A Year in Crisis: What I learned…

A Year in Crisis: What I learned.

Let me start by saying that I am incredibly blessed…in so many ways.  Let me also say that so many people in this world are struggling with things I can’t even begin to wrap my head around so my year in crisis is small potatoes to some of the stories I know are out there.  I am not suggesting by any means that I had or have it so bad…but I am going to tell you that the last year of our life has been among the most challenging we’ve ever lived.

Let’s start at the beginning.  For starters, about one year ago I started having trouble breathing.  For someone who is relatively fit, exercises every day and eats pretty healthy it was like alarming how hard it was for me to breathe.  I got out of breath teaching my classes.  So naturally, I went to doctors.  A lot of them.  At first, they thought it was my heart, cue every heart test available.  I ran on treadmills with unhealthy inclines (knees) at unthinkable speeds, was connected to all kinds of machines and after all of that…they discovered nothing.

Then one cardiologist thought maybe I had a blood clot on my lungs, so we did a CAT Scan with contrast. 

It was after this test I got a call that completely changed my perspective on life.

It was 2021, Covid was still raging and there were all kinds of rules and protocols about doctor’s offices and hospitals…so a nurse called me.  In hindsight, given what she told me, this was wildly inappropriate.

What she said was this, “we are going to have to refer you to a pulmonologist because we believe you have lymphoma.”

I’m sorry what?

Did a nurse just deliver this news to me on a cell phone call?  I’m confused, terrified and frankly, in shock. 

After asking her to repeat herself and about 200 other questions she informed me, with a hint of irritation in her voice that I could not get into see the specialist who deals with this kind of thing for about 2.5 months.

Then I flipped out.  Excuse me?  I am a mother of 5 kids, I have a mom who depends on me, that is simply not going to work.  I hung up.  Frozen. 

Did I mention when I got this call I was at school?  Yep, had to walk into my classroom after that and teach.  Good times.

This entire exchange sums up how 2021 has gone for us…mostly. 

The great news is that I have an awesome team of people who were able to get me into a doctor much sooner and about 1.5 weeks after that call I was heading to KU Med for a lung biopsy to determine if I did in fact have cancer.

That was a whole different experience.  Bryan was able to take me but not go back with me.  So, what this meant was that I headed back for surgery to possibly discover horrible news…alone.  That gave me a whole different perspective on all of the people who were alone throughout this Covid crisis.  I brought papers to grade (I’m sorry to all my students for that J).  I thought that would distract me.  Distract me they didn’t.

The doctor was of course running late.  They offered me what they called “happy medicine” and at first, I declined.  As more and more time went by and I sat in this cold room in a hospital gown alone and afraid of what fate awaited me I hit that red button and said bring on that happy medicine.  I only tell you this because the result of me receiving said medicine resulted in me finding a video on my phone about a week later where I recorded messages to my kids.  In one message I actually fall asleep mid message, then wake up and continue talking. Now, I can laugh about it.  Those messages didn’t seem too funny at the time.

Sorry to keep you hanging on this one, but I feel the whole story makes it clearer.  I was scared shitless, alone and so afraid I would get a diagnosis that would make my family’s life very complicated. 

Thankfully about a week after the biopsy I got news that was significantly better than lymphoma.  Thank the good LORD.  However, they did tell me that I had something called sarcoidosis.  Which is weird because they don’t normally see this in people that look like me.  But it mirrors lymphoma and that’s why I was wrongfully diagnosed from the start.  They believe that I likely had Covid and this was my present.  After almost two months of worrying about one thing, I now had to worry about a different thing.  But…again, it’s not lost on me that I didn’t have cancer.  Please let me say it also isn’t lost on me that family’s get a diagnosis like this all the time and manage.  We would have too. 

While not many people knew I was dealing with this, the ones that did prayed their hind parts off and I’m grateful.  I do believe in the power of prayer and I’m certain it helped me here.  

At any rate that was how 2021 started for the Dorsey family. 

That excitement was followed by Bryan’s company (the one he’s worked for since his senior year in college) announcing they were making massive cuts.  Employees were offered a package to leave now, if they decided to stay and they were cut, that package was no longer available.  We took the leap of faith and decided Bryan would stay with his company and roll the dice as they say.  As a result, for the next 8 months, we waited to see if he’d be keeping his job.  A pretty big dice roll as we all know my job isn’t paying the bills up in here!

