A little while ago someone told me that they thought my stroke had ‘softened me up.’ This remark — made in an offhand manner— upset me deeply. It still upsets me, in fact: perhaps more than any of the countless other well-meaning and unintentionally hurtful things that people have said to me about my stroke.

At least part of why this remark has bothered me so much is because it was made by someone who I care about. But really, the key thing that made it hard for me to deal with is the particular way in which the statement “your stroke has softened you up” neatly diminishes what I’ve been through —minimises and packages up my eight year struggle with brain injury—and shuts it away in a box that is meant to remind me that I’m now a better person. Contained in that box is a story of improvement: I was hard before and now I’m softer. Perhaps I needed softening up? Happily, my stroke came along to solve that problem.

This remark has also been bothersome for me because it was made at a moment when I was feeling particularly ‘soft’: dealing with the health issues that have prevented me from travelling, from seeing friends, and from doing a little of what I wanted to this summer. So yes, the reality of my situation — here, eight years after my stroke — is that I am indeed a much ‘softer’ person than I was eight years ago for the simple reason that brain injury and disability have made me feel vulnerable.

I’ve worked hard to make my body work to the best of its abilities, but the inevitable effect of having a black hole in my brain is that my left side has much less strength and function than my right. While an able-bodied person moves their limbs without thinking, I am continually aware of having to ‘tell’ my left arm and leg how to move and to behave. I honestly think my left arm and leg are pretty amazing, but they are also very unreliable. And because of their weakness and unpredictability, I have much less trust in my left arm and leg. In public situations, I am often aware of ‘guarding’ my left side, and am deeply afraid of routine jostling or, indeed of, any physical contact in case I lose balance and fall over. The very ground beneath one’s feet can be a significant source of fear if you don’t know that when you hit it you are going to be able to get up again. Even alone, and otherwise relaxed, I routinely feel uncomfortable, uncertain in my own skin. And pretty much all of the time, I feel physically vulnerable, in a way I never did as an able-bodied person.

So yes, this basic vulnerability—or softness, if you will—is probably the most noticeable difference, between the pre- and post-stroke me. It is also the difference which, both physically and psychologically, I’ve probably found most difficult to deal with. I explored a lot of really tough issues when I was writing Handywoman but found that I couldn’t look too hard at my own physical vulnerability, my own continual sense of bodily un-ease. That’s because it’s still something of a struggle, which I’m trying to resolve (or perhaps to just accept).

I’m writing this post because I finally feel I’m moving towards that goal. One way of doing so is to remind myself that my post-stroke body isn’t weak or soft at all: it is strong, just the way it is – and in fact I’m doing everything I can to maintain that strength and function. Outdoor swimming has really helped me to turn a corner with that this summer and, in the past few weeks I’ve found an indoor pool in which I feel comfortable swimming laps. This pool also has a gym, and yesterday I introduced myself to it with a supportive and helpful trainer who understands my situation. This is the first time I’ve been in a gym with able-bodied people since my stroke, and I was very nervous. It was an interesting experience: some equipment I can use and some I can’t. Some exercises and activities might be something I’ll move towards developing; others (like running, or using any sort of standard bike that doesn’t restrain my leg and foot) are always going to be impossible. Even with a supportive trainer, I felt physically vulnerable in that space, and believe me, it is by no means easy experimenting with things you cannot do, or movements which it is a struggle to perform. But overall it was a positive experience. I’m going back. On my drive home, I cried, but not because I was upset. I cried because I was happy that I could be there, in that space, in my post-stroke body, doing its thing, albeit differently. Perhaps in time I will be as comfortable among the gym equipment as I am in the water. Perhaps I can develop a bit more trust in my limbs, guard them a little less, and simply let them be. This is not about “recovery”, or “improvement” or about trying to be more able-bodied. It is about accepting that my disabled body is strong, just as it is. And perhaps in time, I can feel a little more easy in my post-stroke skin, a little less physically vulnerable.


We are impatiently waiting for delivery from our printer, and expect Handywoman to be published on Monday (20th). Pre-orders ship next week!

