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Friends

The following post was written on my facebook page following my uncle Kevin’s shooting on June 11, 2018. Kevin Valencia, a police officer, was 27 years old when he was shot in the head after responding to a domestic violence call where 4 young children were held and murdered. He is my hero and I’d like to keep these on my blog as a tribute to him.

As of February 9th, 2019, Kevin is still in a coma. Please pray.

Last month, right after arriving in Miami following my uncle Kevin Valencia’s accident (and our midnight rush up to Orlando), I raided my mother’s stash of childhood pictures and separated all the ones with Kevin. There were hundreds of pictures, dating back from the time he was a newborn, but still, I felt like some were missing…

My mom admitted she had gifted a lot to Kevin after his wedding to Meghan and hadn’t made copies, so begrudgingly I swore that I’d return her originals after my husband, Andres made copies. Then, I’d keep the copies. 

Well, at this point (and over a month later), I’m still vaguely irritated with the fact that I don’t have ALL the photos, but satisfied with my hefty haul. So, last night, I went to my parents’ house and went about cleaning out another area I had long since promised—my old bedroom.
And in the messy closet, I find a small blue tub. The only tub in the entire closet actually, and one I had seen many times, but assumed contained nothing of value.

I open the tub and in it are 3 girly photo albums each marked with one word: “friends.”
As I flip open the first album, what do I come to find? One of my favorite photos of Kevin.
So I continue flipping, and more and more photos of Kevin emerge. At least a hundred through all three albums and photos of our friends, Meghan ValenciaJohn ReedKelsey Coggins and too many more to name. My best friends and his best friends all together in photo albums I assembled in my youth.

So when people ask how my uncle came to marry my best friend, Meghan. 
The answer is simple: They were both my best friends. And still are.❤️

Prepare for the worst, Hope for the best.

As my husband and I finish out my first cycle ttc (trying to conceive), I can’t help but think back on how much I’ve changed since my RA vengeance 9 years ago…wow, has it been that long already??

The year we were engaged (and the year I started this blog) had become my first year on biologic medication. I was on Enbrel and feeling fantastic! Up until that point I had been limping around on crutches and using a wheelchair. I was on medical leave from work and school, but when I started on Enbrel everything changed. All of a sudden I could walk and work again! So when it stopped working it’s magic a month before our wedding, I had high hopes the next drug would be a miracle too. More than high hopes, I was certain I would end up in remission again–like I experienced in my teens.

If I could go back and tell my younger self anything, it would be, “prepare for the worst, hope for the best.”

The truth is, I didn’t at all prepare for the worst. I was so certain everything would work out perfectly and the next drug would near cure me, I ended up acting out recklessly. Reckless with my finances and reckless with my emotions. Five years after it all went downhill, (and 6 treatments later) I’m still not 100% back to work. The only upside is that I learned my lesson.

Now, six years into marriage and one month into ttc, I can say I am more than preparing for the worst. And the worst that can happen in my mind is miscarriage….I know, I know, grim, Steph, real grim. But after all I’ve been through with less-than-great health, is it really all that surprising that my mind would go there?

Since hubs was the one who taught me that whole, “prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” bit, I approached him with my heeded warnings of dead babies and such. I was actually so proud of my little statistics research, that I went so far as to say, “So, if I get pregnant, you know, try not to get too excited–because you never know.”

To my surprise, he was appalled at me, and more than a little angry. He couldn’t believe I of all people- the easily excitable one, the hopeful and positive one- would say not to get excited on what should be the happiest and biggest step of our lives. He said I was ruining the process for us….and it took me a few hours to fully get what he meant.

Experiences, good and bad, have the ability to leave marks and change us forever. When I volunteered at a trauma-resolution camp for kids who had endured seriously devastating circumstances, I met a young girl who suffered a medical condition that had left her with PTSD. I know in my heart I was meant to meet C, because I too suffered from PTSD for many years that stemmed from childhood sexual abuse.

I’m proud to say after a lot of help, prayer, and therapy, I no longer have to deal with PTSD, but I still struggle to keep myself from feeling pain deep down in my heart. Especially from pain that hasn’t even happened to me–like losing a child! I’ve learned that there’s a very fine line between preparing for the worst, and being crippled by it. The worst things in life, sickness, disease, and death shouldn’t prevent me from getting excited about the best things this life has to offer. And even when there are no “best things” like babies and weddings–frozen yogurt is definitely something worth getting excited about. Through prayer and my usual “happy Stephanie” attitude (as my husband describes), hopefully I can keep PTSD at bay no matter what happens. In the meantime, let’s find something to get excited about!

What I want people to know about RA.

I’ll never forget the time someone asked me why I let my life revolve around my Rheumatoid Arthritis.

