Pure Joy 


“Count it all pure joy.”
But how do I do that? I’ve been beaten down emotionally and physically time and time again. I’m tired. So so so tired. I started to feel myself giving up after the new year. I sunk deeper into a dark and scary depression. 

My psychology, psychiatry and PTSD group therapies increased. It was all good. Super intense but all good. 

I can already feel my thoughts drifting off track… there’s so much I need to get out but I’m not quite sure where to start. I’ve felt a strong desire to write again lately. It’s a form of therapy that my psychologist is 100% on board with. It’s just… Sometimes the words and the thoughts get jumbled. I’ll try. 

September 6, 2016 — Willow Performing Arts Academy was born. We had our first day of dance classes. A little under 100 kids were in and out of the studio that first week. 

Do I really OWN a dance studio? This can’t be real. 

Everything is backwards. It’s all supposed to be different. I’m supposed to be teaching the majority of the classes. I’m supposed to be able to manage and execute everything administrative. 

Willow is not your average dance studio. We operate out of my husband and I’s basement. I don’t drive. I cannot drive. I’m not allowed to drive. A brick and mortar location is next to impossible for me because of all of that. Add on the massive amount of medical debt and it’s a an impossible goal. Maybe we will be able to find a location that caters to what our family needs someday. A house connected to a commercial building. Maybe someday. #mydream

Sprung floor. Check. Barres. Check. Mirrors. Check. Acro equipment. Check. Waiting area. Check. A full teaching staff. Check. Office staff. Check. 

You own a dance studio. You must be doing great! Fine even! Fully recovered! *insert eye roll and a big huge sigh*

Where do I fit in? Can I fit in? Are my deficits too strong. Am I really doing this? Is this really happening?

Self doubt. Constant self doubt. 

I’m in the hospital. I’m home from the hospital. I’m in the hospital. I’m home from the hospital. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. People don’t always understand the complexities of my conditions. Frustration all around. 

But I’m supposed to count it all pure joy. 

I turn on the energy when I need it most. I let the adrenaline get me through each day we are open. I push myself too far. I go too hard. Another setback. Repeat. Repeat. Some people see the pain and struggling. Most see the upbeat super duper excited Miss Theresa. 

My self confidence becomes worse. What is my life? What am I doing? Children now depend on me. Staff members now depend on me. I can’t even depend on myself. I DONT KNOW WHAT I AM DOING. 

It’s now spring and our big end-of-year Showcase is upon us. I’m so proud. Everything looks beautiful. Not bad for a basement. You would never know. I’m happy but it is not pure joy yet. 

My husband was diagnosed with Stage I testicular cancer 3 weeks before our big show. My depression deepens. I put on a smile. Fake it until you make it, Theresa. Snap back to reality. 

Surrounded by negativity. People that don’t believe in the dream you are creating. The vision. The love. The passion. Self doubt is still there. Stronger than ever. Fueled by a toxic environment. Lingering because of my own doubts. 

Our dancers were beautiful. More importantly, they were PURE JOY on stage. I want to be like them. I am on cloud nine. Swollen with pride. Look at what we have done in the 1st season at Willow. 


Can I keep it going? Do enough people believe in this dream anymore? Do I believe in myself? I don’t know if I can give these kids what they deserve. I do my best. 


The show is over. It’s now June. I slip deeper and deeper into the depression. It has consumed me. I get through each day… but barely. I tell myself it wasn’t enough. It will never be enough. Why in the world is someone with a TBI, Major Depressive Disorder, sequencing and sensory disorders, major physical limitations pretending to be the owner of a dance studio. 

And that’s what it felt like. It was all a surreal. 

I’m given advice… “Let it go and focus on your recovery.” “Wait a few years and then try again.”

This IS a part of my recovery. Who am I without dance?! My whole life I have been a dancer. I am not going to give up. I must power through. I’m baffled and blown away that those words would even be handed to me. Do they not know me? Do they not know how important it is to continue having dance and these kids in my life?! If I don’t have dance to push me… to show me my goals… to bring a bright light in my dark world… I don’t think I would have survived if dance wasn’t in my life. I would not be here today if I did not have dance. 

I can. I must. I will. 

I’m NOT going to give up on Willow and our kids just because it is hard. It PUSHES me. It fuels my dedication to my recovery and therapies. 


Through Willow, I can see myself dancing again someday. I can see that girl above that I used to be. I’m not giving that dream up. 

I was reunited with some of my dance kids for the first time in a month yesterday. We spent the day together at a community event promoting Willow and celebrating dance. 

And for the first time in years I actually FELT the pure joy. The real ness was overwhelming but so amazing. 


I felt hope again. Those kids make the world a wonderful place. I cannot give up. I can’t succumb to the naysayers. We are Willow. And it’s PURE JOY. It is NOT “just a basement.”

I may depend on a full staff to keep the studio open and running. I may need more days off to rest and recover than I would prefer. I may need to delegate things I would normally love to do. I may not be able to be the ultimate and optimal dance studio owner… But I am passionate about creating a safe a nurturing environment for these kids. I may not be running the business how I always dreamed. And I may not be perfect.  

Perfect isn’t real. I don’t strive for it. But JOY… I will not stop striving for that. My dance kids deserve it and so do I. 

