It’s been 110 days since my stroke. I still remember it vividly, like it happened yesterday. The feeling of the rubber band snapping at the back of my head, the stiff neck pain, crawling to the bathroom as I began to vomit. I remember calling my mom, then 911. I remember rushing down a flight of stairs to save the EMT time getting a stretcher up the stairs. The darkness that clouded my mind that this was the end. I knew it even when they treated me for a migraine, initially. It took a lot of willpower to convince the treating physician that this isn’t a migraine, and for him to realize to finally order a CT scan. The scan results are the last thing that I remember. Blood is all over your brain, and you might die. I fogged out after that, waking up later to tubes in my head, unaware of what transpired. My mom told me that during the transfer to the hospital downtown that I was joking with the EMT. I have no memory of this, but I’m glad that I still had a sense of humor through this turmoil. I’ve gone over at length what transpired with my health in previous blogs, so I won’t bore you with my prolonged stay and medical issues after it. I want to talk about my mental health in the last 110 days. I will break them out with every emotion.
There are different theories of how many emotions a human experience. I have several listed and I will share how this stroke has impacted each one.
Admiration: A feeling of wonder, pleasure, approval
I admire myself with how I went from unable to get up from the sofa, shower, or do more than just take meds to pass the day. In time, I slowly began to pick out clothes to wear for the week and take a shower every single day to feel normal. Most of the world has done the opposite, given the current situation we are facing. I didn’t want to be a slob. The real Wendy takes pride on how she looks. So, I had to face all the self-loathing, anger, weakness and put on a brave face and attitude and say screw you to my stroke. As much as I wanted to despise how I felt, and envious of others, I pulled on an armor and began to make myself normal as I could. The warm shower and movement made me feel like I was going to pass out, but I still did it. When I looked in the mirror and saw a face I didn’t recognize, the tears started pouring down, I wiped them away and began to apply my makeup as my hands were shaky. They have now grown stronger, but I still have my days where I must start all over. I place my outfit on, accessorize it, knowing no one will see but me. I didn’t care. All that mattered is how I see myself, which is self-admiration. I don’t call it vanity at this point. It’s pride in looking in the mirror and rediscovering someone else which is the new me. Every single day I post a picture of myself as accountability of my admiration and make sure to include an inspirational quote. Many of us can’t look at ourselves and be proud or admire that person we see in the mirror. My message to those who feel sick or in general going through something in their life, look in the mirror and tell that person you got it. Even if it’s hard, painful and unbearable. You must use self-practice to eventually get it engrained in your head.
Physicality aside, I also admire the tenacity that came to me that I can’t sit here and cry, wish I died, and have no self-worth. I feared how people would view me now. It dawned on me that this isn’t a healthy road. I had to do something to bide my time before I felt like I could return to work. I began to blog in order to work out my feelings. I didn’t care if it reached out to other people, because the most important person was that it reached out to me. I had to believe that my words were true and most importantly believe in them. This strength led me into other avenues of investigating how to become and advocate for other stroke survivors or be that heart for someone because theirs is failing to beat. So, while I should be sitting here working on myself, I admire the fact that my heart wanted to reach out to more people. We all go through phases where we question where we are going and if it’s enough. I want to tear down that wall. No eyes are on you except for your own, so you need to trust in yourself, that you will bring yourself out of the depth of purgatory.
Next, I admire that while most people take 6 months to a year to recover, I had the pertinacity to say that I will not sit back and recover that long. I needed to be back in the work force. I didn’t want to feel like I was obsolete, or that my mind somehow grew weak from what I went through. I worked hard training my brain every single day, through tears and frustration, I didn’t oppress myself. So, the day finally came that fought asking my doctor and work that I was ready, and I was damn sure that I was ready. I admire that I went back blazing and ready to pick back up from where I left off. I also came up with solutions during my time away to improve healthcare. Whether or not that comes to fruitarian, I don’t know, but somehow, I will see something through. I admire, that I didn’t let this stroke take away my drive. When I got up for my first time back to work, and I won’t lie, it felt like I missed a lot. Like I didn’t have a function. These are evil self-seeds of doubt that scare people back and retreat. I did not. You see I’m hungry. I want more.
