Tag Archives: challenge

You will never lose your value

27 Feb

It happens to the best of us. That little nagging voice in the back of your head that whispers “you’ll never amount to anything,” “you’re such a failure,” “who would ever love you,” “just give up already, you weren’t meant to reach your dreams.”

That voice that sounds like my voice, but isn’t. That voice which remembers every failure and every mistake and every disappointment and lives to remind you of those times over and over and over again.

Most of the time I have no trouble tuning that awful voice out. I know what it’s telling me isn’t true. I know my life has a greater purpose that I haven’t discovered yet. I know I’m not worthless, but sometimes when my world starts shaking and it feels like my foundation is crumbling, I sometimes forget.

I find myself comparing my “lack of accomplishments” to the apparent abounding success of others, especial those with whom I am on less than friendly terms with. I find myself asking why it comes so easy to these individuals, why was it handed to them when I’ve been working long and hard with no results, what makes them better than me?

It was on one such occasion this afternoon when I stumbled upon the following story on the blog Catalyst Quotes.

“A speaker began a seminar, pulling a crisp, new bill from his pocket, and asked, ‘Who would like this $20 bill?’

Hands started going up.  He said, ‘I’m going to give this $20 bill to one of you, but first let me do this.’  He proceeded to crumple up the bill.  He then asked, ‘Who still wants it?’  Still the hands were up in the air.

‘Well,’ he replied, ‘what if I do this?’  He dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor, so now the bill was not only crumpled, but also dirty.  ‘Now who still wants it?’  Still the hands went into the air.

‘My friends, you have all learned a valuable lesson.  No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value.  It was still worth $20.  Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way.  We feel as though we are worthless.  But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value in the eyes of those who love you.  You are special – don’t ever forget it.’”  ( Anonymous)

And that led me on the hunt for other uplifting reminders.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.Proverbs 3:5-6

Yes, I am not perfect. There are times I will make mistakes or fail or just not be within reach of my dream. I don’t know what God has planned for my tomorrows yet, but I’m working on trusting him and his timing. I am a unique, special and loved individual. There’s only one me in the entire world, and I’m striving everyday to be the best version of her I can. Sometimes it’s a struggle not to give in to the taunting of the voice who would have me believe otherwise, but in a way I’m glad it’s there pushing me to better myself and prove it wrong. Anyone who knows me knows I love a challenge and the chance to prove someone wrong, even if it is just that nasty self-doubting voice in my head.

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Wordless Wednesday – 1/15/14

15 Jan

Thanks for the reminder!

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“What the frak does a number mean?”

11 Jan

For the last couple of days I’ve been having these low self esteem days. I look in the mirror and see this ginormous person staring back at me and I start to wonder how anyone would like her let alone love her. And to make matters worse, this morning I thought it would be a good idea to weigh myself. Needless to say, it wasn’t what I was expecting to see. It’s lower than my worst, but higher than I’d estimated. If I’m being honest with myself, I was devastated.

Today I tried doing things that I enjoy to take my mind of it – listening to Disney’s Frozen soundtrack, watching a few episodes of Boy Meets World, even doing an intense cardio workout (20 minute Biggest Loser workout from the ‘At Home Challenge’ DVD and a 3 mile at home walk with Leslie Sansone), but none of that really knocked me out of my funk.

Insert one of the best and most supportive friends I have! She helped me see things clearly again. Our conversation went something like this:

Her: “Do you eat healthy things, as in, you don’t gorge yourself and you eat fruits and veggies? And try not to go crazy on sugar?”

Me: “Yeah. I track everything I eat in the Myfitnessapp.”

Her: “Do you exercise, and enjoy it, in hopes of bringing your body to a better place?”

Me: “I really do.”

Her: “Do you have family, friends, and an amazing boyfriend who loves you?”

Me: “Yes.” 🙂

Her: “Then what the frak does a number mean?”

Me: “I don’t honestly know.”

Her: “Nothing, that’s what. It is more important that I feel good, and eat things I enjoy in moderation (unless they are healthy). So take a deep breath, remember that water fluctuations bump your weight +/- 2 pounds a day, and know that its more important that the shell is healthy than the actual size. Yeah, I know you know all this… but I think you could use a reminder.”

And it was at this point in the conversation when I mentioned how I felt when looking in the mirror. Her kind words overwhelmed me.

