Welcome to our blog! I originally started this blog in November 2010 just prior to having a major brain surgery to remove a large bleeding cavernous angioma from a deep part of my brain. You can best understand the gravity of our experience by reading the first several entries.(Nov 2010-Dec 2010) I wrote the first one and my sweet, adoring husband, John, wrote the next several (while I was too sick to do much of anything) that documented surgery, immediate recovery, and our reaction to the surgery complication (stroke)that was revealed 2 days after surgery. This recovery process has been difficult but we are making it. We appreciate all the kind words of encouragement we have received and we would like to thank everyone that has participated in helping us along this difficult journey. Also, if you have any questions about my personal experience, please leave them as a comment or contact me directly at thankfulforeveryday@yahoo.com and I will respond although I am not a doctor and this is not a replacement for medical care or advise. Please ask a real professional, or probably several. :) I hope to be able to help at least one person along the challenging road of brain surgery and recovery.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Attitude is everything!

Well maybe not everything, but one should never discount the power of a positive attitude. I whole heartedly believe that a big part of my miraculous recovery is attributable to my relentless positive attitude and my intentional focus on all things that are positive. Some people, especially negative people, like to discount attitude as a contributing factor in any survivor's success or lack of such in their own recovery. It's probably because they don't want to admit that their "bad"/negative attitude is preventing and/or limiting their own recovery. In reality, they should be looking for ways to foster a more positive attitude that can only possibly aid in recovery. Attitude is something that you can control and change. With so many unknowns involved in brain injury and recovery, it seems crazy to deny the possibility that bringing your most positive thoughts and attitude could aid in your recovery. I've certainly never heard of anyone ever blaming a positive attitude for a failed or unsuccessful recovery. Some survivors also don't want to or are afraid of taking ownership of or responsibility for their recovery. I think that too is a mistake. Own it, drive it, force it, will it, demand it, make it happen. If what you are doing isn't working, change it, get new therapists, try new therapies, change your thoughts.Whatever you do, stay positive and think YOU CAN change it, unless you are happy and satisfied where you are at. Many doctors and therapists are pessimistic...there is NO room for that negativity in your recovery. When you give up, start buying into the restrictions and limitations negative people place on you, or stop trying with all your heart, it's OVER!! By no means am I saying, that ALL anyone needs is a good attitude and positive thinking to recover. There are many factors(age, area damaged both how much and what part/parts, what type of damage, inherent survivor personality, motivation, ability, prior physical condition, other medical issues, medications, on and on) involved aside from one's attitude. I'm basically saying that while some things are a given and not changeable like your age. Your attitude is one factor that you CAN control and it can help or hurt you.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with a negative attitude especially while faced with a health crisis....look for help asap. There is tons of research on the benefits of positive thinking and an optimistic attitude. There are also tons of ways to change your thought patterns.

Some people mistake a positive attitude for a Pollyanna "bury your head in the sand....no action" attitude. They are not the same....not even close. And denial can get you into trouble. You need to be able to objectively evaluate the situation in order to make the best of it.  Look at all the factors. What can you control? What parts are not changeable? What do you want to change? How are you going to get there? Do you have a plan with "SMART" goals? Are you noticing, rewarding small changes/progress along the way? Always remember what is going well, and aside from the "problem area/areas" what are you thankful for? Always appreciating is key to a positive attitude. Maintaining a positive attitude doesn't always come naturally....at least for me it didn't. It takes work. Most people are not perfect at it at first, practice makes perfect. It's starting a new set of habits, it will become more natural in time. And yes, we all feel crappy sometimes, don't ignore it, recognize it, feel it, express it, and move on. Don't get stuck in the  sh**. It will never help you to stew in the garbage too long. If you are struggling to move past the garbage, get help. There are psychological techniques that will help you retrain your brain to move along: thought stopping and CBT are two effective options among many. Finding the help you need is critical. For some strange reason, people are afraid of talk therapy/psychotherapy, but they will take heavy duty pharmaceuticals like candy. I don't understand it. Therapy is highly effective....it IS the fix....there are no side effects, and the results last a lifetime. Where as, pharma is a band-aid of sorts. It can help you temporarily, but it is NOT the long term fix. Sometimes people need medication to get started on therapy and/or to help with therapy....but....therapy is the long term fix.

