New Year; New Life

I am the same person that I was yesterday; you are too. The only differences are that we’ve learned things that we didn’t know then. We may have learned good things: knowledge, love, efficiency, patience, kindness, wisdom, how to avoid cheesecake. We may also have learned bad things: pain, hurt, betrayal, anger, loneliness, and ignorance. In the end, we are still the same people; we have the same minds, the same bodies. We might have changed what we do on a daily basis or the way we wear our hair. All of these things aside, I am the same person today that I was a year ago with a lot of things I’ve learned.

I learned that my family was struggling so much more than they had let on. I learned that our kids were both struggling with drugs. I learned that my perception of what my husband and his children go through every day is not the whole story. I learned first hand what it is to have your brain attack you. It’s not a physical battle when someone is struggling inside their brain. Fighting with your own delusional thoughts is exhausting and hit my family this year. When you have cancer or diabetes, muscular dystrophy, or asthma, there are physical symptoms that show on your face, hands, and speech. You may slur, you may be unable to walk, you may throw up, you may have a hard time breathing. You may have to use a wheelchair or walker. Other people can see those symptoms.

When the war of mental illness is involved, it isn’t so visible. The vomit is an emotional vomit that often comes out sideways that has nothing to do with the person you’re spewing on. The slurring is in your inability to stay on one subject for long. The stumbling is in how you treat the people you love, even though you really want to show them love and respect. Your brain may tell you that it isn’t worth it to get out of bed today; that you are better off staying in the warm dark and letting your job fall away. Your illness tells you that your psychiatrist doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that the drugs do a better job than pharmaceuticals. There are no wheelchairs for someone who is so depressed that they are paralyzed. There are no walkers to help you find the thoughts that got lost somewhere in the racing conversation of your brain.

Thankfully, we have doctors that are beginning to know how to help my family. This year, we were able to find some stuff that is finally helping. I got some antidepressants that help me feel like a real person again; I can actually get out of bed daily, smile when something’s funny, and I am  not having random crying sessions for seemingly no reason at all. Jeremy’s doctor and he have decided to go back to the medicine that worked for so long even though he got a rash from it. Hopefully they can increase it slow enough that no rash happens this time. He also found a chiropractor and nutrition doctor that is helping him do better to fuel his athletic pursuits. The current doctor for our youngest took Jeremy’s past into account and found a medicine that seems to be helping him feel like himself for the first time in 2 years.

This year, Jeremy learned that he can do so much more than his brain tells him that he can. He ran his first marathon in June. He did multiple half marathons, tons of 5ks, and Ragnar Great River. Jeremy participated in 3 triathlons, one duathlon, and hundreds of group fitness classes. He ran his second marathon at the Twin Cities Marathon in October. This year, Jeremy continued his weightloss from last year; at his lightest, he was 215. He’s learned that Lithium is not a med that will work for him. He learned by gaining 25 lbs on it and experiencing some pretty severe depression symptoms during his trial-and-error phase of his med change. He learned millions of hours worth of information about RVing, motorhomes, fulltiming, and heaters. His phone  has been stuck on YouTube videos for about 6 months. By the time we move in, he’ll be an expert at all things RV.

We learned to coexist in work and home life. We learned a little harmony in our life; we learned a little struggle. We learned that 1200 sq. ft. is just too much space for the two of us. We learned that we have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF!! We learned a little bit of Spanish by using the Duolingo app. We learned to lighten up and to relax some. We learned that we want to have a life, not just be alive.

We are looking forward to 2017. Both of us have some physical goals, financial goals, and household goals. Resolutions aren’t our thing, but we do review our goals regularly and today is as good as any day to do that. We hope that everyone has a safe New Year’s Eve. Stay warm and we’ll see you on the road.

How to decide on a home

RV life is about excitement and travel for some. For others, it is about small living. Still other people go into RV living because they can’t afford the traditional way of life. None of these are the main reason that we decided we will be going full time in March.

From the time we met, Jeremy has been always looking to the next best thing. At first, it was the next car. Then, it was the next job. After a while, it became the next house and the cycle started over. Through this process, he really wants our family to have the best of everything. If this thing isn’t perfect, we can get a better one.

What this cycle ends up leading to is a WHOLE LOT of moving. In the 10 years that we have been together, we have lived in 6 different places. 2 of our abodes have been free-standing houses; the other 4 have been either apartments or townhouses. Only one home was one that we owned.

I’ve noticed that changing habitat and impulsive moving is something that does tend to go around when mental health is involved. Having a new space can increase the hormones in one’s system that tell you that exciting things are happening. Those are very happy chemicals for some people. One of the exciting things about mental illness is the adventure of never knowing what will happen next. Sometimes, that means deciding to move and doing it less than 60 days later. For us, changing scenery regularly seems to be what works.

