Exciting things are happening here! Firstly, I got my first 2 reviews on Amazon...and they're BOTH 5 STARS!! Granted, one of them might be a biiiiit biased (the same last name kinda gives it away), but the other, longer review came from another author, and pretty much made my year! Here's a screen shot of them (click the picture if it's too hard to read):
Whaddaya know...I'm "plucky!" And secondly, as the above banner informed you (drum roll, please) - I have my first book signing coming up in just over a week! It's in that happenin' area just outside of Houston, on your way to Galveston. So, if you're in the area on December 16th at 1:00, I would love it if you stopped by the Baybrook Barnes & Noble to pick up a book, or to just say "hi!" I'm very excited about it, and hope to plan more at one or two Houston B&N locations. Then, onward and upward to other Texas B&N stores! From there...we'll just have to see. ;-)
I’ve posted about depression before, specifically in the aftermath of brain aneurysms and injuries. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that people everywhere, from all walks of life, suffer from it in varying degrees of severity. What struck me hardest during a recent scroll through Twitter posts, is just how many people struggle with it in the ways I do, so I thought sharing my own battles might help others struggling. One woman wrote that she was drinking alone in a pub, trying to drown her anxiety before it got her. I do the same, albeit alone in my home. If I can’t find any other way to silence my thoughts or distract myself, I often resort to opening a bottle of (cheap) wine and drinking several glasses until I feel better.
Others posted of even further extremes. I recently told a (newer) friend of mine, who hadn’t realized I suffer from clinical depression and anxiety, that there are many times where I find I have to convince myself daily that I don’t actually want to die. Sometimes, I get welcome breaks from those days – breaks that will even give me weeks of a reprieve from my mind telling me it’s all gotten to be too much, it’s too big of a rut, I just don’t care, I just don’t want to be here anymore.
I’ve seen 2 friends post things on Facebook in the past few weeks that had me worried they might hurt themselves. One has been helping her mother (her lifelong rock) as she nears the end of her life. The other is a divorced single mother who, though she’s found her own peace in some ways, understandably finds it all to be too much at times. Family drama never helps in the depression department.
I’ve never shied away from talking about mental illness, so most people know I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety at age 17. In reality, I’d dealt with it longer, but the trigger of an (at the time) earth-shattering break-up in my junior year made it manifest in the most extreme way. I tried to keep myself surrounded by my friends for a while and stay busy, but soon collapsed under the weight of my own depression. I left my mom a note one morning, saying I wouldn’t be going to school.
A lot of people will read that and say,
“No way would my mom have let me dictate whether I was going to school.”
That’s true. Had the situation been different, she might have told me to suck it up. Fortunately, I have a mom who understands depression, because she’s dealt with it herself most of her life; although, like me, it took her years to put a name to the nagging feelings that so often plagued her.
She understood the blow I’d been dealt. I’d had the rug ripped out from under me by a guy who my naïve teenage mind thought was “the one.” The days spent daydreaming in high school classes, surrounded by immature, annoying high schoolers were draining me, and reinforcing the idea that I’d really “lost something” in that break-up. I couldn’t take it anymore. If I was going to save my sanity (and my life), I needed a break from school.
I stayed home for 2 weeks, sitting on the oversized chaise in my room – “the Princess Suite.” Seriously, if you saw the life I lived in those years, you’d wonder what I could’ve possibly had to depress me. But I’ve been rich, then poor, then richer, and now poorer, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that money doesn’t buy you happiness. Life is most definitely easier when you have money, and therefore less to stress about, but a person with depression will still feel depressed in a million-dollar house unless they find ways to cope with it.
So, I would sit on that blue chaise, watching Lifetime for a reason I don’t know. Those movies will hook you in, and if you weren’t depressed to begin with, you probably will be when you’re done! I’d watch movie after dramatic movie, eating Parmesan Goldfish crackers and drinking bottled water, tossing the empties behind me. I have an off-white beanie that I kept on my head the whole time, until I think Mom finally made me let her wash it. It comforted me for some reason, and I wouldn’t take it off. I stayed on that chaise, with a blanket over me, my beanie on, and Mom’s cat Phoebe sitting on me, trying to make me feel better.
I wasn’t showering, because I was afraid of what I’d do to myself alone with a razor. I’d started “cutting” at 15, and knew it wouldn’t take much for my young mind to make the leap from cutting to ease emotional pain to doing it as a more permanent release. Fortunately, I have a tiny little fire somewhere deep inside me, that’s hard to extinguish – a will to live – that has kept me from going over that edge many times.
Mom finally spoke to her psychiatrist, and made me an appointment to speak with the psychologist next door. I’d been “walking around like a zombie” for long enough, she said, and she wanted me to talk to someone and get help.
I felt comfortable with the psychologist. She had experience working with younger people, and I found it was easy to open up to her. When we were done, she sent me next door with her recommendation for medication. They put me on Lexapro, and slowly I started to feel better and come back to life.
The psychologist soon brought my mom in and made 2 recommendations: The first was that we find a way for me to finish up high school. I’d learned what I needed from there, and I was too mature to deal with all the bullshit that goes along with it. Being there was draining and killing me, so she suggested I finish up high school. Secondly, she suggested my parents allow me to date older guys. High school boys were just not at the same level as me, and she saw me getting my heart broken more by immaturity if I kept dating teenagers worried about superficial shit.
Conveniently, my parents had recently had that discussion together. They were fine with me dating someone a few years older than me, considering I was only a few months shy of 18 anyway.
They spoke to my principal, with whom they’d been in contact since I’d been out of class for 2 weeks. They discovered I was 1 of 3 girls who’d had emotional breakdowns that semester. They also discovered I COULD finish up my classes and graduate early. All those racing schools would be signed off on and counted as my remaining PE credits. I took government via correspondence course through Texas Tech, they put me in a banking class that had already started, but I hadn’t missed much, and I took economics through an online course. My final class was an English class that I took in summer school. My friend Robin was in the class with me, and also graduated early. It was the best feeling to finish up that last class, shake the teacher’s hand, and have him say,
“Congratulations, you just finished high school!”
From there, I got ready for my trip to the U.K. For my 18th birthday, my boyfriend (a 23-year-old, British friend of my brother’s who I started dating that February) had planned a 2-week trip to Scotland and England. It was an amazing trip, and I was so moved by the historical places I’d visited that I came home wanting to move there when I got older. My parents talked me out of it by explaining the taxes over there. Ohhh yeah…that was part of the reason our ancestors hopped on The Mayflower and said “peace” …or something like that.
Anyway, when I returned from that 2-week trip to the UK, I moved into my first apartment and got ready for my first semester at the University of Houston. It was an exciting time, but also a reckless time.
