When We Fall

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This is the 76th story of Our Life Logs


 

I was born in 1992 in Cincinnati, Ohio to a close-knit family. We have always worked together as a unit to weather the storms of life. My father worked three jobs at one point, so my mother could stay home with my big sister, little brother, and me.

Though my sister is 16 months older than me, I assumed the role of protector. My sister was born 10 weeks premature making her immune system very weak. She had to go through dozens of surgeries which often forced her to stay inside to rest. Thanks to my mother, I believe I inherited a maternal spirit that wants to protect those I care about. Instead of playing outside as a child, I chose to keep my sister company by making pillow forts, watching movies, and anything else we could think of. Even when I was young, I knew the importance of relationships. I had this maternal, protective nature in me as I grew into high school.

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After graduating high school in 2010, I went to Cincinnati State to find a career path that suited me. The challenge of a higher level of education was exciting and I loved learning about languages. My future was so bright. I worked full time and went to school full time, as I knew I could push myself and wanted to guarantee my success. I had potential.

Raye (far right) at her sister's wedding with her family, 2012.
My family and I (far right) at my sister’s wedding, 2012.

But there are circumstances that are beyond control, and do not give us any warning. One day after my college math class, I felt too dizzy to stand up from my seat. In a blur, I saw my professor, asking me if everything was alright. I wanted to speak, but I was frozen. Suddenly, everything turned black.

I have been told that I scrawled my mother’s phone number on my notebook paper as I was fading. I don’t remember doing this. I do remember that when I woke up, EMTs surrounded me, and I felt so much searing pain. I remember hearing so many voices and seeing the blurred outlines of many people. An EMT assured me that I was stable, but I had just woken up from a seizure. What? How could this have happened? My sister was the one with a history of health problems, not me.

When I felt I had recovered, I returned to school a few days after the seizure. But after going to class, I went to the bathroom and had another seizure in the stall. My head slammed into the stall door. I woke up feeling a washcloth on my face from someone trying to clean off the blood from the impact. From then on, passing out at random became my reality.

Section Break-Mountains

I began to have as many as 20 seizures a day. Over time, a lot of damage came to my body as I collapsed in dangerous ways even in the safety of my home. If a person tried to catch me while falling, I would sometimes dislocate my arm. I was at risk in my own home, let alone the outside world. For my own safety, I had to drop out of school only completing two years of work, which broke my heart. Before the seizures, I loved to cook. But after I almost passed out onto the stove, I was forced to give up that hobby.

Around this time, I met my brother’s friend, Bryan, at a bonfire. We couldn’t stop talking to each other. Miraculously, this was one night when I didn’t have a seizure. I got to feel like a normal girl without health issues. We exchanged numbers and became close friends. He was easy to confide in, and I was able to be open about my life.

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Image courtesy of Pexels

Still, the seizures continued. The only conclusion doctors could come to for what caused them to begin was stress but knowing the diagnosis didn’t offer relief. I was so used to caring for my family and friends that being idle made me feel like a burden on the people around me. These thoughts took me to a dark place. I started to develop depression. All the medicines the doctors prescribed were failing, and I was still having frequent seizures, and horrific side effects.

Section Break-Mountains

The medicine had power over me, giving me destructive side effects that made me think about dying. One day before my 21st birthday, I was standing with the pill bottle in my hand, thinking about taking them all. My thoughts swirled around my worthless thoughts until suddenly, I grew very angry. Realizing my actions, I threw the bottle and ran the other direction sobbing. Pills bounced on the bathroom tile. It was in the moment that I knew I needed help. I entered myself into a mental rehabilitation facility.

Rehab was exactly what I needed in that dark time. I was terrified at first and didn’t open up. The people there built up my confidence, telling me that the fact that I checked myself in before I could harm myself, showed how strong of a person I was. I realized I had been too hard on myself when what I was feeling was chemical and out of my control.

My sister came to visit me while I was there, and I felt the need to be strong. I watched her struggle all her life, and I thought I had to be strong and not get upset about what I was going through. She looked at me and said, “don’t ever feel like it’s not okay to be upset. I’ve been angry myself, wishing I could do things, but I fought to work around my challenges. You’re going from one polar opposite to another, so it’s okay to get angry and frustrated.” She assured that I needed to give myself the chance to be aggravated, then find ways to work around the roadblocks. In that moment I realized that I was no longer her protector. She was mine.

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After a week in rehab, I checked myself out. I continued with extensive therapy, got a new doctor, and fought like hell to take back my life. After rehab, I allowed myself to try cooking again despite the risks. I started out with something small and easy, making myself a grilled cheese sandwich. It was one of the best grilled cheeses I had ever had, and it tasted much better knowing that I had made it on my own. I talked to Bryan more, especially when the dark thoughts tried to come back. Little by little, I’ve begun to work around my challenges to become independent where I can.

I still worked to get my life back, but the dark feelings were still trying to creep in. As I worked through it, I leaned on my family pick up the pieces. With the birth of my niece, I was able to assume my role as a protector again. I also became closer with Bryan and our friendship blossomed into a romance. Bryan helped bring me out of my dark place and find motivation to keep striving for my life. Bryan had known me from the time I had my first seizure, and he still loved me. This was hard for me to fathom. His love was so unconditional. We got married in March of 2018, and I couldn’t be happier.

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Me with Bryan, 2016.

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Through my own strength, Bryan, and my family, I’m becoming more independent. With an entire medical team behind me and a lot of trial and error, we have found the right combination to keep the seizures to under two a week, and I don’t have many negative side-effects anymore.

There are times that I wonder what my life would have been like without the seizures. I could have graduated and started a career, but also may not have met my husband. He’s worth more than any career I could have had. The biggest thing I’ve learned from my experiences is to not let life define me. I will change my life, and life will change me, but I won’t be stuck forever. Things will get better, and when I’m around the right people, I’ll feel that I can conquer anything. There’s no shame in breakdowns and recovery. If I hadn’t gotten help, I wouldn’t be here, and that’s a daunting feeling. I’ll get to where I need to be somehow. It isn’t about what happens in life; it’s all about the journey.

Section Break-Simple

This is the story of Raye Stieritz-Frederick 

After an unexpected condition of seizures, Raye had to work around her limitations. Though she was in a dark place from her seizure medication, Raye was brave enough to get herself help and work to live a positive life. Since Raye is unable to work outside of her home, she has been working through her own side-business of creating balloon sculptures and decorations. She hopes to find another steady job that she can do from home someday, but until then, she is trying to be the best wife she can be for her husband by cooking, cleaning, and keeping them on budget. Her favorite thing to cook is pasta, and she loves arts and crafts. Many of the decorations at her wedding were created by her. Raye loves spending time with husband Bryan, her friends, and her family. Through her niece, she has been able to become a protector for someone again, which has given her great hope for the future.

Raye with her husband Bryan on their wedding day
Raye and Bryan on their wedding day, March 17, 2018.

 

 

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This story first touched our hearts on May 3, 2018.

| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editors: Colleen Walker; Manqing Jin |

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