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To My Friend Who Helped Me Rediscover My Identity After My Stroke

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When I had my stroke 12 years ago, I was told I needed physical and occupational therapy in order to regain strength in my entire right side from being temporarily paralyzed. I also had to work on my cognitive issues in order to avoid using a walker and have a CNA (certified nursing assistant) come to my home to care for me while my husband worked.

The road to recovery was very long and tedious. My PT and OT therapists had me sweating at each session by having me lift weights, stand on my weak leg for three minutes to maintain balance, climb stairs, bend down to pick up cups, use the treadmill and other types of equipment. I’d come home extremely exhausted and would nap for three hours because it took a lot out of me.

After many months, my rehab therapists gave me the good news that all of my hard work paid off and I regained the strength I had lost. As I was resuming my normal activities, I felt as if something was missing. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first so I just shrugged it off as “one of those days.” Then I noticed in stressful situations I’d misplace things and couldn’t remember where I had put them, my grammar/spelling were bad, plus my aphasia would kick in and I’d have a tough time getting my thoughts across. How was I going to make it through this thing called “the rest of my life?”

Days came and went. I was still feeling empty, even doing my favorite hobbies. I missed my old self and felt like putting a sign out that said, “I’m lost. I’ve gone to look for myself. If I should get back before I return, please ask me to wait.” I didn’t venture out a great deal as I used to and usually stayed home where I felt safe – that is, until I met Elaine. She opened me up to a world I was afraid to live in again. We walked our bassets, went to the theater several times to see plays, plus she encouraged me to try my hand at selling greeting cards and postcards I made in order to promote my talent in the community. Then last year, she invited me to spend a few days down in The Villages in Florida for a “girls retreat.” I was a little scared as I haven’t traveled that far since my stroke, but I decided to just give it a try.

Once I was down there, Elaine took the initiative to plan our days with a variety of activities. We went to different craft classes and I even tried line dancing but I kept tripping over my feet. She never made me feel as if I had to be perfect in what we were doing. As long as I was having fun, that’s all that mattered. I will never forget what she said when I asked her why she chose me to visit her in Florida instead of one of her other friends. “I like doing these things with you because I know how much joy it brings you and how appreciative you are to have these special things to look forward to.” All I could think was, “Wow! She really gets me.”

two women sitting in a boat

I no longer have that empty feeling because my friend took the time to show me what I’d miss out on by staying in my comfort zone. I can now change the “I’m lost” sign to “I’m found!” It took a special person to make me realize that living life to the fullest is all that matters.

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Originally published: June 5, 2017
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