Well Dang

Some things seem too familiar, or maybe not. It has been over a year since my last seizure and perhaps I wasn’t quick enough to recognize the aura.

Several weeks ago I headed into the store for a quick pickup of ingredients to make chili. As I got to the back of the store something felt wrong. In my circus head I thought I would crush my phone in my back pocket if I went down. I placed my phone in my pocketbook and moved on. The sensation continued and I realized I had my glasses on so I placed those in the hard case and put them in my pocketbook too. I got to the sour cream and it was shaking everywhere. Determined, I tried yoga breathing. The shaking subsided and I grabbed the fat free sour cream. Feeling like I had this, I pushed my cart to the cheese section. Problem was that I could not walk steadily. So in my constant attempts to “do it my own self” (something I told my grandparents when I was about 5 years old) I bent over the buggy and threw my head into the basket. Self said to me “this is highly embarrassing so get up and walk.” I stood up and grabbed the handles again. Nope, not steady. I sat down on top of the cheese. Yes, on top of the cheese. I realized I needed to take an emergency seizure pill. As I sat ON the cheese I could see bottled water and thought I could dash over and grab a bottle, open it and pay for it when I left. I stood up. Then I doubled over inside the basket again. Well dang. Walking was out. I sat back down on the cheese. I threw the pill as far back in my throat as I could and gobbled it down. AHHH DANG! This is not good. I looked around for someone to call to. All I heard was spanish.

“You are ok. We are taking care of you. You had a seizure and you are going to be ok.”

I looked past the man speaking to me and into the bright round lights shining down on me. I realized I was strapped to a gurney and prepped to be moved to the ambulance. Well dang, really?? I just wanted to make chili. My mind wandered to my buggy with ground turkey, tomatoes, sour cream and oh yea, no cheese. I never picked that up. Ouch, my head hurt no matter which way I moved and my legs were barking!

“Hey I know that truck.” I was in the ambulance and I recognized my husband’s truck pulling into the lot. I told the medics my husband was here. I was overwhelmed with beeping and voices. What I wanted was to go home! Johnny came running to the back of the ambulance and told them I had epilepsy and he would take care of me.

Fortunately, I did not bust my head open and the medics released me into the loving care of my husband and our youngest son. Apparently he was in the backseat of the truck. I don’t remember. Some wonderful friends happened to be nearby and went back to pick up my van and get some more Tylenol. The smallest things mean the most.

It is what it is. Maybe I felt safe. I am safe, when I am careful and when I don’t overload myself. Epilepsy is a silent disorder. It is invisible. It strikes when we think it may and also when we least expect it, or when it is least convenient. I can not believe the stoic manner in which my husband is always able to cope with this. My children do not fear seizures but they are all too aware. Our youngest was in a class when he saw his dad come around the corner before class was over. Later he told me he figured something had happened to his mom. He wasn’t worried. He is always confident that someone will be there.

Turns out care was at my side within seconds. A friend witnessed the event but because I was already on the ground she didn’t realize it was me. I am thankful that she asked shoppers to move along and comforted to know that she saw the employees had called 911 before she had the chance.

You know what? This too shall pass. I have spent the last 11 years fighting this and I have no reason to think that it will ever beat me. Yes, I am dealing with reality that I wish I were not, but it certainly could be worse. Can you help? YES! Learn how to aid someone having a seizure.

The most important thing I need after a seizure is to know someone is in control and cares.  If you can be that person who looks into the eyes of someone coming out of a seizure and communicate love and care, you are a hero.

I am fortunate. I am a survivor. There is still no cure for epilepsy but millions of us fight it with the help of loving care around us. November is Epilepsy Awareness Month. Please take a few minutes to read, re-read and share first aid for seizures information. Knowledge is power and power saves lives.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, November 2016

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Life is Good

I exhaled yesterday and inhaled a new breath of peace and tranquility. This past year has been one full of seizures, tests, 9 days in the hospital with tests and this past week 4 more days of testing. I did not realize how this constant calendar waiting for the next test, waiting for the results and what might be around the corner has kept me wound up like a stretched out slinky needing to be set free in order to regain its proper shape.

