October: A Month to Celebrate and Give Back

October is one of my favorite months–possibly my very favorite–for many reasons. Long-time readers and even casual acquaintances are quite familiar with my passion for Halloween (you’ll see some Halloween posts here as the holiday gets closer–and feel free to search “Halloween” in my blog for previous posts!). Crunchy leaves, crisp (but not cold) air, autumn soups, apple-picking, so many festive opportunities…what’s not to love? As one of my favorite literary heroines famously said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers” (L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables).

Image result for i m so glad i live in a world with octobers

–Pinterest User iBelieve.com

October is also the month for celebrating important awareness occasions, like National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and Breast Cancer Awareness Month–two observations that are a focus for me both at work and personally. While I’ve written about NDEAM for work with Marianjoy in the past, and continue to do so, I’m looking forward to writing about breast cancer awareness, as well, for Northwestern Medicine’s Marketing Team, having had the exciting opportunity to work more closely with them lately. How lucky we are to have top cancer and rehabilitation programs right here in the Midwest! Breast cancer has always hit close to home for me, with several family members and friends as survivors, and more friends who are currently battling the disease.

Besides writing, I decided to take the observation one step further. Financial donations are great to help with breast (and other types of) cancer; without funding, research projects to eradicate the disease wouldn’t be possible–and so I try to donate to cancer charities a couple of times a year (check out Charity Navigator to find one that fits you and has a good stewardship score). There’s another type of donation, too, that most people might not think of right away, one that requires your time, not money: hair.

It wasn’t until my traumatic brain injury in 2005, when part of my head had to be shaved for brain surgery, that I realized how important hair is to identity. For women, it’s inextricably tied in millennia-long trends denoting femininity, fertility, sexuality, youth, conservatism/rebellion, professionalism…the list goes on. For 19-year-old me, it was one of the hardest changes to my appearance I had to get used to, partly because I had no choice in the sudden change–just like cancer patients. It made me very self-conscious–with my eye patch and wheelchair, it was just one more thing broadcasting to the world that I was going through a major medical experience. And what if I wasn’t ready to share that?

Luckily for me, it was only part of my head, and I was able to do quite the comb-over to cover the bald side until my hair grew in. I always joked that Rihanna soon after took my cue and made the style a trend.

(You’re welcome, RiRi)

Fortunately, my hair grew in fairly quickly, and when it reached a point where I could get it cut into layers, I decided to donate the rest to those who were less fortunate. It felt good, the thought of helping others, when so many had been helping me.

I decided to do it again…22 months ago. Unlike my first time donating, the thought popped into my head when all of my hair was short, so I knew I was in for a long road. Over those 22 months, I only got one trim–it helped that I stayed away from heat-treating my hair, so I didn’t have to worry (much) about split ends.

The experience reminded me of the way the religious customs can remind you physically of spiritual meaning (like the practice of giving something up for Lent reminding Catholics of Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice). Although I sometimes enjoy having long hair, there were many times were I couldn’t wait to get it cut again–it felt so unruly to me, but I reminded myself this hair wasn’t for me–it was for someone else. It was a good exercise in patience.

My mom made the growing process more fun with some elaborate hairstyles–some so beautiful I second-guessed cutting the hair:

Thanks, Mom! ❤

I went to my hair stylist a few times to get a length check, and finally, I was ready. I already knew the charity I wanted to donate to: Wigs 4 Kids, an organization in Michigan that provides wigs to kids and young adults for free. It’s important to research where you will donate your hair, because some organizations charge patients for their wigs (it’s a laborious process to make them, so I understand, but I’d prefer the patients to get their wigs for free). It’s also important to know how long you need to grow your hair, if it can be dyed, if it can be gray, etc., before you make the chop–each organization is different. Wigs 4 Kids requires 10″, and after my hair stylist evened it out, I had just over that to donate.

Ready!

Megan, my hair stylist, is very familiar with prepping hair to donate. It’s important to section off and secure the part that will be donated before you cut it, so it doesn’t fly all over the place. She made four braids.

Moment of truth. Even though I wanted the haircut, it’s always initially intimidating to me to part with so much hair all at once!

