Last Week I Went to a Mosque

Thursday morning I was invited to attend a gathering at a local mosque between 5-530 p.m. in Macomb, IL. The purpose of the gathering was to show our Muslim friends that we are here for them and love having them in our community. I was all in after receiving the invitation.

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I’m standing in the back row on the left. 

I headed there after Physical Therapy, and anticipated it being a quick in and out type deal. I  should have known better.  After all, Dr. Sodiq (my World Religion professor at TCU) and every single Muslim I’ve met since have been nothing but kind. Still, I was nervous…I was attending by myself and TBI survivors don’t really like social situations, and I am already introverted. I’m more the “sneak in and out without being noticed to leave a card” kind of person. Still, this mattered to me, so I went.

I thought my plan of leaving a card might not work out, after all how in the world would I sneak in quietly?  (Please picture in your mind 6′ tall me, with my backpack, cane, and foot drop trying to tip toe). Upon entering the mosque I learned that I was catching the tail end of the event. Here is when I began to feel ever grateful for my decision to go in.

If you are unaware, it is proper manners to remove your shoes when entering the worship area. So, there were shoes snuggly set aside in the entry way. As soon as I entered, I was greeted and welcomed to go on in. I did my best to mumble through my concerns about how I couldn’t take off my shoes (foot drop on soft carpet is not a recipe for being able to walk). Once I explained it, I was told that I could just go in and that it wasn’t a problem. So, I did my best to take some steps into the room.  I made it about 6 feet into the room, and stood looking around to take it all in. There were all sorts of people visiting and sharing food. It was beautiful.

I was then approached by a young man (young means younger than me) and asked if I wanted some tea. I replied that it would be wonderful, and was quickly poured a cup. Next, I was approached my another young man asking if I wanted to sit down. I replied that a chair would be great, and he proceeded to ask folks to move so that there was space. I can’t tell you how nice it was to have someone I don’t know do that for me. I was in sensory overload at that point, and am not sure that I would have tried to sit down without his help.

Then I was asked if I wanted a plate of food. Seriously, who says no to that! The plate of food I was brought was almost all sweets, which are my weakness…so, in other words perfect!.  Suddenly another person came and sat down to my right. If any of you follow my left neglect stories you know that I struggle looking left, so it felt like a relief when I could look right and be talking to someone. I then proceeded to spend the rest of the evening talking to him. I learned that: he is from Libya (“one of the seven” is how he phrased it…can you imagine becoming comfortable saying that about your home country?); he is in graduate school at WIU; he has not been home in three years; he misses home; and that he agrees with me that we are all here to do good and that the commonality amongst all religions is love. He also helped me to stand up twice (again, thick carpet after PT is not helpful), helped me to find a spot in the group photo taken, and asked me if I wanted an English copy of the Quaraan (Side note: I did.)

I am sharing all of this because the day leading up to my visit was not a great day, so spending time getting to know someone was exactly what I needed to do.  My heart was replenished.

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Signs the children made for the Islamic Center. 

Yes, yes, I encourage us all to learn from those that are different. Yes, you can read information about difference, but there is nothing quite like sitting down and having a conversation with a person. I was not scared.  It was not scary.  The room was full of love. I wish this kind of heart-filling love upon all of us.

Today is my Happy New Year!

Today is the two year anniversary of what I’ve dubbed “my life explosion“. Some might think it is odd that I acknowledge this date, and even sometimes refer to it as my new birthday.

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My life on  January 6, 2015

For me, however, I’d rather put it out there than keep my acknowledgement of it inside. So, here I am, two years later still working on recovery…a process that is measured in years and not months or days like some other illnesses.

 

“The actual length of the rehabilitation process varies according to the person and to the severity of their injury. Some people may only require a few weeks or months of rehabilitation, and others may require years or even lifelong rehabilitation.”

(http://www.brainline.org/landing_pages/categories/rehabilitation.html)

 

I can see my growth over the past year. I am much stronger, and can therefore walk a bit better and last longer before hitting complete exhaustion (and my goodness the exhaustion).  I am better able to complete higher order executive functioning skills. And, I continue to challenge myself so that my neurons build complex pathways.