Shortly after that announcement our son Cooper was attacked by a dog.  I got that hysterical call from Bryan and met him at the hospital to see our son covered in blood and outside his mind with fear.  Thankfully, he was ok and didn’t require any surgery.  Thank GOD! But that was some scary stuff nonetheless.

After that my mom had her first of what became months of heart complications.  I was literally talking to her in her room and she just like passed out for a few seconds.  She would come to and just start talking again.  Gaga, being Gaga, didn’t want to go to the hospital but alas…it kept happening (it was truly freaky), so I called 911.  To make a long story short here…her heart was literally stopping.  She needed a pace maker, she got an emergency one that night and the real deal was put in days later.  This was the first of many hospital stays that came with 2021 for us.

Shortly after this surgery she was re-hospitalized and they told us she needed open heart surgery but would “likely not survive.”  Good times.  We then made the genius move to get her to a better hospital and the new doctors told us she could survive the surgery and have good years ahead of her.

So…. we spent most of May-September in a hospital at her side.  She had open heart surgery in the beginning of August and returned home with A LOT of work to do and a mountain of appointments and rehab to tackle. 

We all returned to school and the craziness of the fall for us and we went about life as normally as we could.

Into the school year Bryan’s company announced that employees like him would have to spend time in the factory as their factory workers were on strike.  Mind you at this point we still weren’t sure he’d remain employed.  What this meant was Bryan would have to go on site for 2 weeks at a time to work, meaning we wouldn’t have him home with us.  So good times.  Great timing for our family considering all the other stuff we had going on.  Thankfully this didn’t end up happening…but it was a legitimate concern for a hot minute.

Then our dog of almost 16 years died.  Zoey.  She was the best dog that has ever lived. She literally saved my life (a story for a different day).  Our kids had not ever known life without her.  She died in my arms while our kids watched on.  Our hearts were broken. 

Shortly after we got some good news…Bryan was employed still!  YAY!  But sadly, shortly after this news his parents got sick and his dad was hospitalized with Covid.  As most of you know, we lost Jim on Thanksgiving.  A man who was so full of life was gone and again, we were all heartbroken and frankly, angry over our loss.  The grief that comes with a loss like this one for everyone is hard to even explain.  It’s still so fresh and every day there is something that reminds you of him and makes you or someone you love sad. 

That brings me to present day 2021 where we finished off the year with Bryan, who is vaccinated and boosted got Covid himself. 2021 was just the gift that kept on giving.

It’s also fair to say that there were a million little things that happened in between all of the things I listed here that I didn’t even get into.  Every single day we all are presented with some kind of struggle.  Every single one of us.  It’s just when you have big things on your plate that those little things seem like they are tipping the scales in an ugly direction.  It feels like your hair is on fire but you have to keep on keeping on and no one else notices that your hair is ablaze.  That’s pretty much what all of 2021 felt like for me.

So, here is what I learned.

  1. We can do hard things. 

I cannot tell you the number of times I told myself this this year.  A truly significant amount of times.  I also told my friends who were struggling that they could do hard things and I reminded Cooper when he lay on that hospital bed terrified after being attacked by a dog he knew and trusted.  It’s true.  We are tougher than we know or give ourselves credit for. 

The reality is that sometimes, life is hard and unfair but if we hold on to this mantra…we can seriously do anything. Call me cheesy, I don’t care.  I lived it, I know it works and I know it helps. 

I recently read a book called the “High Five Habit,” by Mel Robbins, which I highly recommend.  It was given to me by one of my volleyball players parents.  It’s awesome.  One of the things I learned from Mrs. Robbins is that our brain has something called the RAS, or reticular activating system.  This RAS is basically the bouncer for our brain.  We cannot possibly process all the things we see and hear in a single day. So, the RAS only allows so much in. If what we tell ourselves is negative, then our RAS allows those things to filter into our brain only perpetuating whatever awful things we are telling ourselves.  Likewise, if we tell ourselves things like “we can do hard things,” or “you are a badass” (told myself that a lot too) then that is what kind of information our brain receives.  I am waaaayyyy oversimplifying a complicated concept and Mel Robbins explains far better than me…but damn, that’s compelling stuff. 

