“For contrary to legal precedent, women are considered guilty of incompetence until proved otherwise.”-Amelia Earhart.
Forsome time my life has been dictated by the reference point of before the stroke versus after the stroke. The closer I came either physically or mentally to being like myself before the stroke marked improvement and progress. No doubt that is a clear indicator of recovery after such a horrific event. However, what if the stroke wasn’t so much a detriment but something like aflint against which yousharpen a rock? I had become that rock. Therefore, rather then pretend that the stroke had destroyed me, why not see thatI was very much still “there?” In personality and physically.If a city can be rebuilt after undergoing a round of intense bombing, then why couldn’t I? In thisprocess it has been imperative to stay positive and be around others who are. Because, sadly as I have experienced first hand, there are more people out there that want to extinguish your light rather then feed the fire. Personally I am frustrated by the reference point, as I’m sure so are other stroke survivors. To be compared to ones self and trying to outdo it, seems like a cruel sports event. Being stubborn and ambitious, I naturally try to outdo myself(and others) anyway. Not only is that the natural human inclination, but this was something different. I was being measured against myself andasked to meet the expectations of others. Naturally, this turned into walking a personal war path to prove any naysayers wrong. Maybe you haven’t heard, but anyone who tells you your aspirations are impossible is a liar.After all, if it can happen to anyone why not you?Winning the lottery, finding great love, traveling the world, and full recovery after a stroke. I believe all these things are possible to thosethat deign to dream them. However, don’t insert a wishbone where a backbone should be. The people that will emergeafter a tragedy and that should be kept in your atmosphere, are the ones that build you up rather then drag you down. When it comes to the naysayers, learn to protect yourself from them and relish the moment you inevitably prove them wrong. Because, if you remain focused on the finish line rather then the hurdles, you will.
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” -Christopher Reeve.
There will be times that being strong is your only choice, no matter how weak you may feel. On the days that you’d rather climb into a hole and hide away or stay in bed, you will have toget up. Because, your very life and future depend on it.Time waits for no one. As much asyou’d like to hide from bad circumstances, you can’t overcome them by staying under them. Instead, you have to get over and through them.This requires pulling up your boot straps and trudging through the emotional and sometimes physical muck. When you have a stroke(like me) and your arm stops taking functional orders from your “damaged,” brain, you have to go to physical therapy. Where, inevitably all the movements asked of you will just highlight your problems. Rather then give up and cry, you keep going to physical therapy anyway, no matter how bleak. Why? Because if you give up, you may stop just short of your breakthrough. If history and the passing of time have taught humanity anything, it is that nothing is impossible. The very word itself says “I’M possible!” Therefore if you want the future that you dream of, you can’t let a lack of hope steal it away from you. Tell that constant nagging voice that tells you, you can’t that you CAN. And furthermore, that you will thank you very much. The hardship you endure going through the muck, is far less then the price you’ll pay by giving up. To overcome the hurdles and avoid hitting them, keep your eye on the finish line. Just imagine all the great stories that would’ve been lost, had its hero given up before the final scene. When
you experience a truly terrible hardship, it makes you realize how good you had it prior to said hardship. There are peopleeverywhere that remain entirely unaware of how fortunate they truly are. No matter your current problem, believe it or not, you may be one of them. For example, while getting on the scale may reveal you’ve gained a lot of weight, somewhere else in the world a child is likelystarving. So, those extra pounds?Not such a bad problem to have! When we are so closely facing an issue, it’s difficult to zoom out and see the big picture.
We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” -Orson Welles.
With an over two month inpatient hospital stay and constant therapy or doctor appointments upon discharge, my social life was dead on arrival. Not to mention I was practically on house arrest, not being able to drive anywhere. This just added to the great sadness that plagued me; a culmination of living upside down in a world that was not of my choosing. This “new world,”lacked the independence I had once known prior to the stroke,possessed no social life, andhad way too much parental supervision for my liking.I often found myself alone making up things to keep busy and to keep sane. Luckily,growing up as an only child provided sufficient training for such circumstances.Living ina constantly moving world and being so unusually busy myself, friends were a rare sight. However, despite all of the hurdles there are those wonderful souls who have stepped forward and really offered their time and support. These humans are what I like to call rare birds, that stand out in an overwhelming flock of conformity and status quo. They are colorful when things are dull, different when things are uniform, and most of allcompassionate. I’m happy thatalonglife’s rocky roadI picked up these hitchhikers and can call them my friends.