Adoration: Fervent and devoted love
I found a love for myself that I never knew that I could possess. I tortured myself for several years of my life that I didn’t deserve love, or that I could give love. I had a hard shell, one that many have, yet they won’t admit, or refuse to break down to let people in to view you as human. I’m not referring to family, spouse love, but devoted love to yourself. We sit back self-loathing, full of anger at ourselves and to others other than our inner circles. I admit, I am guilty of that. After my stroke, I received outpouring support and love from every person imaginable. So easy, a hammer broke my shell. I felt adoration for others, and I continue to do so. You need me, I am there for you with love. There are no conditions attached. You can hate me, despise me, but I will continue to show you love. I want to touch on family and spouse for a second even though they were never were in question of love, however the amount of love for them grew. They showed up every single day during my worst time, even when I felt like jumping out a window because I couldn’t live like this, they showed me what devoted love can do and heal a broken mind and heart. Their love embodies more than a pill a physician can prescribe, and it was the best pill for me to take. Take note, chronic illness, life change, or life in general, devoted love is best received and better given.
Aesthetic Appreciation: is the area of philosophy that studies the nature of beauty and art
I’ve always been one who felt one with nature (minus winter). I admire the leaves on the tree, the way they sway back and forth as the wind blows. The smell of fresh cut grass, the way the grass feels between my toes. Looking at the beautiful plants and flowers carefully planted or growing in the wild. The sun, as it brightens even the roughest looking places. The clouds as they roll in, each one with a different shape, the best, the one indicating a storm. You can smell the rain coming with the distant thunder rolling through. As it comes closer, flashes of lightning, the rain pounding down hitting the window. There is something cozy about it. I don’t just look at nature with appreciation as I always have, but I find myself looking at objects and studying them. I examine every part, in its beauty, wondering how it fits, what it represents. Every night I look at art, admiring the time a photographer captured, or what an artist painted. It’s a skill, often overlooked. When you get lost in the aesthetic of nature and the studies, your mind becomes at peace because it’s engulfed with something other than outside noise. It’s a form of mindfulness, self-meditation, escape. Life is much more than television, games, work, or worrying about the things you cannot control. I encourage anyone to devote sometime every day to immerse themselves into the beauty of art and nature.
This is a difficult one for me to write about. Currently we are on lockdown and can’t find enjoyment in ways that most do. I must find enjoyment in other ways. I find this by spending more time with my husband and fur babies. Quality time with talking, watching movies, making meals and feeling together is my enjoyment. I’ve listened to more music, researched history, looked at different countries virtually, learned a new language and laugh. I’ve even purchased a massive medical book on every medical condition, learning it’s etiology, tests, outcomes, progression. Might be boring to others but for me it’s another form of enjoyment. This blog brings me enjoyment because I can pour all my emotions out. While difficult, it still gives me joy. I keep a running list of things I will do as the world goes back to normal, for enjoyment. Discovery is the top of my list. It’s nothing specific, but I want to break out of my normal routine and view the world differently.
Anxiety is easy to write about. I have anxiety every single day of my life and now it’s compounded after having a stroke. The anxiety is full of” what if” or reading too much into something. It’s exhausting. I used to defend my anxiety as something to predict and prepare. I will admit that 90 percent of the time I was wrong and all that energy I spent with anxiety was wasted when it could have been directed elsewhere. There are some areas that I can’t seem to shake but I have faith that as time goes on, these areas will be eased. I will be very transparent with my anxiety and not gloss over it with a general statement that “I have anxiety”. The point of this blog is for people to relate. My number one anxiety is that I will have another stroke. I’m scared out of my mind with each headache that comes on that it’s a precursor for something massive. What if I don’t act fast like I did before when the big one comes. What if they don’t save me in time? What if they don’t find the rupture? Will I ever be the same person? I feel like a part of me died in January. Perhaps the portion that died needed to and it was replaced with something better. Will I be good at my job, will people fear that I’m a liability? Will my blood pressure go through the roof with stress? Will this newfound happiness turn back to feeling jaded because things aren’t moving like I want it to? Am I being too greedy with my recovery, excepting too much? Every single day my heart pounds hard because I am overcome with these anxieties. I will let you all know, it’s fleeting. It doesn’t control my day. It enters my mind and then quickly floats away. I can’t control certain aspects as much as I want to. That’s the key to anxiety- there are things you can and can’t control. Once you realize what you can’t life becomes more liberating. For the things that are unknown, take it with a grain of salt. We can’t say to ourselves don’t have those intrusive thoughts because it’s not going to happen. They will enter, but the keyword as I mentioned above its fleeting. Once it’s entered, let it fly away. Now I can’t tell you that I won’t have another stroke. I hope to God I don’t. I must remind myself, that if I did I more equipped to know exactly what one feels like. I have become proactive with alert systems to help me if I’m alone. It’s a crappy feeling, and I’m just going to get it out there. Just a crappy, crappy feeling to know what I went through, and the added worry that it might happen again. So much energy. I haven’t found resolve in this, but I trust in myself, that I will eventually.