I can. I must. I will. 

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

Help. 

It’s extremely difficult to be 29, married, and completely dependent on the help of others. I thought it was difficult with just me needing lots of help, but now that Allen is temporarily out of commission… it’s an even weirder feeling. And we don’t know how long this will last. 

We’re two young adults that should be able to function and do the everyday things that need to be done. Adulting. I want to be able to adult again. My therapist tells me to stop “shoulding” on myself but it’s hard! I look around at the other couples our age and while their lives aren’t  at all perfect, they’re still capable of surviving and thriving on their own. 

It’s hard to accept help. It’s hard to let go and just open our arms. But damn, y’all… we need it. It’s hard to tell my pride to calm down and ask. 

A meal train was started by one of our Willow dance families. It is helping tremendously. Allen’s not able to cook right now and I’m still not allowed to use the stove or oven. A meal may seem like a simple thing to someone, but we are not taking this meal train for granted. There are so many things that need done and need to be focused on — Having a meal, one less thing to worry about, is incredibly helpful. 

Thank you. 

Allen’s mom and his little sister have been here for just over a week to help us out. His mom helps him clean and dress his incision sites, bathe, makes sure I’m getting my medication, is driving me to all of my doctor’s appointments and therapies, is driving Allen to all of his appointments, is doing laundry and helping to keep the house clean and organized. She is amazing. Truly. 

Angel is helping by bringing constant giggles and joy into our home. As soon as she arrived, Allen’s spirits improved ten times over. She’s also attached to me like a little shadow and has been a wonderful playmate. 

Thank you. 

Friends have helped me with errands. The staff at Willow has stepped up and taken on roles they normally wouldn’t be asked to do. There’s a lot of help coming from a lot of people. Our community support system right now is hella strong. We are very lucky. We are very grateful. 

Thank you. 

What happens once Allen’s mom and sister have to go back home to Chicago later this week? What happens when Allen starts chemo? What do we do? 

Allen has a really good attitude about everything right now. He’s in the “it’ll all be good” state of mind. I’m moreso in the “I need to plan for how we’re going to make this work” state of mind. How will we do everything that needs done? How will we get to our appointments? How will we keep the house clean? How will the laundry get done? The dishes? 

I have a short list of things that NEED to get done at the house… And it’s just not going to happen. I don’t see how. Unless we ask. And ask again. And keep asking. 

Then a feeling of guilt and shame passes over me. I don’t want to take advantage of the help that has been offered. I don’t want to have to depend on others to help us take care of things. 

It’s weird. What do we do? What’s the phrase…

“Stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

People continue to ask us what we need help with. Some days I’m so focused on Allen and my own recovery that I can’t even think straight enough to give them an answer. Some days we’re okay.  Some days we need a lot of help. Some days I have a long list and am too timid or prideful to go back and ask for the help. 

I don’t even know where I’m going with this anymore. I’ve reached the verbal vomit portion of the blog. There’s too much going on. Too much to juggle. Too much help is needed. Too much. 

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

P. S. Who sent us this beautiful Bonsai Tree? Angel and I have been having a wonderful time taking care of it together. Thank you. 

My mom makes sure I’m not skinny

Now, I’m not just writing this because it fits the occasion. But I truly don’t know what Theresa and I would be doing right now without our mothers. Given the unique circumstances we’ve had to put up with these last 5 years, my mother-in-law Susan has been a stable brick shelter for us. Susan gave us strength when we were feeling weak, she’s given us her time when we constantly ran out of it, and she provided us with hope when all we could see was the dark side. Personally, I get so overwhelmed and anxious about all the medical bills we receive on the daily. But Susan is a guiding bolt and a helping hand, she takes it upon herself to file and show me what needs to be done.

When I came home from the hospital 2 weeks ago we were trying to figure out who would be able to take care of me. Susan needs to go back to work, and Theresa is limited with certain things. I was restricted from lifting anything above 10 pounds and even if I wanted to, it hurt my scar too much and it felt like my stomach would burst at any minute. Who did I call to help us? It wasn’t the Ghostbusters. My mom (who lives in Illinois) was planning to come anyway but hearing her say that’d she’d come to take care of us, almost made me ball my eyes out while I was sitting there cradling my “pain pouch.” My mother Sherry cleaned our house, and basically did every chore I couldn’t and more. And as a bonus my little sister came along, the adorable bundle of 5 year old joy was able to put some brightness in our home. My sister loves Theresa. They hang out every day and play games, she learns a ton from her.

But here’s the thing, it wasn’t just our moms who came to take care of us. My aunt was the pre-lude to my mom arriving, she came from Michigan just to cook us dinner and check in on me. Every mom and grandmother from the dance studio that brought us meals so Theresa and I wouldn’t have to worry about food, has been such a blessing. This whole experience has been the definitive example of why we need our moms. They just want us to take care of us, in whatever way they know how. Mostly by food, and that’s pretty much the best thing anyone can do for any other person.

Have a truly happy mother’s day. I have two amazing moms, and I am incredibly lucky and blessed to have them in my life.

Mahal, Mr. Cruz

MomEaster2016

(Picture is from Easter 2016)

Juggling

“Something has to give. There’s too much.”