There are some good reasons for less ownership. The main reason we prefer to rent is upkeep. Being business owners gives us very little time to do things like mow lawn, fix siding, clean gutters, and shop for new refrigerators when one goes out. It is very beneficial to us to have a landlord that will take care of those things. Another reason is that our credit is not great. We have quite a bit of debt that we are working to get rid of, but it doesn’t allow us a lot of room to buy. The last reason I’ll talk about now is our moving habit. Moving every year or two makes it unreasonable to own a property. We probably wouldn’t see turn around necessary to buy a house.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to build our life together. What’s so hard about renting is that we pay a huge sum of money with very little in return later. Basically, it’s a bad investment. Renting does not leave us much left over for real investing. At $900 a month, a 2 bedroom takes a lot of our income. Add on the cost to heat, cool, and electricity for that, you have a good chunk of your workday gone every single month.

Living in The Girl Next Door is supposed to help with this a little. We bought her for just over 2 months’ rent. We expect to put a good $2000 into her before she’s really full-time ready. She needs a good resealing on the roof, the shower needs to be fixed as one of the walls was torn off to look for mold, and some general maintenance stuff needs to be attended to. All in all, it will cost us the equivalent of 5 months rent to have her in tip-top shape.

Yes, I realize that this doesn’t take care of everything. We will still pay for water (at least to fill and dump most of the time) and we will still often pay for electricity (that will mostly depend on where we stay and what that stay includes). We will need to find places to fill our propane for heat and places to pay for getting rid of our garbage. But, we will be able to take our home with us every time we move. That is a positive for me. I’m tired of making new homes in new houses. I just want to keep the same home and change the scenery.

Of course, there is also the question of where to park. Right now, she’s sitting at Jeremy’s parents’ place (Thank you Tom & Lisa for a winter storage spot). That spot is just a little too far away for us to commute daily. We took the task of finding a spot to park pretty seriously. We were also pretty realistic that we might end up paying way too much at a camping spot or at an RV park. We asked around to friends and family; we checked out some Craigslist ads; we even called the local mobile home parks to see what the cost is.

Finally, while I was in Mexico, Jeremy decided that he was going to find something. He started telling everyone what we’re planning. This turned out to be a great strategy. When he went to our favorite bar and was talking to the owner about our plans, she latched onto the idea. She even has some land that is only 5 miles from our office that she’s willing to have us park on. When I got back, we talked it over and we’re super excited to be able to park on this spot. Although we don’t have specifics of how much she’ll want from us to park there, we’re absolutely sure that she’s generally reasonable about these things. It’s good to have friends.

We will be able to plug in for electric. Unfortunately, we will not have access to sewer or water, but we can drive into town to dump when needed. We are thinking this will be less than once a week necessary. Especially because we often shower at the gym, it will save us a lot of back and forth. Another thing we will be doing to cut down on necessary dumping is getting a composting toilet. We’ll talk more about our water saving ideas and goals in another entry. Just know that we are ready and prepared to live full-time.

All we need now is warmer weather and the time to get The Girl Next Door into shape for a full-time adventure. We’re excited to know that we have somewhere to go. Have a great day and we will see you on the road.

Belated Christmas Tidings

Happy Holidays to all!

I realize that I’m a day late for those of you that celebrate Christmas, as I do. I figured that we have a whole season of holidays, thus there are lots of options to celebrate the season. Besides, no one knows exactly what date Jesus was born on and it was probably some time between April & August…. so it’s really just symbolic anyway.

We spent the weekend visiting our family. Jeremy’s parents hosted on Saturday. It is a nice, small family and was one short due to some mental health concerns with the youngest. We always enjoy a great meal, made better this year by some healthy sides and great steak cooking. Yum Yum. And the gifts are always fairly extravagant, or at least one person ends up speechless from emotion. We laugh, we joke, we catch up with everyone’s lives. It’s always a nice relaxing time together.

Afterward, there was a short lull before we took to the road toward southwest Wisconsin. That’s the region where my parents live and we wanted to make it before the rain started. Jake, our oldest, came with for the first time in years. It made it a pleasant drive and a great time to catch up with him.

We got to the homestead an hour or two before my mom told us to visit my dad’s father, who lives 2 miles away. We got there to a boisterous crowd of my uncles, grandparents, and family friends. Oyster stew, lefse, and cookies were served. We got to sit down with my grandma & grandpa who have been snow-birding for 25 years. It’s nice to pick someone’s brain about our future endeavors. It was a good homecoming.

On the way down, I was informed that my grandmother had been asking for me. She was diagnosed a few years ago with Alzheimer’s and has been struggling to remember family members for a while. Recently, she wasn’t feeling well and had to spend a little time in the hospital. So, first thing Sunday morning, my mom and I loaded up to go visit her in the hospital. My aunt was there with her husband and we all chatted a while about options after the hospital, as well as my Mexico trip. Check off seeing both of my dad’s parents for a Christmas visit.

