Usually I associate the familiar phrase “The days are long, but the years are short” with the raising of children. It’s astonishing how exhausting days are with the sleep-deprivation that accompanies caring for newborn babies, chasing toddlers, or correcting a sassy pre-teen, but then – BAM!! – they are grown. Where do the years go when the days can seem so long? And as difficult as raising young children can be, when looking back on the challenges, there is an almost surreal quality to it.
It occurred to me recently that my patients have expressed to me this same sentiment with the process of stroke recovery. The long days in the hospital, then the acute rehab process early on with exhausting therapy sessions, then outpatient therapy while trying to return to life as “normal” when a new normal has arisen, and the previous normal no longer exists…wow. These days can drag on and seem absolutely interminable.
But then, the one year anniversary after surviving a stroke eventually arrives, then the two year anniversary, and then – five years have passed. The stroke anniversary remains etched in minds and hearts, and carries its own special significance. When the anniversary passes each year, it can bring many emotions.
- Fear – “Will it happen again?”
- Grief – “I miss the person I used to be and the life I used to have.”
- Discouragement – “My doctor said I will stop improving after a year – does this mean I won’t continue to get better?”
- Encouragement – “Look how much progress I have made!”
- Victory – “Five years later, I’m making it each day – stroke isn’t going to stop me.”
(That whole you-won’t-improve-after-a-year thing is ridiculous, by the way, particularly in younger patients. Every person is unique is his or her recovery, and I have seen young patients still showing improvement three years later.)
Having heard and witnessed so much devastation that arises from stroke, I began feeling confused over time as some patients began sharing gratitude for their strokes. Grateful? For a stroke? How could that be? And as I have listened, the reasons have been numerous:
- “I never would have chosen to have a baby if I had not had a stroke – it forced me to re-examine what I wanted in life.”
- “I appreciate the little things so much more now than I did before my stroke.”
- “I met the love of my life at a stroke support group.”
- “I was so stressed out at work before my stroke and was burning at both ends. The stroke forced me to slow down and re-focus.”
- “Before my stroke my house had to be absolutely perfect. The other day I found my two year old son coloring on the living room floor, and I was so grateful for him that it didn’t bother me.” (I have to remember this one patient’s story on a weekly basis.)
Perhaps this is what I find so inspiring about stroke survivors – the resilience in these statements, the search for the silver linings, and the way they keep going after unexpected life-altering events.
The Stroke Blog has been relatively silent recently as I have attempted to find my own sense of balance. Writing has always been a passion, and unfortunately it took a back seat to many other competing obligations over the past year. In the new year, though, it has moved closer to the front, and for that I am immensely grateful. I will be updating you on many topics, and look forward to the ongoing journey.
Here’s to a new year!