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Me=Snoopy

I also recognize the accomplishments I’ve achieved. For example, several times over the past year my Physical Therapist has strapped me into a harness over a treadmill. Each time my goal was to get to 3.5 in my speed (the lowest speed that is considered running), and the past few times I’ve done it I have reach my goal….albeit, the longest I can last at that speed is 5 minutes, but still, I was running.

I have hit my goal of 4,000 steps a day for almost all of this current school year (I take one day a week off…see exhaustion note above). It has helped to have a furry friend to enjoy going on walks with, and he goes at whatever speed I go, so it works out well. I’ve fallen several times on my walks, but let’s be real…I’ve always been clumsy. The best part is that Optimus is right there looking at me when I do without judgement.

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My furry friend, Optimus Prime.

Somehow I’ve managed to travel and present at conferences, as well as attend and participate in a wedding, and I say somehow because there is a ridiculous amount of sensory input in airports and conference centers. Even hotel carpeting…seriously, what is up with hotel carpeting? Does it really need to be (often) bright geometric patterned?  These are important questions, people, so please pay attention…it is dizzying. Not one of these adventures would have been possible without my co-presenters and my a0aab073555e4c72cd69f8d1e00ec450bdventure partner.

I often spot others with walking challenges wherever I go. Yes, these folks were probably around me before my life explosion, but I truly see them.

I also recognize the hypocrisy of a call for social justice that continually stays silent about the issue of disability.  If 19% of the population reports having a disability perhaps we can find a way to talk about it more?

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I really hope that you saw this and were not okay with it no matter your vote.

I  wrote a book. I’m not sure if it is any good, and I’m still working on editing it. I often remind myself that it took Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor 10 years for her to share her story. Perhaps I am emulating her in some sort of way.  What I do know is that I needed to get my life explosion out of me as a method of grieving (also a reason I talk a lot about Optimus).

There has been a lot that I’ve lost, and I am sad about it. It is okay to be sad.

Still, I want to use my story to encourage/help others, and so I’ve shared bits of it at community wide events, a classroom of speech therapists in training, and a monthly support group for caregivers of stroke survivors. I hope that by sharing it I’ve helped others in some way as all of these groups of people have helped me.

Goal for 2017: Do much of the same as this past year, except add looking at my experiences with more gratitude.  I spent a lot of time over the past year thinking “I woke back up for this?! Why?”

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My Macomb Family (Me, Optimus, John, Anas, and Amjad)

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with two students from Syria, and couldn’t help but think about how amazing it is that we were eating good food, playing games, and enjoying each other’s company. Who would have thought I would be sitting around a table two years later enjoying time with two people from Syria in Macomb, Illinois?

 

This world we live in often looks like this:       scribbles

when we want it to look like this:       straight_line

Perhaps if it did we would miss out on discovering all of the:       main-thumb-t-1800-200-lon8kkfhqfctckdt2gwalfgnc0jejhmv

that exists where the lines cross.

Happy 2017 Everyone!

Another School Year Started

I took a break from personally blogging this summer, and need to get back into the swing of doing it at least once a month. For these reasons, I thought I would post about my summer and the beginning of the school year.

For starters, the first week of the new school year is over.  Woo hoo, 🙂 I did it!  I will say that I notice my energy went up over the summer, which is exciting.  Still, I am quite exhausted in the evenings and have spent a good bit of time sleeping this weekend.

I am still going to physical therapy at the local hospital to work on my continued recovery.  Yes, this means that I’m continuing to also improve physically too.  I do still have foot drop, but I have become much stronger, the spasticity has decreased, and I can walk faster.  One of my goals is to be able to run, and I am happy to say that I got to a speed of 3.5 on the treadmill (which is the lowest speed for running), and I can do that for just over 3 minutes.  Yes, to do this I wear a harness that is attached to the ceiling in case I fall, but I can still do it!

