Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” Stephen Hawking
When I stumbled across this quote a long time ago, I felt it’s power. Hawking’s was an intelligent man, who possessed insight on the universe and persevered despite his disease. I took his quote and made it my life’s mantra. I adjusted my life choices, ethics, work, task and dilemmas. Without this I would be stagnant with no value to myself. The power of these words shaped me into the person I wanted to be.
Life is all about change, otherwise we be Neanderthals. Look at your life and think about moments when things were going in one direction and suddenly it shifted. You can’t continue going in that direction, so you must change. That contraction is a learning process, therefore building a framework of your intellect. Not all changes are desirable, such as losing a job, a family member, financial hardship, and the list goes on. Yet, we adapt to a new reality. Going through a medical trauma is a different horse. It’s with you, it happened, and you must look at mentality in a different way.
For me, I thought I had life figured out and was adaptable to change with ease. When my stroke with ruptured brain aneurysm happened, adaption and change became obscure. Granted I was in shock, as anyone in the same situation. The initial days were muddy with an ideation that I was able to adapt to change and change my mentality. I tried with all my might, but one thing led to another, so I was dragging behind with my thought process. My mentality was defeated because I was scared out of my mind with everything transpiring. Yes, I kept a good attitude through it all, but there is a difference with attitude and mentality. I felt scared that I would not be able to adapt to this new me and the setbacks. I questioned if I was going to have the strength to adapt and change my mindset.
The answer is individual to each person and the willingness to accept what happened and how life is different. After my second surgery, I had zero willingness. I was angry and didn’t want to acknowledge that my life situation had changed. Hopefully, some of you find this relatable. Anger is a dangerous feeling because it can leave you stuck, blocking other emotions to flow. My mentality revived in the hospital that unless I change my mindset, I won’t heal, and get released. So, I adapted, did what was needed to show that I had power and was strong. This worked, and I made amazing progress in the hospital. When I got home that mentality changed and the anger set back in. I felt feeble, weak, and inadequate. Fear set in that people would view me different, that I wasn’t the same person, or able to do the things I did before. Self-doubt is poison to mentality because it’s unsupported data to validate those thoughts.
While sitting with self-pity, I had nothing else to do but find myself again. I looked up powerful quotes, like I’ve done before to empower myself to change my mentality. I came across two that spoke to me.
“Change is hardest at the beginning, messiest in the middle and best at the end.” Robin Sharma
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” Lao Tzu
Wise words from Sharma and Tzu. Change is spontaneous, it’s hard, it’s a process, but if I let it happen, my situation will become virtuous in the end. I had plenty of time during my recovery to think of my approach. First, I had to work on myself which involved a lot of self-reflection of about my new situation. Second, I had to acknowledge that I had a life-threatening medical event, and a magical eraser will not wipe the trauma away. I also had to swallow that my life is going to be different. Realization of my situation liberated me thus the emotions began to flow out. These steps are imperative in order to set a new disposition. Denial and anger won’t give you value. Once the tears stopped flowing and I researched what happened to me. Once I become cognizant about dangerous situation, I faced it materialize to how lucky I am.
Once the struggle was understood I was equipped to handle the messy part- changing my mentality by running through obstacles. It was difficult in the beginning because I was still smiling and acting as if I was good, to give comfort to my loved ones but in my mind and everything else was firing on all cylinders of doubt, sorrow and anger. I began to journal and wrote out a pro and con list. I wanted to find a middle ground like cognitive behavioral therapy follows. My pro list: “you have a second chance”, “you are alive”, “you have no neuro deficits”, “you have family and friends supporting you”. The con list was “Can I walk long distances”, “Can a drive a car again”, “Is my husband going to find me unattractive because I don’t have long hair anymore”, “going back to work, will they be weary of my work given my circumstances”. “medical bills are piling in”, “I have VP shunt, I hate how it feels”, “I scared to go in public places because of COVID19”. I sat back for a moment and looked at the pros section- these are factually genuine. The con list is a hypothesis- nothing transpired.
After I mastered this, I walked through muddy water. It took a bit for me to adjust to my new life from taking many medications and having a VP shunt that protrudes out the back of my head. I was itching to go back to work and needing to go to the store. Click, my mentality set in. I told myself the medications and VP shunt allow me to live every day. I got in my car and tested my driving skills to ensure my stroke didn’t cause me to forget. I returned to work as if I never lost a day. The medical bills are being taking care of. There are other issues not mentioned, but I was able to overcome my con list by switching my mentality to “I can” instead “can I”. Rather than sticking to my go-go at a fast pace, I’m taking my time, so I can process my surroundings, thoughts and emotions and explore what is fact or fiction. I have to a degree mastered this but as with life, it’s a continuing learning process. There are aspects that I can’t change, but it’s a part of me.
Overall, I must start each day with a fresh mind. Here are some recommendations for those who are struggling:
Journal your feelings or write out a pro/con list- understand and validate your emotions. Make a list and separate it by fact vs fiction to negate the false pretenses so you can accept things you can change and accept these things you can’t. Then fight like hell to overcome it.
Reach out to other stroke survivors and look at issues they are going through so you don’t feel alone. You can complain to them and they will understand them.
Start a blog! This has been the best therapy for me.
Reach out to foundations and see what you can do to help.
Without limit, changing our mentality is essential to recover You shouldn’t idle and let life pass you by. Your mentality will change in a different direction before your medical event. Make the best of your mentality change. It’s taxing and some people out there are stuck with anger. It’s never too late to change that mindset. Be cognizant and mindful and you will find peace. I have done a lot of work on myself, while my body is doing a lot of work healing itself. I will not give up and I hope you don’t too. I will leave you with one last quote that speaks volumes on this subject.
“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change.” Paulo Coelho