As the trees change colors and begin to lose their leaves, there’s a slight coolness in the air that signals a new season is upon us.
It’s also a season of change for me and my family.
I thought I was used to change- but I was wrong.
This summer held a lot of changes for the Browns. Professional and financial changes, loss of limb and loved ones and physically and mentally rebuilding – just about everything.
I’m not unique. Every day, people are diagnosed with cancer or life-threatening disease. Every day, someone loses their job or home or relationship. Every day, someone loses a loved one.
Rather than address these personal issues, I want to talk about what these seasons of changes feel like and how we can rebuild after such life-altering events.
I’ll use myself as a loose example.
After 19 years of full-time advocacy work, my role with the organization I worked for, the past 16 years, came to an end. Aside from the layers of mixed emotions that came with that reality- I had to deal with loss of financial security, healthcare coverage, and my personal identity.
I had so strongly tied my identity with what I did professionally, that I had no idea who I was as a person anymore. Who was I- without this job?
At this same time, my husband Rick was surviving a leg amputation from a botched knee replacement and multiple chronic infections. Rick had been a football player in HS and College and over all very active until his knee problems. Now he no longer had a left leg. 3 years of infections and hospital stays and covid- nearly cost him his life. He was no longer strong, or independent.
Here we both were -individually- at the worst times of our lives.
Who am I without this job?
Who was he, without his leg?
I’ve learned that my big strong husband is still strong- but in very different ways now.
I’ve learned that -Katie without a fulltime gig is kind of scary.
I have crazy creative energy. I am empathic, so I want to help everyone. A colleague recently called me a “serial advocate”. ((Sigh)). He is right.
The first month- I didn’t get out of bed. (wont go into those details)
The second month- my energy was spent doing everything I could to help the patients who called me directly, organizations who asked me to consult with them and accepting contract work to fill my time. I did some editing, some social media work and some advocacy work in liver diseases. I also cleaned and organized every inch of my home and began to landscape the garden outside. I don’t think I had spent much time out there the entire 4 years we’ve lived here. And family- every minute of it spent with my sweet family.
It’s the end of month three and this month is all about grieving the past and planning what I want my future to look like. Those of you in my inner circle have seen me at my worst. You could see that there were bigger and better doors opening for me, and you were right…but when you are hurt, you don’t necessarily see so clearly.
At the same time, Rick is dealing with recovery from 3 years of hospital stays and life-threatening infections- working hard at keeping his job throughout this entire ordeal and relearning how to live without a leg. Have you ever hopped for 500 feet on just one leg? Yeah, that’s one of the benchmarks he had to complete before ever being approved for a prosthetic. It’s been physically brutal for him to experience and for us to watch. Friends disappeared. I mean 3 years is a long time.
So I could talk for days about what lead up to and what it felt like for us to fall into those pits of physical and emotional despair- but I won’t.
What I want to talk about is how we started to climb out of that pit and how we began to find ourselves again.
Find your tribe.
You THINK you know who your people are- but you don’t. Not until something life altering happens to you. People will disappear. That coworker you had for a decade- wasn’t really your friend. You’ll never hear from them again. That buddy you hung out with before- you’ll never see again.
People will surprise the shit out of you, but the good eggs will rise to the top. Hang onto the ones who ask how you’re doing out of the blue, sends you a card or asks you to lunch.
Recently I had someone send me a message of support that actually made me cry—and I have never met this person in real life!
If you don’t have any good eggs in your life, go out and find some. Community center activities, support groups, meetups, churches and neighborhood activities are all places to connect with people.
I always recommend counseling and therapy for those experiencing health trauma or mental health issues, but this is true for any distressful life event.
The right counselor (and lawyer for that matter) can shine a spotlight on things you may not be able to interpret on your own.
Spiritual counseling is a great help for some.
You are the same person you were before your life changing event. Remember her (or him) Honor yourself by celebrating your past accomplishments. While your new accomplishments will look different, they matter just as much. Celebrate them too. They bring you one step closer to who you want to be. YOU try to “walk” 500 feet on one leg! I can’t do that. I think that’s amazeballs. It’s one step closer to walking on two legs again for Rick. You will grieve who you used to be, but your new you can be great again.
Take out the garbage.
Everything that reminds you of that “old boyfriend” needs to go into the garbage. I had three garbage bins of things I got rid of. While my circumstance wasn’t an “old boyfriend”, it was part of an old life that I would never go back to again. Get rid of it! Out of sight out of mind!
Be open to new connections, new experiences, and a new way of living. Change is the one certainty of life. Everything changes eventually. Be open to new opportunities and give yourself the grace to grow into yourself again. Rick will never have two legs again, but we WILL walk on two legs again. It’s different, but the same.
We are still on this journey and learning as we go.
The message I want to convey-
Don’t let the hurt you feel, control how you grow and thrive.
I’d love to hear how you have sustained and persevered through tough times. Comment below and if you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast. My fall/winter series is about to start with guest interviews and hot topics.
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