Falling Up Again...How I Fell Down
Every story needs a beginning…and an ending…at times, it is difficult to know where to begin and it is impossible for me to know when my story is going to end…let’s start here…
There are certain winter days that people who live in Calgary, Alberta cherish. Days where the sun is shining and the temperature rises. January 27, 2013 was one of those days. I entered The Shawnessy location of the Calgary Running Room on this particular day feeling both nervous and excited. Although I had religiously attended the run clubs and clinics in this location several times a week for many years, I had not been there since finishing a marathon clinic the previous spring. After successful completion of that marathon I had experienced runners fatigue and had taken a break. Although, I had still been running on my own I desperately missed my “running family” and felt a strong desire to return to the sense of comfort and ease that you build while training for several hundred kilometres with people. It is very easy to confess your hopes and dreams, your worries and successes, to strangers who, one kilometre at a time, become family. I had shared both laughter and tears with the people in this building. They knew me better than some friends who I had known for decades.
When I walked through the doors I was met with the encouragement and excited voices of these friends. Several of them raced over and enveloped me in big hugs. My nervousness came in the knowledge that I would not be able to run with these friends on this particular morning. The people who knew me best had carried on running in the months since…and were heading out for a distance that my sporadic running would not allow me to do. I listened as the employee from the running room announced the distances for run club on that day and decided to head out with the half marathon clinic. They were doing a 20 km run, their final long run before tapering to complete their goals of participating in The Hypothermic Half Marathon two weeks later. I silently wondered if perhaps I should sign up and run with them…although I knew that I would never achieve a personal best on that run it might be a good way to start back.
Within minutes of heading out on the run I got a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I watched as runners all around me were slipping and sliding, then catching themselves. Since it had been so nice the day before I had left my spikes at home but due to the melting and then refreezing of snow overnight, we were running on sheer ice. I debated turning back right at the beginning, but, the crispness in the air and the promise of heading down into my happy place, Fish Creek Park, kept me going.
We were seven kilometres and many slips and slides into the run when I made a decision that would change the trajectory of my life’s path.
“I’m going to head up at the next hill. I’m a teacher and my report cards are due tomorrow. I only need to edit my comments when I get home and then they are done. The last thing I need is to fall today.” came my famous last words…two other runners said that they would head back with me.
We were only about 0.4 km from the Running Room when I went down. My memories of the exact moment are very foggy. I blacked out and then came to to see blood glowing crimson red dripping into the snow beneath me. Everything was spinning. I looked up to the worried eyes of the two strangers I had been running with. They helped me to my feet and held on to my arms on either side of me as we hobbled back to the store. The employee at the running room recognized signs of concussion immediately. She led me to her car and drove me to the hospital.
A few hours later I was told that I had suffered a moderate to severe concussion. The doctor gave me advice for dealing with the concussion-to reduce screen time, limit exposure to bright lights and sounds, rest, eat more protein, be patient and to see my family doctor the next day. The next day I went to my family doctor, I had been seeing the same doctor for about 10 years and he knew me and my family well. I was met with his caring gaze and patient, listening ear as I explained what had happened the day before.
“You’re going to have to take some time off work” he explained. “You won’t be able to go back until the headaches and dizziness clear. It’s crucial that you take the time to rest your brain after the concussion.”
“I can’t take time off work right now.” I replied. “It’s too busy of a time. My students need me.”
“You need to.” he insisted. “I’m going to write you a note for two weeks off work. Please rebook for follow up.”
I begrudgingly took the note and headed out of the office. The next two weeks are a complete blur. I rested a lot. The whole time, I felt a tremendous sense of guilt for not being at school. When I headed back to see my doctor two weeks later I made a critical mistake, although I was still feeling terrible, I didn’t think that I could be away from my class any longer.
“I’m ready to return to work.” I told him.
He looked concerned, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I need to go back to work.” I replied with conviction. “I’m feeling fine.” and with that he wrote the note to clear me to go back….
I don’t know if the last six years would have been different if I had not made this choice. What I do know is that these years have been the most difficult of my life but also the years where I have learned the most. I have dealt with debilitating seasonal spring migraines each year and have not been able to finish a school year since that time.
Before the fall, I was certain that everything happens for a reason. In the years since the fall, I have had countless moments where I questioned this and desperately wondered why all of this was happening to me. Before the fall, I believed that God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle. Since the fall, I’ve had many dark moments where I thought it was all too much and questioned if there really is a god and who that god may be. I’m starting to believe in the connections that exist in the universe again but it looks very different that my Christianity before the fall. I DO believe that all things happen for a reason but ask me this again in the Spring if/when the headaches return.
I have learned a lot of really difficult lessons about friendships and how they evolve. I have some friends who are only present in my life when I am sick and other friends who are there only when I’m well. I am lucky enough to have several friends who are there during both times. I have lost some friendships over the years and formed some new friendships. I lost the woman who I considered to be one of the most significant relationships of my life before the fall. This grieving process has been more difficult than any other grieving I have experienced and is a continued grieving process. I received a heartwarming note from her a few years ago, letting me know that she still cares about me and thinks about me…I hope that she knows that I still care about her and think about her often. The good news is, that this process has clearly defined what friendship is to me and how I want to treat others during the good times and bad.
I have heard countless judgements and assumptions made about me. Some of these were correct and some were incorrect. The worst part was that, although once confident, I started to believe and internalize many of these assumptions and judgements. Through this experience, I have learned to be less harsh in my judgements of both myself and others. I have also learned that almost all people are inherently good. I believe that almost everyone is seeking the same things…love, appreciation and connection and that, usually, those asking for it in the harshest of ways are those that likely need it the most.
I have redefined priorities. Last year before I went on my sixth leave a wise colleague said to me, “I often remind myself that if something happened to me my office would be filled tomorrow but my kids will never have another mom.” I use this statement as a driving force in all decision making. This statement has definitely made me a better mom and a better daughter. I have learned a lot about the people in my family and am lucky to have the close knit relationship with my parents, children and extended family that I do.
I have realized that growth mindset, something my grandfather taught me at a very young age, is even more important than I thought and that I never want to stop learning. This has given me a new sense of wonder when I view the world and I’m thankful for that.
I have been blessed with the help of countless professionals. I have been given advice by neurologists, neuropsychologists, psychiatrists, chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, therapists and many more. I have made some important new friends in the very wise ladies who I was lucky enough to meet in group therapy. My family doctor has stuck by my side and patiently explored every referral and possibility we can think of. I’m so thankful for the government that we currently have in Alberta and the extra funding that they have put into both the health and education systems in our province.
Just this year, I was forced (kicking and screaming) onto long term disability. I have been off work for nine months now and feel that I have had somewhat of a rebirth during this time. Although I was passionate about Mindfulness before this leave, I have realized that, although I had learned a lot about mindfulness over the years and am really good at teaching others about it I had not really being walking the walk until a few months ago. This true path of mindfulness has changed my whole outlook.
Just two short days ago, during the final new moon of 2018, I made a commitment to myself, to truly do everything in my power to become as healthy as I possibly can in the next year…this will include changes to my exercise, diet, relationships, and lifestyle.
Do I know exactly where this year is going to lead me? I have no clue…each day I have to remind myself not to project into the future or ruminate in the past but to live in the moment. Some days this is more difficult than other days.
Am I going to make misstaykes in the next year? ABSOLUTELY, but I’ll embrace those mistakes and be open to what those mistakes are teaching me going forward. It’s going to be an incredible journey. I’d love it if you’d join me. One thing I do know about myself is that it’s going to be a wild ride, so buckle up tight…