Why I Have Disappeared

Six months ago I was on top of the world. And then my world collapsed.

I remember being in Carnegie Hall on Thursday, March 22nd to hear Itzak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman play. During the intermission, I checked my phone to see if one of my agents had news about an audition. Seconds later I learned that I had landed a national spot for IHOP. The recording session was the very next day.

That night my wife and our companions went home without me, while I stayed at our friend Peggy’s, an oboist who shares a small apartment in the city with her cat Boston. The next morning I took the subway to Heard City at 16 W 22nd Street, a boutique audio post production facility. After two intense hours of takes and retakes the job was done, and I felt fantastic!

Very soon this obscure Dutchman, who came to the States with no contacts and no career, would be selling Hawaiian French toast all over America. Life was sweet! Little did I know that in three days time, I would be toast, as doctors were fighting for my life.

I’ve documented the story of my stroke in “I’m Still Here.” It starts with me, waking up half-paralyzed on the floor of my voice-over studio, a rescue by friends followed by a bumpy helicopter ride, a thrombectomy, and a two-week stay in the hospital.

But that was just the beginning.

CHANGING MY LIFE

From the moment I came out of the ER, it was clear that from now on two things would be crucial. I had to Rest and Recover. Anything else was secondary. This may sound easy, but for a busy bee like me it required a disruptive but essential change in lifestyle and in attitude. For me, the hardest part was this: Being okay with being incapacitated.

I’ll be honest with you: I was anything but okay with that concept. For years and years I had gone full speed ahead, sitting in the driver’s seat of my life, frantically holding on to the wheel. I couldn’t stand that after the stroke I felt weighed down by an overwhelming fatigue, unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

Trapped in my lethargic body, and held back by persistent brain fog, I observed myself becoming dependent on the help and kindness of others to heal from this stroke of misfortune. My prospects for recovery were unclear.

One neurologist casually informed me that the dead brain cells would not regenerate. “What you’ve lost will never come back,” he said. “You just have to learn to live with it.” I hate it when people use the word “just” in that way, don’t you?

Another doctor told me to trust the amazing ability of the brain to reorganize itself and form new connections between cells. It’s called neuroplasticity. As long as I did my part, the grey matter between my prominent ears would do the rest. Now, there’s a concept I could embrace!

SIDE EFFECTS

Apart from feeling tired and overwhelmed all the time, there were other signs that the stroke had done a number on my body and my mind. I’ll mention a few, but please note that these “side effects” are by no means typical. It all depends on which parts of the brain are affected by the stroke, and to what extent. That’s why they say: “Different strokes for different folks,” I guess.

My stroke had wiped out a part of my right brain, which affected the left side of my body. At times that side felt rather uncooperative and weak. If you and I were to go for a stroll, you’d see my left foot dragging, and my left arm refusing to swing. After six months, I still have an interesting time picking things up with my left hand.

Surprisingly, my eyesight was also impacted. For the first time in my life I couldn’t read all the letters on the ophthalmologist’s chart, which is why I now permanently sport a pair of stylish bifocals. As it turned out, my brain was also ignoring part of the left side of my field of vision, which requires bi-weekly vision therapy. Driving a car was out of the question.

Overall, I found it hard to focus in other ways too, especially in an environment with lots of things going on at the same time. My brain would quickly reach stimulus overload and tune out. Supermarkets and department stores were places to avoid, as well a large gatherings of people.

Social situations became particularly awkward for me. I can’t explain why, but instead of taking part in a conversation, I found myself becoming a disengaged observer. It was as if my brain had trouble connecting and downloading the information. Should you and I meet and strike up a conversation, please don’t think I’m bored as my eyes start drifting away and I stop responding. It simply means it’s challenging for me to process the information and the environment, and my wheels are churning.

Anyway, I don’t want this to be a litany of complaints, so, before I talk about how my stroke affected my voice and my career as a professional speaker, I’ll tell you how I approached my recovery.

GETTING BACK ON MY FEET

From the moment I landed in the hospital, I knew I had one job and one job only: to heal my body and my mind. Everything I do and not do, has to serve that purpose. I use present tense, because the process is ongoing.

One of the first things I had to wrap my brain around is that it is okay to be unproductive. Healing from a stroke requires rest. Lots of it. In the first few months, I spent hours and hours in bed. At night and during the day. Even though my body told me to take it easy, my mind felt terribly guilty for not doing my share and pulling my weight. Talking to a neuropsychologist made me realize this was unhelpful, to say the least.