My therapist has been telling me this for months. I wholeheartedly agree with her. The amount of time and energy that my therapy schedule requires and the attention and time my dance studio requires is too much. But what gives? Neither. Both are equally important in my eyes. 

I talked with my social worker about my concerns with finding a healthy recovery-work life balance. All of my different therapists and doctors were made aware of my concerns. Strategies and coping skills were put in place. Extras were delegated. And I was on the road to recovery again. 

And then we found out Allen has cancer. 

Our world is rocked once more. How do we deal with this? How do we manage? How do we cope? 

Now there are three major things that need juggled and three major things that all need very specific and very intense time and attention. Instantly my list of priorities has gone from:

1. My recovery

2. The dance studio/reintegration into working again

To now:

1. Allen and my family… Full and undivided attention

2. My recovery

3. The dance studio

There’s too much. Those aren’t three things that can be juggled while maintaining health and sanity. 

What gives?

The dance studio. 

As soon as the doctor told my mother and I that Allen has cancer I instantly shifted my priorities. There was no hesitation or question. 

After 5+ hours in surgery, his doctor came out to meet with me. He explained what they found — A softball sized tumor. It’s not what they were expecting. It’s not what the scans had shown. His undescended testicle had turned cancerous. We originally thought he had a hernia. 

Talk about a smack to the face. 

Because of the size of his tumor, his incision site and surgery became much more intense. They also found that they needed to do reconstructive surgery while they were in there. His other testicle was not cancerous but it was not in its proper place… stuck in his abdomen. They had to create a new canal so that it could descend safely. It too will become cancerous one day. We watch it. We wait. We leave it be until that day comes. 

Why?

We want to put off hormone replacements for as long as possible. Now that we know he is high risk, we can better monitor and handle it when it’s time. 

What’s next?

Tuesday. We follow up with Allen’s oncologist to see if the cancer has spread. We talk about a treatment plan. 

Chemo. 

We’ve been told that he will need one or two rounds even if the cancer has not spread. 

Okay. We have already been through hell and back several times. We can go again. We can handle this. 

But something has to give. 

Allen is unable to work now. We don’t know when he will be able to return and it is driving him absolutely crazy. And I get it. I truly do. That helpless feeling. But right now it has to be this way. 

I’ve stepped away from the dance studio minus two Parent & Me classes. Even if I had the time or energy, I don’t know that I could focus enough to give it what it deserves. We have our 1st Annual Spring Showcase coming up in TEN days. 

Ten. 

There are two reasons this show is still happening and the studio is still running. 

1. The incredible faculty. They go above and beyond their job descriptions. They put their heart and soul into the studio and all of our kids. 

2. The dance families. Their patience, their understanding… Their willingness to come forward and ask how they can help. 

For that, I am incredibly grateful. 

Am I worried? Am I anxious about the big show? This is my first year in business and I’m hardly in the picture. 

I have not worried at all. We have good people… We have a good community. The big show will be fabulous. 

Does being gone hurt? Absolutely. I don’t want to downplay those emotions. I fully trust my staff, but I’m still feeling sad about not being “present” so to speak. 

My husband. He’s my world. He’s the most compassionate man I know. He’s the hardest working man I know. And right now he needs me. 


Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

“It’s like I’ve been pregnant for two years”

“Guys, it’s like I’ve been pregnant for 2 years.” I told my band when they came to the hospital last week to visit. This thing has been growing in me for two years and it took the random action of me lifting my bag up to the front seat of my car to feel the pain from it. I’m reviewing everything in my head to try and write something about this situation but my brain feels just like the inside of my abdomen right now: jumbled and messy. My surgeon says that they came into this surgery with a simple plan. Get my right teste out, make the left one come down: 2 hour surgery tops. It turns out the right one had grown like one of Rita Rapulsa.s monsters in just the short time we found out that it could be cancerous. Doc Surgeon (not his real name) had to make the cut bigger to squeeze it out of my body. Along the journey he found a random hernia that he fixed and then he reconstructed the pathway my left teste traveled so it had an easier time going up and down my body.

Guys who have undescended testes have a higher risk for testicular cancer. Joyous for me, both of mine were undescended. Theresa and I found out 3 years ago when we were going through fertility treatments that this was a possibility for me, but we never thought it would come this soon. But I’m grateful though, like any person with a pre-existing condition I googled my way through a mix of emotions and found that I have the cancer that has a 96% survival rate. I mean, anything can happen, but if it had to be cancer, I’m glad it’s something that gives me hope.

I have a weird relationship with the word Cancer. Cancer is my zodiac sign. If you believe in that sort of thing that means I’m creative, intuitive, and sentimental. Oh and dramatic. Apparently people born between June 20th and July 22nd have a flair for the dramatics, which I don’t necessarily disagree with. My drama king attitude is what sparked my desire to be on stage so people can watch me do whatever it is that I do. But cancer is also something that stalks and haunts my family like a picky wolf poltergeist. It chooses it’s prey carefully among my kin and burdens them with this young illness that we humans still have a hard time keeping up with. My grandma was one of the most influential people in my life and when she was hit with cancer, my whole family felt the weight of her loss. She was literally the best person to ever exist and for something like this disease to take her away so young, was devastating. She was only 60, and I know she’d still be here right now telling me how skinny I was and forcing me to eat Filipino food if she hadn’t passed.