Awe: an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful
Awe, kind of goes with admiration. I will focus on my awe my time in hospital for this one. When I woke up confused with doctors around me feeling like hell, and a nasty tube in my head, I wanted to cry and cry and cry and cry. One, how the hell did I make it? Two, what was next? While, I had so many emotions going through me through not knowing if I was going to die, especially with my first surgery, I’m in awe that I kept a sense of humor through it all. Some people say making people laugh is the best disguise for pain. Look at Robin Williams. He made his life work to make all people laugh but deep down he was fighting some demons. Most comics are this way. So, my humor was to shuffle the pain, or sometimes I wonder if it was pure joy to even be alive. Maybe it was both. I did everything I could during my 19 days in the hospital. That’s with a brain that was cut open, eye closed shut, angiograms that felt like hell, dignity taken away as I tried to clean myself with a series of people watching. Even as they wheeled my down to the operating room not knowing if I was going to make it, I was in awe that I found laughter all the way up to the operating table, even though deep down, I was felt like I was about ready to be murdered. I made it however, and I surpassed every single neurological test. I was one of the very few that didn’t have a deficit even with the seriousness of what I went through. It’s tenacity, power, determination, hard-headed that made my body refuse to fall into that statistic. I didn’t give a crap if I was searching deep in my thoughts for an answer for the nurses, it came up. When I walked the hospital halls, I was in awe that I didn’t slowly walk, I powered walked. It’s like my body said screw this, you are going to walk, and you are going to walk like you are in the middle of a shopping spree on black Friday. After my second surgery, which was completely unexpected, I had the same determination even though I knew this one was different. This wasn’t a clip this time; this was a medical device inserted in my body that I will feel for the rest of my life. I flipped out when it was over. I could feel every inch of it, and still can to this day. I’m in awe that I went from a dark cloud over this to understanding that this is a part of me and it’s saving my life. It’s changed parts of my body, and that’s something that I must get used to, but it will happen. Overall, I’m in awe over everything that has happened to me and that I’m on the other side.
Awkwardness: lack of grace or ease in movement
Awkwardness is something that is also a work in progress. I’m afraid I might say something to poke fun of myself, but it won’t be received well. I’ve never been one to walk with grace because I’m a natural born klutz. Now I walk around with another awkward balance. I’m still trying to learn how to walk straight. It’s hard. Bending up and down is difficult as well. Getting up to high areas to fix something is difficult too, because falling is a bad scenario for me. Again, these are things that become my new normal or will get better with time. Physical Therapy has finally open with this crisis, so I hope that helps me get back a bit of grace or balance back.
Aren’t we all bored at this time? I feel like this stroke happened at either the best or worst time depending on the day. In the beginning, I was extremely bored because I couldn’t type, I couldn’t read, and the news was filled with press conferences. I was limited with what I could do. Essentially, I was alone with my thoughts. This can be good, and bad. I was able to work out a lot of self-doubt during this time of boredom and then I went back to a dark side of overthinking things. As I got better, I was able to introduce more things into my routine to break the day up. I picked up tasks that helped my dexterity and brain games to train my brain to think quick. I still wish I could run free to a store and look at everything. Slowly the stores are opening, but at this point, I can’t put myself at risk for a while. There is a laundry list of stuff to do, and I even blogged about it in another post. I finished most those tasks quick and hence became bored again. I need to embrace being bored because eventually I’m going to yearn for that to come back when things become busy again. I’m working on a balance of letting boredom become a time of self-healing.
Calmness: freedom from motion or disturbance
Calmness has not existed in my life except for desperate or dangerous times. Funny how some people can be calm all day and panic when things go south, and others aren’t calm but when danger comes it’s like, you’ve been prepared for you, so come at me. That’s the fight or flight that kicks in. I’ve always been in fight mode. I’m not ashamed of it either. I was born a fighter for everything in life, and I credit my parents for raising their kids to be strong and not retreat. At the same time, you must learn to be calm as you wait for that time. This stroke has taught me to be calm. I feel a sense serenity overcame me. It’s like the biggest fight of my life, told me that I won, and it’s time to calm down. With most things, I approach things now in a calm manner. There are other aspects of life, where I can’t and won’t. Overall, though, I feel calmer when I’m at home. It’s like a waterfall in the background and I sit back and relax. My approach to problems, are calmer, and some issues aren’t as problematic as they used to be. Now don’t get me wrong, I still have areas to work on. I don’t want to give the false sense that everything is rainbows and sunshine, but some dark clouds do part. That’s the amazing thing about given a second chance at life. You can still be you, but you can improve areas that weren’t natural to you. Calmness was not one. Chaos was my go-to. Chaos gave me energy, drive, competitive nature, trying to come on top, survival. Now with calmness entering in my life, I’m able to take a step back and examine it with thought. This isn’t easy and requires practice. The more I put it into practice, the easier it becomes.
