Health Update: Thank you to my OSF-Peoria Caregivers

I don’t usually use my blog to post updates about my health, but I thought I would do so this week.  That way there is a more permanent thank you out there in the Internet world for those who helped me begin my recovery journey at OSF-Peoria.

In case folks didn’t know, this past week was Rehabilitation Awareness Week at OSF-Peoria. I received an invitation to attend after being identified as an all-star rehabilitation patient by my therapists.  It was a huge honor for me to receive such a invitation, and I want to say thank you to my adventure partner, John Nathan, for taking me.

Attending meant having an opportunity to thank everyone at OSF-Peoria who helped me during my first two months post health issues. It was a wonderful event too.  Great job to the folks who put it together!  Each day, I’m thankful to be here to have a chance to say thank you.  Some of you might know that I’m working on a book about my experience, but I anticipate it being a bit before I get it to a publishable quality. Still, I do have a draft of the whole book written, and a list of edits to make to it.  Thus, in place of having a book to share with the world in which I have written my thank you to all who were a part of my recovery, I thought I would post some photos from the rehab celebration.

My PT and OT Team. There were many more therapists that I worked with, but these two put up with me the most. ;)

My PT and OT Team. There were many more therapists that I worked with, but these two put up with me the most. 😉

Me and Niko meeting up again after our time in rehab together.

Me and Niko meeting up again after our time in rehab together.

 

Me, Heather, and Niko laughing...probably at something funny Niko said. :)

Me, Heather, and Niko laughing…probably at something funny Niko said. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The contraption that I have hanging around my neck is a remote to my Bioness, which is an electrical stimulation unit that activates my peroneal nerve that is causing my foot drop. I’ve been using it for about two months now, and it has helped me improve in my walking. It was fun to be with folks who were excited that I have it.  Of course, I was instantly SUPER nervous to walk, so didn’t walk without my cane until after everyone left, and then I let John take this video of me.

Thank you, thank you, OSF-Peoria!

Congratulations to the Class of 2015 New Student Affairs Professionals!

The following is the speech I gave at the graduation reception for Western Illinois University’s College Student Personnel program 2015 graduates.  I share it, slightly amended, because I think that it applies to all graduates entering the field of student affairs as new professionals.  Congratulations to everyone!

Hello, parents, family, and friends. My name is Sarah Schoper, and it is wonderful to stand before you here today. I want to start off by thanking you for being who you are because who you are has had a profound impact on the students. I have truly valued getting the opportunity to learn with each of them, and find them to be amazingly, beautiful individuals. I look forward to seeing how they contribute to the world around them, and cheering them on from afar.

(You should be forewarned that my mom told me to be funny so that I wouldn’t cry, and what I’m going to share is my attempt to do that.)

As you may have heard from your student, I decided to take a last minute sabbatical this semester (they probably referred to it as a trip to the hospital). Apparently, I felt the need to do a little more research on the biology of learning, and have indeed discovered that the experiential learning cycle is how learning occurs, that neurons need to connect to build pathways in the brain for learning to happen, and that we take in information through all of our sense that contributes to our learning, amongst other things. I am still in the midst of my research, also known as therapy, but so far, I can assure you and your student that I’m doing everything I can to teach only accurate and true information. It is this most recent research process that I’ve engaged in that has led me to five points, I want to share with the graduates to consider as they continue on in their life’s journey.

1.  Celebrate everything (and if you do so with nonalcoholic mimosas, various owl gifts, inspirational items, orange nails, and motivational quotes) all the better! In our world, it is far too easy to see the gl10968367_10204276114079969_5288278294979119983_nass half empty rather than half full. Don’t underestimate the small steps you take because they add u10562959_10206085533515956_3287090894491426514_np over time to big changes.

2. If you are doing your job well, you will be uncomfortable and feel quite challenged. (no, this doesn’t mean that you should go around instigating issues haphazardly). Going into the field of student affairs means that you get the opportunity to impact every day (no matter your position) the lives of the students you interact with in ways that are life altering. This enormous amount of responsibility and privilege should leave you feeling uncomfortable and challenged for many reasons, including that by doing so you are also continuing to grow and develop. (which, as we learned together in theory class, most of us don’t want to do.) So, breathe deeply, stand tall, and be persistent as you find yourself feeling uneasy, it might just signify that learning is about to happen, which is hard, but also might just provide an amazing opportunity to grow.