As I got used to my newfound independence, I made increasingly bad decisions. With no one to hide it from, I started smoking much more often, which would ultimately lead to the chain-smoking habit that had such dire effects on my brain’s health. I also found myself going out to get drunk at any opportunity that presented itself. If an opportunity didn’t arise, I’d call my brother and friends until I’d made one happen. This, and an excitement at the new ability to choose whether I wanted to go to class or not, led to me making terrible grades my freshman year.
After I got hurt, I’d look back on those times with such remorse for the opportunities I’d squandered. Half the reason I couldn’t make it at Tulane was that I spent every night I could at the bars, getting drunk. That was due to the other half of the reason why I didn’t make it there: I was horribly depressed.
I felt anxious and uncomfortable there, like I didn’t belong. Aside from my friend Jessica (if you were a Jessica born in the 80’s, you have MANY friends with your name over the years! Going by J.P. has its perks), I had no support system there, and only grew increasingly depressed, until ultimately deciding to come home.
My parents tried to make me feel better, telling me I would’ve had to come home anyway, as we couldn’t afford it anymore. I was so happy to see the Welcome to Texas sign, as my brother and I crossed back into our home state, but I would feel like a failure for years.
My dad had been so proud to discover I had gotten into Tulane, a top university. After I got hurt, I would get so depressed, thinking I’d let him down. Finally, Mom convinced me that he would be proud no matter what school I went to; he was just happy I was going to college! Plus, the University of Houston finally cemented its status as a Tier 1 research school…and there’s research in Religious Studies…so yeah, super-duper smarty pants here, LOL!
Still, when you’re depressed, those thoughts of inadequacy will worm their way into your mind at any opportunity. Drop something by accident, or trip, and your mind will pipe up with thoughts like, You’re such a failure. You can’t even walk right. That’s why you failed at ___. Do you think___ ever trips like that?
Next time, tell your mind to fuck off, because, YES, that person DOES trip and drop things! You just have to develop the confidence to let it slide off your shoulders. Believe me, I understand as well as any anxious, clinically depressed person that that confidence is hard to come by if you aren’t born with it. It takes a lot of self-reaffirmation, something I’m trying to get better at, instead of tearing myself down all the time.
I’ve become an expert at laughing at myself – it helps to not take yourself so seriously. You screw up, you learn from it, and you move on with life. The past has passed, and no one can see when or where the future ends.
I can also vouch for how important it is to have a strong support system when the proverbial shit happens, and your mind tries to fuck with you. I can always call my mom when I’m sitting there, reliving a night of socializing, questioning everything I did and said. “I think I take too long to respond sometimes, people must think I’m weird. I can’t believe I said that – ugh! I’m such an idiot!”
Mom and my husband always remind me that everyone dissects their behavior, and that I likely thought I was more awkward than anyone else did. And I can always call Jaena to laugh about my awkwardness until I feel better. We’ve been providing that service to each other for the past 16 years. Back in our teens, when she modeled, she would worry about tripping while she was walking (I’m sure that’s the fear of many models), but I always told her not to worry. If it ever happened, I would be standing there at the end of the catwalk, pointing and loudly declaring,
“DO-OVER! WE NEED A DO-OVER DOWN HERE!”
To this day, that’s our “get out of jail free” card – we just need a do-over! Having friends and family always available to rescue me from a self-loathing session is an important “must” for my mental health.
I also look to my high school friend, Stevie, for inspiration, because that’s exactly what she is to me. Having gone through her own version of hell, she had been heavily medicated for ten years. Then, eight years ago, she decided she was done with just “numbing” the problem – she was getting off her meds. Her doctor did her a huge favor by telling her it was impossible, because, in defiance she put her mind to it and made it happen. She recently shared on Facebook some of the tools that have helped her to live medication-free, as that’s a question she frequently gets:
All I know is, I’ve been battling suicidal thoughts since that breakdown in high school, and they’ve only gotten louder since I got hurt. The later chapters of Hope Alive detail how death, and the ease with which I could leave this pain-filled world, preoccupied my mind. There’s a part of me that’s terrified of not being medicated: I know how badly my emotional pain hurts, and how loud those thoughts can get, when I AM medicated. How much worse would it be if I weren’t on antidepressants? Then I remember that one of the major warnings and side effects of antidepressants is suicidal thoughts – maybe the thoughts wouldn’t be so prevalent, or readily there, if I weren’t taking the antidepressants? There’s only one way to find out! What I CAN assure you, is that once I’ve started the journey of getting off my meds with a doctor’s guidance, I will chronicle it here, to give you a firsthand account.
I’m hoping I can convince Stevie to do a guest follow-up post about her own experiences, but she keeps herself very busy (another way to keep your mind from driving you insane – being “present for all that’s going on” is a pretty literal thing). She’s an actress and hard at work on her own play that she’s written called “Breaking Free.” As you can imagine, it’s a story that mimics her own journey of “breaking free” from her meds and mental prison. On top of that, her mother’s house took a lot of damage in Hurricane Harvey, as well as the homes of some close friends, so she’s been back here in Houston, hard at work helping.
I can affirm that adding in just a little daily exercise can help wonders - today will be my 30th day in a row of doing Pilates (my original goal) and it's helped me a lot to have that exercise time every day.
Some of the best advice I can give from my own experience battling my demons comes from the Bible – there are many verses throughout the Bible that hit on this, including one from Romans that I included at the start of Hope Alive.”
I don’t think you have to necessarily be a Christian to relate to these passages. I will say that my spiritual and religious journey since surviving my 2 brain aneurysm hemorrhages has been a HUGE part of my persevering and never giving up. I’ve read the Bible through more than three times, and I’ve found more inspiration with every pass, and more reasons not to give up.
While some of these passages directly reference God and Jesus Christ, and may be more moving to people who are already Christians, I don’t think you need to be religious to find meaning in passages affirming that suffering through obstacles is good for you overall as a person, as you grow through them and come out better in the end.
Does it suck to go through bankruptcy, losing your home and all your major possessions TWICE in your life by the age of twenty? OF COURSE. Does it suck to be in the hospital, uncomfortable and in horrible pain, because a brain aneurysm hemorrhaged on your twentieth freakin’ birthday, stopping life in its tracks, and reversing it? WELL, DUH! Is it incredibly disheartening and confusing to wake up in the neuro ICU and be informed by your mother that you had a second brain aneurysm hemorrhage, taking away your progress and moving you further back? That REALLY SUCKS!
Does it suck when, a couple years later, after you’ve gotten back in college, you overhear an argument between your parents, revealing that the one man you thought would never hurt you has betrayed your family in the most painful way? Yes, it jerks your heart into your gut and then rips it right out.