I learned to listen to my body, and accept that I was (temporarily) unable to contribute much to the household. I learned to accept that other people would pick up the slack. Daily afternoon naps are now part of the program. I also learned to avoid things that would drain my energy.

On any given day, you and I spend a lot of time worrying about things that happened in the past, or things that might happen in the future. As a result, we’re barely in the moment. It’s like going out to dinner in a fancy restaurant. During the main course we’re still evaluating the appetizer, or we’re already wondering about dessert. Meanwhile, we ignore what’s on our plate and in our mouth.

The truth is: the only reality is the here and the now. The rest is imagination. Yes, even memories are figments of our imagination because they’re nothing but personal interpretations of what we believe has happened in the past.

Recovering from a stroke is teaching me to be here now; to savor the moment, and not let worries about what may or may not happen suck the life blood out of me.

STAYING FOCUSED

Next, I had to decide how to deal with distractions. To me, a distraction was anything that would keep me from my main goal: to rest and recover. This meant putting my voice-over career on a back burner, and (temporarily) disengage from my community. So, no more Instagram or Twitter, and very limited time on Facebook. I’d stay out of discussions about the state of our industry, and I stopped writing a new blog post every week. In short, I practically disappeared from the radar screen, and I have to tell you: it was bliss!

If you’re active on social media, you know that it can be quite stressful to have to produce new content for the world to see. It’s a monster that’s always hungry for more. On top of that you have to keep up with all the content produced by others on a daily basis. The trick is to control “it” before it controls you.

As I’m taking a social media break, I am reevaluating to what extent I should maintain my presence. Is it a good use of my time? Does it keep me healthy and sane? And most importantly, does it make me and others happy? Having a stroke reemphasized that our time on earth is by no means guaranteed, and certainly not unlimited. It’s what you do with it that matters.

Work wise, I took a long and beneficial break from doing auditions. I only record for existing clients, and for jobs that land in my lap. It’s all I have time and energy for. But don’t think I spend most of my days in a horizontal position. It’s amazing how much time goes into doctor’s visits, medical tests, endless follow-up appointments, and therapy sessions. Getting well has become my day job, and my night time activity.

Every time I go to rehab and see other stroke patients, I realize how lucky I am. I’m not in a wheelchair. I can communicate. My brain still works, and I have a wife and friends who are there for me, every step of the way. Every week caring colleagues check in with me, wanting to know how I am doing. And when I meet people that haven’t seen me for a while, they are surprised how well I seem to be doing.

However, there’s one thing I haven’t told you about: how the stroke has affected my voice. I’ve kept this quiet because I didn’t want my clients to know and look elsewhere for talent. But since I’m on the mend, I’m ready to share that story with you next week!

Paul ©nethervoice

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal

53 Responses to Why I Have Disappeared

  1. Joell Ann Jacob

    Paul,
    I’m glad to hear you’re doing what is right for you and that you are recovering so well. Keep up the good work! You are, as always, inspiration for us all. Thank you.

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  2. Peter Drew

    Glad you’re on the mend, Paul. If you haven’t read it yet and you’re up to it, check out The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. You’ll discover in this book that our noggins truly are plastic and re-trainable. And thank you for the inspirational message. You’ve got me thinking about a few important things I’ve been neglecting lately. Take care and keep getting better every day!

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  3. Timothy S. Miller

    Paul,

    Inspirational and motivating for sure. Thank you for reaching out to me, “the little guy in this business” about a year ago or so. Know that this community is praying for you my friend, and praying hard. –Tim Miller, Ringgold, Georgia.

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  4. Marisha Tapera

    Thank you, Paul, for the gift of your beautiful writing, your insights, and your story. I am so grateful that you are on the mend!!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for your kind words, Marisha!

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  5. Chuck Davis

    Oh, Paul.
    So sorry to hear that you’ve had to go through this…and at the same time so relieved to know that the fighter in you is carrying on. As always, an inspiring and thought provoking blog. Thank you! I look forward to seeing you again, one of these days. Take good care, my friend.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’ll be presenting at VO Atlanta 2019. Hope you can make it, Chuck!