I had the "luxury"(at the time it was an agonizing process but I'm thankful for the time I had and that I used my time wisely) of preparing for my very scary, risky brain surgery. The year leading up to surgery, I did an enormous amount of research on all types of recoveries. Most people are forced into "stroke recovery", totally unprepared. While I wasn't reading about stroke recovery specifically (I did read some but not much)..I never thought stroke would be my reality...I read a lot about brain surgery, especially deep brain surgery recovery.I also reached out to willing survivors from Angioma Alliance that served as my mentors and models on what to do, how to recover, etc. Thank you everyone for sharing and helping. I don't know where I would be without the tremendous outpouring of support I received from my AA friends! I also read about all kinds of miraculous recoveries...cancer, MS, TBIs, etc. Any type of triumph of the human spirit was game. I was interested in any story that involved: a miracle, someone attaining the unattainable, beating the odds, or doing something everyone else said couldn't be done.  I read and read, and then read some more. I read every inspiring, hopeful story I could find. Survivors typically have no idea what to expect, or what to do when they are faced with starting a recovery. I had a fair understanding of what to expect (except I was wildly unprepared for how devastating psychologically it is to rebuild oneself). I had a very good understanding of what I needed to DO to get better, which was a HUGE advantage to those that know nothing at first. I read a ton of blogs and personal recovery stories during my preparatory period. A common denominator in ALL of the amazing and crazy good recoveries was a reported positive attitude of the survivor. I knew that was an important model for me to follow. I never read, heard or watched one "success story" in which they credited a negative attitude as a driving force that contributed to success. In fact, sometimes the individual would credit a "turn around" from negative to positive and reported a "rebound" from plateau to increased gains. 

When my surgery did not go as planned,(I suffered a stroke as a result of the surgery) I woke up acutely aware that there was something terribly wrong. The doctor asked me to raise my right arm..ok..tough but I could do it. Then raise my left arm...  Arrrr....with all my might.....no movement!! Doctor says,"Too weak?" I agreed, "Ya, too weak." Drooling out of the left side of mouth as I spoke. My heart was racing and my mind scrambling for any explanation aside from the obvious. "Oh crap," I thought. I knew it was bad. As tried to move anything on the left....nothing.......ugh..... I didn't vocalize my concern or panic initially, but I kept trying to move something/anything....NOPE.... nothing on the left not even a toe not even a little. The doctor called it "weak", but I was completely frozen on the entire left side of my body.  I immediately became focused, fixated on all that was OK or good. I wasn't dead. I wasn't in a coma. I didn't have amnesia. I recognized everyone in the room. I could talk and understand everyone. I was able to somewhat assess myself ,sort of able to determine what was wrong and what was right. There turned out to be much more wrong than I initially suspected, but those were the details. Most things initially seemed pretty good except no movement on the left and my vision was really messed up making me vomit every time I opened my eyes. From what I read...that was all fixable by way of neuroplasticity. My immediate plan was to focus on all the stuff that was good and as soon as I can start working on what's wrong I will. And I WILL get better. I thought...., I know it's hard work. I am a hard worker..I was made for this kind of stuff...just stay focused on the positives ALWAYS. That will help!!! I actually was obsessed with surrounding myself in positivity. If it was negative, it was out during my immediate recovery. That is no time to be distracted. Being/living completely positive was not exactly "natural" to me....so I felt I had to come up to speed fast. It's hard to change old habits but I knew how important it was and that my recovery...at least the part I could control hinged on my attitude. In the year leading up to surgery, I fully immersed myself in positive books, songs, sayings. It was what helped me manage the terrible anxiety about my future. Well, that and a lot of deep breathing. I also grew more spiritual. When I felt what I was handed was too much I asked for help. I was raised Catholic and so I have long considered myself a "recovering Catholic"....it's a long way back to any type of spirituality when you have been subjected to 10 years of Catholic school. At times in the not too distant past I would identify more with an atheist/agnostic attitude than anything else. I hated religion and anything remotely close to it...don't even think of using the word God....it was like nails on a chalkboard. My Catholic upbringing really tainted my view on spirituality and my love of science helped me to stay that way for a long time. I can't buy into any belief system that denies the truths of evolution, or any other proven scientific facts. Whatever I'm going to believe needs to make sense to me. That year before my surgery really helped me to find myself and my spirituality. I was finally able to create a spiritual belief system that comforted me, and helped me meld science with spirit...two things that seemed mutually exclusive to me prior. So my asking for help outside of myself was a HUGE shift for me...just so you know I'm not, never have been, and never will be some sort of "bible banger"  wanting to convert the world. I understand how sensitive people can be about their spiritual beliefs. I was probably the most extreme "anti all of it", "keep your beliefs to yourself" kind of person before. People need to figure it out on their own, come to their own conclusions. Now I can filter it better. I'm not offended or turned off to as much as I was before. I can tune in or out a message better. Before, if the delivery involved any parts that were not agreeable....it was out...the bathwater and the baby. And so I digressed, but finding my spirituality and staying positive go hand in hand for me. It's easier to stay relentlessly positive and strong while feeling I have the infinite power and energy of the universe on my side and at my disposal. I believe the energy is there and we can access it to achieve the "unachievable". The energy is limitless. ( I just haven't figured out how to harness this energy to beat my fatigue yet...hopefully someday!)