Her: “Nononononono. So, so wrong! “Ginormous” is not a word I would use to describe you. I would call it… “curvy, for better hugs”! So take it back a piece at a time — Look at that swooshy grown-up haircut! Check out the stylish, intelligent glasses! Be blinded by the million-watt smile! Have pride in giving the best hugs, because you love people just that much (and there aren’t any pointy elbows in the way, lol)! Basically…. how can anyone with a functioning brain NOT love a person who has so much love and so many smiles to give? So, just know that I think you’re awesome, and I think that other people think that too.”

Everyone needs someone like her in their corner for the hard days. And she’s right. Ginormous, defined as ‘extremely large’, is not me at all — not really, I’m more curvy like she said, always have been, but with a little more work, hopefully won’t always be.

I have a goal to run/walk the runDisney Wine and Dine Half Marathon this November and I know I have a long way to go for my training. But I’m discovering that training and weight loss aren’t 100% physical effort, a good portion is mental — believing you can do it, picturing that place you are striving to get to, knowing without a doubt that nothing will stand in your way. This is where I believe I struggle the most and at times I wonder if this lack of self belief will be harder to change than my physical appearance.

We all go through our ups and downs along this journey and I truly believe that we can learn from others struggles, that’s why I’m sharing this with you tonight. While this may be my personal journey to self discovery and better health, but I will never survive without my support system — my family, my friends and you, my blog family. We are all in this together.

I’ll end this tonight on an up note by sharing a song that has seen me through previous hard days and continues to offer the support I need when things get hard. I love the chorus — it reminds me that these hard days don’t define me and they won’t stop me.

You’re an overcomer
Stay in the fight ‘til the final round
You’re not going under
‘Cause God is holding you right now
You might be down for a moment
Feeling like it’s hopeless
That’s when He reminds You
That you’re an overcomer
You’re an overcomer

Teachers – changing the world one student at a time

4 Oct

I have had many teachers in my lifetime, and many more to come should I ever decide to attend grad school in the future. It’s amazing how some of the most bizarre details of these individuals, the people we spent five days a week for seven or so hours a day, listening to and observing as if they were on display at the local zoo, stick out to us years after we were their students.

Some of my earliest memories of my teachers are details of how they looked. Take my first through third grade science teacher, Mrs. Bloor, for example. She had white-blonde curly old lady hair (you know, like a grandma!), she would draw on her eyebrows and had the kindest smile. I found my old yearbook to double check this and lo and behold, I remembered her perfectly!
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And then there are the odds and ends I remember about the music teacher from the same grades, Mrs. Miles. She had two, big, black poodles she loved talking about! my family and I also would bike past her house when the weather was nice, so I saw them in person a few times, too. I loved her class because she introduced us to music from around the world. One of my favorite memories is that of her dancing around the room holding a rain stick while tribal music played on the speakers. She was teaching the class a chant or something, but that part is hazy. I’ve always had a love of music and I think her class taught me at a very young age to appreciate and enjoy all kinds of music.
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There are two teachers from this school I have seen periodically over the years, who surprisingly remember me. Most recently I saw my kindergarten teacher, Miss Cobbs (she has gotten married and changed her name since I was her student all those years ago), at the first high school football game of this season. I moved school districts when I was going into the fourth grade and for the opening game this year, the school I graduated from was playing the school district I use to attend and she was at the game. I could tell you it’s a small world running into her, but my mom is a teacher in this district as well and they keep in touch at district wide meetings and whatnot. I would also like to point out that I’m as tall as she is, not that that’s saying much as I stand a barely respectable five feet, four inches tall. She also couldn’t believe I was 25, honestly, where has the time gone?!

The other elementary teacher I have seen from time to time over the years was my reading teacher, Mrs. Searfoss. If my mother hadn’t ingrained a love of reading in me from such a young age, I feel I still would have developed it in her class. I can remember reading and writing poems, short stories and her bubbly, infectious laughter. When I moved schools, she mailed me a letter and a book. I came across them just a few months ago tucked neatly away in a box hidden in the back of my closet, which means that at this moment when I’d like to take a photo of them, they are nowhere to be seen.

I’ve had dozens of teachers over the years, but none has had as great an impact on my life outside of school as that of my seventh and eighth grade language arts teacher, Mr. Lawrence.

