Sunday, August 16, 2015

DC Living

Well, I did it.

I finally escaped Mississippi's death grip, despite its attempts to keep me there, and made the move to Washington DC.

As dramatic as it sounds, I have dreamed of moving out of the South since I was about 13 years old. That's when I started to really understand things and realized that my family never really fit into the southern lifestyle. That's also the age I was when my family took a trip to Boston to pick up my brother from his Tanglewood summer music program, which was my first trip out of the South. And I was all, "WOW PLACES THAT AREN'T THE SOUTH ARE AMAZING. Pine and magnolia trees aren't the only trees that exist!!"

(Despite my deep hatred for Boston's baseball team, Boston is actually really cool. Go Yankees.)

I was pretty nervous about moving 16 hours away from most of my family, understandably. I just spent a year with my parents. We were already close, but there's a deeper bond that happens when you have to depend on your parents for basic things like your mobility and every day activities even though you're an adult.

I'd love to say I am transitioning so much better than I thought I would because I'm so independent (true), but I know a big part of it has to do with JT and Karley living 20 minutes away. They were out of town during my first weekend here after my family left, and it was unexpectedly a little rough. So when they were coming back on Sunday, I texted "Can I invite myself over for dinner? Because I had a dream everyone in our family was dead and I think I need to be around people." It's nice to have someone close by that you can say that to and you know their response will be "Yeah, bring some wine!"

So I've spent the last two weeks exploring, Netflixing, and spending lots of girl bonding time with Karley. JT travels for work during the week, so it's really nice to have each other. She has been awesome and we've been having so much fun! It's cool when you are able to get to know your sister-in-law as a friend rather than just your brother's wife. She is a teacher too so we obviously love to talk about that nonstop, unfortunately for JT. We can already tell that we're going to have some fun occassionally teaming up against him. ;)

Favorite activities include drinking wine, watching an episode of a TV show, then pausing it and talking about the most random stuff until 1am.

I also met up with my student teaching CT (cooperating teacher) and he freaking rocks. We basically line up on everything when it comes to education/teaching styles/work personalities, so I have no doubt that this semester is going to be a blast. We were up there decorating the classroom and I met a bunch of other teachers and administrators, all who are so welcoming, inclusive, and friendly. It is the best atmosphere I've ever seen in a high poverty school. The school is one street over from my place, which also rocks. It's also really big and has a very confusing setup, so luckily teachers have to be there a week before students so I will hopefully stop getting lost by the time the kids get there. 

It's a totally different world up here in the best way. The thing about DC is you can choose to do your own thing and talk to no one or have a conversation with the person sitting next to you in the coffee shop, and both are totally okay.

There is so much culture and diversity, and everyone is so respectful of that. If you go to church or just believe in God, that's cool. If you don't, that's cool too. If you want to be Catholic and also stand up for social justice, no one calls you horrible names. If you're a democrat, good for you, and if you're a republican (Rs here are NOT like Rs in the South, for the record), good for you too. The first question people ask a 22 year old woman is "What do you do for a living?" not "Why don't you have a boyfriend?"

So basically I'm finally living in a place where my views are in line with the majority of the people here, rather than the minority. And even if they're not (pay close attention here, South), you can still be great friends with each other! You can even be NICE to each other! For the first time in my 22 years of living, I can actually BE MYSELF outside of my family without fear of losing friends or being excommunicated simply because I view the world in a different way. Being different isn't just tolerated here, it's celebrated. Are there ignorant people here? Sure, those people are everywhere. But there sure as hell aren't as many of them, and it's beautiful.

It's so liberating to be able to be yourself.

The view from the rooftop of my apartment building. Not too shabby, yeah?
PD week for teachers starts tomorrow, and there are no words to explain how happy I am that school is starting. I need my routine back. I met my University Supervisor via FaceTime earlier this week and she is so funny and wise. She briefly got off topic, and we discovered that her husband and I had the same Traumatic Brain Injury rehab doctor at Methodist in Jackson, and we are both good friends with my favorite Starkville OT, Linda! I have repeatedly let the fact that I'm a semester behind beat up the perfectionist in me, but GUYS, no doubt that God is all up in that. Although I don't really need many accommodations anymore since my cognitive abilities are so much better, it's so nice to have a University Supervisor who just gets it. She gets the struggle.

