"If you're going through Hell, keep going."
-Winston Churchill

May 21, 2011

Hakunu Matata!

Since there are those of you who follow me on my blog and not on Facebook, it has been quite an exciting week! First I will mention the Southern Belle fundraiser. As I previously said, the success was phenomenal! Our final count turned out to be 1,271 shirts!! Although we originally intended to fax the order last Monday, it was not placed until Friday due to late orders trickling in all week. This was such a big order that Southern Belle even had to order more supplies when we told them how many we would need. I am also happy to announce our T-shirt is one of Southern Belle’s top-selling shirts! We ask for your patience as we wait 2-3 weeks for this large second order (1,041 shirts!).  If you are an early bird and got your order turned in by May 2nd then Laura has either already contacted you or, if it is being shipped, it is in route as we speak. The first order could not have come in at better timing! Yesterday morning (Friday), Doug Walker from WLOX came to my house to interview Laura, my mother and myself. It aired on the 6:00 news last night and already our numbers have drastically jumped. Laura and I both wore our shirts with pride for the segment which turned out to be the best thing we could have done. Between Laura and myself, we have gotten tons requests about how to purchase a shirt. Because of this, we have decided to put the order form back up by the end of this weekend. I do not know the turn-in date for this order yet, but it will of course be posted on the resource page and the Facebook page once we have all the details sorted out. Please keep in mind we are not professionals, everyone who has been so graciously helping me are volunteers and have lives of their own. We try to respond to everyone as quickly as possible, but please keep this in mind if it takes us a while. If you are interested in ordering shirt, you may sign up for the e-mail list. As soon as we start taking more orders you will be immediately notified. You may register here:

Sign up for e-mail list!

Here is Laura and I in our shirts!

I continue to find myself blessed to be considered an inspiration to people, especially those who have never met me. Of course I have my bad days as well, but for the most part I have the attitude of “I will beat this!” but it has definitely been a roller coaster. It would not be normal for me to be positive and upbeat all the time, but when I find myself feeling down and throwing a pity party, I remind myself of all the blessings I have. I remind myself it could have been so much worse. I remind myself I have friends and family who are there for me, who love and support me. I remind myself that everything happens for a reason, that we may not understand it for a long, long time. When you find yourself in these situations, whatever the reason may be for your heartache or pain, you must take things into perspective. Think about those who are not as fortunate as you. I rarely find a situation where I cannot say “well, things could be much worse!” There have been many bumps in my road, when in the hospital it always seemed like two steps forward, three steps back. And though sometimes that would discourage me, at least it was not only backward steps. I truly believe in this quote and try to live by it daily, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.” While you cannot control some people or situations, they cannot control you either. Only you can decide how to deal with tough situations and no one can take that from you. Like my shirts says… Will you say “why me?” or “try me!” I challenge you all to grab the bull by the horns and hold on- it’s going to be a rough, but fun, ride.

 You can check out both my stories from WLOX and WGUD below!

WLOX story & video

WGUD video

May 18, 2011

Overdue Updates

I apologize for the lack of updates over the last couple of weeks, things have been quite crazy and hectic- overwhelming to say the least. Between Mother’s Day, fundraisers, benefits, outpatient therapy and daily life, it feels like my mind never finds the rare moment of rest. Before I get into this entry I want to briefly talk about why I began this blog. It began as a continuation of my CaringBridge Journal which my sister, Kristen, consistently updated during my four months in the hospital/rehab. Family, friends and people I’ve never even met followed me on my journey of recovery. Once I was back at home, I took the responsibility of updating people of my recovery myself. I decided to close the CaringBridge chapter, of the updates when my family did not know what was going to happen next; what my fate was to be; scary and sad moments that are far behind me. This blog was to start a new chapter of my journey. My recovery in my own words. Far away from ventilators, feeding tubes and pressure sores. Originally, my purpose of this blog was simply to update people of my progress, but as time has gone on, it has evolved into so much more. With this blog I aim to not only update people of new and exciting things happening in my recovery, but also to inspire others while continuing to be inspired; relate with those also in my situation; provide insight to the daily life of a person with a spinal cord injury; vent my aggression and express my concerns. While you may not agree or understand everything I say, I just ask for you to respect it. With that being said, let me jump into what has been going on in these last couple of weeks…