77 thoughts on “on being vulnerable

  1. Oh, no! I feel so bad that such a thing was said to you. I am also dealing with the grief of losing the life that I used to have due to a disabling medical condition (in my case, an autoimmune disease), and have found that careless comments made by others can cut way too deep. Maybe it is because others can’t see the constant struggle and trade-offs that are part of managing with crippling limitations. Maybe it is because they can’t emphasize, or are trying to minimize the damage because they can’t imagine what it is really like for you. Maybe it is because we are too good at hiding the constant struggle. How strong you are to fight through the constant barriers to find a way to return to the life you want, even if it is now different. Hugs, and swim on!!

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  2. Oh, beautiful woman, how brave you are! To be able to navigate this life with a drastically changed body is so hard! I know how hard it is, and how strange, and how bewildering to be the same and not the same because of sudden illness. Sending love and hooray for swimming!

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  3. Hi Kate,
    At this time, I am reading through your archives, which I hope is not creepy, and am about at the 1.5 year after your stroke. I’ve found your catalogue of experiences very comforting to me as someone who is also experiencing a very different set of physical limitations, with no idea how permanent they’ll be. This is unrelated to your current post except to say, thanks for sharing your story.

    More related to this post: Several years ago when I had three miscarriages, I had a few well meaning people say similar things, and I think what bothered me the most was that, I feel that I have the exclusive right to interpret what has happened to me.

    But then i did not get such things from anyone who was close to me or whom I greatly respected. That would be much harder to process. I’m sorry this happened to you and I hope you can work it out with your friend.

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  4. you are vulnerable.. every word you have written since your stroke on these very public pages has indicated that.
    you are strong – you would not be where you are today if you didnt have an incredible inner strength and COURAGE – my g*d you have courage of a pride of lions.

    congratulations on your adventure into the gym

    you are one of my inspirations

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  5. Thank you so much Kate for discussing your disability. Your reasons are your own but for fellow disabled people like myself it is such an important thing to see our group represented, especially by people who we respect. I had an accident 4 years ago which severely damaged my spine and left me with a lot of nerve damage as well. Each day is a struggle. I think about things so differently now. I feel vulnerable too and it makes me angry and sad. Like you, I’m learning to build a new life as a disabled person. It’s hard but seeing posts like this and following you on IG make me feel less alone. It has been hard psychologically for me to face the fact that I’m disabled yet feeling less alone through posts such as yours help more than you may know. Thank you. And I’m so very sorry that you’ve had such insensitive comments made to you.

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  6. Thank you very much for this powerful testimony. And congratulations on finding a gym where you feel comfortable and supported!

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  7. Kate, the comment made to you reminds me of Susan Coolidge’s *What Katy Did* (1872). I really liked this book when I first read it aged about 10, but I’m now rather shocked to think that I enjoyed a story about an unruly heroine who is ‘softened’ by an accident which leaves her unable to walk. It’s very much of its time, of course (and, disclaimer – I still like the sequel, *What Katy Did at School*) but the portrayal of the disabled Katy being instructed in the ways of softness by Cousin Helen – also an ‘invalid’, but a more experienced one and therefore further along the path to softness – is pretty unpalatable now.

    Really looking forward to reading *Handywoman*.

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  8. You are providing a wonderful educational experience to us all. Sharing your vulnerability and journey is good for others to learn that outward appearances often do not reveal the person within, their strengths, burdens or vulnerabilities and what they mean. Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dear Kate, we haven’t met but I have followed your journey post stroke via your blog. You have achieved so much, please don’t this thoughtless remark get to yyou. I am in awe of everything you do. You are a very determined, creative, talented woman. Thank you for sharing this and I hope writing about it helped.

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  10. I wish I could share the gym I go to–and I’m so glad you have an understanding trainer.