Not to get all preachy, and I wouldn't consider myself an "everything happens for a reason" person, but God is so good at making His presence known sometimes. Even after a year and a half of me being all "ARE YOU FREAKIN' SERIOUS, DUDE? REALLY?" And if you don't believe any of that, then we can just chalk it up to a really freaky coincidence.

I'm about 4 months shy of my 2 year mark (CRAZY), and much to my surprise, life is so good again. I truly didn't think it was ever going to get truly wonderful and enjoyable again despite the promises that it would, but here it is.

On one final note, meet this 2 month old love who is officially living life as a Cacibauda. I was bored on a Saturday morning and just went to look. An hour later, I was leaving with a cardboard box carrier and this 2 pound kitty. She came into the shelter in bad shape, so she's still a little spazzy, but she's quickly realizing that sudden movements and talking loudly is a regular thing when you live with me. ;)

Introducing sweet Darby Rose Cacibauda!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

5 Things We Should All Agree to Stop Asking/Saying to People with Paralysis

When I lost all feeling below the knee, the people that I had met that were around my age with paralysis gave me a run down of the way things would be. The endless search for something that might bring even a little feeling back, the way people will look at you, the little and big adjustments you'll make in your daily routines, and the questions people will ask you.

I'm not a sensitive person at ALL. I never have been. I have some pretty thick skin, and it's only gotten thicker since my wreck because, well, it's basically required if you want to survive.


There's nothing I hate more than ignorance. Goodness gracious, it kills me. SO. I'm going to help you out here.

5 Things We Should All Agree to Stop Asking/Saying to People with Paralysis: 

5. So are you just going to live off disability like everyone else?
**Try: "Has this affected your career plans?"

First of all, that program is in place for a reason, and until you're in a situation where you aren't sure you'll ever be able to work, you shouldn't bash it. However, not having a teaching career was never an option for me. It started out as denial after my legs went dead, but then it just turned into determination. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of us who qualify for disability don't ever want to be in a position where we HAVE to be on it because we can't work.

4. You are so lucky you get to park in handicap parking!
**Try: There is no alternative. You sound stupid.

Yes! I am SO LUCKY that I'm paralyzed from the knee down at 22 years old and am not capable of walking from the back of the parking lot with heavy bags like a normal person my age. It's not a privilege. Now that I have my leg braces, I don't even use my handicap tag unless there isn't a spot anywhere near the building or if I'm alone and will have a lot to carry to my car. I can promise you that all of us young people who need a handicap tag would gladly give it up if we could have our healthy, working legs back.  

3. I would just want to DIE if my life was ruined like that.
**Try: "I bet it's been a really hard and sucky adjustment, I'm really sorry."

Well you see, for the first several months, I did. It's a pretty common thing with people who have TBIs and/or SCIs, or any other really traumatic injury, really. Luckily, with a little research and support from the other young people at rehab, I realized that 1) my life isn't ruined and 2) I am too stubborn to let some red light running idiot decide how my life is going to be. Bottom line: Please stop saying this. We have already thought everything that is running through your mind. Don't convince someone that the voice in their head telling them that things won't ever get better is true. It's not.

2. How are you going to have babies if your legs don't work?
**If you must be nosy, try: "Will your injuries affect any plans to have a family?"

This is a fun one. First of all, my legs work, just not in the same way that everyone else's do. Second, you have no idea whether or not someone has real fertility issues that have nothing to do with their injury. Third, all of the people who ask me this are (obviously) adults. I assume that if you're an adult, you're aware that the area from your knee to your foot doesn't play a vital part in the baby having process. It just means that when I do have kids and I step on a lego barefoot, I won't feel it. So who's the real winner here?

1. Do you think a man will ever want to marry you with all of that?
**There is no alternative. You sound rude, ignorant, and shallow.

