“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” – Gerard Way.
I’ve been asked on many occasions, how I’ve dealt with a landslide of changes and perceived losses yet continued to move forward. That’s just it, perception. All of the things that were uncontrollable for me, could happen to anyone, but then again most people don’t have massive strokes in their twenties. As rare as such an event is(thankfully) it’s just as rare to survive it. Besides the initial question of how such a thing could happen, the question became what to do when it does. I have been attempting to answer that question for the last five years. At first it was just a matter of survival. While I don’t recall my time in intensive care my family certainly does. They and the medical team were fighting for me at the time. However, now that I’m able it’s my turn to enlist in the battle for myself. As I have steadily made physical and cognitive gains, many people are impressed. However, what they don’t fully realize is that anyone can achieve what I have, including them. There’s a formula. Once I became more fully aware of what had happened to me I became deeply depressed. Except at some point I knew that I couldn’t let that depression be a road block in my recovery. After all, I was in the fight of my life! When push came to shove, I wasn’t going to let the stroke continue to push me down. Certainly it did while I was still in the hospital. But now, I felt an obligation to getting my life back. It’s funny that after you’ve been railroaded, a great determination is built up in you as a result. I simply used this determination to kick some proverbial butt. Along the way I have set some lofty goals for myself. Even if I fail, I will have failed above other people because I’ve set the bar so high. In the last 1,825 days following my stroke I’ve met and had the pleasure of working with some of the most amazing individuals. Besides, the stroke really showing me what I’m made of, it has unveiled a different side of life. The side we often don’t notice and the places we oft ignore. It is in these places I have found beauty, love, friendship, and thankfulness. A lot of the formula boils down to gratitude and acceptance.
“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 room that I rented in a nice apartment in the best city in the world. I had a 401k under 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 not hold 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.
Life is a gift, savor the unwrapping of it!
“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 what had 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 away like a little construction worker rebuilding my life after 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!