Monthly Archives: June 2012

Body image within societies “ideals” of what beauty and strength “is”.

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This afternoon I decided to leave my home and yard, and venture down the street with cane in one hand and Sedonas leash in the other.

At her incredible age of 12, she is much slower these days.. and seems to have given up the need for excessive tugging and stopping abruptly to sniff EVERYTHING.   As we approached the shoreline at low tide, the salty smell of the sea danced at my nose.. and my eyes opened with wonderment at the blue waters adorned with bright green seaweed and kelp.. then my eyes focus in on.. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”.. A woman in a string bikini, and I mean a string bikini, with a cowboy hat.. posing in ways that I felt glad my dog was blind.. At first I took the entire photo shoot personally- “How dare this woman with an incredible body flaunt herself and make me feel like crap”- Wow Colleen, pull your head out of your butt.

Her partner smiled ear to ear turning his camera in every direction, clicking photos and telling her “move your hair to the left, the right, now arch your back, spread your legs more, shake your hair”.  Good God.

Of course, I was immediately reminded of my dear friend from youth group that is now a fitness model and her husband often photographs her.. she is stunning and strong.. yet, I could not help feeling frustrated at this site while little girls ran up and down the shoreline with sand covered butts, and crazy salty hair-do’s “You know what Im talking about”.

Watching these little girls stare at this woman, was a moment of sadness, frustration, curiosity, and desire to want to write a paper.. or interview them for some research..

Tiny hands held their barbie dolls coated in sand.  They looked curiously at the woman straddling each wave and flaunting herself at the camera.

What were they thinking?

I know what I was thinking. I thought back to my days playing with Barbie dolls.. and how fascinated I was that they had such tiny waists, huge boobs, and lots of flowy hair. Their bodies were unscathed, and typically tan.  Better still, the barbie has a permanent arch in her foot so she ALWAYS wore heals.. Her teeth were a perfect brush stroke of white, and her eyes sparkled with permanent make-up..Did I mention she was skinny? Very.  She also failed to have any muscles.

Realistic?

Amazingly enough, I always had a great body.  Even more amazing was that I have always had body issues.  I have never been overweight, and I have always been active.. too active, as a kid I could never sit still.  Where do body issues stem from? What classifies true beauty?  This woman clearly thought she was beautiful, (or maybe she was insecure and seeking compliments) because she was posing quite unabashedly for all to see.  With each step I took along side my goofy, happy pup I looked down upon my leg.. I looked down upon my deformed hip.. my swollen and scarred stomach.  I traced my hand back alongside my hip to feel my butt (oh, stop it now.. you’ve felt your butt also), and felt the hard scar masses.  I am no longer societies view of “beauty”.   

I sure as hell have some strength though.  I snapped out of my own pity party and heard steps behind me.  There she was, all greased up and glowing.. white teeth, dyed hair, and most likely fully waxed… “gulp”.  She pleasantly said hello and walked past me to pose on the rocks.  The little girls were sitting with their legs out, water lapping at their beings.. making their barbies model..”ugh”.  Just like that.

Is that a bad thing? Does it need to be?

I leave this un-ended blog with two things:

1- I will never walk to the beach without my camera again

2- I think I need to do a modeling shoot.. Imagine our photos side by side..

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Finding light in Darkness

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When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.

 Madeleine L’Engle quotes

I have no memories of those thirty plus days.. no memories of what was actually happening.. the only memories I have are of the dreams that permeated my every sweaty pore.. 

Heat. Stillness. Trapped. Dry. Ripping. Tearing. Pain. Beeping. Breathless. Blind.

The common statement that people tell me is “Be thankful you don’t remember anything from your month in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit”.  Thankful? How can I be thankful for a month of my life that vanished when the lights dimmed out?  Why couldn’t those drugs they gave me to keep me asleep and banish my memories have extended 2 hours earlier so that I couldn’t remember the accident. 

God had some plan.

I have memories, but only the ones trapped in my mind as I layed there tied to my bed.. tubes down my throat breathing for me.. tubes into my stomach feeding me.. tubes in my veins nourishing me.. Needles in my arms checking me.. scalpels cutting into me,  trying to fix me.. staples, screws, wires, and sutures.. woven into me.. putting me back into place.

