If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m all about quotes and sayings. My mother-in-law, Debbie, has this saying hanging in her kitchen, “We plan, God laughs.” Amen. It’s one of my favorite sayings because it applies to our daily life on the farm and some of my life experiences…
Did you know May is Stroke and Mental Health Awareness month? It’s fitting because six years ago, at the age of 52, my Dad suffered a massive stroke. For two months, he was in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit and then was moved to the rehabilitation floor at OSF St. Francis in Peoria. He was in the hospital from May until the end of August. When he was released from the hospital the first time, it was evident he needed more therapy and care that living on his own could provide, so we placed him in a nursing home. He absolutely hated it. But at the time, it was the only option we had.
Growing up, my dad did not make life easy for our family. I will spare you the details, but my parents divorced when I was 18. When I was 20 he stroked-out, so while going to college full time, I also learned how to become someone’s medical Power of Attorney, learned about health insurance (because he had none at the time of the stroke) and also learned how to deal with the mess that had become my Dad’s life. It was stressful and scary. Thankfully, I have an amazing mom who helped more than she should have and we were lucky enough to have support through our family and friends.
Up until about a week ago, my Dad was living on his own in an apartment with a caretaker coming in to assist him. In theory, that sounds warm and fuzzy and great. In reality, it was a nightmare. The stroke damage changed my Dad’s personality. His combative, aggressive outbursts and impulsive behavior has pushed away family and friends, leaving him essentially alone. Because of his behavior, helpers changed on a frequent basis to the point where they stopped coming. His apartments also changed, moving three times in the span of three years. You could never get the full story from him as to why the helpers moved on and why he moved so much. One time, we didn’t even know he was moving until after the fact. It was always someone else’s fault as to why these arrangements never seemed to work out.
The past six years have been filled with trips to the emergency room because of violent seizures, having to call the State of Illinois to revoke a Driver’s license he obtained by sweet talking a nice, elderly lady at the Havana DMV, to learning that even without a license, a person can purchase a vehicle, (that’s amazingly horrifying to me). The adventures continued this past week when we learned he had been evicted from his apartment and had nowhere to go. He’s homeless.
The sad, but true fact is, it was easier to rehome the loveable, but high energy, six month old German Shepard/lab puppy he convinced someone to give him than it is to find a place for him to go. Did I mention my Dad is only 58? Too young to be in a nursing home, but in our area, housing options are limited for people who need his level of care. It has been challenging to say the least.
One of the many things I have learned from this experience is mental health is real and something people need to become more aware of. What is amazing to me is how people address mental illness in others. Some treat it like a contagious disease and avoid them at all costs. Others choose to ignore it and believe the person they are dealing with is totally normal and capable of making rational decisions. This is obviously the best choice, especially when the person you’re dealing with exhibits combative, aggressive and impulsive behavior and is for the most part, wheel chair bound. People amaze me.
At the beginning of the week, we were in the process of trying to find appropriate housing for my Dad. He was at Methodist on the behavioral health floor being evaluated to determine what level of care he needed. After refusing the doctor’s recommendations and our help, he checked himself out and a lady who used to work at the nursing home he was at after his stroke picked him up. She only knew him while he was at the nursing home and is oblivious to everything that has happened since he left almost 4 years ago.
I pray that God helps him find a safe place where he can receive the care and resources he needs. A place where he receives the right medication at the right time, the mental and physical therapy he needs and a place where we don’t have to worry about him not eating, the utilities being shut off or being evicted. He’s made it clear he does not want our help and can figure it out on his own. After speaking with the social worker and his physician, they explained unless he agrees to be placed in a long-term care facility, there isn’t anything we can do. My heart hurts for the people who have been burned trying to help him and my heart hurts for him.
I urge you to educate yourself. Educate yourself on the symptoms and prevention of stroke and also educate yourself on mental health and illness. Many people in your life may suffer from anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder you’re not aware of, which is why it is so important to educate yourself on these issues. Maybe you suffer from a mental illness. If that is the case, know you are loved, accepted and supported. If you need and choose to accept them, resources are available to assist you and your loved ones during difficult times.
It is through my experiences dealing with my Dad that I have come to several conclusions on how I want to live my life. I’ve learned you must live life well and with purpose. It is so easy to stumble and fall throughout life and not get back up. You absolutely have to. Sometimes you just have to put on your big girl (or boy) pants and deal with it. Trust me, I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s absolutely necessary. Pick yourself up off the floor, dust off and start over. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. In life, failure should never be an option.
The keys to a successful life are maintaining balance and breathing. Balance between work, family and friends. Balance of dieting, exercising and sleeping. Breathing is also important. Sometimes just taking a few, slow deep breaths can make all the difference in a stressful situation. Four-step breathing meditation is something I do on a daily basis. You can learn more about it here. Balance is different for each and every one of us, but once you find your balance, nothing can get in your way.
I love the show Nashville to the point where I have downloaded the soundtrack. This song spoke to me the first time I heard it…
Despite the curve balls life has thrown me, I have been incredibly fortunate to marry a wonderful man who puts up with me. I have also been blessed with a great support system of family and friends who are always there for us when we need them most. I truly do have a life that is good and for that, I am incredibly grateful.