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On the Eve of My 10th Anniversary

by Deb Theriault


Taking Inventory


Well, itís late August and here I am about to ďcelebrateĒ 10 years since my last (and biggest) hemorrhagic stroke. I canít honestly say that Iím looking forward to this special anniversary, even though I should be. As with many stroke survivors, reaching another stroke-related milestone is a bag of mixed emotions for me.


Yes, I survived, and Iím happy that I did. But at the same time, as I look back over the years since my event, instead of being overjoyed by having gotten this far, Iím shocked at the swift passage of time and sad about the perceived lack of progress that Iíve made since then. So, I decided that I needed to do an ďanniversary inventory,Ē to identify a few highlights and successes from the past ten years.


This wasnít easy for me to do. Iíve been very ďsour grapesĒ during the whole process because Iíve found that no matter how far we survivors come post-stroke, we often donít consider it to be enough. Even though we would like to ďresetĒ things back to the way they were before our stroke, we know thatís not possible. So, we struggle to regain our pre-stroke competencies, but then often feel let down for not doing better. At least, I know I did, so, I had a difficult time identifying what I would consider ďachievementsĒ. Hereís what I unearthed in the way of my ďanniversary inventoryĒ items.


Inventory item 1: My residuals could be worse. Iím lucky that theyíre more or less manageable, so I can do most everything, even though I sometimes do it slower, and bump into things and stumble around. While I have numbness and tingling thatís bothersome, itís not enough to keep me from doing things.


I do have balance, dizziness, nystagmus (ďjumping eyes) problems, but my slurred speech and expressive aphasia / dyslexia / alexia pose the most challenges. I have to admit that language-related work can be daunting. I do lots of writing (and speaking), but it takes twice as long to do things because of these language-related residuals. However, I continue to write; I havenít stopped even though itís hard and takes more time.


Inventory item 2: I refuse to give up a sport I love. Iíve been involved with fencing for forty-plus years, and while I was able to resume fencing a year or two after I stabilized post-stroke, I havenít been able to fence to my satisfaction for many years now because of leg / hip weakness and balance issues. However, I still fence occasionally. Even if I canít fence like I used to, I havenít given up something thatís played such an important role in my life.


Inventory item 3: Iíve continued to create, even if I donít produce masterpieces. In addition to the above-mentioned residuals, I also have a minor ďneglectĒ on my right side, which has been problematic when doing artwork (Iíve had professional art training). However, I can usually offset this with a variety of ďtricksĒ Iíve learned over time, such as wearing bracelets and a nitrile glove on my right hand, whenever drawing or painting. These reinforce to my brain that I actually have a hand on that side, and they provide needed tactile feedback, which gives me better ďbrain-to-handĒ communication. This was a serendipitous discovery, a ďwinĒ which has enabled me to continue doing art.


Inventory item 4: I continue to garden, even if it exhausts me at times. Iíve written a few articles for StrokeNet extoling the joys and benefits of gardening, so itís no surprise that I continue to work at gardening, even if Iíve had to cut back. Thereís nothing like working with living things, and watching them thrive throughout the season, but upon reflection, I realized (believe it or not) that I was taking this activity for granted and underplaying the very important space it occupies in my life. Iím not going to quit any time soon. Iím glad to have consciously acknowledged this.


Inventory item 5: I fear having another stroke, but have had to let it go and move on. One of the hardest things about being a survivor is the fear of being put through the same misery again. I always feel the threat of another stroke hanging over my head (in addition to the one in 2006, Iíve had two smaller strokes). Although itís hard to just sweep all the stroke fears out the door, in the end, Iíve had to reconcile the ďuncertainĒ with what I know to be true: there is no guarantee that I will never have another stroke, however, thereís no guarantee that I will, either. So, Iíve tried to move forward as best I can even if I remain somewhat skeptical.


Bottom line: Do all of the above constitute ďhighlightsĒ and successes? They do for me; theyíre all I have. I wish I could say that Iíve had a whole bunch of romantic adventures, and done lots of ďoff-the-wallĒ fun stuff since my last stroke, but I havenít. My successes are fairly mundane, but theyíre critical to me. Doing my little inventory has reminded me that despite all of the setbacks, Iíve persevered for the past 10 years. As for the next 10 years, Iíll try the best I can to prevent another stroke, attempt to accomplish something each day in spite of my residuals, try to set some ďfive-yearĒ goals (which Iíve never done), and do my best to be upbeat, and, when I canít, Iíll just fake it. Best anniversary ever.



Deb survived her third stroke in 2006. In addition to her work with the Stroke Network, Deb is Treasurer for the W. Pa. Division of the US Fencing Assoc., does community gardening in her neighborhood and is a professionally-trained artist who has been specializing in figure drawing for many years.



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