#StrokeRecovery, it’s a process

May 14, 2015

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.

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  • Reply Celia May 15, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    You are amazing. Your words and wisdom reach through the screen and cause me to press the pause button in a way that is so meaningful. “With the same voracity that I used to push myself, I now practice grace and kindness…” <– This needs a raise the roof emoji and even a pineapple emoji because why not. From the East Coast, thinking of you and sending good vibes and gratitude.

    • Reply This Free Bird May 18, 2015 at 6:24 pm

      I’m with you on those emojis. It’s very hard to let go of a part of myself, unhealthy as it may have gotten, that defined me. I think it’s about a change in perspective and I’m trying very hard at that. Thank you for the good vibes! I appreciate you following my story even though it’s not always pretty.

  • Reply Nadia May 15, 2015 at 5:16 am

    I’m so happy that you have continued to blog, specifically about what you are going through at this point in your life. You truly are an inspiration. I won’t pretend to know or understand the challenges you have faced and/or continue to face daily, but you are just as much a beautiful writer now than you’ve ever been. Thank you for sharing your experiences 🙂

    • Reply This Free Bird May 18, 2015 at 6:21 pm

      Thank you, Nadia. It’s very therapeutic to write it down and I’m so grateful you still read here. A lot has changed in the past 5 years.

  • Reply This Free Bird May 14, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    Kim, thanks so much. I’m going to look up that site and use it. I’m grateful for the recommendation, it will be nice to have one less thing to beat myself up about – even though I’m getting a lot better at being kind to myself. Thank you!

  • Reply Kim May 14, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    As always, thanks for sharing. You write beautifully and are an inspiration. I also wanted to share this with you: https://lastpass.com/ As a person who has to log into dozens of websites for work on a daily basis, it’s a godsend. You can have lastpass generate all your passwords and then you only have to log into the one site.

  • Reply Closet Fashionista May 14, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    As always, you’re in inspiration! I’m not sure if I could be as strong as you have been through all of this. Reading your blog always makes me want to be more positive and know that I actually have it pretty easy.

    Sometimes talking about stuff really does help with the healing process, so even though you were helping her, I think she helped you too 🙂

    • Reply This Free Bird May 14, 2015 at 8:16 pm

      You’re so right and I actually told her that talking about this and reliving it stirred up so many emotions I didn’t even know were still there. It’s tough but cleansing to go back and cry it out. No shame in that. I’m glad you read here!

  • Reply Courtney May 14, 2015 at 11:55 am

    I think participating in that study sounds like it was a good opportunity to articulate some of things that you discuss here – and that can’t be a bad thing…and your last point is so perfectly on the mark, I loved it. I think it’s a good reminder for just about anyone in anyone situation to just be thankful their ass is alive and then keep moving forward with this things, even if the pace can be basically a crawl. A brisk pace is so overrated…

    Courtney ~ Sartorial Sidelines

    • Reply This Free Bird May 14, 2015 at 8:14 pm

      It’s so weird. I used to be a superfast person, always multi-tasking, a bunch of projects and deadlines and things on the go. I missed out on so much living like that, even though I accomplished a lot. Now I feel like I notice so many more just simple yet meaningful things. It keeps me sane through a lot of frustration.

  • Reply Jen Panetta May 14, 2015 at 10:54 am

    I think it is really cool you participated in that woman’s study. Good for you for sharing your experience in yet one more way that helps others. You are awesome and don’t let the pics on insty get to you. There’s always someone doing better and many others doing worse than all of us, we just don’t tend to focus on the latter. You know there are many folks looking at you just wishing they could be in your shoes as well! I’m glad to see your post, you had been quiet for a while so I was wondering how you were doing. And congrats on the Whole30!!

    • Reply This Free Bird May 14, 2015 at 8:08 pm

      Seeing those pics on instagram has made me feel so much compassion for other survivors on there who are maybe just learning to walk or tie their shoes again or, like me, finally get the dang fitted sheets on the bed in under an hour. It’s hard. If there’s one common thread I see in all stroke survivors it’s sheer human will. That desire to get your life back can be a great encouragement, but sometimes cause so much frustration 🙁 And yes! I finished the Whole30 and am feeling so good I’m doing another 15 days at least. It’s only day 3 but charging ahead!!

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