Anyway, I knew I could potentially come out of surgery much worse than I went in, but it was a gamble I felt I had to take to reclaim my life before it was too late. Either I was going to take control with the help of the best surgeon in the world or my angioma was going to take control. I am a total control freak, so the angioma had no chance, and I hoped Dr. Spetzler would work his magic. The recovery was on me. Only I could do it, and I couldn't afford to mess it up. My husband and boy were counting on me. They needed me to be my best, and I wanted to be my best for our family....besides....being all messed up sucks. It's sooo hard. There was no way I could stay like that. I read about neuroplaticity and how to make it happen. Repeat everything a zillion times, stay positive, don't give up. And don't get depressed. Depression following brain injury is common. All your neurotransmitters are whacked, so do what you can to stay positive...it will help. Piling on the negativity with whacked NT is a recipe for disaster. So that's what I did, focus only on good positive things. It was easy for me because I'm surrounded by Jack and John..the two loves of my life! I know how lucky I am, and I'm appreciating every moment of not being dead, even when I felt like complete garbage which was most of the time. I tried to look my best and be my best everyday. I thought if somehow I looked better, I might feel better. I'm not sure that's the case, but it sure did surprise my nurses and therapists when I showed up all put together the first day of rehab...the best I could. In perspective I could have been worse, and I knew it. I was grateful for where I was at. Some stroke survivors are angry and unable to appreciate the moment,or find anything positive about their situation initially because the whole thing is dropped on them like a bomb overnight or in a matter of hours/days. I had time before to think, to evaluate, to form a perspective. I knew what I was going into....sort of....I was hoping for a normal 6 week recovery like the surgeon had suggested prior to surgery...but I was not naive. The surgeon was sugar coating it....giving me the best case scenario, but my surgery did not result in the best case scenario and I was faced with the challenge of recovering to the best of my ability. I took the challenge and fought back with all the knowledge I had about recovery, with every bit of energy that I could muster, with the best attitude possible, and with only one possible outcome....I WILL RECOVER!!

Now maybe I  was lucky, maybe this and maybe that. What I know is that I was messed up, and while I am "different" today....I have a lot of smaller issues and one monster fatigue....I am WAY better than I was and I think having a positive attitude helped in a very big way. Maintaining a positive attitude is much more natural now. It's my new habit. I'm not perfect at it 100% of the time, but when I get off track, I try to get back on asap. Besides thinking a positive attitude is helpful...., it just feels better. :) Think good thoughts!!!!