68-olympic_torch_runBelow is a short story that I wrote several years ago about my experiences to help inspire others in challenging situations. It includes experiences surrounding my epilepsy along with some other unique/challenging experiences that I have encountered. It would be an honor to share it with others on your website. Thank you for this opportunity.

Have You Ever SEEN the Wind?
The Story of My Life
By: Stacie Murdoch

Have you ever actually seen the wind blow? You see the effects of the wind, but you never actually SEE the wind. The trees move, the leaves fly and the bushes blow — something that we can’t visibly see is actually controlling their movement. So it goes with my life. It too moves in directions that seem to be controlled by an Invisible Force.

My life was one that others looked at and admired. In high school, I was pretty, smart, and dated the most popular guy in school. Beyond my busy social life, I was also well known as a rising track star — no one could defeat “Haro from Gilroy.” I had my pick of top colleges and my coaches began to prep me to compete in the 1988 Summer Olympics. Everyone told me that I had the talent in track and field to go all the way.

Then that Invisible Force began to move me in a direction that I would have never thought possible, and for the next seven years I was on a search to discover the unknown. My athletic abilities began to diminish and I started losing my memory. I was gaining weight and I was exhausted all the time. What was happening to me?

I first asked my doctor. To my surprise, I was given a clean bill of health. He suggested that the pressure of college, the Olympics, and moving away from home for the first time might have something to do with it. I had a difficult time believing that my physical condition could actually be a psychological problem, but I took his advice anyway and started seeing a therapist.

At the same time, college acceptance letters started pouring in. I didn’t know what to do. My condition was not improving — it was getting WORSE. I could go away to a prestigious college and pursue my athletic career or I could stay close to home and pursue solving this unknown affliction with the support of my family and friends.

I chose to stay close to home and attended a local community college with an outstanding track and field team. They were ecstatic to have me. I attended my first semester of college, only to drop all my classes for lack of energy and forgetfulness to attend my classes. Since many freshmen experience similar difficulties, not much was thought about it. My coach continued to prepare me for the track season, which would be my last. At the state track meet, I placed in all my events and even took first place in the long jump, but that said nothing for the condition that was worsening in my body.

I didn’t enroll in school the following year. It was all I could do to get out of bed each morning. My condition was still unidentified and it was worsening with each day. By this time, I had made many trips to the emergency room from cuts and gouges in my body. I would wake up with black eyes, bloody noses, fat lips, bloody knuckles and even bruises of handprints on my legs every morning. WHY was this happening to me?

The pounding on the walls and violent movement in my room shook the house with terror in the night. My mother would come into my room and see what looked to be a night terror, a very violent sleep disorder. Night after night, my mother tried to protect my body from harm, but it was impossible. During these episodes my body turned into an uncontrollable force that no one could stop.

The night terror episodes eventually evolved into something that looked more like a grand mal epileptic seizure. My mother continued seeking one specialist after another, but no one was able to make a diagnosis. We had exhausted all the alternatives available to us through my medical insurance and were unsure where to turn next.

During this frightful time in my life, the Invisible Force blew my way again. I developed a friendship with a wonderful man named Michael. Our friendship grew and, after a few months of him experiencing what was happening to me, he could not believe that the doctors couldn’t find a diagnosis. He had a plan to change this, a plan that eventually saved my life.

Michael told me that he would financially help me find other means of medical help. To do this, we got married. He was a military man and marrying him gave me a different health insurance and we used the extra money to explore other medical options. His idea was to stay married until he was discharged and then we would go our separate ways. All Michael wanted in return was good home cooked meals and to not sleep in the barracks. This deal worked great for both of us — he could live at my house with my family and my mother was a great cook.

Since this marriage was one of convenience rather than love, we had to keep our ulterior motives a secret. I knew my mother would never approve of our deception. We were able to hide it well — we acted as if we were in love and created a comfortable life together for the next two years.

With the new insurance, I was able to attend a sleep clinic at Stanford University. It was reputed as the best in the country. The magnetic resonance image (MRI) was relatively new at the time and the doctors there gave us hope about the technology. They said that their machine would detect whatever it was that was going on in my brain. It would either confirm or eliminate the possibility of a neurological disorder. I thought that this was the answer needed. The doctors would finally find a reason that explained my condition and cure me.

I still remember the moment when the neurologist came into the room after the test. He was wearing this little white lab coat with a pocket protector that had a few pens sticking out of it. He was a bit shorter than me and wore prescription glasses that he kept pushing up his nose. He didn’t acknowledge me, but spoke directly to my mother. I will never forget what he said, the words that came out of his mouth, “Just face it Mrs. Haro, your daughter does not have a physical disorder, it’s all psychological.” Within one month, I was partially committed to an outpatient mental hospital.