Whats more, thesepassengers I haveprocured aren’t the type to bail out as soon as the car breaks down. Instead of looking for another ride, they patiently wait and help me while I try to fixmine. For years now it is on these little pebblesof good moments that haveadded up to create a roadI am ableto move forward on.It’s not onlygood company, but it serves as therapy too!It has improved my soul, AND aided in the recovery of my brain. Therefore, these rare birdsare certainly more then just flights of fancy. They also serve as part time therapists and free of charge no less! You can’t beat that. Itis often that when life beats you downthatthese birds will rise up to meet and surprise you with their goodness. Because, it is when you find yourself in the dark that you need to be reminded of the light. This was(and is) especially true in my case and perhaps yours too. It seems the things we need most will find us when we least expect it.
“There are no pleasures in a fight but some of my fights have been a pleasure to win.” -Muhammad Ali.
Sometimes, the greatest pleasure of your day is a cup of coffee in the morning.In coping with life after a near death I havein no way minimized my expectations or goals, but I have simplified what brings me happiness or fulfillment. When your life gets put on pause(or seemingly rewind) during a recovery from something like a stroke, jumping in the car to go and do what you please becomes impossible ornon optional. Often, I amstuck at home, in therapy,on errands, or in a doctors waiting room. When one’s freedom is seriously compromised, you begin to find it in other places. Many of these places werejust passing moments before the stroke, but now they have taken center stage. The little things became my main thoroughfare.For example, the promise of a good breakfast was all that could rouse me from my bed on many days.An eventpreviously so inconsequential, was now a reason to get up. I began to structure my life around thegoal of getting better, rather than work.My new career wasto be a reconstructive surgeon on the body ofmy own life. Suddenly, Ilegitimatelyyearned to fight the hectic city traffic again!A two hour commute home after an eight hour day, was a dream compared to what I faced during the early days of recovery. How little we realize what a gift our lives are when everything is going to plan. In order to feel just as productive and accomplished as I was previous to the stroke, I shifted the types of things I wanted to accomplish. Now completing a list of chores became fulfilling. Not to mention it’sbeneficial therapy! Folding hordes of towels with one arm works on a myriad of physical skills. Many that will naturally benefit me, all in the process of doing a mundane chore. Never underestimate the value ofcrossing things off a to-do list, no matter how simple it seems. Making up daily work for myself has saved my sanity, contributed to further recovery, and given me a sense of accomplishment. Once I realized that many mundane taskspropelled progress,they became par for the course. We don’t always need to do show stopping things in order to feel good or create value.It is what happens behind the scenes that creates a stellar show. The world normally sees the finished product without witnessing the intense work that it took to get there. It is for this reasonyou shouldn’t quitputting in the work.Because the work you put in will amount to what kind of life you experience.
“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.”
― Chuck Palahniuk.
I have always felt a little out of place or like an observer of this great big fish bowl earth, that’s teeming with life. This was especially true after I was injured and found myself displaced from where I had been thriving in New York City. I woke up at the bottom of a pity pit in a hospital rehabilitation center in my home state, back where I started before I moved away.I had hit a snakein life and slid right back to the beginning of the game. This couldn’t be more true since I had to relearn basic life skills that I had at one time already mastered. You would think a clean slate would be a good thing, but notso in this case. I had witnessed all the dominos Ipainstakingly set up, tumble down at the push of a bad life circumstance.I would soon be tasked with rebuildingit and that’s what I am now, a full time construction worker. The sixty four days I spent in the hospitaland even more before that saw me inching towards the starting line.Although I had a supportive crowd cheering me on, I had lost my “tribe.” A group of fun like minded people that helped motivateme to be better were missing from the hospital setting.Therefore, I went to many therapy appointments(after discharge) with a different kind of tribe. They weren’t bad just fellow people that were hurt like me, so it was dark and depressing in that village. I missed the glittering happy atmosphere that I had been used to, sinceit lifted my spirits. Although, I certainly tried to get back there with weekend workshops like Blogcademy.(Glitter!)However, aftertwo days of sunshine, on a Monday I had to return to that same dark village that was therapy; never was the importance of your atmosphere so obvious to me. Since then I have stumbled unexpectedly into members of my tribe(like this)which always makes me feel much better.Each day as I run into these like minded individuals and recover more, Ican see the entrance to my village getting closer and closer. Never take for granted or underestimate the importance of beingwhere you feelyou belong, it will save your life!
