“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 lossesyet 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 beenattempting to answer that question for the last five years. At firstit was just a matter of survival. While I don’t recall my time inintensive 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 fullyaware 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 usedthis determination to kick some proverbial butt. Along the way I have set some lofty goals for myself. Even if I fail, I will have failedabove 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.
You’ve always had the power dear, you just had to learn it for yourself,”-Glinda the Good Witch.
This post will not be as long as my journey after stroke. Much like Dorothy’s house was picked up in a storm, my life too was hauled off. Except, it was by a stroke rather then a fictional tornado.
In surviving the fall from the sky, I seemingly eradicated the grim reaper much like Dorothy’s witch. In my travels since emerging from the wreckage, I too have been periodically tormented by fear. While fear is not easily destroyed by a bucket of water as in the film, it can be destroyed by dousing it with its opposite.The substance of love, hope, kindness, and healthy support.You must ignore that nagging voice in your head that insists everything will go wrong, you won’t be able to achieve your goal, and life is just happening to you. That’s a funny thing because you have the ability to exercise your will and build the road that you desire. The fear you encounter while working away on your goal can be diffused by declaring the opposite of what it’s trying to convince you of.In fact as you follow this path treating yourself with love, and receivingit from others, you’ll stumble across some breakthroughs. Not only will you experience breakthroughs, but you will also meet people to help you of an excellent caliber. People who possess hearts full of love, have infinite patience, and a true desire to help. You won’t meet these people while following the path of least resistance. As it turns out after surviving the equivalent of a thousand foot fall from the sky, you can learn to walk again(literally) just as a bird with a mended broken wing will eventually spread its wings and fly. Life doesn’t happen while you stand back and watch but when you press into it, even if it pushes back. Most of my success has happened when I dove into something head first. If you’re afraid then do it afraid! You’ll be surprised by just how much your capable of. However, if you let the fear lay a brick wall in front of you rather then a road you’ll never know. So as the song goes…. “Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road, follow, follow, follow, follow…. And I’m pretty sure there are no lyricsconcerningcoming to a halt.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.