Tell yourself what you need to hear.  It works.  Plain and simple. 

2. Show the hell up!  Part 1. (wanted to use a different word but decided to keep it PG)

I recently heard someone ask this question about our humanity…”do you think there is a huge increase in anxiety and depression or do you think people have become less able to cope with difficulty and hardship?”

An interesting question for sure.  I don’t know the answer or have research to back my own personal feelings on it up…but I know this…we have to show the hell up when the poop has hit the proverbial fan in our own lives.  Sitting down, hanging our heads and feeling sorry for ourselves in NOT an option. 

At least it wasn’t an option for me. 

I have 5 children. They still had homework to do.  They still came home upset about things that happened with friends or at school. They still want me to read the extra book at night and need 1,000 reminders on how to brush their teeth or to not forget their retainer.  They still want me to pepper with them or shoot hoops regardless of how tired I may be.  They still act like assholes occasionally regardless of how crappy I may have felt of how scared I was.  The barrage of things that come with having kids is never ending and they didn’t ask to be born…so it’s my dang responsibility to show the hell up with bells on for my children regardless of how I am feeling.  They didn’t need or deserve any of the stress I felt so I had to show the hell up for them…every single minute of every single day.

I’m also a wife.  My husband literally needs me to be strong.  He was scared and stressed too.  I have to be strong so he can be strong too.  We have to be strong together. 

I am a daughter.  My mom needed me in a big way, especially this year.  I cannot let her down.  She would never ever let me down.  So, I had to show up for her too. 

I am a teacher.  I have other “kids” that rely on me.  They cannot know that I am sad or struggling or worried.  I can’t take my stress out on them, that’s unfair and not a lesson I want to teach them.  I have to show up for them every day too because that is not only my literal J-O-B but also my life’s work and vocation, something I take crazy seriously. 

I am a coach, another role I take super seriously.  I have an obligation to teach the young women (and now men) in my life that you don’t quit when shit gets hard, you get up, dust yourself off and show the hell up, because that’s the ONLY freaking option.   If I don’t model that for them, then I’m a fraud. 

The list could seriously go on and on.  We all have people and jobs that rely on us.  We have to show the hell up.   Every. Single. Day.  

3. Show the hell up Part 2.

We also need to show up for others.  I cannot tell you the number of people who asked me if I needed help when my mom had surgery.  I wanted to scream “YES!  I need help!”  because frankly, I did.  I felt like my hair was on fire…a lot.  I wasn’t home much, missed my kids and my husband but still had laundry to do and meals to make and practices to get them to and mostly, I needed to make what was happening with Gaga, someone who is wildly important to them, ok for them. 

Ugh, just typing that out made me tired and brings me back to those moments. 

But seriously, not having to cook a meal after sitting at the hospital for 12 hours would have been awesome.  But read this next line and know that most people are the same as me.  I WILL NEVER ASK FOR YOUR HELP.  Go ahead, read it again. 

It’s not in my nature to ask for help, even when someone asks “what can I do.”  No one knows how to answer that question and most won’t.  I will also contend that it’s probably pretty stupid to not just say what you need. But…it’s just not gonna happen. So, knowing that…show the hell up and don’t wait to be told or to be asked.  Just do it. 

We were fortunate enough to have people who just showed up without asking. With meals.  With treats for our kids.  With their time.  Sooooo generous.  So thoughtful and we couldn’t be more thankful for those of you that have shown up in our lives when we were in crisis. 

I was raised by the queen of show the hell up.  When we were kids, our house flooded several times.  I can still remember all our toys floating in our living room and my dad swimming around gathering some of our favorites.  Even though our house had flooded, our kitchen hadn’t.  Our neighbors, however, had.  Don’t you worry…our mom who worked full time, had two small kids and a flooded basement and first floor found time to make food for our neighbors who also had a flood in their house.  This. Is. Gaga.  I learned from the best. 

I will also admit that in my life I have failed to show up for some of you probably reading this, and for that I’m sorry.  Truly sorry.  I know I had some sort of excuse for myself, like having 5 kids or some other nonsense…but I’m telling you now…it won’t happen again. 