I'M SORRY, WHAT? I have not just been asked this once, but MULTIPLE times. As in way more than 10. People. This is not okay. First of all, we all know how I feel about the South thinking women need to be married with babies at 20 to survive in life. And if you want to know the truth, having to be re-taught how to walk as an adult kills your confidence, so of course that crossed my mind. But only once, maybe twice, and that was right after I realized this wasn't going away and way before I knew so much about this kind of life. So yes, I do think so, because I'd like to think there are people out there who aren't as shallow as you crazies asking this question. And truthfully (as my family so lovingly pointed out), between my never-ending stories about my students, my education rants, and my giant, slightly over zealous yet extremely loving extended family.. my paralysis is going to be the least of that very, very patient man's worries.

According to my 2nd graders last semester, my singleness had nothing to do with my leg braces and everything to do with the fact that my hair gets frizzy "even when it's not raining, Ms. Cacibauda!!" (BYE Southern humidity, you won't be missed)

So there you are. It's all out on the table for you. Let's all agree that these are absurd things to say to a person and we should all just stop, yeah?

I love when people come up and ask me questions rather than staring at me because duh. I love to share information with people who also have partial paralysis and tell everyone about Methodist Rehab and all of that good stuff. I love to hear stories about people and their loved ones who have used or tried the Bioness braces. And I know the majority of people really do mean well. But come on. Use your brain.

If you aren't sure how to treat people with paralysis, or any other disability for that matter, here are a few guidelines to help:

1. Approach said person and talk to them like you would any other person. (Crazy, I know)

2. Say "How are you today?" or "It's a pretty day, isn't it?" (No, because it's almost July and we are in the South.)

3. Smile and say, "Have a nice day."

END SCENE. You're welcome.

Friday, May 22, 2015

That's a Wrap

Over the past year of this crazy ride, I have shared a lot of the ugly moments. Traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries are invisible, under-discussed, and commonly misdiagnosed. They need to be talked about so that there aren't more people who are told paralysis isn't possible AND THEN THEY LOSE ALL FEELING FROM BELOW THE KNEE.

But I've also shared the really big moments-- my first time being able to roll myself over on my own, my first time trying out the Bioness braces with my walker, my first time walking with the Bioness braces and looking less like Bambi, my first time walking with the Bioness braces and walker free (!!!), and now my first steps without the Bioness braces during our attempt to wean me off of them.


Although technically the video I posted wasn't my REAL first steps. They were more like the first steps I would allow anyone to video, because even though I am all about sharing the ugly stuff, some of it is a little too ugly. Well, that and it's really just inappropriate for the public eye due to my colorful choice of words if ya know what I mean.

But now it's all over and life is finally making sense again. It's not only much more bearable, but it's even kind of enjoyable. I am driving, going to the gym again, going to the movies (MUCH bigger accomplishment than you would think after a traumatic event), and going out for drinks with my friends. I am back to being a generally happy person on most days and during the last 5 months, I spent every moment outside of rehab doing homework.

When people want to know about my life (aka they want to know about my progress) I'm all, "Oh it's good the legs are still dead but GUESS WHAT MY 2ND GRADERS SAID YESTERDAY?" And we all know it's a good sign when I'm back to talking about my kids every time someone will listen. ;)

Sometimes, when I'm not so focused on school and rehab and worrying about the future that I have little to no control over, I am hit with a wave of "OH MY GOOD GOD I THINK THIS IS THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL THEY WERE LYING ABOUT ALL THOSE MONTHS". It usually happens when I've had too much coffee that day, but that's a minor detail.

When something truly awful and life changing happens, I'm not sure when you reach the point where you say, "Okay. This is life now. I don't know why it happened, and it's certainly not fair, but it's okay. And I'm okay." Sometimes I feel like I'm there, but the smallest bump in the road caused by my wreck can send me over the edge and I lose it all over again. I'm okay until I'm having to get shots in the BACK OF MY FREAKIN' SKULL, and it's not even the pain that does it. It's the fact that I am only 22, but could have another 50 years of shots and neck pain and numb legs because of one person and their choice. And I'm not going to lie, I might be bitter about that for the rest of my life.

But this IS life now. And I don't know why it happened. And it definitely isn't fair. But it IS okay. And I'M okay. And I have lots of people to thank.

Thanks to all of the schools, administrators, student organizations, etc. who have asked me to come speak to their students about my journey and the importance of being a safe driver. Thank you to all of the students for vowing to be smart, be responsible, and use your voice when you know something isn't right.

