Category Archives: Becoming Myself

Be Brave Enough To Follow A Dream

From the time I was a young girl, I always loved to read. As I grew up, a love for writing naturally followed. English was my favorite subject and despite my inner rebel causing me to skip a notorious amount of classes, I rarely missed English.

I adored the beauty to be found in metaphors and symbolism, the flow at which some of the best authors convey their message. When I found that my emotions were more than I could handle, I would turn to those metaphors and spill them out on paper, usually in the form of poetry.

My English teachers easily became aware of my love affair with the written word, encouraging me to write. One of my poems won a school literary award while the other was published in the real world before I graduated high school. I remember these teachers, the guardians of my future, persuading me to consider a degree in literature allowing me to dream of a future writing career. Yet, my inner critic slammed down the heaviest of hammers on the idea.

What kind of future do you have as a writer? You don’t want to teach or become a journalist….you won’t make any money. You’re not good enough.

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Source:Pinterest

And there lies the misguided direction of a teenager. My focus was hell-bent on success and happiness being driven by financial gain while my insecurities weakened my spirit.

I was wrong. 

Please don’t misunderstand, I am happy that I pursued a career in social work. Helping others soothes my soul and its rewards far outweigh its annoyances, but writing lights my fire.

Today, this post is my 100th post on From Casinos To Castles. I know I have been distant from this space. I accept that is has morphed into something unplanned. But this little space in my small corner of the blogosphere, will always be so special to me. Here is the place where I unknowingly rekindled my sweet love affair with writing. Here is where I found a supportive community encouraging me along the way, much like those teachers who once believed in me. Here is where I found a network of writers and other lovers of words that lead me to more new places.

Among these writers is Emily, from The Waiting, (you may remember me mentioning her here). I followed her blog for sometime as I always enjoy the clever and humorous way she writes, especially about her daughter Cee. One day, Emily shared a post about her new venture as Managing Editor for the reading and writing community, Tipsy Lit. She spoke about this fun, new community and mentioned that they accept submissions to be published on their site in addition to their book club and other features.

I was intrigued.

I messaged her, but was discouraged for two reasons: 1. I never considered myself a writer 2. I had never written fiction. Our email discussions grew which soon lead to my guest post on Tipsy Lit about being an expat blogger. I stalked Tipsy Lit’s author interviews, v-logs and other helpful posts doing my best to absorb as much as possible; to make me a stronger and hopefully better, writer. I was also introduced to so many more wonderful people, wonderful bloggers, wonderful writers along the way.

I was ecstatic when one day, Emily mentioned that they would like to have me join “The Crew” and become a regular contributing writer. I, of course, accepted and my first published piece goes live today.

So, you see, this 100th post of mine is special. You are special. So, you’ll forgive me if you have heard some of these things before? I felt overwhelmed by the need to share with you where I am today, my dreams and maybe even introduce you to a whole new world.

Until then, let’s all dare to dream. I’ll start.

Hi, I’m Deanna and I’m a writer. 

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Source: Pinterest

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Something Real. Definitely Not G-Rated. Maybe An Overshare.

So, if you’re interested, sit back and relax because this is going to be very wordy and most likely, intense. If you’re in the mood for happy, warm and fuzzy or holiday related, turn back now! 

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From the time I was a little girl, I have always suffered from bad migraine headaches. As this is nothing unusual, plus my father suffers from them, my family never thought anything of it and I never went to a doctor specifically for them. In 2004, I started having heart problems. I would wake up from sleeping with a resting heart rate of almost 200 beats per minute. I had heart palpitations and I would sporadically have those instances where my heart would just race. Several doctors wrote it off as stress; granted, I was working full-time, in college full-time and doing my internship. I was a busy girl. But I didn’t feel stressed! Finally, I saw a doctor who said to just come in whenever it happens. Stop what I’m doing and get there. So I did.

He was also convinced it was stress and anxiety and gave me Xanax in the office. My heart rate didn’t slow. He gave me more. It still didn’t slow down. He checked and saw the palpitations and irregularity on my EKG and sent me by ambulance to the hospital. I was discharged by a doctor stating I was a “typical woman with anxiety and needed to see a psychiatrist”. The only reason I remember this memory fondly is because my little 5’1″ mom got in this doctor’s face and argued with him. It didn’t help, but it made me feel loved and supported (and it was really cute to see my mom be so protective).