So here I am, sore, annoyed and eager as hell to get back to work. I love my job so much. Performing for people, giving them a reason to dance, let loose and feel complete elation is what drives me to push through everything my wife and I have endured. Theresa tells me I’m a workaholic, but working instead of suffering is a much better option in my story. My left hand is gently cradling my wound right now in hopes that I can somehow summon healing powers to seal it in full. But alas, this one, like many cuts, bruises and emotions, heal with time. I have to set aside the stubborn and put writing, books, and Netflix in it’s place. With all that we’ve been through, my wife and I have been blessed with such genuinely kind and generous people. Friends and family who empathize with our constant bad luck and try their best to make sure our spirits are lifted. Thanking you would never be enough. I can only hope that whatever challenges life has to offer for other people, that I can be of whatever service and help to anyone who needs me.

For now, I eat a banana, sleep, and invite people to come over to play Dungeons and Dragons.

Mahal, Mr. Cruz

IMG_0280

Photo Credit by: Danielle Donaldson

“It could always be worse!”

“It could always be worse!”

Words that we receive that are full of good intention. 

But then you look a little closer at our lives and KABLAM something happens to make it worse. 

Right now I just brace myself and hope we’ll catch a break sometime soon. 

This cycle of spiraling into worse and worse situations began before we were married. 

I found out I had a ruptured ovarian cyst. Okay, I can handle that. It’s a hell of a lot of pain, but no biggie. 

“It could always be worse!”

Then I needed surgery. Okay. I got this. 

“It could always be worse!”

We were told I had Stage I Endometriosis and if we wanted kids we should start trying right away. Okay. We were both on the same page about wanting a family so let’s go ahead. 

“It could always be worse!”

One month later – I need another surgery. I’m diagnosed with Stage IV Endometriosis. We’re told if we want kids we need to see a reproductive specialist as soon as possible. 

That’s really when things started to spiral. 

We got married and 3 days later met with our Reproductive Gynocologist. I need another surgery before we can begin infertility treatments. 

“It could always be worse!”

Things start to feel surreal. This is our life now. Okay. We process. We grieve. We find strength. 

Time to start treatments… But let’s check Allen’s sperm count first just as a precaution. Typically takes a couple of days for the lab to get results to  the patients. For us, it took one hour. “There are no sperm.” None. Zero. We’re told that this is extremely unusual. 

Allen begins taking fertility drugs to try to boost sperm count. 

“It could always be worse!”

He gets tested again. Zero. None. 

He’s scheduled for an exploratory surgery to find out what is going on and to extract sperm directly. 

“It could always be worse!”

The surgeon meets with me when the procedure is complete and tells me that there was nothing there to extract. There was nothing there to do a biopsy on. Having a biological child with my husband would be impossible. 

“It could always be worse!”

We start shopping for donor sperm. We find a match we’re very comfortable with. We purchase several vials of sperm. 

“It could always be worse!”

Our first infertility treatment is an IUI. The donor’s sperm counts are extremely low. Our first failed attempt. 

“It could always be worse!”

We try again. Failed. 

“It could always be worse!”

We decide to do IVF/ICSI. It’s a rocky road. I did not produce enough viable eggs to create more than three embryos. Out of the three only two are quality enough to transfer. The two we transfer are less than ideal quality. 

“It could always be worse!”

I find out I have the egg quality equivalent to that of a woman going through menopause. 

“It could always be worse!”

IVF failed. No pregnancy. 

“It could always be worse!”

I get hit by a semi. I suffer many many deficits. Our world is turned upside down. At least I am alive. 

“It could always be worse!”

I’m in and out of the hospital 20 times in two years. I suffer from PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder along with many lingering deficits. 

“It could always be worse!”

I overdose and spend over a week in a psychiatric hospital. I gain lots of new resources and insight but it’s very strenuous. 

“It could always be worse!”

My therapy schedule increases to 5 hours per day. I’m unable to focus on working. All of my energy is spent on therapies and getting better. 

“It could always be worse!”

Allen gets sick. We think it’s a hernia. He might need a simple surgery to repair. 

“It could always be worse!”

More tests are ran. It’s not just a hernia. One of his undescended testicles has grown twice in size. It could be cancer. Or it could be inflamed. They need to do a simple outpatient surgery either way. 

“It could always be worse!”

The surgery takes twice as long as expected. The surgeon comes out to meet with me to let me know the testicle was now a large tumor that was even more substantial than what the tests showed. It has grown to be the size of a softball. He believes it to be malignant. Allen needs to stay overnight due to the extreme nature of the removal and reconstructive aspects of the surgery. 

“It could always be worse!”

Allen ends up staying in the hospital for three days. We’re told he will need chemo. 

“It could always be worse!”

Present day – We are exhausted. We are spread thin. Hope is hard to remember. 

“It could always be worse!” Tell me about it. 

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

Begin Again… Am I still a dancer?

My life, my story, my timeline, my education, my career… Everything must begin again. 

Being hit by a semi hit the pause button on my life and career. During my recovery I’ve been able to press play again… but there’s a lag. Everything is in slow motion. 

I’ve been writing a lot about my feelings and such but there’s something else that is heavy on my heart and I need to spit it all out onto this keyboard. 