I remember the first day of his class as if it were yesterday. There we were, all sitting there with the deer-in-the-headlights look as we waited for our names to be called. (Was I the only one who breathed a sigh of relief afterwards because I was in the right room on the first try? I always felt bad for the kid who read their schedule wrong for whatever reason.) Anyways, I was in class with my two best friends at the time, Sarah and Kris, her last name came before mine and his after, as my last name fell near the middle of the roster for the class. Finally I knew mine was to (should) be the next name called based on the students sitting around me, but it wasn’t my last name he called. “Mariah Monkey.”

WHAT?! [Looks at best friends completely confused.] Again he says, “Mariah Monkey.” This time in a tiny, shy voice I speak up, “I’m Mariah, but that’s not my last name.” To which he responded something to the effect of “I know that. But your last name is a species of monkey.” [Collective class ah-ha as it all makes since.] And after that, the nickname stuck. My friends and I started calling each other by nicknames based off our last names. (Sarah became “Birdie,” Kris became “Directions,” and I of course was “Monkey.”) I even adopted the nickname on the soccer field and put it on the back of my team hoodie. And the year I was very sick, it was monkeys that filled my hospital room. On a Saturday morning during soccer games, Mr. Lawrence learned from my parents that I was 1. Very sick and 2. He was the reason behind all my new monkey companions. He made a special trip to visit me in the burn unit and when he came into my room he had the biggest Curious George monkey I’d ever seen. (I named him Taco, but that’s a story for another time.)

While the story of how I got my nickname is interesting to tell, it’s not the true reason why Mr. Lawrence is mentioned in this particular post. I chose to include and publicly thank him because he was the first teacher to recognize that I was a writer.

Growing up I always enjoyed writing. I began keeping a detailed journal at age 10 and I was constantly making up stories and writing poems. And finally, someone outside my family recognized that talent in me as well.

Now don’t get me wrong. There were days when I wondered if I’d ever write something “good enough.” Mr. Lawrence was tough on me, but that taught me to sharpen my skills. He made me ask questions of my writing “are there details that need more explanation, eliminated because it clutters the flow? Have you told the best story you can? Have you conveyed your meaning as clearly as possible? Who is your target audience? Are you using words and language appropriate to them?”
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Mariah, yes you still have “it.” But I must warn you, however,that if you ever figure out what “it” is, you won’t have it anymore. The only way to become a true writer is to write. There are no shortcuts. P.S. It’s comforting to know I may have a small part in touching the world through you. -Mr. Lawrence, October 27, 2006

Many times he told me that writing was going to be important in my future and he was right. I spend my days using the skills he taught me at work to write press releases, blog posts and other various projects. And in my free time I am journaling and blogging. And I am happy to say I have still yet to figure out what “it” is, and honestly I think that’s why writing is still so effortless and enjoyable to me. And that is something I hope never changes.

DIY Fabric Birthday Crown

25 Sep

My 25th birthday was on Saturday, September 14th, and to celebrate I decided to do something different. I signed up to run a 5K that morning. More specifically, the Mad Hatter 5K. In the registration, it said that hats were encouraged, but not required. And it got me thinking, if I was going to do this race, I wanted a BIRTHDAY CROWN for my hat! I started looking online for pre-made fabric hats. I found a few that were cute and just what I had in mind. Then I came to my senses and realized a few things:

  1. Those hats were adorable, but they were all the same. I needed something special, something uniquely “me.”
  2. There was NO WAY I was paying $25 PLUS shipping for a fabric crown that MAY OR MAY NOT arrive in time for my race.
  3. Why don’t I use the 10 years of sewing 4H I have under my belt and MAKE MY OWN crown (Genius, I know!)

SOMEONE, QUICK! GET THE CAMERA! AFTER YEARS OF BEING ON SEWING RETIREMENT AND SWEARING SHE WOULD NEVER GO HEAD-TO-HEAD WITH THE SEWING MACHINE AGAIN, SHE’S VOLUNTARILY GOING TO SEW….FOR FUN!  

So here it is ladies and gentlemen, my step by step instructions on how you too can make your one-of-a-kind FABRIC BIRTHDAY CROWN!

