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When I was a teenager I sewed a patch to a purse I wore every day. The patch read, “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” The logo was taken straight out of the 60’s from an advocacy group that was founded in 1967. Although born more than a decade later, I always felt a connection to the sixties era.

I was an adolescent with a fondness for anything righteous. I wore funky vintage dresses I found at thrift stores for bargain prices, and I was everything peace, love and happiness. A young girl doing her best at optimism and trying to write a better future than what I had experienced in my life thus far.

During those teenage years I knew what I believed in and felt such a passion for what I knew to be just and good. I felt very strongly about social issues, but I don’t think I was mature enough to articulate my thoughts and feelings enough to express it as audaciously as I felt.

I would never have imagined at that time in my life the real impact that “war” would eventually have on my life.

Overcoming “War” and the Many Other Obstacles Called Life

There was a time in late 2009 and 2010 that felt like every month my husband John was diagnosed with something new. Each month we were moving closer to a better understanding and although I barely understood any of his diagnosis, I would turn to the all-knowing…Google.

I found that the more I read, the stronger I felt about Veteran issues. I hadn’t yet identified as a caregiver, but my husband’s needs were more than apparent. I was aware that he needed my help, whether that be assistance with activities of daily living (ADL) or advocating for his needs within the medical system.

Who knew that all the struggle and experiences we endured during those earlier years with John would somehow benefit us when our son was diagnosed with Autism. Although, autism is a whole different ball game than caring for a Veteran, I was able to use some of the tools I had picked up along the way from our experience with the VA system.

Persistence has been my best ally and the key to the success I’ve had while advocating for my both my husband and son. The research I gathered, along with the unwavering need and expectation I required from the VA as well as the pediatricians, Regional Centers and specialists was often what pushed me through that finish line.

For so many years my fight was so thick, it was driving me. Driving me to fight harder; to get the answers our family so deserved and needed so we could move forward.

I was feeling that same passion, a need for answers and what is simply fair and just as I felt when I was a young girl. But now I can articulate – by advocating for the most important people in my life.

Learning from My Experiences

So many times I feel so overwhelmed that I find myself not really enjoying all the good that is around me. I have to remind myself to be in the moment and enjoy what’s in front of me and not take the good times for granted. If I’m ever struggling to find the good in the day, I look to my children and I can be reminded by the joy in their eyes. My motto these days is, “So thankful tomorrow is another day.”

I try to live like each day is a clean slate. Most of the time it works, some days depending on the prior day, I may have a sudden nose dive before my feet have hit the floor. But you know what? – That’s ok.

I’ve learned to give myself permission to be content with these kind of days, but what I try hard at is to not fall into the swallows of negativity that sometimes want to take over. It’s this balance that I think a lot of caregivers must struggle with. You just have to keep on keeping on.

If there is anything that I’ve learned about life it’s that we really don’t have much control. Life is going to continue to happen the way it happens whether we accept it or not. Life doesn’t ask us if we are ready. Life doesn’t wait because the timing isn’t right. Life happens.

Life changes, evolves, and throws you into situations you are shocked to find yourself in. However, but life eventually calms, and what you might find once it has settled may be a bit different than what was there before, but it always manages to work itself out. How we choose to interpret the new view is our decision. Above all else, don’t forget to love your life!

Much love!
Nikki Stephens

Join me as I continue to share my journey as a “dual” caregiving to my wounded warrior and child with special needs. You can find my biography and links to blog post at: Nikki Stephens, “The Dual Caregiver.”