Sunday at noon was my mom’s extended family’s Christmas celebration. They’ve started holding this get-together at a public community space just because there are so many people. This gives us enough space to decorate, have table space to eat, and let the kids run around without worrying about heirlooms being broken. Only one of us grandchildren was missing and there were 8 great-grandchildren present. There was ham, sweet potatoes, salad, cherry salad, tiramisu, and of course milk and coffee. The chaos was manageable and well managed by the hostess, my aunt Sharon. Pokeno was played and won as usual, gifts were uniquely distributed, and even a raffle made things interesting. Check off seeing both of my parents’ parents for the holiday. Double win!

Finally, on Christmas at 5pm, we started the festivities at my parents’ place. This is still a large group with 3 grown girls, all married, and all with children. The most fun part of the evening is always the meal. With 6 courses, each daughter takes 2 dishes to prepare this year and next. All other years, each daughter and husband gets to pick the courses. But, after 6 years, our parents get to pick for 2 years. This year, there were margaritas (and a supplement of brandy slush), shrimp cocktail, bakery made white and wheat bread, grandma’s apple pie, beef stroganoff, and waldorf salad. Delicious, every bite. Gifts were ripped into after dinner by the young grandchildren and the adults followed. Everyone got at least one thing that they loved. It was a warm, intimate time with much discussion, laughing, and reminiscing. We always miss this feeling inbetween our visits, but we realize that the distance is what makes these times special.

All in all, it was a successful Christmas for us. Please, feel free to share with us what your family does for the holidays? Do you go to any religious ceremonies? Do you celebrate solstice, Chanukah, or some other holiday? What traditions do you have that you feel are unique for your family?

A Mexican Nightmare… Finale

After Day one, things got better. In day 2, we went to see the doctor. My client got approved for the treatment that the doctor had first suggested. He even started treatment later that day.

Also, during day 2, we found a company that was willing to build a ramp for his wheelchair to be able to take some tours. This is a big accomplishment in Mexico. There are very very few people with wheelchairs there, much less people with power chairs. We were lucky to find a company with caring staff that built a ramp just for my client and took the middle seat out of their van so that we could go around San Miguel.

Day 3 we changed some money and got used to our surroundings. Day 4, my client got a double dose of treatment and we took a tour of the city. Our first stop was Atotonilco, a church with a rich history and great paintings on the ceiling. Our tour guide told us that it is considered the “Sistine chapel of Mexico”. It was beautiful. Then, off to a local high end artist market. There was nothing there for me, but my client got his wife a very nice necklace. While he shopped, our driver and I talked some. We got to know about each other’s families and life outside of this day.

After shopping, we returned to the hotel. My client got another treatment. Oh, did I mention that the doctor made “house calls” to our hotel? It was much easier than trying to treat my client in his office, as his office was on the upper level with no elevator. It was very nice of the doctor to be willing to do this. I know the concept of a doctor coming to your  house or hotel seems foreign in this day and age, but this doctor still does it.

I finally go to do some authentic shopping at a large market that evening while my client got a shave. It was an alley littered with vendors. Every ounce of extra space was taken up by booths filled with handmade and reproduced souvenirs and Mexican goods. Every vendor took USA dollars and would give change in pesos. About 75% spoke just a little English. It was nice to find a few things to bring home to my family and friends while trying out my Spanish.

Saturday, day 5, was probably the best day of the trip for me. My client was pretty tired from his week. He wanted to rest up for the next day, which was a travel day. While he rested, I got a spa treatment. For 155 minutes, I got a body scrub, a mud wrap, a facial, and a massage. I fell asleep half way through, which almost never happens. It was glorious. Thanks Norma for a great treatment. Afterward, I went to get some fried chicken for supper and hit another, smaller market. It was much more unique than the previous day. I found some great gifts to bring back, as well as some of San Miguel’s wonderful leather in some wallets and a bag.

All in all, I felt very at home in San Miguel. Leaving on Sunday was hard for me. For one, I knew that things would probably not go swimmingly on the flights. Second, I did not want to return to the -20 degrees of Wisconsin. Third and finally, I was really starting to feel like I was hitting my stride in touristing.

We left the hotel at 1pm. Thankfully, we got our sweet cab driver from the week to take us to the airport too. It was a leisurely drive that we stopped to get a melon on and enjoyed the scenery as we went. That was the best part of our return trip. Thanks, Freddy, for a great trip. If ever you get to San Miguel, look up San Miguel Magico tour company. They were more than accommodating and very helpful.

The airport was a mad house. The day previous, there had been a snowstorm in the Midwest USA. That meant that many of the flight crews were stranded there for extra days, which delayed everything. The Leon airport had multiple cancellations and every single flight was delayed. Yikes! On top of that, their baggage check area is the same as their customer service. As I said, madhouse. Our flight was delayed 2 hours, moved to a different gate, and renamed. We were just happy to be able to have a flight at all. But because of our delay, we missed our connecting flight by 30 minutes. Ugh. This time, we had to wait for them to bring the wheelchair to us behind immigration and customs before we could go to the hotel. It took over an hour for them to bring the wheelchair to us. At one point, they even LOST THE WHEELCHAIR!!!

