Monthly Archives: July 2015

Limitations- Raw and Unfiltered.

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Merriam- Webster Dictionary defines limitation as this:

Limitation: 

: the act of controlling the size or extent of something : the act of limiting something

: something that controls how much of something is possible or allowed

: something (such as a lack of ability or strength) that controls what a person is able to do

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Over the last several years I have had numerous limitations set.   Prior to October 8, 2011 I had brain surgery for a severe  Chiari malformation (mine is a type III), a diagnosis of Lupus, and a diagnosis of Cryoglobulenemia.  

I also went through a divorce, had a nervous break down, and remarried my high school sweet heart.

(No major changes or anything.)

After my Chiari surgery, I needed to learn to balance again when I walked.  I had to learn how to cite my arms and legs properly and retrain my brain as to where my body parts were located.  I feared I would never eat without dropping my food, drooling, or missing my mouth. My limitations at that point were bound around severe pain, swelling in my skull, balance issues, and coordination.  Over time my chiari symptoms that were present pre-operatively began decreasing and with that, my abilities to eat, walk, and have spatial referencing reinstated increased.

The hurdle of overcoming brain surgery was significant, however the limitations that were involved before surgery had become so debilitating I was ready to try to have my life back. I fought through those days at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and my case was so significant that they use the surgery video when teaching the neuro students at Columbia.

With Lupus, I learned when to push my limitations and how to take care of myself properly with nutrition, holistic care, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction.

With Cryoglobulenemia, I learned how to maintain my body temperature be consistent with exercise, and monitor my skin for any changes.

When October 8, 2011 happened, I had already heard many friends and family members say: “Oh, Colleen, you are DONE going through major things for a long, long time”.

This was not the case.

Since that date almost 4 years ago I have learned to walk again several times, I have learned to eat again, how to breathe again, what it feels like to learn to speak again, write again, brush my teeth, and how to go to the bathroom.   I knew my limitations two months post trauma were severe. I knew walking would prove challenging, never even considered the option of running or cycling again. I had so much skin loss that the thought of even bathing was such a distant dream that I never imagined I would ever swim again.  Throughout each phase of this process to return to “normalcy”, I have needed to push my limits in order to step one more step, stand on my own five more seconds, chew a piece of solid food, and cry more and more tears until I could decipher basic math again.  When a person is saved from death and brought back to life, EVERY thing that one does is exceeding a limitation simply due to the fact that they are alive.

I have been told countless times that I am an “Unexpected Survivor” by medical staff who cared for me throughout my critical phase.

This brings me back to the original point of understanding limitations. “When we persevere and triumph through obstacles, we are given a power to understand how truly capable we can become.”  ColleenKellyHospital

As we begin to understand that we CAN defy the odds, it creates a drive within us to PUSH even further.  For those of us that are Type A personality athletes, having the PUSH drive is a blessing and a curse.

Defying my obvious limitations has been part of what has allowed me to not only survive but to thrive. Prior to this trauma running was hard, triathlons were hard, let alone throw a broken body in the mix and try them again.  I had never completed a half marathon, Olympic triathlon, half Iron Triathlon, or marathon before October 8, 2011.  When asked why I took a leap in distance events POST trauma, I said “Well, I lived”.

Suddenly things that once limited me, (lupus, chiari, cryo) became trivial. I SURVIVED being run over by a freight truck so I had the capacity to do much more than I ever knew my body was capable of, or did I?  I dealt with pain on a scale I never knew one was capable of handling, I went through surgery after surgery and relearn basic skills over and over. I could be resilient, or could I?

Here is where understanding (or trying) to understand my limitations has become muddied.  I am GOAL oriented. Seems most Type personalities are that way.  I need a strong GOAL to work towards so that I can accomplish it, check it off and then GROW even more.  When is enough, enough?

Dealing with physical manifestations from a trauma, is only the foundation of work that has been prepared for me. I must also learn to deal with the PTSD, and how my psychological well-being has been effected. I must learn how to limit myself within a sensible measure as to not cause more harm, rather to strengthen and be pleased with where I am and celebrate those moments.  I’ve learned that for most trauma survivors, there is a yearning to DO as much as one can, all of the time, because we have learned too painfully how quickly life can be taken away.

I have outgrown almost all of my limitations at this point.  I am now at a point of pondering the horizon and asking myself, “How much further, faster, and longer, do I want to go?”.  Most importantly, I need to ask myself “WHY?”.

We all have reasons for WHY we push our own daily limits in this life. I am learning as I continue on this journey that sometimes surpassing a limitation and then basking in the celebration of that accomplishment, and working to become as strong and resilient in that one accomplishment at a time is enough.  God created this temple that allows me to sit here and type this blog that I’ve worked on sporadically throughout the day. I believe in his infinite wisdom, compassion, and love he has allowed me to surpass any “limitations” that were presented to me to show me how mighty and strong this temple truly is.