Flash forward to March 2006 when I get in a moderately bad car accident. I stopped for an ambulance, but the guy behind me apparently didn’t hear the loud sirens. He slammed into the back up my SUV so hard he totaled his car, it threw my gear shift into park and opened the cover to my sunroof. I got out of the car and felt my back crack all the way down. Needless to say, I ended up at an emergency quick care and later sent on to a chiropractor with very bad whiplash. After weeks of seeing a chiropractor and not getting any better, I complained to him that I was just having so many problems with weakness in my neck, right arm and shoulder. He decided to do an MRI stating I should be improving and he could see I was actually becoming worse. I had it done on a Friday and he called me that night asking me to come in Monday morning. That weekend, I lost complete feeling in my right arm and hand; only for several minutes, but long enough to know something was wrong.

Monday came along and I went in to see my chiropractor.  He asked me how I was to which I told him what happened over the weekend. The next several minutes of our conversation become a blur after he tells me I have two large cysts in my spinal cord and I need to see a neurosurgeon. I’m quite sure he explained things and answered my questions, but I have no idea what happened next. All this from that car accident? 

I didn’t grasp the gravity of what was happening.

Weeks went by, more MRI’s and I finally got in to see my first neurosurgeon. He saw my scans and literally the first words out of his mouth were “Holy shit I have never seen any that big before”. He goes on to explain that I have a congenital malformation of my brain called Chiari Malformation Type I causing my brain to be too large for my skull and thus, blocking the base where my spinal cord connects to my brain. As a result, fluid built up in my spinal cord causing my secondary condition, Syringomyelia, which is a fancy and scary word for having a syrinx (fluid-filled cyst) inside my spinal cord. I was lucky enough to have two of these bad boys. He said I would need to see his partner who is a specialist in these disorders and I would need to have brain surgery. I’m sorry, did you just say brain surgery? I’m still stuck on congenital malformation! All I remember is going to out to the parking lot, sitting in my car and crying to my mom on the phone scared that I could die or become paralyzed which were both obvious possibilities. I was going to have BRAIN SURGERY! What the fuck is happening to my life?

I go see the specialist and he is wonderful. He explains everything so well and puts me at ease. He also goes on to say that my heart problems were a symptom of my disease and most likely I would have had a heart attack if I hadn’t been in the car accident. Apparently, while this congenital defect and secondary illness are both fairly common, they masquerade as other things. Not enough doctors are familiar enough with them to consider that my heart problems were a result of a neurological condition.

In just two months since the accident, I was already declining as it had exacerbated my symptoms. I was in a lot of pain, slurring my speech and tripping and falling often. He wanted to schedule the decompression surgery right away. I will spare you the details, but basically in this surgery, he enlarged the base of my skull by removing some of the skull itself as well as C-1 and portions of C-2 and replacing with grafts.

It was intense to say the very least.

No one can prepare you for this.

Thank God he kept my tattoo in tact!

Thank God he kept my tattoo in tact!

I knew I would be on bed-rest for 12 weeks, but I had no idea I would have to have a walker for a while and not even be able to do the simplest of things. I had no idea the intense pain that would last for 6-7 weeks with little relief. None of us knew if the surgery would even help. There is no cure for Chiari Malformation or Syringomyelia. The reason to have the surgery is to attempt to prevent the syrinxes from becoming larger, causing more nerve damage, thus preventing many other problems and even death.

I can tell you that it did help many of my symptoms; the slurred speech, my balance, the constant ringing in my ears I have had since I was a child and even my heart palpitations and irregularities. However, it made my migraines much worse and more often. The nerve damage on my right side can’t be repaired so I still have problems with weakness in my shoulder, arm and hand. I have inflammation throughout my body which sometimes causes a lot of joint pain. I have days where I am just so exhausted.

I’m 37 years old and I sound like I’m 80. Some days I feel like it and those are the days I disappear. The pain gets the better of me and it’s all I can do to complete the basic most necessary tasks of the day.

These are invisible illnesses.

On the outside, I look fine. I smile and carry on and you’d never know. And that is what sometimes makes this so much harder.

This is not something you can just easily share with someone. The look on their face, the sound in their voice, they become speechless. I don’t blame them. What do you say? So, I just disappear and make up an excuse. What I want to say is….

I am sick. I suffer from a chronic neurological illness. I will never get better unless a cure is discovered.

Sometimes I disappear. I have to rest my mind and more importantly, my body.

I know there is nothing you can do. I don’t expect anything or ask any more than your gracious understanding.

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There was a deep need inside me to share this with all of you. (It has also been “a bad week”.) Sharing is cathartic and therapeutic and provides me an outlet. It also helps spread education and awareness. Plus this opens the door to share the stories I have about seeing neurologists here in Germany! Those you will want to stick around for!

