The Impenetrable Fortress

Whether it was a rainy day or too cold to go outside or just kids playing around, there is a right of passage for every kid to go through. I am talking about making blanket forts inside their rooms or dragging all of the bedding stuff out to the living room furniture of course. Wild  imaginations in kids seem to be able to conjure up  the most exciting reasons to be hidden under a blanket that is draped from chair to chair, or whatever piece of furniture happens to be available at the time. Depending on the blanket used, it was able to keep monsters, pets, siblings, sometimes parents and even light itself from entering. Oh how strong an exterior the mighty yet humble blanket is. Taken from the simple origins of keeping us warm while we sleep at night and transformed into the iron clad, bullet proof shield made in the forges of our imagination to ward off all comers…intruders into our secret realm. We alone controlled who could lay siege to our kingdom. With the power to repel any who would come and attempt an entry into our domain it was indeed a weighty crown to wear as king for the keys to the kingdom of blanket fort. Not only that, but there was always only ever one ruler in a blanket fort. Even though we wanted to have complete say as to what was done and sometimes even said within the confines of our fabric walled kingdom, it was always desirable to have companions or siblings come join us for secret sharing, wild stories, or games of imagination or board.

Mom was a special force of nature that could override all claims to any throne of the blanket kingdom. If for whatever reason she felt that the fort was in the way, down it came! Whoah to anyone who would dare to stand up against the orders to dismantle the fort after the law had been laid down by mom. One would only have to bock at following the orders for a short period of time in order to discover how swiftly that hurricane would get up to maximum force. You would only ever dare to try and resist such a force once. It took a while for my older brother to get to the point of moving out of the house, leaving my younger brother and I to move into his room. The room was actually the attic of the house with a ceiling that peaked in the middle at about 6 and a half feet. That entire room/attic was like the most awesome of blanket forts without the blankets. Those walls could tell a thousand stories! Maybe someday I will have to share some of those stories.

My wife is busy making quilts for the youngest of our tribe. You can never be too old to use a blankee. She has been putting together these awesome hand made quilts for all our kids so they have a blanket to use as a wrap on cool evenings, or something to throw over their beds as a cover, or whatever they wanted. Now that our youngest, the twins, are getting to the point where they are going to be adulting soon, it is time for their special connection. She has tried to make them so that they reflect their personality and/or personal choices in the process. I watch her labor over these works of love and art and admire how she has involved each of our five kids in the process along the way in some way. I always imagine each of them building a fort out of their blankets someday. It doesn’t matter how old they are or how big the fort ends up being. It’s the imagining that makes it fun in any case. I have even ended up as the recipient of a quilt made by my wife’s own hand as the picture at the top of this post shows. It is an amazing piece of art that she stitched her love into and I really love the end product. It has earthy rustic tones and hunting themes in the pattern of the fabric and although I can see a piece of me in it, I can feel my wife’s love in it as I wrap it around myself. That’s why I call it my love wrap.

When I first came out to Kelowna from Three Hills, I knew I would be living on my own for a bit as Sharon and the boys stayed back in Alberta to finish the school year and try to finish up some other loose ends. I eventually found a place here in Ktown and there was no furniture or anything else to use until the stuff from Alberta started to be moved out. I didn’t have cable or phone for the first while, so there was less to do if I were to just sit around in the evening. I kept busy with other things, but sometimes I would just text on my phone while I was sitting on the floor, wrapped in my blanket for warmth and protection against the boogeymen that were living in the house I was in all by myself. My love wrap came to have a deeper purpose in September of last year. It is a surreal and in many ways scary thing to go to the doctor one day and be told that you are not going home…that they need to keep you in because things are more serious than what you had fist been led to believe. I remember being wheeled into the stroke ward at first so that they could do all the tests. It was when they wheeled me to the far end of the hospital, to the old section where the rehabilitation unit was that things got extremely real. Rehab units are a really interesting place. I suppose we call them interesting when they should realistically scare the shit out of us but we need to keep positive about it. As I’ve written previously about my experiences there, I won’t go into detail about the goings on. But I will say that the nights were long and restless and the days were cold and most of the interactions with the staff were pretty much on a strictly “business” level. The other folks were there to do their job and I was there for a job too.