Post-accident I have experienced amnesia as well as short-term memory loss. Amnesia is a wild wild beast, y’all. I woke up in the hospital and my entire “dance world” was gone. 

Poof. 

I had to begin again. I didn’t know what “1st position” or “plié” was, let alone ANY of the content I had been teaching in the 22 dance classes every week. I knew I was a dance teacher and I knew I was a dancer but I had no idea how to access any of the information relating to those two things. I couldn’t remember the names or faces of my students who I always fondly referred to as “my kids,” I couldn’t recall lessons from my own dance teachers from high school and college… My world was rocked. Hard. 

{{ Strangely, I also lost all knowledge of how to cook… I’m still not allowed to use the stove or oven unassisted. #LOL }}

Luckily it did not matter to my students and their families that I couldn’t remember them or what I had been teaching. They came together and showed myself and my family support like none other. Dance families do exist and I had an outstanding one. 

My kids would visit with their parents and talk to me about what they were doing in dance class. I was soaking it all in. Sometimes I would feel a little click sensation in my brain and a memory would appear. These kids were helping me get my dance world back. 

Amnesia is not always like how you see it in the movies. I’ve not just woken up one day and been flooded with all of my dance memories again, “Wow! It’s all back!” Nope. Every single memory I’ve retrieved has been relearned or has been triggered by a familiar situation. 

It’s so frustrating, y’all… Feeling of self worth starts to deteriorate… Who am I now? What is my purpose?

Am I still a dancer?



I don’t know. Am I?

I won a portable ballet barre in a raffle and we set it up in my living room. It’s primary use was to assist with my in-home physical therapy sessions. The older brother of one of my students came over to help my husband put it together. My student started messing around on the Barre. All of a sudden I’m swatting her foot, “Gross. Please pointe your feet.” Her mom recorded just a few seconds of me swatting at her child’s foot and leg and correcting things I deemed to not be aesthetically pleasing. 

Did I know what I was doing? Nope. 

Did I know she was at the barre and something was incorrect? Yep. 

Could I pinpoint it? Nope. 

Then her mom tells me she’s texted that video to some dance parents with the following caption:

“Theresa is now available for private lessons. Please contact her to schedule.”

Uhm. What. I have no idea what I am doing. 

It’s the best thing anyone could have done for me. It forced me to get out of my comfort zone. It was time to learn how to teach. Begin again. 

I had 3 or 4 private lessons I taught weekly-ish (depending on my health) to start. Bless the parents of those kids because I was terrible, y’all. I mean… Real talk. But they trusted me with their kids and I was learning learning learning. 

A few months later I had 20 private lessons I taught weekly-ish. I would study like mad to prepare. I would teach what I had just learned. Looking back, the whole thing was kinda crazy. 

My living room is not large. Between the ballet barre, the TV and the couch… Something had to give. I was learning more so I was teaching more so I needed more room. 

I gave away our couch one day on Facebook. 

I texted Allen at work, “Just a heads up, I gave away our couch on FB and some guy and his girlfriend just picked it up. Love you!” 

He wasn’t phased at all. “Okay cool.”

And so I continued. I took breaks when my health required it, I studied, I began to relearn and I started teaching DANCE. 


These kids deserve more. A living room is not going to cut it. 

I deserve more. 

I’m stuck. 

Being housebound and a slave to my medical debt, I didn’t see any options of a brick and mortar dance studio — A true training facility. 

So we threw all the crap that was being stored in our basement away. We may have single handidly funded our local thrift shop for months with everything that was donated. Dance dads came together and built a sprung dance floor. #amazing Ballet barres were installed. A makeshift waiting room was put together right next to our washer and dryer. 

Willow Performing Arts Academy was born. It was born by the hands of the families that supported my recovery. They believed in me. 

What an honor. Truly. 

I didn’t know I would soon be headed towards a downward spiral. I didn’t know my quest in conquering my amnesia would set me back time and time again. I didn’t know I would bite off more than I could chew. 

“I’m doing the bare minimum. Why am I burned out?”

“I’m letting everyone down.”

“My kids deserve so much more.”

We have 8 wonderful individuals on staff at Willow. Each highly qualified within their own fields. Why 8?! I was setting myself up for success. Realistically, I would not be able to teach very many classes. I soon realized that some of the classes I thought I would be able to teach needed to be delegated to other teachers — I wasn’t ready to be teaching them yet. I hadn’t relearned quite enough and I didn’t have the physical or mental capacity to provide a quality learning environment. My faculty stepped up to the plate and took over. 

But I was still teaching. I began to co-teach. I brought in an assistant. 

It was still too much and I had no clue. 

I’m still in recovery. I still have very real and very scary setbacks with my health. My priority still has to be focused on my million and one different therapies. 

But I did not see it. I was doing the bare minimum for Willow. My bare minimum does not even come close to the true minimum a dance studio owner should be doing. Some days I don’t even feel like I’m a part of my own business… My own dance family. I’m on the outside looking in and I’m just wondering, “When will I be the one dancing and teaching again? When will I be able to give these kids everything they truly need to succeed?”

So I kept going at the rate I was and I crashed. And I crashed again. And then I crashed hard. 

