I may be strong but I can still break

2 years ago — I was working at my summer job at a Horse Day Camp, as the Youth Director. I was happy and content with my life for the first time in a while. I was relieved that this would be the first summer in a couple of years that I was free from surgeries. After what was suppose to be just 1 surgery right before college, turned into 3 surgeries and having numerous complication. This made having a summer free from surgeries a really big deal to me!

I finally was able to tell people “I am done with surgeries!”

Or so I thought…

One day/weekend I was at a horse show with my project horse for the summer. It was our first show together and it was a hot, great show day. We ended off the day with Reserve High Point! The next day I went to work at the barn and felt off, but I thought it was just the flu or cramps. Thankfully I found one of my coworkers to work for me the following day. I went home, fed the horses and went to bed with a shooting stomach ache at about 7pm.

That night I woke up at about 2 am in shooting pain! Like none I have ever experienced before. Considering I have had over 80+ surgeries and am allergic to most pain medications, I knew something was up. I slowly crawled up the stairs and woke up my parents (I was living at home for the summer). I made it back to my bed, screaming and panicking because the physical pain turned to mental pain and took me back to the fire all over again. I looked down at my hands and could see my finger tips slowly being burned away like it was happening in real life all over again. And then all I remember was my mom giving me something to knock me out as the tears came rolling down my cheek.

The next day the pain did not go away-so off to the ER we went.

After 10+ sticks to get just the IV in, the pain worsened and by then I hadn’t eaten anything in 1 whole day so my stomach hurt from hunger too. The nurse began to comment on, “Wow, you have had a lot of surgeries… you are a badass..” and then later joked “Next you are going to get a boob job, right?” and my mom politely responded as we gave each other the look, “That was the last surgery.” She laughed not knowing we were serious, as I was injured over 90% of my body including my chest so it was all distorted not giving me a choice on if I wanted chest/breast reconstruction, that is if I wanted to wear normal clothes. Next was the ultrasound. Nothing. Then the CT scan. During the CT scan, I felt like I was in one of those tortured movies as I laid on the table in pain as my arm ached as the liquid ran through my weak vein to help my organs light up. “I am strong, toughen up” I told myself, just like I told myself before every other surgery or treatment. As I grew more and more frustrated then ever before, and my family knew it too. The more time we spent there, the madder I got at the world.

The whole process took forever!

12 hours later… I had, had it!

I finally said, “Either it is an appendicitis, or it is not! Can we go?”

Literally as I was saying that the Doctors walked in to tell me it was a appendicitis. They then proceeded on telling me about the surgery and thankfully called in the best tramua doctor since I am such a hard patient to operate on. We decided to make the incision significantly lower because we didn’t want to cut the already damaged skin in fear that it would rip open. And back under anesthesia I went, as I was way to familiar with it.

I woke up from surgery even more hungry and in more pain than I was before the surgery. I was so hungry as by this time it had now been 3 days since I had eaten anything. Thankfully I was able to get some pain IV meds, that I hoped I wasn’t also allergic too, but the amount they had to give me to be affective since I have such a high tolerance is almost dangerous. It didn’t help that the nurse wouldn’t listen to me or realize that I needed more, not realizing that burn survivors need a significant more amount of pain medication to be effective.

6 weeks. I was not able to lift anything over 10 lbs.

WHAT! My boredom, frustration and anger grew as I couldn’t do anything I loved to do and all my friends were to “busy” to even give me the time a day.

To sum it up quickly here is an outline of my recovery after surgery:

2 weeks: shed a whole layer of skin off my inner thighs and back and throat from an allergic reaction to the pain medication (almost back to the ER, thankfully not.)
3 weeks: My wound ripped open down to my intestines by lifting up my arm, back to the hospital. I had a vac machine put on to help the heeling,
4 weeks: Allergic reaction to the bandaging on from the vac machine
1+ month: Over granulation tissue was forming on the wound. Back to the hospital.

The scar finally healed 4 months after the surgery. I wasn’t worried, all of my other scars healed with problems in the recovery, but this one took way longer then most took, as it was so deep. It was thick and tight and I lost ALL core strength since I was unable to move my core for so long in fear that my wound would re-rip open.

As any surgery did, it harden me and made me shut people off, in fear that they would hurt me as well. Although this time something about the timing of this surgery changed me even more so then the previous surgeries I had recently. Some people commented on how ___ changed me. But this is what truly did.

I was mad. I was frustrated. At the world. At everyone.

Before I believe that my frustration with overcoming my injury drove my energy to succeed and prove everyone wrong. This time it was different. I had, had it! I was sick and tired of always being the strong one and always having to put my life on hold to get better, while everyone else around me was out enjoying their lives. No one seemed to understand why I was so frustrated except for my dad (step-dad). As they never saw what I have truly been through.