Done; I loved it! It was hard to believe all that hair was in that silver bag.

I really appreciated Megan’s help in getting my hair ready to go; I was happy she was so familiar with donating. After that, it was just a matter of mailing the braids to the address on the organization’s website.

I never feel better than when I’m helping others and giving back in some way. Ever since my miraculous TBI survival, I’ve felt a mission to help others as I was helped. With time and patience, hair donation is an easy and inexpensive way to help people–I highly recommend doing it, if you can. I’ve mentally committed to doing it again, though I may go for one with a shorter requirement (360 Hair looks like they take 6″ or more–sounds good to me!).

I wish you all a wonderful remainder of your October. I hope you get to enjoy your favorite traditions, and I hope you take a moment to celebrate those other important observances, too.

BIAIL Fashion Show + Top 10: Favorite Things About Having My Blog After One Year

Hello, dear readers! I hope you had a fabulous weekend! I had the honor and pleasure of modeling for the Brain Injury Association of Illinois’s Annual Fashion Show for the second year in a row. As a TBI survivor, disability awareness has become really important to me, and I was so happy to help with such a great cause. The organization is a special one to me, and this event–run so well by heads Philicia Deckard and Ginny Doran Lazarra–always brings together compassionate people and organizations, making it fun to network and socialize (not to mention dress up in pretty outfits). This year, I got to model three gorgeous dresses from Pink Slip Boutique.

Models on the runway

I loved getting to see and chat with Alicia Roman again this year. (I am unashamedly name-and-photo-dropping.) She is a meteorologist for NBC5, and she was the emcee again for the event. She does a great job of being warm to the crowd and models (even asking me over the mic if I was OK when my shoe got stuck in the runway–yes, graceful me) as well as being impassioned about the cause.

Alicia and me after the show

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This weekend was also important to me for another reason:

It marked the one-year anniversary of the creation of my blog! In some ways, I can’t believe it’s already been a year. However, when I look back at my entries over the past year, I realize I’ve put a lot of work and pride into my blog. I am so grateful to all of you, dear readers, for impelling me onward to continue posting. Every comment and view is a validation of my work–so thank you for making it worthwhile. ❤

As happy nostalgia washed over me, I realized this would make for a great Top 10 for this week (my last Top 10 till May!). Below, please enjoy my Top 10 favorite bloggy things. 🙂 Tomorrow marks the beginning of my double-challenge for April: NaPoWriMo + A-to-Z, which means a poem each day (except Sunday), focusing on consecutive alphabetic topics (or forms). I will do my best to complete all 26, but I’m also working on my novel plus my memoir plus, you know, life–but I look forward to the challenge. It was a productive blast for me last year. 🙂

Top 10: Favorite Things About Having My Blog After One Year

1. Making new friends

One of the most unexpected perks of having my blog has been meeting fellow bloggers (or commentators) who have become my friends. I’ve really enjoyed connecting with so many of you, whether it be through writing about similar topics, participating on blog tours together, comments, etc.

2. Keeps me writing

Having to keep up with my blog keeps my writing sharp, and it’s really helped me to develop my voice. My “blogging voice” has settled somewhere in the intersection of the tones of my critical essay, memoir, and conversational writing. My readers’ responses have helped me to nail that down–so again, thank you. ❤

3. Free writing workshops!

It is beyond awesome to receive feedback on my writing from readers who are actually interested in my work. Getting different viewpoints and constructive criticism helps me to tighten my work (often helping me to eliminate those flowery-sappy holes I can fall into and not notice on my own 😉 ). Similarly, I also enjoy offering feedback to other writers. It’s like an online version of a classroom workshop.

4. Opens up my perspective on memoir, etc.

I’ve discovered I often find news or literary items I have an emotional response to that I want to write about on my blog. In the past, I might have an emotional response and not explore the depths of it like I have here. That exploration has deepened my own understanding of how my life or societal events have shaped me, which is very helpful, indeed, for writing my memoir.

