If, however, you’re one of the many people who has checked in with me about my health, I hope the following will light a warm flame of curiosity and a spark of inspiration.
Yesterday, as I was preparing for my VOBS interview, I sat down at the kitchen table and asked myself the following question:
It’s been a year and four months since I had my stroke. What have I learned?
Well, for starters, my physical and psychlogical health has much improved, but I have not made a full recovery. That would be unrealistic because the brain cells that are lost won’t magically grow back. On a positive note, my brain is constantly making new neurlogical connections to allow other brain cells to take over.
On a good day, the people who meet me and who don’t know I’ve had a stroke, don’t notice anything. But there’s a lot going on under the hood that they aren’t aware of. I can’t attribute every symptom to the stroke, but I am definitely not the person I used to be. What does that mean in practical terms?
THE NEW (AND NOT SO IMPROVED) ME
First off, keep in mind that every stroke is different, and the consequences depend on what part of the brain has been affected, how much has been affected, and for how long. Click here for the warning signs. I was incredibly lucky, and yet, here’s what I’m dealing with on a daily basis:
– I often feel disassociated from reality, as if I’m living in a dream. I’m more of an observer than a participant
– I can’t access parts of my past because of memory loss
– I have difficulty retaining information and I need frequent reminders
– My eyesight has worsened
– My speech is affected. I’ve had months and months of speech therapy to improve my enunciation and expression, but when I’m really tired I start slurring my words
– I have word finding issues and facial blindness
– It’s hard for me to stay focused; it’s easy to get distracted
– Sensory overload is still a problem. My brain tends to overheat quickly when bombarded with many stimuly at once
– I’ve become super sensitive to sound (misophonia). Click here to read about it
– In the first months after my stroke, I found it hard to access my emotions. Now the opposite is true. I’m a big bowl of mush (as you will see on my interview with George and Dan)
– My voice tires quickly and gets hoarse
– I’ve got a limited amount of energy. I can function at full speed for about three hours. Then I’m pretty much done
Here’s what has improved since my stroke:
– I’ve learned to be more patient, and to accept help without feeling guilty
– I’m listening to my body. Most of the time, my body is telling me to slow down and I pay attention. This way I take away unhealthy stress
– I’m living more in the now. I can get lost in the moment and totally enjoy it
– I’ve become more emotional, and I’m not afraid to show it
– I am more appreciative of what I have, who I am, and of the people around me
– I’ve stopped chasing superficial success and approval. I’m no longer trying to prove to the world that I matter
– I’m trying to do more with less. I am creating opportunities to attract work. Instead of jumping at every audition, I only go for what jumps out at me
LEARNING ABOUT LIFE
Beyond that, there are other lessons I have learned. Before I share them with you, please know that these are my personal beliefs. It is not my intention to convince you of anything. It’s your job to find your own truths in this life, preferably without coming close to dying. I just want to give you some food for thought. Let’s begin with dish number one:
Stop looking for the Why.
When disaster strikes, it is so tempting to ask: “Why me, why this, why now? What did I do to deserve this?”
It’s tempting, but it’s not helpful.
Here’s the thing. Asking “why” is really looking for a logical, rational explanation. It’s looking for a reason. Quite often, the bad things that are happening to us are unreasonable. They make no sense. They defy logic.
Why would a child get cancer? Why would an innocent person get hit by a drunk driver? Why do bad things happen to good people? Is there a punishing God who wants his flock to suffer? If God is love, why is God a sadist?
People looking for the “why” are often looking for something or someone to blame. Or they blame themselves with the torturing question “If only…”
They think that by turning the clock back, or by identifying that blameworthy someone or something will help them accept and heal from the evil that’s ruining their lives. I don’t believe it does because there is no “why” big enough to explain needless, endless suffering, and so many things don’t happen for a reason. Like my stroke, they simply happen. End of story.
Now let’s focus on beginning a new one.
If you want to move on and get better, you must leave the place of guilt, bitterness, anger, and hurt. You have to let go of the grudge and the resentment and be okay that some questions will remain unanswered.
