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A Positive Perspective

By David Wasielewski



Is the last step in recovery a positive perspective on the stroke experience? Elizabeth Kubler-Ross describes acceptance as the final stage of grief. Perhaps she was right



When I describe my post stroke life I used to begin with an almost endless list of the negative ways in which my life was changed. Suddenly hemiplegic at 48, I was forced to retire from a successful consulting career. My personal passions, volleyball and skiing and the social life that accompanied that career and hobbies were gone.


These were all replaced with a parade of tedious medical tests and procedures and endless hours in the rehab gym. Many of the simple tasks that previously filled my life became impossible. Driving, traveling, working a 40 hour week, mowing the lawn and biking with my young son were a thing of the past. Life moved from the fast lane to the breakdown lane literally overnight.


Anger was my go-to emotion when discussing my stroke. But, I now find that, over time, the anger associated with those tirades seems to be fading. The inevitable realization that this is the way things are going to be has gradually settled in. The frantic fight to regain what I had is being replaced by an appreciation for what I now have.


I find myself amazed at how I got here over the past seven years and how that journey affected my self-awareness. The unexpected tragedy of a stroke can be accompanied by a number of unexpected positive experiences.


At a recent stroke support session a perpetually positive priest in our group began to discuss how his stroke had positively affected his life. Initially resistant to this concept the group reluctantly also began to identify the positive experiences they had had since their strokes.


Our Priest described that slowly relearning to say mass despite his aphasia had forced, or allowed, fellow clergy to more carefully consider what they were doing rather than simply repeating the motions of the daily liturgy. They became a closer community as they rallied around a sick member and saw the positive effect he had on their group.


I recalled my initial days at the hospital and all the staff who put an extraordinary effort into my recovery. Many of these folks, who I never would have met in my other life, remain good friends in this small town. I went back to school to repurpose my life, an opportunity for which at one time I could only idly wish.


This was, I realized, an extraordinary chance to rediscover myself in a new light and pursue other interests. The students and faculty I interacted with at school informed me that they have gained a new more positive perspective on disabilities.


I would have never believed that I would be able to develop a meaningful life in spite of my new disabilities. I am sometimes reminded by associates that it required an extraordinary strength from within that I did not believe existed. This strength was also revealed in the friends and family that rallied around me to help my recovery.


This realization has come slowly for me and other long term survivors to whom I have spoken. I would like to believe that is it is one of those inevitable and good changes that many survivors might look forward to when considering their post stroke lives.


I have even met those uncommon individuals who believe that their stroke was a positive event in their lives. These folks go so far as to claim that if they had to do it over they would not change things because they would have missed the events and relationships that the stroke brought to their lives.


I, on the other hand, would change things back to the way they were before the stroke without a second thought if that were possible. But, given that is not possible, I can now at least appreciate the positive aspects of the stroke and the unique life journey it has afforded me.


I do often readily share my story with others as a means of bonding with those who have survived a stroke or similar life changing event. This turns the experience into an opportunity to build relationships rather than another chance to vent pent up emotions.


When others ask me now “How are you?” I often find myself responding “OK” and, to my surprise, actually meaning it.


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