5. Online portfolio

I love having a collection of my work all housed on my URL, where I can point people who want to see my work. The site is all mine, and the work I show is how I wish to represent myself as a writer. If, a few years later, I look back and wonder how I could ever have been so SAPPY, for instance, I can simply take it down–it’s a comfort granted when you choose to bare yourself to the world (lending us bloggers a bit of courage). 🙂

6. Experience as a book blogger

When I began my blog, I thought I’d write a little about my opinions on books, but I didn’t imagine I’d be an official Book Blogger. I’ve had the wonderful experience of being an official book reviewer for Novel Publicity & Co., which has been terrific. In addition to being able to use my blog as an official reviewing platform, I’ve also been exposed to books I never would have picked up on my own, broadening my perspective and taste. Receiving free books and publicity have been great perks, too. 😉

7. Challenges

Blog challenges (like NaPoWriMo) have pushed me outside of my comfort zone as both a writer and a reader, which invariably leads to my growth. Having a network of people doing the same thing gives us inspiration and encouragement to persevere, even when it’s tough!

8. Organization of my life’s events and writings–and how they intertwine

In reviewing my last year of entries, I realized another unexpected benefit of having my blog was seeing how my life’s events, writings, and cultural responses (like reviews I wrote) all intertwined and influenced each other. It’s kind of like a personal version of that introduction section in book anthologies that explain what was going on in society when an author wrote a work–“No man is an island,” and it’s neat to see where my inspirations have come from.

9. Able to share (give and get!) advice as TBI survivor & writer

I’ve always hoped to be a disability advocate, especially since my own Traumatic Brain Injury. Happily, I get to do that at my job at Marianjoy when I write patient stories and other articles. However, I’ve also enjoyed doing it right here on my blog. It’s nice to be able to write about issues that are important to me–even more so when I get a response that my writing has touched someone in some way. I’ve learned in addition to teaching, too–I really appreciate when people respond with their own life experiences, lending their perspective. The community broadens me as a person.

10. Pushes my creativity

This blog constantly pushes my creativity, impelling me to expand the way I think about writing. The nature of blogging has caused me to think in a much more “multimedia” fashion, once I realized how graphics can enhance a blog’s message. Also, I’m always having to think about writing new things in new ways to maintain–hopefully, increase–reader interest (I hope I’m doing a good job!) 🙂

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I hope you enjoyed my list as much as I enjoyed everything on it, dear readers–and you’ve made it all possible. Thank you.

Please join me tomorrow–and throughout April–for my A-to-Z and NaPoWriMo writings!

Academy Awards: Reflections and Book Nominations

Hello, dear readers! Did you have fun watching the Oscars tonight? Our family tuned in for a few parts. Ellen DeGeneres was hilarious as host, and there were some touching speeches and pretty dresses. 🙂 (In particular, Lupita Nyong’o’s speech made me cry! I need to see 12 Years a Slave.)

Of course, I had to participate in Ellen DeGeneres’s request for the world to make this the most retweeted photo ever–the set-up was pretty cute:

View image on Twitter

I was SO happy Frozen won for Best Animated Feature:

Photo: Frozen just won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature! Congratulations to the entire team at Walt Disney Animation Studios! #Oscars

…and that it also won Best Original Song for “Let It Go”:

Photo: "Let It Go" just won the Academy Award for Best Original Song! Congratulations to Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez!

The film was one of my favorite movies of all time (the power of love between sisters; the courage and then reward of being yourself; such good lessons!). You can read how much the song means to me in my previous blog post about it, but each time I hear the song, I feel like I get more and more out of it. I think it’s a fantastic message for anyone who is afraid of sacrificing a perfect image to embrace who s/he really is–the beauty of finding out your own unique talents when you finally “let it go.” After my traumatic brain injury, I struggled so much with this concept, since I wanted to be just like my old self and achieve the exact same goals I had for myself before–goals set intentionally by me, and goals set artificially by society (you must look like ___; you must achieve ___ by __ age, etc.). It’s been quite the journey, but I reached a point where I realized I had so much more to offer as a survivor, as the true *me*, than I ever could by completing some outdated checklist.

