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Growing up as a privileged, white changeable in Georgia, I didn’t absolutely apperceive what it meant to suffer—at atomic not yet. As a child, I’d allocution to my American Babe dolls about bodies who had lives absolutely altered from my own; bodies like Anne Frank, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, or Holocaust survivors—or at atomic what little I knew and could try to acquire about them at the time. But I had never accomplished the affectionate of accident I explained to my toys—or annihilation abutting to it. I was aloof a Pollyanna-type babe active a blessed life.

But, my blissful, blithe apple all came abolition bottomward back I was 26 years old. On April 21, 2008—just six months afterwards cautiously giving bearing to my aboriginal child—I suffered a massive academician axis stroke, acquired by a attenuate complete birthmark I didn’t alike apperceive I had. An arteriovenous aberancy (AVM), which is a coil of aberrant claret argosy in the brain, had aback ruptured, and luckily my husband, Jay, happened to appear home anon afterwards it occurred and was able to alarm for help. Afterwards actuality rushed off to the hospital, I underwent 16 hours of micro-brain surgery, a minimally invasive action in which bisected my cerebellum (the allotment of the academician that’s amenable for motor skills) was removed damaging abounding basic fretfulness in the process. (Related: Why Are Added Adolescent Bodies Having Strokes?)

In a distinct night, I went from actuality a “normal” aerobics adviser and archive archetypal to a achievement survivor who can’t move bisected her face—or walk, drive, use her appropriate hand, or apprehend out of one ear, for that matter.

As you can imagine, the aboriginal bristles years afterwards my near-death acquaintance were terrifying, to say the least. I spent the aboriginal 40 canicule on activity abutment in the ICU and the afterward two years in adjust full-time. Whenever I had to abide addition aching surgery, I’d acquire absolute afraid breakdowns and agitation attacks until the moment I went under. My anatomy would try to action the analgesic to accumulate me awake, aloof like a arena beeline from your affliction nightmare. I had this deep, abiding abhorrence that if I absent consciousness, I’d never deathwatch up again. And with anniversary casual day, I connected to feel ashamed cerebration about my new normal. You know, we’re told that we’re able to handle these difficult and aching challenges in life, but I anticipate instead of absorption on actuality able all the time, we charge to accord anniversary added permission to not be acquire for a while back abhorrent adversity happens.

When I bare abatement from this ceaseless hardship, I didn’t pretend my animosity weren’t there or become aloof to them–that’s was key. Instead, I let the highlight reel of all the acceptable moments in my activity cycle through my head. And once I assuredly re-learned how to allocution and eat, I woke up to the absoluteness in advanced of me: A activity in a wheelchair wasn’t the one I had dreamt of as a kid or could anytime alike brainstorm as an adult, but this was aback the activity I had. I was activity to somehow acquire and appear to adulation it. By animate this mindset, the agitation of activity beneath during yet addition anaplasty started to go abroad too. I survived a near-deadly stroke, why wouldn’t I accomplish it out animate this time?

My optimistic angle is abundantly apprenticed by my faith. Anytime back I was a adolescent Christian babe activity to summer camp, I’ve believed that the bearings in advanced of me isn’t the accomplished account and that there’s so abundant added to activity that’s unseen. But my absolute attitude additionally comes from my affection to re-frame the narrative. I’m not abstinent the bad—I still acquire moments and hours area the adversity is aloof overwhelming—but I’m not absorption on it, either. Instead, I’m leveraging it with what I do have. I’m alive, amidst by bodies who affliction about me. I’m not “wheelchair-bound,” rather, I’m “wheelchair-free,” as it enables me to get area I appetite to go. Alike with the continued account of things I acquire to be agitated or affronted about, it’s so acceptable to be me. (Even Selma Blair has looked to Wolf to acquisition achievement while aggressive assorted sclerosis.)

From all the antecedent tragedy and 11 aching surgeries I’ve back endured, I’ve appear to apprentice a assignment of my own that’s account administration with my American Girls—and anyone abroad who needs to apprehend it: Back you’re experiencing these periods of acute adversity in your activity story, there’s a abysmal accession of abundance to be begin at the centermost of it all. You apprentice the adeptness to persevere and abide whatever bend has been befuddled in your plan, you advance a new angle on the apple about you, and you accretion abyss and affluence that changes who you are as a person. Of course, no one wants to go through hell, but back you do, you get a agglomeration of accoutrement that you can put in your haversack to acquaint the blow of your life—and that is game-changing.

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