    The gym I visit is at the local senior center. “Senior” means you need to be at least 18 to use the facility. It’s city-owned. Our whole family appreciates it most because of *who else* is there. Yes, there are the muscle-bound guys lifting heavy weights (and it would be nice if they’d all quit *dropping* them, like the signs on the wall request {wry grin}). But there are lots of gray heads, and people with walkers, or those with wheelchairs–sometimes with attendants to help them on and off the equipment. There are a couple of regular service dogs near their charges. Mental challenges are also in evidence. And there are a bunch with either no challenges–or invisible ones. Even the most able-bodied members of our household much prefer the senior center because of its diversity. There’s a lot of guts and persistence quietly on display there every day.

    Soft? Hard? Meaningless.

    Enjoy your gym. I’m happy that you’re testing that type of activity. And your swimming is amazing and wonderful.

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  11. This is a very interesting post. I appreciate that you share so much about what it is like to be experiencing your disability as you do.

    When I read the comment that your friend made to you the first thing that came to mind to me is that I would have interpreted a friend telling me I had softened up as a compliment. I would have interpreted it as being related to empathy or understanding or some other positive thing, which hopefully also grows in us with age, with or without disability. To me being soft means being strong, alive and less attached to the ego, maybe. I don’t know the how and the tone and the why of what was said, but it was very interesting to read your post. I am sorry that you have been so badly hurt by your friend’s remark.

    Best regards.

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    1. Whether positive or negative, there’s the obvious implication that I somehow needed “softening” and that’s why I’m so offended – no one needs to have a stroke to be a “softer,” better person.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes, I understood that from your post. I shared a reaction that perhaps I shouldn’t have as I imagine that the person who made the remark will be devastated that they have hurt you in this way. I appreciate that you expressed how this made you feel.

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  12. Reading this was very timely for me. I’ve been away from work for 3 months after contracting Bell’s palsy and it’s been an interesting illness to contract, and recover from. I went to work today to discuss a phased return and it was challenging (I really identify with what you say about your left side because that’s what’s currently vulnerable for me, though obviously nowhere near like it is for you). Everyone was kind and welcoming and said how well I look and this is what I find disconcerting as I guess you do, because on the face of it (and on your social media) you look fine. It makes me much more sensitive to people out and about, knowing it’s possible to look well but actually not be well. I’m pleased you’re finding exercise that works for you and people are helping you. Thank you for writing pieces that make me think and help me recognise, and deal with, challenges I’m facing. I know I’ve been lucky to have Bell’s palsy, when I first went to A&E with it there was a concern I’d had a stroke. I’m very glad it wasn’t. But it’s helped me learn a lot about myself and my situation.

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  13. Years ago I made an offhand comment to a friend that hurt him and damaged our relationship permanently. I have regretted it ever since. Even though we talked about it, I don’t think I ever made myself understood, because truly, I did not mean what he thought I meant.
    I hope you and the person who made this remark have been able to heal the rift and you don’t lose the connection.
    I am in awe of your strength and your talent and your intellect and your response to your vulnerability.

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  14. I am a retired Physical Therapist. You have given me an insight into disability that I have not seen in my 35 years of practice. It has taken courage to fight to get where you are and especially to share your story. Courage is recognizing fear or weakness and doing it anyway. Please continue to be courageous and to share your story. You inspire courage in others.

    By the way, “softness” is a virtue. To me it means approachable and willing to share, lacking walls or boundaries to keep others out or away. Your softness, to those of us who love and care about you, is what helps us to be willing to reach out and work to become a better person. Thank you. God bless you.

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  15. Like many others have said, you are amazing. I “met” you first as an academic when I read and referenced one of your books in my doctoral thesis. Then I “met” you as the designer of the fabulous Owls jumper and have been following you ever since not simply because I love your designs and how you still intertwine your “research-y” academic self into your books, but because you’ve taught me that changing paths, even if scary, is doable. Having had to switch paths myself, you inspire me to keep going, to stop and breathe when I have to, to cry when I need to, and to get back up and continue to own a bit more of this new path. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and your amazing strength with all of us. – Sandra

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  16. I find it tremendously inspiring to read about your relationship with disability. I was born with a club foot and have struggled with a weaker right side my whole life, not to mention osteoarthritis and pain flare-ups. It took me until I was over 40 to go to a gym and to do martial arts even though my balance on that side was terrible (it’s much better now!) and my ankle doesn’t bend. I’m forever conscious about avoiding injury on that side, wearing the right shoes to avoid pain, etc. etc. I feel as if maturity is helping me understand my relationship to my less-than-perfect physical self better. Your voice — both vulnerable and so strong — resonates deeply with me. Thank you for putting yourself out there to talk about these issues.

