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There Is Life After Having a Stroke

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Many millennials in today’s world face certain challenges. Adding a disability and other chronic diagnoses to the mix make it all seem insurmountable. But the one thing a diagnosis or living in today’s world cannot take from me is my attitude. I live in the present moment and whatever challenge I go through is a lesson for me to learn from. It is an opportunity to grow.

Throughout my struggles over my 24 years of life — muscular dystrophy, multiple surgeries, a stroke and many more — I continually remained positive through the darkness. My attitude was always my weapon, and with that, I will never be conquered. I want to share my life — my struggles and celebrations, my trials and tribulations — with the hope that someone, somewhere is moved by my journey and will become more mindful of the life they’re leading and their outlook towards it. If I can do that much by sharing my story, it will all be worth it.

December 19th. Each year I feel very weird on this day. This date is important to me, more so than my birthday. Calling today an “anniversary” doesn’t quite seem right: an anniversary should be a happy day, a celebration. But today for me is filled with a lot of conflicting feelings: anxiety, worry, fear, sadness, anger. But December 19 is also a day of rebirth — my second life day!

On December 19, 2016, I had a stroke that changed the course of my life forever. My stroke affected the left side of my brain and the right side of my body. Waking up and not talking was a nightmare. Looking back on it now, it felt like a lonely, fearful, awful world I would never get out of. In the months after the stroke, my family and friends worked with me as I put myself back together — relearning how to talk again, to gain strength back in the affected areas.

If it wasn’t for my friends and family I would not be in the mindset I am. I am eternally grateful for the love and support that got me through it. Thank you mom, for everything you did for me — sleeping in a chair for 30 days while working, and providing me with the best care! I’m sorry I was a bitch for about six months, but without you to be my advocate, I would not have recovered as well as I did.

I was lucky to only be left with right-side weakness and some heavy damage to my ability to talk. It could have been much worse. Worse than the physical injuries was surviving the depression the stroke left behind. I had to adapt to this whole new world as if I had a choice. When the stroke happened, I was in my junior year of college, living a whole new chapter of life. I was thriving with new experiences, living my best life, living on my own for the first time. I was going to my dream school and was being exposed to so many new lessons and opportunities. So when the stroke happened, all of this was paused, seemingly forever.

In the immediate phase, I couldn’t speak and had weakness on my left side, which was frustrating, isolating and scary. But no matter what opportunities may have been stunted, what scared me most was the thought of losing my language forever. You may not realize how much we take the ability to speak and communicate for granted until you can’t do it. But I refused to let this fear become reality. I worked tirelessly to gain back my speech. And now, two years later, on this December 21st, my language is 90 percent there. When I meet people I don’t know very well, they’re shocked to find out I had a stroke two years ago, and that I couldn’t talk for two months. So that’s improvement!

As I sit here reflecting over the past two years, I realize the big difference between my one year and two year anniversaries: all the “positive emotions” like gratitude, joy, hope, pride, and love by far outweigh the negative emotions. This mindset hasn’t come easy, but I learned not only how to move on from my stroke and the surgeries following, but how to choose the person I wanted to be after and the life I wanted to live. I wanted to be the best person I could be and live the best life I could, with the help of my friends and family who support me and coach me when I have those dark days.

If I can pull anything positive from my experience, I will. I want people to know there is life after having a stroke. I’m lucky enough to have come out the other side, and I want to do as much as I can to help others like me.A stroke can affect anyone, no matter their age, race, health, status, or any other circumstance. A stroke doesn’t consider these things.

Seriously, life changes in the blink of an eye. So cherish what you have, tell the people you love that you love them, realize what is truly important. Treat everyone with kindness because you truly do not know what battles they are fighting. I may have been able to tell death to hit the road two years ago, but who knows what will happen if he knocks on my door later today? So regardless of what comes next, I will continue to live every day as if it were my last, because one day, I will be right. And it’s what we do with the time we have that matters the most.

In the end, your stroke will always be a part of you, but it is your choice to embrace it and be an inspiration to others by kicking ass through the tough times and coming out the other side victorious!

“Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it.” — Oprah Winfrey

Originally published: January 7, 2019
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