Beep.  Beep.  “Colleen, Im here.. I love you”.  Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep, “Colleen, rest.. Can you feel my hand?”… 

So many people… cleansing me, changing my fluids, drawing my blood, packing and unpacking my holes, rolling my body, operating on me, and loving me.. 

Vulnerability.  The greatest fear.

Like the baby sparrow that lay on the rocks, like the child stranded in war.  The ultimate fear is being vulnerable.  

A verse in the bible resonates from my youth: 

Mathew 6:26- Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

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As I go through this journey of my own fear and reality, I think of that tiny sparrow.  His life almost ended.. and yet love stepped in to feed and nourish in the utmost time of vulnerability, until he was returned to his nest so that he could one day learn to fly.  

Many hands of love have stepped in to nourish me during times of darkness.. and that is the light I continue to hold onto in hopes of one day flying.  

The Transition

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For those of you that are athletes, the word “Transition” might elicit thoughts of hurried participants.. setting up their transition stations.  We get our numbers, find our place within the cow pen of bikes, running shoes, wetsuits, bare feet, and half naked people proudly displaying their marked up arms and legs.

The Transitioning station, or cow pen.. is a place where the athletes use as their original “home base” during a race, and then return to after each completion of a race section.  We walk excitedly and with nerves heightened to join our heat of similarly ridiculous looking people looking like Superheros with pink, yellow, or lime green caps.. We make eye contact with our age division and size each other up.. trying to determine who to swim close to, who to avoid like the plague so we don’t get kicked or womped in the head, and who else just needs a “Good Morning, are you excited?? me too”.

Then the announcer speaks, he welcomes us to the “Race”, the American Anthem plays.. and we hold our hands to our hearts and thank God for the opportunity to compete, to breathe, to swim, to bike, to run, to laugh, to love.  I never cared where I placed (well, maybe with cycling), I just loved doing them.

Then the countdown.. and the gun goes off.. Heart beats increase as the first heat runs into the water… slowly disappearing like a rabid school of fish..

Inching closer, feeling the sand between our toes… adjusting the goggles one last time, quickly moving our arms, jumping around.. psyching up.. “GO”.

Splish, Splash, splish, dive….. and were off.. the journey has begun.. the bottom is clear.. then the bottom is gone, blackness.. “breathe”… always sighting.. then back down.. “breathe”.. when the buoy has been rounded.. the heart begins to settle into a groove… “Were almost there”.  Suddenly the ground is visible again.. feet drop, and we struggle to get our walking legs back… The crowds cheer… Time to unzip.. and run…

Wiping the salty water out of our eyes, while pulling off our caps, unzipping our suits, struggling and attempting to move as quick as we can.. so that we can put on our cycling shoes.. un-rack our bikes.. strap on our helmet, put on our shades, and try to get a sip of water.   “Smile”, everyone is looking, cheering, and out the cow pen you go, with bike seat under your right hand.. while you run and adjust everything else until you are in the “mounting zone”.

Returning to transition with calves blazing, heart thumping, adrenaline soaring… feeling good, feeling strong, ready.. bike gets racked, cycling shoes off, helmet on the towel, a quick wipe of the brow while you slip on your running shoes zip up your ties.. and out of transition # 3.   Your on the home stretch now, just miles of running… all smiles.. feeling sore, but breathing… embracing the cheers.. embracing your sweaty stinky self.. embracing life.

This time, my Triathlon seems to have taken a different “strategy”.

Although I never had a chance to start my morning getting marked up with my tri numbers, or excitedly lubing up my bike and checking my gears… I did wake up that morning unaware, that I was about to start the biggest triathlon of my life.. followed by even bigger transitions.. Timing wasn’t always imperative, what was imperative, was that I completed each section.. and I transitioned into the next.  Trusting in my creator to help me get through every trial.

I think right now, Im somewhere in my “bike ride”, it seems to be a longer ride than usual… This time, my transition includes meeting all my heroes.. WALKING towards them with outstretched arms.. like Im gliding in the pool.. only this time, to wrap them tightly and say “Thank you”.

To all my friends and family that helped me get to this second transition, “Thank you”.  When I arrive back at the cow pen, and ready for transition three.. to RUN out.. smiling.. Ill be sure to let you know.. For now, my race number has taken on a different form.. It turned into letters and symbols.. the tattoo on my arm of my salmon is my competition “number”, always reminding me to persevere.. and although you can’t see them.. the words “Grace” are all around me… on my arms, my legs, and in my heart.