The month of September is our national awareness month and we are represented by a purple ribbon. Here are a few great organizations out there who are leading the way in research, education, awareness and support:

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For those of you that made it this far, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Thank you for listening and making your way through this post. I know it wasn’t easy.

supporting the fighters
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A Hopeful Beginning

Wow, two posts in one day? I think that’s a bit unheard of for me and usually I would wait for another day; however, due to the sensitive time frame of this announcement, I thought I should share now. 

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Have you ever heard of CausePub? Their site states:

Use our crowd-publishing platform to create an instant best-seller and support your favorite cause!

Well, to be honest, I hadn’t either until another fellow blogger posted a request to vote for her and help her story be chosen for publication in a compilation book that would support the given cause of providing clean water to those in need. I voted for her and later heard that she was published! (Her story is touching and beautiful!) In the process of doing so, I “liked” the CausePub Facebook page and thought little of it since then….that is until I saw the latest call for story submissions!new-life-within-temporary-book-cover-288

The project manager was in search of stories about motherhood with the hopes of publishing a compilation book of true stories from real moms. This project will provide funds/donations to The Gabriel Network, which is an organization that helps support and encourage women who are experiencing a crisis pregnancy due to homelessness, poverty or other personal reasons. You can read more about that here.

So, I submitted a story. 

Now, I am not a political person, or an overly religious person. I believe that everyone should have the freedom to make their own choices without being pressured or forced to believe in someone else’s beliefs and opinions. In my social work career, I have had the pleasure of working with organizations similar to that of The Gabriel Network and they have done wonders for so many women who are struggling during what should be a wonderful time. There is no pressure, but simply support during desperate times and I am all about supporting others.

I was chosen and will be published!

I’m so very excited! Unfortunately, I can no longer share it with you from the site, as they have closed submissions since it is now in the publication process. It is a very personal story; here is a brief excerpt:

I made mistakes in my life because I didn’t know myself. I suffered through abuse and violence. I turned to drugs and alcohol. For a long time, I was still that rebellious teenager wanting to punish the world for what I felt I had lost. I also wanted to punish myself for who I was becoming. Somehow, though, I made it through. With the help of good friends and guardian angels I’m sure were meant to cross my path, I chose a different road than the one I was so clearly headed down. I chose to rise above and become a survivor. Sadly, my first marriage was one of the casualties of me finally accepting the past, letting it go and becoming the woman I deserved to be.

I wanted to share this with all of you because you helped give me the courage to write this story. Your support, comments and encouragement throughout these past months of blogging gave me the push I needed to at least try. This blogging community has opened me up to a whole world of new people and new possibilities. I have always dreamt of becoming a writer and I’m hoping this is a small piece of the puzzle pointing me in the right direction to accomplishing this dream.

Thank you.

Furthermore, the project could still use some help to reach its goal. If you are at all interested in supporting the cause, reading more stories, know someone who would love to/or needs to read these stories, or you just want to have it because I’m in it (hehe), then please make a pledge to buy the book. There is no money needed now, they will send an email when it is ready to be ordered. It will be available on Amazon, but I am not aware of the cost. If you’d like to submit a pledge, you can do so here.

Again, thank you….for reading, for supporting, for voting, for introducing and for possibly pledging. It means the world to this dreamer. 
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There Aren’t Enough Words

Have you heard of Emily who is the author of the blog, The Waiting? If not, you have been missing out. She is witty, funny, down-to-earth and presents a style and charm through her online presence like no other. She is an excellent writer and has the credentials to prove it. 

Well, once a week she hosts a link-up called “Remember the Time” with each week having a different theme. I have never joined in and I’m not sure why since I am such a big admirer of hers. This week’s theme is last days and it really got me thinking so I decided to join in. 

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Once upon a time, in my pretty distant past, I had the blessing and opportunity to work with children who had both chronic and terminal illness. The diagnosis could range from behavior issues such as Attention Deficit Disorder or Oppositional Defiance Disorder to seizure disorders and cancer. I started on this path in 2007 before I knew I would move to Germany for the first time in the early part of 2008. Sadly, I was only able to work with these amazing children for approximately 9 months. It was the best 9 months of my social work career. Granted, I loved working in the hospital and that too was both hard and wonderful work, but working with these kids on a regular basis is inspiring and not just in the moment, but for a lifetime.

