Friday, December 19, 2014

How do you measure a year in the life? (13 Things I've learned sincefrom brain surgery)

A year ago today I had brain surgery.

In June 2013 I collapsed while running around Baylor (on the Bear Trail).  I was found by a lady who said I was convulsing.  I woke up in the hospital and went to the ER.  Because of possible seizure activity and high blood pressure, over the next two months they ran what seemed like every test out there.  Everything kept coming back negative.  BUT then they found something on the MRI.  They had me do an MRA to get a closer look.  They then told me that I had an aneurysm.  I, a otherwise healthy twenty-two year old, had a brain aneurysm.

A few months later on December 19, 2013, I had surgery to clip the aneurysm.  Two days after that I had a seizure.  I think it was my body's way of saying it couldn't take anymore.  I was automatically was put on a lot of medicine, which has been the struggle for a good portion of my recovery.

It's been a hard road, but I'm doing better now and finally feel like I'm back to being myself.

Here are some things I've learned:

1. Brain surgery sucks

Surgeons cut into your head, mess with the bone and nerves in your face, and risk your life... yah, it sucks.  There's no getting around that one!

2. Seizures suck more

I have the utmost empathy with anyone who struggles with epilepsy.  Seizures are awful!  Not only can they occur at any time but you may not even really be aware you have one.  Have two or more in a certain amount of time and you are diagnosed with epilepsy.  This means you can't drive for 6 months after a seizure in most states.  It also means that you're more than likely taking heavy doses of medicines that can mess with your brain.  For me the not being able to drive was devastating.  I can't imagine.

3. Medication really can mess with you

After my seizure they put me on 1200 mg of Kepra twice a day.  That, added with the hydrocodone for pain made for a horrible experience for those around me.  Going into the the next month I was so rude, anxious, emotionally and physically unstable, and on the brink of depression.  I couldn't drive, I was super tired, not hungry, and was falling into depression and anxiety.  My poor roommate dealt with this pretty well.  The turning point came when she found me bawling my eyes out in my restroom with the water turned on to mask the sound.  I was crying about not being able to drive.  I had my first suicidal thoughts in that moment.  I knew that this was not me and that something needed to change.

That weekend I went home and got my medicine changed.  A week off of it and I was better.  However, the new medicine made me dizzy and disoriented when I walked quickly or a significant distance.  Basically the only reason I got to class was because I was so focused and because I've known the campus for years.  I'm fairly positive I don't have epilepsy, which is what the medicine is for.  I don't take the full dosage anymore.

This whole experience has made me think a lot about how medicine, especially medicines for anything neurological, really mess with you.  They mess with behavior and emotions.  They mess with so so much.  This has made me think of issues dealing with addiction (with getting off of hydrocodone after a couple weeks) and how a medicine can alter the way in which someone acts and thinks.  It's kind of scary really.  I definitely have some hands on experience with neurological medications that should help later on with social work.  It gave me new insight and empathy.

4. Recovery sucks

I think that this surprised me a lot.  Beforehand I didn't think recovery would be too bad, but I did worry about it some.  A friend of mine growing up had brain surgery.  I knew that it was hard on her emotionally.  I thought that I would be fine and immune to that.  Not quite true.  Especially with the seizure, not being able to drive, and the medications.

Recovery was a struggle everyday.  Somedays it was easier, but some days it was just really hard.  Somedays at the beginning I would feel sick and not want to do anything.  Somedays were the opposite.

Perhaps one of the largest struggles of recovery was having expectations for myself but knowing that I had to lower them.  For instance, I wanted to take 12 hours right after surgery.  Shortly before the semester began I persuaded myself that taking four classes was too much and I only took 9.  That was a good idea.

Recovery was a lot more complicated that I thought it would be.

