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Fuel for the Journey

By Lin Mouat


Expressing and Experiencing Emotions

Never in my wildest dreams did I believe I'd ever have my cottage overlooking the water. When I was young, that water was the Pacific Ocean. But as life went on, that water became the Columbia River, and then it turned into a large pond in the golf course community my husband loves so much. Lastly, that water became a water feature imitating a stream.

And then the unthinkable thing happened, Gary, my hubby, announced he was ready to leave his dream and enter into mine. Even though we are now selling our home and have found just the one overlooking the waters of Puget Sound, in the NW corner of Washington State, joy hasn't come yet.

Joy is an expression of great happiness, the opposite, I suppose, of sadness.

Many Stroke Survivors speak about crying at inappropriate times and laughing when nothing is funny. For me, it has been just the opposite. I find it difficult to cry or laugh.

There are times when I long for tears. Crying releases the dams of frustration, grief, anger and weariness. One day I decided to deliberately make myself cry. So I started imitating the sobs. While the sound might have been close to the real thing, the feeling eluded me.

Laughing is another one of those important things I seem to be unable to achieve. It isn't that there is nothing laughable around me, it is that like crying, the act of laughing is physically difficult.

Since it is also hard for me to cough, I think that the same muscle group is responsible for all three – coughing, crying, and laughing. But there is more involved.

It isn't only the physical act of expressing emotions that has affected me, even the experience of emotions has been drastically altered. The feelings of humor, sadness, excitement, love, happiness, fear, even joy are muted not making the transition from head to heart.

Sometimes I feel as if I am in an emotional flat-line zone. In looking through books on stroke, today I find the explanations for these phenomena confusing, so I will go to the dictionary. The dictionary for the meaning of "affect" doesn't cloud the meaning with medical, psychological, or physical overtones.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary,* the verb Affect means "to cause to feel intense emotion."

Another of those "affects" is Sexuality. Having come through a childhood of extreme sexual abuse, I had just completed intense counseling and to reclaim my sexuality when zapp the stroke hit. I lost the sensation, much like the numbness of any other body part. But, it is easier to accept the numbness than to acknowledge the emotional connection.

We will come back to the topic of Sexuality in the next Fuel for the Journey. In the meantime, I welcome any and all thoughts, ideas, and general sharing about how your stroke(s) have affected your sexuality.

It has always been a family joke that I have the sense of humor of a 6-year-old. Telling jokes beyond that level fly over my head and hit the wall.

"Mom, I've got a joke for you," my then teenage son told me.

"Don't, Son, I won't get it."

"You will, Mom! I promise!" Will stated, launching into a teen-sense joke.

I stood there staring at him at the end of his joke. "Kid, I don't get it!"

But that didn't stop him from trying again, and again, and again, and…

I just passed my third stroke anniversary this August and I remain largely emotionally numb, But, just the other day laughter surprised me, both emotionally connecting as well as the physical act.

On this journey of healing, I believe that I will once again be able to feel the full range of emotions – even those that have to do with my sexuality.

* Quote from The American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition 3.6P, electronic version copyright 1994 by SoftKey International, Inc.


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