As I’m trying to record my experience of recovery honestly, it is worth pointing out that things aren’t great for me at the moment. Someone mentioned the other day that I appeared to be “moving on” from the stroke — unfortunately, there isn’t anywhere to actually move to – the stroke is with me every single minute of every day. I don’t know what I thought the effects of the heart procedure would be – I certainly thought I would feel a bit better or something – but the fact is that I am exactly the same as I was before, just with added headaches and bruising (the effects of the post-op blood thinning medication). I am still dealing with what the stroke has left me: a lame leg that goes into spasm at the least opportunity; a weak and unreliable arm that still, at times, won’t obey my brain’s commands; crazy, unpredictable fatigue that can wipe me out for days; and some other weird, residual effects of brain injury that make everyday life rather tricky. The stroke has robbed me of my freedom. I can’t get up in the morning and say, ok, today I will read this, or write that, or perhaps do a little designing, because I just don’t know what the stroke has in mind for me. I might be able to do some or all of those things, or perhaps none of them at all. The day might be one of struggle, as I find it difficult to make breakfast, have a shower, or take Bruce outside, or it could simply bring an unassailable concrete wall of fatigue, and several hours in bed. I would really like to be able to plan a day’s activities, and at the end of it, feel I’d accomplished what I’d set out to, but at no point in the past six months has this been even remotely possible. It is especially frustrating making plans for nice occasions, only to find that I am then too tired or woozy or weak to actually enjoy them. Yesterday, I hoped I might actually be able to manage to get out to go to the pub with some friends — but I knew by 7pm that I’d just have to go to bed instead. So I find that there is no freedom to plan ahead, and I also can’t do anything quickly, which to an impatient and (usually) high-energy person like myself is unbelievably frustrating. Everything takes so much longer, and the simplest task becomes a mammoth undertaking.
Possibly one of the worst things about my current situation is that I can’t enjoy many of the things I used to, because my brain simply won’t let me. Though my memory and cognition are absolutely fine, and though many of the weird residual effects of the stroke (such as the vertigo) seem to have thankfully gone, I still have trouble concentrating for any length of time, and, particularly when I’m fatigued, my brain finds it really hard to deal with more than one thing at once. What this effectively means is that it is hard for me to put the right bits of information in the right boxes, or to filter out what I need to focus on from what should be in the background. I find this particularly difficult with sound, and most especially with conversations. Being around lots of people talking can be very peculiar. This was one of the most sad and dispiriting things about my experience of Stirling a couple of weekends ago. I sat down at a dinner table with ten great women, who I had been looking forward to seeing for months, but what should have been a lovely occasion actually turned out to be a frightening sort of hell, because everyone was talking at once. I am told that this is a very common post-stroke symptom, and that it should settle down in time, but no one can tell me when, just as no one can tell me when or indeed if the fatigue will go away.
In the past, if I was feeling low, my principal (and highly effective) strategy was to do a lot of exercise. I found that I could often walk or run myself out of a black mood, and that a day in the mountains always helped enormously. But now I don’t have that option anymore, and, in fact my physical in-capability simply compounds the immense frustration I feel in my blackest moods. One of the worst things about depression is how sensible it seems. Depression is smart and rational: be realistic, it says, this is what your life looks like now. Depression looks at your daily struggle to get well, and all the small joyful things that you take heart from, and says, how berloody foolish, how fatuous, how stupid. It is an evil beast, and I am trying my best to shake it off, but have to say that right now I think it is winning. I find myself waking up every day and wishing that I could just have one day of being like I was before, one day in which I hadn’t had a stroke. This isn’t good. A medical professional recently told me that I had not come to terms with the stroke. They are probably right. In fact, coming to terms with it seems to me like giving in, or indeed, accepting what I think in my lowest moods, viz, that I am now lame and weak and slow. What keeps me struggling on: working at the exercises, and walking up the hills, is a refusal to accept this, in the (vain?) hope that at some point there won’t be anything to come to terms with. Perhaps the problem is that I’ve been struggling away at this for over half a year, and it just seems like an awful long time…. We are going away on holiday soon, and I am hoping that this will lift my mood. But what I really want is a holiday from the stroke, and there’s no way out of that one.