Shaelyn's Story - Part 2 "Breathe"

Photo by  Randy Bacon

Photo by Randy Bacon

On May 19 of 2016 the last thing I remember is driving home to my friends and family on a sunny Thursday. I had just landed on U.S. soil after a great time working for an after school program in Antigua, Guatemala. Everyone was relieved that I made it back in one piece, I was safe! I had no idea I was in for another, different kind of adventure.

A car accident involving a semi truck changed my life forever. I was stuck in my car for 45 minutes to an hour. Once they were able to get me out, I was unconscious and my brain was exposed. My whole body was mangled and destroyed, my injuries were extensive. I was life flighted to Tulsa, Oklahoma and rushed into surgery. My parents were told that if I survived I would likely never walk or talk normally again.. I was in a coma for 9 days.

Taken 3 days after the car crash.

Taken 3 days after the car crash.

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When I woke up, I was talking! I was sent to a rehabilitation hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I would relearn basic things like how to walk long distances without a wheelchair, shower on my own, read on an elementary level, and how to navigate through life with a traumatic brain injury.

I’ll never forget the isolation I felt those first few months after waking up. It’s like I was sitting front row in an empty theatre watching myself try to to navigate this body that I could no longer trust. I watched myself try to perform simple tasks but my body simply couldn’t. Wouldn’t. I sat with a paper full of simple addition, subtraction and multiplication problems. I dug in my mind for the answers, I flashed back to my third grade classroom and I saw myself at 8 years old, racing through these answers to get a star by my name, but I could not think of the answers now. I was helpless. I begged to shower myself, I tried, would drop the soap and my occupational therapist would gently say, “That’s okay”, pick it up, and continue washing me. All I could do was take another step and hope this body I didn’t recognize would hold me up steadily.

After being home from rehab for two days I went back into the hospital for a craniotomy because I was leaking cerebrospinal fluid out of my nose. About 30 minutes before I was rolled back for surgery I got a facebook message from the police officer that was on the scene of my wreck. I lost it. In the pre-op room with my parents it sunk in, I may never wake up. This is brain surgery. I’m so scared. I rolled back to the operating room alone, tears in my eyes. The craniotomy went okay but the leak returned and I had to have another surgery to correct the leak. I was in the hospital for about a month recovering from surgeries. I hid behind a brave face and it was exhausting. I just wanted to know why this was happening to me. I spent 3 months in physical, occupational and speech therapy relearning all kinds of tasks and dealing with my PTSD. I eventually returned to school in Austin, Texas.

Photo by  Randy Bacon

Photo by Randy Bacon

I thought the worst was over. After months of hospital stays and brain surgeries, learning how to love the new me, I thought I had beat this. Then just when I thought I was getting back on my feet, all that is a traumatic brain injury came back and made me lose balance and knocked the wind out of me.

In May of 2018, 2 years after my accident, I had a bad seizure and was non responsive. My boyfriend called EMS and they rushed me to the emergency room, I was unconscious for about 10 hours. I woke up confused with my parents standing over me, wondering how they got to Austin, which is 500 miles away from Springfield. This was my first seizure, and I was terrified. I couldn’t think straight or remember what was going on for more than a few minutes. To say I was out of it would be an understatement. I was wobbly, I stuttered and my thoughts were scrambled for another couple weeks. I remember the first time the doctor called me “epileptic”. I was sitting in his office alone, I was wearing a green shirt. I was scared, I didn’t know what to expect. I felt like I had to be strong and put on a front for everyone else. Knowing I made it through my last battle didn’t feel like enough to convince me I could handle this too.

I was so angry. All of my friends just got to go out and have fun every weekend and I was dealing with all of this, so I came up with excuse after excuse to cancel on plans. I put my life on hold to mourn what I thought was going to defeat me. I laid in bed all day, I dropped all of my classes. I was having 10-20 seizures a day. It felt like my life was nothing but ambulance rides, needles and prescription bottles. I hated myself all over again. I didn’t understand why I survived everything just to live for this. I told myself that this was it, this was my life forever and that I was never getting out or getting better. Too many things caused me to feel like I don't have any dignity and no sense of independence. I let epilepsy become who I am and I let it take me over. I gave up.

I have decided that I won’t let epilepsy take over the life I almost lost. I took my doctors advice and got into healthy daily routines. I started taking better care of myself and I have taken big steps to push myself toward independence even if it sometimes feels like 10 steps backwards. I am so much healthier, and I’m so much happier. I didn’t think I would get back to this place. I forget that life is full of ups and downs, not just ups and one down. That’s why you have to keep on. You’re always on your way up.

Photo by  Randy Bacon

Photo by Randy Bacon

My seizures are continuing to get less frequent that makes my life so much easier to live. I made myself get better even when I didn’t want to. I made myself actually tell someone when I felt really sad. And I made myself get up and go for a walk when I felt like laying in bed and calling into work sick. I still have bad days. I still struggle with it. I still have days when I have lots of seizures. And days I’m really sad. Those days suck. But I am so much better than before. I read a quote that really resonated with me (if you know me, you know I love quotes). It said, “Not everyday has to ‘count’. Somedays your only purpose is to make it to the next, and that counts too.” And I thought that was really powerful and true. It’s something we don’t remind each other of enough. I’m so thankful for all of the people who were persistent and stuck around and helped me, and reminded me of that.

What gets me is when people look to me and call me a warrior. If I could say anything and hope it sticks, it’s that deep down, we’re all the same. When you’re backed into a corner, it’s human instinct to kick and scream your way back to yourself. When you’re doubting if you can handle the next thing, don’t. Because you can. We’re all warriors. You would be amazed at the strength you would find inside if you just put one foot in front of the other.

I’ve gotten a new job on the Seven Billion ones team. Hearing the stories of so many incredible people provides so much perspective. I am so amazed by the journeys of the everyday people living around me. I find so much peace and solace in that.

Let them help you. Let the medicine help you. There is no shame in vulnerability or asking for help. There wouldn’t be light without darkness.  We’re all just human, fighting battles, and we have so much to learn from each other if you just pay attention.

Photo by  Randy Bacon

Photo by Randy Bacon