The race is far from over, were in the thick of it now.. and were transitioning on.

With love and grace,

Colleen

 

Heroes

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It was a sunny afternoon.  Barely a cloud in the sky.  My panniers were packed with notebook, iPhone, a change of clothing, drinks, and shoes.

Saturday.

Time for an office meeting, the need to catch up.

The ride in was bliss, wind at my face… incredible breaths of sea air.. birds chirping.. My legs in complete rotations.. pedaling, pedaling.. to bring me joy, to bring one more car commuter off the road, to bring me to my destination.

Catch-up. A meeting with my supervisor.  Positivity, movement forward, looking up, re-grouping, re-organizing, and planning for another successful year.

Back in cycling clothes, giggling about my chain grease kiss that I didn’t even notice while in my meeting.. excited to ride home, do some housework, then head back out with a dear friend for a nice long ride in the cool October air.

Pumpkins, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin ale.. Cuddles, and sweaters, walks holding hands and the crunching leaves under feet.. I always loved fall.

10:50 am.  Clipping in.. 12 miles to go.. I will be home, Sedona will bark.. then she will wag her tail, we will hug and wrestle- then go for a walk.  Luna will jump off the bed, and approach me with purrs and meows.  Husband is at work, so Ill think about what to make for dinner before heading back out for another ride.

Breezes blowing and the sun is smiling.. I almost feel like Im in love all over again… The ride is a straight shot.. no turns until I get home.. I settle into the side lane.. Looking overly cautious.. clad in fluorescent yellow.

As I enter into Madison I see a large freight truck driving down the side street right towards me on the main road “Please stop, I tell myself… the stop sign is right intro…. oh.. God.. Oh God…..”…. The smell of exhaust permeates my nose.. the hot asphalt digs deeply into my flesh.. the scent of rubber and the weight of the world rolls over me, and then again… I hear my insides cracking, my legs feel like someone lit them on fire.. I hear the truck accelerate and begin to drive away…

“AAAAAAAAAAH, AAAAAAAAAAAAH, Dear God, HELP ME! PLEASE DONT LET ME DIE, PLEASE DONT LET ME DIE”.  Can I pick up my head? Yes. Oh.. God, my leg is ripped to shreds… my abdomen is opened up… Im bleeding out.. Im dying… Suddenly I can’t feel my back anymore… I scream more….and I don’t stop.

She appears, a woman with blonde hair.. she holds my head and tells me to hang in there.. I scream “I just found my husband, I can’t die now, we haven’t even met our child”.. She caresses my forehead and I hear cars screeching… “You will make it, you will be a mommy.. hold on”.

Then, she is gone.

Another man runs up to me.. bare handed, screaming and telling people what to do “YOU, STOP TRAFFIC.. YOU, HOLD HER HEAD STILL, YOU, COVER HER ABDOMEN WITH THIS.. Holy.. God.. Hang in there girl, hang in there.. He is covered in my blood…”.

Sirens.. everywhere.. People screaming…

“Stay with us Colleen”.  “Please don’t let me die”.

“You, hold her leg together.. You hold this on her abdomen”.. She needs 02 STAT..

My body is being rolled.. Just like I learned in emergency medicine when I went for my EMT.. I try screaming but I can’t anymore.  The back board hurts even worse.. I keep telling myself to stay awake.. I try to look at my abdomen, their is a hole in it.. what’s together looks like Im nine months pregnant.. I cry even harder.

They are slipping in my blood.. Dear God…

Into the ambulance, One paramedic holds my hand.. “Your ok now.. you don’t have to fight so hard..”… “No, I want to be a wife.. I want to be a mother.. I need morphine”.

They read off my stats.. taking my pulse by looking at my femoral artery then covering it back up again…

She holds my hand, another places her hands on my forehead.. another works without ceasing on my IV meds, my stats…

If I lose consciousness, I might not be here anymore.. I know this.. so I keep fighting.. and I keep praying.. “not yet God, please.. not yet”.

We arrive… the ambulance doors fly open.. people in blue gather around me.. the color fades to black.