I thought to myself, 
Haven’t I been through enough? Why must the world always torture me? Why do all of my friends leave the second I need help?

All I wanted was for someone to come and just hang out with me, but I was no longer fun as I couldn’t do anything after my surgery and I lived to far out in the country for anyone to come out and visit.

It was just like previous surgeries, I kept to myself, I didn’t tell people my true pain and what I was really going through and that I was dying inside. As I went to class with an open wound on my side and tried to continue to compete in horse shows. And I did just this until I couldn’t keep it in any longer and I would just break down. Different things would trigger the break down and I put myself in some situations I would have never have before. I didn’t trust anyone, I was terrified of something bad happening again to the point I would wake up almost every night in the middle of the night, sometimes I would even be in class or studying and my mind would go back to the different surgeries or the fire all over again (just like with previous surgeries). All I wanted to do was escape my reality. People would say they were there for me but I didn’t believe them, as when I would try to reach out to them I felt like I was an annoying pest or they were to busy, just like during previous surgeries. I was told multiple times I should not to be so frustrated, but how? And to be proud of my scars. It isn’t my scars that I was frustrated about, it was the continual reminders of the pain I had been through. And this isn’t like this is the first time this has happened, this is the 3rd or 4th time something like this has happened to me in 4 years, not to mentioned even more than that throughout my life… I don’t even want to try and remember all of them. You haven’t been through what I have, please don’t tell me I shouldn’t be frustrated. I think I have every right to be a little frustrated at times.

Sometimes I think people think that being strong is to never shed a tear and to just act ‘tough.’ And at one point, I believe, I believed this too. Let me tell you it isn’t. Sometimes being strong is just persevering by taking care of yourself and getting done what needs to be done and focusing on your next goal. And that is what surviving is.

It wasn’t just this surgery that caused me to break. I have actually broken during almost every surgery/recovery, but only my family saw it. This time it wasn’t just my family, some of my friends saw me in a way I had never ever wanted them too and I am so thankful that they were there for me during those times as I tried to figure this crazy unfair world out. Even though I was trying so hard to be strong on my own, the pain of continually having to be the strong one eventually caught up with me and I couldn’t keep it in any longer.

My world has had so many changes and opportunities since then including, a lot travel, moving a lot, mountains, college and horses of course. Since then and through that I have learned so many important things that have helped me get to where I am today and overcome that frustration. I would like to share what I wrote in my journal the other day;

“I read something today that hit close to home, ‘But many people need to go away before they realize they do not need to go anywhere’
In this regard they were talking about peace and mindfulness. Something that I have been looking for within my life.
I have gone away and it was exactly what I ‘needed’ at the time.
Right before I left, my dad Eddie said that he felt like I was looking for something.
I was. I had no idea what or that I was, but I needed an escape from my reality and the pain.
I now know what I was looking for was peace within myself, escape from negativity, escape from the flashbacks and to learn to fully love myself again.
What I found was that I really didn’t have/need to go anywhere to find the answers, although the mountains did help :). But here is what I did learn, just because you are in a new place does not mean you have escaped ‘your problems’ or your reality and you can never out run yourself.
Know matter what I do, where I go, people are going to stare, ask questions and make rude comments. Yes, my injury has caused a lot of heartbreak and I do have limitations from it and it is okay to admit them, just never ever let anyone limit me because of them. And that I will also have people that will support and encourage me know matter where I go in life, although they may be different people than I thought they would be.
I can now say that I have fully made peace with my past, and no longer fear the future. I have forgiven the world, God, for the endless pain and heartbreak over the years. I know and accept that there will be times that keeping inner peace will be harder then others.
I know that I can look at every single one of my scars that cover almost 90% of my body and know that they don’t only symbolize the deep physical pain but also the process and what I have overcome and that if I can overcome fire, I can truly make it through anything.
I can now say I truly fully love myself. ❤”

In the end, I can finally say I am not mad and frustrated at the world like what I was and I have a new level of peace. I am and will always be a survivor and a fighter and never a victim, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t get frustrated about a situation. What I want people to take from this is that being strong isn’t always pretty and when people ‘break’ or fall apart it is usually from having to be to strong by themselves for too long. Holding in the pain is not strength but having the courage to show it and overcome it and to make something positive out of it is what makes you truly strong. What I have learned is that the mind is a powerful thing and in order to reach being truly the strong one, one must not rely to heavily on people, but have support, one must find independence in themselves, learn how to be mindful/present and to focus and love themselves fully. Lastly I learned my lesson and I will never ever say I am done with surgeries again.