Thanks to the friends and family who have stuck by me since day 1. Some of my friendships with people changed after my life wasn't normal anymore. It's one of those cliche "you find out who will really stay when you get hit by a truck" thing. ;) It's not easy to love a loved one who is going through something like this, but they so need it. To those who did-- thank you for being beautiful, selfless people.

I seriously have to brag on these two above, Amber and Haylee, for being such great friends and taking care of me when I was still living in Starkville! You know you've found a great friend when they will hold your puke bag at the hospital (Thanks, Nurse Amby!!) and translate your jumbled brain words that you say into coherent sentences for all of your school assignments during the worst days after getting a TBI. (Thanks, Haylee!!) These two are lifesavers and I am so thankful for our friendship.

Thanks to these two kids for reminding me what it means to be family. My mom's side of the family is very close, but my cousin Jamey and his wife Molly have always lived in a different part of MS than the coast, so I didn't have the chance to build that close relationship with them like I have built with my other cousins. Still, they immediately insisted that I stay with them rather than living in a hotel when I started rehab in Jackson back in September. When I found out I would be here until April and was going to look for an apartment, they told me I was ridiculous and that I wasn't going anywhere, even after they got a big surprise and found out they are having a beautiful baby girl in July. Guys, that is some serious LOVE. They didn't just give me a place to stay, but they were supportive, loving, and so fun. They made their home my home. I have loved having the chance to get close to you two, and I am so thankful. Best roomies EVER. ;)

Thanks to all of the sweet friends I made here at rehab in Jackson-- you all inspire me every day with your smile, strength, and hard work, and somehow we are all going to be just fine.

This is Cheri-- she had a stroke after giving birth to her 2nd baby boy. She rocks the robot leg AND arm on the side that became paralyzed after her stroke. Lets just say she's a badass.
THANK YOU to all of my peeps at Drayer PT in Starkville, OCH Rehab Services, and Methodist Rehab for either being one of my therapists or just being my friend.
With some of my therapists at Walk and Roll for research to help the foundation that discovers all of the great therapy stuff like my Bioness braces.
With my fabulous OT, Allison, on my last day of OT! March 2015

I have officially finished Senior Block!! Thank you to Mrs. Callahan and her 2nd grade crew at Highland Bluff Elementary for letting me be a part of your special classroom this semester. I had so much fun and learned so much. I love you all!

Obligatory "I AM DONE WITH SENIOR BLOCK AND THIS BINDER!" picture. If you are an on-campus student, you know that this picture is what every elementary education major looks forward to from day 1!

I've officially been discharged from Methodist Rehab's Quest Program. They threw me a "graduation" party with ice cream cake-- my favorite! There aren't enough positive things I can say about this place. They changed my life. Thank you for helping me re-learn how to walk, jump, think, laugh, and just be okay again. I love you all and will carry everyone I have met on this journey with me in my heart forever.

And finally, I have officially been given my student teaching placement in Washington, DC. I will be in 1st grade, which was my first pick. I couldn't be more excited! I will be moving at the end of July, and will graduate in December. Every time someone asks why I didn't just give up, this is why. This exact moment is what I've always wanted, and I refuse to let someone and their bad choices take that away from me. 

For now, I'm spending some much needed quality time with my parents before kissing Mississippi goodbye in a couple months. My mom's big side of the family is going to Disney World with us this year, and it is going to be so fun. I'm trying to soak up all of these moments with this family I love so much. They are the best thing about living in Mississippi, and I can't even imagine living so far away from them. Watch out Disney, there are lots of crazies coming your way.

So that's where we are, and I'm good with it, ya know? It's hard to believe that the worst part of this is (hopefully) over after all this time. It's crazy to think that in a couple months I'll be back to "normal" life. Living on my own, going to school, doing fun stuff that 22 year olds do. Hell, I might even start dating again. Crazy, I KNOW. I can do whatever I want. I'm free.

All I know is that I am going to enjoy the hell out of whatever I'm doing. I sure do hate cliches, but nothing puts how short life is into perspective quite like getting hit by a truck. After 17 months of living rehab life, I don't even know if I remember HOW to be a normal person in their 20s. Luckily, I don't think it will take me very long to get the hang of it. ;)

Happy Summer, loves. xo.