“First, I have to thank God for giving me the gift that he did as well as a second chance for a better life.” –unknown.
I’m only 33, but I’ve lived two lifetimes. Currently I’m on my second. In the first one I was a fiercely independent twenty something living in New York City, keeping busy, and working in a promising professional career.It was the beginning of my “adult,” existence. Living in a tiny roomthat I rented in a nice apartment in the best city in the world. I had a 401kunder my belt, and nothing but big plans for the future in front of me. But of course, as they say“ Life happens while your busy making other plans.” And in my case, that saying proved to be true. Because I unexpectedly had a massive stroke and all those big plans suddenly fell through. In my second life I’m now a fiercely independent thirty something. Living in a pretty house in the woods, trying to figure things out, and life this time around has a lot less noise in it. However, despite my first go around I’m still making plans but they’re in a different vein. Rather then building on top of what I already have, I’m in the process of rebuilding.I used to despair over the loss of my former plans, but slowly I have begun to realize that in the new plans I can do anything. It’s similar to the joy I felt in moving to a new neighborhood where nobody knew who I was. I could go to the grocery store under dressed and not run into a soul I knew. The freedom of that was rather nice. Except, this time around that new neighborhood is practically the whole world. After the stroke I was thrust into a new plane of existence. I had a past but it did not define me, in fact I could choose to omit the parts of my past I did not favor. After the stroke it was as if most people were meeting me for the first time. There were no expectations or preconceived notions. I could tell them what I wanted and in being able to choose the past I liked, that eventually also meant I could choose whatever future I wanted as well. The massive stroke cleared the game board of my life so I was now free to set it up again how I liked. This by no means has been easy. In fact it’s the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. I am just now beginning to see the freedom in what I previously thought was a death sentence. My future is still bright, and this one single event does nothold true for every area of my life. Because, although life is short there is still plenty you can do with it. Therefore, aim to live yours to the fullest.
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie.
As seen through the lens of a near death experience, you have no real problems. Paralysis? That’s a problem. Being stuck in a wheelchair for awhile(permanently for some) that’s a problem. These are just a couple of the problems I had after the stroke, and although the wheelchair is a thing of the past(see here) I still have many mountains to climb as I move forward in my recovery. Most of these mountains are things people take for granted. Like, gainful employment, driving, and generally living an independent lifestyle. If anything, that was my modus operandi before the stroke. I’ve always been and am fiercely independent and some would say stubborn. However, like everyone else I took my independent existence for granted. Imagine losing your lucrative job, nice NY apartment, a significant other, and waking up incapacitated in a hospital in one fell swoop? That is the reality(or more like un-reality) I woke up to in 2013.Many miles away from where I had built my home. As I grappled with my daunting circumstance, I often asked my distraught Parents to take me back to my apartment in NewYork. However, that was not to happen because I didn’t yet fully comprehend whathad happened to me. Fast forward to 2018… Today, I stand here having completed years of therapy and hitting some pretty big milestones. After climbing all those mountains, taking things for granted has generally been beaten out of me. In light of what could(and what did) happen, I have no problems. I had money in the bank, great health, and love before the stroke.Yet I still have them after! Although, maybe not in the capacity that I would like. Regardless I have them. Thus, I am working awaylike a little construction worker rebuilding my lifeafter pouring the foundation of regaining basic skills. I have had to get back to eating solid foods, re-learn how to walk and work on social skills in order to function normally again. Although, it’s still a work in progress, aren’t we all? I figure, as long as you’re still alive you have a reason and a purpose to be here. Therefore march on brave soldiers!
“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”
― John Lennon.
Do you know what a mandala is? It’s an intricate design made with colored sand created by TibetanMonks. Each one holds a different meaning and at the end of a certain period of time, the monk who created it(taking hours and days) destroys it. Why?(here)What is the lesson we can draw from it?It is one of the impermanence of our existence. Although short, it’s important to make something as beautiful as you can before it is wiped away. This speaks to the temporal state of life and is wholly encouraging. Because, since things are generally temporary, this also means there is no way you can be stuck in bad circumstances forever. In fact,it is assuring to know that there is an end. One can draw an admirable parallel, that despite these monks knowing their creation will eventually be destroyed, they painstakingly create it anyway. As easy as it would be to make one in a hurry or be lazy about it, they choose to break their backs(and maybe cross their eyes) over the intricate design of a mandala. These humans don’t simply give up orbecome laissez-faire about it but rather, the opposite! No endeavor is neglected in spite of its impermanence. In the midst of struggle this creation and symbolic destruction of a mandala brings hope. It points to focusing on the positive, creatingsomething beautiful while you can, and the eventualend toa bad situation. In that vein I’d encourage you to “ Make something beautiful while your here, because it’s temporary.”Use thebright colorsthat dwell in yourheart to make a beautiful patternwith your life.
