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Finding New Beginnings After a Stroke Set My Brain 'on Fire'

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Hi everyone! My name is Courtney, I am 23-year-old explorer, beach bum, motivator, daydreamer, foodie, frequent flyer, book worm, girl boss, radiator of good vibes, caffeine-dependent life form who lives for the simple things residing in Tampa, FL.

I was born with muscular dystrophy which greatly impacted how I navigate my world. Despite the challenges I faced, my disability never stopped me from living my dreams: striving for success and happiness. Transferring to the University of Tampa was a great accomplishment that started a new chapter in my life, and I was ready to thrive. However, I could have not been able to predict or prepare for what transformed the course of my life.

On December 19th 2016, I had a massive ischemic stroke that deprived my brain of oxygen due to loss of blood supply. I was immediately taken into surgery where a cerebral angiogram was performed to remove the clot. The procedure was a success, although the damage had already been done. No one knew the extent of my brain damage, until I awoke.

As I became conscious it was like my brain was cracked open like an egg and scrambled onto a plate in front of me. I knew what I wanted to say, but the words would not come out. I felt as thought I would be locked in my own head forever. For someone who could never stop talking, not being able to express how I was feeling and being trapped inside my scrambled head with my own thoughts tortured me.

In a matter of minutes, my once preconceived future was ripped out of my hands. Although it may have felt like the end of the world I once knew, it was really just the beginning.

Not only was I given a new body, but a new attitude and insight into what I believed was my purpose on this earth. I spent Christmas and New Year’s under the dull yellow lights of a hospital room. I was painfully alert, trapped inside a body that would not work and could not communicate. I formed thoughts and sentences but could do nothing with them. I spent the next month in rehabilitation re-learning how to speak, spell, sit up and stand.

I experienced language and speech aphasia. I was like a child relearning how to formulate sentences and properly pronounce words. This was a long and frustrating learning process. I still find difficulty finding the right words, understanding what others are saying, and struggle with reading and writing.

If you saw me a year ago, no one would be able to predict how well I would be able to speak and articulate my thoughts to others once again. Even though I no longer have control over the right side of my body, as a result of the stroke, I knew that as long as I could recover my brain by finding new ways to think, learn, and make connections, my words would come back and I would survive. But don’t let my optimism fool you, this was not an easy task.

I was intensely lonely, trapped in my mind. I felt as if no one could understand what was happening to me. One of the hardest long term challenges as a result of my stroke has been the change in my mental heath. Depression, anxiety, agitation, and lethargy have entered my life, and continue to impact me every day. It is not uncommon for a stroke survivor to become apathetic, depressed, and have frequent mood swings, but this is something I never had to deal with before. I felt like my brain was set on fire and it was my responsibility to put it out and rebuild on the residual damage without any help.

Losing a part of your brain is not like losing your memory. I knew who I was, who I loved, and what was important to me. I believe this is what truly motivated my recovery. I was able to retain the knowledge and relearn the tedious processes for doing simple tasks that had been wiped clean from my brain. This took time, patience, and the love, kindness, and support of my family and friends. Their encouragement and persistent positivity radiated back into my heart.

I was lost. I lost my sense of self. Who was I? This is a question I still ponder, but now I finally feel found. I think back on this time in my life which felt like a never ending black hole that I was not able to escape. But I did escape.

I learned from this long process that focusing on recovery doesn’t mean you have to stop living your life. Many of my old hobbies were no longer an option. This did not discourage me, but rather gave me an opportunity to explore new things that have become an integral part of my happiness.

If you can make the mental shift and view this stage of your life as an opportunity to grow, I  believe you’ll come out stronger for it. You will need to accept the help of your loved ones, but do not ever back down in the face of what looks like defeat.

If you feel like you can’t live a happy life until you’re better, then I believe you’re creating your own unhappiness by not living in the present moment. Living in the present is a choice that you have to make every day, and honestly some days will be harder than others.

There will be times where you may want to cry and shake with anger coursing through your veins, but always remember there is life after a stroke.

We cannot control what life has behind the next door. What if all we truly have control over is our response to what has happened to us?

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Image provided by contributor.

Originally published: January 17, 2018
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