And here I am today. Two and a half years after I was hit by that semi. Eight months after I created Willow. And it’s all I can do to just get through my therapies each day, let alone be the face of a business and a proper role model for X amount of children. 

I’m not present at the studio. When the kids see me they are super surprised. And that breaks my heart. What am I teaching them about reliability and trust? I’m an adult in their lives that washes in and out when I can but to them I’m unreliable. 

Or maybe it’s not perceived as that… Maybe I’m projecting. 

Either way there is a problem. The amount I bit off to chew was significantly less than what I actually wanted to bit off and chew… But even that was too much. 

It’s a major mistake and it has affected the studio negatively. I’ve dropped the ball and I’ve not shown up when I was needed and I am so incredibly sorry. 

I’ve learned from my mistakes. I know what I will do differently this summer and even into next fall when a new dance season starts. Begin again. 



“Will I ever be a true dance teacher again?”

“Will I ever be a dancer?”

“Will I ever be able to provide my students with more than a makeshift basement studio?”

“When will I get my dance world back?”

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. I don’t know if I ever will. But right now I can try to begin again and I can do the best I can in this moment. 

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

We Shall See…

You know those charts in every doctor’s office and hospital? The 1-10 pain scale with the creepy smiley faces — I hate those. 

Pain is completely relative. The pain I experience and feel presents differently than the pain you feel. It’s not entirely quantifiable… for anyone. Your pain level of a 6 is going to present and feel differently than someone else’s pain level of a 6. 

And 10… good grief. That’s the impossible number. I have a snippet of a memory of being in the hospital after the accident and holy hell… THAT was a 10. 

So even within one person a pain-scale is relative. 

Every time I’m asked “On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your pain right now?” I just kind of sigh and shrug my shoulders. I also maybe roll my eyes. The pain in my body is not sitting up there at that 10 I experienced post-accident… But it’s still very real and very rough. So what do I say? Because if I compare the scale based solely on that, my answer will probably always be around a 2-5…

But damn. I am in pain. 

So, no. I can’t answer your 1-10 question. I know what a true 10 is and now everything else is skewed. 

Relativity. 

Say I chuck that specific 10 out the door. My pain scale completely changes. I don’t have that 10 experience to compare to any longer so now I’m sitting around a 6-9. 

“How do you function?!”

Mostly, I don’t. But when I do, I grin and bear it. I work through the pain as much as I am able. But there are times, days, weeks when I am not able to push through the pain. 

During those times, I let people down, I’m not able to focus as well during therapies, I cannot work, I cannot even get out of bed. 

“So are you on a pain management program?”

Nope. I have medications available to me to take sparingly, but I do not have a specific regimen of painkillers. I hate painkillers. They make you feel all crazy up in the clouds and lord knows I don’t need any more of that shenanigans. My brain can do that now all on it’s own, thank you. 

When I need to, I take the meds. When I can grin and bear it, I don’t. When staying in bed and resting is enough to keep the pain plateaued, I don’t. 

“What do you do when you stay in bed.”

I’m stuck. Literally. My legs and back are in so much pain that I don’t move. I don’t toss and turn. I’m still and I’m breathing through it. 

“You must be tough.”

That or a big fat baby. I miss more opportunities and obligations to socialize, to work, etc from pain than I do from the PTSD. The TBI is still the Queen B around here… But as far as affecting my ability to function, pain comes in at a close second. 

Work. For real y’all, I’d love to be able to work again. Real work. Hard work. Committed work. Reliable work. All the work. 

Interestingly enough, I hate shame and the shaming of people — But I shame myself every single moment I miss out on something work related. Every time I can’t show up. Every time I let people down. I just dump dump dump that shame alllll over myself. 

Don’t shame people for the things and experiences that they cannot control but, please, shame yourself. 

I’m totally a hypocrite. 

“So what triggers your pain?”

All of the things I work on to get better. All of the therapies. All of the homework I have to do along with my therapies. Trying to work while also managing my therapies. 

Therapy is a pretty broad term. In my world there are quite a few different types I do and they vary in frequency depending on a million different factors I don’t really want to list. 

  • Physical Therapy 
  • Occupational Therapy 
  • Psychology
  • Psychiatry
  • Music Therapy
  • Intensive Outpatient Therapy
  • Post Traumatic Stress Therapy
  • Speech Therapy

Five hours/day… And then I need to run a business too — More on that another day?

Yesterday I had Intensive Outpatient Therapy and Music Therapy.  

Eventually I’ll talk about all of my therapies in depth. I like to keep track of my progress. We take pictures. We take videos. I go back and study them…

“What hurts.”

Instinctively I want to shout, “EVERYTHING.” Buts that’s dramatic and very rarely true. My right shoulder – rotator cuff, my upper spine and shoulder blades, my neck, my lower lumbar, my right leg, my right arm, my feet, both of my shins, my forehead, my jaw…

Maybe someday those things will stop hurting. Maybe someday the frequency in which I’m in pain will decrease. Maybe someday I won’t be in pain any longer. Maybe. 

Maybe someday my pain will ease and I will become a contributing member of society again. We shall see. 

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” –Lance Armstrong

Let’s Get Raw. 

People (including my therapists) will often say things like, “You are so strong.”

I never quite know how to respond or take statements like that in. 

“To survive everything you’ve gone through, you must have so much determination.”

