Yesterday I shared our experience with having to reset Angela and coming out of a different kind of darkness. This continues that story and shows more clearly how we got there.
We tend to have a myopic view of our lives, only focusing on the few months before the present we’re in and a few months in the future. The lead-up to the reset actually started in 2009. To make this make sense, I’ll give a brief chronological playthrough.
In November 2009, Angela was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.
In January 2010, she decided that the academic path wasn’t for her and started winding that down.
In March 2010, we put our house in Nebraska up for sale. We were selling it without a realtor, and, if that wasn’t bad enough, we didn’t quite know where we were moving yet.
We sold our house in April 2010, still not knowing where we were going to live.
In May 2010, we visited Portland and decided to move here. We put an offer on the house we currently live in from the business center at the Portland Airport and hurried to get on our plane before it took off. We didn’t know what happened until we hit the ground.
In mid-May 2010, the Oregon Trail Chronicle began. We had to stay in a corporate apartment in Lincoln, Nebraska because the home-buying process in Oregon is anything but quick. Our entire home except for what could fit in our SUV was packed in containers and shipped to Portland. It wouldn’t have been so bad except we had our 3 cats and their horde of accessories, too, as well as the bare essentials we needed to keep our business running.
While in that corporate apartment, one of our cats blacked out from the tranquilizers we gave them in preparation for our journey. We (wisely) tested the tranqs before we hit the road because we wanted to make sure they’d be okay while we were still where their vet was and our smallest cat didn’t take it so well. I was on an instructional call with Michael Bungay-Stanier when Angela frantically drove our unconscious cat to the vet. Luckily, that apartment was about a 1/2 mile from the vet. The vet was able to revive him and everything was okay, but we figured out that we’d have to travel cross-country in an SUV with three fully awake cats.
After spending four or five days on the road, 10 days in a Holiday Inn, and nearly two weeks in our real estate agent’s house, we finally moved into our brand-new home. We bought a new home in an older neighborhood figuring that we’d have fewer problems with our house. That seems to be a reasonable assumption, but houses always come with problems and things to fix. Those fixes, upgrades, and costs of replacing furniture chewed through our savings pretty quickly.
Losing A Few Loved Ones
After a few months of really good times and experiences, Angela’s dad and uncle noticed their mother acting strange. About two weeks after they noticed that, Angela’s grandmother died unexpectedly in the middle of the night. Angela was very close to her grandmother and there was a lot of pressure on Angela to determine what the family should do prior to her grandmother’s death; Angela accepted a lot of responsibility for her grandmother’s untimely (?) death. Her grandmother died the weekend before Thanksgiving.
Her parents were scheduled to come to our house for Thanksgiving, and all of a sudden, we found ourselves quickly packing up and heading to Arkansas to help with the funeral and everything else that comes up when somebody dies unexpectedly. A lot of the coordination for her grandmother’s funeral ended up in Angela’s lap and she spent about two weeks in Arkansas; I needed to return home earlier to tend to the house and business.
In February, Angela’s other grandmother got sick and needed to be admitted to the hospital. They released her back to home healthcare, but she was no longer able to be the homemaking grandmother-wife that she’d always been and who Angela had always known.
In the meantime, our oldest cat – probably the coolest of them, but definitely the sickliest of them – had to be in and out of a lampshade collar due to an infected cyst on her stomach that she kept licking. We eventually had to have it removed and she then spent a few months in and out of the collar while the sore healed, reopened, healed, and so on. Nabbing, wrangling, and monitoring a cat in a lampshade collar is a stressful endeavor in case you’ve never done it.
In April, the deceased grandmother’s husband died. Though they weren’t related, he was like a kin grandfather to her.
Dying On An Alaska Highway
Angela began taking an experimental medication for her UC in June since the medicines she had been taking weren’t keeping the UC under control. The week before we left for a vacation to Alaska, she was directed to increase the dosage of that medication.
While at a musk ox farm in Alaska in July, she had a violent vomiting fit and nearly passed out. There are surprisingly few hospitals in Alaska, so we ended up in Wasilla at an urgent care facility. We had to wait overnight on labs, not knowing what was going on, all the while Angela was slowly getting worse.
The next morning, we packed up and started heading towards Anchorage before we even got the call from the doctor. We learned enroute that she had developed an extreme case of pancreatitis – it was a rare side effect of the experimental medication. As I was driving her from Wasilla to Anchorage, Angela could feel her body shutting down; she was dying by the minute. (The calm, composed, ready-to-act posture was the most appropriate for me to take to get her there safely without crashing or exciting her into shock; while I may have been cool on the surface and action-level, my soul was being torn to pieces as I was gripped with the possibility that I might be saying goodbye to her in a rental car on the side of a road in Alaska.)