“The most pathetic person in the world is some one who has sight but no vision.” ― Helen Keller.
When you look at something, what do you see? Do you see what’s on the surface, the physical, the flaws, the beauty, or the potential? In my experience, if you can supersede your natural instincts and look past the obvious that’s when forward motion in life occurs. It’s easy to see an obstacle that’s been placed in front of you by life, and perceive it as impossible to surpass. However, there are those that see what is possible instead. Whether it’s being born with muscular dystrophy, losing an arm, or becoming a full time model(and actress) in New York even though you were born by society’s standards as irredeemably ugly, anything is possible! What these three women embody is the ability to overcome and look past those barriers with true grit and vision. It would’ve been easy to give up and let the lemons they’d been handed slowly dry out their resolve and souls in the process. Instead, they used those very lemons to quench their thirst. Who says a deficit cannot be turned into a spring board? Also, who concluded that a “big,” problem could not lend you the very strength you need to overcome it? That’s the thing, no one. Which means, with the right vision you’re free(and able) to overcome those obstacles. For every problem there is a solution, and in some cases multiple solutions. Born ugly? Move to New York and shake up the conformity in the modeling industry. A shark bit off your arm while surfing!? Well, just learn to balance, continue surfing, and go on to win multiple surfing contests. Were you born with a debilitating disease and wheelchair bound? Well, it doesn’t affect your face so go to an open casting call for Diesel and become the face of their new campaign. You see? In each unfortunate circumstance they went against their natural instincts. Their perceived handicaps, were just that perceived, not permanent. If we had microscopic vision we’d see that all matter around us is made up of atoms and molecules that are continually in motion. That means things are constantly moving, and there is no reason a circumstance should put your life(and goals) at a stand still. In fact things cannot help but move, and that includes moving forward! Therefore, don’t let a perceived obstacle stop you dead in your tracks. As evidenced by the Ladies above(Jillian Mercado, Bethany Hamilton, and Lillian Gaydos) the only obstacles are in our minds.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” – Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor.
The most important choice you make every day is your attitude. Your internal attitudes are more important than your external circumstances. Joy is mind over matter. How we feel isn’t determined circumstantial. It is perceptual. Our feelings are determined by our subjective focus. How you feel is the result of what you focus on. The same adversity can affect two people very differently. I often wonder how someone else would do in my circumstances, but I have hardly anyone to compare myself to. However, I’ve surmised that what poisons one person to death, sweetens the other person’s spirit. This would explain howsomeone could manage to survive an atrocitylike the Holocaust. When I experienced my own holocaust in the form of a massive stroke, I had to choose. Either let it be a catalyst that began my downward spiral or fight. As it turned out, although I felt hopeless the latter was much more appealing than the former. Although I had plenty of verypatient therapists and encouragement, ultimately I was the only one thatcould do what needed to be done to improve myself.The same goes for many different things in life, it is you that has the power to choose and get better. Therefore, I would encourage you to do what is needed to move forward, no matter how hard. Because, as I have seen some significant physical improvements, it’s well worth it!
“It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.”- Paul Cezanne.