Idina Menzel’s performance for the show gave me goosebumps. It was extraordinary. She’s one of my very favorite singers; her range, emotion, and style are gorgeous. I actually felt a little bad for her tonight, because I think something was going on with the synching of the background music (not to mention how John Travolta butchered her name in her intro). The music sounded way too loud for her, and she had to almost shout-sing over it–shocking for such a powerful singer–I can’t imagine how bad it must really have been, then! I also think the pacing was a little off. I couldn’t tell if she was wearing an earpiece to hear the music, but if not, that might have been the problem. From my own experience as a performer, I know that music sounds a lot different when you’re onstage and it’s reverberating throughout the hall versus when you’re hearing it directly out of a close source. Still, I think something even more was going on, since Idina is such a seasoned Broadway performer. I guess we’ll have to wait for the news stories to come out! I haven’t found anything about it yet. Of course, it was still a beautiful, passionate performance, and I highly recommend watching it if you haven’t already.

A special congratulations to the film Her, which picked up the Oscar for Best Screenplay. It’s another film I have to see, especially because my friend Marcy‘s sister, Natalie Farrey, is the executive producer! From everything I’ve heard, it’s a well-done film. I’m perhaps a little afraid of its being sad…but we all know that sometimes that’s good for you, right? 🙂

Photo: Congratulations to Spike Jonze on his Best Original Screenplay win for #Her! #Oscars

What did you think, dear readers? Were you particularly happy or disappointed in any of the wins? Were there performances or moments you enjoyed?

The people at bookish.com had a really clever idea: they made an Academy Awards-style nominations list for their favorite books of 2013. They are taking votes for YOUR favorites until 10 a.m. E.S.T. on March 3 (today), so make your vote now!

Vote here for the best novel; protagonist; supporting role; graphic novel; cover design; nonfiction; film adaptation; and short story collection of 2013. All you have to do is comment. 🙂

You can see my votes below, and I’d love to see yours!:

Avatar
Amanda Fowler • 5 minutes ago

Best novel: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Best female in a supporting role: Lettie Hemstock (The Ocean at the End of the Lane)
Best graphic novel: Hyperbole and a Half
Best film adaptation: Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Christmas Snow Globe: A Reflection on Christmas Blessings

Good morning, dear readers! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. I will share the details of my fabulous holiday soon (thank you loved ones for making it so), but today’s post is a reflection on my Christmas eight years ago.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Marianjoy held its annual Patient Christmas Party two weeks ago. It was lots of fun, including skits and carols. A coworker-friend of mine wrote a parody of the “Wassailing” song that we all performed; it was hilarious and went over really well. 🙂

We got to wear costumes if we wanted to, which of course means I did:

I dressed as an angel! My mom sewed the dress for me in high school, and my dad made the halo. I’ve worn the wings so many times they’re a little droopy. 😉

But the most special part of the event, for me, was the opening reflection. I asked our Spiritual Director if I could write a piece to share at the party, and she invited me to open the event.

As soon as we arranged it, I was intimidated. My mission was pure enough: I wanted to share some inspirational insights about hope at this time of year. No one *wants* to spend Christmas in a hospital–but if you look at it in a different way, it may be the most special Christmas you’ll ever have.

When I spent Christmas as an inpatient at Marianjoy eight years ago, it was such a unique experience. (I was discharged just a few days later.) I hadn’t planned it, of course, but it wasn’t cold or clinical–it was warm, friendly, encouraging, and full of love–all the things Christmas should be.

So I, the writer, the girl who is always talking, sat frozen at my keyboard for weeks, trying to think of how to put this into words. It was so important to me to get it right. Not only would my whole audience be experts on the subject, but the gift I wanted to give them was abstract and elusive, a long-shot: hope.

I must have gotten it at least a little right, because I had a lot of applause and people coming up to me afterwards thanking me for sharing it–patients, coworkers, the CEO, former therapists, nurses, and doctors. It was a terrific experience; better than I’d hoped for. 🙂

My writer’s block finally disappeared when I thought of the central image, which you can find in the title below. I hope you enjoy my speech. 🙂

“Christmas Snow Globe”
By: Amanda K. Fowler

Christmas in a hospital is kind of like a snow globe:

Frozen Snowglobe

(then I shook this snow globe, a Christmas present to Jennifer and me)

Your whole world is turned upside-down. You feel as if you’re suspended in a schedule of personal flurry, too busy with the rituals of therapy to notice that time is passing outside of your dome. And suddenly—it’s Christmas.