Confusion: lack of clearness
I beat myself up over this every single day! I have short term memory, and a bit of long-term memory loss. I feel like a burden asking for reminders or repeating myself. Currently, I’m going through this at work. I jumped right back in like nothing ever happened, but there were some changes and new things that were introduced before this happened. I feel like a failure when I ask for reminders, and then get frustrated that I’m lost. I’m scared that it will become too much for others to deal with. I don’t know why I feel this way, because my work has been supportive, and they understand. This is really on me for feeling this way. In time things will become more natural with practice. Honestly, I’m entering my third week back at work, so I don’t understand why I’m beating myself up for this. Perhaps it’s a fear that this will be the trajectory forever even though I know it won’t. It’s not isolated to work and happens at home too. I will talk to my husband or my mom and then feel lost with what I’m saying and need reminders. If anyone has been confused, you know how frustrating it is. You just feel like a nuisance, which could be further from the truth. How could anyone expect you to bounce to 100 percent after going through everything that happened. Again, this is normal, and something that will take a while to get over. It will get better. For those, who do have permanent memory loss, surround yourself with people that support you and don’t be afraid to let your feeling known about how your memory loss is making you feel. The more we bottle our emotions, the more it festers like you have no self-worth. You do!
I will keep this one short. I have a deep craving to help others in my same position. I don’t know the capacity at which I can assist, but I want to do whatever I can for stroke victims. I also what to advocate more awareness for my type of stroke. It’s very rare and not many people live, or they have deficits. Many medical journals state that there is not enough information about SAH outcomes. I want that to change. I have seen plenty of survivors in various groups, and if they were to obtain information from the survivors and what they are experiencing, or stroke reoccurrence, or sequala, more research can be done to find a correlation of why and life outcomes. If I must beat on doors with a grass roots campaign I will.
Disgust: to cause loathing
My disgust is twofold. One involves me and the other involves others. Now, I might offend some with this, but it’s something I’m going to say because I want those to know how hurtful words can be.
My own disgust revolves around not recognizing myself in the mirror anymore. I feel like I lost my femininity. I’m discovering that my body has changed in ways that I didn’t want. My hair is short, half my scalp is still numb, I feel cracking in parts of my skull, I feel my VP shunt. My stomach feels bloated all the time. I have no clue if it’s from the drainage or what. I’ve always been very tiny and now I have body dysmorphia from it. I just don’t feel like my old self. I’m alive and that should be good enough, but it doesn’t discount that it’s natural for someone to look at themselves and ask who are you?
My second disgust comes from people joking that I’m going to cause them a stroke. If you knew the HELL that I went through, almost died twice, the surgeries, the pain, the pictures, read my stories, listen to my family, my husband- YOU would never joke about having a stroke to a stroke victim. Now I’m a joking person, but stroke is off the table. I was absolutely gutted by those words, and they still make me cry to this day. I know it was not said with ill intent, but joking about having a stroke, is not funny. I told my mom about this incident and she began crying herself too because she had flashbacks of watching her daughter going through hell and almost losing her. To anyone, you better check yourself.
Empathetic pain: a specific subgroup of empathy that involves recognizing and understanding another person's pain
I’ve always had a soft spot for people, especially those going through turmoil. After my stroke, I felt that my empathy grew higher than I thought it could go. I see pain, I feel pain, and understand pain. This has made me reach out to others and try to be an anchor. If you ever need help- reach out to me.
Sadness: causing sorrow
I’m a yo-yo on sadness. I would say on a daily average I cry a least three times a day. I was not emotionally equipped or prepared that this would happen to me. I’m trying to navigate this sense of loss, and new way of life. I flashback to the night, having nightmares, wondering what’s in store for me. It’s too much and sometimes and I must let it out and cry. I can’t keep it in. Sadness is not an emotion to be embarrassed about. It’s something to be embraced. If I didn’t allow myself to grieve who knows what type of person I would become. In time, the tears will become less, because I acknowledge and accept this part of recovery. Also, those tears will be ones of happiness.
Triumph: a significant success or noteworthy achievement; instance or occasion of victory.
Overall, I am extremely happy with the progress that I have made since my stroke. A lot of people could have taken another path, one that is dark. I selected the path of enlightenment, mindfulness, and advocacy. The fact that I made it and I’m here typing out my emotions is a victory. I will continue to do this for as long as I can in order to reach out to as many people as I can. A stroke can’t overtake us; it must make us stronger. Also, this isn’t isolated to stroke victims. I want to reach out to people with chronic medical conditions or people going through emotional struggles. If there is one common thread through all groups, it’s that we are struggling on how to get back on track and embrace our feelings.