This summer I worked again on the book I’m writing about my January 2015 life explosion (as I now call it). I finished another draft of it in early August, and am having someone edit it for me now. I actually think it isn’t too bad, and might possibly be something folks want to read. I’ve kept it focused on the patient perspective of everything I’ve been through. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it is worthwhile.

Third, I did get to go to my favorite place, Lake Vermilion, MN, this summer for two weeks. This year I had a chance to spend time with family, and I swam in the lake. I tried out a pool later in the summer too. FYI, swimming is very hard, but also very enjoyable. A special moment was when my niece taught me to do all of the swimming moves she learned from her swim instructor when I told her that I was afraid to swim. Like a good student, I listened to her instructions.

I also taught a summer course, which was quite enjoyable, and I prepared for my fall semester courses.  Now that I have a better understanding of my disabilities, I was able to be more strategic in my planning.  All of this is to say that I feel as though I’m both improving and adjusting…hopefully the first year back was the hardest for this “new” body I inhabit.

It was great to see the students both in classes this week, as well as those in the Western 1st Generation Society (W1Gs) group.  I am very excited to say that all of the students in the group came back to WIU this fall, and are prepared for the Activities Fair next week.  I anticipate it will be a great year thanks to all of them too!

Finally, no great year would be complete without a new dog.  He is a 5 year old PomChi mix that we adopted from the McDonough County Animal Shelter.  I know that not everyone is a dog person, but it is pretty awesome to have something SO EXCITED to great me each time I come home.  Dogs are the best! 🙂

Optimus Prime our 5 year old ChiPom mix.

Optimus Prime our 5 year old ChiPom mix.

Is Illinois’s Higher Education Funding the State’s Massive Resistance?

A few weeks back, I was listening to a radio show about the upcoming presidential election that will occur this November. Please know that I typically limit my intake of political advertising because it is overwhelming and designed purposefully to have you think a certain way.  However, the radio was on, and the show came on, so I listened.

The hosts on the radio show were going to go to various places around the country to explore if where you live impacts what you want from your government.  They call their show “The View from Here”.  Unsurprisingly, although perhaps it is a surprise for those that do not live in Illinois, the most representative place in the United States based on race, income, religion, etc. is Peoria, Illinois.  So, this is where the hosts decided to start their show.  And, it is for this same reason of representation that I believe those who work in higher education throughout the United States should pay attention to what is going on within the state of Illinois.  It is bound to come your way soon too.  After all, our world is interconnected.

What is the “it” that I am talking about?

It is not the high taxes.

It is not the dismantling of unions.

It is not the strategic movement of money from the public to the private sector.

I have two thoughts about what the “it” is:

First, it is the inability to compromise between two polarized points of view.  For example, not wanting to raise taxes, and keeping pension plans the same.  You might ask, what is being learned from this dichotomy?   To me, it is that if one has enough means one does not need to compromise, but rather should dig in their heels until they get what they want.  A point to consider is that in this battle, no matter who wins, the winner will be of a class that most of us do not have access too.

Second, higher education will become what public k-12 education was in Prince Edward County during the Civil Rights era.  If you are unfamiliar with Barbara Johns and the walk out that she led, you should become familiar.  A quick overview: In

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Photo credit: Joan Johns Crobbs

1956 the state of Virginia moved to block itself from having to desegregate their school in accordance with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education.  The move was coined the Massive Resistance. For five years, because Prince Edward County did not want to desegregate, they closed the public schools.  This, as one might imagine, led to only those who could afford private education to be able to attend school.  In other words, and at the time, the White students.  The hope was that other counties in Virginia and other states would view Prince Edward as an example and follow suit. A fairly long, but quite engaging series of events occurred, which prevented the Prince Edward County example taking root in other places. To this day, Prince Edward County is healing both economically and in terms of community relations.

So, how is it that I see this connected to the current issues within the state of Illinois?  If Illinois is not careful, it will rid itself of public education, which will leave private education to only those that can afford it. 

Yes, one might say, but they would never rid themselves of the University of Illinois, it is an elite institution.  Yes and at many elite public institutions the questions of going private has surfaced for many reasons.  Here is another article on the difference between public and private institutions.

