Survivor Stories

No Matter What | Amy E. Ford, Ph.D.

So you’ve had a stroke. Or someone close to you has. And now life is different—way different. In fact, life will never be the same again.

Chances are, you never thought this would happen to you—this could happen to you.

A loss of this magnitude takes a while to sort through. And it is indeed a loss. A loss of your independence, a loss of your finances. A loss of your personal privacy, and, in some cases, a loss of your personal dignity. A loss of your peace. Because now that it happened, your whole view of everything has changed.

It’s a loss of life as you once knew it.

In my work as a mental health professional, I have come to realize the deep and lasting impact of human loss. Loss is a natural part of life. But loss isn’t something that we talk about, or even think about (until we experience it ourselves). There’s a taboo around it. I think it’s because we often don’t know what to say or do, and so when we are around people who have experienced great loss, things just…get weird.

I’m sure that as a stroke survivor, you have experienced that same awkwardness from people around you—including people that you may have once been very close to. And this creates even more loss for you. It’s almost as if you suffered the losses from the stroke, and then suffered more losses because of the stroke, over and over again.

If this is you today, then you are in the right place. These words are written just for you. You are seen, and your feelings are valid. The loss you are experiencing deserves to be attended to. You deserve to be encouraged—to be given hope.

Because there is hope. Even though it might not feel like it.

Hope is often equated with a feeling, or even sometimes spiritual or existential beliefs. But did you know that hope is also a cognition, a strategy of thinking? You can create hope simply by the way you think.

Hope theory is a process of thinking developed by a positive psychologist named C.R. Snyder. Snyder thought that hope was the ability to visualize goals and to develop the motivation to work toward them. Snyder’s view of hope—hope as a style of thinking—means that anyone, at any time, in any situation could have hope.

And hope is so very, very powerful. In a season of deep grief, great loss, hope is sometimes the only thing you have left. And hope is enough—it’s enough to get you through, until life feels good again.

In my next three articles, I will write about how to create hope, no matter your situation. I will write articles specifically for stroke survivors, for caregivers, and how to use hope to create meaning from your loss.

But for today, for now, close your eyes and breathe deeply. The tiniest light is breaking through. Even though you have lost so much, you haven’t lost everything. Because hope is something that you can never lose. It is only given away.

Hope may be the last thing you have control over. Hang onto it. It’s yours, no matter what.

 

Dr. Amy Ford is a licensed professional counselor and author. Her book, When Your Child is Grieving: God’s Hope and Wisdom for the Journey Toward Healing, will be available in bookstores on July 2, 2019. Amy is a senior instructor in the counseling program at Oregon State University Cascades. Correspondence about this article can be send to amyfordcounseling@gmail.com

 

Stroke Survivor Stories

Luke Perry had a Stroke and Died. I had One and Lived.

By Kara Swisher – Contributing Opinion Writer – March 5, 2019

I had both the privilege of more days and the awareness that those days would be limited.

It was my brother who saved my life.

“Get to a hospital now,” he insisted over the long-distance line. “You’re having a stroke.”

I had just flown to Hong Kong to run an important conference and I was tempted to dismiss this big-brother, over-the-phone diagnosis (even though my brother, Jeff, is, in fact, a doctor).

I was only 49 years old, I was healthy and had none of the conditions like high blood pressure that might predict a stroke.

I imagine this is what the actor Luke Perry thought when the paramedics first reached him. A stroke? No way. Only old people get those. Mr. Perry, famous for his role in “Beverly Hills, 90210,” was just 52 when he died in the aftermath of that stroke on Monday.

I’d assumed that what was happening to me was just another of my many migraines, made only slightly weirder by a slight tingle on the side of my mouth and hand, as well as very temporary dysphagia, which made my words garbled.

That morning I’d been working on a story about yet another management crisis at Yahoo. “What a goat rodeo,” I had said out loud, which came out “Grrxxxx gghrtt jjjtrws.” Then, when I went to eat a strawberry, it slowly dropped from the side of my useless mouth, leaving a stain first on my shirt and then on the carpet of the luxury hotel room I had just checked into.