And—when you pause for a moment to catch your breath—you feel it. You’re not alone. You are surrounded by love and hope.

You might expect to hear something like this out of someone from the Marketing Department. But the way I really know this is I was a patient here myself eight years ago, due to a severe Traumatic Brain Injury that gave me only a 5% chance at survival.

When I came to Marianjoy, I was out of the danger zone, but I wasn’t back to myself, or back to my life. It was a transition, between nearly dying and nearly living. And I certainly hadn’t anticipated spending Christmas here.

For me, Christmas has always been about being home with family. But while I was here, I discovered a new family. I saw it in the compassionate faces of the therapists. I felt it in the healing touch of the doctors. I even tasted it, in the peppermint bark another patient had made for me, surprisingly—candy she guarded so closely that she gave my father strict instructions not to eat it before giving it to me. I guess she had a sixth sense about my father’s sweet tooth.

And I realized—I was spending Christmas here with my family, with this place that has become a home to me. It’s a family I have been blessed with, a gift I did not anticipate receiving that Christmas along with my life. Yes, Marianjoy is like a family to me—and, much like the in-laws who suggest staying after Christmas into New Year’s—they can’t get rid of me.

And so—I know this may not be how you planned to celebrate Christmas. But take it from someone who has been on this journey before: there is beauty all around you. In this snow globe—you are loved. There is hope here. We even asked for some fresh snow today. This transition is a special time in your life—and in a funny way, it is a gift. I will never forget the Christmas I spent here, and I hope yours is just as special. Merry Christmas.

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I hope you liked it, dear readers. Good luck on your New Year’s Eve preparations! If you’re not back here before then, I wish you a happy New Year full of peace, love, good health, and prosperity. ❤

Happy Thanksgiving: Ten Things I’m Most Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! The holiday is almost over–and by the time I finish typing this post, it may well be over–but I do hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Like most families, we have certain traditions in our house when it comes to Thanksgiving. Our staples are basic, but as health-nut–foodies, we’ve tweaked “traditional” dishes into our own creations (most of this credit goes to my mom! <3).

Since we were little, our mom invited Jennifer and me into the kitchen to punch down her from-scratch bread dough once it’s risen. And since we were little, Jennifer and I have found the squishy texture hard to resist before it’s ready. It’s become a tradition in and of itself.

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Every year, my sister & I try to squish the dough before it’s ready. Sometimes, our mom stops us in time.

The meal turned out wonderfully, despite Jennifer’s and my mischievous attempts. The menu: turkey, stuffing, white bread, cranberry sauce, pumpkin muffins, cranberry muffins, steamed green beans, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and apple pie–along with pear wine that I picked up in South Haven with Lindsey and Megan. Absolutely delicious, all of it!

Actually, I was lucky enough to enjoy not one, but two Thanksgivings this year.

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The “kids” at Jeremiah’s family’s Thanksgiving, left to right: Jeremiah, me, Sarah, Jessie, and Alex.

I had a lot to be grateful for this year. The Broke and the Bookish suggested a “Top Ten” this week that I think is very appropriate.

Top Ten: Things I’m Grateful For
(in no particular order)

1 & 2: Family and Friends

My former classmate and fellow blogger, Frank, put it best in his “grateful things” post: “friends who are like family and family who are like friends.” I really couldn’t have put it better myself. Both have shaped my life tremendously, in the ways they support and guide me–and I like to think I do the same for them. I’ve been blessed to have wonderful relationships with both family and friends that have evolved over the years, only getting better as our lives become more developed and more full. These categories overlap, too: eight years ago, my friends cooked and brought a full Thanksgiving dinner to the hospital for my family. Even if we don’t have as much room in our schedules to be together now, they take up more room than ever in my heart. ❤ I LOVE YOU ALL!!! ❤ ❤

3: Oreo & Chad

Perhaps our babies belong with #1, but they are a different, more adorable species, so I think they can have their own category. Our babies are guinea pigs–see this poem to read just how much they mean to me. Our babies–both so different and wonderful–have awakened a new type of love in me. Though I can be, um, “motherly” to others I love, there’s nothing like loving a (guinea pig) baby. They have enriched my life on such a deep level; they are the embodiment of love. They have me wrapped around their little paws, if you couldn’t tell.

