Friday, April 22, 2011

Altitudinal Attitude

My survivor tools included in the Survivor's Handbook are in alphabetical order only to keep order in my own mind.  They are all equally important tools to have at the ready for any situation or circumstance.  In my own journey as a Survivor, I have used each and every tool that will be provided for you in this handbook.  I’ve used all of them more than once; believe me, and some I use daily.  Being a Survivor takes dedication to self, and a constant desire to lead a happier and healthier life.  But, no one survives alone, and that’s why I’m here to help.  So take the first step today, and join me along this journey of being a Survivor.
My Dad was a pilot of a small aircraft. He loved to fly almost more than he liked to eat. And my Dad loved to eat.  He took any opportunity to fly, and my sisters and I were frequent passengers.  He even took my Golden Retriever, Rusty, in the plane once. Dad wanted to see how my dog-- his hunting dog-- would handle flying.  Rusty, scared to the point of shaking off his entire coat, insisted on sitting on my dad’s lap during the flight.  I would imagine that it’s somewhat difficult piloting a plane with an 80 pound dog in your lap.  So the dog stayed home after his maiden voyage, with my Mother who was equally as terrified of flying.   
Dad and I were at the local municipal airport one slightly cloudy Spring morning.  We were getting ready to fly over a “piece of land” as my father described it- a 920 Square mile ranch in Northern New Mexico.  It was up for sale, and Dad was really interested in seeing it.  “No better way to look at a piece of land than from the air” he said.  He looked like a little kid who couldn’t wait to get his hands on his new toy. 
As we began our assent, the engine was roaring.  We passed through the clouds, bumping along in the turbulence.   When we finally got to our cruising altitude, I looked out the window at the clear magnificent blue sky.  I felt like I was viewing the whole world from that small rectangular window of the plane. All was quiet, all was calm, all was glorious. My spirit soared along with the tan and white Beachcraft Bonanza single engine aircraft. “The world is a beautiful place at 15,000 feet,” Dad proclaimed.  His huge grin was spreading across his face indicating that life couldn’t be better than this.  I had to agree.
I think about that day, in the plane with my Dad, often.  I pull it out of my memory, when I need to feel the serenity, and quiet, and gloriousness of that moment. When I find myself losing altitude, when my vision clouds up and the turbulence starts bumping me around, I make the choice to rise above the clouds.  Once I get a clear view of what it is that’s clouding my vision, I am able to see it from a whole new and much clearer perspective.
So, when you’re having “one of those days,” you have to make the choice to climb into your “plane,” and rise above the clouds. And you have to look out the window to be able to see the whole picture.  When you’re stuck in the clouds, the world looks gray and bleak.  The clouds may even be causing rain to fall, drenching you in despair.  But getting out of the clouds, raising your altitude level leads to raising your attitude level as well.
  As you rise through the clouds, look at the beauty that surrounds you. And when you get to your cruising altitude allow yourself to realize that your world really is more beautiful from 15,000 feet. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I survived! And the journey begins.

I have started this blog- The Survivor’s Handbook- because many people have asked me how I manage to live my life as a happy fulfilled person, after having lost so much. I can tell you this...I feel blessed! And I have discovered many resources through my journey, too, which have and continue to be profoundly helpful.  I call these resources “Survivor’s tools.” This blog is designed to share those tools, and to help you inspire the survivor within.  Whether or not you have suffered a traumatic loss, event, or illness, this blog is for you. 
 Being a survivor is simply a mindset-a way of living life to its fullest- with purpose, empowerment, and an unshakable positive attitude. Once you begin on this path, you won’t want to turn back.  But no one does it alone, so I’m here to walk with you, as you begin your journey of becoming a survivor.
My story (the beginning of it, anyway)
 On February 13 1997, I was delivered a death sentence. I contracted a deadly strep A bacterial infection, commonly known as “the flesh eating bacteria.” The doctors involved with my case did not think I would survive. Within the first 48 hours of my initial symptoms, my breast, all the surrounding tissue and muscle were surgically removed. The left half of my chest was gone- literally stripped down to my rib cage.
On March 8 1997 both of my legs below the knees, and my right arm, below the elbow, were amputated, all in the effort to save my life.
When I was getting ready to leave the hospital, headed for physical rehab, my doctor came to see me.  He asked me what my “goals” were for rehab. I tearfully answered that I just wanted to walk again.  He smiled at me, and said, “If that’s all you want, it will be easy. 'Just walking again’ is duck soup!”  He told me that once I was vertical (on my knees), he could have me walking in three weeks.  I was somewhat skeptical over this ambitious promise, but nonetheless thrilled  by the possibility.
Again, he asked me what my rehab goals were.  I was confused.  I thought I had already told him what I wanted to accomplish, and with an emotional proclamation at that.   He then explained that rehab is an on-going process.  “Surviving your illness is just the tip of the ice berg, but learning how to live with the aftermath is what rehab is all about.”
After he left my hospital room, I began contemplating on how I was going to live my life. Up until then, I had been living each day, simply to heal physically from this devastating illness. I had an occasional thought of how difficult life would be once I got home, but I kept putting those thoughts out of my mind. I certainly didn’t want to dwell on them. I didn’t want to face the possibility that I might not be able to do the things that any “normal” wife and mother could do. Frankly, I was scared to think about it. But my doctor laid it right at my doorstep… how was I going to live my life?  I was terrified!  If I could have worn boots, I would have been shaking in them. 
I began to take a long hard look at what I was facing. I had help and I had support, but I had to dig deep and find the one thing that I needed most to begin this new journey of my life.    I began focusing on getting stronger, physically and mentally.  And little by little I began my forward progression.  Lying flat on my back, with no right hand, and no feet left to stand on, I began the fight.  I knew that I would battle and battle hard to pick up the pieces, to get home, and create a new life; one that I knew was worth living.   I began a new chapter of my life, that day my rehab doctor came to see me, and I began the journey...the journey of becoming a survivor.