Does it suck when, 4 years after your injuries, and 2 failed relationships later, you lie in bed plagued by thoughts of how much easier it would be to leave this world and all the pain it entails? Does it suck when you must finally conclude that some of your greatest dreams and passions were probably permanently dashed by those impossible-to-foresee injuries? Yes, it’s an incredibly painful moment, that only spurs further thoughts of taking yourself out.
But, what happens when you come out the other side of it all, when you don’t give into those alluring thoughts of suicide, is the realization that it really does “always get better.” It may not happen right away, or even this year, but it does get better, and you’ll look back proudly, seeing how much you grew through your struggles. And, seeing all you would have missed, you’ll be filled with joy because you stuck around.
Empathy, compassion, humility, awareness, character, humor, physical strength, inner strength, and the knowledge that you can handle way more than you ever thought possible: these are all things you can gain by staying strong through the countless hurdles life will throw in your way. Life is never easy for anybody, so never make the mistake of thinking it will be. There’s a meme I love that you might've seen. It says: “They say God will never give you anything you can’t handle. Apparently, God thinks I’m a badass.”
So, when the going gets tough, and you’re wondering if going through the pain is worth it, just think about what a hardcore badass you’ll be when it’s over and the sun shines again!
bible verses to inspire and strengthen
“…but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5 NRSV
Another version of that passage from Romans:
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” – Romans 5:3-5 NLT
“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” – Romans 8:35 NLT
“For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 1:5 NLT
“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT
“Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” – 2 Corinthians 4:10 NLT
“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT
“That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT
“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9 NLT
“The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.” – Psalms 34:19 NLT
“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” – Psalms 73:26 NLT
“I will not die; instead, I will live to tell what the Lord has done. The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not let me die.” – Psalms 118:17-18 NLT
“’It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,’ Jesus answered. ‘This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.’” – John 9:3 NLT
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT
“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,” – Philippians 3:13 NLT
“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” – Philippians 3:14 NLT
“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.” – 1 Peter 1:6 NLT
“These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” – 1 Peter 1:7 NLT
“For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment.” – 1 Peter 2:19 NLT
“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.” – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT
“So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin.” – 1 Peter 4:1 NLT
“Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.” – 1 Peter 4:13 NLT
“So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” – 1 Peter 4:19 NLT
“Stand firm against him [Satan], and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.” – 1 Peter 5:9 NLT
“In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.” – 1 Peter 5:10 NLT
“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” – Isiah 40:31 NLT
“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isiah 41:10 NLT
“For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.” – Lamentations 3:31-33 NLT
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” – James 1:2-4 NLT
And, when all else fails...weed and binge-watching TV helps...
I struggled with whether to post this yesterday or today. Because yesterday was a solemn day of remembrance, held so we keep our promise made sixteen years ago: That we would never forget. And we don’t. Most of us remember that day at random times throughout the year, before the National Day of Remembrance.
As my mother remembers exactly where she was when she saw Kennedy assassinated as she watched the parade, or where she was when she heard Martin Luther King had been assassinated, so too will my generation, and all those alive sixteen years ago, always remember exactly where we were.
In posts yesterday, all my friends from high school remembered being in class, because that’s where we were when it happened. I’m sure if you took us to Memorial, most of us could even show you the hall and classroom we were in.
I was in geometry, with my friend Ginny sitting behind me. The principal announced on the speaker that a plane had just run into the World Trade Center, and told the teachers they could switch on the televisions in their classrooms. Our teacher did this, after a speech telling us that there were some crazy people in the world.
My first thought, before she turned on the TV, was, “Don’t freak out everybody. It was probably an accident in a small plane.” That had just happened recently before 9/11: a man in his small plane had accidently flown into a building. I thought it would be the same deal.
Then she turned on the TV, and I realized how much worse it was. As smoke billowed up, and people ran from the carnage, we watched in disbelief from our classrooms as the second plane crashed into the other tower. It was real. It wasn’t an accident. People were dying as the world watched.
Ginny was frantic. Her mother was away on business, and now she didn’t know when she would get back, or if she could do so safely. Not only that, but Ginny’s mom had been given a choice: she could’ve gone to New York, where the building she worked in would’ve been a stone’s throw from the World Trade Center, or she could go to another office. She chose the latter, but all the “what ifs” left Ginny shaken.
We went from geometry to health class in the gym, our next class together. The health teacher already had the TV on in there, and we all got updated. No actual “school” happened that day, it was just watching, re-watching, waiting, and supporting each other. Once I’d heard about the Pentagon, I myself became frantic. My aunt, uncle, and cousins all lived near D.C., and worse, my two little cousins’ school was close to the Pentagon.
As we watched the continuing coverage, the shock turned into greater fear: was this war? What would happen next? The only war my generation had experienced was so far removed from us. The Gulf War was fought on the other side of the world, the closest it got for many of us was tying yellow ribbons on our trees, hoping no one we knew was called to fight. Those crashing planes opened up so many questions we had never faced before, and it was frightening.
For my mother, who had grown up in the era of air raid drills, practicing hiding under her desk, she just wanted her baby home. Her husband and son were at work together, they were safe. She didn’t know what would happen, she just saw Houston as a possible target, and wanted me home with her. I got a slip from the office that my mom was there to pick me up. I packed up my stuff, and looked sadly back at Ginny – we’d gone through the whole experience so far together, and I hated leaving her there, wondering about her mom.
I must have gone to my locker to get something, because I remember coming down the stairs outside, and being overcome by a wave of relief at seeing my mom walking towards them. As I ran up to her, I could barely get the question out of my mouth before she said,
More relief flooded over me as I hugged Mom and we made our way to the car. A lot of students were being picked up early, by the stay-at-home moms who just wanted them home. It was such a sad, scary day for all of our country.
But what I want everyone to remember is how easily we all banded together that day, in the midst of fear and uncertainty. We threw aside race, gender, religion, social class, even political indignation, and just became AMERICANS, together against the forces that sought to destroy us.
In our house, September 12 is my husband’s birthday, his parents’ anniversary, and his late Grandmom’s birthday. But my wish for all of America is that September 12 too becomes a National Day of Remembrance, if only unofficially. Remembrance of the day when we all woke up to the sun still shining, and our great nation still standing. When we woke up to a nation truly UNITED, with American flags proudly hanging from every home. People put flags, “United We Stand,” and “Never Forget” signs in their yards. There was pride in every American heart that day, and it was emotionally moving to see our country unite together, knocking down divisions and boundaries. The things that divided us no longer mattered when we woke up on September 12 – what mattered was what united us: our country.
In Houston, we just went through the worst rains our country had ever seen, and it was heartwarming to see not only our great state, but our whole country, come together for us. People put aside their differences, and knocked down their boundaries in order to help their fellow man. It was a reaffirmation of the goodness in mankind, when the media usually only shows you the bad in mankind.