Yesterday I finished a 4 day EEG that was done at home. I managed to hide all the wires and my battery pack and attempt to go about my routine as best I could. The wonderful nurse who removed my leads had also been my nurse in the hospital. She remembered me…the name of course. She was again so kind, so gentle and had a sense of humor about the whole process. She was encouraging, and she did a fantastic job of removing the leads without stripping my head of hair. Bonus!

I got home and with my head still wrapped in acetone that was breaking down the glue I fell asleep for at least 2 hours. I woke up and felt a relief that I have not felt in a very long time. It has been close to 2 years since this roller coaster began and though it is not over, God has given me peace and knowledge that He has got my back. I have known that, I have told myself that, but now I feel it. We are human, and we always try to do all that we humanly can to be smart, be in the game and be on our toes. My family and I have done that, largely with the support of our community, both near and far, that provided tangible needs and prayer to carry us. But when I woke up I almost could hear God saying “I got this”.

Psalm 103:2-5 says “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. He forgives all your sin; He heals all your diseases. He redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” This verse really speaks to how I feel now. Healing comes in all forms and I must remind myself of that. He has showered me with His love and the outpouring of love from our friends and our family. Though I am limited in some ways, there are many ways in which my youth is renewed because of so many good things.

As we look around it is easy to throw up our hands and give up. So much senseless agony, sadness and despair. But as we throw our hands up we must also point to the giver of life and welcome Him in our lives as our healer, comforter and provider…our Savior. I don’t have all the answers and certainly don’t claim to. I watched my Grandmother welcome death because she knew life was on the other side. I watched our dear friend Will Terry die and he did not fight it because he too, knew Jesus was on the other side. Life can be long in years but when death comes it can feel so short. We must embrace each moment as if it were the last. Our Lord will give us love and compassion as we turn to Him.

As a mom, I sit back and watch my children grow. I don’t like saying good bye to them in the mornings because I miss them every minute that they are gone. This is our last year with our oldest. He has been busy applying to colleges, and THANK YOU LORD, he was persistent and got the apps in early so the pressure is off. We trust that acceptances and opportunities will come that God has already sifted through. We know that he will look to God for the answer as to where he should go and for that we are thankful. Opportunities that we never dreamed have come his way for him to increase his musical skills and we are proud and thankful to God for His guidance.

Our youngest, well, for those that know him, he is still himself without apologies. He keeps us on our toes, but I am thankful for that sometimes aimless personality, and we are thankful that he knows when to reign it in a bit and when to let loose. He reminds us that life should be lived minute to minute and to embrace each minute. His laugh is contagious, even when I can’t understand a word he is saying because he is laughing so hard, we just all laugh together.

My husband, the rock of our family, the solid foundation upon which we have built our 20 years of marriage and raised 2 incredible boys. God blessed me.

For the first time in a very long time I feel good. I have a home filled with love, gratitude and warmth. We are surrounded by an incredible community of help and prayer. I have left no stone unturned in our search for answers and I find great peace in that, although the battle was really never mine. God has always had my back. God refines each of us with many different methods. I am glad He loves me enough to refine me. I pray He will find me like gold as I call upon His name.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, November 2015

 

NIMBY…Newsflash…Mental Health Issues Are Already on Your Front Porch

Soapbox alert! This topic gets under my skin in ways that I can not describe. I have made brief mentions of this on Facebook but it is time to speak about the bigger picture.

I’m an avid news reader. I’m curious about the world, our country, our state and my local neighborhood. Reading the news is a catch 22. You can keep up with current info which about 10% of the time is good news and 90% of the time is bad news. Often the bad news simply disgusts me but bad news is all around us and we have to pay attention to it.

