Pedestal For (Not So) Regular Folks: Defying the Odds Daily

I’m thrilled to share our next pedestal with all of you (I know, I know, it’s been much too long since we’ve had a pedestal interview)!
Our interviewee is the one and only Vickie Dawson, who happens to be the sister in law of our StL contributor Alli.  Vickie is a wife, mother, kick butt athlete, nanny, blogger, and Disney travel extraordinaire.
Almost three months ago Vickie suffered a stroke but every day she is inspiring all those around her by thriving.

Vickie1
Okay Vickie, first off,  when people look at your picture they are going to immediately assume that you’re too young to have suffered strokes. So how old are you?
31

What caused your stroke/how many did you have?

My strokes were caused by a vertebral artery dissection. I pushed so hard at a workout that I actually caused the artery that runs through the vertebrae in my neck to tear and separate from the artery wall. The injury site is where clots began to form. Later that day I felt well enough and decided to help move a heavy wooden swing set out of my yard. The strain from this exertion loosened the clots from the dissection and it lead to 2 blockages in my brain to have a stroke.

What were your symptoms?

When the dissection happened I felt like I had strained my neck, nothing major, just a little discomfort. I also had a bout of light-headedness, but it only lasted about 20 minutes. I had no idea something so serious was going on.
When the stroke happened, I felt like I was going to “melt” to the floor, and I did. My entire left side felt completely disconnected and very heavy. I also had numbness on my whole left side as well as weakness.

What are the side effects of your strokes
?
I have patchy numbness on the entire left side of my body.  The sensory is slowly remapping, but the feeling on my left is completely different than my right and much more dull.  My proprioception is also very impaired.  If I’m not looking at my arm I most likely have no idea where it is in space.  I also lost almost complete use of my left side when the stroke first occurred.  However, with lots and lots of hard work I am now independently mobile and able to do most tasks that I did before.  I may not do them exactly the same or as quickly, but I still get most things done.

What was a typical day like prior to your strokes and what is a typical day like now?
Before the strokes I was a busy mom who was passionate about family, fitness, travel, and having as much fun as possible. I would wake up, get my family off to work and school, go running, clean, cook, shop, garden, pick up my girl from school, do homework and girl talk, take my girl to cheer, go to the gym for a strength workout, run a little more, pick up my daughter from cheer, eat dinner and crash. I also showered in between all that exercise and running around, promise.
A typical day now is not much different it’s just scaled back. I still take care of my family and home, but I don’t do things quite as elaborate as before. I also have replaced my hard-core running and workouts with stationary biking, walking, and lots of physical therapy exercises.

Has anything surprised you post stroke? Biggest frustration?
I am surprised by something everyday! I feel like I’m constantly changing. I wake up to a slightly different me every morning. Sensation and coordination are changing all the time and it’s usually for the better…not always, but mostly.
My biggest frustration is overall coordination on my left side. It gets better day by day…but sometimes getting my hand to do simple tasks, feels like I am trying to send psychic messages to Mars.

I know you’ve had to do some intensive physical therapy- what kinds of exercises do you have to do? How many hours a day?
I went to an inpatient intensive rehab for a couple of weeks where I worked with physical and occupational therapists for 3 hours a day. Currently I attend outpatient therapy twice a week, but I do my own training everyday. Typically I work on therapies 2-3 hours a day.
I started out with extremely basic exercises like tapping my toes, moving my arms up and down, and kicking my legs out while sitting. I have since graduated to exercises such as walk/jog intervals, squats, lunges, planks, crunches, and light-weights. I begin every workout with 30-60 minutes of cardio and then start on circuit training. My list of exercises from physical therapy is seriously a novel, but I don’t do them all everyday. I choose 10-15 different exercises and make my own WOD (workout of the day). It’s definitely different than my old workouts, but I’m grateful for my current capabilities and the progress I’ve seen so far.

Biggest accomplishment post stroke?
My biggest accomplishment has been in the little things. Walking my dog, doing the laundry, cooking dinner, fixing my daughters hair, and passing my drivers evaluation. It’s all the small everyday tasks that I may have robotically done before that add up to my one big goal of living my life.