My eyes open.. There are mom and dad.. and my sweet Sean.. holding my hand and smiling..  “How did they get here so fast?”.  Sean explains what happens with the voice of an angel.. tears flow from his eyes and he says.. “Do you remember? You were in a bad accident.. we almost lost you.. but your here.. its been almost 35 days…”

I look down at my body and try to scream, I can’t.. the tube that allowed my coma-induced body to get oxygen had bruised and weakened my vocal chords. tears run down my face as I notice my colostomy, my bandaged body.. and all the tubes coming out of me..”.  I try to say “I want to go home”.  Then mom and dad are at my side.. tenderly loving me. “God saved you, and he has plans for you..”.

Back asleep.

The wound changes were three times a week, I only remember the first one 37 days later… They had to fill me up with IV pain meds and I still cried.. Someone was always with me.. A family member or a close friend.. Never.. Never was I left alone..

Mid November I went to Gaylord.  Terrified.  Would I ever walk again? Would I ever sleep again? Would I ever stop smelling that rubber, pavement, exhaust, accelerating engine, screeching cars, screaming people? Would everyone just stop stuffing me with gauze?   Can I get these damn IVs out?  Why am I so weak? Why can’t anyone understand me when I talk?

Sean would hold my hand and sleep by my side every night.. and with every sunset he would recite the following: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”…

I clung to those words, his voice.. his hands..

Soon, I was taking my first painful steps.. one at a time.. Feeling angry, frustrated, embarrassed.   My body leaked everywhere.  I ached.. and I was so so weak held together with what looked like Deck screws, and fishing lures.

Weeks later, I was walking the halls.. hugging all of my nurses, and tolerating wound changes just a little better.. and understanding that I needed to be a good patient.. I needed to take my medication.. and it was ok.

Then, I came home for Christmas.. Scared again, but surrounded by the love of my family.   Christmas has an entirely new meaning.. Everything did.

My Home health and Home PT had their work cut out for them.. Not only was I sobbing 9 out of 10 times that they came to work with me, I was anxious.. and terrified of regression.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”- Sean continued to pray..

Now, I am 13 surgeries into this process.. countless behavioral therapy sessions in, and many many PT sessions… My heroes have been with me every step..

Now, I am beginning a new chapter.. My memories will always be with me, and thankfully the love and strength of all my heroes will be also.. Down to the very depths of my roots.

 

Morning Sunshine and ink lines

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The beams of sun seem to smile as they flood through my bedroom window, casting a ray of light onto a letter sitting on my night stand.

My body turns from its settled position under my comforter and away from my husbands embrace.   It is a new day.  Time to wake.  The salty morning air hangs low.. the dew sparkles like jewels upon each blade of grass, flower petal, and tree leaf.  Birds sing welcoming our new day, for it is the first of June.

I am reminded of the Thich Nhat Hanh quote,  “Every morning we have 24 new hours to live”.   I kiss my husbands forehead and exhale a groan of pain as I lean towards the letter.  My Great Aunt Greta is my grandfathers’ (we called him Pappy) sister.   My mothers side of the family was blessed with eyes as blue as the sea.. and smiles as wide as the waves.

Aunt Greta and I are pen pals.  We exchange weekly hand written letters to one another from Pennsylvania to Connecticut.   It is a blessing to have someone that I can  pick up a pen and use ink to convey my words.

Stumbling into the kitchen while trying not to trip on my cane, I instinctively begin making my coffee, blindly grabbing at a Mug.. the perfect one slips into my grasp.

The letter.  Last night, my pain was too severe. After walking to the mailbox and retrieving her sweet letter, I came back inside and just needed to take my evening pain medication and fall asleep…  As I sit at the table studying the ink lines on her letter, Im reminded of how she was our favorite “Great Aunt”, she looks so much like our Pappy. To this day, even though she is far away, when I read her letters and study how her beautiful older hands enunciate certain words, I am reminded of her sweet hugs and laughter.. and I think of my grandfather.  A single tear drips down my face as I begin writing her letter..  It is such a gift to still have her in our lives.

The sun beams are casting stronger now, the table in the kitchen is warming up.. and my coffee is cooling.. The pain within my body from stiffness is easing a bit, and I wish I could hand deliver this letter with a hug.

What a gift we have in the Morning sunshine.  What a gift we have in the ability to be pen pals with those we love.

The pen is a mighty instrument.. it crosses through the miles and delivers a bit of authenticity that no email can ever present.