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  6. Heather Henderson

    Paul, leave it to you to turn this terrible challenge into a time for reflection, wisdom and sharing. I’m always amazed by you. I’m glad you’re alive, and recovering, and working with such grace on embracing the changes. I live with a couple of chronic illnesses and can’t always work (and now we’re LifeFlight buddies — woot!) and I also hate having to frigging REST sometimes. But it sounds like you’ve embraced that, too. Good man. Thank you for the lessons and new ideas you give us in every post — but don’t let us keep you from resting and healing! All my best. -Heather

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    When it comes to accepting my current condition, I have days that are good, and days that are no so good. I felt terribly guilty for not being able to pull my weight. At some point I had to let go of that, and allow others to help me heal. It’s a lesson I had to learn. Wishing you good health and happiness!

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  7. Johnny George

    Paul,
    I was drawn into your story with an eagerness to find out you are on the mend and doing well. Thank you for sharing such a personal saga that we all may face in the days ahead in our own lives. What an awful experience. And your words describe your new road with loving and practical insight.
    May God bless you and your loving family who will give you strength during this recovery ordeal. We know you’ll be back stronger than ever.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you so much, Johnny. The universe still has some plans for me, and I can’t wait to find out what they are.

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  8. Mitch Krayton

    Thanks for sharing your travails, Paul. You are a respected voice in front and behind the microphone and I thank you for posting all that you have.

    Continue getting stronger and keep that determined and positive attitude. You are inspiring to me and many others in the voice community.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m so glad to hear that, Mitch. If all goes well, I will continue to write as my body and my brain are healing.

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  9. Leila Edmunds

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your writing, as others have previously mentioned, continues to educate and engage. Even though your path may have taken an unexpected and undesired turn, your words and your efforts continue to inspire. Be well, stay well, take care.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    If my stroke experience can inspire a few people, perhaps it can give some meaning to this senseless event. To be continued…

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  10. Susan Hadash

    I continue to send you my best wishes for a full and speedy recovery. You write beautifully. Thank you for sharing your experiences and inspiring us with your great attitude.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you for your kind wishes and wonderful words, Susan. As long as I have music in me, I’ll keep on singing. I’m sure you can relate to that!

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  11. Michael Schoen

    well, Paul I must say you haven’t lost a mile on your fastball in terms of writing. You explained what you have been through in elegant pros. But those of us who consider you a friend will none the less be concerned about your full recovery.
    I am looking forward to seeing you at Roy’s.
    –Michael

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you for saying that, Michael. I’m going for the best outcome possible, even though I know that I will never be the same. That’s part of the fun: (re)discovering who I am, and what I want to do with my life. My seat belts are fastened! See you at Uncle Roy’s!

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  12. Liz Aiello

    Paul, I have been a fan and follower of yours for quite a long time. I am so impressed with your attitude and ongoing recovery!
    I had brain surgery 2 years ago on my right side, and in the process of removing the benign tumor, the surgeon hit a motor center, and my entire left side went down. I had the interesting experience of landing in a rehab hospital for 4 weeks, where I had been a rehab nurse. It was surreal. I have done well; am fully functional ( some balance issues aside). Thankfully, it never effected my singing or speaking voice. I did speak in a monotone for a few months during recovery. I wake up every day thankful for my mobility, my voice, my family and friends who made my recovery so much easier. I wish you the best!

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m so glad the surgery was successful. Liz. I bet you’ll recognize some of what I’m going through with my vocal folds, when I write about it next week. Every day is indeed a gift!

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  13. Rick Lance

    “Different strokes for different folks! Oh, man… what a thing to say, Paul. And what a story you have to tell. I can’t imagine how you feel… well, a bit more now, but… Man! As you indicate, you are very lucky you’re getting through this so well. I’m sure being patient is the hardest thing right now.

    Yes, this sure is different than your past blogs but it’s just as important. You’re helping out the rest of us if we have to deal with a stroke ourselves in the future.

    Personally, although I’m in good health. This kind of stuff ia on mind as I’m getting older with a birthday right around the corner.

    Looking forward to your next blog article.
    Until then…
    Keep up the good comeback!

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Patients with patience are the best at getting better. It was a lesson I had to learn. The familiar “get well soon” wish does not always apply. I use this time to take a good look at my life. Am I where I want to be? What’s my body telling me? How can I make this stroke experience meaningful and relevant? Perhaps you’ll find these topics in future blogs, as long as my readers will tolerate some self-reflection.

    Stay healthy, my friend!