For those of you that know me well, you know that I do not lose my temper often. In fact, I tend to be very very chill and patient. So much so that it is annoying to those around me. When they said they couldn’t find this chair, I lost my temper. Not just a little bit; my client was visibly a little scared of my new stance. This is not a manual chair that folds and can be stowed somewhere under something. This is a humongous 350 lb specialized piece of equipment. Eventually, they found that the staff from the tarmac had taken it to the domestic side, rather than the international side.

We got the chair back after going through immigration and customs, since they would be closing soon. Then, on to customer service again. They were swamped again, for the same reason that Mexico was. We waited. Once we were in customer service, we mentioned our horrible time last time with Houston airport. They gave us a special person to help us with our damage claim. Except there wasn’t really a damage claim. There was a number that lead to a confusing bit of badly worded explanations and no names of who to contact. We found that the number the supervisor had given us the week before was to the woman we were now talking with. This, along with updating the badly written damage claim, took a few more hours. By the time that we were done with all of this, it was 2:15 in the morning. We had to be back by 8 am to get ready for our 10 am flight. If we had decided to find a taxi with a wheelchair ramp or lift, then the hotel room we were supposed to go to, then transfer to the bed, then back up in the morning, find a taxi back; we would have maybe gotten 2 hours of sleep.

We decided to stay the night in the Houston airport. It was cold, it was uncomfortable, it was ridiculous. Every 30 minutes or so, I would wake with another idea of what could be done to gain back some dignity and care. I called about 10 numbers that night searching for information and help. I took a picture of my client in his wheelchair sleeping in the Houston airport. It shouldn’t be like this.

To top off my anger, at midnight it had become my 34th birthday. I was supposed to be home shortly after midnight. I wanted to sleep in my own bed. I wanted to be held by my husband. I wanted to wake up refreshed and enjoy my birthday.

A young girl traveling with her family was tired of being in airports. She didn’t speak English, so I told her in Spanish that it was my birthday. She felt bad for me and congratulated me on my birthday. Her mother and I spoke a little in broken Spanish and English. I told them to call me when they got as far as MSP. I’d love to see them again.

16 hours in an airport or on a plane on my birthday was not my idea of a great birthday. 1 hour of sleep did not make it a really fun day.  It absolutely could have been worse. I had my health, my client was not in danger, and my husband knew I wasn’t going to be home yet. While his anxiety was high, he also was able to understand that I was safe. It was an adventure that I came out of.

I came out of it with first class seats, some knowledge of how to get my client a possible refund on his seats, and knowing some helpful people in 2 states in the US and at Leon, MX BJX airport. Adventures like this don’t usually come easily. It’s the times that you roll with the punches that things become real adventures.

As we embark on our next adventure, I’m even more prepared to roll with it. So, if you get a chance, come visit where ever we are at. Good luck with your travels and we’ll see you on the road.

A Mexican Nightmare… Part 2

When your connection is missed, as ours was, most airlines will put you up in a hotel if it’s overnight before the next flight takes off for that destination. Remember with a wheelchair, you need to check ahead of time if it’s an accessible room.

So, here, we wait for the power chair to come back. That  means that tomorrow we go through all of that again. If we could have gone without it, we probably would have just to save the hassle.

Boy, were we glad that we made them get the chair. When they finally brought out the power wheelchair, there was a collective gasp from my client, myself, and the attendant that the airline had sent with us. The chair was folded out all the way flat. You could see spots where the cover was cracked and one of the controllers was missing.That left controller was, thankfully, for the tilt of the chair. On the main controller on the right is where the computer and driving options are stored. The supports for the armrests were lose and the headrest was extremely off center. Thankfully, the chair was still usable by the computer override.

The extensive damage brought out 4 levels of management to deal with it. While I was on the phone with our Mexican taxi company and our hotel for the week, my client spoke to the managers present. When I turned back around, there were Italian suits and placation vouchers all around. We each got $400 for future flights, a new voucher for a free cab ride, and informed that a technician would come to our hotel room to try to repair the controller. Our attendant was instructed to help us get all the way to our hotel room. So we stepped on the Houston subway to go to the Airport Marriot. It was a nice room and we were well taken care of there. After so much excitement, we went to bed fairly early.

The next morning, we woke early. We called the doctor in Mexico to inform him that we had flight issues and would be a day late. We called the number given to us the night before for a repair technician and got no answer. By the time we got done with the room, the breakfast was over, so we got a small coffee and some scones in the hotel coffee shop.

After going through the excitement of check-in and TSA again (we had already checked our bag the night before), we went straight to the gate. At the gate, we informed the gate attendant that we would need an aisle chair and we would need to talk to the baggage attendant that would be getting the wheelchair. They came up to the gateway and were given much better instructions. We made it so all they had to do was push the chair, no power necessary. Then the 3 hour flight to Leon.