If/when you feel down how do you keep going? What’s your motivation?
When I feel down or frustrated I usually just need a break from all the recovery stuff. I will call or text a friend or family member to see how they are. Focusing on the people I care about gives me a sense of normalcy.

How has having strokes changed your outlook on life?
The biggest change in my outlook is that I am now making all my family and friend relationships a top priority. Before the strokes I was going a mile a minute and if I had time to chat for 2 minutes while waiting in the school parking lot, reading grocery ads, writing “to do” lists, and eating a late lunch, I felt like that was adequate. Now, I realize how important it has been for me to have so many wonderfully supportive people in my life and I don’t want to take them for granted.

What is the most important thing you want the world to know about strokes?
A stroke can happen to anyone! I was the healthiest I had ever been and guess what? I had a stroke! Know the signs and be educated about what to do in an emergency situation.
I also want people to know that even though terrible things can and do happen, it doesn’t mean life is over or that you have to change all your plans. There is plenty of joy and fulfillment in life after having a stroke. Lots of things change, don’t get me wrong, but by focusing on the things I can accomplish and striving for improvement, I am able to move forward.

 

Vickie after passing her recent driving evaluation
Vickie after passing her recent driving evaluation

For more on Vickie be sure to check out her blog (which is on a brief hiatus while she focuses on her recovery): http://presentlyobsessed.wordpress.com/
Stroke survivor or not, you have the opportunity to defy the odds today, the opportunity to rise above.  How will you defy your odds today?

 

View More: http://fairbanksphotography.pass.us/kendra2I’m Stroked to Life aka Kendra.  After suffering a cerebral venous thrombosis at 25 I have found myself trying to drink in life, knowing that life is a gift and truly but a moment.  (For my entire stroke story you can click here and here)
I’m a mother, a writer, an art lover, a design appreciator, and in my spare time I love to curl up with a book.
I want people to know that even after the worst of experiences there is life after the ickiness and it can filled with as much beauty as you choose.
If you can’t find me here you can reach me at strokedtolife@gmail.com or on Instagram @strokedtolife.

 

 

 

Willow

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Willow

(Forgive me, loyal readers I am way behind schedule and am just now posting Willow’s picture and bio.)

Hello, my name is Willow. I am a wife, mother, aunt of many, daughter of few, but wonderful people (yes, my in-laws included), and on occasion an artist. I have sensitive skin, enjoy my cheese melted, and don’t like wearing socks. My husband often calls me a tree hugger and my 16 moth old sometimes calls me mom (frequently I am just the ASL sign for milk). Spontaneous singing and dancing is the norm in our household. If you know me, you know that I can be flighty and lose track of time easily. I’d like to chalk that up to a “creative temperament,” but let’s be honest, sometimes this is just my lazy butt not paying attention to details.

I love making lists and will often add completed tasks just to have the satisfaction of checking them off. I am scuba certified. I own my own handgun. I have lived in Paris for a brief time, been part of a hot air balloon chase team, trained for two marathons (and ran one), and read too many books to count. I have worked as a caregiver, carousel operator, nanny, speech tutor, waitress, receptionist, secretary, maid, cashier, ophthalmology clinic coordinator, and currently I work as a librarian. Did I mention that I love lists? In high school I had several blind and deaf friends. So, between learning brail in order to pass notes and learning sign language in order to communicate better, I believe they helped me see the world differently. I also took Latin and was in the old English club at the time, but I count that as part of my nerdy phase.

Right now a lot of my time is spent doing mundane and repetitive tasks: dishes, laundry, pick up toys, cook, and repeat. It’s easy to lose yourself in the everyday things, but I believe it’s important to see the beauty in the moment, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

To Live in the Moment. . .