“You are doing great things.”

…You get the point. 

None of it feels true. And part of me knows that to a certain extent, those statements must hold some truth. But it’s incredibly difficult to agree or see what is being said to me. 

“You’re only 29 and have gone through so much. And look how well you’re doing!”

Am I? Really…

“You’ve only been married a couple of years and you both have triumphed over so many obstacles and heartaches!”

Have we? Have we really and truly triumphed…

It’s interesting hearing what the outside sees. It sure as hell is not what I see and it’s far from what I feel. 

But then there are also people that are on the flip-side. Their viewpoint is complete opposite of what’s listed above. And then that makes me think, “Damn. I must be a complete shit-show. How am I even functioning? This must be way worse than it feels.”

My truth may be vastly different than how people perceive me as well as the situations myself and my husband have been through… But it’s still my truth. 

I am weak. I am incabable. I am worthless. I feel no hope. I have nothing to offer. 

I do have daily affirmations.

  1. Hope can’t wait. 
  2. I can. I must. I will. 
  3. Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. 

But the words in bold most always win. Why?

I think I may know… There are a lot of unknowns in my “journey to recovery.” There are a lot of unknowns within the diagnosis of a Traumatic Brain Injury. 

There must be more to it. Why do the bold words win? Why can I never answer the question, “What is something you’re good at or love about yourself?” when asked by doctors and therapists? I have never been able to answer their question. 

I’m most definitely mourning the “Theresa” I used to be. Before the accident. Before the infertility. I’m unrocognizable. Physically and emotionally. 

I miss her. 

I work my hardest to bring her back. I work so hard and I only ever catch a rare glimpse. She is so far from reach. She is unobtainable. I miss her. Does Allen miss her as much as I do?



So no… I am not strong. I am not powerful. I am not kicking ass and I certainly am not doing great things. The old Theresa would be doing a hell of a lot better at life and in her career than I currently am. I’m treading water. #allthewater

You see one thing. I see another. Which is the truth? Who’s perspective is skewed?

“You shouldn’t compare. That was then and this is now.”

Well yeah, that’s the problem! I’ve been living in a special kind of hell since that semi hit me. How does a person not compare? It’s completely unrealistic to ask someone in recovery to “look past that.” I can work through it, but I can’t just erase who I was and who I was becoming as a woman. 

My deficits haunt me. And you don’t see them. You’re not in my real day-to-day life. It’s terrible and it would terrify you. 

“But you’re doing so well in your recovery. It can’t be that bad.

The hard truth – It is. It’s really bad. 

When your speech therapist says she’s “just not able to help you any further.” That’s bad. 

When your neurologist says “The symptoms you’re experiencing now must be psychosomatic. We recommend therapy.” That’s bad. 

When you get a third opinion from a neurologist and he spends less than two minutes in the room with you before saying, “I can’t help you. See a psychiatrist.” Thats bad. 

Starts to make you feel like you must be going insane. You’re experiencing so many deficits and what… No answers. 

I am in therapy. I am on anti-depressants.

So… Is there no answer? Because I’m already doing the things you say must be the right thing for me. 

“Why does my right side and moreso my right leg still go numb?”

“It’s because you’ve gained too much weight. I will prescribe you an appetite suppressant.”

Wait, what? That’s your honest and true and thought out medical opinion of my neurological state? It has nothing to do with the severe nerve damage on the right side of my body? It’s because I’ve gained weight and am “too heavy” now? You’re my neurologist. 

Bye. 

I could probably write a separate and complete book on the absurd appointments that I’ve had with neurologists. I have to be my own advocate. And I have to advocate hard. 

But I did hit rock bottom. Or I think it was. I hope it was my rock bottom. 

There was a Friday I was home alone because I was doing better in my recovery and could be alone for short periods of time. 

  1. I tried to read a book my psychologist recommended. I opened it and could not read a single word. Everything was swirling wildly from right to left. I could not read. I’m 29 and I did not know how to read. 
  2. Okay… I’ll shut the book and try to do something else. How about pampering? I got out my hairbrush to work out the tangles before taking a bath. I did not know how to use it. I’m 29 and I did not know how to brush my own hair. 
  3. I feel myself starting to slow down. The world starts to become a little fuzzy and everything is in slow motion. I need to get outside for some fresh air. Let me get my shoes on and just walk around. I did not know how to tie my shoes. I’m 29 and I could not tie my own laces. 
  4. This is getting bad. Maybe my blood sugar is low. I should eat something. I go to the fridge and I don’t know what to do. I see a handle but how do I open it? I’m 29 and I did not know how to feed or fend for myself. 
  5. Shit. Shit. Shit. I’ll take my meds. 

And that’s when I overdosed and ended up in the hospital for over a week in the “psych ward.”

And guess what. It’s the best thing that could have ever happened to me. 

I don’t truly know if I was trying to commit suicide or if I was trying to take medication to help my state of mind. I’m not sure it really matters anymore. I only know what my friend has told me… and what she has said I told her on the phone. I called her after overdosing. I “was done.” And Lord, I mean… That so has some truth to it. Would you not be totally over all of this crap?

I gained access to so many resources and learned so much more about my TBI and PTSD that week in the “psych ward” than I have in the entire two and a half years of recovery. 