Now, keeping this in mind, and switch out the idea of race from the Virginia Massive Resistance, and replace it with the idea of class (albeit there is overlap between the two identities), thus is born Illinois’s version of the Massive Resistance.  You might be thinking, what is it that is being resisted?  And that is a fair question. My response is connected to point number one above.

No compromise is being found because the two polarized points of view are actually connected.  Each side is resisting the other so that everything stays exactly the same, which is a Virginia a la 1954 kind of move Illinois-style.  No budget is passed in Illinois, Prince Edward County did not have to desegregate…no matter the method, the price is great for all of us when we abandon education and there will be ramifications for years to come.

Foot Drop or Drop Foot

It does not matter which way you phrase it, as both are used in the medical community.  If you desire to learn more about the medical reasons for this condition, click here, as this post will not be one in which the condition sounds distant and easily solvable because I have foot drop.

I’ve spent time thinking about foot drop lately, although I’m not quite sure I can explain fully why. Perhaps it is due to the spring weather that is causing me to want to be outdoors, or perhaps it is due to the fact that last spring I was thinking about foot drop too.  I am a believer in such energy connections existing in the world. No matter the reason, it has been on my mind, and the following are some descriptions as to what my experience is like:

Spring is here!

Spring is here!

First, my left foot is freezing most of the time, however, this does not mean that it has no pulse.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  The blood is moving around great!  🙂 Unfortunately, while my brain is doing a good job working with the rest of my body to maintain a regular temperature, my left foot has gone rogue…and from time to time is so painful that I think it is trying to secede from the union of my body.  When it is not freezing, it is sometimes a lovely burning feeling, that can be so painful that I have to remove my shoe or brace right away to cool it down. In between these two temperatures are phases of it feeling as though it is one giant bruise, as if I’m getting a blister, or it has no feeling at all. I prefer the last option, if I have to choose.

Second, I can’t feel much of my leg from the left knee down…I only know that it feels heavier than my right leg.  I can also feel pressure, and the tips of my toes have gained a great suction ability of some sort to hold my leg in place if necessary (usually at night when I’m walking on our wood floor with socks on).  One might think this is a neat super power, but I assure you it is not and often leads to feeling the kind of pain that could be relieved if I could spread my toes, but I cannot…so that stinks.

Evidence of my high school coolness

Evidence of my high school coolness

Third, spastic is not just a term I used in the early 1990s when I was a teenager and was trying to describe how someone was acting. (I know, I was cool.  🙂 ) It is a term that describes my leg when it is refusing to do what I want it to do.  In these moments, it pouts by going rigid with my foot wanting to roll inward even with a shoe on my foot.  If I am standing, which is usually the case (because I’m often turning too quickly, I’m tired, or I’m walking down an incline without thinking about it) when this happens, you can imagine how challenging it is, and I have to stop walking.   The only way I’ve found to resolve this issue is to consciously tell my leg to calm down (I use a stern tone, and give it a good side-eyed glare).  If that doesn’t work, I bend over to apply pressure to my ankle area.  The upside is that there is no feeling other than stiffness when this happens…it just doesn’t look “pretty”.

Fourth, when I wake up in the morning, it often feels as though my left leg is hatching from an egg.  As if I’ve been curled up all night with my leg tucked in tightly (which, I assure you, has not occurred) and moving it is a new experience that is both refreshing, and irritating at the same time.  Another way to describe it is that it feels twisted, as though it is the leg of a table, and needs one more turn around before it evens out the table top.

I use a quad cane.

I recommend the quad cane.

Fifth, I consciously think about walking with almost every step that I take, as well as the weight distribution of my entire body.  Yes, I am grateful that I am able to walk, and I know that I’ve improved a lot..however, in my mind, I look as though I’m impersonating a toddler learning how to walk, and get tired from having to think about lifting my leg, shifting my weight around, as well as assessing where each chair, table, and other people are walking, so that I can stay clear and/or have something safe to hold onto if necessary.  (This is where the cane comes into play, as most folks stay clear of it.)