Although the Southern Belle fundraiser was to be completed Monday (5/16) we still have people calling trying to turn in orders. While we do not want to turn anyone away, at some point we have to stop postponing the order. The success of this fundraiser is phenomenal. I do not have a definite number for you yet, every time I ask Laura it has gone up, but it is definitely safe to say it is in the four digits. When we first began on this journey we thought how amazing it would be to sell 100 shirts. Needless to say, our success has been 10x that. Laura has truly been like an angel. Without ever having met me, she started and coordinated this entire fundraiser. Of course, neither Laura or I could have done this without the help of our new friend Brad Martin. Brad has not only publicized my story through WHIL, but has taken it upon himself to create and be the administrator of www.rehabforkaty.formyfriends.org. He has also been a big part of the behind-the-scenes organization with the T-shirt fundraiser. Sometimes, in today’s seemingly immoral society, you lose faith in mankind. Being a person with a spinal injury you definitely confront discrimination and prejudice. You realize how many people do not provide handicap accessibility. You instantly notice people of all classes and ages stare at you like you are sickly and if they get too close they’ll catch your disability. And God forbid if I have a muscle spasm. But since starting my Facebook page, the overwhelming amount of support and prayers from across the world has given me a new confidence that I thought I lost. Laura and Brad, I know you’re both reading this, your unselfish kindness has impacted my life more than I can ever express and for that I’m forever indebted to each of you. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, this accident and events following has forever changed who I am. Prior to my injury I was “going nowhere fast.” Today, I have a sense of peace I never had before that hot June afternoon. Like my dear friend Karen Skeen said about herself, I also believe the same about me- “I have been a better person on 4 wheels than I ever was on my 2 feet” (though technically I am on 6 wheels). I am not going to lie, the situation is not a walk in the park by any means, but through it all I have realized my true inner strength. I have a new favorite quote that I truly believe summarizes everything I just said, “tough situations do not last, but tough people do.”

On another note, aside from the Southern Belle fundraiser there’ve been many other individuals who have taken it upon themselves to help raise money for me to go back to rehab. This past Saturday (5/14) a local band, Now or Never, organized a concert benefit in my honor at a local bar called Thunders Tavern. There were a few activities happening along the coast simultaneously, such as the Gulfport Music Festival and Smoking the Sound, but despite that it was a decent turnout. I was able to attend with my sister and a group of friends- it was quite the experience! In other fundraising news, Act Natural Photography in Hurley, MS, is currently looking for people interested in an Independence Day themed photo shoot. All proceeds would go towards helping me back into rehab. Anyone interested may find the business on Facebook at ActNaturalPhotography or visit http://actnaturalphotography.net. Also, Thirty-One Gifts by Brittany McKeel currently has a fundraiser going on until Tuesday, May 31st. Her store is located in Ocean Springs, MS, so if you decide to order and you are not local, please arrange to have it shipped directly to you. Her products are absolutely adorable, they include but are not limited to: totes, purses, bags, wallets, stationary and much more. If you are interested, please visit her site at http://www.mythirtyone.com/BrittanyMcKeel/.  In addition, Pamela Roberts Glenn with Designs by Pam has recently begun selling insulated tumblers. They sell for $13, plus a $5 shipping charge if you are not local. The deadline to order is Wednesday, June 1st. To find out more about the tumblers, log onto Facebook and search DesignsbyPam.