I stared at the stain — which was a bright and beautiful red — and instead of being concerned about my numb lip, I ran to get a towel to clean up the mess. Then, as I had often done when I had a sore throat or some other minor ailment, I texted Jeff the symptoms.

By the time I’d showered and headed to the restaurant for breakfast, the symptoms were largely gone. So when Jeff called to say I was having a stroke, I think I laughed and said, “You’re a bad doctor.”

Besides, I had Yahoo’s Jerry Yang coming to the conference, I had Alibaba’s Jack Ma coming, I had Al Gore coming. I had no time.

That much was very true. Because he was actually a very good doctor, he insisted in an increasingly urgent tone that I go to the hospital right then. That’s because when it comes to strokes, time is critical. You have to get the blood flowing back to the part of the brain that is not getting it.

So I listened, for once, sidelining the obstreperous little sister, and took a car to get an emergency M.R.I.

There it was on the screen: evidence of a transient ischemic attack, often called a mini-stroke. Like the strawberry stain, it was also riveting to look at with its garish neon glow, from the angry yellow clot to the stream of red blood worming its way around it to the multicolored brain of mine full of so many ideas but also just a hunk of misfiring flesh.

As it turned out, there was a lot of that, including a small hole in my heart through which the clot traveled, as well as me having a type of blood that is more prone to clotting. All of it, combined with not hydrating or walking around enough on the long flight to Hong Kong, created what the doctor, who immediately started the treatment of anticoagulant drugs and others, called a “hole in one.”

That was a good joke at a bad time. It’s funny the things you remember at the critical times of your life. Like the extraordinarily bright whiteness of the surgical mask of that doctor, who also told me that had I not moved faster it would have been so much worse.

“You might have lost your abilities,” he said from somewhere from behind the mask. “You might have died.”

It was only then that I cried, and only because of my sons, then 6 and 9. My own father had died suddenly when I was 5. He, too, had a brain issue, but it was a more lethal one — an aneurysm that burst without warning on a sunny winter morning over 50 years ago. While he lingered for a short time, he was no longer himself. That was that and that was the rest of our lives.

And that is why the idea of death — the absolute nearness of it — has been ever-present for me. Since my dad died, I have lived my life as if I had no time at all or very little, making the kinds of choices of someone who knew that tomorrow might indeed be her last.

That was the thrust of a major speech at Stanford University in 2005 by the Apple founder and tech visionary Steve Jobs:

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

It was an unusually emotional speech from someone who was widely thought to have no heart. But, actually, I have always thought that the problem with Mr. Jobs was that he had too much heart, because he seemed to always grok that the end was always nigh. Sometimes that urgency manifested itself in inspiration, sometimes in meanness, sometimes in humor, sometimes in seriousness. But it was always urgent.

When he died on Oct. 5, 2011, I read and reread that speech to keep it in my own heart, too. That was a good thing, because my own stroke came only a few days later. I had both the privilege to live more days and the awareness that those days would be limited.

If you want to analyze my motivations for being known as pretty tough on the people I cover when they inevitably mess up, it has its roots there. Basically, you all don’t have the time to be so careless in what you do and I don’t have the time to not ask you about it.

You get this kind of nudge again and again from death. It is, as the Buddhist teacher Frank Ostaseski noted, “a secret teacher hiding in plain sight.”

Luke Perry’s death was yet another lesson from that teacher. Like many, I was a major fan of “90210” in its glory days and gave over so much of my precious time — every second worth it — to watching and then discussing the foibles of the kids of West Beverly Hills High. That definitely included the fantastic brooding of Mr. Perry’s Dylan McKay, who was given to saying things like, “The only person you can trust in this world is yourself.”

Well, I guess, but not if you are lucky enough to have a brother who saved your life.

Stromies Stroke Survivors –  www.stromies.com

Three women with three equally amazing stories, brought together through their volunteer work with the American Heart Association.

Coming Soon: Central Oregon Stroke Survivor Stories

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