Recently, I came to the conclusion that living with hydrocephalus is like riding a roller coaster. We spend day after day wondering if my current shunt is working, recovering from the latest greatest surgery, riding the waves of pain that come with the ever-changing pressure inside my skull- which is affected by every single aspect of life itself. When the pressure doesn’t cause the pain, the physical trauma from multiple surgeries a year does. I never know how I’m going to feel from hour to hour, minute to minute. Sometimes I’m doing well, and we are incredibly happy, but when I’m doing poorly, we are so low.
The medical aspect of life with hydrocephalus is not the only roller coaster. Many of you can relate to the emotional and mental ups and downs that I’m referring to… where you simply hold on for dear life, and hope you’ll survive the adventure with as much of your psyche in tact as possible. The months get counted as victories, as we hold our breath in between failures, like giant swells on the twisting, turning, terrifying ride of my life. It all goes fast- really, really fast, and feels completely out of control at times. So many hydro patients and caregivers suffer from anxiety and depression as a result of the uncertainties of this path, and it’s easy to understand why. I believe that the mental and emotional roller coaster can be ultimately more damaging than the physical journey.
A few precious people are riding this roller coaster with me, and there are lots more supporters standing close by, watching us scream our way through mid-air, strapped to hospital beds and MRI machines like they are seats on the twister. Sometimes we cry in fear, and sometimes our breath is simply taken away by the sheer force of gravity. In the end, we all get through it together, but it takes it’s toll on everyone.
The irony is that I know that riding a roller coaster is a horrible idea for me. It’s hard on my brain, which is already stressed out, and even the gentle G force of a swing set leaves me dizzy and off balance. So, if roller coasters in the literal sense are not good for me physically, what about the other types of roller coasters? The mental and emotional highs and lows do the exact same thing to my nervous system as the physical affects of a carnival ride. Heart rate and blood pressure rise. ICP is affected. Tension comes in the form of headaches and other neuromuscular pain. My PTSD symptoms flare up and are increasingly difficult. All of these things wreak havoc on my central nervous system, and I have come to understand the negative affect that it has on my physical healing and recovery.
The year I had medically in 2015 was the epitome of a roller coaster ride. In addition to the issues with my shunt and the four surgeries that followed, my job was incredibly busy, and at times I was overly critical of myself when I had trouble keeping up with my work and personal life. However, I’m doing a lot of work on my mindset, and something is starting to shift in my heart. Only I have the power to experience the roller coaster differently. I know it’s always going to be there, and I might be watching it, but I’m not actually obligated to ride it mentally and emotionally. At this point, I don’t want to participate in the drama. I want to approach my life, including my battle with hydrocephalus, at a steady pace, staying under the threshold of chaos inside my mind, which will then keep my body more calm and rested.
A large part of this it that I’m starting to see and feel myself separate from my illness, and from some of the other stressors in my life. Even if these difficult situations are still present, I’m not identifying with them the same way. They are my experience, not my identity. I am not hydrocephalus; I have hydrocephalus and I am managing it the best I can. I am not a stressful project; I am Amy, and I organize a circus of stressful projects at times.
I’m also actively working on seeing my relationship with myself in a better light. Historically, I have been painfully hard on myself, and have super high standards of expectation. Don’t get me wrong - I don’t want to lose my passion, or the fire that drives me, and connects me so strongly to the people I come in contact with. But I understand that I must learn to experience life from a different perspective, because otherwise, I’m going to crash and burn.
So, this is my confession, my awakening, and my vulnerability - all in one. I’m working on taking things a day at a time, a surgery at a time, and trying to learn to stay on the sidelines from a mental standpoint. I’m trying to rest when I need to rest, unplug when I need to unplug, and editing my thoughts, worries, and expectations. I know this will calm my nervous system physically. And at the end of the day, I know I’ll have more emotional peace; which ultimately is the true relentless pursuit.
My name is Amy but friends and family call me Am. I am a lover of dogs, good whiskey, and strength training. I'm a brain surgery survivor (x23), a fiddle player, a construction designer, and a boxing enthusiast. I have six real siblings, and five fake brothers. I love deeply, and consider my close friends to be family.