Category: From the Heart

Study Abroad – A Parent’s Perspective

Study Abroad – A Parent’s Perspective on travel & letting go

My oldest daughter just landed in Shanghai for her first Study Abroad program.

I am happy she is in China safely. I have been watching the clock and calculating the 12 hours ahead, following happily along with her initial itinerary. I imagine she is full of excitement and exhaustion from the long flight.

I have to admit: Sending her off for her study abroad was somewhat of a relief. The days and weeks of planning amidst all of our other life events made for a wee bit of stress.

Well, maybe MORE than a wee bit of stress…

It was at times fun to plan, pack, and fantasize about the sights and food in China. It was also fertile ground for power struggles, family sit-down chats, and self-check-ins about my OWN energy that was clouding the planning process.

I am feeling all-the-feels, as it is de-rigueur to say. I am happy. I am a wreck. I am filled with excitement, and riddled with anxiety-based-what-if travel scenarios.

This is not the first time that we have been apart for long periods of time. Both of our girls have gone away to camp for several weeks each summer. I loved the time to myself to breathe and rest, as much as I appreciated all the new and fun experiences that they were having.

Right now, summer camp feels like child’s play compared to the preparation and planning for a study abroad in a majorly far away country.

Study Abroad - A Parent's perspective on meeting go and trust by Kristin Fuhrmann-Simmon

To backtrack for a moment…

Both of my children study Mandarin Chinese. I KNEW that when they picked this course of study (and yes, it was a decision that the girls discussed and debated with us at-length before making their choices), that a study abroad program in China would be in their future. I, myself have studied several Romance languages and I lived in both Mexico and Italy for long periods of time and LOVED it.

Immersion was THE THING that took my language skills from perfunctory classroom recitation to fluency. I was confident that my girls would undertake the same kind of program in their own lives.

The China trip was announced over two years ago, as her teacher and school knew that we needed time to plan, to fundraise (travel ain’t cheap!), and to get everything we needed together. My daughter began a plan to babysit several days a week during the summer, and socked money away week-after-week. She launched her own “Go Fund Me” campaign (with a little parental help) and asked for donations.

She raised the required $4,500 for her trip. We felt so proud of her efforts and the seed that was planted began to grow into full-blown excitement.

For ME, stress began to mount over what felt like a huge burden of “What-Ifs.”

It went a little something like this:

We live rurally. Will my daughter know how to get on and off a city bus? Will she know how to handle her money? Will she look both ways before crossing the street? Does she know how to carry her bag across her shoulder to keep it snug and safe from pickpockets? How will she cope with the huge crowds? Will she need to use her kickboxing skills in real-time? Will she put on enough sunscreen?  We she dress modestly? Will she stay hydrated? Does she know how to treat herself if she gets diarrhea/nausea etc? And on, and on, and on….

Any scenario, I have imagined it.

I found myself getting mired in a feeling of inadequacy that I had not better prepared her for EVERY LIFE SCENARIO that could possibly come her way. (Yes, I know how insane this sounds! Hooray for Mom Guilt!) ……Like there was some kind of international boot camp I should have put her through in order to be properly prepared for study abroad and also wilderness and city survival.  

I was gently and lovingly reminded by my patient-as-a-saint-husband, that our lives together have been the training she needs. We have travelled A LOT with our children and they have paid attention. We have included them in the preparations. We talk to our kids about safety. We model and LIVE the kinds of relationships we want them to have.

My daughter is smart-as-a-whip, compassionate, and highly organized.

I needed to SEE and ACKNOWLEDGE that about her.

Our daughter is beautiful, strong, and amazing. We love seeing how she grows.

My husband also reminded me that travel IS also the bootcamp. That these experiences are how she will learn to trust herself.  

He also reminded me that the gift of OUR TRUST would help set her on that path of self-awareness and connectedness that comes from travel.

Ahhhh………That was it: TRUST.

I found myself reaching out to friends who have studied abroad, and who have experienced similar emotions with their own families.

My friend Marina shared with me: “I always felt that they [my parents] had the trust in my abilities to figure it  [Travel Abroad] out, they are very proud and supportive of me and honestly, it made our relationship so strong and special. I absolutely love my parents. Now, as a mom myself I understand how hard it must’ve been for them to let me fly into the unknown and let go of control.  It is the ultimate parental sacrifice to let go of your child.”

She articulated about TRUST so well.

My friend Jude stated in regards to her son’s travel abroad: “I love watching it. It is filled with the beauty of being young so far away from what you know, and the joy of being together in the experience of what you don’t. What a time this will be for your baby who has grown like a glorious flower opening to welcome the warmth of the sun.”

I am grateful for have they have shared.

So… have you been through something similar in letting your child study abroad? Did you, yourself travel far from home and feel a range of emotions? I would love hear from you.


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Lumbar Puncture – Does it hurt?

Lumbar Punctures, ER Visits, & a Sense of Humor with Chronic Illness

I layed on the gurney, looking at the IV bag and the rapid drip of the caffeine and sodium benzoate into my arm. It was a busy Friday in the emergency room. I listened to the sounds of a man wretch repeatedly in the next bay. I watched the rush of staff move back and forth down the halls to attend to a steady stream of patients.

I was triaged from a hallway stretcher to a brightly lit private room – its equipment all tagged by someone supremely excited to exercise their skills with a label maker. I appreciated their fastidiousness. I studied the sizes of the intubation tubes as I laid back in the hopes of physical relief.

Prior to this ER visit, I had experienced several days of a crunching, body- seizing kind of pain that would not bend to ibuprofen and increased hydration. I had a lumbar puncture just days before; a next step in a long series of diagnostics on the road that is neuro-demyelinating disease. The procedure itself went smoothly. It was high-tech, pain-free, and without incident. I went home numbed up and relaxed, intent on “taking it easy” and resuming a slower, but engaged pace of day-to-day life.