The people that “showed the hell up” in our lives this past year know who they are.  We are grateful and will never forget.  Never. 

Can I also say that when you are really in crisis you also note the people who don’t show up that should?  It leaves you scratching your head and wondering why?  Maybe this makes me a giant asshole…as I know I have likely been that person for someone else, but it’s the truth.  Why didn’t this person check in or offer a meal?  So, don’t be that person.  If you are busy, a gift card helps.  A text checking in means a lot more than you can imagine.  Just do it.  We are all busy.  We can all make excuses as to why we aren’t showing the hell up.  But, no more.  Show the hell up however you can and do it with bells on.

So please, if anyone you even remotely like is in crisis. Show up.  That can be a gift card to Chick-fila or a home cooked meal.  They all register the same.  It simply reminds the person in crisis that someone has sympathy for them, someone cares about them and someone is unselfish. It’s these little acts that keep you going when you have a hard time reminding yourself that you can do hard things.  So please, show the hell up for others.

4. It’s ok to not be ok and it doesn’t make a previously strong person weak…it makes them human.

While I absolutely suck at this, I have to say…it’s ok to not be ok.  I have to give myself pep talks about it but my way of “not being ok” is to talk about my experiences with others, namely the kids I teach and coach.  I don’t think I ever knew that was an option as a young person…to not be ok.  I was always of the mindset that life is hard and we move through it because we can’t complain about it.  While I still feel this is the case… I also learned that it’s ok to not be ok and to let others know you aren’t ok.  This leads me to my next point…

5. Share what you are going through with others, it may not only help them…but also you!

This November I told my classes about what my year was like in our Mater Dei speeches.  We teachers are asked to witness to our students at St. James about ways we rely on our faith to get us through hard times.  The question this year was, “When have you carried the light of your faith through a dark or difficult time?”

I laughed out loud when I read this question.

In my mind, what better story to tell them then the story of 2021 for the Dorsey family.  I told them much of what I just shared above with you.  When doing this kind of thing with students you never know how kids will react to what you are telling them.  Sometimes they clap, sometimes they ask questions, sometimes they cry.  This year I got all three of these things. 

But perhaps the most profound moment was when I had a student stay after class to tell me how much my talk meant to her and that I was the strongest person she’s ever met.  She said that to me with tears in her eyes and the most honest look on her face. 

Before this conversation I would have said this young lady was a nice person who somewhat enjoyed my history class.  After this conversation I learned two things.  One, even when it’s hard to share, I’m gonna just keep on sharing, because if it helps even one kid know they can do hard things, then it’s 100% worth it.  And two, I needed to hear from this 15-year-old girl those words.  It was an amazing affirmation I didn’t even know I needed. 

The point is…share your hardships with others because you can help them know that they too are stronger than they may think.  It’s also when we share what we are dealing with that the “show the hell up” people arrive on your doorstep to remind you that you are and will in fact be ok, regardless of what is happening in your life.  So…share away my friends!

6. Tell the people in your life that you love them often and in writing.

Now this one has always been a part of my life, for as long as I can remember, just ask any member of my family.  I couldn’t hang up the phone or leave the house without telling them all I loved them (pretty sure some of them found this annoying at times).  I am still this way.  Fletcher even sometimes calls me on it, he says “mom I know you don’t have to tell me 100 times.”  GOD love this child’s honesty.  

I’ve also always been a fan of the hand written note (thanks mom).  Words can certainly leave their mark on someone for good (or for bad) but a handwritten note takes time and care and they will have it forever.  When you are feeling low just pull out some of those notes and be reminded of all the ways you brighten someone else’s world.  How awesome is that? 

When I turned 40 my family organized a letter writing event.  People I knew, friends, family, former players wrote me letters.  I have them all and reread them often.  What a beautiful blessing they are to me and a great reminder of the amazing people I have in my life. 

Seriously though you guys…we never know how much time we have on this Earth.  We learned that painful lesson this year.  Say all there is to say and say it more often.  Say sorry.  Say I love you all the time (to those you actually love of course).  Compliment the strangers in the store or the person waiting on your table at the restaurant.  Hug…it’s a proven fact that hugs can restore a heart.  Hug and embrace those you love…a lot.  You never know when you may not get that chance again. 