Sharon couldn’t spend her entire day at the hospital, all day every day just being with me. Even if both of us would have wanted that to happen, it’s just not realistic for that to happen as recovery is long and tedious. One thing above all else I will recall about those days which helped me face all of the stuff of recovery and rehabilitation. That was when my love wrap was brought to the room and I was able to use it to cover myself while I was sleeping or resting or just waiting for the next activity to take place in my days filled with exercise and assessments and learning from the staff what I needed to do and more. I got lots of comments about the blanket from staff and others that would come through the room to do their part in the stuff of hospitals. Some didn’t take much notice; still others had it pointed out to them by yours truly.  My blanket became my fort! There are a lot of things you can do if you set your mind to them. Much more can be done if you are constantly reminded that you are wrapped in the love of someone who cares for you deeply. You can become almost bullet proof…impenetrable! For all the love I received from friends and other family members while I was in the rehab unit, none was more important to me than the love that was wrapped up in that blanket of mine. It was the fortress that kept me warm and safe in the times of darkness and struggle. I hope and pray that all of you are wrapped in a blanket of love throughout your days.

The Details In Dictionaries

Do you have memories of when you were a kid? Almost all of the memories of my childhood I cherish because of their value and life long lessons that they left me with. I grew up in a time and place where it was almost surreal in the things that were lived….experienced as though they were drinking deep of the most nutritious stew of life you could imagine. I digress.

Grandma was visiting our house for supper one night and it was a fairly regular/normal visit as far as I can remember. It was more common for us to visit Grandmas house than it was for her to come and visit our house, so there was an atmosphere of some excitement and enthusiasm. Grandma was a character. It seemed to me that everyone in my hometown, and maybe many members of my own family were caricatures. You know the pictures where the most obvious aspect of a person’s physical being is exaggerated for the purpose of drawing an unmistakable picture that everyone recognizes who is being portrayed. Caricatures aren’t just of the physical attributes. In my hometown, everyone had character traits that were larger than life. The stories of the people I was surrounded with as a kid could go on. Not now though. My grandma was no different. Grandma had some unmistakeable traits that you could expect every time you met her and visited with her. Not physical so much, although 4 foot something and bow legged sort of make you stand out in their own way. It was her other personal traits and habits that were very much larger than life and if those things could have been drawn like a typical caricature, they would have been massive.

For instance, when Grandma had heard enough of what you were saying and was ready to answer or speak at you (notice that’s not converse with you), she would simply exclaim “huh” out loud as though she didn’t hear what you just said and then proceed to answer you with her very strong ideas of how the world worked. Most of the time it was annoying, but it usually ended up entertaining in some way or other. The most raucous family visit with Grandma was one time when a discussion came up about the small pins that hold gears and pulleys in place on machinery. Now some of you who are familiar know and are already referring to them as COTTER pins. But for my non mechanically inclined grandmother, they were “CUTTER” pins. It might not sound like a big deal, only one letter difference in the spelling and a little difference in how it is pronounced, but the discussion quickly changed to the correct way to say the word and what the actual word was, which revealed that Grandma adamantly believed that it was pronounced and spelled as “cutter”. She was so willing to stand by her version of the word that we actually pulled out the huge dictionary we had as a part of the Encyclopedia set our family owned (did your family get hit up by that traveling salesman?) and we were able to look up the word. I still remember to this day the page being opened to cotter pin with the exact picture of the exact item we were discussing right there in bold print.

The story doesn’t end there. After we had opened up the dictionary in our grammar intervention, and laid it out on the kitchen table for her total wrongness to be exposed, Grandma in typical fashion took only a few seconds to look over the picture and review the definition written there. Her response?

“What kind of dictionary is that?” – Rosie Harsch

Our family still uses that line amongst ourselves on occasion to not only make a point to others in our family or others, but to remember the tenacious nature of my fearless little Grandma. I often remember this incident when I’m considering digging in my heals on something I believe. It’s good to remember that some things are worth fighting for, some things are really best kept to yourself if you don’t have enough information or if you don’t have the experience to go to the mat on an issue, and other issues are just funny because they are so out there and really don’t have much impact on real life other than to make for a story that can be told for as long as someone remembers. And sometimes it truly is only about perception. There’s no where left to hide. It’s all in my head.

