Before my stroke, every molecule on earth gave me causation to worry, analyze, map out, and plan tactics. My erratic behavior caused stress beyond bounds of belief and it was taxing. I defended this behavior as a safeguard of my well-being or in a work-related scenario, predicting the worst outcomes. To me, it was a strength and burden. As I built the wall of worry, I found myself unable to get over- I was trapped.
I don’t know when or where this train of thought started, but gratification of being correct added fuel to the fire. I also wanted to protect myself from disappointment. When I took tests, I would say that I failed. If I did, I already mentally prepped myself, if I passed then I was happy. Let’s be honest, how much energy was worth prepping myself. The answer is none.
So as years went on, the burden of stress piled on me to the point of feeling like a hard shell. Sure, I joked around and smiled, but on the inside, I felt emotionally distraught I wasn’t doing something right or something catastrophic was going to happen. It’s too much! A healthy dose of worry can be good because our human nature wants to protect ourselves, but this wasn’t healthy. I was overfilled and scared like being in a foxhole praying to God the enemy didn’t find me.
Which leads me to my stroke. I pondered the exact cause. Was it hereditary (my great-aunt had the same stroke), was it my migraines, or was it stress? Personally, I feel like all three of them compounded together. I was a volcano erupting. I’ve reiterated in my other blogs; my body didn’t give a crap how I felt. My body told me to get the hell up and call 911. I laid there fighting for my life while my body fought fire and brimstone.
After this journey, I had to change something about myself. I thought about it for a while and concluded that I need Zen in my life. I couldn’t open throttle and knock down the wall instantaneously that I’ve spent years building, but I could slowly learn steps to help me take it down piece by piece down.
The first step was going through the 7 stages of grief. Imagine Life Therapy explains these steps well, and I recommend visiting them. It’s not necessarily about grief of death, but grief of losing a piece of you.
1. Denial: I thought when I got back home, I would be able to resume my normal life.
2. Pleading, bargaining, and desperation: I pleaded with my doctor to allow me to go to the stores and begged her later that a VP shunt wasn’t needed. I began bargaining with myself that nothing was wrong. It’s normal to fall over, especially after surgery. I was desperate to be understood. I screamed and cried.
3. Anger: this was a big one for me. I was angry that this happened. I just got married and I was supposed to be out there enjoying married life with my husband. I was angry that I had to leave my job. I was angry that I had to have surgeries. Overall, I was angry this happened.
4. Anxiety and Depression: I felt a great deal of anxiety during my hospital stay and after. I remember my heart pounding as they wheeled me twice to surgery. I had anxiety coming home afraid to be alone because the fear this would happen all over again. I became depressed because I was basically a lump on the sofa healing, with my shaved head, unable to see people. I just couldn’t believe this was my life.
5. Loss of self and confusion: I felt utterly lost that I would not be the same Wendy that everyone knew. That a piece of me died. I didn’t know how I would get back to my place in life or how.
6. Re-evaluation of life, roles and goals: this is my favorite part of the process. I finally got a chance to evaluate my life and list what did and didn’t work for me. I finally had another chance to become a better version of myself and at my own pace with no pressure. I felt I had a role to help other people that suffered a stroke, or family members of stroke victims or people who needs words of encouragement. My role transferred to patient advocate which also became my goal.
7. Acceptance: struggle with this from time to time, but eventually I will get there. It’s the last pieces of the grieving stage that I struggle with because I’m still internally battling myself with why this happened, rather than say it happened. I must constantly remind myself that it did.
For more detailed information about the process go to: http://imaginelifetherapy.com/7-stages-of-grief-for-chronic-pain-and-illness/
After going through the 7 stages of grief, I began to assess how to bring inner peace into my life. I found a great website to help me navigate through different options https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/40-ways-achieve-peace-mind-and-inner-calm.html.
They list 40 ways to find peace. These are a few that have helped me get through.
Listen to music: I love to listen to movie scores. There is something haunting, magical and peaceful. Hans Zimmer is my saving grace and I could listen to his Inception score over and over. It gives me chills, calms me and moves me emotionally.
Go for a walk: I refuse to get on a treadmill. There is nothing peaceful staring at the same scenery. I’m a nature girl, so going for walks outside, I’m able to look at every morsel of the outdoors from the crack on the sidewalk, the flowers on the tree, the animals running by, the sound of a running creek. It’s soothing, because while you are walking you are visually stimulated.
Play with a pet: This is an obvious one for me. I rely on my two fur babies more than ever even if I hold and cuddle them against their will. They love me and they sense when I’m feeling down and come over to me to give me that extra nudge I need.
Mindfulness: This is a work in progress, but I am becoming more aware of my senses and connecting myself to them. I’m learning to be in the moment.
Sense of humor: I never lost that, so I’m good.
Take stock: Another work in progress. I’m still trying to navigate my life. I’m 100% percent sure I married the right man, and have a wonderful family, but there are other things in my life that I listed out to direct me if I’m happy, going in the right direction or do I need to redirect myself in a different way.
Live in the moment: I can’t wait to tackle this one. COVID19 be gone!
Worry less: This is a brimming task. I’m happy to report that I have learned to accept things that I can’t control and release it. If someone upsets me, I take a deep breath and tell myself that this will not manipulate my emotion.
Connect with others: This is hard with COVID19, but I have connected with people I haven’t spoken to in years. I will say, this is one of the best parts.
Find positive outlets for negative emotions: This wasn’t hard. In the hospital when I was feeling negative, I would take out my phone and type out every emotion I had. I noticed I angry but then my emotions changed to a positive outlook towards the end. I still have them all saved as a reminder. The blog was born for this very reason too. It started off as me feeling negative and voicing my journey as a positive outlet to reach out to others.
Overall, I’m learning myself all over again and this time in a positive way. I want to look at things different in a bright light. I don’t want walls; I want an open field. It’s a journey, and all of us will go through something that will make us confront stages of grief and learning peace. My promise to anyone- I'm always there.