In Leon, the Mexican airport dealt very well with helping us with immigration, customs, and getting the chair back. The chair was in the same shape when we got there as when we left. They brought it out quickly when we were ready to get it. Here’s the thing, though: Mexico is NOT a very accessible place.

The number one issue we had was that our prearranged cab ride was for the day before. And they weren’t here for the rearranged pickup on Tuesday. We got an email from them saying that, because of the “no-show” the night before, they wouldn’t be there at 4 today. So, I guess it turns out that my horrible grasp of the Spanish language really did leave us fairly stranded. The Airport transport gave us a “free” cab ride voucher and set us up with the AT supervisor… who had no idea what to do with us. Mexico being as inaccessible as it is, the AT did not have a van with a ramp or lift. After about an hour, he says, “I think I have something. 15 minutes” We wait and a full sized van pulls up. My client is transferred into the van seat with very little supports. The chair is rolled to the back of the van. 6 AT employees work together to lift the 350 lb power wheelchair into the back of the van. No one puts the brakes on the chair down.

2 miles down the road, my client and I realize that the chair is rolling around in the back. Time to try my Spanish again. I convinced the driver, who spoke no English, to stop quickly so that I could climb into the back and stop the chair from rolling. The rest of the ride went well for my client and I.

We arrived at the hotel at around 6pm. Between hotel staff and the van driver, we got the chair unloaded and finally checked in. The room was accessible, beautiful, warm, and best of all, had nice beds. Finally, “day one” was done…. a day and a half later. This is akin to what must have happened to the person who first said “The important part is not the destination, but the journey.” This journey is not yet over… you’ve only heard the beginning.

Check in tomorrow for the rest of the trip.

A Mexican Nightmare… An education

I talked in Part 1 about all of the preparation I did getting ready for a working vacation on a client’s medical travel. This is a first time for me. I’ve done 14 years of personal care work, but never had a client pay for me to travel like this before.

So, we left Monday, Dec 12 with high hopes of a good trip. Our cab came just a tiny bit late, but still got us to the airport 2 hours early. Our check-in at MSP went without a hitch. Checking our bag in was 5 minutes. TSA spent a total of 8 minutes on testing the wheelchair. There were almost no lines and we were even able to get a snack on the way to the gate.

Here’s where we need to go over the difference between travelling with a wheelchair and without one. Here is my experience without a wheelchair: You get to the airport 1 hour before take-off. Check-in takes a maximum of 5 minutes, bag check another 5-10 minutes, TSA maybe 10-15. If you’re running over on those, you’re totally able to run down the stairs, up the escalator, and through crowds to get to the gate, where they will be loading by this time. You board just by handing your boarding pass to the gate attendant and you find your assigned seat. You have no need for anything extra beyond a seat and a spot for your carry-on. Total time from curb to boarded: 42 minutes.

Now, add a wheelchair: First off, the preparation is so much more. Before you buy your tickets, it is prudent to call ahead to the airline and see what size of aircraft is right for your needs. Wheelchairs, especially power wheelchairs, often take up more space and need extra support from staff to get the client on and off the plane. So, you spend an hour on the phone with the customer service of your chosen airline. If you “shop around”, you need to do this more than once. You also should find an assistant to come with you to help carry bags and direct the airport staff as to your needs. You’ll be tired, you don’t want to do this yourself. Then, you need to get to the airport at least 2 hours early. Here’s why- Check-in takes 5 minutes, as usual, with one extra click and double checking that there’s some special accomodations. Bag check takes 10 minutes easily because you have to explain to the check counter that you also have a power wheelchair and ask them to call ahead to make sure there’s an aisle wheelchair available. TSA usually takes between 20-40 minutes, depending on how your prep went. Sometimes, you can do TSA Pre check, so that helps cut down on time. If you have dry cell batteries (which many modern wheelchair companies are going to) or you have a manual chair, you cut down the time a little too. But, TSA needs to wipe every surface of the chair with a small tab that tells them if there’s explosive or drug residue on the chair. They also need to pat down the inhabitant because they’re unable to see any bulges that may exist. After TSA, let’s say you need the bathroom. You need to wait an extra 5 minutes for the special stall. Not only that, if there’s stairs, escalators, or crowds, you’re going to take double time to get to where you’re going. Elevators are notoriously slow; picking your way through a crowded terminal can be even worse when people’s eye level is above your head. By the time you get to the gate, you hope that it’s still before they start boarding. You have to pick your way right up to the gate attendant and warn them that you’ll need an aisle chair. Often, no one was informed of this, even though you’ve taken proper precautions. They call for customer service to send down an attendant and an aisle chair. You wait until the gate is opened and are the first person boarded. Hopefully, when you got your seats, you thought to put your assistant next to you. If not, you’ll have to discuss that with the gate agent also. First, you roll to the end of the gateway where the aisle chair and attendant are waiting. You are transferred into the aisle chair. Your assistant informs the baggage supervisor in attendance about how to move the chair. Your assistant also sets the chair up for travel, often having to lay the chair out flat, unhook controls, or remove pieces that may fall off or get damaged during transport. (Think doubling your carry-on) The baggage crew takes your chair while you pray that they were really listening and pass on the information. You are rolled into the plane by no less than 2 attendants, plus your assistant. The three of them coordinate moving you to a seat depending on where your seat is. We recommend an aisle seat; there’s less moving to get to that one. They take away the aisle chair. VERY OFTEN, your flight will be delayed because of maintenance. Do not be fooled; this is often because someone is trying to move your chair and have no idea what they’re doing. Ok, you finally leave and everyone’s boarded and ready to go. Time from curb to boarded: 156 minutes (2hours, 36 minutes).