I had awesome opportunities to meet up with some old friends lately. They were friends who hadn’t seen me since before the stroke happened and so I’m finding out that many are nervous as to what they will experience when they first see me after the long time apart and not being sure how the stroke affected me. It’s actually a bit of a brain twister to think that friends are nervous to visit with me since this accident happened. There is a shared fear that all of humanity seems to have about injury and the injured. Even those who are really close and love us dearly seem to have to muster courage to interact with us after an injury. You who know me and have followed my quite public disclosure of how all of this has affected me have a better idea of what I may be like upon first encounter. I am very grateful that you take that much interest in my little old life, by the way. A close friend who I hadn’t seen for a while came by and shared a meal the other day. As he left he told me that if he didn’t know what he had been told about my stroke, he kind of wouldn’t be able to tell that I had even had the stroke.

The same thing happened last night with people who are not close friends, just acquaintances. Conversation was streaming along fine when they asked how business was and I had to answer by asking if they knew that I was recovering from a stroke so that what I was about to tell them would make more sense. Their answer was that they had heard about the stroke but they really couldn’t tell that anything may be different. It’s clear that the truth can be hidden sometimes, or at least not exactly evident. Truly, I don’t blame anyone for believing something that they really don’t know. If I were ashamed or nervous about strangers treating me differently, I can be comforted to know that in large part I can go about my day almost totally incognito as a “hidden” stroke survivor who is still in recovery. Friends being nervous is another thing to think about, but thankfully friends are willing to get over any anxiety to discover first hand what the real situation is.

It seems that more and more this life is becoming something like my Grandma would make of the world. She was clinging to things that weren’t exactly true for no real good reason other than to be right, but it was so important to her that she was even willing to question a dictionary that clearly countered what she believed. As it turns out, my outward appearance and function may be hiding some of the more hidden facts that only I know for sure (well, myself and my doctor who must sometimes roll his inside eyes at me as I whine about my aches and pains and struggles, although he is too nice to say). In this way, much of what people are left to know about me is inaccurate and probably needs correcting in order to be “truth”. Sometimes what is inaccurate needs to be corrected, sometimes it can be left alone and just allowed to exist as an inaccuracy, and other times it makes for a wild a raucous table discussion that will be remembered for many many years. Working through truth is a tricky thing sometimes.

One thing I cannot change my mind about, and will refuse and resist any attempts to do so is hope. Hope is a part of every day. It doesn’t matter what comes along in life to push back against you, do not lose hope. Hope is that which keeps us going. Don’t lose hope. Hope is something that no one should ever be allowed to change your mind on. I don’t care what kind of dictionary it is. Be hopeful my friends.

Thanks for letting me ramble friends.

 

Crickets Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Self Made Man

It may shock some of you to know that I don’t perceive myself as a self made man. I know, I know, you could all swear to the fact that I’m responsible for the things I eat, the car accidents I’ve had (all two – a long time ago), the growing Molson muscle I have worked to achieve around my waist…. actually…..I am responsible for those things. In that regard, I am totally a self made man. What I am not responsible for is any success I have in my life. For those things I may have a part of the responsibility, but truly sometimes my parts are small. Very small. Take my large family as an example. On second thought, let’s not use that as the first example. Insinuating that I had a small part of involvement in that makes me feel like my manhood is diminishing. So let’s move on to a better example.

In life, I honestly do feel successful at a few things. But in every case I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the more I have been assisted by others towards that success, the more successful I’ve become. There are few successes in my life that I can claim being the sole one responsible for. If you are honest, the closer you look at your own life the more you see how others have sustained you along the way. I have to be honest and say that I am very little on my own. Even the things that I do independently are buoyed up by the inherent love and support I have from those around me that love me.

If you watch the news, which I do on a regular basis in spite of the fact that my wife and kids with their eye rolls are TOTALLY not into it, maybe you notice the same trend that I do as you hear politicians, protesters, and regular people blaming anything and everything but themselves. Personal responsibility seems to be a concept from the past. But it’s not because they are attributing success to others. No, it’s more because they don’t want to take any responsibility, or accept any designation of being the architect of their own poor choices. There are often public acknowledgements of  what people contributed in the circumstance, but I often wonder if that truly means the recognition of success is different for the acknowledger. I don’t know. I think we have lost ourselves. We all have a tendency towards clinical narcissism to the point that even acknowledging others is a way of building ourselves up. In fact for most, it’s easier to read this as though it’s about someone else than to consider yourself in the implications of it.