7. Take the trip, make the memory.

I am really good about traveling with our family…all 7 of us.  But I am not as good about taking the trip for me or for my marriage.  It’s a goal for 2022.  Pray for me. 

But seriously, the kids most treasured memories are of the trips we take. They talk about them all the time; they never talk about some material possession they’ve gotten.  Ever.  Which tells me we need to continue the trend of take the trip, make the memory. 

The trip doesn’t have to be Disney on steroids…it can be a lake house or camping in the back yard.  Those memories will be in our hearts forever and when you lose someone who you have these memories with, they help you go on and bring a smile to your face.  I know that our trip this past summer to Orlando will always be among our kids’ favorite memories with their grandpa.  I can’t tell you how grateful we are that we made that trip happen.  In 2022, I am committed to continue to travel with my family and to try to do a better job of taking time for myself and my sweet and patient hubby. 

8. Pray the rosary. 

When my mom was in the hospital, I had a long ride each day there and back.  It was during this time in 2021 I most felt like my hair was on fire…like truly ablaze with flames.  I was almost never home; I missed the kids and Bryan and I just felt pulled in two totally different directions.  I was where I needed to be for sure, but that didn’t mean it was easy.  I needed something to center me.  So, I started listening to the Holy Family Rosary podcast each day on my way there. 

I have to tell you, it helped me tremendously.  It centered me and prepared me for what I was walking into…my mom’s hospital stay post open-heart surgery was let’s just say…special and really hard at times.  I often walked into the room and saw a person I didn’t recognize and that crushed my soul.  No matter how much the nurses (GOD, please bless nurses) assured me what mom was experiencing was normal, it was very hard for me.  This rosary podcast helped me though that.  I still try to listen every day. Admittedly, that doesn’t always happen as I no longer have 80 minutes in a car alone, but I really do try.  It’s such a great way to feel connected to GOD and to remind me that I have so much to be grateful for every single day.

9. Practice an attitude of gratitude. 

Always.  This one is easy.  Even when stuff is hard, we can find things to be grateful for.  We have made it practice each night at prayer time with the kids to say something we are grateful for on that day.  It’s a great tell of what’s going on in our kids hearts too.  When one of them can only come up with something mundane like “water” we know they may not have had their best day and it can open the door to a conversation.  Bryan and I have to share as well.  Even in our darkest of moments there is so much to be grateful for.  So, this is a practice we plan to continue in 2022…hoping we can start those gratitude journals as well!

10. Exercise

“Exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy.  Happy people don’t kill their husbands.”  Thank you, Elle Woods.  (If you don’t know this reference…please watch Legally Blonde immediately.  It’s Reese Witherspoon at her best).  I have always known this one as well and exercise wasn’t as easy to come by this year but I made a commitment to do it regardless of how much I wanted to hit snooze.  Elle Woods was right, it does give you endorphins, makes you happy, relieves stress and keeps you sane.  So, whatever “exercise” looks like to you…do it.  I promise it helps!

Finally, I won’t include this one in things I have learned because I have always known this (at least as long as I can remember) …but BE KIND.  I know it sounds like I’m quoting a t-shirt or any of the memes about this concept but it’s truly that simple.  We have NO idea what kind of cross others around us are carrying each day.  There is a lot of stuff people have to experience in this world and the crosses can be huge or small but they are crosses nonetheless.  So be nice, compliment others, go the extra mile, hold the door for others…sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.

While this list isn’t near long enough for what 2021 was like in reality it’s a start and I do my best processing in writing.  I needed to write this for me, now that I have, I’m glad I did.  I already feel better.   I’m not sad to see this year come and go but I am not sorry for having experienced it either.  While there are certainly obvious aspects of this past year, I wish I could change, I know that sometimes life is inexplicable.  I also know that sometimes life is unfair. 

But I really know that despite these things Bryan and I were given a lot of gifts this year that other families were not.  I know that we can do hard things and I know the importance of loving my family in the biggest way possible.  I know that we have much to be grateful for and I’m going to charge into 2022 holding on to that!

Happy New Year!

A few of my favs on gratitude…

#celebr8awesome

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