You will need (See photo below):

  • Fabric (I used a combination of felt and fleece we had lying around the house from past 4H projects and Halloween costumes)
  • Interfacing (I used a combination of light-weight iron-on and heavy-duty stuff that must be sewn)
  • Cardboard crown from Burger King to use as a sizing template
  • Chalk
  • Printer paper
  • Sewing Machine (unless you are willing to hand sew the whole thing — I sure wasn’t) – Not pictured
  • Straight pins – Not pictured
  • Thread – Not pictured
  • Shape patterns to decorate the crown — pictured further down
  • Ribbon
  • Scissors
  • Puffy Paint — pictured further down

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Step 1 (This is going to seem like a lot, but it’s all pictured below):

Use the cardboard crown from Burger King to measure the circumference of your head.  Tape together computer paper until you have the desired length.  Then draw out the design for your crown on the paper. You are creating a pattern to use when cutting out your fabric.

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Step 2:

When you have a design you are happy with on paper, cut it out. Once again, use this pattern to measure around your head. It never hurts to double or triple check the sizing. It took me two paper patterns before I got the sizing perfect for my crown. When you are satisfied, lay it out on your fabric. You can either trace around it with chalk or use pins to keep it in place while cutting. (I used chalk because I didn’t feel like locating straight pins.) You will need two pieces – a front and a back!

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Step 3:

Using the same paper pattern, cut out your interfacing. To make sure my crown was stiff enough to stand on it’s own while it was on my head, I cut out 4 layers of iron-on interfacing (2 for the inside of the front piece and 2 for the inside of the back piece) and 1 layer of the heavy duty sew-on interfacing for the middle layer.

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Step 4:

Carefully iron-on your pieces of interfacing. Don’t make the same mistake I did many years ago when I was first learning to sew. ALWAYS double check that the bumpy beads of glue are against your fabric and NOT the iron — when they melt and stick to the hot surface of the iron you will have a MAJOR mess on your hands. As I mentioned above, I have 4 pieces of iron-on interfacing. I put two on the inside of the front piece and two on the inside of the back piece. (Note: Make sure the interfacing for the front is on the opposite side of the fabric than those for the back, this way they will be on the inside when you sew everything together,)

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Step 5:

Figure out the designs you want on the outside of your crown. My mom cut me these paper patterns using her Cricket and various Cricket cartridges. Lay everything out so you can get the spacing and sizing right.

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Step 6:

You guessed it! Once you have the pattern pieces for the designs for the outside of your crown, it’s time to pin them to the fabric and cut them out. You could also trace using chalk if you’d like.

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Step 7:

Pin the designs (and ribbon if you chose to include some like I did) to the front piece of your crown. You will sew these down BEFORE you sew all the layers of your crown together.

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Step 8:

Carefully top stitch around the designs. Once again, you should be sewing these to the front piece of your crown ONLY. Word to the wise, if you are going through multiple layers of fabric as you see here with my 25 (pink and black), sew those two pieces together FIRST then sew that one piece to the crown. It will make it easier for you to keep everything lined up and provide an extra layer of stitching as reinforcement.

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Step 9:

Time to sew all the layers of your crown together. As seen below in the picture, I have my front piece with decorative designs already sewn down, the middle piece is that heavy-duty interfacing and the bottom piece is the back piece of my crown with the light-weight interfacing side up (this will go on the inside as the other side is yellow to match the front piece).  You will need to stack these pieces together like a sandwich and then pin them securely in place. (See picture 2)

Picture 1

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Picture 2

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Step 10:

Slowly and carefully, sew these three layers together. You may need to take the pins out one at a time as you come up to them with the sewing machine. To make sharp point turns on your crown, stop at the point where you want the corner with the sewing machine needle all the way down into the fabric. Lift the presser foot (the flat silver piece that slides over the fabric) and turn the fabric until you have reached your desired angle, then put the presser foot down and continue sewing. When you have gone all the way around the crown, I recommend back stitching just to reinforce the seam.

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Step 11:

For my crown, I decided the best way to keep it on my head securely during my race was to use Velcro squares. These squares had a sticky, adhesive back that allowed me to position them just right (this took a couple trial and errors before I had the spacing and proper fit for my head). Make sure the pairs of Velcro are on opposite sides of your crown so that when you go to stick them together they will form a circle with the Velcro pieces meeting in the middle of the front and back pieces of your crown. Then I sewed down each individual square because I didn’t want them falling off during my race.

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Step 12:

Now if you think your crown needs a little extra pizzazz, you can decorate it with puffy paint! (See photo) And that’s it! You have yourself one custom made, totally unique, birthday/celebration/because you are royalty and deserve it fabric crown!

