Thursday, September 21, 2017
I’m on a small airplane, somewhere over Indiana or Ohio, Coldplay’s “Don’t Panic” is playing in my earbuds. I’m looking down on my life from 30,000 feet, as I feel I have been for the past month and a half. I’m finally on my way home.
When I last had the chance to write, I was in an entirely different place than I am today. We deeply enjoyed our last days as Cincinnatian’s, packed our things, and went on our way. Hershey, PA was our ultimate destination, and I knew so very little of how winding that journey home would be or how much I would learn on my way there. From Cincinnati, we visited Charleston for a week with our family. Right before we were to leave, I got hit in the face with a line drive at a minor league baseball game and have been in bed ever since. Through the ups and downs of the past six weeks, my only regret is having been so consumed by my every day that I did not recognize all of the signs that were pointing me toward a slower, more purposeful life, and that it took getting smacked in the face with a line drive to really slow me down, to really wake me up.
A long story short, the accident caused a pretty significant concussion, and my brain needed rest. I laid in bed – tired, sad, confused, angry – the timing was bad. I’m the social organizer for our family and I couldn’t even get out of bed as we moved into a new house in a new town and didn’t know a soul. My presence online faded to black. Text messages went unanswered. Twitter carried on without me. And I laid in the dark with only my thoughts.
When I was able to talk to my friends and family again, the biggest question they would ask was “How are you?” I don’t know how I was. I still don’t know how I am. My brain isn’t working right. My decision making isn’t rational. I go to rehab. Sometimes I check my email. I talk to the kids. I go for a walk. I go back to sleep. There’s been lots of crying trying to understand and make sense of all of this, and as the fog starts to dissipate, it is all becoming clear to me. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
I left my house on Thursday morning last week with the goal of attending the most soul-filling event with the most awe-inspiring strangers and friends that I’ve ever met anywhere in the world. I was bound for Palo Alto, and I hid in a stall in the bathroom at the Harrisburg international airport, alone, and paralyzed with fear. The anxiety that I’ve acquired as a result of the concussion has been profound. I took a valium, a looked at strangers searching for support and understanding, and eventually I got on the plane. I called my husband from Chicago, overwhelmed and lost, and we walked me through how to get to my gate, how to get on the next plane, what to do when I arrive. One step at a time. I thought I could do this. I felt ready. It felt to me like what I needed, the healing presence of friends. The doctors have continued to say that only I know how I feel, and I need to balance the necessary rest with the slow challenge of rebuilding the pathways in my brain that were disrupted when I was hit with the baseball. I’m doing the best I can. I had had lunch with some new neighborhood friends the week prior, and had even made a trip to Target on my own. Social situations weren’t my problem, I thought. I couldn’t focus on a computer screen, but I could certainly have a conversation. I didn’t anticipate the overwhelming nature of the many moving parts and the many conversations that happen inside of an airport, and at a conference as vibrant as Stanford’s MedicineX.
A friend picked me up at the airport in San Francisco and for the first time in a lot of hours I felt safe again. We made our way to Palo Alto, staying with a small group of friends in an Airbnb, the perfect place away from the normal chaos of the shared spaced at the Sheraton where I’ve stayed in the past. We wore comfy clothes and caught up. We went to bed early and, in the morning, left for the conference. It was more than I could handle. A combination of physical fatigue and emotional hyper-stimulation took over and I realized that I couldn’t handle being there. I was at MedicineX for half a day and I spend the rest of my time back in the safe embrace of my friends at the Airbnb.
I’ve only ever attended MedicineX as a caregiver, and now I was a patient. But I was a patient with an invisible illness. As I stumbled past old friends on my way to get a breath of fresh air, I could only force out half a smile, maybe wave my hand, and just keep going. I saw confusion in the eyes of many old friends as I blew past with a laser focus on getting to wherever I needed to be. There were less hallway conversations, fewer hugs. But very few people knew what had happened, what I was experiencing. I wanted to stop and tell them my whole story, to listen to theirs, to reconnect like we do every year in this wonderful place, but it was taking all that I had to just focus on the immediate next step in front of me. I missed the breadth of connection that usually fills my extroverted self with so much joy, but it was replaced with a depth of connection with a simple few that was just what I needed. The best part of the conference this year was the opportunity to deepen relationships with the 5 people I shared a house with.