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Learning to love myself deeply: A new health horizon

A new way of loving myself deeply: My diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.

 
 I went to the doctor yesterday and she told me: “Kristin: THIS is the hardest part – the part when you are waiting to begin treatment and it is all so new. You don’t need to be UP or ON or optimistic. It’s totally okay to NOT be okay right now.”
 

I broke down into tears and she handed me a wad of Kleenex from one of the six boxes in the examination room that upon closer look, seemed to be strategically placed near every piece of equipment. It was as if she knew that at any moment of the medical evaluation, whether on the table or at the scale, patient tears may flow, and she wanted to be at-the-ready to lend a tissue.

With her words “It’s totally okay Not to be okay” a weight was lifted and I opened up like a flood gate. It was like she had been reading my mind and saw straight through me.

I had been chatty at the start of the exam; funny even. I made jokes when she asked me: “How are you feeling today?” and I quipped with a talk show host accent, “Well other than the brain lesions, constant pain, and near paralyzing exhaustion, I am totally great!” 

The truth was,  I was NOT okay and the past three weeks since my MRI and first round of diagnostic appointments, I had tried to mask my fear with dignity and positive self-talk mantras.  I told myself, “Multiple Sclerosis was not what it used to be,” and “I am going to be fine.”  I tried to jump right into a fearless faith without acknowledging the worry and fear that bubbling just below the surface. 

In truth, I didn’t feel fine. 

I felt supremely scared of the unknown; of not knowing what to expect for treatment; of the unplanned-for expenses; for how much I would or wouldn’t be able to work; for who I would be if I weren’t always doing/being/trying so much.

 

Multiple Sclerosis: What does it mean?

 What do I mean when I say that I have Multiple Sclerosis or MS?

In a nutshell, It is a chronic disease where the body attacks itself. The immune system attacks the nerves in the body and breaks down the fatty protective coating of the nerve cells called the Myelin sheath.  Without the protective layer in place, nerves become damaged and the brain can’t send signals to the body the way that it should to help you move properly and to feel, both emotions and physical sensations. Scar tissue can show up in the brain and spine and begin to affect the activities of daily living.

There are four kinds of MS and everyone who has it experiences it differently.  It tends to run heavily in white women who live in northern climates, (there is a connection with lack of Vitamin D and MS) although anyone can get get it. There is some link with MS to viral exposure that occurs in puberty, the effects of which can lay dormant for many years. It is chronic and incurable, however not untreatable.

 

The disease I was not expecting, but the change I truly needed.

No one ever expects Multiple Sclerosis. When my diagnosis came, it conjured up images of wheelchairs, paralysis, endless drip bags and infusion therapy, and loss of independence. 

That is the way that it was in the not-so-distant past.  

Current treatment is radically different  from what it was even a decade ago. I have been assured by my doctors, and both my friends and family who know someone with MS, that “these people are the most kick-ass people that they know.” (I have heard this over and over again and I am optimistic about the carpe-diem, fact-facing hard-coreness that comes with chronic disease.) 

My patient advocate even asked me: “Are you ready to stop tolerating any bullshit in your life?” Once I got over the Tony Robbins-esque tenor in her voice, I said a grunting “YES!” with the same kind of teeth-gritting tenacity and relief I felt after the labor and delivery of my 1st daughter.

Truthfully, I had not felt well for months. 

I worried that I was in a cycle of depression and that my severe lack of motivation was a result of some cosmic judgment on my capabilities as a human. (Yes, quite dramatic – but I am never one to go at things quietly!) This kind of bad stretch had happened before and I had cycled through, feeling some relief and then onto progress, growth and elation in my life.

This past autumn, I felt like I had been running in mud –  way more tired than the  working-mom-tired I had normalized since I had kids, and scared of the weird changes in my vision, the lightheadedness, and the dizzying nausea. I had chalked it up to my busy travel schedule and promised myself that I would schedule myself differently in the new year.

I was beginning to turn on myself, telling myself crappy stories like: “You just need to work harder. You are not enough and will never be enough. You are never going to make it in this life.” While on the one hand I knew these thoughts were lies and just plain wrong,  there was another part of me that believed it – the part that I had worked so hard to change and transform. 

I had an old story that was trying with every thought  to keep a grip on my life. It found fertile ground in my fatigue and illness. I told myself such shitty things and bullied myself. I thought I was cursed and that I somehow I deserved to suffer. 

 

Then came the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis

 Was it a  weird sense of relief?  Yes. It totally was.

The first thing I actually said to my husband was: “This is a gift” and I meant and felt that wholeheartedly. 

It was almost  instantly that I reframed everything that I was saying to myself about my symptoms. I realized that many of the cycles I had experienced in the past were probably part of the disease course.  It was an opportunity for me to  observe that self-doubt and blame in a new light.  I laughed about it. I cried, and then laughed and cried some more. I realized that I didn’t need be so hard on myself and that “bad thoughts” were just thoughts, and feeling fatigued was just feeling – and not some greater judgment on my abilities as a human. I needed to be okay with it ALL – and let all the feelings flow through.

Now, as I step into therapy, I realize that the most significant treatment will come in the way that I treat myself. The biggest opportunity is to be present, to observe, and to be fully loving toward myself in everything that comes my way.

My friends have asked me: “What can we do for you to help you?” 

My reply? “Tell me stories of people who have succeeded and overcome, and let’s kick some ass in everything that we do.”

More to come as treatment continues and I continue on my path of radical self-love. 

-xo Kristin