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No Regrets

Sharing this story with you is difficult. In many ways, I am a very private person. There are parts of my life that I live wide open, but most others I hold close. There are people out there who know parts of my story; few know it all. As I write, I still can’t decide how much to share. 

Like you, I’ve heard stories of life-changing moments and thought, “Good for her!” or “That’s amazing!” or (even better) “I don’t know what I would do if that happened to me!” I get it. I really do. Those stories happen to other people, not to us. But one of those stories could be you. It was me

What has gotten me this far – made me willing to discuss my journey at all – is the reaction I have received from those with whom I have shared. I have been told that my journey is an inspiration, which I think is very much an overstatement. I certainly don’t see myself that way.

That said, I hope you will bear with me as I write this, as I get very serious for just a bit. 

Because I’ve been asked to share my story, and so I am going to try.


‘Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You can not withstand the storm.’ The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’

Unknown

Blindsided

I never saw it coming. During a Friday night high school football game in October 2011, I turned from the game to chat with a couple seated behind me. When I turned back, my left eye had gone blurry. As in completely. I could see perfectly well out of my right eye, but my left was a wall of grey.

Not being one to raise a panic, I did what any reasonable person would do. I finished watching the game and went out for a beer with friends. Because, seriously, what could possibly have gone wrong in literally the blink of an eye?

The next morning, when I still couldn’t see, I drove myself to the emergency room. Yes, you read that correctly. I. Drove. Myself. Yes, Jeff did offer. No, I did not take him up on it. Yes, I know that was stupid, but, well, I’m not always the sharpest tool in the shed. 

By the time I got to the ER, less than 10 minutes down the road, my face was going numb. By the time I hit triage, I couldn’t move anything on the left side below my cheekbone. Stroke? they wondered. TIA? they suggested. It was none of those things. My speech slurred, my brain function went fuzzy. I couldn’t name my kids, but I could tell you that Catherine Bach played Daisy Duke. Go figure.

Over the next few weeks, Jeff became my caregiver. At 47 years-old, I was living my worst nightmare. He helped me walk, made sure I ate, shuffled me from one doctor appointment to the next.

And I prayed. Hard. The usual response from people is that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Yes, He does. God gives us more than we can handle so we are forced to turn to Him. And I did. Over and over and over.

Diagnosis? A migraine disorder. I had no headaches, was not sensitive to light, didn’t experience auras or nausea. But that is what the doctors came up with, and that is what they treated me for.

And it seemed to do the trick. Eventually, most of the issues began to resolve, and I went back to work.

By the way – the eye issue? Completely separate. Central serous chorioretinopathy. It boils down to fluid building up under the retina, causing loss of vision. For lack of a better term, there were lesions on my retina. Ironically, the condition generally affects men between the ages of 30 and 50. Stress plays a huge role, as well. Yeah, I know. Not a man. But there you have it.  We’re not going to talk about my stress levels!

Weirdly, according to everyone who was anyone, the CSC and the migraine were completely unrelated. We were not, and still are not, convinced.


The worst was yet to come.

Flash forward to November, 2015. Just before Thanksgiving, I noticed that I was exhausted. As a semi-insomniac, four hours a night was a good night’s sleep. That November, I was suddenly sleeping the night through. As the weeks passed, that exhaustion settled deep in my bones. I would fall asleep in my chair as soon as I got home at 3pm, and wake briefly for dinner, only to be back in bed by 8. Wake, dress, repeat.

Christmas came. It was on our way home from a Christmas party that I casually mentioned to Jeff that I couldn’t feel my right arm. Out of nowhere, it had gone numb. Jeff made tracks for the nearest hospital and, when our daughter opened the door so I could go into the ER, my legs went out from under me. Kassidy grabbed hold before I could hit the ground. One wheelchair ride and a quick stop at the check-in desk later and I was once again being checked for a stroke – because I could not feel anything on my right side.

No stroke. Nothing bad on any tests. A few days later, the feeling came back – slowly – and I was back home. Then, back to work.


Tests, tests, and more tests

March 2016

By February, I had undergone multiple CTs and MRIs, had dozens and dozens (no joke) of vials of bloodwork and – my very favorite – not one, but two, spinal taps. (On a side note: don’t let anyone tell you that those are no big deal. They are a HUGE freaking deal and they hurt like nobody’s business. But that’s another story.) In the meantime, I was starting to have trouble walking.


At last….