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  14. Theresa "T" Koenke Diaz

    Take good care and be well, Paul!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m doing my best, Theresa. Thanks for your good wishes!

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  15. David Braxton

    Good to hear you’re focused on your healing, Paul! Thank you for sharing, as always, so eloquently and inspirationally! All the best!

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m glad you think I’m still eloquent. Since the stroke also affected my memory, I’ve experienced difficulty finding words and forming sentences. It’s one of the reasons why I stopped blogging. This week, however, I decided it was time to start writing again.

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  16. Debbie Grattan

    Wow, what a story. I’m so glad to hear that you’re on the positive end of all of this, and learning how to move forward, each day, using what you have to the best extent.

    I had a similar experience about 17 years ago, having to do with a condition of pregnancy, and while it wasn’t debilitating in the way you speak of your stroke, it also forced me to slow down and rest. I was in a hospital bed for 10 weeks, in a city across the country from my home, but luckily had family around for support. It does make you have to “surrender” to the moment of what your body will allow you to do…safely. And as you so eloquently point out, it also teaches you about what’s important.

    Your observations of life are always so astute and insightful, and you’ve shown us avid readers yet again that even a stroke can’t dim your bright light. Take care of yourself, and I know you’re getting better with each passing day!

    Sending love and light to you, Paul……Debbie

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Ten weeks away from home… Thank goodness for family! Your love and light warm my heart, Debbie!

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  17. David Bateson

    Dear Paul,

    I don’t know you but feel that I do, after becoming an avid reader of your blog.
    Not only are you inspiring as a successful “foreign” voice over artist in the US (I am a foreign english speaking voiceover artist in Denmark), but your blogs are always a joy to read. Stimulating, insightful and with delightful optimism and humour. Thank you for all of that!
    Now, there is more. Much more. Your mighty fight with your mind and body, as you determinedly set about recovering! I am convinced you will astound the medical profession and “shame” them with the level and speed of your recovery. Sending every positive thought your way.
    Looking forward to your next blog.
    Kind regards
    David

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It’s been an interesting journey of self-discovery, and I want to give my experience some meaning by sharing it with others. Thanks for your kind thoughts, and for reading my blog in beautiful Denmark!

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  18. Natasha Marchewka

    I’m in awe of you and one of your biggest fans. Thank you for allowing us a window into your world.
    With gratitude, warmth, and healing thoughts,
    Natasha

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for saying that, Natasha. I had my doubts about writing such a self-centered post that had very little to do with voice-overs. However, so many people want to know how I’m doing because they genuinely care. Whenever I have a dark moment, I think about those people and feel uplifted again. Thank you for being one of them!

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  19. Joe Passaro

    I’ve been following your blog for a couple years now, and this is the first time I’ve felt the need to comment. It’s a hard road to recovery, but you already have a great attitude, support network, and sense of reality. Your point about listening to our bodies is something all of us should follow, stroke or not. And be sure to only do the things you love to do–like writing! Happy to see your sense of humor is still in tact–or possibly even improved with your new brain cell connections. Have a great recovery and think of all the fun you’ve given your readers with your words. 🙂

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Your comments made my heart sing, Joe! I believe in the power of words, and in all my writings I try to make people think, and (hopefully) laugh a little. Some readers will be disappointed that the stroke didn’t erase my love for bad puns. What can I say?

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  20. Steve Krumlauf

    Thanks for being so honest and transparent with your health journey, Paul. So very glad to know that what you have experienced to date hasn’t affected your incredible writing and communicating skills! You are truly an inspiration and a blessing to all of us in VO! Keep on keeping on!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Steve. I must admit that it took me a while to put on my writer’s hat and start blogging again. Based on all the responses, I’m glad I did!

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  21. Matt Forrest Esenwine

    Glad to know you are healing, albeit slowly…so do continue to focus on your well-being. As you said, you are in a much better position than many folks who’ve gone through a stroke, and it’s good that you are, indeed, able to count your blessings. Hang in there, and know we’re all pulling for you!

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I feel very fortunate, and I am so grateful to be given a second chance. Somehow, in some way, I must give this experience meaning. I don’t know how exactly, but I’m sure it will come to me. Meanwhile, I am following your writing success from a distance, and I am delighted that things are going so well! Bravo!

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  22. Paul Stefano

    Well, I see you are still able to write a great tease!

