Comparison is the thief of joy ~ Theodore Roosevelt

A few weeks ago I was approached by a student at the University of Strathclyde to participate in a research project on stroke recovery. Little did she know I’ve been really down about how slow it seems to be going this time around. Do you have any idea how many people are on instagram working out like crazy under #strokesurvivor? A bunch of them; lifting weights, running marathons and jumping jack around parking lots.

And then you have me, looking at instagram, mumbling ‘what the f-ck?’ under my breath.

I realize the people under that hashtag aren’t everyone who’s had a stroke, but sometimes it feels like it. Especially on days when just getting out of bed feels like a job. Seeing (and feeling) the contrast in recovery made me decide to participate in the study. Maybe it will help shed light on those of us who can’t bench press a hundred or run five miles without breaking a sweat (although hats off to those who can!). I know we’re out here and we’re TIRED.

For whatever reason I was able to really cut loose with this person. Below are some of the things we talked about, I included new and previously mentioned points in case there are new readers:

  • After my first stroke I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want the people I worked with to think I was weak, like they finally broke me. Looking back I’m not sure how I pulled that off. It must have been pure adrenaline and denial. It still bothers me to think my peers will read this and somehow think less of me, like I wasn’t capable of handling the rigors of the job. I guess I’m also a recovering workaholic.

  • I didn’t do traditional rehab. Because I could walk and I’m really stubborn, I took a holistic approach. I changed my diet, did vitamin therapy, committed to acupuncture, practiced positive thinking including what I read, watched and who I put myself around, earthed, rode my bike and walked. I listened to my body and, as I got better and better, continued to educate myself on food therapy and other holistic methods. Not to make light, but I also colored, did simple arts and crafts and spent hours a day on word searches to strengthen my brain. That stuff really works!

  • After my first stroke I lost a large chunk of my memory. Thankfully my earliest/longest memories are intact, but a lot of other ones aren’t. I couldn’t remember how to lock the house, start my car, adjust the mirrors or use the gear shift. I remember standing outside the garage at a total loss, staring at my key ring. My mind went blank trying to figure out how keys worked. Which one went in the door? I could feel the thoughts in my brain racing around for information that had just…disappeared. It was the most terrifying thing to sit in my car, brain throbbing in my skull, and realize I was in major, major trouble.

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  • Short-term memory retention continues to be a struggle for me. I have a tough time remembering most passwords and renew them every time I pay a bill or sign into an account. As an executive recruiter I never forgot a name or telephone number, now I’m happy just to remember who the hell a person is, period.

  • As a healthy person, you know how a word will be on the tip of your tongue and if you sit for a bit it comes to you? For stroke survivors, or at least me, it never does. As an english major and longtime word wizard, this has been hard to learn to live with. I still rail against it and try, try, try.

  • Stroke recovery is a reintroduction to self. Even though you are the same person, you are also a completely different one at the same time. It is a process of letting go, holding on, and forgiving yourself – over and over. With the same voracity that I used to push myself, I now practice grace and kindness while battling feelings of inadequacy. It’s a constant push and pull.

  • They asked me what I thought the most important thing was to aid in my recovery and I immediately said, ‘my belief that I could’. That kind of caught me off guard, but it’s true. I really believed I could get better and never believed any of the negative crap my doctor fed me. I just refused to take it in, like a shield. It wasn’t a case of denial but of knowing myself and my strong will, maybe also a little bit of ignorance.

I don’t have a fancy summary for this one. Basically I could barely get on my bike this week and Chris caught me laying down next to it. That’s the reality of stroke recovery. Sometimes you’re on the bike and sometimes you’re just happy to take a nap with it. Also, don’t bother looking at what other people are doing. Just be happy your ass is alive.