Five Years Passed

Five years ago on December 11, 2012, I survived a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage of unknown cause. My stroke. This 5-year anniversary is a milestone of sorts; again I have defied yet another statistic, the one that states that 25% of female hemorrhagic stroke survivors suffer another stroke within 5 years of the first. That’s on top of a 50% initial mortality rate and another 25% mortality rate within the first year of survival. I really can’t even fully process those statistics and how they’re related to me. It’s almost like one of those surreal dreams where you’re watching a car wreck happen from the side of the road but suddenly everything shifts and now you’re driving the car.

Since the stroke, I’ve gained as much as I’ve lost. The ‘old’ me was athletic, driven, full of energy and ideas. I lived to ride my bike the few years leading up to my stroke, and was even considering joining a cycling team. I was volunteering for things like construction work and hurricane relief, kicking a** and taking names while sheet-rocking, texturing, framing, and roofing houses. (I dislike roofing, btw. Not sad about giving that up.) I took care of our home, tried to be a good mom, ran my own business. I really liked the independent, strong woman I was. Now I’ve lost most of those things, but I’m coming to terms with it. I can still drywall and texture like a pro if I need to, as long as I don’t have to stand on a ladder. I lost my cycling but gained a renewed love of hiking, which I share with my daughter. I express myself through my photography now. I’m still a mom with the same struggles and love as before. I am too tired to cook dinner most days, but that has opened the door for my Mark who is really enjoying cooking and learning about food. I am becoming more comfortable with myself and where my life is at now. It’s a work in progress.

This last year has been the most “normal’ year since my stroke, but also the most challenging in many ways. I have been working full-time outside the home for over a year now. I love my job, but I struggle considerably with fatigue. My neurologist assures me it’s all part of the healing process, and it will take my brain 5-10 years to heal. In the meantime, I pour all my energy into getting through the workday. I have an understanding boss who knows my story, and co-workers who know it too. They are patient with me, despite completely forgetting things on occasion. That forgetfulness happens at home too. It’s unnerving to have absolutely no recollection of doing or saying something. Not like forgetting something and later something jogs the memory and one has an “oh, yeah; now I remember” moment, not like that. There’s nothing there. Nothing. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that. Working in a busy office has also afforded me the opportunity to socialize more, has helped lift the brain fog I’ve had since my stroke, and given me work that challenges me to become better organized and think critically again like I used to, pre-stroke. Work is good for me, but balancing work and exercise is one of my biggest current problems. I’m so exhausted when I get home, I’ve really pushed exercise to the back burner. I am continually, day and night, reminded of my weak foot and leg. Overcoming this dilemma is a major focus for the coming recovery year.

I discovered another unsettling part of my new self this last year. Life has had some ups and some real downs in my personal life, and there are times when I really struggle with depression and anxiety, things I never really experienced before my stroke. About a month ago, I got completely out of my routine with supplements and my anti-seizure med, forgetting to take it for 2 or 3 days. Luckily, I didn’t have a seizure, but I did experience the most horrific extended episode of anxiety I’ve ever had. It gave me insight into that kind of crippling anxiety that so many people face daily. I realized that, when off my med, that is the real me now. As independent and headstrong as I’ve always been my whole life, it’s a rude awakening to see oneself in this different light. But my denial of this new reality is part of an ego I need to let go of. I’ve been given the gift of life, and although not the same life I had before, it’s a new life, my life. I’m still here for a reason. I ask God to help me accept the humility of this entire experience in order to become a better person and open myself up to be closer to Him.

So this anniversary day, I will take a deep breath and do what I’ve always done, keep moving forward. I have good, stable health, a life and soulmate whom I adore and who takes such loving care of me, two beautiful (and challenging at times) adult children, and a whole lot of years ahead of me. I am a survivor.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

This is how you’ll likely find me these days when I have free time.  In the mountains, wild gray hair that I refuse to color, and with a camera in my hand.  Photo by Mark Hawkins.

4 thoughts on “Five Years Passed

  1. That was absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing your heart and for being you! I met you after your stroke and knew then that I met a great woman of faith and strength (who else has that kind of drive to go to World Youth Day), and, most importantly, I didn’t even realize you had had a stroke, nor did that even cross my mind. I still regret missing the 8 hour opportunity to really chat with you on the initial plane ride overseas, I’m so glad we caught up very quickly afterward though! Thank you for being you and sharing yourself, particular through your photography, what a great gift to share with the world!

    • Thank you Fr. I’m glad I can and I feel like I should, this hasn’t been my burden alone and I certainly hope my story will help another stroke survivor who is on the same journey as me. And seriously, what was with our introverted selves on that long plane ride? Such missed opportunity! We will make it up. So glad to call you my friend. You are a blessing to me!

  2. Wow! that was absolutely beautiful to read, Denise. Everything about you is absolutely amazing… Your recovery, your story, your survival, your strength, your heart, beauty and your family. I was crying as I read it because I can feel your emotion behind it. And feeling for my dad, as his 5 year anniversary was 10/19. Thank you for sharing this. I love you and so happy to have you in my life. Thanks, Duke and Coach! ♥

    • Thank you Michelle! I just adore you and I’m so glad to have you as my friend. You care and love so many people in your life, and I’m glad your Dad is a survivor too. Families are precious! Xoxo

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