    Seriously Paul, we are all just glad you are around to share whatever, whenever you can. I hope to still see your posts for some time to come, in any frequency.

    Stay Well,

    Paul

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    “Always leave them wanting more…” I’ll see you at Uncle Roy’s! It’s going to be an interesting experience for me with so many people and music coming from different directions. It’s going to be a good test to see how my recovery is going.

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  23. Jodi Krangle

    Thank you for sharing some of your journey with us, Paul. I’m really glad to hear that you’re starting to recover, though I understand that it’s a lot of hard work. I’ve always appreciated your blogs and your presence in social media circles that I observe and participate in, but you have to take YOU time now – and that’s totally understandable. I’ll hope to see you soon – but if not, I’ll wish you a very smooth recovery! 🙂 Sending lots of healing hugs your way! 🙂 And congrats on how far you’ve already come!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    They say the first year after a stroke is most crucial in the process of recovery. That’s when most of the change happens. So, turning away from the world is really and act of self-preservation. I’m gradually learning to be social again, and I’ve resumed my duties as one of the announcers of our local Farmers’ Market. Let’s see how I do at Uncle Roy’s VO BBQ, next week. Thanks for the healing hugs!

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  24. Helen Lloyd

    It is wonderful to read your story of recovery Paul … and I am so pleased to read that you’re making such great strides – and are at getting the life / work /recovery balance into perspective. I love reading your blogs for your insights about the crazy industry that we’re part of – and for your wise words about life in general.

    As a fellow proud European (which I will always be despite the folly of Brexit) I think that we are perhaps fractionally less driven than our American colleagues. Whenever I visit or talk with friends on your side of the pond, I am struck by how much energy and commitment they spend building their careers and their brand and the dedication they give to coaching, auditioning and to social media.

    In some ways I envy the ‘go get it’ ‘anything is possible if you work hard enough’ attitude, but I am not sure that it is always the most healthy! It’s a hard lesson to learn – but making time for yourself is the best gift you can give to yourself and your family.

    I hope your recovery continues – and I wish you continued success …. oh … I love the specs by the way!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Someone once said: “If we don’t pay attention, we pay with pain.” Well, this was my wake-up call, and I’m listening! I cannot rush my recovery, but I’m not going to slow it down either. Writing this particular post was a big step for me, and if things continue to go well, I’ll keep on writing. Thank you for your good wishes and kind thoughts!

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  25. Ken Cowan

    Happy for you Paul and for me… I don’t have to say goodbye yet.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It wasn’t my time to go, and I’m eternally grateful for that.

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  26. Kent Ingram

    So glad you’re on the mend, Paul. I’ve had some wonderful online conversations with you and I hope they’ll continue, someday. I can relate to your feeling of helplessness, as I had to endure about 5 months of agony, as my left hip started to disintegrate. Thankfully, I got a total hip replacement done and I’m back to walking and working out at the gym again. It was NOTHING compared to a stroke, of course! I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers as you continue to recover.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m so thrilled that your operation went well! A hip that’s not working is a pain in the neck. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

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  27. Karen Gerstman

    Thank you for sharing this Paul. Even though I didn’t have a stroke, so much of your story highlights what it’s like to have disabling Meniere’s disease and I can relate to so much of what you’ve been going through. So happy you have such a wonderful support system and I am beyond over the moon that you didn’t pay attention to that doctor who told you what was lost was lost. Keep on pushing through…you are doing an amazing job. K

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Without the help of my wonderful wife, things would have been very different. She’s my rock and my strongest advocate. She keeps pushing me on days I don’t feel like coming out of bed. She’s my designated driver. My personal chef, and my inspiration!

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  28. Paul Payton

    So good to hear that you are recovering, Paul; I haven’t commented on other recent posts because I thought you’d need all your energy to recuperate! This is a great article and I look forward to the resolution of the cliffhanger!

    I too have taken a major break for “social media,” and am grateful to be still working, especially with several long-term clients. Yes, being sure to smell the roses along the way is what makes life work, at least for me.

    I don’t know if we’ll see you at Uncle Roy’s this year, but I’ll be “watching this space” for updates! In the meanwhile, keep improving! (It sounds like you’re doing pretty doggone well already!)

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’ll be at Roy’s BBQ, along with my wife and father-in-law. I don’t know how well I will deal with the crowds and the music, but I wouldn’t want to miss it. Hope to see you there!

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