Post-Stroke: Holidays

The holidays, a breathtaking time of the year filled with adornment. The gratification of the soft glow of stringed lights, lighted candles, baking, the smell of evergreen, music, meals, gifts and glee. It wraps us up like a warm blanket nestled near a fire. All these things ignite cheer and hope. Optimism is something we must hold onto as we enter 2021.

Wistfully holidays this year are problematic because it’s been infiltrated by a virus and matters of contention which history books should call this period “The Infernal Year”. Our world has been plagued with mournful holidays in the past during World War 1 and 2, Korean and Vietnam war and so forth. Each one, our past generations took a somber time period and scrambled with what they had to make the best of it. While we are not a war with one another, we are at war with a virus. It does not care, it does not require a treaty, or surrender. There is no alliance to be made. The virus is parasitic in nature, attaching itself to a host and producing at a rapid speed. Some do not exhibit symptoms, and others do. The ones who are asymptomatic, while lucky, are the primal host for the virus to spread.

Despite all efforts through the year with social distancing, curfews, bubbles, masks and lockdowns, the virus is smart and has still figured a way to filter through our communities. This leaves us with the dismal decision of economy versus health. Without an economy, we grow poor, companies' shutdown, people are laid off, lose their homes, struggle to put food on the table, and become depressed. On the other side of the coin, if we continue for the sake of the economy, we are risking lives and flooding the healthcare system to the point where physicians must make a decision that will haunt them with who is worth saving because of lack of space or ventilators. It’s a losing situation no matter which side you choose. We are utterly burned out and people who do not have COVID are either too afraid to seek medical help or are turned away to the next hospital. This can be a life-or-death situation. We are all angry and the theories of how this went out of control is rapid.

There are two things that are for certain. One, this is a deadly virus and two, this originated in Wuhan. Some believe it was lab produced and others believe that it was mammal-to-mammal transmission. There are several theories thrown around on how long Wuhan waited to release information to other nations. The other complaint is how long our nations where aware and waited until they took swift action. It has caused a divide, even though we agree on the common enemy. While we are free of thought of how and when, the purpose of this blog is not political. It’s to paint a picture of what the world looks like right now tied into the holidays.

Even with the most stringent efforts, unemployment is at an all-time high, or people are robbing Mary to pay Paul with what little money there is. People are depressed as they sit in their homes unable to socialize with their loved ones, especially those who are elderly. We wear masks, socially distance, look at others who might have a common cold as suspect. The new channels invoke daily fear broadcasting positive cases, nurses and doctors crying making their pleas. They touch on something that I find extremely concerning - the rate of stroke and heart attack related deaths because people are too afraid to seek help or as I said before, the system is at capacity. Children are impacted as well. They are not getting the education they should. One moment children are fully back in school, then they switch to hybrid, then in a swift decision, they are back to homeschool. They aren’t getting the attention they need, nor socializing with their classmates. Parents are pulling out their hair for many reasons. One, they don’t have the luxury of staying home with their young child, second, if they can stay at home, more than likely they are working themselves and don’t have the time to stop and assist their child who is frustrated on trying to figure out a problem. Take math for instance. It’s not like we learned growing up. Someone decided that math needed to change to some difficult conclusion, which parents throw their hands in the air and post on Facebook asking for someone to help. Really, how did this common core math get approved? They won’t use this method in their adult life.

With all this unrest, there are snippets of humanity coming through to help the community. More people are trying to support local businesses to keep them from shutting down. Food drives have accelerated giving food to the poor and to people who never thought they would need assistance. After Thanksgiving in America, it’s a tradition at the stroke of midnight to shop, called Black Friday. It’s a sport for most families who map out their destination and their objective at each store. They wait in droves for the doors to open and pile onto each other fighting to save at most 30%. Now this isn’t the case everywhere, but we do see news stories every Friday night with the shopping event. I for one do not participate in this sport for my sanity and to avoid a mug shot. Yet, it’s a timeless tradition. I do ponder if some take Xanax before they start the process or if they are amped up on energy drinks. This year it’s different. America decided to give workers Thanksgiving off, open stores at a decent hour, rather than midnight. While I commend stores giving employees time off for Thanksgiving, I wonder how normal store hours mitigate the risk of transmission. Regardless of the hours, people are thirsty for the deals. The stores will still be packed. For me, I have elected to shop online. If the gift doesn’t come in time, then I will take a picture of it and place it in a card stating it’s on the way.

With all this said, I bet you are wondering how this tie into the stroke world? It’s to give thanks despite what happened to us.