Sometimes you have to let go of some things.
Last night I had to stare a decision that I have avoided right in the face.  A decision that I’ve tried to make before but to no avail.  One that I’ve been so torn up about that it took no less than three of my closest loved ones to help me make it.  It sounds exciting but trust me, it isn’t.
For a while now, I’ve been wrestling with the decision whether or not I could/should keep Facebook.  I wanted to disconnect.  My dilemma came when I realized that if I disappeared from Facebook then the StL Facebook page would have to disappear too.
StL joined Instagram, which has been great, it helps us remember our mission to live life in the moment because the next moment isn’t promised to us.  On Facebook though we’ve been able to bring over some new readers which we so appreciate. What to do, what to do?
When I went to bed last night I still didn’t have the answer.  So this morning I called Kjirsten, I had already talked to Alli and Dana who each made great points, and laid all the cards on the table.  Knowing how important it is for me to disconnect, Kjirsten has graciously taken over the StL page.  That means if you’re checkin’ for me on Facebook I’m not there.  I’m on here, on Instagram, or to paraphrase Camus I’m busy living to “the point of tears.”
After I let go of Facebook, I realized that there’s a bigger lesson in this.  We all have things that we are clinging to that keep us from living in the moment.  We probably don’t even realize how much we’re clinging to them because they seem too small to be holding us back.  Is that stack of dishes keeping you from enjoying the fleeting sun?  Are you so focused on work that you’re barely enjoying your lunch break?  We cling to these ideas- I have to do the dishes or I have to get this work done that we don’t live in the moment.  So today ask yourself-
What can I let go of so I can live in the moment?
“Forever is composed of nows.”–Emily Dickinson

 

View More: http://fairbanksphotography.pass.us/kendra2I’m Stroked to Life aka Kendra.  After suffering a cerebral venous thrombosis at 25 I have found myself trying to drink in life, knowing that life is a gift and truly but a moment.  (For my entire stroke story you can click here and here)
I’m a mother, a writer, an art lover, a design appreciator, and in my spare time I love to curl up with a book.
I want people to know that even after the worst of experiences there is life after the ickiness and it can filled with as much beauty as you choose.
If you can’t find me here you can reach me at strokedtolife@gmail.com or on Instagram @strokedtolife.

Lines

Once upon a time I would have been too afraid to share this; too afraid to even write the following words- “Once upon a time I had a sister.”
It’s hard to know where to start this, if I start with the perceived loss or the mental illness, at the beginning or the end, past or present.  General consensus is that the ideal place to start a story is at the beginning but I don’t know where the beginning truly begins.  So I’ll start with what I see.
When I close my eyes and think of Jaeson I see a heap of lines–disjointed, at angles, some broken, some unending, so many, many lines.  Jaeson is complex, the lines can never really truly be sorted but can anyone’s lines be made sense of?
One would think that Jaeson would have started off as a single line but in truth my sibling started off as a small mangled ball of lines.  That’s what I see when I close my eyes and think of the past, when my sibling was my sister, when Jaeson was Jessica.
Thinking back I sometimes feel guilty for the mangled heap of lines, the ball of anger and frustration.  Jessica came into the world angry and the more we tried to understand the further and deeper she retreated.  I feel guilty because I prayed and asked for a sister.  She was outwardly hard whereas I was soft, this was our dichotomy and the way we existed.  The older she became the more the anger grew.  I couldn’t figure out if she was mad because she was alive or because she was struggling to find where she belonged.  Every day grew worse.  We were already walking on eggshells around one parent and we were forced to walk on them around Jessica, the triggers were never known.
Between the parental tension and Jessica’s sudden outbursts my life felt as though a constant pillow were being placed over it, air became scarce.  There was no place or person for me to turn to, no refuge on earth or heaven.  So I counted the days, the days when I could escape the house where surely there would be a constant supply of air.
When I left I greedily gulped down the air, allowing my chest to finally move when I breathed.  “I’m going to be okay”, I told myself.  And as I’m sitting there breathing, taking notes in class, I’m missing calls from home.  “Can you talk to your sister?”, they ask, “she won’t listen to us.”
“She pulled a knife on your brother’s friend.”
“She says she’s going to become emancipated.”
Every phone call there’s a new piece of information and if Jessica calls I hold my breath and hope for the best, praying that there won’t be a sudden outburst.
The funny thing about leaving hell is that you can never truly escape it, hell is a part of me.
I share DNA with hell.
And I’m carrying the entirety of hell on my shoulders.  I can’t tell anyone, that’s against the rules so I shut up and I carry it with me everywhere I go.  And hell starts to kill me.
First with anger, then with sadness so deep that the thought of carrying it anywhere hurts and then a cut here or a cut there.  While it’s killing me I’m still trying to throw life preservers to the people still in it.  I save one and then “come on Jessica–grab on!-grab it!”
I can’t save Jessica.  Jessica is trapped between two hells; one from which she can escape and one that they’ll have to carry for the rest of their life.
I see the link on their Facebook page and I’m wondering if I should look.  This is my sibling, I’m going to look.  The first paragraph of the photos explains that there is a person, a human who breathes air, bleeds, and feels just like the rest of us, who was publicly set on fire for wearing a skirt. . . . . with a man’s shirt.
This person is non-binary, existing somewhere between male and female.  Transgender.
Set on fire.  A person, a human being.
My eyes are filling with tears because this could be Jaeson.  And all I can think is what that phone call would have been like, what it could be like-
Jaeson’s voice emotionally telling me-”someone set my skirt on fire for being transgender.”
Jessica is not Jessica.
Jessica is not my sister.
Jessica is Jaeson.
Jaeson is genderqueer.
Jaeson has a mental illness.
Jaeson is my sibling.
A heap of disjointed lines.  Is a heap better than a mangled ball?
There are moments when I long for Jessica, though it’s not Jessica I long for but for having a sister.   Mental illness robbed me of a relationship with my sister and started off my relationship with Jaeson on rocky footing.  Jaeson seems calmer but my mind-my mind frequently brings up images of Jessica-the mangled ball of lines.
I don’t want that heap of disjointed lines to be anything other than what they are, I don’t want Jaeson to be someone they are not.  I want Jaeson to be Jaeson.
Once upon a time I had a time I had a sister.
Here and now I have a sibling-that heap of disjointed lines belongs to me.