So many of us have said, in the aftermath of that storm and the ensuing, ongoing humanitarianism, that we didn’t want it to take another disaster for us all to realize we are brothers and sisters, together in this world. I know none of us want another attack to be the catalyst that brings us together. We haven’t forgotten that day, but with the media that pounces at every opportunity to drive more division between us all, we can so easily forget what happened the next day.
That’s why I hope you’ll always remember September 12 as a day of American pride and the coming-together of Americans of every race, gender, class, and background. I hope you’ll remember that we’re all together in this country, and we should ALWAYS be united, not just when disasters happen. Please continue to pray for Florida, and all those affected by Harvey and Irma.
God Bless America.
Proof in Pictures
***I do not endorse any of the above or mentioned products.
Too Wordy for Instagram...
I posted this on Instagram yesterday, 9/1/17, and surprise, surprise - I'm way too wordy for that platform! I thought re-posting it here in its entirety (without having this split up in the comments) might work better.
So, I took the top 3 pictures last Thursday, the day before #Harvey hit us. Obviously, I was soon too busy prepping, and then worrying, and then watching in desperate terror as my hometown was devastated, to post this. We spent days being deluged, watching helplessly from our windows, wondering if the rains and wind would ever stop before everything we knew was gone, and whether we'd ever see the sun again.
Now, a week later, the rains have finally stopped, although rampant flooding continues, and we're all enjoying seeing the sun again. Those of us fortunate enough to stay high and dry throughout the storm are now consumed with heartbroken empathy for those who lost loved ones, homes, possessions, and pets; and we also feel a twinge of guilt for coming through it unscathed, when so many in our town have lost so much.
Through the eyes that have now seen and lived through the worst rains our country has ever seen, the reason I took those pictures now seems so unimportant...so trivial in light of the rampant loss all around me.
Inspired by all the body positivity posts I'd been seeing, reminding women everywhere of what "real" bodies look like, and assuring them of the beauty and value we so often are blind to in our own selves, I had been annoyed by an article I'd read the night before. I clicked on it because the headline said something like, "She weighs HOW much?" I thought it was going to show celebrities who had weights more similar to our own than we realized. HAH! Yeah, right!
What ensued was me clicking through the slideshow, rolling my eyes at the pathetic excuse for "overweight" and "healthy" they were showing. The first woman, the one in the article's picture, was an expectedly awesome-looking fitness model. What blew me away was her weight, that I was supposed to find surprising: 137 pounds! And she's SEVEN MONTHS PREGNANT!!! I don't even know how that's healthy!! How in the world, with all that heavy muscle on your admittedly lean body, are you growing a child and only weigh 137 pounds at 7 months??!! And she said she'd gained 18 lbs with this pregnancy - meaning she started off at 119. So much for this article helping real women with their body image!
Now, I give that woman major props for the rock-hard body she's obviously worked her ass off to get. And, as long as her doctors say what she's doing is healthy for her baby, then more power to her! But the rest of the pictures just drove home the fact that this article would do nothing but hurt the body image of a vast majority of American women.
At least Hoda Kotb admitted she was 152 lbs, albeit with a promise to get in shape because of that weight. She wasn't loving her body at that weight, but at least she was sharing in the struggle so many of her followers live daily.
Then we get to Kylie Jenner: 136 lbs. Oh boo fucking hoo!! She said she enjoyed her "chunkiness" at this weight, over being a skinny 120. Yeah, 136 is skinny on my body, at 120 I look like a skeleton with flesh hanging off.
At least Amy Schumer, at 150, was giving women a realistic idea of what healthy looks like for so many of us.
Then we had Kourtney Kardashian at a whopping 116. And the next chick was 115. Are these people like 5 feet tall? Because that's the only way I can see these weights and think anything other than "skinny bitch."
I even weighed more than the GUYS in this article!! Although that doesn't surprise me, with all the slight, testosterone-deprived men in Hollywood.
Even Sofia Vergara, that loveable Latina, for all her voluptuous curves, only clocks in at 130!
117,107,115, 135 - the last one finally sounds normal, until you read that she said "I need to weigh 100 lbs!" Uhhh...it says you're 5'7" - my height. That would be beyond anorexic for my height. WTF is wrong with these people?!
130,137-138, 124 - any women out there feeling better from this article?? I sure didn't! The last one: 161 pounds. Ok, Tyra Banks, you earned a new fan with that one, although you do stretch that out, being 3 inches taller than me!
Anyway, I was quite disenchanted with those numbers - that article totally did not go how I thought it would! Before I went to bed, I vowed that the next morning I would weigh, and after doing my Pilates I would take pictures to show what a REAL weight looks like. And not a bullshit weight that they give to a magazine to make themselves feel better.
The next morning, I weighed in at 159 pounds. I did my Pilates before lunch for my 19th day in-a-row. I was trying to break my old streak from 2007 of 30+ days in-a-row, but I got distracted by that son of a bitch Harvey. After I ate lunch, I threw on some shorts and a bralette and took these pictures. My husband was...not happy...with this idea at all, but I told him I felt compelled to do it.
THIS IS WHAT 159 POUNDS LOOKS LIKE!!!
I'm not saying this is healthy or unhealthy, I'm just showing you real pictures of a real body, with a real weight, in the hopes it makes you feel better than the magazines do about your own weight struggles.
My husband thinks I'm perfect, despite my constant arguments to the contrary, and that's all I care about.
At my heaviest, I weighed 30 lbs more than this, about the time I broke my foot Christmas Eve 2013. At my skinniest, I weighed 30 lbs less than this, a little under a year ago. My husband thought I was WAY too skinny. He could feel every rib and bone in my spine when he rubbed my back at night, and my wide hip bones jutted out so sharply I surprised myself with their thinness every time I touched them. I couldn't believe I was 128 lbs. again, for the first time since I'd been about that weight when I got out of the hospital. But Scott really thought I was too skinny. He loves me at any weight, hell, he thought I was perfect at 189...but being under 130 was just too skinny, as far as he's concerned. And that's fine with me! I love that he finds real women sexier than Victoria's Secret models (although they, of course, are sexy in their own right), that he loves my curves and thighs, and that he sees sexy beauty in me that most often eludes me when I stand in front of the mirror.
When I look at these pictures, I see pale flaws and flab I want to get rid of. I see the girl that's been watching and battling her weight for the past 23 years. I'm trying to see what Scott sees - the hourglass figure, nice legs, and body that's perfectly normal for a woman to have.
