Happy Thursday! Today I am SO excited to be passing the blog off to a Jilly Academy Alumni, an amazing mama, grandma, and CEO, Cindy Luterbach! Cindy is a mom to six beautiful children and is the founder of Bubbles and Brews Canada, BOHO Luxury Picnics and CEO of Telebyte Communications. Cindy and I met a few years ago at the Women and Wealth Gala and I was so inspired by her story and perseverance and I am honored to welcome her to the blog to share her story with you of loving her body and scars!
Take it away, Cindy!!
It is very strange when you do not feel like you fit in anywhere. We value people who look perfect. Flawless, Instagram perfect, but when you have flaws, it’s hard to navigate a world where all you see is perfection all around you. I have been blessed with six beautiful children and so far, one grandson. I am a CEO for a telecommunications company, 2 dogs, a loving husband, and on one fateful day, everything changed.
The Invisible Scars
In 2017 I had a life-changing event that changed my entire view of myself and everyone around me. I prided myself on working hard, playing hard, and going as fast as I could. I loved absorbing every minute of the day and pushing myself to the limit until life handed me an unwelcomed change.
I had an ischemic spinal stroke, which is a very rare condition that represents 1 percent of all strokes. It took months of testing to find out what happened to me, and finally one day CT scan came in, and there it was, I had had a significant ischemic stroke (which is a scar that is left on my spinal cord after having a clot in the region).
My spinal cord injury is between T6 and T7 which controls the lower half of my body. I lost feeling on my left side below my stomach and partially on my right leg. I was absolutely convinced that it was temporary even after received the news from the neurologist, and I assumed they were telling me worst-case scenario I thought I would be able to work through the problem like scores of people that you see on TV that have been told that they could never walk again and miraculously fight their way through, against all odds.
I was going to get better because I was “healthy”. I had amazing professionals rehabilitating me and they spent a lot of time getting me comfortable with the equipment that I needed to use, but I was still not convinced that this would be long term. It was not until I got fit with overpriced arm crutches that I started understanding that it might be a bigger speed bump than I had planned. I went from knowing exactly who I was to thinking I did not know anything about myself.
The actual scars
Immediately after the stroke, and before we knew what had happened, my legs were swollen, I lost the sensory on my skin starting from my belly button down to my feet. My brain did not communicate with my legs and although I could stand assisted, I didn’t feel like I was on the ground. If I saw a mirror, my brain sent messages that wanted to throw me to the floor. A lot of my symptoms present like a person with later stages of MS.
I got an infection in my abdomen where they had placed holes in my stomach to drain the fluid out of my body. My body was not getting rid of the fluid and my legs were swollen to the size of an NFL player. I would not have minded if I also got the six-pack and the ten-million-dollar salary, but the liquid had to go.
I was ashamed, and I had been ignoring an infection that would not allow that hole to close and I was sick, so sick. I was not making rational or intelligent decisions. I have a very determined personality which can get in the way at times.
My husband was going to the store every day and getting Depends diapers to keep all the liquid coming out of my body from recking our bedding. I’ve got to tell you that there is nothing sexy about my husband changing my diaper but bless his heart, he was up for the job. I was so embarrassed about my situation that I continued to ignore the growing infection. I ended up in the hospital for close to three weeks while they fought the infection and the surgeon sewed me back together and saved my life.
The beginning of the journey
I wasn’t sure if I had what it was going to take to begin my rehabilitation or to do work that needed to be done. I was ready to check out of life during that time. I saw no value in myself during this period. I was left with scars that made me feel bad about myself and were a continuous visual reminder of the changes in my life that had occurred. You see, other than when I look at myself in the mirror when getting out of the bath, and see the scars that remain from the infection, I look normal. My disabilities are invisible to the outside world.
I felt defective and began to realize that my life would never be the same. I had no idea where I fit in anymore. Going out with friends, reminded me that I wasn’t my old self. I hid from the world for close to a year because I didn’t want anyone to see me this way, how could anyone accept who I was when I couldn’t. I couldn’t seem to get out of my own way,
My husband of 17 years cheered me on, helped me to medical appointments, found equipment to make my life easier. He became the cook, the house cleaner, the only parent, and everything for quite some time. He almost lost the love of his life, and he was pushing me forward, not worrying about what he needed. He reminded me every day how tough I am and how proud he was of me. This man tells me every day about how beautiful I am and I could not see what he was talking about. Even though I heard his words, I did not value myself. This injury derailed me in ways that I had not anticipated. I felt broken and the world treated me as though I was invisible. I wanted to shrink my way out of this world where no one could see the change from who I was, to who I am.
I felt damaged and felt too embarrassed to tell anyone that I could not keep up anymore. I wanted to be invisible, like a small child hiding behind a curtain, thinking no one could see me, yet everyone that did see me asked me questions about what happened, which pushed me further down into a hole. They all meant well, but it seemed to be the only subject we ever discussed. This new identity was forced on me, and I wanted to discuss absolutely anything else but the injury. It was like a death of some sort. I had to grieve the loss of what was. I had to learn the new me. I was different and I didn’t know if I would like the new me.
I was watching myself from afar and felt like I was not worthy of my friendships, my incredible husband, or my children. It took me two years after my spinal stroke to feel comfortable having any photos taken of me, other than the occasional selfie, where I could control the narrative. On this day, I was meeting Jillian bleeping Harris and instead of owning my condition, I asked for someone to hold my crutches, as this small framed beautiful woman steadied me for the picture. Even when meeting one of my inspirations in life, I could not just use my crutches because they made me feel flawed.
Flawed people are beautiful
In year three, I leaned into the help, accepted who I was, and learned how to communicate my needs without embarrassment or worry of judgment. It was a long three years for me to accept that I would not walk the same and that I have many scars as a constant reminder. I had to learn to accept help. I now see the remaining scars as visible marks of parts of my journey. I have learned how to rely on everyone and accept that sometimes it makes me feel as though I had lost my freedom and my choices to navigate the world how I used to.
We like to keep our world tidy and make reminders of the good times with Insta perfect pictures. We sometimes overlook people with different abilities, and could not imagine them as “sexy”. I fully disagree. I think some of the most beautiful people have recognized their flaws and scars. Flaws are the experiences that we go through and allow us to live freely and see things through these experiences, giving everyone a slightly different view on everything, and these differences can promote diversity and helps with community and conversation.
My wish is to normalize conversations and to make sure that we truly look at people with disabilities directly in their eyes when talking with them, and truly see them and their beauty. My hopes are, that someone out there with different abilities learns to accept who they are and feels heard and seen. I was invisible for three years, and I imagine many people like me that are on similar journeys and feel the same way.
I want to be seen for me, not for my disability. I want people to see my heart without asking what is wrong with me. It is still one of the questions that I get asked daily and still reminds me of when I thought I wasn’t “whole”. The reality is I have always been whole. I am just a different version of myself. New and improved with a little reminder to all that we can all use a little stability. My grandson doesn’t know the “old” me and accepts me for who I am today, and now I finally recognize, who I’ve always been.
Live your life, take the picture!
I finally took a picture for the first time with my arm crutches on a trip to England, not that long after meeting Jillian in person. I made sure I was wearing the brightest pink coat you have ever seen.
I am no longer hiding; I am proud of who I am, and I am happy to be living my best life. I am flawed, living with my scars and I love it. I will happily take the picture scars and all, and sometimes I still ask someone to hold my crutches for my pictures 😊. I will not hide in the background. Bring it on!
Cindy – Bubbles and Brews Canada