SURVIVAL of Holiday Festivities – The Acoustic Neuroma World

Hi everybody!  I’m here, just haven’t had anything to share for awhile.  However, that changed with the season. For some, this will be the first holiday since a craniotomy or radiation. Or perhaps the first season of watch and wait after finally learning the source of symptoms. I thought I’d share my personal tips for survival.

Holidays are a challenge for those of us who have: (check those that apply)

– Head hurts (no further explanation needed)
– Tinnitus (loud, not just ringing, but buzzing, radio station sounds, ringing that gets worse in noisy settings)
– Single-sided deafness (doesn’t just cut hearing in half but confuses brain signals which amplifies background and side noises while ignoring voices that are right in front)
– Full or partial facial paralysis (making eye dry and/or self-conscious about smiling or eating)

PRIOR to Festivities, if possible:

– Take a nap
– Pack eye drops & tissue
– Pack as much humor as you can
– Think about packing one earplug
– Pack pain medication

DURING – Once you are “there”, wherever that might be, consider the following:

– Be calm. No need to scurry or move. Keep your head calm.
– Find the most comfortable chair (one high enough to have a headrest is heaven).
– Sit as far from speakers as possible.
– If possible set with your deaf ear toward a wall so you won’t have to strain your neck to hear (which may make your head worse) — and you won’t inadvertently miss someone approaching you and talking with you being aware. “What?” being our too familiar response to that jolt of awareness. (ears being on the side of the head doesn’t help single sided deafness, but that’s another discussion)
– Smile with your eyes. Sparkly eyes pull the viewers eye away from the mouth.
– Don’t stress about not hearing. Seriously, don’t get stressed.
– People watch – really study people around the room. It’s fun to watch mannerisms. I saw a play in a foreign language once so hearing didn’t matter – I got the story through physical movements of the cast)
– Focus on what you have — not what you’ve lost. Perspective is a good thing. Loss is real, but only living can bring joy.
– Once in a while close your eyes. Inhale, exhale and identify holiday smells.
– Focus your hearing on laughter and joy.
– Take mental snapshots. (Maybe phone pics too) but the idea of a deliberate mental snapshot is more likely to be saved in your memory for later retrieval (see below for your first opportunity)
– Laugh a bit.
– Take a walk or step outside for some air and silence (depending on weather where you are – here in Michigan you may freeze in place)
– Drink a lot – of water (alcohol at a minimum as you know your ability to handle, but it usually doesn’t help any of our issues)

AFTER – Once you’ve survived and gotten through a night of loud noises in your head, ponder these ideas if you can:

– Plan for morning after hangover and if possible stay in bed.
– Accept this opportunity to be still and rest
– Close your eyes and think past head pain to go through your mental snapshots. (see above). Remember the funny, the adorable, the cringe worthy. . .
– Go for a walk. Sometimes I have to start really slow, but the rhythm of walking seems to be calming to the head and the relative quietness of outdoors (if possible) are calming.
– Drink a lot of water.

I’m sure many warriors have other ideas for surviving, but here are a few of mine.

Happy Holidays!

Journey from Hopeless to Hope

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At times, I feel hopeless. Does acknowledging disappointment mean that I’ve given up?  Does it mean I’m a realist or a defeatist? When dealing with life as it is presented, is there a recommended ratio of hope to realism? Of optimism to acceptance? For me, I’ve found that changing expectations allows for an increase in hope that leads in new and realistic directions.

Hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for something to happen. It can be a short term hope – “I hope the weather is good,” or a long term hope – “I hope my chronic pain goes away.” Hope for things we know are not possible in this broken world can bring depression, which brings isolation and fatigue. It leads to hopelessness.

To be hopeless is to feel despair and disappointment that something hasn’t happened: an emotion frequently labeled pessimistic or defeatist. When our bodies fail, should we hope?  Or cope? I hate the word cope. I know that hating a simple word is rather severe.  However, I’ve heard the word cope too many times while living with head pain. I cheerfully and kiddingly correct anyone using the word cope by advising that adapting is the preferred word – for me. Coping is treading water while adapting is finding a way to move forward.