2016 Orange is the New Purple

One year ago today, I drove myself to McDonough District Hospital in Macomb, Illinois, because I was struggling to breathe.  Little did I know I would return home 46 days later after experiencing a pulmonary embolism, two seizures, two strokes, and cardiac arrest for 56 minutes within a two day period. I still find myself stunned that I’m alive. To say I had a challenging year would be an understatement. As the year went on, I admit that my mind was increasingly full of questions regarding why I “woke up” (which is how I phrase it) and I felt that I was deeply learning about faith and trust.

hope-sunSo, when the 2016 began this past week, I couldn’t help but think that this year had to be different.  My approach was to begin doing again the behaviors that helped me to successfully make it through 2015:

journaling, making to do lists, breaking big jobs up into smaller projects

One item I knew that I needed to add to my list was to look for messages of hope being sent my way.  Yes, such messages were probably always there, but I had lost track of seeing them by the end of 2015 (when you have to remember to breathe at the same time that you bend your leg during physical therapy, it can be easy to forget to look for hope).  This year, I not only wanted to see hope, but I wUO TCU Alamo Bowl 1_1451686431133_20735_ver1.0anted to acknowledge the messages of hope even if it meant talking out loud to myself so that I would hear the reminder.  One message of hope, came my way on January 2, 2016, when my undergraduate alma mater, TCU, played in the Alamo Bowl.

During their record setting comeback, I couldn’t help but notice connections to my story over the past year, all pointing in the direction of continuing to persist in the face of a situation in which many would have already given up.

I see you hope.

For example, coach Gary Patterson attributed his change in wardrobe to assisting the horned frogs in their victory over the ducks.  The ironic part is that the shirt he changed into was a purple shirt.  Purple, which is one of the two colors of Western Illinois University where I currently work. Purple, is the color faculty, staff, and students are encourage to wear on Fridays.  One might think that 2013-banner-thinkpurplepurple is my favorite color, but it is not.

For numerous reason, orange is my favorite color (hang in there…I promise there is a connection), and last spring when I was at OSF-Peoria my younger sister asked if she could be my social media PR manager (arguably this is a part of what she does for a living, so it was good professional experience and I could not do it).  Little did I know, she would start a social media frenzy almost all of which related to the color orange.

 #orangenailsforsarah on Facebook

#orangenailsforsarah on Facebook

Videos were created for me. One video was created for me by some former students, and several from various country music artists (for example, Brett Eldridge and Montgomery Gentry).

#orangenailsforsarah on Facebook

#orangenailsforsarah on Facebook

This resulted in me thinking that everyone on Facebook was wearing orange just for me.  (Yes, I am now aware that it was due to my news feed being comprised of my friends and family…please see above life explosion as to why I might have been a bit slow to realize it. 🙂 )  Regardless, having orange all around me worked, and I dug deep to find my motivation to believe that I could walk again.

I could not stand without the help of this machine.

I could not stand without the help of this machine. It is hard to see, but please note that I have on an orange top and purple bottoms.

It even resulted in:

#DQstyle

So, there was Gary Patterson on January 2, 2016, reminding me that all my friends and family were still wearing orange for me.

I see you hope.

And then there was Bram Kohlhausen (TCU’s back up quarterback) and his family. Not sure how many folks saw Dash Kohlhausen’s tweet “Special thanks to the #oregonducks fan who sold me his sideline pass and made moment possible @WinTheDay”.  I am not sure who @WinTheDay is, but I couldn’t help but see the connection between@WinTheDay and #winthisday, which is a hashtag and motto that the family of another patient, Niko, created as a motto for his recovery.  Niko, a 16-year old high school football player, happened to have a brain aneurysm and be in Peoria at the same time as me. (He also happened to at the time like the Oregon ducks…I’m trying to recruit him to WIU.)

I see you hope.

And then there is the story of the triple overtime, which resonates with the theme of persistence rising out of Bram Kohlhausen’s own story of playing college football.  Messages of horned frogs not ever giving up, and believing the impossible were suddenly all over my news feed.  This time the message was quite clear:

AND 

#hornedfrogstylewhich is exactly my plan for 2016!

