God has given each of us our “marching orders.”
Our purpose here on Earth
Is to find those orders and carry them out.
Those orders acknowledge our special gifts.
– Soren Kierkegaard
This book may appear to be my story of healing from a medical condition, but in my mind it is about resilience. At some time, we all find ourselves on a rocky road, fighting our own dragons. My dragon was named stroke. I was told, “Jane, you lost a third of your brain. The stroke was caused by a very rare brain disease. There is no cure and no treatment. So, go home and get your things in order.” I was expected to die or be in a nursing home.
I needed to take my health into my own hands, but I was not alone. Just like you, I had helpers and angels, both earthly and heavenly, everywhere along my path. We are told that we have faith, hope and love, and the greatest is love. There was no medicine or surgery available for me, but there was love everywhere I turned.
If you are on your own rocky path, be it a physical, emotional, mental or spiritual challenge, I give you what worked for me. My healing recipe is a combination of humor, Eastern philosophy, modern Western medicine ideas, Native American wisdom, and the beliefs from generations of my family, all wrapped in my faith and served with a big helping of love.
Step by step, I created my healing plan with the beliefs and skills I knew. Hypnosis is my gift, and it was a very large part of my healing. When we can learn to control our own thoughts, we can create health in our bodies. My faith creates a belief in my mind that whatever happens to me, God will work to create something good.
I was doing the dishes on the evening of August 12th 1998, when Jim came to the kitchen window and asked if I wanted to take the dogs for a walk with him. I smiled and shook my head no. Instantly, I realized I couldn’t make words leave my mouth. Quickly I turned, feeling panic surging through my body. On the second step, I collapsed, hitting the edge of the stove hard enough to chip a tooth. I had the irrational thought if I could take a bath, I would feel better. I know the thought was irrational, but in my defense, my brain was shutting down. I was very definitely in fight or flight mode, and when that happens our energy goes to our arms to fight and our legs to run. Our prefrontal cortex thinking brain is not getting a lot of power. Habit takes over, and we do what we know how to do in a similar situation. My habit is to take a bath; it has always been my way to comfort myself when I feel broken. But this time I was too broken, and I realized that when I couldn’t get up from the floor, so I started to crawl upstairs. When I reached the tub, I couldn’t remember how to turn the water on. I crawled to my bed, pulled my quilt over me, and passed out.
My very intuitive daughter, Gina, said she heard me calling her, so she ran into the house and woke me up. By this time, I was only answering in very garbled speech. She called her dad, and in minutes he was there. When he went to the phone to dial 911, I became so agitated, pointing to my grandma’s house next door. I didn’t want her to be afraid. They understood, and between the two of them, they got me into the car and rushed me the 28 miles to the hospital. Jim was driving too fast, hoping to get pulled over by the police, but it felt like we were flying through a deserted world; nothing was real.
The three of us moved through the emergency doors, and I heard Jim yell, “My wife is having a stroke, please hurry!” and they did. This is the moment I became the observer of my life.
If you have ever water skied, you know if you stay right behind the boat, the water is calm. On both sides of you are rolling hills of water. I stayed in that smooth calm, watching while everyone around me was jumping the waves. I thought, “So this is what it feels like to have a stroke.”
The doctor asked if I would please tell him what year it was, and I answered, “1812.” Obviously a memorable year in my distant past!
My blood pressure was still not extremely elevated, even though I wanted to tell them that it was very high for me. But I didn’t have the words, so I settled back into being a peaceful observer. They made arrangements to send me the 45 miles away to the University Hospital after the CAT scan proved I had a stroke.
Gina had called her sisters, and within 30 minutes the ER lobby was populated by Jim, all four girls and Maria’s boyfriend, Mom, my brother John, and Aunt Jan. The observer in me could feel their fear as my mother came back to see me. I was still in the eye of the storm and felt relatively calm, or as calm as you can be with all the poking and monitoring being done in an emergency room.
I could hear my brother saying over and over to anyone who would listen, “She will be sick; she gets motion sickness-please give her something before you put her in an ambulance.” I really do get sick, and I have since I was a small child. Since I became 16, I drive whenever possible or sit the front seat. I am pretty sure those two options were not possible in this situation. The observer in me decided it probably was a little problem right now.
My mother came back to the exam room and I said, “scared.” She thought I was scared, but I wanted her to know I didn’t want her to be scared. I said it over and over to make her understand. It would be the first time, but not the last, that what I said and what I meant would not be understood, as any person who has experienced a stroke or a brain trauma, has had to deal with communication challenges. She told me that they were all praying, and she knew it would be okay. I smiled and focused on Jim’s hand over mine as I slid in and out of reality.