Futile is a word that pops up when I find myself hoping for things that are not probable. Yes, I know that God is capable of touching and healing. However, He is also capable of nurturing a deeper faith as we learn to accept and not fight.  Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed and torn between deliberate optimism and honest feelings that demand to be acknowledged.  I don’t know how to reconcile my public mask of “positive, strong, and resilient; pleasant, miserable person” with one who opens up vulnerably to connect with the people in my life.  I worry I’ll make people uncomfortable with something they can’t fix. It can’t be talked through.  My head pain can’t be overcome.  It demands perseverance when I don’t really want to be a strong, persevering person. What’s important to share?  What is rambling? I’ve always had a desire to be concise – fix it and move on. However, life has brought me unfixable challenges following brain surgery. At least so far. . .

At times, I can’t breathe.  I feel stifled by life.  I start in one direction and stall.  I start in another direction but stall again. Feeling stuck and immobilized, I can’t move.  Pain.  Constant pain.  Recurring pain.  Exhausting pain.  Inescapable pain.  Pain that doctors have given up on but I live with every day, in every moment.

Given the hopelessness and futility of wishing for life to be different, I still feel surges of hope urging me forward.  I see little – and big – miracles in life that bring joy. I experience things that make me want to get up for another day.

Despite being deaf in one ear, the other one delights in the song of my grandsons’ laughter. They’re just too darn cute.  To hear them say “Grandma” melts my heart, and I have to suppress laughter at their young declarations of independence, “Don’t want to!”.

Although my vision is far from perfect due to genetically poor vision, a dry eye from facial paralysis and skewed vision from nerve damage, I love to take in our world’s vast horizon with spectacular sunrises and sunsets. I see beauty in nature that allows me to forget my head pain for a moment. The world that challenges me also calms me.

I love the feel of working with melted wax to create encaustic paintings. I lose myself as I focus on getting a detail right. I smell the heated wax and feel stickiness as the wax cools and takes shape.  Sometimes smooth, and other times textured by objects that I embed in the wax – all to create unique pictures.

Writing provides a way to express what I’m living in a way that connects with other hurting people. When I take a break from writing, which I need to do at times, I always feel liberated when words start to flow again.  I find myself smiling, even if crooked, at the feedback that I helped even one person’s day.

Each of these respite diverts my focus bringing me back to experiencing joy. I feel gently led from hopelessness to hope.  I become filled with hope for living and finding a way through the brambles of life.

Community Service Announcement

If you’re getting this in your email that means that you signed up to receive updates on my blog, SmilingAgainBook.com.

First, thank you.

Second, I also blog at www.sallystap.com about photography, encaustic art, and life.  If you want to get updates on that blog also, please visit and subscribe to that site also – if you haven’t already.

I won’t bug you again but wanted to make sure you are receiving my updates if interested.

Have a great day!

Acoustic Neuroma – Depression and Timelines

 

Depression and Acoustic Neuromas are definitely linked – in my non-professional, experiential opinion. The same sentiment has been expressed by many others throughout the acoustic neuroma world. I don’t know if it’s because our brains have been invaded or because our lives are too often turned upside down. Regardless of the reason, I can state that depression for our world, and the world of anyone recovering from a major medical crisis, is real.

When I was in the hospital, my family and I learned that “hospital time” is often very different from “clock time.”  Frequently, the time given for appointments, procedures, and hospital releases are truly more of an estimate or recommendation than an actual time that is met.

In defense of the medical profession, there are valid reasons for delays. Critical cases pop up. Our bodies heal slower than we (and the professionals) predicted. And when a doctor spends some extra time answering my questions, I always appreciate it and think about that when delayed – perhaps someone really needed an answer and I’m happy to think my doctor took the time to answer rather than abruptly leave the room in order to be punctual.

Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise to us that we each have our own “acoustic neuroma recovery” timeline. Each tumor grows at a different rate – though all within a somewhat common range. Each tumor causes different symptoms – all within a family of symptoms. And each recovery from treatment takes a unique path – somewhat within the guidelines (not strict rules) of the acoustic neuroma rules of nature.

Depression is one of those paths that each person takes – ranging from mildly set-back to debilitating and clinical. We are depressed that we got a brain tumor – but grateful to be alive. We are depressed to lose our old selves and each take our own time to return to ourselves – or more commonly come to terms and acceptance of a new self. One with different limitations wrapped into an old self who remembers.

