Why I am doing this research project?
This project is important to me because I had a stroke at the age of 31 in 2001 and the idea of stroke survivor is still a new concept to me. I always thought of myself as a victim. A victim of circumstances, a victim of hereditary, a victim without a perpetrator except my own body.
The idea of "Survivor" never came in the picture, because then I would have to see myself as overcoming something I could not describe to anyone else, that did not share the experience of a stroke. Survivor meant I am seeking to recovery and have hope of one day being who I once was. Survivor seemed to be an impossibility to me, so I owned my victim status.
I was wrong.
I am a survivor because I had a stroke and I lived.
I am a survivor because I had a stroke and I get tell other people about my experience.
I am a survivor because had a stroke I still have hope to gain the things I lost.
I am a survivor because had a stroke I still have dreams.
I am a survivor because had a stroke I still can still learn.
I am a survivor because had a stroke I still love myself and others.
This research project is a way to come to terms with what I went through and define what "recovery" means to stroke survivors collectively.
It was the evening of December 24, 2001 and I just arrived at the sitters house to pick up my kids after working 8 hours. I was exhausted, short tempered and when I sat on the couch I felt so heavy. I was a single parent of two beautiful children ages 5 and 8 years old and they were excited for Santa to arrive the next morning. All I wanted to do was to crawl up into a ball and hid from a night of putting together a Madeline dollhouse and wrapping gifts. In the end I performed my parental duties on behalf of a fictitious Santa and fell asleep.
When I woke up on Christmas day, my life changed forever. It was quiet. The constant familiar chatter that accompanied me every waking hour was silent. There was no thoughts running through my mind. There were not thoughts at all except the thoughts in the present moment. So I convinced myself that I must be ill. Funny now how right I was, but I could not conceive of my illness being caused by a stroke. It never even crossed my mind.
So for three days life continued as always, with a few exceptions. I could not retain anything past the present and only some things in the past, like my children. I could not connect what I wanted to say into actual words, I could not understand everything spoken to me, I could not make my right hand function in the normal way and I could not read anything. However, miraculously, I could drive, take my kids to the movies, go out to dinner with my parents, take my kids to school and go to work. So how bad could I be?
It took three days and my best friend to convince me to go to the emergency room. It took them 10 minutes to confirm that I had a stroke. Considering my young age and that I walked in on my own, I was not referred to any rehabilitation care and told I would fully recover. I was not offered an advocate, disability insurance, or had a support system. All I new was the I was sole supporter of two children that had two jobs. Thank god my employer allowed me to return to work a week later. He was not a patient man and I put up with a lot of belittling due to my new disabilities. My second job was delivering newspapers which paid for my kids catholic school and thinking was not a requirement.
The fog in my brain did not lift until a year and a half. Word connections and memory were coped with by typing everything into the computer using my left hand to control my right arm. My dropped foot and most of my right hand functions returned within six months. I am not analytical anymore. I can read but retaining information is a long process of reading it twice and outlining. There are still gaps in my present memory and I developed a dyslexia when typing. I cannot hand write anything at all and I cannot multi-task at all.
My dream of becoming an English teach became out of my reach and I lost all hope. I was 31 years old, had two children dependent on me and no future to look forward to.
It took a long time for me to understand that I lost one future, but that life is always changing and a new future could emerge. We are not stationary beings that reach full potential and then die. Our lives are always in a state of transition. There is always an opportunity to grow and learn, we just need to look for them and try.
I don't regret my stroke. I love who I am now and what I have learned.