I woke up in the ER of the University of Wisconsin Hospital waiting for something. There was an IV in my arm, filling me with cold from the inside out, like tiny crushed ice pushing through my veins. I could hear the sounds of ambulances as they arrived and people running and calling to each other. It was a hot August night, and I felt as if I was freezing. A nurse stopped by and told me that there had been a bad accident, but I would be taken to a room soon. She noticed that I was shivering and got me a blanket from the warmer, and it felt wonderful. I slid back and forth from one reality to what felt like a deep sleep. Thoughts and feelings bubbled up and swirled like I was on the inside of a lava lamp. Although it was as easy for me to make myself understood as a lava lamp, I still had thoughts.
I wondered where Jim was and hoped he wasn’t part of the accident. I would feel warmer if he was here. Where was Jim? I needed to feel his hand if I was to stay rooted to the earth. It was getting harder and harder to stay in the calm. I closed my eyes and slid away.
I awoke in a room, and the only question I could answer when asked, was my name was Jane. I heard someone in the hall say, “I am looking for my wife, Govoni.” I thought, “That sounds familiar, maybe that is my name.” A second later I heard, “I am looking for my sister, Gage,” and I thought, “That sounds familiar, maybe that is my name.” Then two men walked in, my husband and my brother, and I knew them as I would know everyone I loved.
Jim came over and asked what I needed; should he stay or go home to the girls? Then he said, “We can do this; you are going to be all right.” He pulled me back to earth and secured me with those simple words. He leaned over, kissed me, and went home. I think anyone we live with for a long time gets to feel our feelings rather than listen to our words. My brother John stayed.
This is my favorite poem, but it is written by an unknown poet, and that is too bad, because I wish I could tell this wise person that these words were big medicine for me. Bigger than anything modern medicine had to offer, as I came to my edge of light.
When you come to the edge of all the light you have known,
And are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown,
Faith is knowing one of two things will happen,
There will be something solid to stand on or
You will be taught to fly.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
– Lewis Carroll
I believed that if I took care of my body, and was kind to others, life would be kind to me. This is much too simple. I now believe we should not only take care of our body and be kind, but also that life is magical, and it has a much better plan than we can imagine. And that magical plan life has for us, is how we are taught to fly.
Our lives are many chapters long, and when I was 46 years old, I started the second half of my life. In fact, the second half of my life started on August 12, 1998.
Recap of the first 45 years before the storm in a nutshell
If you were reading “The Book of Jane,” you may remember the first part ends with more stress than was normal for our character. My dad had died in the last year, and that felt like an earthquake had knocked the foundations of my world off-balance. Our oldest daughter, Becca, had been very sick, and she had a number of surgeries. Becca was graduating from college and getting married in November. Maria, our second daughter, was in college. Our third daughter, Amanda, was leaving for college, and our last child, Gina, was a junior in high school. I no longer knew my place in life. Everything was changing.
Mothering had been such a large part of my happiness that it had long feelers into every part of my being. It wasn’t just these four beautiful, intelligent women I loved; I also truly enjoyed their friends and loved to hear the idealism and passion that those young people expressed. This part of my life was coming to an end, and deep inside I felt a restlessness starting to grow. Inside I watched those bubbles in the pot of feelings getting ready to break into a boil. You could hear, if you really listened, to a deep inner spirit asking, “Who will you be when your job is finished?” I would answer, “Ridiculous! I will be who I have always been; I will be a wife, a mother, a coach and a hypnotist.” The empty nest is real; there is a deep fear inside that you are not the same person you were with kids, and you can’t be the person you were before kids.
The empty nest isn’t really about kids; it could be about a job you loved, a divorce, a financial loss, or a severe illness. The empty nest is really that never-comfortable place of what is no longer and what is not yet.
For a few months, I was troubled because I could hear my blood pounding in my head; there was no pain but a pounding that I could not escape. Walking up the stairs became an effort, because it felt like my energy was leaking out of my body. “Tired” is a little word, and it alone couldn’t explain my feeling exhausted and fatigued. No, words were all too lightweight. I was weary, but it was the noise that was driving me to distraction, the sounds of my blood pounding through the arteries of my head.
