Remember a little over a year ago when local non-for-profit Erasing the Distance decided to share my story in their play, Falling Petals? (Refer to this post, and this one if you need reminding.) The show, which focused on Asian-Americans with disabilities, was really powerful — their objective is to spread awareness of mental illness through theatre and “erase the distance” between society and its so-called “crazy people.” They seek to show their audience that someone suffering from any type of mental illness, be it bipolar, depression, eating disorders, or whatever, is not so different from you or me, that everyone falls somewhere on a spectrum of mentally healthy and ill. They do a great job of chipping away at the stigma of mental illness from our society, and I really respect that. In fact, I wouldn’t say our goals are entirely different . . . I, too, aim to spread awareness of traumatic injury — whatever it is, whether you had a stroke like me, or were in a car accident, or have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis — through my words.
Yesterday, I decided to take my boyfriend Anthony’s advice from a long time ago (I don’t know what took me so long) and do a search for other similar blogs. I was left overwhelmed with the plethora of information out there! Of course, more people than I can probably even comprehend have been through stroke and the like, but I never imagined that there was already a blogging community out there supporting survivors like there is.
Foolish, I know. (It even turns out there is a blog out there that aesthetically looks identical to mine! Damn Blogger and its generic templates! *Shakes fist* I do plan on going custom, as a result. . . .) But what I discovered as I perused these numerous blogs on stroke rehabilitation and recovery was that there are people out there who experience traumatic injury and they are angry. With just reason — angry at themselves, no doubt, for sustaining what seems like a fluke accident, though it’s not foreseeable, angry at fate for causing this seemingly never-ending nightmare, angry at the medical system for the sometimes-disappointing feedback from professionals and insurance policies.
Of course, there are also those who choose to embrace the experience as one of development and growth, and write on their new lives from scientific perspectives. It’s cool, but I’m not going to say I belong to one camp or the other, because I’ve certainly been part of both.
I sometimes find myself so frustrated or embarrassed by one aspect or another of dealing with having had a stroke. “If I could just have a day,” I will say, “just one day, to have my old body back . . .” Because rehabilitation means it’s a journey through something chronic, that there are no “one days” or breaks or going back. You never had the choice to begin with — and yet, sometimes that’s a beautiful thing.
I couldn’t even tell you how many people have told me they respected my strength. “I don’t know what I’d do if I’d had a stroke at nineteen,” they say. Well, I do. When you have a stroke at nineteen, of course you never will have researched what it’s like because it seemed irrelevant before — but once you understand and accept this as your reality, you have two choices: wither up, become a victim to the condition, and either try to forget or at least pretend it’s not ruining your life even though it is. Or, you can fight back. You can cultivate energy within yourself to reclaim your life, learn the lessons the very hard way, foster humility, and move on. You are strong not because that’s just the way you are, but because it’s the way you have to be.
So no, I’m not here to say, “Anger is bad.” It’s natural. We all have the right to be angry with the circumstances — but remember, anger is inherently a fleeting emotion. Be angry for as long as it satisfies you, but then learn to live in peace.
My story was featured right at the center of Falling Petals, sandwiched between other stories that were emotionally jarring and even downright upsetting. Why place mine in the middle? Because I provided positivity in the midst of all that heaviness. I had spoken my story to the director in a way such that it translated as almost lighthearted! I mean, I’ve had years to examine what transformations my spirit has been through during all this time, and if I like (and I don’t), I could always go back to feeling sorry for myself or being pissed off that this happened. But life doesn’t need to be so downtrodden — it helps to bring in an element of levity. And that’s what acceptance and humility will bring you.
Erasing the Distance recently put on a show called Finding Peace in this House, which I went to with Anthony. It showcased the monologues of people of all types who have journeyed long and hard to accept their conditions and find peace “in [their] house,” whether that house be their tangible homes or even their own bodies. (Boy, did I cry during the last monologue, about a guy living with cerebral palsy.)
I hope that from my writings in this blog, I’ve helped communicate an important philosophy toward healing from any kind of traumatic experience: that in order to heal, you must first address the spirit. A peaceful mental outlook will make it all the easier to go forth with your journey, and that’s forever what my message will be.