Post-Stroke: 2 Steps Forward and One Step Back

Metaphorically, the saying take two steps forward and one step back, best describes the pilgrimage of our stroke experience. Mastered an accomplishment? Move two steps forward. Trip over and fall? Take one gigantic step back. Catagorically, this saying resonates with me lately. I recognize and take pride that I have made tremendous strides, however, life threw me a curve ball that I had to take a step back. 

I went through an emotional breakdown. It started a couple weeks ago, and situations gradually become too loud for me to handle. I retreated to the sofa, piled under several soft blankets and turned on The Office to distract me from whatever it was that was making me feel certain way. My normal routine was disrupted during this time period. Initially, I thought it was a simple problem. I was not on my regimented schedule that gave me structure. So, in true Wendy fashion I started to dig deep and self-analyze myself to figure the crux of why I was feeling off. 

Initially, I couldn’t put my finger on it. I felt discouraged because I was on a roll with my mental and physical journey. I’ve written and vocalized that we go through 7 stages of grief and the cycle never stops, yet with time it begins to grow quiet. It dawned on me that I was going through that cycle and yet, I was struggling to find the tools to handle the situation. Life to me seemed too messy. My husband was laid off from his job, my parents beloved pet passed away, I received sad news about a wonderful individual. In honesty the list goes on. To top this, I was out of my seizure medication for four days until I could transfer care from neurosurgeon to neurologist. The four days without the medication sent me into an abyss. The absence of long-term medication was accompanied by severe withdrawal symptoms. So, compound that with all the other things happening in my life. 

Another manifestation happened a couple days ago. I was hanging my patio curtains and fell off the step stool and slightly hit the shunt on the back of my head. After that event, I began to feel dizzy and out of sorts. I believe deep down I had actual cause for concern and the other side of me was getting inside my head. I was paranoid that something catastrophic was going to happen. The internal struggle manifesting inside was too much for me to handle in the moment. I just went radio silent. The following day after seeing the neurologist and getting my meds I felt fine. I thought this was great, I can take some steps forward. The following night, I had to take another giant step back. I felt that I was in the twilight zone. I struggled to focus on anything, and I was beginning to have double vision. My head felt like it was on the cusp of exploding and my breathing started to become labored.  This caused me great angst. I cried several times and then I would fall asleep. This was on repeat several times through the night. The previous episodes happened during the processing moment that my husband will be unemployed in a couple weeks. My husband is hustling to find employment and is a talented writer. To get ahead of the curve where there might be a gap in money, he is working on the weekends all night to earn extra money. These lonely nights leave me scared. Compound that with feeling off and alone, was exacerbated my physical feelings. 

Friday night, I started to self-talk to ensure that I was okay. My dogs, who sense human emotion, came rushing over me because they knew something wasn’t right with their mommy. Their love gave me comfort and then I drifted back to sleep. I got up again and did a video about how I was feeling. It was awful because I was crying. I choose to omit posting the video because it was too raw and private. Yet, I struggle with sharing to expose the internal struggle we go through. Too often we are ashamed to share deep moments and keep it to ourselves. I understand this because it’s an individual choice what we share. I’m an open book so, I have no issue doing so. I went back to the video and realized that I erased it. I felt an impediment, that I didn’t have something to look back on and see myself in the rawest exposure possible. 

Taking inventory with the two to three weeks of feeling out of sorts, and out of control, I felt my progress made me shuffle a couple steps back. Like a child, I got angry and looked at all the progress I’ve made and threw it out the door. I felt distraught, sick, lost, no purpose- a dark moment in life. I understand however that I’m smart to know that these steps back won’t hold me back. I can take steps forward again. I also acknowledge that life isn’t perfect and my journey with recovery is going to be messy. This whole turmoil has led me to PTSD, where every little weird moment triggers me back to the moment the stroke happened. I cry and cry. Then I start to joke around about the fears knowing it’s not worth it. Flip flop, flip flop; it’s exhausting. To top it off these life changes are causing tremendous headaches, which was the precursor leading up to my stroke. So, you can see why this is a slippery slope for me to follow. 

I know there are many coping mechanisms at our disposal, however there will be moments when you are unwilling to utilize it. I found myself in that category. I want to scream, cry and ask why! Instead of letting the emotion flow, I tried to figure the reason. That’s my issue, I’m too inquisitive about why I’m feeling a certain way rather than just letting it be. I believe it’s an internal struggle of being analytical. 

So yes, I’m still struggling in this moment. I don’t know how long this funk is going to last but I know it won’t be forever. My first step is acknowledging that things aren’t impeccable. So, while I made a couple steps backwards, I made my first step forward by admitting that things are messy. Second, I understand that my internal struggle with recovery looks different because this has been an awful year not just for me but for everyone. 

Moving forward I choose to give myself permission feel shaken and baffled. To do this, I need remove myself for self-analyzing the complexity of the nature of what I’m feeling. I need to bend my focus with moving forward. It’s hard but essential and the pendulum will shift. I surmise (even though I said I wouldn’t analyze) that because my health is getting better, the mental aspect growing louder than usual, and I must deal with. I’m getting inside my own head, thinking that every little dizziness, feeling sick or sleeping is a sign that I’m going to have another stroke. I know what the signs are. I was smart enough to call 911 when it first happened. Right now, the reality of my situation is my body is reacting to my emotions. 

In effect, trauma requires many steps. You will step forward and step back. It’s normal and there isn’t a magic pill that prevents this from happening. I believe that when you have setbacks, the next step you make might be larger than you expected. 

Here are my coping strategies for the moment while I get through this hump.

  1. Allow myself to cry

  2. Allow myself to scream

  3. Press pauses on life

  4. Don’t over analyze 

  5. Find something that is distracting

  6. Write out your feelings

  7. Light a candle (I love candles) 

  8. Take a shower and get dressed even if you have nowhere to go

  9. Call someone to talk

  10. Find a project to distract myself

These are just my coping strategies, that I’m going to try for the time being. Everyone is different and has a different list. Overall, by acknowledging the two steps forward and one step back, we gain control back.

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