Last but not least, there is currently a River Run being organized for July 9th. It will be hosted by Sea Dawgs in Moss Point, MS. Let me briefly try to describe what exactly a River Run is as best as I can. - You can participate by boat or by car. It is like a poker game- You pay $50 for a ticket, you may have as many people as you want on a ticket, and if you win, the cash prize would be split between how many people are on that ticket. You will travel to each fishing camp where somebody will be waiting to pass out a card. This is not a race, so take your time, enjoy the weather, kick back and relax. It will end at Sea Dawgs in Moss Point. The person with the best hand will win a $500 cash prize. In addition, we are working on getting bands and musicians, arts and craft vendors, and food donations to have outside of Sea Dawgs throughout the day. If you or anyone you know would be interested, please get in touch with me ASAP at Katy.Blake@ymail.com. You can also find the event page on Facebook simply by searching for “Katy Blake River Run.” This is where all new and immediate details will be promptly posted.

I would like to take a minute to talk about the multiple fundraisers that have been going on. The Help Katy Back to Rehab Facebook page was originally created to bring awareness and publicize my story. All of the people who have coordinated these fundraisers have done so on their own accord, on their own time and energy. I am extremely grateful for each and every person who not only organized, but to all those who are participating in helping me get back to inpatient rehabilitation. I have a slight concern about people being bombarded with so many fundraising options happening all at once. Like I said, the creation of the Facebook page was for awareness, and while I am forever indebted to all those helping me fundraise, it was not my original intention. It is important to me that everyone knows how extremely grateful I am. A friend of mine said it best and I will use his quote now to end this topic, “I am looking for a hand up, not a handout.”

I have recently gained more media coverage as well. Last Friday I did an interview for WGUD, a local station here in Pascagoula. It will air tonight after 5 PM on channel 19. We do not know a specific time, so my mother has set the DVR recorder to tape between 5-11. Tomorrow I will skim through it and try to find my segment. Hopefully WGUD will allow me permission to post it online for those of you who are not local or who do not regularly watch channel 19. However, if they do not, then no worries. Doug Walker of WLOX is coming to my home Friday morning to interview me. This is the next step of generating more interest towards my story, the story of keeping great determination to overcome my obstacles and how I am using social media to spread awareness. As soon as I know when it will air, the time will be posted on Facebook. In addition, I will also ask their permission to post it online for those of you who are not local.

Friday will also prove to be an interesting day because my mother and I have a meeting that afternoon with the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation and Vocational Rehab all at the same time. The frustrations of our state programs and lack of communications between agencies is a whole other blog entry entirely. Just the thought of talking about it right now upsets me. But needless to say, Medicaid is absolutely ridiculous and I sincerely hope to expose that in the WLOX interview. I will dedicate another day to talking about the different departments in which we’ve had to contact each one to find out about different programs they offer. But in a nutshell, the meeting Friday will be about what I qualify for and how to get my full Medicaid benefits back. Once I have my full Medicaid, when the new fiscal year begins in July, I will be allotted another 30 days of inpatient care, that includes hospitalization or rehabilitation. I sincerely hope not to be hospitalized for any reason because I intend to use all 30 days for rehab. All of the money that has been donated and raised will also be used to buy extra time at rehab.

And finally, if you have stuck with me this far you deserve to know the most exciting news of all. The Sigma Nu chapter at Ole Miss has an annual philanthropy called the Charity Bowl. Each year in March, they host a Charity Bowl intramural where all the proceeds from ad sales, ticket sales, T-shirt sales, and a bid from the opposing fraternity will go towards the most deserving recipient who has been afflicted with paralysis. I am very honored and excited to tell you I will be the 2012 beneficiary of the Sigma Nu Charity Bowl. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for how thankful I am to have been chosen. Because of this, and the multiple fundraisers that are currently and in the process of happening, it looks like my dream of going to The Shepherd Center next year may come true after all. May God bless each and every one of you who has made this possible for me. Let me be proof you should never give up, no matter how big the goal you never know what can happen if you don’t try. While it has been almost a year since my accident, this is still just the very beginning of my journey.