Depression is not just a feeling, but a chemical imbalance in the brain that we need to really work at to change. Again, each person has their own path – some use therapy or pharmaceuticals. Others use natural holistic approaches. It is not often that we can just think our way out of depression. It’s like getting out of a well pit without a ladder – kind of hard to impossible on our own. One misconception about depression is that we want to stay there. We really don’t.

What is helpful from those around us is acceptance and grounding. Acceptance that we are going through a rough process that nobody can shortcut for us. Acceptance that we are still the same inside but fighting a new dragon. Grounding that we aren’t being judged for having our own path. Grounding that those who surround us are walking beside us.

It took time for the brain tumor to grow. It took time for our bodies to heal and adapt. It will definitely take time for our emotions and brain chemistry to adjust. Most importantly, it sometimes takes a long time to adjust our sense of value to the world and to redefine our individual comfort zones.

Announcing!

yippeeI’ve gotten great feedback on my blog and have put together a kindle book containing many of my posts, categorized by topic – such as diagnosis, single-sided deafness, eye care, etc.

It’s all in one place as a resource for anyone who’s struggling with AN recovery or wants to better understand our journey.


 

Disability and the Stages of Grief

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stones in the sand

I’ve talked to several people who have gone from an active full time career/life to long term disability due to acoustic neuroma or other medical reasons. Through those discussions, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern. It is grief – and I’ll get to that in a minute.

Becoming fully disabled feels like giving up. It feels like failure. We accept too much responsibility and blame our “selves” for physical weakness and brokenness.

I am here to tell you that disability is not for the weak. Strength is required for acknowledgement of real limitations and to speak up for what we know we need. Perseverance is called upon to fight a tougher battle than “before.” It takes tenacity to continue to fight for goodness in life and a grateful attitude when we face long term adversity.

Disability:

  • Is not death. Disability frequently stirs a desire for ability, life, and not giving up.
  • Is a process that doesn’t end often enough with a return to ability.
  • Requires bouncing between pushing our bodies to function as fully as possible while documenting our physical limitations.
  • Brings a new appreciation for life and relationships.

Living life with a disability brings a continuing cycle of grief. Everyone has a different timetable. The actual disability and grief are not cookie-cutter experiences but bond those who live it.  Each stage takes varying lengths of time as it is repeated in various forms.

Triggers can quickly springboard us from progressing to stepping back into grief. Perhaps we inadvertently are reminded of something we used to love to do that is no longer possible. Other times we may get a glimpse, through memories, how relationships have been affected by changes in health.

I decided to “map” the well documented generic grief process to disability, and here’s my take:

 Stage One: Denial and Isolation, or “this is not happening”

  • “I just need a little more time, and I’ll beat this.  Enough already – please.”
  • “I’m embarrassed and really can’t face the world. How will I ever be in a social setting?”
  • “If I just think good thoughts a little harder my body will heal.”

Stage Two: Anger, or “stomping my foot”

  • “This is not fair!  I don’t deserve this. Stupid (fill in the blank)”
  • “I’m not comfortable with vulnerability.  I do not want to ask anyone for help!”
  • “The world is continuing without me in my prior role. I wasn’t indispensable. Really?”

Stage Three: Bargaining, or as I affectionately call it – “If Only” stage

  • “If only I ate better, my body would recover.”
  • “If only there was something I could do to make this go away.”
  • “It must be my fault, and I will be stronger from now on.”
  • “The medical world can cure anything, can’t they?  Isn’t it a science that understands everything about our bodies? If only I could find a doctor who understood my case.”

Stage Four: Depression, or “I’ll just be under this rock over here if you need me, but I’m guessing you won’t”

  • “I’m exhausted. I’ve tried everything. It’s a lost cause. Why even try to be happy?”
  • “Why continue to look for answers in the medical community to mitigate pain, tinnitus, or limitations.”

Stage Five: Acceptance, or “inhale, exhale”

  • Life sucks but I have things to do. I’ll manage my disability so that I am still aware of the joys of life.
  • “I love life and will squeeze every bit out of it that I can. I will pay to play.”

As time goes on, we appreciate being in the acceptance phase and learn to recognize it.  We’ve learned not to just cope by treading water but have adapted to living life beyond breathing.  We will have triggers that pull us back into earlier stages of the grieving process but learn to claw back to acceptance again — as quickly as we can

Disability is not giving up but the beginning of a new journey.