Hardly a day goes by where I don’t remember the children that I came to know, but most importantly, the ones that I lost. People are typically shocked when I say how much I love working with terminally ill children. I’m sure you are shocked just reading that statement. It couldn’t be more selfish or more true. And here’s why: those kids are AMAZING.

As adults, we tend to underestimate the strength in children. We see them as innocent, beautiful creatures who also lack the life experience to make big, bold decisions. It’s in our nature to want to protect them, to shield them from the nasty evil in the world. So what do you do when your child is diagnosed with a terminal illness? More importantly, what do you do when you know your child is dying? It’s an unfathomable question, I know. Having my own child, I can’t even begin to think about it without my stomach doing all sorts of flips and being on the brink of tears. But it happens and these poor families struck with this tragedy have to deal with it.

So you’re probably still wondering how in the world I could enjoy such heart-wrenching work? Well, like I said, these kids are amazing. They have a spirit like no other and if spirit alone could cure their disease, there wouldn’t be loss. They fight the hardest fight anyone could have and they do it with smiles. They are still children and show it through the hope in their eyes, but they become so wise in a short time. They understand their illness and they know when they are ready to stop fighting. But until then, they will make lemonade out of lemons.

They will decorate their hospital rooms for Christmas. They will go trick-or-treating in their hospital ward. They will play games and laugh. They will remind you how precious life is and how much is taken for granted.

Of course there are bad times when they wonder what it’s like to die. When they realize they will never get married or have children. When they know their disease is winning and they are just tired. When they cry the tears of a child who just wants to be a “normal kid”. Those days are brutal, sad, heart-wrenching.

There aren’t enough words to describe the pain.

There aren’t enough words to describe how inspiring they are to others.

No words can accurately describe their hope, their dreams, their love.

In the end, these children accept their fate and their only concern is their loved ones. They become the protectors. They become the strength as their family is brought to their knees in despair. They become their own voice in telling the doctors to stop treatment. They become empowered. In the end, they get to have that last bit of control over their beautiful short life. 

It’s like nothing I have ever experienced and I feel so privileged that I was ever allowed to share those moments in a child’s life. They are my heroes, my inspiration, my hope. They aren’t here anymore and I am not there, but they have never, never left my heart. They changed me just as I’m sure they changed everyone they met.

They are angels here on Earth.

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How Do You Define Extraordinary?

Everyone has a different idea of what being an expat must be like. Many think it’s a glamorous lifestyle of nothing but traveling and indulgence. Maybe, for some, that is exactly what it’s like. For others, it may be mostly consumed of everyday life in what feels like an entirely different world. While it has great allure, beauty and excitement, it can also have moments of loneliness, isolation and hardship. It is life just like anywhere else.

But, it is the change itself that makes this expat life so different from the life I would have had in the states. Not because of the different country and culture, but because of the possible doors that can open as a result.

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I am a firm believer in everything happens for a reason. I think that also makes me believe in destiny. I look back on certain events in my life and think about how every little choice we make affects our future in some grand way. Someday, when I share the story of how M and I met, you will be able to actually see a path of choices that directly led me to him. I can’t deny that it was destiny, even if I sound like a big cornball.

In the states, I had my career, worked full-time and M stayed home with our son. It is completely reversed here. My career that I once knew is, in essence, over. From what I have learned, I can’t pursue the same type of career here. This has me thinking, what will become of my life here? What new door is going to open? What new possibilities do I have with this new life?

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When one door closes, another one always opens. I do have moments of great anxiety over this, but it’s just fear of the unknown and of failure. Yet, at the same time, I get excited. It is a chance to do something different; change my path in life. It is opportunity knocking and all I have to do is answer with an open mind. 

Recently, a fellow blogger commented on a post of mine saying she thinks I’m destined for great things. This was an amazing comment; stunning actually. If I am being honest, she is not the first person to tell me something like this. So again, this has me thinking {i think a lot}, what is greatness and how do you define it?

Is it to be a good and loving wife? A dependable and loyal friend? Is it to raise my son to be a good man? Maybe. But to me, these are a given and will be done regardless because they are my own expectations as a wife, a friend and a mother. These are the norm and not the extraordinary. So, could it be to have a successful career?

How will I define extraordinary in my own life? How will I know when I have accomplished something great?

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I have always felt something inside me; a longing for something more, something bigger. I feel it way down deep in the core of my being. I can tell you that I have a story; a deep, dark, powerful story. One that I don’t share with many people. It is inside me and I believe it has the potential to be my greatness. And this expat life, may just have given me the opportunity to create it and share it.

What do you think? Do most people feel they have this destiny inside them to be great? To share something wonderful or be wonderful?
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