Monday, August 29, 2011

Erase the Stigma

This past weekend Allen and I traveled to St. Louis where I was the keynote speaker at a conference titled Erase the Stigma.  It was an amazing weekend and we were able to meet a lot of people who came from that area and volunteered all week on our build.  They are a great group of people and I am so honored to call them all friends.

The conference went great.  I was a bit worried when we went up to the venue on Friday so Allen could acclimate himself a little and he had a really hard time there.  He couldn't stop scanning, standing against the wall, and had a hard time staying here.  However, he did it and then Saturday he was so much better.  I was so proud of him!  He is facing his fears everyday and conquering them!!  (I do have to say though, that Allen is not cured of his PTSD, it is something he will struggle with the rest of his life.  However, he is in a really good place right now with it.)

The morning started out with me sharing the same speech that I shared on Capitol Hill last May.  I had made a few minor changes, but it was basically the same speech.  I have given several versions of this speech now and I never know whether it will make me emotional or not.  Saturday, it made me extremely emotional, and it was difficult at times to get through it.  I think that was due to the fact that Allen and my sister Chris were there as well as Kevin and Emily Smith, John Steed and many other friends.  Normally when I speak, it is only in front of strangers.  However, it still went well.  We then moved into a more relaxed, conversational part of the session.  Tom Smith, of the Karla Smith Foundation, interviewed me and it went really well.  I was able to relax and just be myself during this part of the morning.  At the end of the question and answer period, Allen even got up and spoke for a few minutes.  It was great to see him step out of his comfort zone and share a little of his own story.

The afternoon was another question and answer period.  I really liked that there were such a variety of people there.  I was able to speak to caregivers, family members, veteran's, consumers, medical providers and people who work at the VA.  It was great to get to give my opinion on what medical providers could do differently to make it better for caregivers and the patient.  I felt it was all really well received as well.  We had lots of positive feedback.

I want to specifically thank a couple of spouse's who came to hear me speak.  Rayshell and Olivia-having you both there to hear our story was very special to me.  Please remember that I am always here for both of you!!  Olivia, thanks for driving so far!!

A great resource for any of you helping to support a loved one with a mental illness, including PTSD, please go to .

Even Now......Gina

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Together Again

After almost a year apart, we are finally back together again as a family!!  On July 31, 2011 our lives changed dramatically!  Thanks to our amazing community, family, friends, MAC Construction, Canyon Creek Homes, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and many, many others, we received the gift of a lifetime, a new home!  It was the one thing that was keeping us separated, and on August 6th we came home together to see it for the first time.

Before I go any further, I also have to thank my dear friend Emily Smith, who worked her tail off (and also lied her tail off to me), in helping nominate us and then continue through the journey of all of it.  She organized all of the volunteers and did numerous other things that I probably will never know about.  I love you Emily, and I am honored and humbled by your friendship!  You truly are one of the many blessings I have received that I never would have had, if Allen hadn't been injured.  You are one in a million, and I will always consider you a dear friend.

Another dear friend that I want to thank is John Steed.  He's been an amazing blessing in our lives and also contributed hugely to our new home.  John, you are an amazing friend to us and you always give so much.  We are honored to call you our friend and our lives are blessed just knowing you.

Many, many people greatly contributed and we are eternally grateful.

As I said, July 31 was the day it all changed.  It was the day of the door knock when we heard Good Morning Hill Family and ran out the door to see Ty Pennington, Paul DiMeo, Paige Hemmis, John Littlefield, and Ed Sanders coming to our door.  It was unbelievable and very surreal.  It is still hard to believe that this happened to us!!  We were then whisked away to California to meet up with Allen and begin our life together, again!

Seeing Allen again was the best part!!  Don't get me wrong, it was all very exciting and great, but it had been so long since we had all been together.  At times throughout this treatment, it had seemed that we may never be back together again as a real family.  So, this day was so special and a day I will hold near to my heart forever.

After spending a day in Napa, we all went on an adventurous road trip to Yosemite National Park.  I am not allowed to say much, but it was incredible.  The natural beauty there and being able to look around and just see God's creation left me speechless.  We did a lot of great things together as a family and it was so amazing watching it all unfold.  Dreyson was glued to his daddy's side and was so thrilled to be with him again.  Makale took it all in and was also happy to have his dad back with us again.

Saturday, August 6 we were back in Kansas again.  Watching Allen ride in the limo, just trying to take it all in made me really reflect on our life the past year.  It was a great feeling to experience it all with him again and to have him really enjoy it all.  There was a lot of anxiety and anticipation as we waited to come see our new home.  When we finally pulled up in that limo, we were beyond words.  I was really worried about Allen and how he would handle the crowd.  I was so awed by his strength during this part of it.  He had the option of not having a crowd there at all but he chose to have them there.  He knew it would be very difficult for him, but he wouldn't take that from the community who had worked so hard for us, just to make it easier for him.  He asked for a few special things, like silence and the limo to not pull away so that he had a barrier between him and the crowd.  But then, he even gave the ok for the limo to leave.  It was truly an amazing moment and one that was so emotional for everyone there.  When the bus finally moved, we were all stunned.  I think maybe shocked is a better word!  Allen then looked like he was going to pass out so I hugged him for a long moment.  He then said he was ok and then the tears started flowing.  Allen cried and cried as he took it all in.  Eventually, we started up the driveway and we all stopped and he turned around to face the crowd and waved and said thank you.  Ty then asked if it was ok for the crowd to cheer and Allen said it was.  So, Ty gave the signal and the crowd went nuts.  It was truly inspiring.  To see the support we have with our own eyes, just made me beyond words.  Makale leaned over to Allen and said, "see, you can do crowds!"

The whole thing was just so emotional.  We've been in the house almost 3 weeks now and it is still hard to believe.  We love it and having Allen home is awesome!  He is doing really well and learning to fit in with us again.  It is great seeing him interact with all of us again and take the time to rebuild his relationships with us.  He is so much better, better than I've seen him in almost 4 years.  Having a safe place to live will only help keep him well and encourage him to remain active and give back for all we have been given.

For a beautiful slide show of the week of the build click on this link .  Thank you Kate Gauthier for this beautiful look into the building of our home.

Thanks again to everyone involved in helping to bring Allen home!

Even Now.........Gina