4: Jeremiah & His Family

Similar to #1 & 2, I’ve known them a long time (eight years!) and my relationship with each of them gets better every day (or for the most part, as romances go! 😉 ). I’m lucky to have such a supportive boyfriend who doesn’t mind when I fall into my fantasy worlds I’m writing where there is no cell phone reception…or food…or blinking. Always supportive, always devoted, always loving. Not to get mushy, but I LOVE YOU Jeremiah. (OK, I’m always mushy…you know this by now, dear readers.) I’m so lucky that this package deal includes his family–I’m close with each one of them. His sisters are among my best friends!

Readers, I’ve RUN OUT OF TIME, so in an uncharacteristic move, the rest of the list will be brief!

5: My Faith & God

He has always been there for me, even when I wasn’t paying as much attention to Him as I should have been. He saved me, in more ways than one, and I think He brought me back to do good–and I think that is through:

6: My Writing & Speaking

Communication is vital to all of our lives, and we often take it for granted until it’s taken away from us. I’m grateful mine has come back in such a way–I have so much to say, and I can’t wait to share it all. Dear readers, you are an integral part of this! Thank you for listening to what I have to say and encouraging me to move onward in this journey. ❤

7: Books

Books have been an integral part of my life, shaping the way I think and the person I want to be. They bridge continents and eras, connecting our human existence and making sense of this crazy thing called life.

8: My Job & Coworkers

I’m so blessed to have a job where I get to do what I love every day: writing, editing, public speaking, and events. I’m doing it all in a place I believe in passionately–Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital–and I get to apply my skills to fundraising and publicity purposes for this wonderful place. The icing on the cake that I did not expect (but should have!) is that I LOVE my coworkers. Several of them have become some of my very best friends.

9: Nature

I’m constantly inspired by nature. It’s as alive and changing as humanity itself, and its unpredictable beauty and nurturing are gifts to us.

10: My Health

Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory, especially with my recent reflective post about my TBI. Against all odds (<5%), I have survived a near-fatal injury, and against even greater odds, I am living a beautiful, healthy life. This is another one we take for granted, and every time I’m having a bad hair day, I remind myself that there was a time when I had no hair on one side of my head–boy, how it grew back with gusto (see frizzy picture above). I am blessed and very grateful. ❤

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I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving too, readers. I am grateful for each and every one of you. ❤

“Let it Go”: Inspirational Song from Disney’s “Frozen”

Hello, dear readers. Thank you for your warm response to my last post; it means a lot to me. Tonight, I wanted to share a song with you that I’ve been listening to nonstop (mobile users, click here): “Let it Go,” from the Frozen soundtrack (available for preorder on Amazon). It’s making me even more excited to see the upcoming Disney movie. I love almost all Disney movies, especially the princess ones, but I can tell this one is going to have special significance to me–especially for the reasons I described in my last TBI postFrozen is not only based on a classic fairy tale (Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”), but it also focuses on the power of the love between sisters.

the power of family is the strongest magic of all

Via TangledDisneyFrozen on Tumblr

This song is a bit more poppy than I usually lean towards (at least this version of it; I suspect Idina Menzel’s movie version will be less so); however, it’s very catchy and uplifting. Demi Lovato’s voice is amazing, as always. I do love the message in it, too. These lines were especially significant to me, in light of yesterday’s post/my TBI journey:

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small,
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.
Up here in the open* air, I finally can breathe;
I know I left a lot behind, but I’m too relieved to grieve!

*I can’t tell if she’s singing “open” or “cold, thin” here–I prefer “open,” for my purposes. 😉

I so relate to that feeling–that feeling of perspective and being relieved when you let go of your worries and embrace your gifts, as unlikely or troublesome as they might initially seem. ❤

I’ll post my reaction to this movie once I’ve seen it; hopefully, I can see it for my birthday next week (cementing my princess status, I think). I’m hoping the movie will be as good as I’m imagining it to be! 😀

Miracle Day: Eight Years After My Traumatic Brain Injury

I’ve put off writing this post until this moment, because I wanted to make sure I enjoyed every. Single. Second. of Miracle Day.