5. Aneurysms are horrifying

In case you don't know what an aneurysm is, it's a little pocket on your vein that forms over time from pressure.  This is why high blood pressure is so bad.  Veins in most of the body have two linings, but in the brain they only have one.  This is why aneurysms are most commonly there.  When these pockets get big, they burst.

What is the most frightening about aneurysms is that you don't know they're there.  Most health things are at least somewhat preventative-- eat healthy, exercise, treat your body correctly, and most of your health issues will go away.  Not aneurysms, however.  They're just kind of creeping in the background.   And you don't know you have them until it's too late.  Terrifying.  I even asked my parents if both of them could have MRA's for my Christmas present.

Even through this weird series of events, I feel fortunate to have passed out because it left to the discovery of this crazy thing.  It gave me some life back that I would have lost later on.

6. Aneurysm jokes aren't funny

"It's going to give me an aneurysm (or heart attack or stroke, etc.)".  Funny in the moment.  Not when you realize that those around you have suffered from that and it may sting from hitting too close to home.

7. Dependence

Since I couldn't drive I had to learn dependence in a way that I didn't want to.  This meant that I had to rely on friends to help drive me to the store, go to extracurricular things, and in general to get around.  This was really aggravating for me.  This meant no gym time or random trips to the store or coffee shops further than two blocks away.  I was really frustrated with it.  I tend to be a fairly independent person, so knowing that I had to get people to do something as simple as go to the grocery store was really aggravating.

But I have a friend who would drive me back from the library most nights, another who would pick me up for school sometimes, several who would take me to church events, and one who took me to the Farmer's Market each week.  The friends and the trips are endless.  For that I am entirely grateful to the extent that I have trouble forming words to describe it.

8. Empathy

A lot of the time when I would tell people what was going on they would respond with, "Well, learning how to not drive will give you empathy for the people you will work with in social work".  I knew this was true, but I didn't find it helpful at the time.  Now I do more though.  It's easier to look at things clearly in the rearview mirror of life sometimes.

It's hard.  I know I take my abilities for granted.  God knows I did and do this with hearing.  But also driving, living in a house, being able to move around freely, the ability to live successfully on my own, the ability to go to school, and numerous other aspects of life.  I think sometimes about what it would be like to be an elderly person unable to drive or move around and loose my independence.  What it would be like to be in numerous situations, because the situations really are endless.  Whether that tie of dependence is money, a ride, a relationship, or material possessions of some sort.
I've had a lot of rough experiences in life, as we all do, but I'm glad 'cause they give me a way to relate to others that I may not otherwise have.  God works through our difficulties to bring glory to him.

9. A good support system is priceless

Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the friends and family that I have who have supported me through the past year.  From the rides places, to the kind words, to the listening to me vent, and just being giving and wonderful people-- I am so so thankful.  I genuinely could not have made it through the past year without my family, friends from Columbus Avenue and Calvary Baptist Churches, Grace Presbyterian Church, Truett, Baylor, The Yoga Bar, and everyone else!

I am loved.  I am prayed for.  I am supported.  There is quite possibly nothing more humbling than reading through facebook posts of people saying they love you and are praying for you, looking at notes people have sent you, comments people wrote on my CaringBridge site, realizing the friends that have sacrificed their time and money to get me places, and realizing that above and through all, Christ has been working through what has quite possibly been the hardest year I have had so far.

10. To have grace with myself

This year has had two big themes that I feel God has been throwing at me: grace and sabbath.

Last Spring the theme of grace kept coming up in books I was reading and in church.  Grace toward others different than me, with others who disapoint me, with situations out of my control, and grace with myself when I am unable to do the things I wish I could do.  Recovering from any surgery or any illness, this is important.  If I couldn't walk as much as I wanted to or be awake or learn as much as I wanted to, there was a need for grace.  Grace to be gentle with myself and love myself.  Grace to be aware of my emotional and physical limits.  Grace that is first given by God through Christ Jesus.