“If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”
-Frank A Clark.
There is a line that runs across the globe of my life, and you can’t see it. It’sthe day of October 12th, 2012, a space in time that has forever separated my life into a “before, and after.” Well, the before and after the massive stroke that is. Everything gets compared to and measured against this timeline continually. The closer I can get to the before measurement, the better. I used to think that my life was the most valid on the before side of this line. However, as things improve the after side isn’t looking as doomed. If you’re a psychology buff as I am, you will know that we often misremember our past aswell as our futures. This has been proven by numerous studies. In my search to nullify my own psychic pain from all the struggles of recovery I have discovered this fact, as well as the factthat 85% of our worries do not come true (read here).Combined, these two mental objects set in the landscape of time have helpedthe “after,” side of the equatorbecome as sunny as South Florida. The blindfold blocking your mind from this view is that we often believe our futures will be like our present. We can let bad circumstances settle upon us and bury us, or choose to be enlightenedby them like a flint being struck against stone. When push comes to shove, those bad circumstances have to go!Your life is as valid as you choose to view it. Surprisingly, all those traits that doctors worried the stroke would take away have survived. I’ve just had to work very hard to uncover them. The point being, that no matter what the tragedy, few things can take away your spirit.My personality has not been lost(or re-shaped) by the seven blood clots that threatened to make me brain dead. Rather, the human spirit proves to persevere.
“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.”- William Butler Yeats.
This is a short post about a subject that isfar reachinginto our personal stories.The invisible lines that intersect our lives and bring us together with various strangers has always fascinated me.
To think, there was a time when you didn’t know that your best friend or significant other even existed.What was going on in their lives before you met? More importantly, why did you meet? Because, as we all know, each person that comes across your life via an invisible thread has an impact. Each impact, whether good or bad slowly molds you into what you are at this moment in time. It’s as if you’re a planet turning through space that gets struck by various comets, leavingindents upon you at various depths. While some marksare shallow, others are deep. As we take stock of these interactions,often we focus on the negative ones the most. However, there are as easily more positive interactions than negative, if we only shifted our perspectives. Why notresolve to build someone up that you come across rather thantear them down? After all, it is the highest skyscraper in the city that stands out the most. Be the architect of that monumental steel giant that withstands time in the city of your life and others.
“The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.” -Eckhart Tolle.
The last thing I remembered was struggling to get up off a floor that I had just fallen down to. Eventually exhausted, I drifted off into an unconscious state. This ishow I was found,only laterdid I feel very lost. The next instance that I was conscious for, was wakingup in a hospital bed about 650 miles away from theNewYork hotel bathroom floor I had fallen on. I was in a rehabilitationcenter after having had a massive stroke at 28 years old. Suddenly, I was thrust into a deep darkness that I felt there was no escape from. How do I get back to NYC and when!?This is all I asked my Parents about. Well, I’m still in recovery but my mind andmy outlook of the future arenot so bad anymore. In fact, there has been tremendous recovery because I got my mind and emotions onto a better train track.So, how do youdivertyour path after near imminent disaster? First of all give it time, nothing worth having(or achieving) happens instantaneously. Secondly, welcome as much positivity into yourlife as possible. Once you have taken time, and ingested a heavy dose of positivity you can begin steps to clean up the mess after the storm. Also, be on the lookout for any signs of progress however small. This will fuel you onto your bigger goals. Because, long term goals are made up of many short term goals.Give yourself grace, not everything will be perfect, moving forward not backwards is key.Not to mention, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Recovery from any disaster is a process. Finally, work SMART, and ask yourself if your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time measured. All these things will help you rebuild your life after you’ve suffered a setback, whatever it may be.
“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.