Several years ago my town was embroiled in a heavy battle of the NIMBY, the Not In My Back Yard, mentality vs the need for accessibility, the availability of land and the potential for economic growth. I won’t even start on the potential to employ locals. Unfortunately a neighborhood of shortsighted people garnered enough attention to sway the powers to keep a well planned facility from being built in Huntersville. Huntersville had a perfect piece of land that was previously occupied by hospital and later by a nursing facility. It was on a road along the main CATS route, thus offering ample opportunity for employment by those with transportation and those without. There was a neighborhood next to the property and they formed committees, contacted media and waged outright war on the plans to help those in need. Their main call to action was Not In My Back Yard. The neighborhood felt they won. Unfortunately, those in need lost. Thankfully, the Town of Davidson saw the bigger picture and embraced a beautifully built facility to bring those suffering from mental health issues to find healing. I watched the facility finally rise from the soil near Davidson and now pass by it and I anxiously wait for the day I can drive. I have dreamed of volunteering there. I want to be available to refill kleenex, keep hot coffee ready, keep cold water ready or perhaps be a smile to the faces of desperation that come through the door. I don’t need to know why you have come through the door but people walking in the doors of a mental health facility deserve the best our world can offer. When we embrace those seeking help and the family members in despair we bring positivity to our community and send better equipped people back into our neighborhoods.

Newsflash! Mental health issues and difficulties are not in your backyard. They are on the front porches of everyone in America. Pick up the old-fashioned method of news called a newspaper, click on CNN, click on your local news or read the updates from our local schools. Our country is overwhelmed by people who suffer from various forms of mental health difficulties and because help is not readily available to them nor to their families, we all suffer.  Sure, some are of their own doing, but some are not. These issues stem from a world that does not offer enough opportunities to understand those that don’t suit “our” standard of normal. My question is this; when might we ALL understand that we can ALL be part of the solution instead of just dumping other people’s issues on themselves and essentially saying “figure it out for yourself”.

A bit of history about why this stirs my pot. My Grandfather was the smartest, most gentle and most patient man I have ever known. He was ordained as a Minister in the Methodist Church, served as Chaplain in the Navy during WWII and until his retirement was the Chair of the Psychology Department at Davidson College. He was part of the call to action in NC to license psychologists. He was in line to hold license #1, but as his life displayed an intense love of respect for others, he stepped aside in this historic time and asked that a woman hold license #1 and he held license #2, issued on June 19, 1968. In the Navy he was on an unarmed vessel, the USS Granville, that served our country by bringing the injured home for recovery. He was also charged with meeting with families and giving them the horrific news that their beloved had suffered fatal injuries while fighting in the name of the United States of America. I will never claim to even be able to imagine the pain and suffering he saw and how these experiences shaped the man he became. He taught by example that we should always, always put others first and help others where possible. During his time at Davidson College, he caught wind of needs at Broughton Hospital. He volunteered his summers at Broughton to relieve the Chaplain of the incredibly difficult responsibilities of a minister serving at a mental health facility. He and my grandmother spent many summers at Broughton, accepted no pay, but for the joy that he could fulfill a need and thus give rest to someone dedicating themselves to helping those suffering from mental health disorders. I would sum up my Grandfather in two 4-letter words: GIVE and LOVE. He gave himself in as many ways as possible because he loved ALL.

My Grandfather suffered several strokes before he died in 1995. God showed him mercy and he only lived about 6 months after suffering life altering strokes but those months gave me insight that shaped my mind and heart until this day. He never bragged about anything he did, and found it difficult to receive any accolades for what I call his ministry through psychology. I visited him frequently after his strokes. Sometimes he knew me but usually he thought I was one of his sisters. I enjoyed venturing back into time and playing the role of “sisters Libby and Martha” and learning even more about this quiet little man of tremendous faith and strength. One early evening I was sitting with him in his room on the second floor of The Pines in the nursing unit. I had helped him eat dinner and afterwards I propped up on his bed and he sat in his wheelchair while we watched/listened to Jeopardy. A commercial came on. At the end of the commercial the narrator said “If you don’t get help here, please get help somewhere”. He perked up from his slouched position and said “Exactly!” I shook my head in confusion because I had not paid attention to the commercial. I asked what he was talking about. The professor, the psychologist, the minister and the lover of people went on to explain in great detail that people need help for a variety of reasons. He liked this commercial because it did not necessarily promote their facility but in fact it promoted encouraging people to get help somewhere. This man with whom I had sat for months was still in there. His understanding of mental health issues was the heart of his heartbeat. In that one conversation I realized that he had seen and understood far more about mental health disorders than I would ever know. In his last months he still believed that everyone had the right to help. He was right on target!

