“Things change. They always do, it’s one of the things of nature. Most people are afraid of change, but if you can look at it as something you can always count on, then it can be a comfort.” -Clint Eastwood
When I first injured my ankle playing soccer after college, I never imagined this is where I would be nearly ten years later. It’s been a journey – one that has taken me to a lot of high places and also low. We like to celebrate the highs, and I think I’ve shared many of those with you guys over the years, but we have to learn to acknowledge the lows too – sometimes those are life’s greatest lessons.
If you’ve followed my blog over the last few years, you know it’s been a hard part of my life. Reinjuring my ankle and leg and subsequent complications from my CRPS (type 2) altered my path in a direction I didn’t want it to go. At times, these challenges have really almost beat me. To have my life changed by the ExoSym and help build the #ExoSymplyAmazing community and provide support to #TeamExoSym, and to then have my journey take a different route with another injury, really crushed my spirit in ways I have struggled to acknowledge, even to myself. The Gig Harbor Hanger Clinic staff and all the awesome ExoSym patients really are a special set of people – one that almost feels like a family. So not being a part of the “team” during this time has been a hard adjustment. I’ve almost had to try to shut myself away from it all, because it has hurt that much to remember. That’s the degree to which the ExoSym had changed my mobility and my life, and that’s how much the team meant to me.
I’m currently still recovering from my 12th surgery and making incremental progress. I’ve been in a new extensive CRPS-focused physical therapy program for a few months now that’s really made me face things I never thought I would have to face. With the ExoSym, I could cradle my leg in the device, but now I’m having to face my leg + CRPS condition head on without it. Some may wonder why I am not just returning back to the device in this moment. Trust me, if it was an option I’d take it in a heartbeat. My ExoSym is what got me this far in my journey, but with the progress made in the last eight surgeries, I’m now at a point where my surgeon and PT team are trying to transition me out of the device and use the outcomes achieved to begin working on reintegrating nerve and functional mobility to my leg with physical therapy. It’s a challenge, but if I don’t give it a try, I’ll never know. This is the first time since my original injury that I’ve had a chance at using my leg on its own again, so I’m giving it my best shot. However, I haven’t actively walked on my leg or moved it around without a device for nine years (minus the work I’ve been doing in the last two+ years with the recovery from each surgery), so it’s a bit daunting. Having been on and off crutches since 2018, roughly 27 months, I’m also facing that challenge. In addition to a range of surgeries to fix the injuries and nearly a decade of effects from CRPS and associated coping skills – I’m facing a bit of a giant. Thankfully the recent surgeries, treatments and therapy have made positive impacts, but my situation is challenging. However they don’t call me #BeastModeBeth for nothing. 😊 I have a ways to go and am still crutch dependent, but I’m optimistic with the progress that’s been made in the surgeries and hopeful for the progress to come with the PT. It’s feels like an ultra-marathon sometimes where I can’t see the finish line, but I know I have to keep putting in the effort. So I’m giving it everything I’ve got and it’s taking everything I have to give.
It’s interesting even when I try to imagine what it’s like to run or walk again, I can usually only picture myself in the ExoSym. It’s hard to imagine my leg without it. So this has been challenging too – trying to reintegrate my brain to remember my leg again without the Exo-shield of armor. Sometimes it’s overwhelming working through a decade of leg issues, but I’m trying to trust my doctors and physical therapists and stay the course.
Did I ever think I’d be without my ExoSym once I got it? Nope. I truly believed I would wear it the rest of my life and I was good with that because I liked it and it helped me. But when I reinjured my ankle and amplified my CRPS, my journey took a different route. That was hard to accept, but through that injury, I was able to have new surgeons re-eval my leg and perform extensive repairs, something that wouldn’t have been possible years prior. But it’s been a staged process, and a long one at that. I miss having people to relate to like I did with the ExoSym and I miss the life I once had. I’ve had times where I truly thought “I can’t do this anymore” – that’s how difficult this journey has been for me. But, deep inside I know I don’t want to give up. I just want my life back, but I’m learning to try to not wish for what I had, and instead trust God for where I am now.