After a risky surgery to remove a questionable lymph node turned up no results, I ended up at a rheumatologist, who diagnosed me with arthralgia and myalgia. I’m sorry…what? Not fibromyalgia, that catch all diagnosis some women get when there is no other diagnosis. A different, weird version that seemed to be attacking my joints and my muscles. He put me on medication and, voila! Within a week, I was moving. Not much, but more. And more the week after that. And the week after that.


The fight continued

Jeff fought back with me. I can honestly say I don’t know where I would be today without him. After the joy of our experiences in Acadia (see our Travel section), I went on to have another episode?…attack?… in March of 2017. 

This time, I was at school when I collapsed, thankfully during my planning period, and had to be transported via ambulance as the school went into lockdown. I was unconscious at the time, so I was spared the embarrassment, but my 8-month pregnant partner-in-crime, April, had to go with me, as she was the only one with any information about what was going on. You can imagine how I felt when I found out that detail.

This time, I was paralyzed from the chin down. I couldn’t speak. Three hours or so are still missing from my memory. Rumors flew around our close-knit community. I still choke up when I think about everyone who prayed for me that day.

Once again, though, everything came back. And once again, I was determined to keep moving forward.


Turning my life around

December, 2017 marked a turning point in this journey. I had been in pretty continual pain since the year before. The kind that you feel deep, deep down in your bones. Every minute. Every day. Medication helps, but it never goes away completely.

My doctor thought I should increase the dosage of my medications. I was thinking otherwise. We agreed that I would try diet and exercise to see if I could lose some weight to lessen the impact on my muscles and joints. We were also hoping that my muscles might respond better if I actually had some muscle.


No one can do it for me

Walking into Accelerated Fitness on January 1, 2018 was easy. Sitting down with a trainer for the first time on February 21 was the equivalent of having a root canal. But that meeting with Bryon changed everything

Accelerated Fitness Owners Jeff & Lindsey Cheatham, Lisa & Michael Peterlin

We cleaned up my diet, cutting out refined sugar and adding clean carbohydrates with lean proteins. Funny enough, a similar version of this plan is still what I eat the vast majority of the time. I like it, and my body just functions better.

Bryon helped me train with weights once a week. I was embarrassed and frustrated. He was endlessly patient. I learned how to plan workouts and how my muscles worked. Shocking moment when I realized that my bicep had two muscles! (*groan*). 

Over the next several months, I lost 45 pounds and a whole bunch of inches. My body fat dropped by 8%.

2016, 2017, 2018

I joined the gym’s fitness ‘Crew’ for support. And there has been so much support. We cheer each other on even though we each have different paths. It still blows my mind.

Most importantly, I stayed out of the hospital for 18 months. 

And when my next episode came – at church this time – my body rebounded within about 48 hours.


Fitness for the win

I feel best when I keep sugar and processed foods out of my diet. I still love chocolate. Wine is my friend. I don’t feel guilty when I have ice cream. I think I actually enjoy those foods more now, because I don’t have them all of the time.

The gym is my go-to stress reliever. It keeps me sane – mostly. Sort of. Sometimes. It definitely combats the depression I sometimes feel when my body just…hurts. I go to the gym and put on my headphones and just get in my head and let it all fade away. Five days a week, I recharge.

Here is the point. If my body is at its best, it has the best chance of recovering when bad things happen. 

But that’s me. That’s my journey and these are my choices. Honestly, it’s not much of a choice. I like living my life. I like being active. I like that I can climb mountains and rappel down cliffs and go white water rafting. I hate hospitals.

I have met so many people with muscle disorders. The amount of medication we are all on is astonishing. Don’t misunderstand, I am thankful every day for the scientists who discovered the drugs that keep me functional. There has to be a limit, though. Why are we so willing to fill a prescription and so unwilling to modify (not necessarily overhaul) our lives? Could a combination of those things be what’s really best for us? I don’t know that there is an absolute answer here, I just know I had to try.

Disengaging Auto-pilot

I never once dreamed that this would be my story. At one point in this whole, crazy, mess, I thought I’d never take a walk with my husband again, never play in the yard with my dogs, never swim in the ocean. I thought I would never be able to teach again. And darn it! It should not have taken a crisis to make me realize how amazing those simple moments are.

So I’ve disengaged my auto-pilot. I may not be the pilot of the plane, but I am not a passenger either. And on the days I crash and burn, I remember that I also know how to fly.

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