3. (and this relates to the point I just made about seeking out uncomfortable experiences and challenging yourself.) Do your best to step back so that you can get a different perspective on the situations you are experiencing. This can mean taking time to quietly reflect while going on a walk and/or it can mean discussing a situation with a trusted friend or mentor in order to help process out your experiences. We discussed once in class how we tend to focus on those who we interact with the most (which are also those who happen to be like us the most), but remember it is important to be aware of those we don’t spend time with and to consider why that might be. Especially since student affairs exists to serve all students.

4. It is okay to be protective of your environment, so that you can be yourself, and perhaps more importantly, so that you can have hope. In almost every class, we’ve discussed the interaction between environment and person, and we’ve established that it has a profound impact on how a person makes sense of the world, which in turn has a profound impact on what they contribute to the world. If you don’t create space for hope to exist within the educational environment, it is far too easy…especially these days, to become negative and cynical, which will then impact the work that you do and the learning that occurs for your students. If you don’t believe me about this, consider times when you’ve been around people who are pessimistic about their experience and how easily their negatively caught on and became the thing to do…almost without conscious realization of it. You will pass along such negativity to those coming to you for help if you do not create space for hope.

5. (and perhaps most important) Show love to everyone around you. I know that you are all capable of doing so, because you have shown it to me (especially this semester as I’ve been doing my research 🙂 ). Doing so, won’t always be easy either (again, sort of like this semester), but it has the ability to transform the world into a kindeunconditional_lover place, and I know this because it has transformed me.

During your program interview days, I remember sitting in the academic discussion, and one of you asking me to share what I’ve learned from the students since I had just finished talking about how learning goes both ways. At the time, I had a lot of thoughts in my head, and stumbled through my answer—the student came to WIU, so I must have done something right.  🙂  Now, that you all are about to graduate, the answer to that questions seems so clear. I’ve continually learned how to love more unconditionally, and for that, I am ever grateful. You’ve helped transform me into a stronger person, and I thank you for that because I’ve needed that strength this semester. One of my mentors, Marcia Baxter Magolda, once told me to never underestimate the students, and I sincerely believe that and encourage you all to hold onto it. All students have something to contribute, and it is amazing and beautiful to acknowledge and an honor to be a part of that.

So, in conclusion, I will leave you with two quotes. First, a Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh quote (seems sort of fitting at a graduate level graduation):

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The second quote is from a spoken word poet, Shane Koyczan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZfhpD42Z4Y  The specific quote I read starts on 4 minutes, 2 seconds.

“Shine in the dark places. Lend the world your light.”

From my heart to your heart, thank you for helping me to find my light this semester—I can only hope that I have returned the favor and helped you to find yours during your time in the program. Congratulations!

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My Left Foot

My left ankle might not ever move again on my command, and I might not be able to spread apart or wiggle my toes.  I have foot drop.

This is a terrifying thought to me for many reasons, as well as a fact that I might need to come to accept.  Yes, I do realize that it hasn’t even been a full four months (it will be on May 6), since my life exploded (a PE, two seizures, two strokes, and cardiac arrest for an hour) in January.  And, I do know that some people get movement back a year later, and some times even two years later.  So, please don’t hear that I am giving up hope because I am not.

I have hope. hope

But, I also want to not have my expectations up too high because stroke depression is real and I don’t want to slide into it.  After all, strokes are the leading cause of long term disabilities in the United States.

I am working hard every day to accept what has happened to me, and appreciate that I am still here and still have a lot going for me.  This all means that I have a tug-of-war post-copygoing on inside of me and it is not easy.  Part of me is focused on having hope, and part of me is working on accepting what has happened to me.  I’ve been encouraged to just focus on having hope, and I try.  It is just that it is much easier for someone to say that to me than for me to do.

I struggle daily with questions such as:

It has been almost four months, why am I not back to normal? 

All of the rest of my leg has woken up, so why is my foot so insistent on sleeping?

What else haven’t we tried that we can try to get it going?

Did it just move, or did I imagine it?

There are several ways that I work through my tug-of-war:

1. I am quite protective of who I surround myself with because I need to keep having hope.  I can’t spend time being around thoughts and feelings that are negative because it is too easy for me to see my situation as negative.  It isn’t that I don’t share with those who are near me how I am feeling, which is often that I am sad, but I know that I need others to respond positively (which often means just being with me) even if I am crying.

2. I try hard to keep moving.  My older sister said to me when I first woke up in the hospital, that the best thing I could do for my recovery is to keep moving.  I am not sure I fully understood what that meant until recently, and I hear her voice in my head each time I want to just be lazy and do nothing.  I’ve also recently been exploring yoga for foot drop, although I’m terrible at it–still, I am determined.