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In all, this took me maybe 10 – 12 hours total to make. I worked on it a few hours each night after work the week leading up to the race. I even had it finished a day early so I could take it to work on Friday to show my coworkers who couldn’t fully grasp the craftiness I was trying so desperately to explain.

I hope you’ll give this a try sometime, and when you do, post a link to your photos so I can see how your special crown turned out!

Happy crafting everyone!  

Not-So-Sweet 16…

23 Jan

The following blog post may be difficult for some to read. If you have a low tolerance when it comes to seeing/hearing/thinking about others in pain, I advise you to stop reading here.  

When you were 16, what did you think your life would look like? Does it look like that? Is that a good thing?

Honestly, when I saw Tuesday’s Daily Post Challenge, I wasn’t going to write about this topic. Immediately I backed away, closed out of WordPress and attempted to forget all the memories those two seemingly harmless words evoked: “Sweet Sixteen.”  It has taken me two days to complete this entry, but it is a tale that needs to be told, and who better to tell it than me?

My sixteenth year was anything but sweet, it was a nightmare, and one I pray even my worst enemies never have to live through. I have spent 8 years trying to forget about that year, trying to erase, what little I can remember that is, from my memory. I don’t often talk about it, and only within the last 2 – 3 years have I started to realize that the events of this year helped shape me into who I am today. While this story has a happy ending, it is still hard to revisit all these years later. I will answer the questions posted at the top, but first you need to know the story to understand my answers.

My story actually begins in June 2004, 3 months before my 16th birthday. I remember waking up late, having enjoyed the ability to sleep in. After stretching and attempting to focus my still sleeping eyes, I stood up, and in that moment, time stopped. What should have been a brainless task, asking my legs to support me, turned into impossible in a split second as I found myself crumpling to the ground in pain so intense I lack the words to express it. It was upon attempting to stand for the second time I realized something was truly wrong. Somehow I managed to craw on all fours to an upstairs closet where my crutches from a few years prior (broken ankle after sliding into 3rd base during our first softball practice of the season) were stored. With their support, I awkwardly made my way downstairs in search of my mom. I don’t remember the conversation, I’m sure she asked me why I had the crutches and I must have explained I couldn’t put any weight on my left leg. Needless to say, I ended up in the Emergency Room where they gave me a brace, sent me on my merry way, and referred me to a specialist.

I don’t remember much from this visit, other than the nurse asking me when I had the rod removed from my leg after she saw my X-rays. “What rod?” I asked her. “You’re bone is hallow, all the way from your hip to your knee. It looks like you had a rod removed.” “I, I’ve never even had a surgery before. Why’s it hallow?!” She looked at me with sad eyes and no answer. That was the first time I remember really starting to panic.

A couple of weeks after this appointment, my family and I went on vacation. In all the pictures from that trip I am sporting my new brace, which was black and bulky and uncomfortable. I didn’t know it at the time, but days before we left my parents got a call from my doctor. “We think it might be cancer. We aren’t 100% sure, we wont know more until we go in for surgery and run some tests.” I don’t know how my parents functioned during that trip, I would have been a mess if I’d been in their shoes. And they kept that information, that it may be cancer, from me for years.

Fast forward to August, and the time has come for my surgery. I can remember sitting in the waiting room clinging to my mom. I was scared, terrified. The hospital gown was the icing on the cake….it didn’t even cover your backside completely. How humiliating for an almost 16-year-old girl! And if that wasn’t enough, the nurse asked me what I felt at the time to be the most embarrassing questions: “When was your last period?”, “Could you be pregnant?” While I know she was just doing her job, the longer she talked, the more I considered fleeing the hospital on all fours, regardless of  who happened to catch a glimpse of my backside during my get-away. My plan, however, was foiled when the doctor came over to sign my knee. That’s right, he initialed my left knee, and winking told me it was so they didn’t operate on the wrong one. (Was that SUPPOSE to make me feel better?! Because you have taken my anxiety level to an 11!)

I was told the surgery went well. The last thing I remember was the nurses asking me about the guys I liked at school and something about rainbows or maybe puppies. Okay, so the details are a little groggy. When I woke, however, the pain was electrifying, a burning so intense even screaming out in pain couldn’t provide an escape. Everything from my hip to my toes on my left side hurt. I was told they had to make two incisions to flush my bone out. I was only to remain in the hospital 1 – 2 days tops, just long enough for the cultures to grow, a diagnosis to be made, and a treatment plan to be established. 2 days turned into 7 days as it took the cultures way longer than expected to grow. Finally, I was released and prescribed Vancomycin and Ibuprofen for what the doctors decided was a Staff Bone Infection, however, they couldn’t tell me where I got or how long I had it, only that the morning I collapsed unable to put weight on my leg was the morning the infection ate through the back of my knee.

