I have written several versions of this blog in my head and procrastinated on writing the second half of my story. This is where I get vulnerable. This is where the real shit comes out. The shit that has been buried underneath layer after layer of protection. The proverbial “good” and “bad” of my story have been hashed out in the comfort of a oft-told story with familiar words and a predictable outcome in Part One. Now I have finally mustered the courage to unlock the deepest part of my soul and bring it to the surface, so that the so- called “ugly” may finally heal. Contemplation and meditation have led me to decide that nothing is off limits. Honesty to both my readers and myself is of utmost importance when sharing these broken and shattered pieces of my soul. Only then can true healing occur in its purest form.
That Hospital Life
From that point on, everything happened very quickly. Shocked by the news, my mother, very upset, had left to make the necessary phone calls to our family. My father hiding the pain of the diagnosis behind the stoic face he had cultivated over many years of being a firefighter. My little brother searching for the smallest bit of comfort on each of my parents faces.
I was given a hospital bracelet and shuffled upstairs to a hospital room. Most would likely be scared or concerned, I was just relieved at the possibility of finally getting some rest.
As I was just getting settled in the bed, the kind doctor from before came in to perform some simple neurology tests.
As the sun drenched the room with a warm and calming glow, she asked me to spell the word “world” backwards. “D-L….” My gaze was carried to my little brother’s face who was eagerly mouthing the next letters. His eyes begging my brain to cooperate, a desperate insistence that I be ok. I was asked to draw a clock. These tasks were asked of me each day that week in the hospital; each day a little more improvement was seen.
As my awareness of my body and condition grew, I found that my left hand did not work as it was supposed to. I was unable to find the words that I wanted and when I did, they were delivered with an odd twisting of my face. I had a lot of difficulty recognizing anything out of my left peripheral vision, a condition known as ‘left side neglect.’
A flurry of doctors came in and out throughout that first day, teams of young, eager interns and attendings. Over the next week, there was a constant influx of concerned visitors and colorful flower arrangements. Therapists, doctors, phone calls, emails, laughter and optimism filled those long days in the hospital, and after six days, it was time to go home.
But, to what? Hasn’t my life been permanently altered? Am I just supposed to pick back up and do what I was doing before?
I had gone from being a newly independent 19 year old college Sophomore and overnight became completely and hopelessly dependent on others around me. To me, I felt fine; despite the inability to find an object that dropped on my left side, articulate my feelings or walk without a gait belt. But, despite all of that, here I was, all packed up, sitting in a wheelchair and being wheeled out of the hospital doors and into the hardest phase of my life. I was so ignorant to this fact. I was so completely naive.
What Just Happened?
The drive to the ferry was riddled with predictable Seattle traffic. I was in the back seat of my father’s truck, when suddenly, a strange, new rage overcame me. I was instantly so very upset, I began screaming and kicking the back of the seat in front of me. Stunned (and rightly so) my parents stared at me in complete disbelief. Trying to resist panic, my mother asked if I should go back to the hospital, my father, however could not resist the urge to scream and argue right back at me, causing a violent escalation. The difference here being that only one of us was in control of our temper.
Mom, in a vain attempt to stop the inevitable fight, physically climbed between us to protect me from my father’s temper, a temper that I had learned from an early age not to provoke. However, something had changed and I had lost the fear. I had somehow cast away the compulsion to absorb the abuse. I now had a voice; raw and unfamiliar as it was, it was there. Sensibility eventually found my father, but the damage was done. His boorish and indiscriminate temper had now met its match. Whether I liked it or not.
Instant, raging temper tantrums would continue. For years afterward, I believed it was a product of my inability to handle stress. A weakness, a character flaw so deep that others would always fail to understand. Learning only years later that it was the stroke, and its placement in my brain that caused these.
I would stay in my parent’s home for the next few weeks. Growing up in this abusive household, I thought I had escaped the chaos when I moved away to college. Somehow imagining that it would be better this time around. My absence, however did not solve this issue and only slowed my recovery.
Moving back to my shared apartment from my family home was paramount. So many important moving parts were going on that I just could not seem to grasp.
I was told not to drive, and living on my own with no financial safety net really rendered me hopeless. Depression set in. I struggled to resume a normal life, but the pieces just didn’t fit back together as they had before. I didn’t know how to move on.
Six weeks after my hospital discharge, I was to see both a speech and occupational therapist. I was tasked with scheduling, traveling to and arriving on time to these therapy appointments on my own. Mind you, I was six weeks past a frontal lobe/mid cerebral stroke. This task was nearly impossible. I saw the world as if I was intoxicated. I could still function, and function well- at least I thought so; but it was on a different plane. I missed things that were said, misread people’s emotions and intentions. Eventually, I was discharged from the outpatient therapies, due to not being able to make my appointments.
I returned a month later to my job as a caterer at a large venue where I had previously been well liked by my coworkers; but as the reality of my deficits set in and became more obvious, life as I had known it had changed, permanently. I was no longer ‘happy-go-lucky,’ but rather, paranoid, suspicious and impulsive, thus alienating the very people who loved me.
I did my best to ease back into the life that I had known, but I began, at this point, to realize that it was never going to happen. School, roommates, relationships all came and went and the stroke began to become a blur. Its funny, really how pure necessity determines when and how we move forward and away from significant events, situations and people in our lives.