You can’t change what happened. I can’t un-have my stroke, but I can draw on my experience and use it as an opportunity to rediscover myself and be there for others. Here’s something else I feel strongly about:
A stroke is something I had. It’s not who I am.
I hate it when I hear someone who hasn’t had a drink for thirty years say: “I am an alcoholic.” Or someone who’s been cancer-free for years say: “I am a cancer survivor.” They identify themselves with something they no longer are or have. They’re tied with chains to the past.
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was seventeen. I don’t tell the world, “I am a meat eater.” That’s absurd.
You see, whatever you focus on regularly tends to e x p a n d. It magnifies, and we are more likely to attract it. This is true for things that are positive and not so positive. So, be careful what you focus on.
Are you focusing more on who you were, or on who you are and aspire to be?
Listen, we are so much more than our past behavior. That’s just a small part of our identity. We’ve been there. We’ve done that. It’s OVER. That’s why I don’t see myself as a stroke victim or stroke survivor. I refuse to be defined by that small slice of my existence.
I’d rather see myself as a lover of life; as an envelope-pushing pot-stirring person who just happens to talk for a living.
Now, I’ve always had a problem with generalizations. ALWAYS. The irony is that every belief we embrace is a generalization. Here’s another one:
Don’t think in absolutes. Discover the exceptions to the rules. YOU can be exceptional!
Understand that what people believe to be true only reflects their level of knowledge (or ignorance) and (in)experience, plus what science has been able to prove. That knowledge gets outdated very fast.
Not so long ago a guy in the Netherlands broke his backbone and was told he’d never walk again. He believed his doctors. Then a medical team invented special 3-D implants, put them in his spinal column, and guess what? He’s walking!
People are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible as we speak, and you can be one of those people. Be a rule breaker. Go against the grain. Prove the establishment wrong. You don’t move forward by playing it safe.
As I’m sure the late Steve Jobs would acknowledge, the people who end up changing the world are often the crazy, unreasonable ones. It helps if you…
Don’t believe everything the experts tell you. It makes you lazy and dependent.
My cardiologist is a fine doctor with many years of experience. He knows a lot about a little. He told me I wasn’t a stroke risk. Boy, did I prove him wrong!
My neurologist just said to me I wouldn’t make any more progress. I’d have to learn to live with my limitations, and things will only go downhill from here. I know he means well and doesn’t want to get my hopes up, but I have respectfully decided to ignore him. I’m not falling for the placebo effect of a person in authority imposing his limited model of the world on me.
I believe in the power of the body and the mind to continue to heal, and I will do everything I can to make that happen. I’ve changed my diet, my lifestyle, and my thinking. Progress WILL continue!
Speaking of not relying on authorities… Ever since VO Atlanta I’ve had terrible swelling in my feet, legs, arms and hands. The swelling started to itch and soon I was covered in self-inflicted scratch marks. Many so-called specialists looked into it but couldn’t find a cause or a cure. They said I had to put some cream on my limbs and learn to live with it.
Did I give up? Of course not!
A good friend of ours is an acupuncturist, and she started a series of treatments. Within weeks the swelling went down, and a month later it was gone. Why her treatment works is still a mystery, but I don’t care about the why. All I care about is the result.
Please understand that I’m not against seeking expert advice. But please, use your own brain for a change. Do your homework. Just becuse someone’s wearing a white coat and a stethoscope doesn’t mean you should believe everything that’s being said.
Deep breath… In…. and out….
No one knows better who you are than the person staring back at you in the mirror. That person is powerful, loving, intelligent, kind, and posesses intuitive wisdom. Trust that wisdom. One day, it might save your life or the life of someone else.
THE GIFT AND THE PURPOSE
Looking back at the past sixteen months, I’ve concluded that I was given the gift of life for a second time in my existence. This gift comes with tremendous joy and great responsibility. I was given an opportunity to start over and redefine my purpose for being here.
In all humility I feel that part of my purpose could be to inspire those around me through my writing and my actions. I want to continue to touch lives with my words and by living my truth.
I secretly hope you will do the same.
It’s the only way to make this place a better world for all of us.
In the words of Buddha:
“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
So, be grateful, be happy, and keep on lighting candles!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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