Now, you guessed it, you’re only on the plane. Most people just debark and you’re done once you land; 5 minutes. Nope, not when travelling with a power wheelchair. You have to wait until every other person has gotten their stuff and gotten off of the plain. The flight crew has to call ahead and warn the destination that you need an aisle chair and an attendant for help. You wait for them. They get there and you reverse the process. If you have a connecting flight, it is my opinion that you should leave at least 4 hours between flights. Yes, you may be sitting for 3 hours if EVERYTHING goes correctly. But, you are much much less likely to miss that connection. Less than an hour for connecting with a wheelchair is just tempting fate. Hell, 2 hours even tempts it a little. Get ready to tempt fate over and over again if you’re travelling with a wheelchair.

This last week, we dealt with all of these and more issues with our travel. Next, I’ll tell you all about these great adventures in purgatory.

A Mexican Nightmare… Part 1

I warned everyone that I was travelling last week. Considering the week I had, I think all of my previous travels have been too easy. I’ve traveled with wheelchairs before, young children, and very very old people. All had some SNAFU, but nothing prepared me for this trip.

I was offered a few months ago by a client that they needed a caregiver for a medical travel trip to Mexico. When I said “Yes!”, I didn’t know where we’d be going, what kind of treatment is was, or what kinds of support this client would need. All I knew is that they were planning to pay flight, hotel, and basic food, as well as paying me some kind of salary while we were there. I was expected to cover any extra snacks, souvenirs, and entertainment I might use. And that’s all I knew.

I ordered my first passport, started preparing Jeremy, and started researching dos & don’ts. Don’t drink the water, check; don’t go out in the country alone at night, check; check the travel advisory for your itinerary, um…. where are we going??  A few weeks before, I got some answers to the unspoken things in this agreement. None of the conditions sounded adverse to me. I found out we were going to San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, MX (most commonly known as San Miguel). I learned it is a colonial town with a rich history, strong tourist business, and almost everyone knows some English. Win!! It sounded from the information I could gather that it was to Mexico City basically what the Hamptons to New York City; a quaint, well-cared-for town where wealthy people go to “weekend” or “summer”. I got excited.

I learned that my client needs full care for transfer and hygiene. No big deal, I’ve done this job for 14 years. For those that don’t know, I started my official life as a caregiver when I was 19. I inadvertently took a job with a personal care/group home company. All I  knew was that I wanted a job and they were hiring for better pay than most places. Since then, I have worked for 7 different companies, with over 100 different clients, and in 4 different states (I guess you can say 2 different countries now). I would consider myself an expert in the care and support of people with disabilities, especially those who deal daily with a power wheelchair or mental illness. So, the requests of transferring a large client, washing their body including genitals, & assisting with daily meds were all agreeable to me.

As I found out more about what my new client needed, I also learned about why we would be travelling. My client was going to Mexico to obtain a stem cell treatment. This was extremely interesting to me. My spirituality and academic degree allow me multiple perspectives on this subject. Having experience in DNA Analysis, chemistry, and a little biology, the concept of using basically “blank” cells to improve the health of a person is fascinating. The controversy over harvesting techniques and “acceptable” types of cells is also a motivating topic. The treatment would be administered by either intravenous infusion or intramuscular injection. I found that my client wanted the intramuscular treatment. The whole process was a geek heaven for me.

Another little tidbit of information I got before our trip was the weather: San Miguel is pretty much comfortable all year round. In May, they tend to have high temperatures that are just barely warm for some of us (80-90 degrees Fahrenheit). In “winter” (which is now), the temperatures are mid-70s F during the day and mid-40s F in the overnight. I think I may have fallen in love with this place. We went on our trip from December 12-18. This year, this week turned out to be -40 F with the windchill. Ummmm…. No. Very glad to be gone in Mexico during that time.
All in all, the trip turned out to look very very good from the front side. I loved the idea of doing some work, then some touristing. It gave me a purpose to travel. I liked that idea. Before we left, I felt significantly prepared for my trip.

Travel is something that changes your life. I have done very little travel in my life compared to what I’d like to do. Every single time has brought me home with a new part of my world view adjusted.

