Six Questions With Author Janet Oberholtzer

I feel privileged to know Janet and am thrilled that her story, Because I Can, is finally available in print. Join me in welcoming her to the blog, and if you have any questions for Janet feel free to ask in the comments section below.

1 – The part about the accident is gripping – how much of that do you remember, or is it mostly stuff that Jerry and others told you later?

Though I was conscious for a short time post-accident, I have no clear memories of it. Jerry, the boys and I spent many hours talking over the details, so I could write about that time. For a time, I wanted one of them to write the first few chapters, or at least one chapter, but that didn’t interest any of them.

I do have a faint memory of helicopter blades … thinking about that memory or hearing a helicopter still causes something inside me to tense up. My counselor tells me that means I heard that sound when I was in a traumatic situation, even though I don’t clearly remember hearing it.

2 – I’m fascinated by the idea of those hallucinations you had in the early days – is it still difficult for you to differentiate between what actually happened and what was only a dream or do you have it pretty well sorted out by now?

I have it sorted out now, because I’ve asked Jerry about each one many times … and I trust that he’s telling me the truth about what did or didn’t happen. But some of my memories of the most vivid hallucinations are still almost as clear as they were seven years ago. If I think about them for any length of time, the sights/sounds/smells/etc. come back … along with the fear and trauma that accompanied many of the hallucinations.

3 – Running helped you recover from both depression, before the accident, and then from many of the physical and emotional affects of the accident itself – writing also played a big role in your recovery. Can you talk about how running and writing helped you in different ways?

I began walking more and then running again about the same time I became more serious about writing Because I Can… so for a few years my life was all about one word and one step at a time. If I did some of each every day, I considered it a successful day. In many ways one helped the other… running gets my creativity flowing, but generally results in disorganized streams of thoughts. Writing out what I’m thinking helps me bring some order and meaning to my jumbled thoughts. Plus both running and writing require endurance… you can’t go from couch to a race overnight, nor can you write a book overnight.

4 – Do you find it difficult when you encounter (people like me) who take their physical well-being for granted?

For the most part I don’t … I know that I took my health more for granted pre-accident, so I have to give others grace for where they are. Plus I love food and still have room for improvement in my diet. But, I have to admit I find it frustrating when people could make choices to have a healthier body and they imply that they don’t have a choice. Though I’m doing better than doctors ever anticipated, I still have a deformed leg and pain from various injuries … I cannot do anything to change that. So it can be hard to have grace for people who say they can’t do this or that … but in reality if they made different food and/or exercise choices, they could.

While running is my exercise of choice I don’t think everyone has to run … some can’t, some don’t like it, or don’t have the time for it. But I think our bodies are meant to move, so everyone should find what works for them … walking, gardening, biking, dancing, etc. Also, I don’t think everyone needs to eat a plant-based diet like I’ve chosen to do… but I think everyone should be more conscious of what they eat.

5 – When you and Jerry were at our house this summer, you didn’t hesitate at all to show people your leg. Did it take you a while to reach that point?

As I wrote in Because I Can, “I always kept my leg covered, rarely even allowing myself to see it. Yes, that is possible. I wore long pants or skirts day and night.”

I did that for about two years … then with counseling and time, as I came to a place of acceptance with my new normal, I began wearing shorts while running and showing it to others. Over the years, a few reactions have made me wish I hadn’t shown it (one person almost fainted), but overall I’ve found that it encourages people and gives them hope that they can adjust to unwanted changes in their life, so now I show it freely. (usually with a warning that if someone is squeamish they might not want to look)

6 – What is one thing you hope to say through your book to people who have a poor self-image?

Do what you can to change what you can … then make peace with the rest. This is not a dress rehearsal, you have one life to live … and it’s too short to waste any of it feeling sorry for something you can’t change or to not make changes if you can.

One key to making peace with the things you can’t change, whether they be physical struggles, relationships that change, or other losses in life, is to be honest about them. You can’t deny your reality. I find the most peace, energy and hope when I live in the tension of celebrating the good things in my life while being honest about the disappointments.

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You can order paperback copies of Because I Can at Janet’s website and on Amazon. Or order for your Kindle or Nook. You can connect with Janet on her blog, on Twitter and on Facebook.

12 Replies to “Six Questions With Author Janet Oberholtzer”

  1. Shawn, so nice to meet you this way. I love that limestone background on your picture. No limestone is as good as Lancaster County limestone. :-)

    And how interesting that we both did Q & A today with Janet. I enjoyed your questions (all different from mine) and Janet’s answers.

    Also, another post by guest blogger Lanie Tankard on my blog might help shed some light on Morphine Dreams. Did you know that Marianne Faithful has a song about “Sister Morphine”? See this review:

    All best to both of you! I “liked” your fb page Shawn and hope we can keep in touch.

    1. Thanks, Shirley. Really nice meeting you – I took a look at your blog and it’s pretty cool what you’ve got going on over there. All the best with your work-in-progress.

  2. First I have to give a high-five to Shawn for having a John Irving quote on his blog…he’s my favorite author. :-)

    I just finished reading Because I Can last night and have highlighted several passages because the resonated with me so deeply. Janet’s experience is vastly different than my own, so I say this not to compare our journeys because they are as unique and individual as we are, but to indicate that I think there are certain lessons that come to us only in times of great pain, whether it be emotional or physical. I very much relate to the idea that movement spurs creativity and that writing makes sense of it. Writing has been an incredibly healing modality for me.

    Brava Janet!

  3. Having had the honor of reading Janet’s story one of the things I am most intrigued with is how her family was able to talk about the parts she can’t remember, which I would imagine to be the hardest parts for loved ones to witness.

    How difficult was it to get that conversation started and have it continue long enough and often enough for you, Janet, to get the whole picture?

    1. Veronica,
      The first chapters in the book were not the first ones written. I wrote about the homecoming, the return visit to California and some of the other chapters first. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I wrote the happy stuff first :)

      But obviously I couldn’t only write about the good, so I needed to have the conversations. After one fumbled attempt with all of us, I realized it would probably be best to do the conversations one on one or at the most with two of them. And that worked better.

      The boys were okay talking about it, but it wasn’t something they enjoyed doing, so I kept the convos with them brief.

      So poor Jerry had to give me the most info. Since we were having these convos a few years post-accident, at first he didn’t think he’d remember much. But once he started talking about it and got back into the moment, then he remembered more than he thought he would. He would talk and I’d type as fast as I could in a very rough draft that I’d clean up later, then have him read it to make sure it sounded as he remembered it.
      Usually reading my edited version helped spur memories of something else, then I’d quickly begin typing again … and we’d repeat.

  4. It’s pretty neat to see the different avenues two interviews can take with the same person on the same subject! I can really relate to what Janet said here about people’s limiting beliefs regarding health and food choices. Since my first husband died of cancer at age 25, I have been eating differently than main-stream America for a long time. I recently shared with colleagues that none of my 6 children had cavities for 18 years, but they refused to believe it had anything to do with how we ate, stating that it must have been hereditary. Even after pointing out my own mouth-full of fillings, they just did not seem interested in hearing anything about dietary changes. I’ve encountered that for decades but it still leaves me shaking my head inside. Keep up the good work, Janet! :)

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