All was calm. I was breastfeeding my brand new baby before my brain began to bleed. I sat watching the trees sway to the soundtrack of summer from the window beside the rocker. I had surfaced from several years as a single mom. Ten years prior I had married, gave birth to a baby boy, rose in strength and stature in my career as a Private Chef, divorced, soared through a few years as a single mother, met the love of my life, conceived a miracle child and gave birth to a brand new beautiful life.
And there I sat on June 27th, 2015 -- the world my oyster; my children my pearls. A sudden rush to the head and moments later I went blind. I woke in the ICU several hours later, hurled back down to the depths I fought to escape over the past 10 years by a hemorrhagic stroke at age 34. I was blessed to recover, my eye sight returned and I was back at home with my beautiful babies, little did I know that was just the beginning of a long list of losses.
The next few months brought about more tragedy than triumph. My infant fell ill and was hospitalized three times over that summer, my son suffered the blows of anxiety and PTSD watching his mother nearly lose her life, family and friends made cruel and uneducated judgements, the job I left had hired someone else during my maternity leave, our basement flooded, my mother began her journey into dementia and just after Christmas -- my best friend of 15 years passed away unexpectedly from an undiagnosed heart condition.
I was left broken and bewildered by the fresh new set of setbacks hurled at my heart; hurled down into the depths of depression, anxiety and despair with very little hope of escape. I would need more than two hands to count how many times I heard "it could always be worse," from the onlookers and supposed supporters surrounding me. From my vantage point there was no further down I could fall, this was the worst place I had ever found myself in-and despite a few futile attempts at rescue by friends and family -- I was unable to be reached.
There was no fork in the road for my condition. I was left splayed out and paralyzed at the very dead end of a road, and there was only one road out. To leave that place of true loss I had to wobble back up on my feet and begin the long, slow, slog back through each trauma that left me nearly lifeless at the dead end. There were two children that needed their mother back on her feet and if I was going to make it out, I needed a survival guide; the one condition was; I had to be the author.
Chapter One: Acknowledgement
The first step came naturally, I had to open my eyes. There I was so far gone from the girl I worked so hard to be. Trauma had stolen nearly all of who I had worked so hard to be. Rather than look the other way, or keep my head down starting at my injuries I had to look up and around; breathe in my environment, realize I was broken and use the little strength I had left to push up off the ground and onto my feet.
Chapter Two: Look for the Helpers
People love positivity, so to see somebody so broken, so far gone can be scary. Perhaps because in some profound way we are all mirrors of one another and for my close friends and family to see me in such a state, it provoked their own fear of loss and many pushed away. A few stayed faithful, they kept their hands extended in my darkest hours; it was up to me to reach out. My story of loss redefined my relationships, and those who stuck by me are true treasures in a sea of mediocre relationships. I extended my arms and accepted their assistance. I also picked up the phone and called in a few professionals. Shortly after I found myself in a support group, teamed up with a therapist, and surrounded by a new network of friends shouldering me as I limped along.
Chapter Three: Self Care
As I gathered strength from acknowledging my condition and hope from the supporters around me I began to become more selfish with my time. I began to cook again, I started to write about my journey and joined a few online communities of supporters where I shared my story. I retreated from screens and the dissonance of social media to spend time with my children. Once everyone was in bed I took nightly baths to relax and reflect on the day, I joined a meditation group, went for small walks around the block, napped, and began to breathe again. I had to take all of my grief and give it beautiful venues of release, and it was in these small steps of self-care, it began to change shape. My grief was giving way to a new version of who I was, a woman I never imagined myself to be.
Chapter Four: Resolve
After being hit with trauma and despair blow by blow over the past year I made a choice. There comes a time after trauma where you have to make the choice. As hard as it was to accept, this year was not going to be the end of my trials. I was not going to be handed roses for the rest of my life. The echoes of "It could always be worse" rang true, there could be more tragedy left to come. It was how I was going to handle it that was going to make or break me. Using the tools gained from therapy, support groups, self-care, and loving supporters I began to embrace the unknown with a new found strength. After all the dust of despair had settled and I found my stride on the survivor's road, I needed to resolve myself to embrace trial and suffering as teachers rather than tormentors. The next time I encountered the darkness I had the tools at my fingertips to grow deeper into myself rather than shutting down.
I can now look back on the past year of loss with gratitude. If I could do it all over again would I take each tragedy back? I would have to answer no. As sad as the loss and grief was to bear, it has redefined my purpose and passion for life. My precious life, and the precious little lives I created. Their mama fashioned tools from her trials and will be able to pass them down and be a shining example of survival and triumph amidst tribulation.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.