“Miracle Day” is what I’ve decided to call November 21, 2005. It was the day I almost died–but I didn’t. Last summer, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare asked me to tell my story for their annual report. Please watch this short video to learn about my journey (mobile users, click here):

I feel bad for the video editors, who had to cut down 2+ hours of my speaking about my experience into two minutes. 😉 I think they did a great job, though. There’s so much I have to say about all of this; as you may recall, I’m working on my memoir of this experience now.

Words are my gift, my tool, and I had to fight hard to get them back. Initially, I couldn’t speak, except through the American Sign Language alphabet that Jennifer and I had taught each other (half-correctly) at ages 5 and 7. Even after I was no longer intubated, my throat was damaged and my words were sludgy in my mind. With the help of some amazing therapists and the encouragement of my family and friends, along with a lot of hard (rewarding) work, I was able to make a tremendous recovery. It was this experience that taught me just how crucial communication is, and that my gift with words might be a gift indeed. It gave me the courage to be a writer, because I finally saw a way to make a difference through my writing. And I’ve never stopped.

I feel like God gave me back my life for a reason, and I have a huge sense of destiny and duty to give back and help other people. I never feel like I can do enough, and sometimes I worry I’m not working hard enough or being good enough. I know that my memoir is part of that destiny, and that’s part of what intimidates me–but also excites me–about it.

Although I only had <5% chance of surviving that injury, and even less chance of recovering to any great extent, I did. I am incredibly grateful to God and every person who helped me to come back. Each day since then has been a gift, even the bad ones, because they are days I almost didn’t have. I don’t feel like I’m living on borrowed time, but rather gifted time. My loved ones are a huge part of that gift, and I’m going to love them as hard as I can (and tell them so) to thank them for making my life so worthwhile and for all they do to keep me alive–not just when I was in the hospital bed, but also in the way they nourish my spirit and give my life purpose.

Today, Jennifer voted to wrap me in a comforter and hold me in a rocking chair by the fireplace. While I appreciated the loving thought, we deemed this too sweaty and bulky an option. Kidding aside, I feel overwhelmed by the love, congratulations, and protectiveness that surge forth on this day from loved ones. I was surprised I actually managed to convince my dad to go shopping with me today–not the shopping itself (he has always gone shopping with us and has personally found many of our best pieces), but the leaving the house on the day. But, we did have a miracle to celebrate, after all.

In retrospect, a day that might have seemed mundane was actually quite symbolic–almost eerily so. This morning, my dad picked up a collared shirt for me from Wal-Mart for my country-themed birthday celebration coming up. Eight years ago, he also picked up a couple of collared shirts for me from Wal-Mart to wear during therapy at Marianjoy. When he got back today, we left to buy a ball gown I’ve been pining over for two years, which I plan to wear (spoiler alert!) to the next Marianjoy gala. It was a far cry from the hospital gowns I was wearing as a Marianjoy patient eight years ago. To go with those hospital gowns, eight years ago, my dad had to buy me high-top gym shoes to wear in the hospital so my feet stayed upright while I slept/the muscles didn’t pronate. Today, we went shopping for shoes for my job at that hospital. We even took a picture today in our nearby downtown area, with all the Christmas lights in the background wrapped around trees and poles–pretty different than pole lights and X-rays in my hospital room. Then we ended the night with pizza, which was my #1 requested food item at Marianjoy, which they were so sweet to accommodate. So maybe I’m just reading too much YA literature, or maybe I’m just trying to justify making my dad go shopping with me, but I thought the day was awesomely symbolic.

I never feel more grateful, blessed, or awe-struck than this day, each year. It’s a nice feeling to have–it makes me feel simultaneously small in the universe and hugely impactful, predestined but powerful, loved and loving. Thank you to my family, friends, doctors, nurses, therapists, and firemen who rescued me not just from death, but from a darkness I might have entered, too. And thank you to you, my dear readers, for following my journey. ❤