It only took twenty days to upend twenty eight years of progress, now at the age of an adult I was starting over like a child. After waking from the coma(all twenty days of it) and being cleared fora med flight to a rehabilitation hospital I had arrived. Not only was I physically back in the same location I had started from before I moved(to New York) but also mentally starting over. With no job, apartment, car, or social life, I was left with only one thing… rehabilitation. I found myselfso far down in the depths of life I had nowhere to go but up!My view from the bottom was one of complete hopelessness andloss. However, once I was farther along in my physical recovery(walking, eating, and communication skills) I began to see some light, and the burdens of the hospital were no more. I still had(and have) a mountain to climb but it’s much easier with the right tools and attitude. Once I began to shed the weight of piles of pills, a feeding tube, and the discomfort of a hospital bed I was free to breathe again. I quickly came to the realization that material belongings are meaningless, youreap what you sow, and that life is but a blur. Once I regained my determination and strength, it was clear what I had to do. It may have taken but a moment to tear down the life I had built, but now I had a chance to repair it andeven better this time! One can only be so lucky(or unlucky if you will. Now,instead of hanging outin my New York City apartment on a week day night after work, sometimes I hang out with people at a brain injury support group. Is it somewhere I ever expected to be? No, but I can still see the beauty in it. I have enjoyed having conversations with people that are usually invisible in mainstream society and very likely by me too prior to the stroke. Except that I now I see them.It’s not a place I ever wanted(or expected) to be, but I’m going to make the best of it. Because rather then dwell on the past or get stuck, sometimes we just need to tell ourselves “Let’s just get on with it!” Do I suppose I am an injured little bird stuck inmy circumstances? No, because in making the decision to get on with it I have found the hopeto fly again.
“Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”- Hans Christian Andersen.
Every time I shed a little responsibility I imagine a pair of scissors cutting the string to a tiny man that’s holding me down. This makes the shedding of unnecessary belongings and responsibilities a lot more fun. My inherited beta fish died, not much sadness there… *snip snip*! One less thing to do. After nearly losing everything(my life included) material possessions suddenly became unimportant. I now view the accumulation of things as a burden. If I’m going to buy something new I get rid of a few old things to counter balance the amount of things I own, simply because you can become a slave to inanimate objects fairly easy. Not to mention, I evaluate each new purchase with one question, “how will this add value to my life?” If it doesn’t, I don’t buy it. Since life is fleeting I’d rather fill it with experiences over things that I have to pay for and then subsequently take care of. Give me a tasty gourmet meal over another tee shirt, an outing to the movies over some more expensive makeup, or a Broadway show instead of a birthday party and gifts. Why? Because lovely memories are a much greater gift then more material belongings. The object of the “game,” is to cut away as many strings as possible.
Granted, this doesn’t mean you should shirk all reasonable responsibilities, just that due to consumerism we add so many more unnecessary ones. In an already over burdened existence I find relief in cutting the strings. I believe you will too, so considerminimalismand find freedom! Get out your scissors,
“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him.” positively. -Bob Marley.
Whether you’re considered an artist or not, we all create something. What ever that something is, be it cooking, painting, playing an instrument, taking care of a loved one, or simply doing your menial job well, all of it matters.Ensure the legacy you leave is one of love,hard work, and one that leaves an indelible mark onthose aroundyou. Even the most simple tasks done well cangive a sense of pride. Since I have not been able to work in my busy fast pacedcareer since the stroke, I’ve learned to channel that energy elsewhere.Now I put much more care and effort into everyday tasks. None of which are recognized on a stage, by the public ,or sometimes even my own family. However, when I know I’ve done somethingto the best of my ability or taken extra care, I’m satisfied. Because, whether it’s folding towels, washing dishes, or organizing my desk, I aim to leave a trail of excellence, and that’s how I’ll be remembered. No job is too small,ortoo big.When you start by tackling the “small things,” with ease, the big thingsget a whole loteasier. At one point I struggled to even dress myself, it was utterly exhausting! Afterwards I felt as if I’d just had a work out and be angry at the fact it took so much more effort then it did prior to the stroke.As I lay huffing and puffing on my bed, my Mother assured me with a laugh“It’ll get easier.” And you know what?One sock at a time it did. Now it takes me no more effort then it did before to get dressed. Atone point I balked at therapists who assured me doing the dishes would pay off. Even though I once thought all these menial things made no difference, I was wrong. By starting with washing one dish, putting on one incredibly tight pressure sock(with one arm), foldingthat little washcloth, and organizing a drawer… Those things have now become getting fully dressed with ease, doing full loads of laundry, ALL the dirty dishes in the sink, and organizing an entire office. Since I have discovered this secret of starting small,I’m continually up to something. After all,every Neil Armstrong has had to start training down on earth before they cantake their first steps on the moon.