Skydiving For My Soul: Unleashing My Inner Daredevil
What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail?
I devoured Lean In: Woman, Work, and the Will To Lead while on summer vacation in 2013. The compelling question that Sheryl Sandberg posed gripped my soul and refused to let go. I tried to ignore it and remain my sensible self. I was a reading specialist with a predictable salary, great health insurance, summers off to be with my two children, and a pension waiting for me. At the age of 38, I had a mere 22 years until I could retire and pursue my dreams of becoming a writer. Having narrowly escaped death at 31, I, more than anyone, should have seen the flaws in that plan. My attempt to answer this question has since propelled me on the most majestic voyage of my life.
When I was in fifth grade, I participated in a Young Author’s Club. We all wrote our own manuscripts, went through the editing process, and proudly displayed a typed, bound book on Young Author’s Night at school. My mom painstakingly translated my handwritten chicken scratch into legible print. Upon completion, I beamed with pride over the professional appearance of my ”novel.” Move over Judy Blume, Lisa Goodman was about to take the publishing world by storm! I was selected to be the student presenter and at the end of my speech, I boldly stated, “It is my dream to one day become a published author.”
Like most childhood dreams, mine disintegrated. Shortly after Young Author’s Night, I was diagnosed with juvenile scleroderma. This rare autoimmune disease would lead to the disfigurement of my limbs, painful calcification deposits, Raynaud’s Syndrome, the spread of red splotches (telangiectasia) all over my skin, and an array of other medical issues. There were times when it was too painful to hold a pencil, much less write a novel.
Thankfully, my scleroderma stabilized and I went away to college, met my husband, began my career as a fourth grade teacher, earned a master’s degree in reading, and became a mom to my son. My dreams of becoming an author laid dormant deep within the crevices of my heart.
In 2006, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter. Twelve hours later, I encountered grave complications that spiraled out of control and led to my 218-day hospital stay. I endured eight major surgeries, two tracheotomies, ICU psychosis, temporary paralysis, neuropathy, depression, and many other issues. With the support of hundreds, I clawed my way out from six feet under and slowly reclaimed my life. For many months, I could not eat, breathe, speak, or move independently. After a long recovery, I was encouraged by many friends to write about my journey.
My childhood dream resurfaced and I spent the next seven years quietly writing a manuscript that I doubted would ever see the light of day. I only worked on my writing during my time off in the summer when my kids were at camp. For 30 days each summer, I journeyed into the caverns of my memory and embarked on my cathartic writing expedition. Then, in 2013, sitting on a beach chair in sunny Michigan, I read those life-altering words: What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail? This became my mantra. I knew I wanted to become a professional writer and get my manuscript published, but was strangled by fear.
Risky questions lurked around every corner. How could I give up the career in teaching I loved and had spent 20 years cultivating? How could I throw away my predictable salary, benefits, and hours that mirrored my children’s schedule? How could I convince my financially conservative husband that we could afford to take a gamble on my childhood fantasy?
There were hurdles to overcome. Each time I hit an obstacle, I held on to my mantra. During the 2013-2014 school year, I found a colleague who was interested in job-sharing my position for the following academic term. We submitted a proposal to my school district’s superintendent, which he graciously approved. For ten months, I have had the privilege of working part-time as a reading specialist. I spend the other half of my work week writing and occasionally traveling for professional speaking engagements.
I am having the time of my life pursuing my dream. Writing has given me a far reaching voice that I never dreamed was possible. For many months in the hospital, I was held hostage by silence due to a tracheotomy. Having scleroderma, I will never be able to physically unleash my inner daredevil. Skydiving and mountaineering are not in my future. That’s okay, because conquering my fears and putting my voice out there is like skydiving for my soul. Terrifying, yet exhilarating. Risky, yet the return on my investment is increased fulfillment, and a sense of accomplishment when I land. Each jump hones my skill; it takes practice, and I simply cannot afford to skip a step. Perhaps the toughest conclusion to admit is: I am not afraid to fail.
What would you do if you were not afraid to fail? Confront an old bully, or someone you once bullied? Send a letter to repair a relationship? Would you go back to school? Perhaps start your own business? Take the film class you’ve always been curious about? Tear up your lawn and replace it with a garden? We all need to get our feet wet, our hands dirty, and surprise ourselves. Maybe we’ll fail and feel embarrassed or judged by others. So what? Who cares? Life is short, we owe it to ourselves to peak our own summit. In that spirit, I am taking my next jump and including the synopsis of my manuscript for the first time publicly. Will people hate the title? Will they criticize the content? Maybe, but I’m not afraid to find out.
Does This Hospital Gown Come With Sequins? (and Other Questions I Asked During My 218-Day Hospital Stay)
Written By Lisa Goodman-Helfand
A chronically ill mother of two recalls her near-death experience after the birth of her second child. Lisa Helfand bares her soul from a hospital bed in Chicago, at times feeling a million miles from help, even when surrounded by medicine and many latex-gloved hands hoping to cure her with standard protocols. Her condition confounds doctors and family, while her internal struggle is muffled by a tracheotomy. How long can one woman survive under these conditions?
With two children to think of, and a marriage to keep afloat (not to mention carpools, holidays, and unforgettable first moments in her children’s lives rushing on without her), she endures unimaginable pain and ICU psychosis, without letting her sense of humor escape her. Lisa’s ultimate survival despite medical malfeasance, family friction, and maddening days of being locked in with her thoughts will appeal to a wide American audience. Women will identify with Lisa’s memoir as she struggles with marriage, parenting, friendships and society’s obsession with outer beauty. The story will move professional caregivers to a higher level of empathy for their patients. Chronic disease sufferers will see themselves in the book and feel validated and inspired. Her road to recovery is documented with humor and poise in this debut memoir.
- Cutting my salary in half to pursue my dream is not something I take for granted. Not everyone has the luxury to “peak their own summit” because they are too busy working to put food on the table.
- Some reading this might want to say, “Lisa, you’re nuts, I barely have time to brush my teeth in the morning, much less chase a dream. What’s in the Kool-Aid you’re drinking?” To which I will reply, “Back off man, I’m obviously going through some kind of mid-life crisis. Don’t be a dream crusher. Maybe this isn’t the right time for you, but hopefully it will be one day.”
- I don’t know Sheryl Sandberg, but feel it would be callous to mention her in any context without acknowledging the recent tragic death of her husband. My heart goes out to her and all families who are going through such a devastating loss.