 

 

What’s In a Smile?

cheesecake

Recently, I was dining in a buffet setting. People were coming and going between all the food options. The dessert table was particularly busy. As I approached, I saw what appeared to be a bit of a commotion. Not a fight or a brawl. What I saw was joy. I experienced a man living in the moment.

An employee serving cheesecake had facial palsy that immobilized one side of his face. Something that I would not have noticed or understood in the past. However, knowing what I know about living without the full use of facial muscle, I tuned into the picture before me.

I was captivated because he showed no sign of being self-conscious. He was not feeling sorry for himself. His infectious smile took over his face. His eyes, laugh, and broad “half” smile were pulling customers in.

On each side of him, servers dished up other desserts. The servers were pleasant (and the desserts too), but I don’t remember them as individuals. They weren’t pulling people in with a contagious enthusiasm for one particular dessert. Their smiles paled in comparison to his.

People responded to this one man. They chose his dessert over others – not for a lack of choices but due to his inviting nature. He was delighted to interact with each person and proudly dished out what I would define as oversized portions. It wasn’t about whatever he had gone through to become facially paralyzed. It was about the moment he lived in and the joy of interaction.

I won’t soon forget the power of one man’s smile.

Sometimes we need to use words


I will be the first person to raise my hand and plead guilty, so please don’t picture me with my nose in the air touting greatness. Instead, picture me clicking “Like” to a social media post instead of taking the time to say a few words. (That is, ‘like’ or ‘+1” or ‘*’.depending on the social media site)

Social media is a powerful tool in our world today. Because of it, we are connected to more people than ever. We connect with old friends, delighted to catch up after sometimes many years. It’s a wonderful way to share family news across the miles. Other times we connect with people who are also experiencing a life event. Topics vary tremendously, including beliefs, travel, parenthood, hobbies, or shared life stages. Other events are traumatic to ourselves and close ones like illness, tragedy, or financial needs. We can now communicate in a truly global way with many despite the fact that we are sitting in a chair, possibly alone in our homes.

Myself — I have connections with friends, family, casual acquaintances. We all have things to share and laugh about. A steady stream of videos fills my feed of crazy and cute. Thought provoking posts help me see things from varying perspectives. I’ve made friends in faraway places and feel like we live next door.

However, what I do find interesting, and a bit disappointing (see finger pointing at myself also), is when people pour their hearts out in a post that we often read, click acknowledgement of, and move to the next post. Especially in closed groups, individuals are reaching out to others who are experiencing things that nobody in their direct daily life can understand. We, fellow members of those groups, are sometimes the only ones who can grasp the severity of what that individual is living – today. Often, we don’t take the opportunity to share our words to let them know they aren’t alone in this world. We don’t take the time to carefully craft a response that really shows that we understand, have answers, or can provide encouragement.

Now, not to be too hard on myself and the rest of us – it does take all of us (no, I’m not going to say a village.)  There are days when I don’t login to any of my social media accounts. I disappear for weeks at a time and am not one to post that I just made toast (although I did once post that I made hot chocolate – lol). Sometimes I browse my news feeds just as a nurse calls me into an appointment, not allowing for a wordy response. I cannot, nor can anyone, take the responsibility of always commenting, but we can do our part.

In the acoustic neuroma world, there are new diagnoses every day. I recognize, and clearly remember, the specific shocked state that one goes into when hearing a brain tumor diagnosis. We want to know that we are the exception to the assumption that a brain tumor changes you for life, or ends our long thought out life plans. We learn that it does change everyone, at least emotionally, while retaining goodness and joy regardless of our physical outcome. There is laughter and camaraderie despite being changed physically – some more than others. We do not have all the answers, but we can be there for each other. We can encourage. We can speak and share.

So, in the season of beginnings, let’s think about actually taking the time to let others know that we have heard them. I thank those who have encouraged and commented as I’ve written this blog. It is that encouragement that keeps me writing. Thank you.

The Store is Open – Need Gift Ideas for Christmas?

Picture from Recent Trade Show

Picture from Recent Trade Show

My Online shop is now stocked with:

Original encaustic art

Canvas and poster Prints of encaustic art

Calendars – both art and photography

Book Art – by Kayla Rudy (my daughter)  very cool

Books – Smiling Again as well as two other anthologies that I have chapters in.

Please stop by!   Online shop