I'm trying to join this "self love" movement, because I know I need to love myself better to win out over my depression. I'm trying not to care that I have stretch marks and no kids, or that my tummy jiggles a little more than I want it to when I'm standing in front of the mirror, under lights that don't do me any favors.
But, at the same time that I try to get back on track with my Pilates and develop better self love (both in the best interest of my mental health, more so than my physical), it's the love of my fellow man that consumes me right now. The love and compassion that I feel, and that I'm seeing displayed on such a grand scale to the hometown and state I love.
I don't have the resources to be able to donate money to the recovery funds, and I've cleaned out my closet to make donations so many times in the past that I really don't have anything left to give away. Maybe some pajamas?
I'm trying to come up with ways I (as a permanently disabled woman who doesn't move too fast, with one working arm) can help in the recovery effort. As a native Houstonian, born and raised, I feel I must find SOME way I can help. If anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears. I've thought about if I can get enough people to see this, trying to get pledges for every day I do Pilates: $1/day or something like that. Then I'd be way more motivated to break my old streak, since every day I did them in a row it would be for #Texas. Let me know what you think, and if you or someone you know would be up for getting on board with cheering me on and raising money for my hometown and state! Maybe I can make this happen!
**Interested in trying Pilates, but think it's difficult, or don't know where to start? It's waaay easier and more fun than yoga! I'll put a link to the beginner's Pilates DVD I got started with in high school at the end of this. I'm very inflexible normally, so if I can modify the exercises and do them in my gimpy body, you can too (gimpy or not)! I had the VHS, but since releasing the DVD version, there appear to be bonus extras! Just scroll down!
#loveyourself but #loveothers more
Today is Day 3 of starting my Pilates count over - I started August 31st (a week from the last time I'd done them).
You may be wondering why this blog is still going…well, if you give a shit, anyway. You’d think, “This bitch got her book published, why does she still keep up with the blog?” That’s a good question, with an easy answer:
While the memoir has been published, I continue to do dumbass shit every day. This blog will sometimes feature book promotion, things I’ve learned through the publishing process or past 12 years since my life-changing injuries, and brain aneurysm-related news; but often it will be a trove of stupidity-induced anecdotes, meant to make you laugh and/or feel a little better about your own situation. That’s what today’s post will be, although it will eventually lead back to the brain aneurysm thing.
The weekend of April 21, 2017 was a bad one for me. Fortunately, despite my idiocy, it wound up being a good one for everyone else involved. It’s yet another instance of a “cautionary tale” that has arisen from my life, relevant to my book, that I feel I should share.
We all began that Friday, the 21st, in a great mood, ready to celebrate my best friend Jaena at her bachelorette weekend in Austin. I had originally thought of bowing out of the weekend’s festivities, due in part to a lack of funds and to the fact that I just don’t deal well with being away from my husband for long. In hindsight, my staying out of it probably would have been a better choice all around, but if hindsight ruled my life I would’ve never made a mistake, and wouldn’t be where or who I am.
You know what happens at bachelorette parties…we all do. Chicks get drunk and act crazy, trying to keep their minds distracted from what’s going on at the bachelor party. I’d only been to one before Jaena’s – my sister(-in-law), Tiffani’s. She had a joint one with her friend Amy, and I still have my red “T n A ’03” t-shirt from that night. I was 18 and had a blast going crazy with her friends. We drank everything in sight that night. Beer at Hooters (where we started with dinner, and changed into our t-shirts, of course), hard liquor in the limo all night, champagne at the dance club, shots at the strip club.
Yeah…that one trip to La Bare was traumatizing enough that I forbade it at my 2 best friends’ bachelorette parties. Fortunately, their friends aren’t as crazy as my other friends, so they didn’t mind me putting my gimpy foot down. Getting bent over the stage and smacked on the ass by “007”’s gun, and getting hit on by the creepy DJ in his booth are things I only need to have happen once in my life. Somehow, I managed to wake up the next morning and make it to UH for my college algebra test. I still remember the affronted look on my professor’s face when she caught a whiff of me as I turned in my test. At least I didn’t puke on her! More on puke in a bit…
With that as my only experience with bachelorette parties, I was geared up to drink as much as my brain-injured body could hold – and I wasn’t gonna let that little “brain-injured” thing hold me back! It’s been my mission the past 12 years to not let that hold me back…and sometimes it gets me in trouble.
We started the night at a wine bar in Austin, where we ordered 2 bottles of wine to go with our food. We ran out of the white wine faster, so when we did, I drank a glass of red, and then ordered myself another glass of chardonnay.
Once we finished up at the wine bar, we walked down the street to the next bar of the night. What did Jaena and I do when we got to the next bar? Why, we each ordered another glass of wine, of course! What would YOU do at a bachelorette party?!
Not long after Jaena and I had ordered our glasses of wine at the bar, her future sister-in-law, Lizzie came up behind us and said,
“There’s no way we aren’t doing shots!”
There was the briefest moment when Smart Jessica made an appearance and immediately said,
“No, I’ve had too much. I can’t mix and do a shot.”
That’s because Smart Jessica remembered all those painful lessons learned from mixing different alcohols in our wild teens. I always pick my poison and stick with it these days.
Well, Party Jess was having none of that. That bitch has way too much power. She made the genius decision to do a shot of vodka with them.
It’s clear, so it should be ok, right?
Later, we walked over to the Kung Fu Saloon, but after finding they weren’t doing karaoke that night, we decided to head home. Once safely delivered to the house, I put on my bridesmaid dress-matching lavender “Fatigued” PajamaGram pjs, and the girls popped open some champagne.
“Yaaay!” said Party Jess.
Then, guess what that dumb bitch did after we drank all the champagne playing “Never have I ever?” Yup! She opened the giant bottle of cheap pinot grigio I’d brought. So, let’s recap:
I had several glasses of wine at the wine bar, another glass at the next bar, a shot of vodka, champagne, and then more wine.
And this time, I wasn’t 18. I was 31, with 2 brain injuries.
I remember Jaena helping me find my pills and go to bed, where I promptly passed out. I could tell as she tucked me in that she seemed worried about me…but I wasn’t worried. Just very, very drunk. Wasted, really.
The next morning, I woke up early, with a pounding headache that hurt like hell. Horribly dehydrated and in need of Ibuprofen, I crept into the kitchen to get one of my cold waters out of the fridge and my usual morning Chewy bar. I grabbed my little case of pain pills out of my purse on the way back, and managed to get my stupid bad foot caught in the streamers Lacey had hung in the kitchen doorway. Unable to free my crooked toes from the sticky strands, the whole thing came down, following me back to my room like a shiny, golden trail of shame. It wouldn’t be the last fun I’d manage to crap all over.