3. I journal about my feelings related to my left leg.  I have never really spent time journaling about one specific part of my physical body before, but it makes sense for me to do so now.  Yes, my left foot and my need to wear an AFO (ankle and foot orthotic) means that I can’t be outside like I used to, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t go outside. I try to become fascinated by my leg, and notice if it shakes and consider why that might be (am I nervous, etc).  I want my left leg to remember that it is a part of my body, and needs to listen to my brain again.

4. I process through in my mind how much privilege I had when I didn’t have to think about walking, and the fact that I might be able to make a full recovery is in itself another privilege.  I still have many things going for me even if I have a physical disability the rest of my life, so I will be okay if this is “as good as it gets”.

5. I can make a cane look cool…so, who cares if I have to use it the rest of my life.  It helps remind me to stand taller, which is good for my posture.

Still…I really want my left foot to wake up.  064151-high-resolution-dark-blue-denim-jeans-icon-people-things-foot-left-ps

Seven Lessons I’ve Learned From My Strokes

2015 has been quite the year to say the least.  Lately, I’ve been reflecting on various ways in which I’ve begun to establish a “new normal” for myself.  The following are 7 of those ways:

1. Thank goodness for long arms.  3417c9e4d91ec9173f180293fc781b59They’ve helped me be a state rated basketball player for blocked shots in high school, and make the all-conference team, and they’ve annoyed me when I’ve gone clothes shopping.  But mostly these days, I’m ever grateful for their ability to reach…especially when taking a shower.  I currently get the opportunity to take a shower in a shower chair, which means an extendable shower sprayer had to be installed too.  Ideally, before I take a shower either I or my husband remember to take down the sprayer and set it in the tub, but there has been occasions in which it has been forgotten.  During these situations, I used my arms to get it down without having to stand up, so that I don’t fall over (falling would pretty much be the worst thing that I could do).  My arms have also helped me greatly in putting on my afo, getting dressed, and in completing other tasks that require a long reach.

 

2. The quad cane has multiple uses.  This realization really should have been something that occurred to me after watching the Pixar movie Up for the first time.  29-1But, the many uses of it are coming into full effect now that I have one and use it.  I’ve used it to reach for puzzle pieces accidentally dropped on the floor.  I’ve turned it around to use the hook end to grab my MDH rehab bag.  I’ve used it to open and close various curtains in my house.  One day I will hopefully no longer need the quad cane for walking, but I might just keep it around for its other functions.

 

3. There are added benefits to living in the South.  I returned home at the end of February, and for the first few weeks there seemed to be a direct causation between my need to go to therapy and bad weather.  Unfortunately, this put a kink in my opportunity to take walks outside.  It has since turned to spring 🙂 , and I enjoy walking around the neighborhood.  But, I did notice how envious I was of my friends living in warmer climates during the end of February and most of the month of March.  Of course, I think I would feel different if it was July/August that I was talking about…I’d probably be complaining about the heat.  I fully support all of us getting the month of February off to move to a warmer climate to heal in various ways.

 

4. Fast does not exist.  M.C. Hammer declared Hammer time, and there now exists Sarah time.  It isn’t a matter of me waking up early enough, or not trying.  It is simply that I cannot move fast.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ridiculously slow, but I take a more relaxed pace these days. slow-300x185

 

5. It is sometimes better to not have answers.  When you don’t know why something occurred, you have more time to do things like notice each day how much the spring flowers have grown, the trees have bud, and you appreciate the birds chirping.  When you know the answers to things you often have a responsibility to use those answers to inform your experience in the world, and it can cause you to not notice many things.

 

6. Living takes courage.  courage-1Prior to all of my health concerns, I don’t think I was fully aware of how much courage it took for me to live my every day life.  I certainly realize it now, and more fully appreciate the people who are giving me opportunities to live.  Yes, I look different when I’m walking, but in order for me to get better, I need to be given chances to do what I used to be able to do.  Asking for those opportunities and then taking advantage of them takes all of the courage I have left.  I get that providing me such opportunities might make some people feel uncomfortable for whatever reason, but honestly I can’t help but feel so strongly that those folks need to work on getting over it.  Those issues aren’t mine, they are the other persons and to truly be accepting of others we need to be aware of what is our stuff and what is their stuff and what they are doing to our interactions/relationships.  After all, we are in this world together.

 

7. Learning is painful.  I had a student once who coined the phrase “if you aren’t crying, you aren’t learning”.  I don’t know that crying is necessary, but pain is most certainly necessary.  Both here in Macomb and when I was in Peoria, if I shared with any of my therapists that I was feeling physical pain of any sort, their response was often “Good! Pain is the first feeling to come back, so hopefully it means it is waking up.”  This, of course, was not the response I was aiming for, yet I did notice the pattern associated with pain and physical ability improvement.