The first time I remember traveling anywhere outside of my own state, I was 11 years old. I stowed away in my dad’s covered pickup truck bed when he was on his way to pick up some calves. It’s not a comfortable ride, nor is it a cool ride. I remember that it was late spring, so the truck got pretty warm. About half way there, my dad realized he had a tag along. He called my mom to let her know where I was and we continued on our journey with me in the front of the truck. We went to a farm in Iowa that had a little blue heeler dog and a beautiful peacock. I remember getting scolded because I was supposed to be watching my sisters, but I hadn’t wanted to stay in boring Wisconsin. It was only a 3 hour drive from our place, but I felt like I was traveling the globe.

My first time really traveling was a trip to visit my mother’s sister in Kansas. We drove through the night in a Chevy conversion van and stayed in her basement grandma’s apartment. Fairly uneventful, this trip was too fun for me to sleep while we drove.

We later went on family camping trips to upstate New York through Canada, rural Montana by way of the Dakotas and Wyoming, and a few short camping trips within the great state of Wisconsin. We visited family in Illinois as well.

With school groups, I got to visit more places. The band went to Chicago when I was in 8th grade, New Orleans when I was in 10th grade, and Colorado when I was a senior. The Traveler’s club was a club that (at the time) went every other year to Washington DC by way of coach bus. We stopped along the way at Notre Dame and Gettysburg. Because we were all juniors and seniors, they gave us a bit of freedom and it seems everyone tried to get outside of their normal cliques on this trip. I went from a goodie-two-shoes to getting in trouble at least a few times during our trip. Oops. Sorry, Sarnowskis. I never meant to give you mini-heart attacks.

Then, it seems my traveling stopped. When I went to college, I got comfortable on campus and did very little traveling after that.

Jeremy traveled a lot as a kid. He had parents who made it a point to take the family on vacations regularly. They also traveled a lot for his brother’s basketball and track teams. They went all over the country to play, so the whole family got a bit of travel from that. As an adult, Jeremy has traveled a lot. He’s been to Mexico with his buddy Dave; they also went to the Smokey Mountains; Jeremy loves Colorado and has family in California.

One of the reasons we want to go full time in The Girl Next Door is for travel. There is a sense of freedom that comes with travel, much like being debt free. Once our debt is paid off, we both want to travel. Living a simplified, smaller life at home will help us do that. If we are paying less for lodging, we can go more places. Plus, The Girl Next Door can get us there and will make us slow down to enjoy our surroundings. We want to live smaller now to pay off our debt so that later, we can live to travel. The list of places we’d like to visit grows daily. We don’t want to just RV everywhere; we want to see the world.

We will always have our roots that tie us to our family and friends at home. We will always be loved somewhere in the world. A this point, we both feel it’s time for us to fly.

To start it off, tomorrow I leave for Mexico. I am going to do some personal care work for a client going there for treatment. Jeremy and I are both nervous for me, but it should be an interesting and exciting trip. It’s important that he pushes his anxiety a bit and that I remember my meds to take them while I’m there. We wouldn’t want this to hurt our mental health more. I may not have access to a computer or internet while I’m there. Just know that I’ll be taking pictures and fill you all in when I return. Enjoy your week and your Christmas preparations. Have a great day and I’ll see you on the road.

Our crazy beautiful life- Part 2

I wasn’t kidding when I said that everyone in my family struggles with mental illness. My husband is the longest diagnosed and probably the most integral case in the family. He is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1, Borderline Personality, Generalized Anxiety, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder. He is currently only on one medication for it, but he does take multiple supplements, as well as a blood pressure medication that may or may not affect the ability of his psych  meds to work. He also participates in almost weekly counseling and still tries to do some natural supports. For 5 years, he was unmedicated and trying to treat his illness with natural methods. In 2012, he agreed to go back on medication to help him be stable for our family. It has helped immensely. He’s gone from an angry, erratic man that we didn’t recognize to the husband and father the kids and I have always really needed. Thank God for medication and counseling.

I am diagnosed with minor depression and mild PTSD from some emotional abuse I’ve suffered. The PTSD was treated in my early to mid-20s through counseling, exposure therapy, and lucid dreaming. I have very few symptoms now, although I still deal with some of the anxieties brought on in my relationships because of it. My depression has been recurring since my mid-teens. I wasn’t treated at all for it until I sought treatment for my PTSD symptoms as well. For the depression, I was on an anti-depressant for 6 months then and I have recently started them again. I have spent the last 6 months just more sad than I should be; life is harder to function than it should be; I recognized that I needed a boost to my usual natural & lifestyle “treatments”. Usually, my depression would go away on its own with added vigilance in self-care along with nutrition and exercise changes. This time, it did not go away, so 3 months after it started, I started seeking medical care. I have been on Prozac (fluoxetine) for just over a month now. It is helping quite a lot.

Our oldest is not diagnosed with any mental illness. However, I have seen him struggle with anger and anxiety, as well as some impulse control issues. He’s 20 now, almost 21. He’s an adult, so we can’t really help him other than getting him the numbers for places he can get help. We can only help him as far as he’s willing to reach out himself. He has to make his own appointments; he has to get himself to the appointments. I hope at some point he is able to deal with the demons that haunt him.