I ended up missing the entire first week of school my sophomore year, thus leading some of my teachers to believe I was one of those students who sometimes didn’t feel like coming to school, therefore I stayed home. It didn’t matter that I showed up the next week with crutches, a PICC line and a doctor’s note, there was nothing I could do to change some of their minds.

The next two weeks were interesting. Twice a day I had to endure Vancomycin treatments through my PICC line (IV). After a couple of days of this, I began to turn red during my treatments. My skin would feel irritated and I had the desire to rip it off to stop the pain from spreading. “It’s just Red Man Syndrome” one of my Visiting Nurses told my parents over the phone, she couldn’t be bothered to come see me. The redness and the irritation continued, soon to be joined by blisters in my mouth and down my throat, making it hard to breath, talk or even eat. “Here’s a prescription for ‘Magic Mouthwash’. (Yes, that was the actual name) Have her gargle with this 3 times a day for a week.” I could have used that stuff that claimed to taste like bubblegum every 30 seconds and it still wouldn’t have done anything. My parents tried everything, changing the times I got my medicine, giving me Benadryl before, even adjusting how long it took for me to get my medicine. My mom devised this plan: we put in a movie (Prince and Me) and she set the drip on my IV so that it would not finish before the movie. She’s a genius, and I love her dearly, but even this did nothing. Sadly, it kept me red, itchy and irritated longer.

Two days after my 16th birthday (mid September 2004), my world teetered again. (Much of this knowledge came from talking to my mom years later.) It was 5AM, time for my morning medication and my mom got up to prepare it. We were sleeping downstairs because I was having difficulty mastering the stairs with my crutches and still terribly sore leg post surgery. She got up to prepare my medicine when something told her (call it a message from God, Mother’s Intuition or whatever you want), “Do not give that to her. It will kill her.” And because my mom is a wise lady, she choose to listen and went back to bed, also noticing that for the fist time all night, I was peacefully sleeping and she didn’t want to disturb me. A few hours later, I sleepily made my way to the restroom. I was tired and didn’t turn on the light at first, it was only while washing my hands and looking in the mirror did I see it, a giant blister that had formed on the right side of my neck, the side that had been facing away from my mom while I was sleeping. Another, equally as big, blister was forming on my arm. I began to panic, a healthy person doesn’t break out into huge, painful blisters for no reason. My parents called the squad (aka: alpha unit, ambulance) to come to check me out and it just so happened that two of the people who responded were my aunt and uncle. I was rushed to the hospital, but by this time I am out of it. I guess the best way to explain it is like and out-of-body experience. I knew they were talking to me, about me, but I couldn’t focus in on anything they were asking or telling me. It was like I was hearing everything from the opposite end of a very long tunnel.

At the Emergency Room, another aunt of mine happened to be working and took over my care. The physician, who my mom still fondly refers to as a Doogie Howser clone, popped his head in for only a second and was gone again. This angered my parents, but it was later explained to them it took this man one glance to know what was wrong with me because he had seen it once during his residency. I had Stevens Johnson Syndrome, a severe allergic reaction to medication. To this day, my doctors don’t know which medication cased the reaction because both Vancomycin and Ibuprofen can cause such a reaction.  When the doctor left my room, he began the process of setting up transportation to the nearest Burn Unit (the local Children’s Hospital) because time was of the essence and he knew that’s where I needed to be transferred to immediately. I don’t remember much about being transferred other than the ambulance had a television in it (which I remember thinking was odd) and that they asked me which movie I wanted to watch (I chose “Angels in the Outfield”). I didn’t watch any of it because I was gone again, to that place where you have no memory, no recollection of what it happening around you, let alone TO you. It’s a scary feeling, I knew something was wrong with me, but I was powerless to say what or where. When I concentrate on that moment in time, I see and experience it all from the third person, as if I was watching it on television as it happened to someone else.