That. Is. Sad. 

Guess what else… It’s not psychosomatic. I’m not crazy. I have a mother f-ing brain injury that is still trying to heal. I don’t have any personality disorders… I suffer from a very real and scary Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

Answers! Good god I have been yearning for answers! And help… real help. Solid resources. 

So now that’s what I do. I go to a million different types of therapies. Hours and hours and hours every week. Therapies with doctors and people who are actually helping me and awknowledge the very real deficits that present in my life. 

“But I will learn to breathe this ugliness you see, so we can both be there and we can both share the dark. And in our honesty, together we will rise, out of our nightminds and into the light at the end of the fight.” —Missy Higgins

I’ll be strong someday. Maybe soon. Maybe not. I’ll eventually see the strength that others see. Someday I’ll be able to awknowledge it. 

For now I’m coping… And that’s enough. 

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

On Sunday I…

I usually hear people hating on Monday with all of their heart. Beginning of the work week. End of the weekend. Boo. 

I’m not so much in the “I Hate Monday” club. Sunday. Sunday is the day I dislike. 

Monday mornings are actually my favorite time of the week — I get to spend time with a handful of two year olds and their mamas… More on that another day. 

So why do I hate Sunday? The simple answer:

There’s no mail service on Sunday. 

LOL — What?!

For real. It’s as simple as that. At least in my brain… Let me explain further…

I do not and am not able to drive. I never leave the house without supervision. If I need to go anywhere I have to ask someone to take me or to pick something up for me. I am completely reliant on another human to be able to leave my home. 

Except for the mail. I can go outside and walk down the driveway to get my mail every single day. Except on Sunday. 

I look forward to it. I usually try to walk barefoot or only with socks so I can feel the ground under my feet. I take my sweet time and drag in deep and long breaths. I put the mail in a tote if the box is bursting (usually the case) or stuff it under my armpit as I slowly walk back to the house and go inside. 

I have accomplished something. I am a contributing member to this household. I was able to leave the house and return on my own terms. 

Mail. 

Today is Sunday and the box is empty – Sometimes I take my mini-walk to the box “just in case” I missed something on Saturday. 

I didn’t. It’s empty and I am unfulfilled. There was no purpose to my tiny venture outside. I was not able to contribute anything to our household. I was able to breathe deep and feel the earth under my feet, but that isn’t enough. 

What’s the point? What am I really talking about? What’s really going on here? 

It obviously a lot more about Sunday and the need to retrieve our mail…

By definition, I am housebound. I don’t know how to drive nor do I know if I will ever be allowed the opportunity to learn again. If Allen and I were still in Chicago, the situation would be vastly different. But we are not. We are in an exact opposite environment. We live in a very small community that has no public transportation. You must have a car to get anywhere you please. You must be able to drive to run a “quick” errand. We are easily 20-30 miles or minutes away from any mainstream or even mildy “bustling” communities. 

Freedom. That is the true issue. The freedom to run to the bank has been taken from me. The freedom to pop over to the grocery store for a missing ingredient is no longer there. The freedom to treat myself with a small outing to a coffee shop has vanished. No longer can I casually meet up with friends. No longer can I be depended upon if someone somewhere needs help. I am the someone somewhere always needing help. 

My traumatic brain injury triumphs once more… That’s why I do not like Sunday. 

So what do I do about it? Nothing really… Reality is what it is. I do not drive. I can not drive. #fact

How do I make Sunday a little less painful and a little more productive? Well. I’m not really sure. To be honest I usually binge watch Hulu or Netflix, work on my planner, chill out on social media… Not really the most productive of tasks. 

But Sunday is a “day of rest!” You should do those things and just chill out. 

Don’t worry. It’s what I do best. But I want more. I’m struggling to find a bigger purpose on this planet as the new post-accident Theresa and each tiny thing adds up and is helpful in my recovery…

Maybe Sunday can be my Nature Sanctuary day? It’s a little area of peace and calm my brother helped to create in our back yard. 

The Nature Sanctuary even houses a Frog Motel. And the little suckers love it. 

It would be nice to plant some more blueberry bushes or native-to-Ohio plants, bee-friendly flowers… I could go on. Or maybe I should just go there and sit. Soak it all in. 

This is spiraling into a rabbit hole of wannabe projects that, yes, would require me to have access to a car… to drive to the nursery… to purchase the plants… It’s just so frustrating to not have that freedom. Knowing that I can’t just pop in the car for a quick trip…

I digress. 

Sundays could be my “weed the weeds” day. Or pick up the sticks our giant trees love to shed day. 

This planter has been sitting by our front door for over a week now. My husband works non-stop (he’s actually in Chicago with his band this weekend) and even when he is working from home he has time for very little besides the bare necessities. Mad respect. He’s a badass business owner and works harder than most men I’ve met. Basically — He’s too busy providing for our single income family for extras… And I am not mad about that. 

This planter needs flowers. I would love nothing more to drive to a local nursery and take my time picking out some pretty flowers to greet our guests. 

Let’s wrap this up. Sundays are hard. 

Mahal, Mrs. Cruz

P. S. Here’s a throwback to when I did work on our yard and our garden. Fond memories. I look at this picture longingly… 

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” –Gilbert K. Chesterton