Let me do my very best to regain some sanity and temper my narcissism with some open admissions. I really do recognize that I am only who I am and what I have accomplished because of others. There are some key players in that situation. Of course. As of late, I can attribute quite a bit of my recovery to a team of health professionals who have taken it upon themselves to learn every bit of information that they can glean in order to help people recover from injury. There are the selfless friends who offered to get me to appointments and other places when I was unable to do so myself. The networks of people who know we are in a pickle because of my inability to work, so they got together and provided financial help, some pre-made meals, gift cards, gift bags anonymously hung on our door early in the morning. The letter of encouragement along with a gift from an address with no name that thanks to the modern tattle tale tool called the internet can be tracked down and known. The offers of help from those who up until now were not much more than acquaintences. The evidence is all there…to be self made in any circumstance is pretty difficult, but in recovery the help piles up from all angles. For all of this I am exceptionally grateful.

There are still a few things that are self made. For one, my choices. I am the only one who can choose for me. And what I choose is totally up to me. I want to make my choice to live and flourish and be grateful and see the beauty in as much as possible (some things are inherently ugly and/or evil and I don’t see beauty in those things). I choose my reaction to what happens to me and around me. And I choose my actions as I face every day. I choose in all the things that are related to my mind. This area is really all I am truly self made on. Taking every thought captive as my own is important. Doing this to the best of my ability is where I really have the control to say that I am a self made man. I truly want to do my best with these things that are only mine.God help me! God help us all!

Why Not Me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Rollercoasters

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

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

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

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

Walk on

There are awkward moments in recovery. Any recovery. With all the craziness happening in the world the last while, especially politically, and my tendency to want to get drawn into it, I knew I needed to walk away and just get out. Besides that, the weather has been fairly nice here and it just draws me out of the cocoon I like to be wrapped up in. It’s more comfortable that way.

My awkwardness starts with the coordination I’m trying to regain, and not knowing when it is me and something else at play. The magic of brain injury is that the result of the injury doesn’t neatly line up with where the injury occurred. The muscles are at the extremities, and can be seen and felt in a real sense. We know when they get sore or tired or seem to be causing pain. But when they aren’t working properly, it’s a real kicker to follow the chain back and associate it with a brain function that you can niether see, or feel, or sometimes control.

My walk yesterday was on a little trail along a creek that runs through the city, but it comes from a far edge of the city and winds its way through. There are literally houses right at the entrance to the park where the trail starts. It seems to be popular with locals from the area to walk their dogs. No one seems to have told them that when their dog craps on the path, it’s a good idea to pick it up so that as it freezes in the snow of the trail, other dogs don’t come along and dig it out to eat it. Poop popsicles may be a big seller at the pet store. I don’t know.

The issue for me was the nice weather. Most of the time it is considered a really good thing to have nice warm weather to get out and do stuff. However, the weather here is just right to keep the snow on the verge of melting most of the day so that when I was walking, there was never a time that I felt sure about where I was stepping. I had to watch others who were on the trail slip and slide around without grip to know that it wasn’t just me who was experiencing this phenomenon. A short walk became an exhausting walk as not only the challenge of coordination was at play, but the uncertainty of every step. There was a rock down by the waterfalls to sit and take pictures which become my stable perch for a while so that I could regain a sense of control and especially rest my weary legs from the work of stabilizing an otherwise wild walk. Of course there is a trade off for sitting on a cold rock… that being the acquisition of 10 foot home rods. May I suggest that will be the opposite of a poop popsicle?

Metaphors give lots of things for my mind to do whether I ask for them or not. Removal of the ability to have firm footing while we walk our journey not only tires us out, puts us in danger and frustrates our progress, but it literally means we have to take some time on a cold rock and the grief that that may bring also causes it’s share of discomfort! Sit on that metaphor and rotate. You can take that metaphor as far as you want to go. I know I did.

