Yesterday was my 13th strokiversary!
Whenever 7 July rolls around, it always inspires a sort of check-in: The emotions that come with the anniversary of my stroke can often be mixed, and they change every time. I’ve had years where it was just surreal because it was weird as hell that I’d had a stroke in the first place . . . years where I almost missed it . . . years where all I could think about is going back and finding pictures and relics from my time in the hospital.
The strokiversary reminds me of how far I’ve come, what I’ve left behind, and what is still to come. Last year, I used the opportunity to launch the rebrand of the blog — moving it from its old home at Rehab Revolution to its current, more spirited iteration.
I like to write about the strokiversary because for awhile now I’ve chosen to celebrate it.
But — why would someone celebrate such a traumatic experience? I get that question a lot. Every single year. And actually, I only just found out that my boyfriend of five and a half years, Anthony, was vaguely wondering the same thing. (My jaw dropped.*)
So I decided to share on a live broadcast. I breathed through the anxiety of putting myself out there on Facebook Live and forced myself to share my experience in more detail than usual — from the moment it happened 13 years ago.
As much as Facebook will be annoyed at this, I had someone on my tech support team pull the video from their platform so I could share it to YouTube. If you’re not a fan of the Facebook page (which of course you should be 😉 ) or not inclined to wade through it in search for the broadcast recording, you can see the broadcast at the end of this post.
I wanted to clarify why the strokiversary is a positive celebration, one where I get to remember the day my life changed for the better. From the moment I had to surrender to what was, I also had to viscerally learn necessary life skills — skills that are far less glamorous and therefore less talked about, yet still so part of being human:
-humility: I don’t want to know just how many people at the hospital saw me naked, or at least comatose and wearing an adult-sized, deep purple diaper. I also had to learn to receive help from people to do things like go to the toilet or bathe. I lived my life in a wheelchair for probably about a month, and spent a few years learning to trade pride in for my physical safety.
-compassion, empathy: Prior to the stroke, I never really gave any thought to what life might be like at the other end of that wheelchair or a cane and an ankle brace. I never felt the acute sense of isolation between the able-bodied and those with physical disabilities, even though I had worked with them for a year prior to my stroke. Or understood just how giving and loving the medical profession was. Even now that I’ve released a lot of the emotional wounds that came from the experience of being so vulnerable (and so early), the very real and raw feelings that came with it have added a depth to my heart and spirit in way that was never accessible to me before.
-finding out I wasn’t invincible: At 19, I had no sense of my mortality. When I asked about the day he “met” me, my neurosurgeon’s expression became haunted. Apparently, I had been hanging on by a string. And don’t even get me started on the day before my final brain surgery, when all the doctors had come in to warn me of the potential risks — weakness, another stroke, bleeding out, or contracting HIV from a probable transfusion. The morning of the surgery I was rolled to pre-op with tears leaking out of my eyes and body shaking because I didn’t know if I would wake up again.
-spiritual depth: It could very well be because I’m a Scorpio, and/or because I’m quite an intuitive person — but the stroke definitely marks a renewal of my spirit that never existed before. Prior to the stroke, I’d led a fairly superficial, inconsequential lifestyle. I wasn’t a bad kid by any means, just one that didn’t truly dig deeper. Now that I had a whole new set of physical and emotional needs, I had to really go inside to figure out how I could cope and operate in a world not well equipped for the absence of self-awareness or personal responsibility. It wasn’t an immediate transformation, but one I’ve been on for many years, and I only recently have started to gain a some confidence in this newfound ability to truly connect and to communicate in order to find the support that I need. Resilience has not really been a choice, but only the result of having unshakable faith in the human spirit and in something far greater than me or anything else.
What was a choice, though, was to live life better. Having a chronic physical condition which would only improve based on my efforts taught me about discipline, commitment, and self-care. The self-care piece would then feed into the highly underestimated power of effective and responsible communication.
It taught me to be more discerning about who I kept around me. Different people have different reactions to other people’s trauma. None of them are wrong — ultimately, how they respond is entirely about them. But certain behaviors were no longer conducive to having freedom and stability in my relationships. So I learned how to clean it up so that my inner circles of influence would remain more supportive and free of unnecessary stress. It carried over from physical strife to emotional strife. I no longer choose to engage with behavior that comes from victim or martyr energies.** The arena of trauma — and therefore of people in general — is rife with these behaviors because not everyone is in the same place in their growth.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the stroke inspired me to live a life of purpose. It placed a call on my soul that simply won’t leave me alone — a call to become a leader and to develop a voice that other people like me, other survivors, could borrow when they needed it. This alone has of course come with its fair share of discomfort, its own set of fears and challenges, and the work will literally never be complete. There’s no such thing as healing to perfection.
The big secret is that we are all a work in progress, and progress is ongoing. So as long as I am ongoing, I’ll continue to have more to share with you. That’s why I created the blog — so that I could remind you of what you already know deep, deep down:Your life did not end when you had your stroke. Click To Tweet
At the age of 19, I honestly felt like I had no choice but to carry on, to push to recover. I believed that, hey, I was only 19; I had my whole life ahead of me.
But don’t you see? That’s literally everyone. I don’t care if you’re 89 and you just had a stroke. If you woke up on this side of the ground and you’re still breathing with a heart pumping life through your veins, your life is still ahead of you.
There is so much more to you than just your body and what it can do for you.
And if it takes a strokiversary for you to not fucking forget that, then may you have this one and many, many more.
Does this strike a cord for you? Share how in a comment below, or share with someone you know who will benefit!
See the broadcast here:
To our healing,
*Sometimes I make the assumption that Anthony can read my mind. This is, ahem, not an effective way to communicate — so moments like these help remind me there’s still some work to do.
**I think we’ve all been the victim and/or the martyr before. And once I left it behind, it became no fun for me to be around. Total understanding as to why we go there, though.