The Dark Emotional Aftermath of My Stroke—And How I Overcame It
In late 2020, I was on a path to desperately find some well-deserved enlightenment. I had a great job and was slowly clawing my way up the career ladder and thought that the more hours and tasks I took on, the more people would count on me and make me feel valued. To me, If I felt “needed,” I would find joy. In my spare time—not that I had much—I would try to connect with my children (ages 21, 12 and 10). I would do what I could to be a good, fun parent, but it never felt like enough. I never felt enough, and I became deeply depressed. To try and combat this, twice a week, with just a little of my extra free time, I would hit the mats and do 60 minutes of cardio kickboxing with my trainer. I felt strong, happy and completely in my element when hitting the pads. It was a place for me to leave everything: my frustrations, insecurities, anxiety, depression and the world of unknowing behind.
Then COVID hit. I still worked from home, trying to do it all and take on more. Plus, now my kids had to homeschool (I had to learn a whole new system of math!). As a result, my anxiety and depression was worse than it had ever been. I stopped working out, mainly because the gyms were closed, and I didn’t have my wonderful personal trainer—and good friend—to train me. I spiraled into a deep fog of darkness; I didn’t even know who I was anymore or where I belonged. I had no joy, I lost my smile and was in a deep, deep dark hole that was bottomless and the only thing that made sense was to NOT exist anymore. Suicidal thoughts became my normal, my most constant unwanted best friend. In early November 2020, I tried some online exercise groups hoping it would light a spark in me until this pandemic was behind us. It wasn’t working, but I forced myself to complete a 21-day program. Well, little did I know that day 4 was when my body would call it quits.
On November 18, 2020, on my lunch break, I kissed my kids back to school and went down to my in-home gym to push play on day 4. I had a terrible headache and thought it was stress or anxiety-induced. Naturally, a workout would be good for me, no? I made it 3 minutes in when everything physically went dark, my left hand went numb and I dropped my dumbbell, and then I dropped to the floor; the rest is still fuzzy. My mother lives with us and she had called down to me after I didn’t come upstairs when expected. She came down and to her horror, found me on the floor. The ambulance was called, and they were confident right away that I was having a stroke. I was able to get to the hospital where they administered a clot-busting drug that saved my life and granted me more time, while I was sent for brain surgery to remove the clot. THANK YOU SCIENCE!
I woke up two days later to find out my worst fear, that I was not invincible and at the age of 38 had suffered a stroke. The nurse looked at me and said, “Well, my dear, God had different plans for you.” Over the next few days, I learned that I had suffered an acute ischemic stroke on the right side of my brain, and after countless tests and imaging, we realized it was due to a small “flappy” birth defect in my heart. I would have been born with this defect and between my stress, anxiety/ depression and no longer taking proper care of my body, it was a perfect storm for perfect disaster. A clot was created and pushed through my “flap” into my brain.
When I finally grasped what had happened, I thought “this cannot be it; this is NOT my end, I WANT TO LIVE. I have kids that NEED a mother and I’m not ready”. My neurosurgeon said to me, “We did our best, but the rest is up to you.” Not all of my words made sense and I couldn’t feel much with my left hand. I could speak but certain words didn’t seem to be in my vocabulary anymore, like the number eleven and cucumber.
I met with many therapists when I was in the hospital; some for speech improvement, some for physical recovery and some for my mental health. The part of my brain that was affected the most was my emotional centre. Perfect! Just what a suicidal, depressed and anxious person needed—more emotions I could not control. I worked with the speech therapist and the physical therapist every day during my 7-day stay at the hospital and by discharge time, they said to continue with a PT as needed for my hand, as the feeling would come back. My speech was better as well. I would forget a word or two, but they said in time my speech would also come back. I can report now, I have all my speech back with very minimal aphasia, and very sporadic times of numbness in my left hand and forearm.
I wish it was that easy when it came to my mental and emotional wellbeing caused by the stroke. All my anxiety and depression that I suffered prior to my stroke were intensified by 10,000. I was anxious every moment. Would I have another stroke? Would I survive this day? I could not allow my family to leave me alone—even for one minute. My days consisted of getting up, having upwards of 8-10 anxiety/panic attacks, then going to bed, where I wouldn’t sleep because I was afraid to die. The Groundhog Day continued like that for six months.
It got really bad. So bad that I wouldn’t eat, because I needed to control something and I was certain that if I ate the wrong thing I would have another stroke. In my head the irrational thoughts were what kept me safe…until they didn’t. Months of not eating and depriving myself of necessary nutrients made me sick again! While looking at my pale, gaunt face in the mirror, I had an aha! moment and said ENOUGH. Enough depriving myself. Enough anxiety and depression. Enough living in fear. ENOUGH!
I turned to putting all my trust in Faith. I learned to pray and trust that spiritually I was being taken care of, I started practicing meditation and taught myself to accept. Accept who I was; accept what happened to me; accept who I was going to become. It was hard—really hard—and something I work on every day. My therapist taught me to learn to love who I was and that it wasn’t too late to create who I wanted to be. So that is what I did! I was reborn. I learned to change my thoughts, change the way I viewed the world and open myself up to the light. More importantly, I learned that I had the control to not feel the pain I was in before my stroke. Most importantly, I learned to accept that my stroke actually saved my life! It was a long road, but my stroke caused me to find the one thing that I was missing…PEACE!!
I no longer live in fear. My anxiety is still there, but mostly dormant. I have learned to accept and be thankful for my stroke and the grace it has taught me. I feel like my life was one weird, bad dream and when I had my stroke it taught me how to wake up. It taught me how I wanted to live. I took my worst moment and let it fuel my future. Most importantly I learned that the feelings I had before my stroke were preventable and between my self discovery, and my therapy group I vow to never feel that way again.
“The Shadow is the greatest teacher for how to come to the light” ~ Ram Dass