May 3, 2011

Stages of grief

Let me begin by giving you the latest updates before jumping into the deeper part of this blog entry. This past Sunday The Mississippi Press ran an article about my story. If you have not already seen this, here is the link: http://blog.gulflive.com/mississippi-press-news/2011/05/post_42.html. We considered ourselves very lucky to have it run on a Sunday and on the front page of the local section of the paper. Laura’s phone has been ringing off the hook, bless her heart! The band benefit at Thunders Tavern here in Pascagoula, originally scheduled for May 14, has been postponed. That is the same weekend of the Gulfport Music Festival and we are trying to find a weekend that is free from any holiday or events. WLOX has expressed interest in covering my story; however, I believe this has been delayed by the tornado devastation and the killing of Osama bin Laden. I have been contacted by a freelance writer for CBS and by the medical reporter for WWL out of New Orleans. I have no further details on either of those leads, just that initial contact has been made, but once I have more concrete details they will be broadcasted. In the meantime, I hope and pray that it all works out. In addition, Laura made contact with the Director of Marketing for the Southern Belle Corporation. They have also expressed interest in covering my story for their newsletter. Speaking of Southern Belle, the T-shirt fundraiser has been phenomenal! This past Thursday, we made a rash decision to do a partial order on Monday (yesterday). In just those three days we collected 227 shirt orders!! When Laura and I first started discussing this fundraiser, we were excited about just selling 100 shirts. It has truly gone above and beyond anything either of us expected. We decided to make the partial order to help lessen the workload of having all their shirts come in at once and having to organize, store and distribute such a mass order. We also hope that once more people see the shirts around town they will want to order some. The deadline for the next order is May 15. If there is still enough interest and demand after the 15th, we will definitely consider doing a third order but we must have at least 50 to do so. Just a reminder- to all my new chair-friendly friends, if you decide to order one make sure you specify you want a front design. All of the information can of course be found at www.rehabforkaty.formyfriends.org.

Today I would like to talk about the five stages of grief (some people say five, some people say seven, I grouped some of mine together- so it's five.) Before I dive into that, I want to discuss myself for a moment. My goodness how cocky that sounds! But I suppose it is my blog and you are already here, so you might as well read. I have never been very good at describing myself; especially when it came to things like the Facebook profile. How to sum up your personality in a certain number of words? I pretty much consider myself an open book, you ask and I'll tell you how it is. Since starting my Help Katy to Rehab page, my friends list has increased by almost 200 people. I started thinking maybe perhaps I should figure out something to write in my info besides “bomb diggity.” Apparently, bomb diggity does not give a clear description of who I am. Despite the trouble I've previously had, when I decided to change it, it almost came naturally. It now says this: “June 13, 2010, I was injured at a diving accident leaving me an incomplete quadriplegic. I fractured my C-5, meaning I'm paralyzed from the chest down. It was a true blessing in disguise. Who you are is not based on physical capabilities; it is your heart and your soul. I am a very strong and determined person to overcome any obstacles life decides to throw my way. Sense of humor is a must, you almost need it just to survive ( or at least to stay sane ) I live without regrets, I learn from my mistakes, I tell people what I think and I love with all my heart. Never said I was perfect, never pretended to be, and never expect it of anybody else. If you remember nothing else, remember this: Count your blessings and not your problems.” And if that does not give you a good sense of who I am, just watch my latest bloopers video on YouTube. I will attach at the bottom of the entry for your convenience.. ;)