We are all sick of the state of affairs in our world today. And yet, unless you are willing to sniff unicorn farts and climb rainbows, I haven’t met anyone who is willing to back away from their ideals and actually try to understand the other side. Trump seems to be a pill that has brought out the worst in everyone. Maybe that’s just what the doctor ordered? In order to fix any disease, it helps to know what that is first so that you can see it for what it is and get to the root of the problem. I am more and more convinced that the problem is not “out there”… the problem is “in here”! In me!

And so with the problem being in me, causing all the grief with my own walking, I know that especially now, especially now, I need to get out and practice self control, and on a wider spectrum I need to practice life in this way; “But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.” Micah 6:8

High Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hats Off Respect

I don’t care what anyone says, the smile inside a disabled man’s heart is bigger than any man’s heart who is able bodied and shovels a driveway. I am smiling big on this one! It gives me pleasure whether it is pasted all over my goofy face or not! I shoveled our driveway without any help, and in reasonable time as well.

I’ve been thinking about this new label I have through all of this injury business. “Disabled”. Some will be offended that I think that way of myself. Not because they don’t like the fact that I am working on embracing that label, although some would struggle with me “trashing” myself in that way. It’s the others, those who have already spoken their small minds about the issue and told me that I am making a bigger deal out of the fact that I am injured and “disabled” than I should. I’m not really all that disabled; at least I don’t make that label justifiably in their minds anyhow.

Yes, there are some folks who are really pedantic asses and think that they alone have a grasp on how to “label” everything around them with much more justification and righteousness. Now before anyone else who feels that I am talking about them and wants to pounce back and set me straight, I will admit that I am NOT as disabled as many. It is by the grace of God and my CHOICE to fight back every day against the injury. I choose to heal. I choose to overcome my disability. Unlike able bodied and minded individuals who choose to opt out of ability. They actually have the ability and choose to opt out in some way or another. It then becomes their choice to reclaim their ability. Case in point – If you are physically fit, trim, sharp minded and socially apt, you can choose to stop exercising, put on weight, stop using your wits, and make a social outcast of yourself, but it is your choice. Sometimes it has little negative affect, but other times it goes too far and causes problems. You may then choose to gain strength through exercise, lose weight through diet, exercise your brain and so on in order to reclaim what was yours all along.

Injury is another cat from another bag. Once that sucker gets let out, there is no telling how it will tear you to shreds and take away something that you didn’t want to give. Cats get mean when they are smacked around in a bag and then let out. I actually can claim to know this for fact, in case anyone would like to argue with me on that point. For those who are injured, the smile of the heart is bigger when they gain something back that the injury took away. The wounds go deeper when the injury is caused by someone or something else, and it was no fault of the one injured. Those deep wounds take some time. And effort! And that makes me respect those who have disabilities. Every day I know what it is to choose to fight back against what was taken, and get it back. I have great role models, like the neighbor across the street who is a quadriplegic in a wheelchair and sometimes seems to be racing me to finish his driveway before I do, shouting that he feels sorry for me because he has an advantage getting done faster with his motorized chair. There’s the young man in rehab who fell out of a tree and broke his neck and had to learn to walk all over again. He’s no longer in the rehab ward because he struggles every day to get back what he lost and he worked things out! And there are plenty more who blaze a trail for the rest of us to follow and be encouraged.

Hat’s off to those who fight to regain what they lost, especially those who lost due to no fault of their own. I deeply respect and admire you for the everyday effort that you put in making things work better for you. I am a privileged individual stroke survivor. I can work hard enough to erase the effects of my injury completely. I work towards that every day. That’s why I can smile at a shoveled driveway that I did all by myself (send hero cookies to my home address, please). And to those who fight to regain what was theirs all along by choosing to get healthier, challenge their minds, patch up awkward social situations, etc., a tip of the hat to you as well. Choosing not to let go of the good that is yours if you choose it. RESPECT to all. Peace out!

The Good With The Bad

The other day I wrote a story about getting stranded by the road. I went on a bit. Today, I’m going to talk to you about drugs. Which are good and which are bad.

Before Christmas, I was at the doctors office for presription refills. (Does it ever feel like I’m turning into my grandma, with a constant obsession about medications). So doc and I have a little chat about the state of affairs in the country of Darcy. He tells me that we need to do some experimenting to find out where my dosages are optimum for the desired affect on my body. So just a little background, my cholesterol wasn’t an issue, except that I’ve had a stroke. In my case, his advice is to get rid of my bad cholesterol as much as possible and lower my risk to as low as it can go. So what he had me do was double my doses and see how it went over Christmas.

