For most people March means the welcoming of Spring & St. Patricks Day. But for me, March will always make me pause, make me look around and think about all the different ways my life could have gone. Three years ago on a random March Monday our world flipped upside down. I thought I was taking my husband to the ER for an unmanageable migraine. In the hours that followed, his mentation deteriorated, I held my 10 month old son, and watched as my coworkers work fervently trying to figure out what had caused my high functioning husband to suddenly become unable to finish sentences, use his hands, or even follow commands. I sat beside him as a machine breathed for him, in the same room I had cared for countless intubated patients over the years. Stunned that this was my reality.
About a month after Chris’ “outage” as we jokingly refer to it now, I did write a post about our experience with viral encehphalitis, you can read it here . It’s funny because there are similar threads, thoughts on immense gratitude for life but reading it now it’s clear that at the time I thought “welp processed that, time to move on”. I refer to Chris’ recovery in the past tense, when in reality it would be over a year before he truly felt like himself again. And I would spend the year having intense flash backs and resisting attempts at truly processing it. Perspective baby.
I wish I could say that those nights in the ICU were the hardest part but the weeks and months that followed would be far more arduous. The get well flowers wilted and life outside our apartment walls went back to normal but inside I felt shell shocked. I was on edge wondering if every bout of dizziness or return of a headache was the start of Chris’ encephalitis returning. In the midst of balancing the household responsibilities and caring for our ten month old son the trauma loomed over us. At the time, I remember mostly saying “I don’t wanna talk about, let’s just move on”. Spoiler alert – you can’t just move on from your trauma without ever processing it.
I resisted for so long, thinking the walls I was building up would protect me. My decade as an ER nurse has been a masterclass at keeping trauma at arms distance, emotionally detaching myself from immense sorrow. It’s how us nurses are able to go from compressing a lifeless chest one minute & doing a vision test the next. A skill that I’ve since learned should be used with measure. When it came to this, the more I turned away the more it hurt. As much as I yearned for everything to “be normal” again it wouldn’t be. And that was the point. This was meant to transform us, if we’d let it.
I started recognizing that even though I didn’t want to “relive it” I already was, and it was happening out of my control (usually at work). Those memories seared into my brain, played like a movie with crystal clearness. I would get flashes of what happened that day, my coworkers sprinting around. The looks on peoples faces. The same hallway I walk dozens of time per shift, that I sat and sobbed in, all those memories loomed under the surface, red hot. About a year ago I was transferring a patient to the ICU. The patient was going into the same room Chris had been in. When I crossed the threshold in an instant I was taken right back to being at his bedside. The first two nights I had ever spent away from my son. As I wheeled my patient waves of overwhelming heaviness and fear washed over me. Fear of not knowing what life would be like when he was extubated. Wondering what would he remember, how much PT would he need, how far from baseline would he be starting at? Would I suddenly be caring for my son & my husband? All the feelings and fears I never allowed myself feel in real time because I was flexing my detachment muscle as hard as I possibly could.
That night I went home and wrote. I wrote about what it felt like to walk back into that room, I wrote about my fears, I wrote about the last twelve months. I wrote about things I didn’t even realize were below the surface. Some of which would be the skeleton of this post. My younger self used to fill journal after journal growing up. That habit abruptly stopped when nursing school took over my life. Writing in journals suddenly felt juvenile, like something I did only as a kid, before I had real problems. But here I was watching the words pour out of me. Chris’ encephalitis albeit life altering and terrifying has been the single biggest catalyst for change for not only Chris but myself as well.
This transformation certainly didn’t happen overnight, and in writing this, I know it is still ongoing. In some ways this experience feels like yesterday and other times it feels like a lifetime ago. It isn’t until you’re met head on with life’s raw fragility that you’re faced with either growing and evolving or hiding away. I could have continued to turn away, continued to say “I don’t wanna talk about it or relive it” but I’m convinced I wouldn’t have grown. Instead, eventually, I turned into it.
Right away we prioritized physical health – Per his doctors recommendations we did the Whole30 diet to figure out what had caused his body to be in such a hyper-inflammatory state. Chris embarked on Neuro Physical Therapy. I leaned into my at home workouts that I knew were keeping me from totally losing it. We slowed way down. Chris started talk therapy, and I actually agreed to open up about my experience. We discovered our enneagram types and recognized the role they played in our relationship, our daily lives and the way we communicate with one another. I started writing again. And last year I started meditating. Sitting with my thoughts, creating space and stillness has opened entire new worlds for me. I started intentionally choosing to use that experience to shape my life going forward. I recognized that through bettering myself, through facing my trauma I could help others.
This March I felt a very strong pull to lean back into things that bring me genuine happiness. I bought a doodle pad, I dusted off my sewing my machine, I’m reading books that make me laugh and cry. I’m posting here more! I’m planting flowers in every open space in our yard. I’m filling journals again, I’m overcommitting to projects (because I secretly love that)!
So this morning, this March Monday, I’m up before the sun. I’m giving my mind the gift of pausing. I’m moving my body and overall I’m thankful. Because even thought it may not seem like it it. It’s all connected. Your gifts, your circumstances, your purpose, your imperfections; your journey, your destiny. It’s molding you. Embrace it.