constantly trying to find something that boosts my mood and relaxes me. I looooove my babies and they are my favorite mood booster, but I can't always say they are relaxing. :) So my OT suggested I try relaxing in a hammock outside. It's good for my spine, I get some fresh air, and it's actually VERY relaxing. I'm addicted. And my OT loves it, because she's always like let's go outside and get some fresh air and be one with the earth and stuff. I love Linda even more than I love my eno. 

6. I discovered one of the devil's creations and it's called Social Rehab.
We've established that my brain has forgotten how to do a lot of stuff. That includes being social, going grocery shopping, etc. I have insane social anxiety these days. I get extremely overwhelmed when I'm around a lot of people. When they are all talking, my brain can't focus on even one word being said. And my brain just doesn't know how to deal with social settings.

So I have what's called social rehab. We go lots of different places-- the library, a park, a clothing store, and finally.. Walmart.

I have not been to Walmart by myself since my accident, and I haven't even really been that much at all. I can't walk for that long so I would have to get in one of those motor chair thingys, and just thinking about it makes my stomach hurt. So I usually make my sister go for me. Lucky her.

But this weekend, one of my rehab doctors made me go to Walmart. On a Saturday afternoon. For an entire hour. Now, I already hated Walmart long before my accident ever happened. I HATED IT. And this? Well, it did nothing but make it worse.

And that day? Well, let's just say that I left Walmart in a very pitiful state and had to go back. Twice. Because I forgot my purse. And my dignity.

See, sometimes God and I have some communications issues. Before social rehab, I do a lot of praying. And I always throw in, "And God, please, FOR THE LOVE, do not let me see anyone I know."

And then?

I SEE FIVE PEOPLE I KNOW. While I'm breathing into a paper bag. In Walmart. With my rehab therapist. On a Saturday afternoon.

So I'm like, "Really, big guy? FIVE PEOPLE?" And God's like, "What? Do you think I'm a miracle worker or something?" 

Um. Uh.



I crack myself up sometimes.

Anyway. That's where I'm at right now

My rehab gets more and more aggressive every single day, and it doesn't look like it will be stopping any time soon. I will be starting my summer class soon, but it will be online so that I can do it at rehab. I asked my rehab doctor about 100 times if she was SURE I couldn't take a very long brain break. 

She gave me that "you poor, pitiful girl" look and patted my shoulder, which means no. 

Insert cranky, evil Alexa glare here.

So, so, so much love to all my peeps who make it possible for me to take all these baby steps on my road to recovery. My cognitive therapist, who helped me study and do my homework every day at rehab, and proof reads my blog posts so they will actually make sense. My speech path, who deals with cranky and frustrated Alexa every day when we work on this new dyslexia crap and is helping me re-learn sarcasm so I can get back to my sarcastic, snarky days. :) My OT, who doubles as my 2nd mom/life coach, works so hard with me, cries every time I get upset, and hugs me like I'm her own daughter. My PTs, who have way more faith in me than I have in myself. My TBI counselor, who lets me say every cuss word known to man until I feel better. My sweet, amazing friend, Brianna, who is taking this rehab journey with me and completely understands when I'm over the moon excited because I rolled onto my side at PT that day, and understands why I feel the way I feel after a really bad rehab day. God gave us each other, and while I'm not sure why it was under such terrible circumstances, I'm so thankful.

And, of course, my family. The only people who don't stare at me when I have my neck brace on. The people who finish my sentences for me when my brain can't find the words, and don't say a word when my brain is exhausted and I'm being a cranky lunatic. 

I know I haven't been good with words or feelings the past few months, but I couldn't do this without you guys. Every single one of my siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It's been 21 years and none of you have left my side yet. How did I get so lucky?

Thank you. I love you more than I can say. When I'm having one of my really bad days, my rehab therapists always ask me what keeps me from giving it all up. And every time, without a missing a beat, the words "my family" come out of my mouth before I even know what I'm saying. And they smile. And I do too.

I am making it. I am hanging on. And it may be a really thin, frayed piece of rope, but I'm still not letting go.

Day to day, I don't feel like I'm making it. I feel like I am failing at rehab every day. But when I look back, I realize that I've come a long way since January, when my body was covered in bruises and sprains and I could barely feed myself or move at all. 

I did it. I'm making it.

Because I can truly do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I just didn't realize it until now.