Now, onto the five stages of grief… I've said it many times and I'll say it again, I am a human being. Although I really believe I've handle my situation with great strength and grace, I have had my bad days. I've cried, gotten angry, broken down and thought it was all over. We all must release these emotions to start the healing process of whatever despairing situation we find ourselves in. From day one, I kept the smile on my face, even with the trache my throat, deep down knowing it could only go up from here. Shortly after the heavy meds wore off in the hospital (once I got past thinking the nursing staff was trying to kill me-yes, it is true I did, but that is another story entirely) my mother explained to me I would go through the stages of grief just as I did after my father passed away. The first thing I thought was ‘uh oh’- my dad died when I was only 11. I really could not process it at the time and it haunted me until I finally broke down a year or 2 later. I did not cope with it in the same way that I did my injury- which is a good thing. If I had handled my injury the same way I did his passing, I would still be in denial. Alas, it was from the death of my father I learned how to cope with emotionally distressed situations. Like I've said before, everything happens for a reason. Of course I wish there was some way to change what happened to him and for him to still be here, but I do not think I would be nearly as strong if that were the case. Onto the first stage-

Stage I:  Shock and denial
When my friends were pulling me out of the water I kept exclaiming to my friend, “I cannot be paralyzed, it cannot be true, I just cannot be paralyzed.” She tried to reassure me, and I think herself, by telling me maybe it was just a pinched nerve. Although as soon as I hit bottom and my body went numb I knew, I kept trying to convince myself otherwise. Maybe it was just a pinched nerve, surely in a few hours I would regain all the feeling back. Even after two weeks in the hospital, when I was finally starting to remember everything, once I realized I had full sensation down to my toes I started to believe I would walk out of there. I thought “Pssh.. This doctor doesn’t know who I am or what he is talking about.” It almost seemed like a dream, I had this crazy thought in my head I was invincible and nothing like this could happen to me. Well, as we all know, I was wrong. It seemed like the end of the world but little did I know it was just the beginning.

Stage II: Pain and guilt
As the weeks went on and the shock started to wear off, the pain and guilt began to settle in. I won't lie, I love being the center of attention… I mean come on, I am the baby of seven children- what do you expect, really? But when I realized that my mom was living out in a motorhome in the Forrest General Hospital parking lot (for those who did not know, I was two hours away from my hometown Pascagoula), I felt horrible. Not to mention my hometown family and friends traveling 2 to 3 times a week to come see me. Thinking of the gas prices, the time it took and the effort made me feel worse than the actual physical pain of the injury. I hated having to ask my family to walk across the room to bring me a drink when I was thirsty, much less been traveling 100 miles just to see me 5x a day for 30 min. at a time. I felt like it was my entire fault that my mom had to go from our wonderful home in Pascagoula to staying in a motorhome in a hospital parking lot. After her time in a FEMA trailer after Katrina, I knew this was her nightmare. Now, of course, I realize this is what family is for and my family is very special. 

Stage III: Anger and bargaining
This was a tough phase for me. Once I began the process the magnitude of my situation, I kept replaying the accident in my head, not to mention the countless nightmares that followed. This is something I have not spoken of much but I feel like, for my own personal growth, that I must. As I've stated before, a friend and I were horseplaying before running to the water. What caused me to run to the water was the fact my friend decided to spit on me which disgusted me. I wanted to wash off as quickly as possible and of course you know how that resulted. It was really hard not to be angry, I kept thinking to myself, “Well, if that had not happened, I would not have dove into the water.” But in the end, we all make our own decisions. I think what finally clicked and helped to dissolve my anger was realizing this: I would rather be the one hurt then the one feeling guilty for hurting another. I don't blame him for what happened. In fact, it was he that finally pulled me out of the water so he technically saved my life. Had he not pulled me up, I felt like my lungs were to explode at any second. How can I be angry at the person who pulled me out? Forgiveness has a powerful effect and once you learn to do so, you’ll find yourself a lot happier in life. Enough about anger lets discuss bargaining. I distinctly remember getting my MRI. I must have still been coming down from the heavy drugs because I believed that I was going to die in that machine. In my mind, I kept seeing a bright light that I was fighting to stay away from. Before the accident, I was not super religious. I believed there was a God, but did not understand why he had put me in so many tough situations from such a young age. I now believe it was to prepare me for my current situation, my greatest obstacle yet. During my MRI I pleaded with him, promising to change my life if he would just save me. You may think I'm crazy, and who knows I just may be, drugs or not, that night in the machine I saw my dad talking to God and asking him to spare me. I may not be walking (yet) but I am still alive, I did not suffer a traumatic brain injury, I have full sensation and have progressed farther than doctors expected. That night in the MRI machine changed my life, for I truly believe God answered my prayers.

