February 8, 2019: Day 365

A few weeks ago, I had a dream.

I was watching a horror movie with Erin. On the television, a young couple was hiding in a closet…terrified by the monster that was currently in the house looking for them. The woman was the one we could see due to the camera angle, and she was leaning against the closet door, crying silently. We could all hear the monster approaching, and the fear was intense.

Slowly, the door opened.

And the Abominable Snowman from Rudolph was standing in the hallway.

I woke up immediately. After about two seconds of feeling scared, I started laughing.

The character who hangs the star on Santa’s Christmas tree at the end of the movie?

Nah. Not so scary once you get to know him.

A few days later, I came home from work to a small statue sitting on my front porch. Erin saw it first and said, “What in the world is that?!” As soon as I walked around the corner and saw what he was referring to, I started laughing. It was the most ridiculous little figurine my grandpa kept on his desk in his office, and it used to absolutely terrify me. Check it out:

Pretty scary, right?

Ha! He’s a weird little dude, but definitely not my definition of horror. Seeing him on my porch that day made me laugh, both at the absurdity of what he is and the absurdity of being so scared of him as a child.

So why am I telling you these two odd and seemingly random stories, you ask?

Because today is my one-year anniversary of living with monsters.

The journey life handed me in the past year has been the most difficult one I’ve ever faced. But just like I saw the Abominable Snowman differently from that scared woman in my dream movie, and that crazy little statue differently from my childhood self, I’ve begun to see my journey and its monsters differently, too.

A big part of that transformation is because of a choice I made a few weeks ago: I officially began treatment for PTSD. This was a scary step at the time that has proven to be pretty un-scary now that I’m a month into it. I’ve started daily therapies for anxiety and panic attack relief; I’ve created a safe place to “visit” in my mind whenever I need to; I’ve intentionally faced my loss and “Big T” trauma head-on, for what they are; and I’m learning how to fully accept my situation and move forward – with my “before”, “after”, and “now” selves all in tow.

In the case of my PTSD, I’m learning how to heal. With my PI-IBS, I’m getting truly settled in how to deal.

These once-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-esque monsters are now beginning to feel more like the Abominable Snowman and weird little statue. Of course there’s still potential for my monsters to get scary…but I have digestive medicines that keep my bodily responses from the nerve damage under control; I have the low-FODMAP diet to keep my system calm while food is in it; I’m doing my best to conquer the PTSD; I’m exercising regularly again; I’m finding joy in things that I thought I had lost forever. We’re even facing some big fears and going on a real vacation this spring, not just a weekend getaway close to the house (fingers crossed for that one!).

I’m becoming “me” again. And I’m really, really proud of that.

I never knew that February 8th would be important to me, but life decided to make it so. Simply put, the experiences I had on that cruise ship a year ago today and in the weeks that followed were scarier than any horror movie I’ve ever seen. Top it off with an onslaught of terrible things throughout the remainder of the year, including a cancer scare and subsequent surgery, while trying to cope with a new life and PTSD – needless to say, it’s still taking time and effort to get comfortable in my “good place” again.

But, as Casey Neistat said, “Look back at your life. It’s always the hardest times that made you who you are.”

So, today…as I look back…here’s what I see:

A year of survivorship. A year of bravery. A year of spiritual growth. A year of sheer willpower and guts. The days when I used all my strength to get out of the bed (and the other days when I simply couldn’t). The shaking limbs and pure exhaustion of trying to go for a quarter-mile walk after ten weeks of being bedridden. The thirty minutes it took to do it, and the weak smile it put on my face when it was complete. The first day I was able to go to worship again. The first day I was able to go to work again. The continuous struggle of regaining my physical and mental health, and the cheers from myself and my supporters as each milestone has happened. The challenge of intense dietary restrictions, and the triumph of figuring out how to live with them. The blessings of modern medicine and healthcare providers. The small victories that turned out to be monumental ones. A year of my wonderful husband and sweet dog sticking by my side through it all. A year of love and joy and peaceful moments and family and friends along the way. A year of being a total rockstar without even realizing it.

That’s what I see.

Here’s to one year of learning to live vibrantly with even the scariest of scary monsters.

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