Since my mom and my dad didn’t really care, I went with the doctors advice and took double the dose. Over the next couple days, the stuff kicked in and had it’s affect in my system and I became very aware of what was going to be the new norm if I kept doses at that level. I began to feel like someone was beating me with a big ugly stick every day. My muscles were achy like I had a bad flu without any of the other symptoms. Then my joints kicked into high gear with a choir of complaints. I kid you not, my joints were howling like a pack of wolves on the hunt. It got so bad with the joint pain that I had trouble kneeling and moving my knees. My arms joined in, presumably because they felt like they were getting left out on the party. I grit my teeth and forced myself to do as much as possible, but there wasn’t anything that was easy anymore. I couldn’t even enjoy scratching my own ass. And I love scratching my ass!

The real scare for me was when I was growing weaker. I was having to be cautious of going up and down stairs like I hadn’t been since I first had a stroke. I was also beginning to slur my words much earlier in the day as I had to work so much harder to say what I wanted to say. It would have been so convenient if I would have been doing some heavy drinking over the holidays so that fewer people would have suspected. But I wasn’t. In the back of my mind, leaving it unspoken, I was fearing that I was reverting to my initial state of ability right after I had had the stroke, or that I was having another stroke. There are these fears that crop up in the mind of someone who has sustained an injury, has worked so hard to make a comeback to greater ability, and then sees all of the things that once were and are now back again.

I’ve realized something very important over the course of this little drug experiment. I’ve lived life having very little fear of anything physical that could have zapped me like this. Close calls just seemed like a game to me before. I’ve been hit by a truck twice in my life and for the most part was able to walk both encounters off. Yes, I had a bit of a limp both times, but the trucks got the worst end of that negotiation in both cases. The first time, I was racing on my motorbike to go back to the grain bin to help my father with the clean up. He and mom had already finished and got to the same blind corner I did at the same time. Partially loaded grain trucks are fairly unforgiving, but I managed to bend the bumper and the only reason the blood was spraying all over the place as I flew through the air into the hay patch was because the truck hood crumpled up into a sharp point and gouged a part of my finger out. I still managed to console my screaming mother in the truck while flipping wildly in the air. I yelled, “I’m alright” to calm her down. It didn’t manage to have the affect I wanted though. She cuffed me on the head when she ran over to me in the alfalfa yelling, “How do you know you’re alright while you flying through the air you stupid kid?” She was right as usual. Mom’s are always right. This injury was the only time I “broke a bone”. The metal had gouged so deep that it took a part of my finger bone so the doc said that I had to wear a splint, even though the bone wasn’t cracked or really broken.

The second time was a little more fun, and only proves that you can get stupider as you grow older because you still haven’t learned you lessons. I truly thought I could jump up on the hood of the truck and roll off like in the movies. It would have worked too, if it wouldn’t have been that my truck driving friend thought it would be funny (I hope that’s why he did it) to speed up last minute so that my jump wasn’t high enough at the right time. I ended up denting that hood in ways that are hard to accomplish with other means. I think I still feel that charlie horse sometimes.

The point with these stories is that I used to live pretty wildly, and close to the edge. Not much would phase me, and if I was afraid, I did my best to stuff that down and go for it anyways. But the stroke, the drugs, this new shot on life… it’s changing me. I hold railings now. I spy ice on the driveway as I’m shoveling and watch it with contempt and a measure of loathsome respect. After my incident with the my truck the other day I am much more cautious of cold. I never thought that cold would be something that would make me think twice about going out. I have to measure out my days in accomplishable tasks as they accumulate. I can’t push myself to just bull through and make what needs to be done happen anymore without paying for it for days. And it’s hard for me to even recognize what all will be something to be cautious of when I’ve never lived that way before.

Since I stopped taking that crazy pill (the doc said I should stop taking it and try another), my strength rebounded overnight! And I don’t have anything more than regular old guy aches and pains in my joints and muscles. I can once again walk long distances without having to spend the afternoon in bed. Those were some BAD good drugs. I’ll hope that they new pills will accomplish the good stuff without bringing on the bad stuff. Coming back from the dead has given me new hope. And hope is most always an excellent thing.