After a Stroke, most survivors seize the day by rejoicing, running down the streets and screaming from the top of their lungs announcing that they are alive. What happens if you experienced your stroke in 2020? This group, which include me was robbed from euphoria because it was smeared by a pandemic. This catastrophe forced us to sit in order to acquiesce extra caution. As we become static, consequentially, for some, our minds became consumed with our stroke. The side effect of becoming idle is surrendering and fully identifying as a stroke victim. I admit, I was that person. It consumed every waking and sleeping hour. It permeated into my mind day to day, even when I returned to work. I tried my best, like all of us could, to distract myself and adjust to the dreadful term, “the new normal”. I needed a way out, something to take me away from the daily chaos. I yearned for it. It was critical for my mental health that I did something meaningful for myself. The darkness of my stroke was beginning to cast away the sunshine I initially saw when I recovered.
Before my stroke, my husband and I purchased plane tickets to Arizona to visit friends. We were excited to get away from the cold and visit a state that neither of us visited. My stroke squashed the trip. We didn’t mull over it because my recovery was paramount over a trip. We knew that we would be able to reschedule for another date. My stroke was toward the end of January, so COVID19 was not fully actualized at that point. After my extended stay in the hospital for nearly a month, I felt great and we rescheduled the trip. Unexpectedly, I had my second surgery due to complications of CSF building in my head that required a shunt. We rescheduled the trip again, because COVID19 was still a whisper. Then hell broke loose and COVID19 consumed our country and everything shutdown. The trip at this point was out of question. It was devastating. So, I spent my hours after work and the weekends researching strokes and mental health as a distraction. While this was done with good intention, it ravaged me. I was becoming angry with the information I stumbled across especially the lack of mental health support for individuals and families specific to stroke. I was in a rabbit hole, and it was not healthy for my soul. I felt exhausted and had some weeks of severe depression. It’s a lot to digest that you had a stroke, the recovery, COVID19, the world tearing apart. It was enough- I had to escape.
Eventually restrictions were lifted, and we managed to get our Arizona trip booked in October. I was elated, however the night before the trip, I took an acute migraine medication because I experienced my first migraine since my stroke. It was awful and I felt sick. So, I tried the medication. I left for Target to pick up other medications and suddenly the pill hit me in a bad way. I forgot how to spell my last name at the pharmacy. I felt disoriented, and almost called an EMT because I thought I was having another stroke since the medication I took was not a narcotic and the side effects only stated somnolence. I cried and cried because I thought this would be the wall to prevent us from traveling. I had to problem solve to decipher if this was another stroke or a bad side effect. Thankfully it was a bad side effect. So, I rejoiced that I would finally be able to embark on my adventure the next day.
The following day as we drove to the airport, I didn’t feel my normal flying fear. Generally, when we load the bus, my palms become sweaty and my heart begins to race, and I pop a Xanax to calm my nerves. This time, I was flying without Xanax. As we boarded the flight, oddly something transpired. I was at peace and calm. Nothing about the flight scared me. Not even the turbulence that we went through. I don’t know what happened to my fear, but I revel that it wasn’t robbing me of my joy getting out of the state. Once we landed and grabbed our bags, I took a step outside, and immediately embraced the warm air. It felt great, because my body is inclined for heat like reptile. As we loaded our bags into our friend's car, I felt like a kid again. I was happy and excited to explore Arizona.
The following day, I put on my swimming suit, grinning that I was able to be at a pool and get sun in the month of October. I got on my raft, closed my eyes and dipped my hands in the pool and floated along. It was like I was feeling a pool for the first time. It was different but good. My stroke was not on my mind. I was living and experiencing life as myself and not a survivor. It was a feeling that I haven’t experienced for almost a year. Everything that is normal to our daily lives, felt special this time because it was fully appreciated. We ate at Sushi Roku and then traveled to Old Town Scottsdale so we could experience Sugar Bowl Ice Cream & Restaurant for a delicious shake walked around peering into the windows at the stores looking at the art. We got back, and I peacefully went to sleep after a relaxing day. The following day we hopped in a convertible and stopped at What’s Crackin Café for breakfast before we headed to Superstition Mountain located in Sonoran Desert. Along with a fear of flying, I am also scared of heights. My fear developed from a trip to Pikes Peak when I was 24, and our car almost went off a cliff. So, I braced myself as we began to go up. The elevation is 6,226 ft; however, we didn’t fully make it that far. As we drove, a sensational feeling overcame, and I wasn’t scared. I looked over the edge as we were driving, soaking in the mountains, formations, cactuses, and the little old town at the bottom base next to the lake. After our mountain adventure, we went out to an Italian restaurant to finish our night. Ultimately the trip had to come to an end. I was sad, that my happy time was over, and we were embarking back to our normal lives. Despite going back, I look at this trip different than any other trip we have been on. This was the first the first time I wasn’t scared to fly or go up a mountain. I didn’t have a worry in the world. I was more consumed with soaking everything in and it was absolutely liberating. We plan on visiting again, and plan other trips, because it’s good for the soul to sink in with different surroundings and appreciate life. When we arrived, we captured our fur babies and headed home. As I walked through the door stroke life hit me again. I am grateful I had three-days of just being myself. I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of escaping as critical component of my recovery.
As survivors, it’s important that we find something that allows us to escape from our thoughts. It doesn’t necessarily entail jumping on a plane and traveling because there are several supplementary outlets. The point to this piece is to take inventory and figure a way to make space for yourself. Get lost in a movie, book, paint, learn a new thing or visit something in your town that you never made time for. It’s all-important because as stroke survivors, we need a break from being a survivor.
I understand that flying to another destination is not the only answer for my mental health. It’s not feasible, and the nature of the pandemic is uncertain. I understand that I need to carve out a couple days a week to find something locally or even in the house to escape. Something where my focus is fully squared on what I’m doing and quieting the stroke sounds. It’s toilsome to figure out a list that requires my full attention of what to do. At home, there are triggering moments or sights that constantly remind me. I know that I need to wire my brain different and take those triggers and mold them into something else because I refuse to let my stroke completely define me, which is the trajectory, I’m in.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Stroke recovery is still a major part of my life and I have made it my mission in life to help others transition from the critical phase to stabilizing. I want to continue to immerse myself in stroke community and learn from others. Yet, it is important, just like having a job, that you take a break. This will refresh you and make you feel more balanced for the next thing you tackle. Again, I didn’t understand this necessity until I got to fully escape.
Make it a part of your routine, to separate yourself as a stroke survivor from time to time. You will feel energized.