Friday, April 8, 2016

Greta Garbo and My Stroke


When you have a stroke, the physical nature of the injury is devastating depending on the severity of the stroke.  Stroke survivors deal with the physical issues differently. 

The mental aftereffects are often even more profound that the loss of brain tissue. The emotional toll of a stroke often has more shattering effects than the dead brain matter.

After my strokes, I was appointed to be on the Board of the Idaho Chapter of the American Heart and Stroke Association. I am the “voice” of the survivor. The organization helps in many ways. 

Concerning the emotional wreckage left after a stroke, this statement is a black and white summary about “me:”

“After a stroke, people often experience emotional and behavioral changes. This is because stroke affects the brain, and our brain controls our behavior and emotions. Injury from a stroke may make a person forgetful, careless, irritable or confused. Stroke survivors may also feel anxiety, anger or depression.”

Certainly that is a fair declaration about me.  But, the “black and white” perspective does not capture the disturbing nuances about the obsessive darkness I often feel when I realize how much I lost of me.

Many stroke survivors just “deal with it.” We have no choice. Some lucky ones resume their normal life. Many cannot resume a “normal life.”  Doctors, nurses, friends, and loved ones are caring. Nevertheless, everyone says in a gentle way “I could be worse and you need to adjust to your new normal.”

EVERY stroke survivors bristles about the term “my new normal.” NOTHING is normal.

Some stroke survivors also have the new gift of “aphasia” which I have. Aphasia is caused by damage to the language centers of the brain. Stroke is the most common cause of aphasia. According to the National Aphasia Association (2011), about 25% to 40% of stroke survivors experience aphasia. Aphasia is a condition that robs you of the ability to communicate. It can affect your ability to speak, write and understand language, both verbal and written.

I assume I have a mild form of aphasia. I can speak pretty well though reading, math, and handwriting are issues.  I have no choice about this and I compensate a lot. You just cope and hope.

The social isolation of aphasia is intense.

A commercial product called “Sentence Shaper” has the best overview about people who have aphasia:

“People with aphasia are typically adults, with a full range of complex ideas and emotions to express. The loneliness of aphasia -- which often keeps people from expressing themselves fully, and even from being recognized as thinking, feeling members of society -- can be profound. Language impairment makes it hard to participate in almost any social situation, whether it is making small talk, introducing oneself to potential new friends, or sharing ideas and feelings with longstanding friends and even close family members.”

I have noticed lately the background noises and the “crowds” simply are becoming unbearable whether a huge event, a loud restaurant, a family gathering, etc.  I am getting more irritated all of the time. Let me talk! Do not interrupt! Like Greta Garbo, “I simply want to be alone!”  Not always but now sometimes often.

I was ruminating recently about my life and aphasia. I used to love to interact with people. Making a speech in front of hundreds or even a thousand people was fun. I loved to go out and meet friends and family. I travelled all over the nation. I loved to drive. I relished exploring my world.

Now, from a talkative social guy, many times I just want to wrap myself into a cocoon in a dark bedroom and listen to the silence. Of course, I venture out when I need to be “Mark Dunham” again for meeting and social niceties. 

Nevertheless, sometimes, bliss for me is to escape in my mind to a place where I was before. 


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