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May we always examine our own limitations, and choose growth and strength over pride and harm.  My hearts desire prior to 10/8/11 was to complete a full Iron Man distance triathlon, and that desire is more present now than ever.  My limitations are also present.  Accepting that we need to honor and take care of ourselves in the midst of battling our own race is humbling, and takes an incredible amount of courage.  May I accept my limitations, with courage, and honor  myself where I am on this journey.  May I never accept defeat, yet always celebrate each limitation that has been defeated.

Finding Strength in Vulnerability

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I have not blogged in a long time. My life had begun getting so busy with surgeries, healing, training, talking, participating, racing, more surgeries, and internal discussions with my soul that I had started to become disconnected with my ability to process my emotions through this medium. I recently had surgery #29. I completed my first marathon in Lehigh Valley, PA and then went on to having my left side opened back up to have three expanders placed. One in my lower leg, one on my upper thigh, and another on my left butt cheek. The surgery left me back in a wheel chair for sometime and in immense pain. I had to face my own vulnerability all over again with seeing my left side cut again, and bleeding and oozing for weeks. The expansion process was grueling and twice a week for over a month I went in for injections into the three ports of my leg. They slowly injected saline to inflate the expanders bags under my skin and allow me to “grow” new tissue. At three years post trauma my body had grown all the new skin back, however the skin was badly scarred and incredibly vulnerable. In the one year I had sepsis twice. IMG_1536IMG_1192

The goal of the expansion surgery was to be able to grow new tissue through slowly stretching my skin from inside out and then have all of my newly developed skin be cut out so they could stretch my more sustainable skin over affected areas thus reducing my chances of infection. When January came around I was back under anesthesia for another 6+ hours and when I awoke my leg was bound together with multiple drain tubes. The pain was excruciating. I came home far too early and had home health nurses work with me over the next few weeks on wound care. My new leg looked like I had a butterfly of scar left in the stitching. IMG_1815IMG_1745

The pain had me back on crutches for some time so the skin could heal and my depression began spiking again along with PTSD and nightmares of the trauma. I began waking up night after night screaming as my nerves were regenerating and the pain throbbed through my left side. Once again, I was vulnerable.  Help was needed for all of my basic care.  In a few weeks I began lifting for strength, and then as the skin became totally healed over I started spinning, and then light jogging and swimming.   The fascinating thing about this journey that I continue to discover every day is that when we are most vulnerable we are most open to allow ourselves to grieve and release emotion, pain, and the feelings associated with feeling dependent.  As those exhales continued to happen I found I had no choice but to accept help. I had to accept love, support, and care.  As an athlete, and a stubborn Irish/Greek chick Ive found that allowing myself to be in places of discomfort have forced me to grow in ways I never anticipated.   We are now seven months out from my last major surgery. I would like to say that Im no longer vulnerable to infection now that my leg has finished healing, however that is untrue.  Two weeks ago I was back in the hospital facing a severe infection.  I lay in the ER sobbing with anger and despair.  The surgeon looked at me and reminded me that I will forever be compromised as my vascular and lymphatic system was horribly damaged,  AND I am strong, resilient, and capable.  Would I have fully understood the latter sentiments from him had I not been vulnerable?   What a beautiful metaphor has been created. My body needed to have the damaged and affected areas “pruned” off in order for healthy tissue to grow, AND Even with healthy tissue and pruned branches I can still get “sick”, How true for life!  When we become vulnerable in various situations in life, we must learn to extend our hands and accept help. We must learn to accept compliments, love, and growth from others. When our bodies become nourished we can gain the strength to shed those branches of doubt and negativity so that new shoots can grow that are nourishing to our beings.  Powerful stuff. Will we get damaged again with these new shoots? ABSOLUTELY.  As long as we live, we will become vulnerable.

The powerful thing about vulnerability is that it provides us the opportunity to be empowered, enlightened, and to truly listen to ourselves and each other.

Tonight, I will participate in a triathlon relay. I get to cycle (woohoo!).  I have completed a few triathlons including half iron distance since my last major surgery, however only as an Aqua Bike or as a relay.  I am still working on building my strength back in my left side so I can transition from the bike to the run effectively.  I am continuing to grow, learn, listen, and accept help and kindness from others and my own limitations. I am continuing to learn that STRENGTH has many faces and one of them looks defenseless and weak however the even when the exterior is limited the heart and soul will always persevere.

When you feel vulnerable, remember that even when you need help you are strong. 5893

Stay rooted throughout the seasons of this life my friends.  Remember to shed dead branches so that new shoots can grow.