 

T.J. the barred owl

If you’ve checked out my Facebook page the past two summers, you might have noticed a few posts identifying someone/thing named T.J. T.J. has been an unexpected surprise. T.J. is who I dedicated this blog entry to, as it is my last entry for the summer. I will start only posting every other week from here on out throughout the school year (oh yes, it is that time of year again!).

My partner and I moved into our house two springs ago. It is an old, funky house that we are enjoying fixing up. Included is a yard, which at move-in time had several more trees in it than it has now. (I am quite grateful for an uncle and mom who don’t mind helping out a couple of new homeowner’s take down dead trees.)

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What the yard looked like when we purchased the house

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What the yard looks like now…or rather in April of this year

Last summer, prior to most of the tree removal, I was sitting outside one summer’s evening talking to a friend on the phone. It was closer to the dark part of dusk, but warm enough to sit comfortably outside. As I was sitting there, I happened to notice a large bird fly, and land, on the for sale sign across the street from where I was sitting. I said to my friend,

“I think that I there is an owl staring at me.”

Instinctively, I ducked down a bit (the neighbor’s yard was about 25 feet away, but it felt as though it was closer to five), but kept on talking. About 20 minutes later, I suddenly saw a huge bird fly within five feet of me (this time, I’m not exaggerating–I swear!) and land in one of the two dead trees that is no longer in our yard. I abruptly ended my phone conversation, and crouching down, quickly went inside my house where I proceeded to look for the owl out the window.

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The owl from the window…sorry it isn’t so clear

After a few minutes, the owl took off in flight again, which I would soon learn was just a quick trip to the top of our house. At that point, the owl started hooting. If you have never heard an owl hoot, they are much louder than you might think. This is a barred owl hooting:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Id2A8yC_JJY

Naturally, in my frightened stage I decided to google “owls attacking humans”, which I DO NOT recommend. Yes, this does mean that there have been reports of owls attacking humans (mostly in the Northwest from what I saw, and mostly due to humans running in the dark), which results in a series of rabies shots.

No. Thank. You.

So, I called out to my partner and told him that we were not going outside as long as the owl was there. I was anxious with my tone and frantic in my eyes while expressing this thought to him. His response, from the couch:

“Okay.”

I asked him if he had seen the owl, and if he had heard it hooting. His response:

“No.”

Disappointed that he wasn’t as riled up about the owl as I was, I retreated to the other room where my computer was, and proceeded to update my Facebook status with the owl citing news (I posted the above photo I took out the window). It was at this point, that I started to realize if I refuse to go outside for fear of the owl, I would never get to enjoy another comfortable summer night on the patio. So, I decided to do the only wise thing a person with a doctorate in Counseling and Personnel Services would do…I used my counseling skills to name my fear! 🙂 And, that is how the barred owl living just outside our front door acquired the name T.J. (please don’t ask what T.J. stands for…I’m not really sure. The name just came to me as a good name for an owl).

T.J.

Update to this summer: T.J. is back, but this time there are three T.J.’s, and I certain that their home is in the grove of trees across the street in the neighbor’s yard. I have not heard much hooting, but instead have heard hissing. Yep, that is right, owl’s hiss. This is what a barred owl hissing sounds like:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHnU1fdLi_s

I’ve also gone one step further this year in applying my counseling skills. Not only do I still refer to the owl, well really all three of them, as T.J., but I’ve taken to watching them and talking to them using T.J.’s name (this way they learn it). Mostly, I just ask how things are going, and thank them for watching over everything.

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T.J., T.J., and T.J.

I will say that I am not alone in spotting the owl this year. I’ve seen many a neighbor note and point to the owls. Once I even had a couple stop me while I was sweeping, and ask me if I was aware of a “big bird” flying around. I kindly responded that I was, and that there were three barred owls that lived here (I really wanted to tell them that the owls names were T.J., but I resisted 🙂 ).