I will admit, I began writing on this subject last week and suddenly, I hit a wall. I erased everything I wrote because I didn’t feel the subject was suitable. I felt fragile, tired, useless and despondent. I didn’t understand what was going on with me. Something wasn’t sitting right, and I struggled to examine the root cause. Finally, I told myself to press pause so I could take care of myself. I put my computer down, spent time with my husband, did some self-care, and worked out. After relaxing, I realized I needed to find a healthy medium between living my life and advocating for stroke causes. It’s hard because I have constant reminders physically and mentally. My therapy is to vocalize my story, because a) it feels good to write it out and b) maybe it will help someone. So, I made a commitment with myself that I need to pause at least once or twice a week where I am just dealing with my normal life. I believe my gas tank went empty with the amount of research I was doing which caused me to feel off. I am not exaggerating; I did extensive research all week. So, after giving myself a day away from everything, I feel energized and happy again. Therefore, I am ready to write about learning how to celebrate!
First, let’s address the elephant in the room- it's hard to celebrate given the circumstances of the world. There is so much chaos, noise and uncertainty. Yes, this place seems like hell, but you need to close that door and not let it overshadow your accomplishments. For my journey, I knew that celebration wasn’t going to consist popping bottles of Champaign followed by balloons and streamers. I also knew that some of my strides wouldn’t be cheered by other people, because some are personal myself.
So, let me begin.
My first celebration was waking up after the incident. Yes, I was confused with doctors around me and feeling a tube stuck in my head. I blinked and took a deep breath. That deep breath was celebratory because I was alive. My last memory was being transported by the ambulance and being informed that my situation was life threatening. Like a snap of the finger I went to some other dimension. When I woke up to reality, I didn’t scream with joy. I cried, but they were happy tears. Spending several days in the hospital, I was on a mission to make progress, yet
I didn’t acknowledge my progress. It wasn’t until I got home that I sat and processed everything. I felt that it was unfair, and the world robbed me. After unfolding every facet that happened, I realized that I needed to celebrate what I accomplished in the hospital.
Suddenly the second surgery hit, and I didn’t feel the like celebrating anything. I went into a dark hole, unable to fathom that I had a medical device inserted in my head down to my abdomen. It hurt, it was not comfortable, and I was miserable. Tears came in several waves. Not the tears of joy like I had after my first hospital admission. These were tears of suffering. Deep down, I knew there were two paths to take. One was healthy and the other was miserable. I was so enraged, that I choose the path of misery. I call it the darkest moment in my life. To this day I don’t know why the second surgery caused me such anguish. I surmise that I was knew what recovery was going to look like. Oddly, my first hospital visit was the most critical with a grueling surgery, and that didn’t cause me the same anguish as the second. I shake my head because I will never know but can only speculate.
After discharge, when I got back at home, I had plenty of time on my hands and nowhere to go. I told myself that it’s time to get off misery road and change direction. I began to reprocess everything. It was essential for my well-being because despite my trauma, I still persevered. I must remember that. So, I selected celebration to gauge my progress. I told myself that every single day I am going to celebrate something simple like smiling. I started slowly because I understand it’s a process.
This my list of celebrations after the second surgery :
Taking a shower without anyone standing by to make sure I don’t fall.
Spot cleaning the house by myself.
Doing a load of laundry.
Getting out my pajamas and start dressing up even though I had nowhere to go.
Beginning to get my appetite back.
Cooking for myself.
Starting activities on my own without help.
“Learning” a new language
Getting in my car for the first time and driving it around the parking lot.
Going on short walks.
Going on long walks.
Learning how to type on a computer again.
Beginning to write.
Taking a normal shower without having to use a pitcher to wash my hair.
The night I could finally lay my head down without the pain of the shunt.
Going to physical therapy and admitting to myself that I’m not as strong as I think- physically.
Gaining more strength with each physical therapy appointment.
Regaining feeling on the left side of my face.
Regaining feeling on the left side of my skull.
Releasing my mom from babysitting duties while my husband worked.
Being cleared to start working.
Adjusting back to work as if I was never gone for months.
Working from home!
Educating myself on my type of stroke.
Researching all the help available.
Finding a sense of purpose.
Becoming a fighter for stroke survivors
Publishing my feelings.
Doing a podcast.
Reconnecting with people.
Beginning to work out on my own.
Examining the food, I eat and cutting out the sugar (that’s a lot of willpower).
Getting my first haircut!
Driving around and doing errands on my own.
Driving a far distance on my own.
Having a good CT scan that shows my clip and drain look good.
Building a stronger bond with my husband (thanks COVID).
Going out to see friends.
Laughing with pure joy.
Days when I don’t have stroke fatigue.
Understanding how lucky I am.
The moment my neurosurgeon saw me beaming with pride with how far I have come.
Waking up in the morning and thank God, I was given another day.
Acknowledging my struggles.
Work on my struggles by a healthy way.
Learning to take deep breaths when things get hectic.
Appreciating things, I never acknowledged.
Cutting out toxic people.
Did I mention sugar? I feel like that’s a double celebration.
Coming up with a routine that works for me.
Turning a negative into a positive.
Gaining more sympathy and empathy.
Acknowledging that there are more celebrations to come!
There is more to add to the celebration list and I know that it’s going to keep growing, I selected these milestones because they stuck out to me. I didn’t need someone to tell me that I did great, or a party. My celebration was my own internal acknowledgment. Which is important- internal acknowledgment.
Our journeys are different, yet despite the difference, we share a commonality which is managing our mental health. It’s essential to acknowledge your strides from the small to the large even if it's with a smile or saying I’ve got this. With every accomplishment, I encourage that you make a list. The importance of the list is that it serves as a reference when you have bad days or feel like you are regressing or not making progress. That list is your reminder of everything you have conquered because it’s hard to retrieve all your progress from your head.
Lastly, by nature, people who haven’t gone through this might say you should be happy enough you are still alive. This is true, but they can’t fully understand that it’s more than just being alive. It takes a lot of work to live. So, yes, we are happy to be alive, but learning to celebrate our strides is what matters. It shows tenacity, power, will, fulfillment and learning to become happy with your new normal.
Make that list because it’s time!