*Shared with the permission of my sibling and dedicated to them.  I love you Jaeson.

 

KStLI’m Stroked to Life aka Kendra.  After suffering a cerebral venous thrombosis at 25 I have found myself trying to drink in life, knowing that life is a gift and truly but a moment.  (For my entire stroke story you can click here and here)
I’m a mother, a writer, an art lover, a design appreciator, and in my spare time I love to curl up with a book.
I want people to know that even after the worst of experiences there is life after the ickiness and it can filled with as much beauty as you choose.
If you can’t find me here you can reach me at strokedtolife@gmail.com.

But what if this moment sucks?

I was a pretty flighty child. Imaginative and dramatic. I became adept at turning chores into Cinderella stories. My creativity let me change the dull reality, pretty easily.

But that wasn’t always the best.

When I imagined myself out of the real world, important things wouldn’t get done. Homework–was a big one.

***

A Mom I know, who has a struggling baby in the NICU recently posted on her Facebook status something about needing a change of attitude, that she was having a hard time, and needed to stop whining.

It hit me like a giant wave–”Wait. Stop! You can sit in sadness and still be okay.”

I quickly penned something about how being authentic and recognizing the hurt and hard times is okay.

I prayed that I wouldn’t offend her but I offered this:

“Call me crazy, but I think it’s okay to feel down sometimes. Jesus wept for Lazarus. You can be authentic with your feelings. You are going through incredibly hard things, and of course that can be overwhelming. I guess what I’m trying to say is: there are times when we feel down and know we should buck up so we do, and there are times when we’re down and we know we should have a good cry. And The Lord is there for both times. My caution is to not bottle it up, and just survive with a smile if you’re not in that “place.” (and hey, sometimes that’s all we can do!) But I’ve found that sometimes a tear-soaked prayer can be amazingly cathartic. Sending lots of love.”

Little did I know I would need my own words this week.

***

My little’s got Hand Foot Mouth, and as much as I want to be distracted and wish it away, that burning fever, the sores make me very much present.

How do we ‘live in the moment’ even when it sucks?

With gratitude.

And so, after some tears,  I’m going to be Pollyanna and play the glad game, until I realize that being in this moment can be full of gladness and gratitude too.

Then I won’t have to pretend that I’m someone, or somewhere else.

KjirstenKjirsten Flores is the lady behind the lens at K.Flores Photography. She’s an artist, a teacher, a photographer, a wife, and mom trying to find a balance.

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