Back in my room, I ate my Chewy bar and took my morning pills, as well as three Ibuprofen. Noticing the remote for the ceiling fan, I grabbed it and turned it on high, hoping the cool air would help me feel better. Unfortunately, the longer I laid there, the worse I felt. By the time Jaena came in to tell me she was getting everyone up for the brunch, I felt awful. I was explaining to her that my head was pounding so badly I didn’t think I could get out of bed, when intense nausea came upon me with a force.
She was worried and wanted me to explain the pain, but the more I talked, the more I was sure that I was going to throw up, until eventually she stepped out of the room right as I leaned over and puked on the floor. She returned with a mixing bowl for me to throw up in and some paper towels.
I felt terrible watching Jaena as she took care of me and cleaned up my puke-y mess in the beautiful new Kate Spade dress she had bought for this occasion – the brunch, not the puking. Lacey came in and gave me some homeopathic beads that dissolved on my tongue to help with the nausea. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much time to work their magic before I threw up again.
After throwing up a few times and the pounding head pain getting worse, Jaena asked if I needed to go to an Emergency Room – an inconvenience I really didn’t want to put everyone through. However, it soon dawned on me that I felt as badly as I had when the second brain aneurysm hemorrhaged (minus the excruciating tailbone pain), and I grew increasingly worried. After dozing off with ice on my head in between puking fits, Jaena woke me up again to tell me they had gotten back from the brunch.
The rest of Jaena’s friends had arrived, and they were offering to forego the boat trip and stay with me. I was lucky to be on that trip with some of the sweetest girls you can find. An unexpected cold front had moved through Austin, and it was going to be a chilly boat ride. I think they used the excuse of the cold front so I wouldn’t feel so badly about them staying behind for me. Still, I felt awful that I was causing all this drama during Jaena’s bachelorette party – it was supposed to be a fun, care-free time!
After talking with Scott, realizing how worried everyone was that I couldn’t stop throwing up, and becoming increasingly worried myself, I told the girls I thought I should go to the ER, or an urgent care, or somewhere. They talked to Mom, and searched for an urgent care nearby while Jaena and the rest of the girls left for the boat ride. I apologized profusely for being an annoying inconvenience, but no amount of apologizing or reassurances from them could make me feel like less of an asshole.
They found a place to take me that accepted my insurance, and while talking to Mom (who was at my nephew’s 7th birthday party), she asked if I wanted Scott to drive to Austin to come get me. I wanted Scott like a two-year-old with a boo boo wants their mommy, so I said yes. Even if I stayed, I knew I wouldn’t be able to go out with them again that night, and as awful as I felt, I just wanted to go home.
Scott hopped in the car and headed to the birthday party. He was going to pick up the gas card from Dad, but when he got there he discovered Dad wanted to go too, and take their Expedition, so I’d have more room to lie down. Knowing they were on their way brought me a lot of comfort, but I still felt horrible.
Sweet Caitlin, Allison, and Renee (girls I’d JUST met) got me in the car to take me to the urgent care they’d found. They already had a double-bagged trash bag from the car trip, which I used to throw up in on the way. When we got there, they asked at the front desk if they were the urgent care, and if they would take my insurance. They weren’t the urgent care, they were an Emergency Room in a hospital, but that turned out to be a good thing.
After I told them I felt just like I had when my second brain aneurysm hemorrhaged, they said the urgent care would’ve sent me to them anyway, so we saved a trip. You would be AMAZED how quickly they get to you when you tell them that! Before the girls could sit down in the waiting room they had me in a wheelchair, bussing me to a room to start an IV. After the IV was in, they gave me a concoction to help with the nausea and headache.
While I was being taken care of, Scott and Dad were on the road to Austin, and the girls were back at the house packing up the rest of my things. Caitlin stayed with me in my room for a bit, but once I’d dozed off she decided they should get back and pull my stuff together. They had already been so amazing, they didn’t need to sit around a hospital with me, bored.
Eventually, I was taken to have both a CT scan and a CT angiogram done. For the latter, they inject dye so they can see all the veins and arteries in your neck and head.
I went back to my room and once again dozed off in the bed, awaiting the results. While in my twilight state, I heard a voice that could bring me out of any sleep. Scott said,
“Babe?” and my eyes popped open. We could’ve used him when I was in the coma! The moment I opened my eyes and saw him, I ecstatically said,
“My Babe!” He had been worried: When he and Dad walked up to the room, Dad had said,
“Oh, she’s sleeping. We should let her sleep.” Scott watched me for a minute, but when I started moving my mouth weirdly, as though talking in my sleep, he said,
“The hell with it, I’m waking her up.” I’m glad he did, because I was incredibly relieved to see them. Shortly after they got there, a doctor came in to discuss the results of my tests. He said the scans came back great. My clips from the 2 previously hemorrhaged brain aneurysms were fine, and there was no sign of leaking with either of them.
Because we had a reasonable alternative explanation for my symptoms – the previous night’s heavy drinking – he felt confident saying he didn’t believe my symptoms were due to blood on the brain. He said that with the tests, he was 99% sure. The only way for him to remove that 1% was to do a spinal tap. If you read the memoir, I believe you know how I feel about those.
“No thanks!” I said, “I’ve had a few of those already.” Later, I told Jaena I wished I said, “That’s ok, I’ll just go home and watch the movie.” The doctor wrote me prescriptions for the nausea and head pain. We checked out of the hospital and found a Walgreens nearby. We dropped Scott off there, and Dad and I went back to the house to get my things.
After getting my stuff, apologizing for my idiocy being such an inconvenience, and bidding the girls a good night, we picked up Scott and the prescriptions, and set out on the road. I was ravenously hungry, considering I’d thrown up everything I’d eaten for the past 24 hours or so. I told Dad the only thing that ever sounds good when I feel like that is greasy chicken nuggets. I had to take a couple of the anti-nausea chewables I’d been prescribed to eat without puking, but eventually I scarfed down a 10-piece box of nuggets and some fries like a kid who’s been at fat camp for a month. After that I lied down in the backseat for the rest of the drive.
The next day I talked to Jaena and realized just how much annoyance my little escapade had caused. It wasn’t so much that three of the girls had missed out on the boat ride to take care of me; it was what the fear and worry put Jaena through during her bachelorette weekend. We’d had a great first night, although I’m sure I made an ass of myself trying to drink the group’s weight in wine, but the next day had been filled with Jaena worrying, and the other girls desperately trying to calm her and salvage the rest of the weekend.
Jaena had gone through almost losing me already. She’d seen me lying motionless and unresponsive in a coma, wondering if I’d ever wake up or be the person she knew before. She was tortured by thoughts of us going through that all over in the hours before the test results came back. She made me promise never to worry her like that again, and I certainly won’t.