Like many, I loathe 2020. I closed 2019 on a high note with my marriage to my long-time boyfriend/fiancé in December and celebrated my favorite holiday as husband and wife with our families. 2020 laughed in my face and asked are you happy because I’m about to put you through havoc. After the new year, the virus was a quite whisper, thought to be self-contained. By the end of the month, 2020 decided it was time to nearly kill me with SAH stroke. Thankfully, it didn’t succeed because I shouldn’t be alive right now. Yet here I am fully capable to string sentences together and breathing. Am I happy about the chaos going on around me? No, I’m very sad and angry. I’m sad for those who have lost their lives, and for the frontline nurses and doctors who will have a high probability of PTSD from making life/death decisions based on capacity. These are circumstances that are hard to swallow. I know that it sounds selfish to make this statement, but I need to focus on myself, sanity and health right now and not exhaust myself with things that are out of my control. So, I began Thanksgiving with a statement that I’m thankful for being alive, and grateful to all the people at the hospital that not once but twice saved my life. I’m thankful for my family, friends, new friends, stroke community and especially my husband, for being there for me and cheering me on. I’m thankful that I can work from home, when driving a hectic commute and noisy office are daunting also adding the possibility of getting sick when my immune system was still trying to bounce back. I thankful for a cozy, healthy and loving household that makes staying at home a gift. Yes, I need to get out and do things, but there are some situations I won’t place myself in. I go out to run errands, maybe do a few things here and there with friends but other than that I’m at home in my protective bubble. With winter coming, it makes all these restrictions better. I don’t have to watch the news at night for possible ice and snowstorms that make driving treacherous. Now when I see a snowflake, I won’t curse it. I can sit back and enjoy the beauty of the snow which I haven’t done since I was a kid. Don’t get me wrong, I still despise the cold, but that’s out of my hands.

I’m also thankful that I found purpose in life to make a difference or champion more awareness. Before my stroke, I didn’t know what my purpose was. I often wondered if it would come to me be or if it did, what would it be. Alas, by unfortunate circumstances, I have found my purpose by becoming part of the stroke, brain aneurysm and hydrocephalus community. I write these blogs, do videos hoping to at least help one person. I’m doing extensive research to make sense of everything and if there are more things to do for awareness, but especially for life after discharge which is essential. Mental health is paramount for recovery and it’s not an easy task. It can be tackled but having the resources is important along with easy access. I have spoken about life after discharge for cancer patients. Stroke victims are given a booklet about what to watch for, not necessarily how to mentally recover at least in America. There are support groups, however some people can’t make It, the topic doesn’t fit their mood or most important, it’s private to them. While psychologist, therapist and psychiatrist are available, I don’t know how clear the message is conveyed to people to seek help. Seeing one of the three is still stigmatized that you are unstable or crazy. That is false notion, and the pros in the fields are equipped to help you sort out your emotions and learn techniques to push a positive narrative when the negative is weighing you down. It’s my mission to seek specialists that only focus on people with a healthcare issue. I believe that is critical for a hospital to introduce one while in care. Most people tend to proactive in the moment and less reactive as time goes on.

There is power with a good mental health outlook. You stay positive and focused on the goal. When the goal isn’t working, you know that you can try the next day and next day and so forth. The point is that you are trying and not crawling in a ball of despair thinking you don’t have what it takes to recover. A positive outlook has been proven to help many people who experience life changing medical problems. Pushing this message out is paramount, and something that I will dedicate myself to as much as possible. Do I have moments of weakness, depression, nightmares? Yes, I do, and it happens often. Yet, I have learned how to snap myself back and make it a moment and not make it something to dictate my day. I do constant reminders for myself as part of my daily routine to help mitigate the avalanche that could be if I didn’t possess the knowledge of how to snap out.

So, while this has been a dark year, and the holidays tend to invoke emotion, especially to us who have gone through hell with our stroke, it’s important that self-care becomes a daily routine for yourself. If there are things that trigger you or upset you, learn how to tune them out. As silly and annoying as this sounds, doing self-affirmations is important. Make a list of what you are thankful for. Even in the moment and you can only muster one thing, It's a start. The process will become easy. In fact, try writing one thing that you are proud of or thankful for that transpired in the day. If that’s hard, write something that you are grateful for and proud of in the past. Either way, if it makes you feel good- it's worth it. Going a step further, write something down that happened that makes you laugh and go back to that if you need it. I find myself doing that all the time because there have been some many moments that weren’t funny at that time but now crack me up. If there are things that bring your mood out to something other than depressed, do it! Light candles that smell good, bake cookies, read a warming book, watch a movie. There are many things that can be done to snap out.

We can’t let this year ruin our holidays or strides. We have the power of thought and that’s one thing the virus can’t rob us from. So, try your best to celebrate especially that you are alive. If you feel hopeless, which holidays sometimes do, call someone for help. If you know of someone that is feeling down, reach out to them. The holidays are a gift of love not materials, which we must express to ourselves and others. I hope that everyone has blessings for the remaining year and hope for 2021.

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