I managed to work three jobs. I managed to complete my bachelors degree, have a relationship and maintain independence. Strength, perseverance, stubbornness and a dash of denial; those are the traits both inherent and acquired that kept me moving forward.
During one of my college classes in metaphysics, I came across this quote and it immediately spoke to me and how I would move on from this chapter of my life:
“No man has earned the right to intellectual ambition until he has learned to lay his course by a star in which he has never seen— to dig by the divining rod for springs which he may never reach. In saying this, I point to that which will make your study heroic. For I say to you in all sadness of conviction, that to think great thoughts, you must be heroes as well as idealists. Only when you have worked alone—when you have felt around you a black gulf of solitude more isolating than that which surrounds a dying man, and in hope and despair have trusted your own unshaken will—then only will you have achieved. Thus, only you can gain the secret isolated joy of the thinker, who knows that, a hundred years after he is dead and forgotten, men who never heard of him will be moving to the measure of this thought—the subtile rapture of a postponed power, which the world knows not because it has no external trappings, but which his prophetic vision is more real than that which commands an army.”
—Oliver Wendell Holmes
Note: As I write and ponder the timeline of my story, I realize that relaying all of the ‘bad’ things that happened nearly ten years ago during my recovery is counterproductive. I have shared with you, the readers, the toughest stuff, but I find it more compelling and provocative to share with you my recovery. Please keep in mind that this is a very consolidated account of the past ten years of my life. For the sake of brevity, I have chosen to discuss only my most pivotal moments.
The physical symptoms- left side neglect, weakness and blurred vision eventually remedied themselves within the first several months following the stroke. The cognitive deficits, rage fits, confusion, paranoia and impulsivity took several years of trial and error to heal. Using social situations and interpersonal relationships as a barometer, I struggled to ‘fit back in’ as I had before. I still have days where I feel these things, or triggering situations allow these feelings to bubble up, but it’s my lifelong quest to become a better person that keep me from acting on these impulses.
During the early days of my recovery, I searched for answers to questions that may as well never be answered. “Why did this happen to me?” What did I do to deserve this?” “What am I supposed to learn from this?” It was suggested to me by my mother that perhaps all of this was happening so that maybe one day I could help others who were in my position. That struck a cord. In 2013, after spending three years working with developmentally disabled adults, I felt a call to do more. Nursing was always something I was interested in, but I never knew how to get there, or even if I could do it. Could a stroke survivor actually be a nurse? Early that year, I began taking one night class at a time. I eventually recognized that my time as a social worker was drawing to an end (the universe had more in store for me!). I made the difficult decision that October to leave my clients, staff and ultimately, my stress, behind. As rewarding as it was to serve those in need, I could not successfully do so until I felt whole myself.
I began becoming very aware of myself and my journey. How my presence affected others. How my actions solicited reactions, favorable or otherwise. How I could choose to respond during a difficult situation. I began to mend fences from relationships I had damaged in past years, and ultimately commit myself to a path of health: spiritual, physical and emotional health. I found throughout this time that to be “healthy”, I needed to align my body and soul. It was then, seven years after my stroke, that I realized that the stroke had created a “disconnect” between my body and mind – my body had betrayed my mind and I needed to get them back on speaking terms.
As my pre-requisite classes for nursing school drew to a close in December 2015, I struggled to find my next “step”. I knew that nursing alone would not satisfy my growing desire to help others on their paths to wellness in all aspects of their lives, not just their physical health. I made the conscious decision to “let it be” (I have found many times in my life that when the pressure is taken off of anything, whether it be a decision or a relationship or path, the best result presents itself). Once I let myself be open to the path, my next step became obvious.
I realized that what had seemed like a new “next step” had actually begun two years ago when I had inquired about a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) Program through Corepower Yoga. I had found a great Yogi community there and loved the atmosphere and their yoga philosophy. I had found a daily practice through Corepower of Vinyasa Flow, and it had quickly become a necessary part of my life. A 2am Internet search yielded surprising news. There was a new Yoga Teacher Training session beginning soon, February 23, 2016,— the tenth anniversary of my stroke. (If that isn’t the universe speaking, I don’t know what is!)
By April of 2016, I had completed my Yoga Teacher certification and was very excited about what doors this would open for me. Feeling a sense of accomplishment – that I could open any door, my life began to fall into place. The classes I spent three years completing? Every single one of them is required for the Masters in Ayurveda Program at my dream college! I will be applying for that program next year. This year, I have been awarded a scholarship to travel to Bali, Indonesia for a month to acquire my Masters in Yoga Instruction.
“When we let go of the things that no longer serve us, what we deserve falls into place”. I have come to believe that everything we encounter and struggle through in life is building the stage for the next great thing. We cannot enjoy the stars without the dark of night.
Little did I know that the event that happened ten years ago would forever mold and shape the very way that I do everything in my life now. I have more compassion for others. I take much less for granted. I meditate most mornings on how I can lift up and inspire others throughout the upcoming day. Most importantly, I have found peace. Within myself, my life and my path. In finding that peace, I have found happiness. More than contentment, this happiness has made life worth living again.
So, I thank you, readers, for giving me a platform to share my story. My greatest wish is for all of you to know that you are truly not alone in your experience or recovery.