Reflections of a Moron
What hit home so hard with me in the aftermath of that weekend was thinking about the pain and stress I put on my brain with that night of binge-drinking, and the frequency with which I did that to myself in the years before my aneurysms hemorrhaged. As I discussed it with Mom and Scott, I said,
“I haven’t had a morning hangover where I puked like that since I was a teenager (before I got hurt).”
All the recent instances where I’d thrown up after drinking had happened the night or day of the drinking, and were usually the result of not eating enough and drinking too much. I thought I’d had nights of heavy drinking in my 12 years since my injuries, but I guess I really outdid my dumbass self that first night of Jaena’s celebration.
We all – Mom, Dad, Scott, and I – came to the same conclusion that I needed to learn to stop drinking much earlier than I had been for the past year or so. I’ve had too many irresponsible instances in the past couple years when I’ve kept drinking way past the point I should’ve stopped, and it always ends with me puking. I told myself after I got hurt that I would never digress back into old drinking habits, and that’s exactly what I’d been doing. For someone who found throwing up absolutely terrifying after I got hurt, I’ve been drinking like a noob with reckless abandon.
I just couldn’t believe how much the pain and nausea of the next morning mimicked my second aneurysm hemorrhaging. It made me truly realize the extent of the abuse I’d put my brain through for all those years before the strokes stopped the Crazy Train in my wild tracks. I thought about the many times I drank to extremes before I got hurt, and the damage it had done. That throbbing head pain drove home just how bad the abuse had been, and reinforced the role heavy drinking played in my strokes.
Just social drinking, resulting in a .08% blood alcohol content, increases your cerebral blood flow and cerebral blood volume. (1) Think how much higher your cerebral blood flow and volume become as the drinking becomes heavier. No wonder my aneurysms had grown so large!
I mentioned in a previous post that a researcher recently attributed 90% of hemorrhaged brain aneurysms to tobacco and alcohol use, with the number one risk factor being smoking cigarettes. I’m glad I can at least say I don’t smoke cigarettes anymore (especially given the way I chain-smoked), as I now have seen and felt the damage my binge-drinking ways were doing to my poor brain.
So, my first moral of this story is: Know your limits. PICK YOUR POISON AND STICK WITH IT, and don’t drink too much of it. – All the shit I learned more than a decade ago and forgot in one stupid night.
And the second, is:
This is a personal plea I tweeted to The Ellen Show, in the hopes she will see it, and help me to share my story and raise awareness. When you're trying to use your book to warn all of America of the hidden dangers that could be lurking within their bodies, or perhaps worse, the bodies of their loved ones, who better to turn to than Ellen? I only hope she finds this and can help. My trial runs have me in make-up, in my PajamaGram pjs, with fluffy hair. However, this was at the end of an exhausting, frustrating day. With no make-up and my hair in a ponytail, I threw on my "I need coffee" bottoms and said, "That's it, I'm doing this."
Any gamers interested in what my husband's playing - it's Shadow of Mordor.
My first interview went live last week on the Women's Memoirs blog! It's my first step into the publicity world, and can be found at http://womensmemoirs.com/memoir-writing/interview-with-j-p-macfarland-author-of-new-uplifting-memoir/
I'm having a bit of a freak out, as it's difficult to navigate the publicity process when you're your own publicist...BUT, I'll be back at work at it tomorrow, and will share what I learn in the process! I hope everyone is having a Fabulous Fourth! Rebel & Rogue wish you a wonderful day celebrating the Original Nation of Rebels!! 'Murica!!
**The credit for the above picture goes to dartmouth-hitchcock.org.
This picture freaks me out. I have 2 of those clips in my brain, keeping 2 different aneurysms from rupturing again. You get a clip in your brain if you're lucky, but more often than not a ruptured brain aneurysm will kill you before a neurosurgeon has the chance to clip it. The fatality of these lurking assholes, and the direness of one's situation after a hemorrhage, is why many of us survivors make it our mission to share our stories and warn others. I recognize that while I've been left (most likely permanently) physically handicapped, I was incredibly blessed to get to keep my cognitive capabilities and personality. And, as someone who had been writing her whole life, writing a memoir about my injuries and struggles in order to share my message seemed like the obvious thing to do.
In putting together my Media Kit to send out as a promotional resource, I compiled recent research that had been done on strokes and brain aneurysms, in regards to their occurring in younger people, the direct effects of smoking tobacco on them, and the higher risks for women. I must also note that African Americans are at a higher risk for brain aneurysms, and should be scanned if they have other risk factors like high blood pressure, or especially, a family history of brain aneurysms.
I'm going to post my research here so that anyone can read it, and go to the links to read about the studies themselves:
Brain Aneurysms and Strokes in the News
“Stroke hospitalizations rising among younger US adults”
Over the past almost twelve years since I suffered my two brain aneurysm hemorrhages, I have seen them affect more and more younger people, both in my own circle and around the country. Every parent who has ever stopped me to ask what happened has been shocked to learn the answer. You can visibly see their faces change as they picture their own children.
The study linked above found that more young U.S. adults are being hospitalized for stroke, at least in part because more have risk factors like high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. In the younger age group included in the study, 42% of men and 36% of women smoked. Obesity was called a weak risk factor for stroke, with hypertension generally being the strongest risk factor – something made worse by obesity and smoking.
When I was sending my book proposal to publishers, one of the statistics I mentioned was the increase in strokes in the young. With the increase in strokes among younger people, I argued, it was more urgent than ever to make parents and young people aware that this risk is there at all stages of life, not just when you get older. My first stroke happened on my twentieth birthday, for crying out loud! After I was released from the hospital, I heard about a fifteen-year-old boy who fell down dead of a brain aneurysm. Fifteen!
It’s true that the above study relates to ischemic strokes, caused by blood clots, whereas mine were subarachnoid hemorrhages due to massive ruptured brain aneurysms. This leads into my next point. I argued to various publishers that with an increase in strokes as well as reckless behavior among the young, they needed to see how quickly the effects of living wildly can change your life, and how truly expensive those habits are. Smoking is one of the five major risk factors for strokes, and I believe a rise in smoking among younger people (at least among my generation) correlates with the rise in rupturing aneurysms in the young.
“The high and rising rates of stroke risk factors among young adults is concerning and likely contributing to the increase in stroke hospitalizations over time," says lead study author, Dr. Mary George. "Our results stress the importance of prevention of stroke risk factors in younger adults," George warns.
“Tobacco, but not pot, boosts early stroke risk”
A study of nearly 50,000 Swedish military conscripts found that smoking pot in young adulthood doesn’t seem to increase the risk of an early stroke, but smoking cigarettes does. They concluded that more than 90% of stroke risk is related to tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, and other modifiable factors.