It felt like my world had ended. How could a young girl who had it all lose it all just like that? It had been six and a half years since my first experience with the exhaustion, with the symptoms escalating day after day. By this time I was suffering from at least ten severe seizures a day. I consequentially lost most of my memory, my identity, my independence and what I enjoyed about my life. My memory was so damaged from the seizures that my mother would put a little note in my pocket each morning — the vital information of my name, address and phone number in case I was to wonder off.

During my time at the hospital, the Invisible Force began to move me again. A friend, Lilly, introduced me to the concept of faith and Jesus. She told me if I had faith in the One who could save me, I would be saved. I remained skeptical. How could someone I couldn’t even see save my life? She offered to take me to her weekly Bible study. I was hesitant.

At first, I continued to put my faith in the doctors and specialists that only had the knowledge of their experiences and schoolbooks. I never thought to put my faith in a higher power. I had already tried everything else — neurology, therapy, herbal therapy, acupuncture, acupressure and hypnotherapy. Why not give this a shot? I also reasoned that it must be better than going to a mental hospital each day.

After six months of being in the hospital and attending weekly Bible studies, I finally decided to actually give this faith thing a chance. I gave my life to Jesus. I prayed for Him to use my life how He intended and I asked for a diagnosis of epilepsy in that prayer. I had such a difficult time dealing with a diagnosis of a psychological disorder; any diagnosis would be better. Epilepsy was a diagnosis that held hope. It had medications to help control it. I had all the symptoms — my uncontrollable body movements looked like grand mal seizures anyway, so why should I not have epilepsy, right?

About a month after praying for that, I had another electro encephalograms (EEG), probably about my 20th one in the past seven years. The military doctor noticed some odd activity in this EEG and needed to refer it to a specialist, but because Michael had just been discharged and filed for divorce, I was no longer covered by his insurance.

Luckily, a new neurologist had just joined my medical group. In July 1993, I met with her and she confirmed the odd activity with amazement, “Stacie, WHY have you not yet been diagnosed? It’s obvious you have epilepsy.”

For the past seven years doctors told me there was no sign of a physical disorder in those EEGs. They always came back clean. But this time, this one time after I gave it up to Him, the abnormal brain wave was visible to make the diagnosis.

Believe it or not, this was one of the happiest days in my life. I finally had a diagnosis other than “it’s a psychological problem.” I hated those words. I think doctors use that phrase when they don’t know the answer but want to give some sort of an explanation.

For the next year, my neurologist experimented with different anti-seizure medications until we found one that I was not allergic to and was strong enough to stop the seizures. One year after my diagnosis, I experienced my last seizure!

I have always been extremely ambitious and still wanted to accomplish the goals I had back in high school. I wanted to graduate from college and be in the Olympics. However, the severity of the seizures damaged my memory. This meant my brain was about the maturity of a 10-year-old inside the body of a 24-year-old. I also had no identity or social skills, but I was determined to succeed!

College was definitely a challenge. I began school with all remedial classes and slowly moved up to more difficult classes that counted toward a degree. I also needed to relearn the social skills needed for interaction with my peers. I remembered nothing from high school and struggled to find a way to fit in. I learned to ask lots and lots of questions. I found out that the best way to survive in college was to get involved. So, I sought out and joined the most popular student club, an honor society, Alpha Gamma Sigma. Luckily, my grades from high school were good enough to get me in.

I was not shy about sharing what had happened to me. The other club members took me under their wing and were influential in shaping me into the person I am today. They helped me relearn my social skills and how not to act like a demanding 10-year-old or crying when things didn’t go my way. They taught me how to approach people, how to earn the respect of others, how to respect myself and how to recognize my limitations. I believe the Invisible Force dropped me into the pathway of this fabulous group of young adults.

My life was on the right track: I was going to school, getting good grades and making friends. I was one year away from graduation, when the Invisible Force showed up once again.

I had begun to lose sight of the higher power that pulled me through that horrible chapter in my life. I thought that I controlled my life and if I wanted something to happen, it would be all up to me to make it happen. I quit relying on the faith I had found.

On August 31, 1997, I had a severe accident while grass sledding. My grass sled went out of control. I was speeding about 45 mph down a hill and had no way to stop. My sled hit the bottom ledge and flew through the air, throwing me about six feet up and then straight down onto the ground. Initially, I thought I just got the wind knocked out of me. But after a few minutes of sitting there, trying to regain my breath, I still could not move. My mother came up onto the hill to see if I was okay and all I could say to her was, “Just pray.”

Right away my mother began to pray that my body be healed completely. She prayed this over and over again until the paramedics came. It took them quite some time to secure me to the backboard up on the hill. Their expertise in emergency situations paid off and they got me safely into the ambulance. It was the longest trip I ever experienced to the emergency room. This was not an unfamiliar place to me; it was just one that I wished to forget.

After spending a few hours in the emergency room and having x-rays, the doctors sent me home and told me to take it easy. They said that I injured some tendons and ligaments, but that I would be fine. They gave me some pain pills and that was the end of that, or so I thought.