I spent that first night in ICU. I remember next to nothing of that time. I do recall the monkeys. My first day in ICU happened to be the annual Teddy Bear Run for the Children’s Hospital, where hundreds of motorcyclist came to the hospital with teddy bears for the kids. My mom and my aunt went out to see what was going on. Years later, they told me how all these teddy bears were being thrown into a big pile, but off to the side there stood a husband and a wife clinging to these two monkeys. I think they noticed them because monkeys are my favorite animal. My aunt asked if they were saving the monkeys for someone, and the wife goes on to explain how she sent her husband out that morning to buy two teddy bears and he came back with those two monkeys instead. “Who’s going to want MONKEYS!?” she had demanded to know. “I just know someone is going to need them” her husband had replied. And so, they stood off to the side, watched and waited. My mother explained that I was there and that my favorite animal was monkeys. They broke down, touched by my story and the knowledge that they were meant to get monkeys because I would need them. They asked my mom if they could meet me. I remember they were there, by my bed in the ICU, but I can’t picture their faces or remember their names, and for that I am truly sorry. I hope they knew how thankful I was for the gift, and how often I’ve thought of their generosity, and even though I couldn’t respond, I knew the monkeys were hanging from my bed because every time my doctor came in to see me that night, he would squeeze one and make it laugh. From this point on, my collection of monkeys grew as the nurses went searching for more and others were dropped off by friends and family. My 8th grade English teacher, the one who gave me the nickname of monkey because of my last name, came to see me at one point and brought a GIANT Curious George monkey. He told me how he and his daughter went searching for the perfect monkey and how they were coming up empty-handed, until they discovered this guy! Before coming to see me they stopped for lunch at Taco Bell, where my English teacher got taco sauce on his shirt. (It was hidden behind the plastic yellow gown all visitors have to wear in the Burn Unit.) So naturally I named that monkey Taco.  My collection of monkeys were a source of happiness, not only for me, but for my family as well. And believe it or not, not one monkey was a repeat! They are all different kinds, sizes, colors, brands and textures.

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From this point on, I only remember 3 or 4 different times in a 9 day period. I was taking a strong medication that would block my memory because of severity of the treatment for my Stevens Johnson. There is no cure for this disease. It has to run it’s course, and it is different for each person. I was treated like someone who had 2nd or 3rd degree burns, because basically my skin was burning itself from the inside out. I was monitored closely. My parents were told that if I blistered 70% of my body I would require skin graphs. Thankfully, I was just under that. Treatment consisted of a special bath that was given and monitored by a team of 5 – 6 people. My parents had to leave the area during this time they later told me because even though I was in a separate wing from the waiting room, they could hear my blood curling screaming as if it was coming from outside the door. Afterwards, I was wrapped up in bandages, closely resembling a mummy, to protect my raw skin. The only part of me you could see were my eyes and my lips.

This one night I remember perfectly. I don’t know why I remember it, maybe my medication was wearing off? Anyways, a night nurse I’d never seen before poked her head into my room to check on me. After my mom assured her that we were fine for the time being, she looked at me and said “Oh, I see you are into the Gothic look.” That poor woman had no idea that what she thought was deep reddish-black lipstick was actually dried blood from the cracked and healing blisters on my lips. I wanted to cry. I think in that moment, in my dark hospital room with its beeping equipment, being mistaken for a Gothic chick, the reality of my situation sank in. I honestly don’t remember if we corrected her, part of me feels my mom did, because she’s a protective momma and she’d do anything to help her kids.

I spent a total of two weeks in the Burn Unit. Two weeks worth of memories I will never get back, and if I’m honest, part of me is glad I can’t remember most of it. I know there were times I asked about friends (one of my best friends was having an outpatient surgery), other times I would ask when I was going for my bath, to be told I had already gone for the day. Most of my memories of the Burn Unit come from my last two days there, days 14 and 15 in the Burn Unit (early October 2004). I remember the bath room, the metal tub, sterile smell  and how humiliated I felt bathing in front of people, honestly, what 16-year-old girl wouldn’t be mortified if she still needed the help of two or three nurses, and this time without the medication to block the memory? I didn’t cry out in pain, but I may have flinched a couple of times because my skin was so raw. I remember watching the cartoon “Braceface” and I began “singing” (raspy talking is more like it, blisters in your throat KILL your vocal cords) along with the theme song.  I also remember a few of the nurses, especially Tony, he was my favorite!

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Nurse Tony and I the morning I got to go home! He’s holding the monkey I named after him!

