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!