When I became so dizzy that the world turned upside down, I knew something was seriously wrong. All I could do was hold on. This dizzy was like a ride at an amusement park. You know the one that you must be 48 inches tall, and then you can strap yourself in as you go back and forth and spin around and upside down. Yes, that dizzy.
The doctor checked my blood pressure, which was good; it was higher than my normal 105/70, but normal for a warm-blooded human. There was a virus that was going around: worry-stress-change of life-premenopausal-blah, blah, blah.
Stress is not all bad; I mean there is good stress, called eustress, that keeps us motivated and moving. We will have stress until we are in a pine box and people are saying, “Doesn’t she look nice.” It is when we stay in a constant stress mode, our body in a fight / flight mode, and our endocrine system going crazy, that we are in trouble. This causes distress, and this stress is the cause of 94% of all doctor visits. In fact, the NIH (National Institute of Health) says that 85-90% of all illness is stress-related.
So it was very logical that someone who had seldom even had the flu was just experiencing a virus or symptoms of stress. The spinning stopped after a few hours; I think my body was just trying to get my attention. One change after another was happening. I am normally a half-full kind of person. My journals were another hint that something was very wrong.
January 3rd 1998
Rachel called today and said she was going to be a grandma and she felt old. I don’t feel old and I don’t feel young, actually most of the time I don’t feel. I don’t feel any more real than the characters in my books. I am moving through life as an observer but most of the time I dread being observed. I don’t want anyone to see who I am or what I think. I am changing so fast becoming withdrawn from life, maybe I have always been an introvert in an extrovert’s body. I no longer have the energy to cover it up. At one time I knew who I was, I believed I knew who God was and what he demanded of me. I am no longer so innocent and although I still believe in God, I don’t pretend to know what he is thinking about, or if he is thinking about me at all.
March 8th 1998
Gina was confirmed today. Jill and Ken came in a snowstorm. Pastor Paul confirmed her. I have a big thing off my to-do list . I have provided the base. I hope they will now all find their spiritual path. It is harder and harder to think of my life as a group activity. Am I progressing to another stage or regressing? Jim is so grounded and I feel a strong wind could blow me away, farther and farther like Dorothy to the land of Oz. Amanda will graduate in a couple of months and Gina not far behind. Becca and Eric have decided to get married, Maria is away in college. My house, my life, I am changing so fast, I dread Jim and I moving through this big old house alone but I no longer have the energy or patience to have them all here. This is becoming so hard; I am so tired I must be at a leaping off point. I am thankful and love my life and yet at the same time dissatisfaction is gnawing, eating me inside.
When you enter what the Christian mystic St. John of the Cross called the “dark night of the soul,” you are unable to see the gifts hidden in the pain. It has been described as a time when the spark of our spirit flickers and burns weakly. For me, I felt lost, and I felt like my face was being pushed into the mud. Every time I got up, I was pushed down harder, further down where my heart beat louder and louder. I wondered why people couldn’t hear the beating. Why couldn’t Jim hear it in the quiet of the night, when he was right next to me?
The Talmud tells us there is always a gift hidden among the pain. So we are told to say, “Thank you” to everything that happens, even before we know what the gift will be. I was finding very little about my health to be happy about.
Maybe Kierkegaard said it best when he wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I lived forward, and I did what I was trained to do. First by my mother, who had always told us we would feel better if we washed our face, brushed our teeth and combed our hair. I think if we checked our genealogy, our mother may have the same DNA as the 18th century novelist, Laurence Sterne, who said about his character, Tristram Shandy, when he felt sluggish and stupid, he would change into his best shirt and coat, put on his topaz ring and his finest 18th century powdered wig, “A man cannot dress, but his ideas get clothed at the same time.”
Hypnotists talk about faking it until you make it, and science knows that our body affects our mind, and our mind affects our body. It is why we can think of something embarrassing and we blush. Our thoughts create a biochemical reaction.
I would smile and act as normal as possible, doing everything short of putting on a powdered wig. Then, I would make sure the brick wall that held my fear tightly confined had all the bricks firmly in place. If I would have been my own client, I would have asked myself how long I thought I could hold that beach ball under water. Our feelings are like a beach ball; if we are healthy and resilient, we can bounce and be light. However, none of us are able to hold that ball under water very long before it escapes our grasp.
It was part of my daily routine to imagine breathing in pure oxygen from my big old willow tree in the back yard, filling myself with energy. One day, one of the girls saw me hugging that big willow. She laughed and asked what I was doing. I smiled back and said, “You know I am a tree hugger.” I could imagine that old tree sharing her energy with me.