I laid in bed at night so disappointed in myself. I had made the wrong decision, I thought, to leave the family that I hadn’t even really been an active part of for the past 2 months, to go see my other family, my healthcare tribe. Feeling the drain brought guilt that I would be returning home and working from a void. And the entire time I knew that my brain wasn’t working right. I wasn’t sad, I was feeling sad. I wasn’t tired, I was feeling tired. I wasn’t a disappointment, I was feeling like a disappointment. There wasn’t permanence in any of this.
When I woke up on Sunday morning I was faced with the daunting task of getting on a plane again. I was still recovering from my first flight three days prior, and I wasn’t heading home. They came to my bed to coax me out of it. The drove me to the airport and arranged an escort so that I wouldn’t feel alone. They gave me hugs and laughs promises of reunions sooner rather than later. They gave me their vote of confidence that this new adventure was exactly where I’m supposed to be, and the journey is a part of that. I was on my way to starting a new job, one that I was supposed to start in August prior to getting hit in the head with a baseball. I didn’t know what would happen when I landed in Indianapolis. I didn’t know if I would be able to get to my hotel, or if I would be able to make it to orientation the next morning. I was encouraged to ride the wave, one foot in front of the other, one decision at a time. Get to the hotel. Put on my pajamas. Go to sleep.
I made it to orientation, and when the materials in front of me read, “Ask yourself everyday what you can do to improve the future” I again felt like I was just where I was supposed to be. I have a contribution to make, and I found a receptacle for it. I’m so tired of fighting, of pouring all of my energy, truly my heart and soul, into swimming against the tide. I found my wave and I’m gonna ride it for a while.
Orientation went well. My doctor and I had discussed how only I know how I feel and how it wouldn’t be a switch that turns back on, but rather a retraining of my brain, an exercising of the muscles to regain strength, physically and mentally. I spent a month laying in bed, thinking about my life from 30,000 ft above it. I fell asleep thinking about it and I woke up thinking about it. I got to sit and watch for a while. I got to take a break. The opportunity that is before me is to start exercising my mind again, in a new place and space, with this newfound experience and knowledge, at a slower pace. My new coworkers supported me in my need for breaks on those first three days. I could sit in a conference room and ask questions and take notes. I couldn’t make it out to dinner. I could sit in the common area and engage in conversation about why I said yes to this job, and what I hope to bring. I couldn’t have the same conversation while walking.
I got into an Uber yesterday afternoon on my way to the airport, finally on my way home, realizing that this was, after all, exactly what I needed. On the way to the airport, we drove past a sign for Cincinnati and I was filled with memories of that time not so long ago, of my desire to be there again where it was familiar, and safe, where it was easy and where we were all happy and life was good. What I want more than that right now is to go home, and home is in a different place now, called by a different name.
I feel like I’ve been floating above my life ever since we made the decision to move back in May, and I’m finally about to land. A thousand things have happened between now and then that have made me question our decision, and yet the universe is putting us right where we belong. The new perspective I’ve been afforded in all of this is incredible, and it’s not something that you could have ever asked for. I wouldn’t change any of it. I’m grateful for all that has happened – the pain and the fear and the uncertainty. The kids learned agility and bravery and vulnerability through this. I learned patience and kindness and gratitude. As we began our initial descent, I can’t help but feel like I’m finally landing exactly where I’m supposed to be. I wouldn’t be as tired, or as healed as I am if I hadn’t experienced the challenges of the last 6 weeks and the last 6 days. So I’m raising a glass to you, universe. A glass of sparkling water since booze is still off the table. I’m offering a toast to my team – my family and my friends, near and far, who have stuck with us on this crazy adventure. All the love to you. I want to live a life with greater purpose - the "if it's not a 'Hell Yeah!' it's a 'No'" kind of life. I want to help other people to experience this clarity and joy of living wholeheartedly without having to experience the trauma or tragedy that is often what brings us to it. Today I will get out of bed. I will pour my coffee. I will open my computer. And we will see what life brings next.