I almost laughed, because the truth is, I don’t.  In fact, I like to think that my RA revolves around me.. for the most part. So here I am, living life with RA following me around like a lost puppy:

Today, my thumb kills me every time I move it. For those of you who don’t know what that feels like, it feels like having to go through life with a workman’s clamp closed on your joint. At first, it’s not so bad, but after a few hours (or days), the joint is so swollen and red, it’s warm. Then it feels like I slammed a car door on my thumb. I notice it’s getting worse when I absentmindedly begin using my dominant hand less and less. But I do my best to continue my daily tasks, like stapling billing paperwork, for example. I consider going paperless to save my thumb…(Tonight I’ll search Amazon for an automatic stapler). As I drive to the Tag agency, my vision started to blur and my eyes grew heavy even though I woke up only 3 hours before. So I immediately detoured home to rest/replenish my “spoons” before continuing my day.

Two hours later, I set out again, driving coolly with my left hand at 12 o’clock on the wheel. I’m feeling confident again because today I put on makeup–which I usually only apply once or twice a week, but any day with makeup means no more “spoons” left for my hair. So I preplan to flat-iron my hair on Tuesday and put on makeup Wednesday. Thursday is a French-braided ‘do and by Friday, my hair will be dirty, but perfect for a slick-backed pony and light makeup again. High pain days means no hair & big sunglasses and I thank heaven beachy-messy waves are ‘in’ again.

I made seven stops total on my way to finish the errands and eagerly punch in every address (even though I know the way) to avoid Miami traffic and save my stiff hips from more abuse. I finally arrived back home after four hours and crash on the bed. Before my head hits the pillow, I text my husband, “I can’t cook tonight. Order in?” And the days go like this: If I was out all day, we order in. If I worked from home, I cook dinner.

So you see? How can self-care and careful “spoon” maintenance planning equate to my life revolving around RA? Just because I’m an advocate, just because I blog and I tweet does NOT mean I let my life revolve around my RA. I don’t let RA stop me, but we have agreed to slow down. The majority of the time, slowing down frustrates the heck out of me, but since slow is as fast as I can go, I will continue on–slow and steadily ahead.

Mental Health w/ RA

Maintaining my mental health (together with my physical health) is the main reason why I started this blog. I wanted someone to talk about how living with a chronic illness has affected their spiritual and emotional well-being. But in a society obsessed with the “overcomers,” how do we take care of our mental health without having to have it totally together all the time?

1. Don’t. 

As a young person living with RA, nothing annoys me more than seeing perfectly perfect people on the cover of health magazines. You know which ones I’m talking about, the ones with perfect in-shape bodies, perfect homes, and perfect spouses who provide for their every need while they get to focus solely on taking care of their health.

Now, I have nothing against those who seemingly have it all together, but you know what I really love?? The people with RA who don’t. Those folks who show their vulnerabilities and who express their pain, their disdain at having this disease, and their anger at their relatives for not understanding. My life doesn’t revolve around Arthritis, but it has left its little mark on virtually every area of my life. So I love and respect the people who show itand other realities about living with a chronic disease.

2. Entertain your emotions and they will go.

A mentor of mine once told me a story about living as a young girl in Africa. Often, many of her friends and relatives from the US would come visit her missionary parents while they were living in Tanzania. Well, apparently, she hatedbeing visited by company. So her mother would tell her, “All we have to do is entertain them for a little while, and then they will go.”

There is nothing healthier than entertaining your emotions and letting yoed940647fa425a2192de32a493b31492--ugly-faces-hilarious-memesurself feel what your body, mind, and soul desperately wants you to feel. There are many negative repercussions to holding negative emotions in–including increased pain, depression, sleeplessness, etc. The point is, as much as Kim Kardashian hates her crying face, at that moment when she was admitting she was unhappy in her marriage, crying and expressing herself was the healthiest thing she could have done.

One thing my mentor (a licensed clinical social worker) likes to say is this: “Don’t be afraid of crying. You won’t cry forever. Eventually, you’ll fall asleep then wake up feeling better.” Pretty sound advice, if you ask me.

3. Promise yourself to wake up with a new attitude tomorrow.

This is something I like to do. It helps me feel less guilty about having a “bad day,” and gives me something to look forward to. To me, it doesn’t matter how many tomorrows go by before I wake up with a new attitude. We all know is that it isn’t always as simple as “promising to wake up better”–sometimes the “tomorrow” is even worse than the day before! What matters to me is that I tried to have a better day and gave that new day a chance. 

Living in my teens with depression meant that I was always concerned about the past. Focusing on today and the hope for a better tomorrow gets me through life’s tough patches.

A poem I used to read went like this: RABlog2017

Today, is here and yesterday, is gone!
Now, it’s time, you have to move on!
There’s no looking back, what was
before, for it just isn’t there, anymore!
You have to look, to the future and it
will show you, the way. For it’s the
beginning, of a brand new day! Time,
is the best healer, as everybody knows.
And whatever happens, is the way the
wind blows! Don’t ever look back, to
what was before, for it’s gone and
forgotten and not here, anymore! For
whatever reason, it was meant to be.
You’ll come out unscathed and happy
to be free!

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