 I can’t describe the excitement I had at being able to go home! I missed my family (one of my parents was always with me at the hospital), my room, my dog, my life, my friends…everything. Even school. I missed being “normal”. But there was one thing I didn’t have to miss….the HOMECOMING DANCE! I got out of the hospital on a Thursday and the dance was two days later… I was even off my crutches, that being my first day without them!

Tell me, does this look like the face of a girl who spent the previous two weeks fighting for her life? I’m a tough cookie, what can I say?!

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I would have to endure 3 more surgeries in the coming months…. an emergency surgery one Sunday in February 2005. I woke up and my knee was the size of a cantaloupe. No one knows what happened during the night to cause my knee to swell to that extreme, however, I can tell you that it was so painful trying to move. In the Emergency Room, the doctor had to cut the pant leg off my pajama pants to even get to my knee. I would have a follow-up surgery two days later to make sure the infection that had begun to spread again was completely cleaned out. This time the hospital stay wasn’t terrible, I had a laptop to use. Many countless hours were spend IM friends. And can you see the paper doll on my IV pole, that was my Paca Flaca for my Spanish Project. She came to visit me in the hospital, and she brought my friend, Dan’s Paco Flaco, along, too.

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I wish I could say that was the end, but there was one final surgery during my 16th year. April 2005. Whatever was happening with my knee, it got better after that. (Knock on wood that it stays that way!) The only way to describe this year would be torture. Countless needle pricks for blood work and IV medications, 4 major knee surgeries, 15 days in the Burn Unit, and dozens of hours at physical therapy. I didn’t have time to think about the future past two of three days. I was swamped under make-up work for school due to the 32 days I missed during my Sophomore year.

When I thought about my future, I dreamed of being healthy. I prayed for no more surgeries. I begged my parents not to make me eat yogurt or drink protein shakes even though I knew I needed the nutrients to get well. My future consisted of learning to survive one day at a time, hiding my scars and dealing with the knowledge that my skin would forever be more sensitive to sunlight than it already was. My future consisted of fearing a flare-up of infection, long pants and sunscreen by the gallon. I dreamed of a future where I would feel “normal” again, but I’m not normal, no one is.

Today, I am happy and healthy. It’s been 8 years since that April surgery. I somehow passed my sophomore year, graduated and went to college. I had the chance of a lifetime to work at The Walt Disney World Resort® in Orlando, Florida. By the grace of God, I had a full-time job waiting for me right out of college. I have a loving and supportive network of friends and family. I am training to run in not my first, but my SECOND 5K! I can wear shorts and a swimsuit now and not feel self-conscious about my scars, after-all, they speak loud and clear about the hardships I’ve overcome in my young life. They don’t define me, nor are they a flashing neon sign when someone first meets me. What would life be like had I had a “normal” 16th year on this planet, I couldn’t fathom a guess, nor would I want to because I am enjoying this life, imperfections and all. I am so blessed to be here. I am building a future and chasing my dreams. My life isn’t cookie-cutter perfect, but it’s good and I couldn’t ask for more.

Finding Happiness

14 Jan

Today I had a bad case of the Mondays…. I don’t know why, it just never really turned into a great day. Okay, maybe that’s because I’m still not sleeping…. I thought you were suppose to outgrow nightmares?! But back to Monday, I was just having one of those days were I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t sad, I was just… blah.

And then I happened across this gem during my lunch break:


Happiness is a state of mind

Disney to my rescue once again. I got to thinking about it. I was the only thing standing between me and my happiness today. So I finished the day on an up note, I was going to do something to lift my spirits. And thus I found myself running in 30 degree weather….I must be crazy! ME, the girl who three weeks ago would have rolled her eyes if you suggested “hey, let’s go for a run.” Me, the girl who hates the cold.

That’s right, Me, the girl who taking back control of her happiness while training for the Expedition Everest 5K Challenge in May at Walt Disney World! Only 109 days left to train….I’ve so got this!

And I found that after my run/walk in the bitter cold, I was happy. I accomplished the “unthinkable” from a few weeks ago. I broke down some walls, pushed past the negative voices in my head that told me I wasn’t strong enough or healthy enough to be training for a 5K, and I enjoyed leaving the world behind for 40 minutes. Nothing can touch me when I’m on that course, I’m in my element. And thinking about it now, I think I’ve found happiness in what I would have once considered an unlikely place…on a trail, with only me, my running gear and my iPod to keep me company. In those precious moments, I have never felt more alive, at ease or at one with myself.

I hope you, too, find your happiness this week!