I heard a song the other day that really spoke to me called New Wine by Hillsong United:
Make me Your vessel
Make me an offering
Make me whatever You want me to be
I came here with nothing
But all You have given me
Jesus, bring new wine out of me
I realized I’ve been wanting my old life back so much, that I forgot to remember what I’m here for. I forgot to give thanks to God for making me a vessel during the time I was given to help others in the ExoSym community. I believe He put me there to make a difference and if this is where He wants me right now, I’m learning to trust that, but it’s hard. I think outside of missing my mobility, one of the things I struggle most with is that I thought I was where I was supposed to be. I went through all those initial challenges with my leg injury in 2011-2013, and then I got the ExoSym and God not only answered my prayers to help my leg, but to also be a blessing to others. And to then have my mobility and my passion stripped away in 2018, really crushed me. And I didn’t understand. But as I continually remind myself – His will, not mine. With my car accident in 2016, I went through a similar struggle. It’s hard to feel like you’ve been taken out from where you were planted and put into the desert. And I think I’ve been in the desert for 27 months now! But, I’m trying to trust that if God wants me here, then this is where I will trust to be. I think this is a lesson that is true for all of us. Life changes a lot and sometimes those changes are hard to accept, especially when we feel they don’t make sense or it hurts, but wishing for things to be as they were is wasting what is here now. We have to learn to look past what we want and ask God what it is He wants. Make me a vessel and use me Lord – whatever you want me to be. The other day at PT a patient said to me, “Hey Beth, I hope you know you inspire me to never quit.” And I felt like in some ways, that was God reminding me that He puts us where He needs us, not always where we think we ought to be.
Maybe one day I’ll walk again (without pain) on my own foot or even run – that’s the hope. Seems hard to imagine at times, but I have to try. If it doesn’t work out I know I have the device to count on and I know that technology is always changing. 10 years ago, the ExoSym didn’t exist. The peripheral nerve stimulators I have implanted didn’t exist. People thought if you had CRPS too long, you’d be destined to a life of the “suicide disease”. I was told after my surgeries in 2011-2012, that there was nothing more that could be done and to stop trying. But I refused to give up. And then I found the ExoSym and Ryan Blanck gave me a chance and changed my life. He was the first person I had encountered in my medical journey to say I’ll do whatever I can to help you. I’ll never forget that – and he has never stopped being there or offering to help. Though more injuries happened, it put me on another path to a surgeon, PT, and pain management team that has challenged the norms and chosen to keep fighting for me – even when most people would have already given up. Simply stated, these are challenges and opportunities that didn’t exist a decade ago. Life is change. And I think God puts people on our path like “lifelines” to help us keep going. But you have to stay in the fight.
To that point, we all cope with life’s changes in different ways and it takes a lot of mental, emotional and physical strength to keep fighting. So if you ever find yourself struggling with something, just know that it’s okay. We all face challenges and sometimes they are really hard. We may not feel like people understand us, and not everyone will. My journey is not your journey and your journey is not mine. But trust your path and don’t give up. Some days I want to, but I never do because I don’t know how. I’ve learned in life that you have to continually remind yourself that no matter what happens or how long it takes, you can do this. Recently I started drawing a semicolon ; on my wrist to remind myself to choose to go on. Write whatever you need to on your mirror, on your wall, on your arm – whatever it takes. You can keep moving forward no matter what mountains you have to climb, because it was never our strength that got us to our highest places or picked us up from the lowest, it was His. So when life knocks you down or you feel lost in the desert, remember that God uses us in ways we may not understand and in a timetable not our own. Instead of asking the Lord to change your circumstances, ask Him to change how you see them. In learning to see change as something we can always count on, we find the strength to face our challenges, and the ability to keep moving forward no matter how long the road. Some of these things we just can’t see until we look back.
I’m going to keep fighting in my journey, I hope you do too. As I said when I started this blog in 2014, “In life, we have two choices: we can give up or we go on. I hope that no matter what challenges you face, you always choose to go on.” ♥