We tend to think of stroke as something that only happens to elderly people. That’s not always the case. I was in my early twenties, healthy and athletic. Then out of nowhere, on my 21st birthday, a stroke left me with both physical and cognitive deficits.
That was seven years ago. Since then I have made huge progress, one small step at a time. First, I got out of my wheelchair. Then I learned to walk without a cane. I began to drive again. I finished my undergraduate degree, subsequently completing a Master’s degree and took a full time job. In my spare time, I help raise money for stroke awareness and for healthcare and visit new stroke victims in hospital, in hopes of encouraging them to push themselves back to battle.
Even so, my recovery isn’t complete. I still have difficulty using my left hand, and my balance is not perfect, making stairs a challenge. I am still working hard to regain lost skills. I work out at the gym pretty well every day. I do Zumba class every week, and I’ve also tried hip-hop. I am still competitive, but I have learned to not care too much if I’m not very good at things like dancing. I just do my best. I really miss running and skating though; both are still a work in progress. Finding out just what I can do is still a trial-and-error process.
While I am largely independent, I still need help in the morning and evening. However, I fall into a “service gap” because I’m not elderly, nor do I need help for the minimum amount of time required for private home care.
My social life has certainly been a casualty of my stroke. Finding leisure activities to participate in can be fraught with difficulty. Making new friends who aren’t fazed by my disability has been a challenge, but I have made some great ones. People are often afraid of things that are different, like young people who are stroke survivors, but when they talk to me they realize I’m not really so different after all.
To any stroke survivor, young or old, I would say this: don’t give up! Take advantage of your youth, your brain’s ability to remodel itself, your energy and your previous fitness level. Constantly push yourself to get better. Try to keep your sense of humour and your sense of perspective. In rehab, I met the blind amputee and the wheelchair-bound teen whose pelvis was crushed by a drunk driver. Yes, stroke recovery is hard, but it could be worse. Ask for help if you need it, and above all, remember that tomorrow is a new day.