Over the last few weeks a neighboring county has been gaining attention fighting another Mental Health Hospital. Yet again, the headline was NIMBY. I sighed in anger and disgust. I shudder at the thought of fighting an opportunity for healing. I scrolled on and saw various headlines and began to see a pattern. The overwhelming bad news seemed to have a clear connection. Untreated mental health issues are negatively affecting every single one of us! No, we don’t need to worry about mental health disorders being in our back yard because far too often the problem of untreated mental health disorders ends up on the front porch of all of our homes! We all should accept some of the blame for not being willing to welcome facilities that offer help to those in need and to their families. We have become so short-sighted in our own needs that we can’t see the bigger picture and grasp the full color version that when we extend a helping hand, and welcome people into our backyard we bring a light of hope to our front porch.

I was in my 11-year-old’s room yesterday and saw a project he was working on about anti-bullying. Just a few hours later I saw adults engaged in social media bullying regarding politics. When I shook my head it was as if all the puzzle pieces fell into place. We are in a new age where we speak our mind behind a computer and in fact we are adults bullying adults. Now we are waging a horrific battle against bullying in our middle and high schools. I place the blame on our own shoulders. We have spent far too much time pushing off other people’s issues on themselves, not willing to spend some time helping our neighbors and now it has filtered down into kids barely into double digits. This makes me sick to my stomach.

This might be the most disjointed blog I have ever written, but my fingers can not keep up with my head. We have come to a place where we are focused on kids bullying kids. What example have they followed? You tell me. We have not exercised the proper example by helping others and instead our communities have become a people who wants to fight others and send them off on their own. Far too often we no longer seek to understand and shun the opportunity to join hands and be the helping, giving, loving people whom God intended.

Mental health disorders, illnesses and difficulties permeate our society. If we focused the same attention on fighting for help to be in our back yard and instead focused on how our back yard can help, where might we be? Maybe I would not find my 11 year old trying to fight the bullying that is simply taught by adults. How can we be actively in our community, loving, giving and helping our neighbors live a better life? I wonder where we might be if we all concentrated our efforts on understanding each other and the all-encompassing thoughts that might change? We are all from different backgrounds, stories and battles. I absolutely believe we can turn them into the positive but it takes a community effort to accept this is on our front porch.

If you walk away from one message in this blog, please think about how we can embrace those in need, those with differing needs from our own and how the dominos can line up to change the future for the next generation. You or I may hold the key to understanding the mental health needs of someone we know or someone we do not know that may change the future of someone we love. Step out…GIVE…LOVE and listen. Stop the NIMBY philosophy and be active in the solution.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, October 2015

Ten and Then…

Ten years ago my doctor uttered the word epilepsy to me. We were glad to know what we were dealing with, but dealing has not always been easy. I look back on those six or so years I was seizure free and I long for those days again. I remain hopeful it will happen. I haven’t given up hope that a cure will one day be found for the millions of people suffering from the invisible disease.

Epilepsy and then what? Well, I discovered I wasn’t cut out for a career anymore but I was still cut out to be a wife and a mom. We set aside other goals and ambitions and small things like waking up each day with time to cook breakfast for Johnny and the boys before work and school became a joy. I love being able to hug their necks when they leave and being home and see their eyeballs when they come home in the afternoon. I will always remember the excitement Justin had when he was in the 3rd grade and we told him he didn’t have to go to after school care anymore! He was over the moon! He is a senior now and this time next year he will have left our nest. It makes my heart sing to have these years with the children. Epilepsy gifted us this time. It has given me far more than it can ever take.

Ten years later and then what? Well, I will survive the humps in the road. I can look back and see that now. This current hurdle will pass. My children are smarter from learning about this disease and being more aware of the people around them, their struggles and their victories. We survive because love always wins. When love is the heartbeat of a family, family wins.

Ten years past, and in ten more years you can ask me again. Then what? I will tell you again, I’m still winning.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, September 2015