I didn’t want to miss out on any school, especially since I was so close to something that seemed hopelessly far from reach a few years ago. Graduation was just one year away. The hospital delivered a wheelchair to the house and I began school three days later. I started swimming to strengthen my injured back and keep some activity in my life but I was virtually immobile at this point.

After a month and a half, I was able to walk a bit without the wheelchair, but I was still in just about as much pain as when the accident happened. The doctors told me that the pain would be gone by this point. I insisted on having a computerized tomography (CT) scan of my back. I finally convinced my doctor that the x-rays in the emergency room were not enough and he needed to take another look.

After the CT scan, three specialists entered my room. Each of them looked at me and asked questions about the numbing in my legs and pain down my side. I didn’t have any of this, but I sure did have pain in my back and in my chest when I breathed. I thought they were going to tell me the same thing; it was only torn ligaments and tendons and that I would be sent home again.

Then one of them spoke up and said, “Well, Stacie, do you know why we’re asking you all these questions?” I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders a bit. He continued, “I have brought these specialists in to take a look at you because by looking at your CT scan, we can not understand why you are still able to walk. The CT scan shows that your T12 vertebrae is shattered and you should be paralyzed. It can only be explained as a miracle.”

My mother and I were amazed. We looked at each other, gave a knowing smile, and hugged. We knew that faith had protected me once again.

After five years of attending Cabrillo Community College in Aptos, Calif., I finally WALKED across the stage and received my AA degree in liberal arts. I graduated with president’s honors and received a special meritorious award for service and dedication to the college. I received the most scholarships that any one student had ever received at the college.

I continued my education at San José State University in San José, Calif., and pursued a BS degree in advertising, graduating in the top five percent of my class. I worked my way through college by teaching high school kids about what I learned to make it through college. If I could do it with the brain of a 10-year-old, they could certainly do it with a high school diploma.

I had finally accomplished one of my goals from long ago — I graduated from college. My other goal was to be in the Olympics. Although I tried to compete in track and field during college, I didn’t have the natural talent I possessed back in high school. I had almost given up hope on that Olympic dream, until January 2002 when the Invisible Force blew the Olympics my way.

The Winter Olympic Torch Relay came through San José on its way to Salt Lake City. Coca-Cola was accepting nominations for people who were inspiring to be torchbearers. About a half-dozen people sent nominations on my behalf and told the story of how I inspired them in their lives. My Olympic dream finally came true! Coca-Cola selected ME to represent the United States and run with the Olympic flame through San José.

On January 18, 2002 I carried the Olympic flame while all of the people who inspired ME stood along the streets and cheered me on. It was the best day of my life…so far.

After Michael, I had many relationships that just didn’t work out because of my lack of maturity and real life knowledge. I had been developing that for nine years when the Invisible Force blew my way once again… straight into the arms of the love of my life and on September 6, 2003, I married the man of my dreams, Chris.

Chris and I wanted a family. There was no way to tell if pregnancy would affect or trigger my seizures again. The medications I was taking for seizures did not have a good outlook for pregnancy. The chance of severe birth defects was alarming. I needed to stop my meds if we wanted to get pregnant. We had to make a choice…a family OR the chance of seizures starting again. Once again, we relied on our faith and let the Invisible Force blow us in the right direction.

With the guidance of my neurologist and the support of my husband, I slowly came off my meds. After two years with no sign of seizures, we began to try for a family. Two years after we were married I would like to say that the Invisible Force was a gentle breeze into parenthood. But with the energy my two kids have, I now have to say that the Invisible Force blew with gale force winds! We were blessed with two wonderful children, a boy and a girl two years apart, Christopher & Caileigh.

My career as an advertising account executive never took off. Instead, the Invisible Force gently blew me in a different direction. Julie was my career counselor in college and she is now one of my closest friends. She always knew that I had more to offer the world than working in advertising. Julie recognized my raw talent and unique life experiences and introduced me to the idea of using those experiences to work with people with disabilities. Julie offered me a job as an employment specialist working with people with severe disabilities.

This job is where I am supposed to be. I am able to relate with clients on a variety of levels…I have experienced the challenges of losing full use of my limbs for a period of time, wheel chair challenges, the mental health challenges, the learning & memory challenges. Rarely do I meet with a client that I do not have at least ONE challenge in common with. Clients are able to make a connection that they are unable to make with someone who just SAYS the words “I know what you are going through” OR “I know how you feel” when really, they don’t.

I believe that there is a plan for everything. We may not know exactly what that plan is at the exact moment something is happening, especially when it is not so pleasant. But when I look back at my life and the different directions that my Invisible Force has blown me, it all makes sense.

Now, whenever I look up and see the trees move, the leaves fly and the bushes blow, it only makes me stop and remember…just like the wind, there is an Invisible Force guiding me every step of the way. I have been seizure free since 1994 and off of my meds since 2003.

Until the wind blows again….

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