Researchers found that using pot 50 or more times was not associated with stroke at age 45 or younger. At first, they found pot users to have a two-fold higher risk of stroke due to blood vessel blockage, but that link was weakened once the researchers accounted for tobacco use (as most pot users also smoked tobacco). The risk of ischemic stroke following heavy cannabis use that was observed disappeared once they controlled for tobacco use. They found that men who smoked at least 20 cigarettes (one pack) a day were at five times the risk for stroke. Women who smoke (and women in general) are known to be at a higher risk of stroke.
My aneurysms were most likely there from birth, as we have a family history of them, but I argue in my book that I believe they had gotten so big over the years because of my excessive drinking and 2-3 pack/day smoking habit. That’s why they never hemorrhaged all those times I was thrown from my dirt bike and slammed into the ground as a young teenager – they hadn’t gotten as large yet. As I stated, 90% of stroke risk is related to tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption. Think that doesn't relate to brain aneurysms and hemorrhaging? THINK AGAIN!
“Most fatal type of stroke declining along with smoking rates”
Bring in the Finns! The type of strokes I suffered (subarachnoid hemorrhages caused by ruptured brain aneurysms) are the most lethal, and are considered rare in the grand scheme of strokes, affecting around 200,000 people a year in America (about 10% of all strokes), although they do seem to occur frequently in the U.S. About 50% of all cases will die within a year. You can imagine why my mother was terrified when my second aneurysm hemorrhaged.
Finland has recently conducted studies regarding smoking tobacco and its relation to subarachnoid hemorrhages. Their study reports seeing fewer subarachnoid hemorrhages since the 1990's, along with lower smoking rates, as well as an increase in the age of the victims. As the youth of their country took up smoking less and less, they saw fewer aneurysms hemorrhaging among the young. The study’s lead author says that while they can’t be certain as to why this decrease is happening, smoking is the Number 1 Risk Factor for subarachnoid hemorrhages. When smoking rates decline rapidly together with plummeting incidences of subarachnoid hemorrhages, it’s easy to draw a correlation.
Study author Anna-Karin Danielsson is quoted as telling Reuters Health that "extensive tobacco smokers in late adolescence had a fivefold increased risk of stroke before age 45, when compared to non-smokers, and more than double the risk of stroke (up through) age 60." Considering I did my heaviest smoking from age 17 until my twentieth birthday, that fits my argument.
A big part of why I hurried to get this book published, after sitting on it for so long, was because I could see the rise in not only strokes, but brain aneurysms specifically. I want to say with as loud of a voice and as big of a platform as possible that the risk of stroke, and indeed, the risk of dying, is even there in your younger years, especially if you brush off your health as I did. When you smoke and drink excessively, you raise your blood pressure – a risk factor. When you don't exercise and you're overweight - another risk factor. All the aforementioned risk factors can lead to hypertension, which is itself a big risk factor for strokes, not to mention one’s overall health.
I wish so badly that I'd listened to the people who told me over and over how precious my youth was. Now I want to show any young people partaking in those risks just how costly it is, even when you are lucky enough to survive. I may have beaten the odds more than once, but I've been left with half a working body, and many dreams dashed. The most important dreams are still possible, but my point is - IT AIN'T WORTH IT!!
“Smoking raises brain lining hemorrhage risk more for women”
Women are in the higher risk pool for subarachnoid hemorrhage in Finland (as in America), with around 60% of cases of subarachnoid hemorrhages happening in women.
Another study in Finland focused on the greater risk of subarachnoid hemorrhages in women, especially women who smoke. Smokers are already at a higher risk of suffering a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Based on previous studies, they know that smoking seems to account for at least one third of all cases of subarachnoid hemorrhages. Women suffer bleeding in the brain almost twice as often as men, the study authors wrote in the journal Stroke.
According to lead study author Dr. Jani Valdemar Lindbohm, a surprising finding was that the elevated risk in women was explained by a vulnerability to smoking. They believe smoking may decrease estrogen levels and cause early menopause, which further lowers estrogen levels. The decrease in estrogen could “cause vessel walls to degrade and make them rupture prone.”
Subarachnoid hemorrhages become more common in women after the age of 55 (tell that to my brain). In the study, even light smoking boosted the risk of hemorrhage in both men and women, though it decreased after quitting smoking. Smokers were more likely to suffer a hemorrhage, especially women. Compared to non-smokers, women who smoked twenty cigarettes (one pack) or more per day were eight times more likely to suffer a brain hemorrhage. Men who smoked were almost three times more likely. The authors speculate that the stronger effects of smoking on women has to do with its interaction with female hormones. The good news is that former smokers had a lower risk of hemorrhage than current smokers, so it’s never too late to quit
"To prevent stroke in general, the story is to stop smoking, get regular exercise, watch your diet and make sure that your vascular risk factors are evaluated and well-controlled," says Dr. James Burke, a neurology researcher.
I read that Surgeon General’s warning on the side of the pack about smoking raising the risk of stroke many times. It’s hard for it to fully resonate when your young mind barely knows what a stroke is, and has never even heard of a brain aneurysm. I truly thought all the repercussions for what I was doing to my body would hit me when I was older, not on my twentieth birthday.
We have many campaigns showing people who died from smoking, or have to speak through holes in their throats. They’re effective, but kids see that and still think “I’ll never get there. I’ll quit before that happens, before I get old.” They need to see someone who looks not much older than they are, who has been living with the effects of smoking since she was twenty, before she got the chance to quit on her own.
I wrote my book, not just to share a heartbreaking tale of personal triumph to which all could relate and draw support from, but in the hopes that my book would give me the proper platform to address the youth of America, who cannot yet fully comprehend the possible ramifications of things they think they’re just experimenting with. If they have a family history of brain aneurysms, like me they may not even know it yet. I hope to start that discussion within many families, in the hopes that those at risk will get themselves screened, and stay away from further risk factors. And I hope to show young people what they don’t think is possible – that the impossible can always hit you at any time in your life, and your health is not something to be taken for granted, at any age.
viaA fellow Black Rose Writing author set up an amazing book giveaway. Ten fantastic stories that are on my must-read list, as well as my new memoir Hope Alive, could be yours if you enter the giveaway! You can enter via this mobile-friendly link to my Facebook page: http://gvwy.io/6mmc9pm or via the rafflecopter link below! The raffle will end June 5, 2017. Good luck!
JP MacFarland is the author of Hope Alive: A Coming of Age Tale Brought About By a Back-handed Bitch-slap From Karma. Native Texans, she and her husband live outside of their hometown of Houston, with their crazy fur babies. Every day brings new challenges to face and figure out with one arm. It's a crazy, one-armed life!
Click book cover to purchase Hope Alive