Our youngest is in the midst of massive turmoil right now. He’ll be 16 in January. Just being at that age is hard enough for any of us. On top of that, he was diagnosed with many different illnesses; when he was 9, Tourette’s syndrome; generalized anxiety came a year or so later; ADHD and Emotional Dysregulation disorder came later in middle school; just in the last 6 months we have had to add Chemical dependency to the list. He is currently on multiple meds and placed in a residential treatment facility to try to stabilize his life and his medications. He’s a great young man and we’re all pulling for him to get through this time. We’re looking forward to what he can do once he has his treatment under control.

The whole family has dealt for years with Jeremy’s illnesses and the implications of what it brought to our lives. That is what we will primarily try to focus on in our blog when it comes to that part of our life. We have seen this illness from many different treatment perspectives and many different levels.

This tangle of diagnoses is not always bad. There are times that hypo-mania is a lot of fun and brings creativity and excitement to our lives. None of us can even begin to claim that there was any extended times of boredom. We have experienced a lot of things that other people never will experience because of those times. We are also a lot stronger than many other people because of dealing with mental illness. I have noticed that both of the boys are more empathetic toward others with disorders because they see what happens to people in these situations. Jeremy and I have grown extremely close as a couple because of how we need to lean on each other for support. We don’t just want to be around each other; we need each other to survive and we’re ok with that level of dependence. I am bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. God could not have created a better life for us to share together.

Our crazy beautiful life-Part 1

We all deal with our ups and downs. Every type of life has them. It doesn’t matter how much money you make; it doesn’t matter what car you drive; it doesn’t matter where you life (or what you live in for that matter). There are good days and bad days for all of us.

That being said, I’ve found a life that has more ups and downs, as well as more extreme ones. Our family deals with quite a few diagnoses of mental illness. This brings a much larger reaction to the normal day to day struggles of life. Things just get a lot bigger a lot faster for families like ours.

Look, I get that it doesn’t bring more or less strife to our life. Let me give you an example of a typical struggle: You put on the breaks and slowly slide into the car in front of you, no injuries just a few dented bumpers and your car has a leaking radiator.

So, for those of you without mental illness first- You get angry at the car, you might even swear at the car and kick the tire. After 5 minutes or so, you calm down enough to talk to the other driver, exchange numbers, call your boss to let them know that the car stopped working, call your spouse to talk about next steps, call the insurance to see if anything that happened is covered, and call a tow truck. You are able to sit quietly and wait for the police and tow truck to arrive. You might even joke with the other driver and talk about how you’re happy no one is hurt. When they get there, you give them your information that you know where it’s at and are able to ride with in the small cab of the tow truck to the service station. All of this is probably over in 2 hours and You’re able to get a loaner and make it to work before noon.

This is what would happen in my house- Yes, anger at the car… it’s not a quiet swearing and kicking the tires. It’s a rage. It’s pounding fists on the car, it’s slamming doors. The brain of the driver is totally unable to control this activity. Headspin begins. The anger turns into anxiety. “What if this person sues me? What if I have an injury I don’t feel right now because of adrenaline?” The other person gets out of the car and is coming toward you “What if they want to hurt me? I better be ready to defend myself.” Now you’re in a defensive stance when a potentially adrenaline filled person is coming toward you. They may take this as a threat and you get in a brawl. Let’s assume they don’t. You’re still hopped up on adrenaline. now they’re asking for your information. You go to your car and because of your inability to remember things (a symptom of bipolar disorder) you can’t remember where the registration or insurance card is. After looking for 5 more minutes, you find them, but the insurance card is the old one because you forgot to put the new one in the car. You are at least able to give the numbers for the person. They have already called the cops about the accident. Your car is not running. You are overwhelmed by what has to happen next- do you call your spouse first, the insurance, the tow truck, the service station… do you try to move your car out of the way? It’s a lot of choices for someone who has a hard time making decisions. We are 20 minutes in and you start with the insurance guy. Then your spouse calls and asks why the cops are calling them. So, you explain and they’re irate that you didn’t let them know right away. Now your brain is telling you that this person you love more than anything wants to leave you because you screwed up again. You talk to the officer when they arrive, call the tow truck after that and sit and wait. About 2 hours after the accident, your boss calls you… Ooops… you forgot that you were on your way to work. You lose your job because of this, your spouse is irritated with you, and you start telling yourself that you screw everything up… and now you can’t remember the name of the service station you talked to, but you don’t want to try to call them again because there are so many numbers on your phone that aren’t your usual numbers.

You see, when your brain doesn’t process information correctly or in a scattered sequence, even a small change in plans can reduce your functioning. We deal with that in my family. Everyone does; there is mental illness in all of us at one level or another. Through this blog, we hope that you’ll get to see many different facets of recovery, treatment, and healing. We will take you with on our journey for physical, mental, and emotional health. We hope you’re ready for the ride.