Something that I did that I am proud of is getting a membership at the Yoga Bar in Waco that opened in February.  I had to start going in June once I could drive again, but it has been so great!  I have been able to stretch myself, heal myself, and gain strength-- all emotionally, mentally, and physically.  I have improved my balance, done headstands, forearm stands, and handstands, and gained a lot of upper body strength.  I am so thankful!

This fall semester the theme of sabbath has been screaming at me.  It was the main message of my covenant group, of church services, of my lifegroup, and the topic of random conversations that friends would bring up.  I think the biggest thing I learned is that sabbath is grace.  Sabbath is God giving us grace and a time to rest.  God knows that we need a time to escape from the craziness of the world, so he gives us rest within creation and the commandments.  It's beautiful, but something that I don't naturally do.  This semester I tried to implement this several weeks, but it was hard with my crazy school schedule.  I'm going to again.  The good thing is that I know God has grace with me.

11. It takes a long time to feel like yourself again...

"I'm finally starting to feel like myself again".  I've uttered these words.  I've struggled, but this summer I finally got to the point where I felt like I could say that.  It's been increasing since.  Gaining back self-confidence, self-worth, my mental state.  But I kind of struggle with this.  What is it what makes me feel like me?  Or rather, what is it that makes me not feel like me?  Or why am I not satisfied?

Being where I am mentally has been something that I have realized is important.  I need to dwell where I am.  I need to live where I am in the midst of the pain and hardship.  I need to accept myself for who I am.  I need to be okay with not being where I want to be for the time-- that I am two months out of having surgery and not feeling completely like who I know myself to be.  I have grace with myself and let myself be who I am.  Healing happens.  I can work towards it, but I need to love myself where I am.

It's kind of similar to what I've told a couple friends going through breakups recently.  It's okay to be sad.  It's okay to grieve.  It's okay to not be where you want to be.  You'll get there.  You'll be okay.  Just let yourself be where you need to be in this moment.  Recovery happens.  Time does wonders if you let it.

12.  Life is precious

There's something that happens once you have a traumatic experience.  You begin to look at life a little differently.  Slowly life becomes even more valuable, but at the same time you may not hold onto as tightly.  You begin to accept that things are not entirely under your control.  That if God is to have you die at that time, then that's fine.  But you rejoice with the life and the day that you do have.

At a reception my home church had over winter break last year, a man came up to me who had commented on my CaringBridge site.  I didn't know him, but he shared his story with me.  He shared his story of having a ruptured aneurysm and having life altering surgery.  His story was one of survival.  It was relatable to mine except that thankfully my aneurysm had not ruptured.  His joy though.  His utmost joy and passion for God who gives life.  His joy for family and his thankfulness for God giving him more life.  I was amazed.  I realized I have a great story and a reason to be thankful.

I feel very lucky.  I feel guilty.  I think it's unfair that I knew about my aneurysm in enough time to have something done about it before it ruptured when this is not the case for many, many people who die of strokes or have life shifted after them.  There are statistics that say that 1 in 50 people have an aneurysm.

Life is precious.  From a Christian standpoint this is clear.  We see this addressed in Scripture.  We see this through creation.  We see this through the incarnation.  We see this through the crucifixion and resurrection.  Life is a gift from God.  I'm thankful for mine and the lives of others.

13. God is good

This idea was one that helped me through a lot, especially working up to the surgery.  No matter what crazy stuff is going on health wise, God is good.

Some people talk about how God is testing your faith in hard times (I wrote a blog post about this during that time).  But my faith is not dependent upon my wellness.  My faith is not dependent upon the circumstances.  My faith is dependent upon Jesus Christ who I know through Scripture.  Not on my health or anything of the like.  To be so would be a faith that was shallow and not truly rooted in Christ.  God's not abandoning me or testing my faith.  Life happens, but God is good.

Thanks for the support, the love, the car rides, the listening, and the prayers.  Thanks for bringing light and hope into a crazy, crazy year.  I am thankful!

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