We got her to Anchorage in time. She was in extreme pain and approaching shock, and we learned as her throat was closing up that she’s allergic to morphine. (What a day!) They were able to calm the allergic reaction and stabilize her pancreatitis. After a few more hours of monitoring, they released us. Though we both wanted to go home, we stayed at an Alaska resort for a couple days following that since we wanted to make sure that everything was okay – we didn’t want to be on a plane flight while she was recovering.
Needless to say, the Alaskan vacation was anything but restful. A few weeks later, we were in New York for a business trip like nothing had happened. It was apparent that we needed to slow down, so we decided to go to Cancun for 10 days. We left a month later and a few weeks after Lift Off 4.
Everything apparently caught up with her in September. It always catches up some time, but the prolonged prednisone treatment that I mentioned at the outset intensified everything.
If It Looks Like PTSD …
I’m not a trained psychologist, so I’m in no position to make clinical diagnoses. However, I have been trained to see the signs of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – as a military leader deployed during a time of war, it’s part of your job to continually monitor the morale and mental health of your troops. We do better nowadays at that, but we’re still not where we need to be.
Coincidentally, one of the interesting findings of Angela’s dissertation research into the coping strategies and well-being of the spouses of deployed reservists is how many of them had the telltale signs of PTSD, too. It was expected that the soldiers themselves would exhibit the signs, but many people overlooked the spouses because the assumption is that it’s something soldiers, police officers, firefighters, and other similarly occupied people get.
Yet another misconception. Surviving a nasty car crash, making it out of your house alive after a fire, surviving an emergency plane landing, being raped, or getting attacked by animals, to name a few, are also traumatic events that can affect one and possibly trigger PTSD.
While in Alaska, Angela experienced her body shutting down with the acute pancreatitis she developed from the experimental medication she was taking. She had trouble processing it, and I later found out that she’d been thinking about it and re-experiencing it more than she talked about. She was also hyper-vigilant, hyper-anxious, unable to sleep, and her UC flareup was intensifying – remember, UC flareups can be caused by extreme stress.
The trouble is that some of those symptoms are consistent with taking prednisone. Had she not been taking prednisone, it would have been a much more obvious explanation. As it was, though, I missed it.
It’s also impossible to tell how much the prednisone accelerated the development of the PTSD, as well. PTSD is a troubling condition precisely because how we respond to stress is so unique; people can be in the same trauma-inducing incident and have two completely different responses. As an aside, that’s sometimes why it’s hard for me to talk about my experience – I’ve yet to develop many of the emotional and psychological complications that people would expect I’d have. (That’ll come up in the next part, too.)
When You Can’t Stop Before You Have To
I’ve previously written a piece called “Stop Before You Have To” that addresses the need for us to take time out before we reach a position where we have to stop. Writing pieces like that have a tendency to both remind you and also bite you in the ass when the truth of it comes home to roost.
A few years back, I had decided that I didn’t want to grow our company the way that I’d seen others do it. When I looked past the smoke, mirrors, and fairy dust, I saw a lot of shattered lives and people suffering, at the same time that I saw a lot of rationalization about what was happening. Running non-stop has a cost, even for those who are wired for it.
Yet, when you look over the events of late 2010 and 2011, we had discarded three careers, uprooted our home without knowing where we’d land, lived on the road, co-led 4 Lift Off Retreats, launched several products, maintained a full coaching roster, started writing a book, gave talks across the nation, and, well, the list goes on. Strangely, a lot of that was with me constantly putting the brakes on things – it’d be much different if we did it without intentionally considering pacing.
Nonetheless, the events that Angela experienced were far out of our control. What’s even more disappointing is that her near-death experience happened while we were on what was supposed to be a vacation.
So, needless to say, working through the reset wasn’t just a matter of getting medicines out of Angela’s system; it was instead the process of working through the grief that results with learning that you have an incurable, life-changing chronic disease, grieving two lost loved ones, coming to grips with nearly dying, and a years worth of a life running at full speed. It was clear it was going to be awhile.
Which led into a challenging situation for me, as well: how was I supposed to manage a fast-growing business, a family crisis, and myself simultaneously? That’s what I’ll talk about tomorrow in From Reset to Reintegration.