Stage IV: Depression, reflection and loneliness
During my four months in the hospital, I was constantly surrounded by new friends, old friends, family and medical staff. In fact, I still talk to many of my therapist, nurses and nurse aides. When I finally returned home to Pascagoula on October 5, all of that changed. Whereas before I was surrounded by different people, all day every day, I suddenly found myself with only a handful of people to physically interact with. Most of my hometown friends are off at college or in their careers and have moved away from Pascagoula, so other than my family I really only had two good friends in my town. This was when I encountered the loneliness. Sure, I had Facebook and text message but that does not replace face-to-face social interaction. Coming home I also discover the depression. While in the hospital and rehab I felt very normal in my situation- there were others like me, nurses knew how to take care of me and the buildings were accommodated for me. When I finally got home, it seemed like I suddenly realized my disabilities. I could not get into the comfortable chaise I loved to lounge in; there was to be no more sitting at the bar while my mom worked in the kitchen; and getting in the whirlpool bathtub was out of the question. To see all the things that I previously loved and enjoyed made me realize how little I could do with my new disability. I would sit in the sun room and stare out at the gorgeous day, wishing I could just put my feet in the grass or plant flowers in the garden. Knowing that I would not be doing any of these things any time soon severely depressed me. While at FGH they had prescribed me the antidepressant Lexapro. Now I am going to try and carefully word this so not to offend anybody, I know there is such thing as a chemical imbalance that causes depression. But my own personal train of thought is mind over matter, I did not believe I needed to be on antidepressants and although I expressed this to both doctors at FGH and Methodist, they did not attempt to take me off of it. So after arriving home, despite the depression and loneliness I was feeling, I weaned myself off Lexapro. There was no magic cure or drug to fix how I felt after coming home; all it took was some time to adjust. Thankfully, this stage did not last for long.

Stage V: Acceptance and hope
After a month or two of being released into the “real world” it became easier to accept my disability. In the hospital it was so easy because everybody knew what they were doing, I knew what to expect, everything was accommodated for me, and I felt normal being amongst other spinal cord injuries. Going out in the public heighten my anxiety. What would people think when they saw me? I did not want people to feel sorry or pity towards me, but I knew if the roles were reversed and they were my friend, I would feel sorry for them. I know now when people stare it is more because they are curious about what happened. Today, I have accepted and embraced my disability. Anybody who knows me knows I joke about it more and more every day. It is my way of putting other people at ease, as well as providing a chuckle. What gave me my hope back is the success of the Help Katy Back to Rehab Facebook fan page. It has been three weeks today that the page was created and I am very close to 2000 followers. So many exciting things are happening so quickly that it's almost hard for me to keep up. But to have complete strangers reach out to me, to offer their own time and effort to help someone they've never met, has restored my hope and joy. Like I said before, I consider myself an open book. If by sharing my story and my experiences I have the power to inspire others or to stop someone from making a mistake, then in the end it will all be worth it. 

This is quite a long one. As always, thanks for your continued interest and support in my recovery. I would not be this far without it. Like I said in my Facebook bio, count your blessings and not your problems, so here is to counting mine:

I am blessed to be alive; to not have a traumatic brain injury; to not have a complete or a higher level of spinal cord injury; to have progressed further than originally predicted; to have had a great team of doctors, nurses, nurse aides, and therapists to take care of me; to have a wonderful family and group of friends that love me no matter what; to have a fantastic new group of Facebook friends also in wheelchairs for peer support; to have complete strangers reach out to me and help me in my time of need; and blessed to continue to be inspired and inspire others.