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  17. Oh they never do like “hard” women do they? I’m going to assume whatever was hard about you was something perfectly acceptable in a man. You are amazing and strong and “they” need to keep a lid on it

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  18. Broken (as we all are,

    somehow) has to be the new fixed. With fibromyalgia and depression I’m mostly broken. I always find your posts interesting

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  19. Dear Kate. I am sorry that you have been hurt by someone who is dear to you. This has happened to me and it goes through your mind so often that I for one began to gradually feel almost obsessed. I still have not yet resolved it with the person, but I want to say to you that I have got huge respect for you, and for what you do, and have done both before and particularly after your stroke. Kate, you are an extraordinary person who touches many people’s lives at the deepest level. Be yourself, ‘cos you are just wonderful!

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  20. Kate, soft, not vulnerable, you knitted up a pattern and put it out there not knowing if anyone would see it, like it, or good heavens, even pay good money for it. I would say that is the height of vulnerability!! Well meaning people often say very stupid things and we must just thank them for thinking of us and forget it. Any day you think you are “soft”, or too vulnerable, or not enough of anything, please look over the comments you have received. Each day, your struggle, that you have shared so generously with us, inspires people beyond your wildest imagination. Sitting in a hospital in Scotland, wondering if your life would ever be “normal” again, could you imagine you would be running a company, publishing knitting books and patterns, teaching the world about your little corner of the world and your journey. I doubt it. The strength that you have shown, and let us borrow from with your leadership, is immense. The lives you have touched and the strength you have exhibited, far outweigh any handicaps you are burdened with. In fact, you write so often of all that you do, I often forget that there are things you cannot do. Your accomplishments would be formidable for any able-bodied person and considering your challenges, frankly, I think you make us forget them, because how could you accomplish all this and inspire so many people and have private challenges. Not possible. No, soft, I don’t think so. You are strong enough to share that strength with your community around the world and we are so blessed to be able to partake in your strength. Thank you for being you, just as you are, and just as you have fought to become. We salute you. Linda D.

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  21. The ability to express your vulnerability is the ultimate display of strength, not softness! Knowing your limitations, which ones must be accepted and which you can work on and if not fully overcome, at least improve on,when to ask for help, when to say no- that is a beautiful thing so many of us struggle with. Definitely a thing to be proud of.

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  22. It shows your strength that you are willing to be vulnerable with your readers and share these thoughts with us. And it is a type of awareness-raising for us, too. People are so uncomfortable with the difficult things in life that they rarely want to delve into the process of recovery.

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  23. Kate
    Thank You so very much for sharing your thoughts. And allowing us to listen.
    I think of you as my North Star – my Guide – in this journey of life.
    People don’t know what to say and then they say stupid hurtful things.
    But you have my support 100%
    All the best to you!
    Love, Peg

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  24. Hard/soft meh! You have accomplished so much during your recovery why even bother about jealous comments. A singular tenaciousness for life and the enjoyment of same, is the inspirational point.

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  25. Dear Kate, I think this person didn’t realise, that you are no ‘softened up’ person, but a person, that changed through the stroke and sorts out her priorities very differently from a ‘not disabled’ person. You don’t get upset by bits and bobs, like other persons may do and if you don’t, some people may think you softened up. They don’t know, that it takes much more strength, to sort out priorities and not get upset by silly little things that are not worth worrying about, but focus on getting better step by step, day by day.
    In 8 years of breastcancer I also stepped in situations like this. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for handling it. I just always try to cope with it in the best way I can, eventhough it’s not easy at all.
    Please go on the way you do, because I’m sure it’s the perfect way for you to get on and stay the tough person you are.
    Love Barbara

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  26. You are buidling strength in ways you had not previously thought about. You know as well as anyone that you’ve learned and re-learned and the depth of those efforts—people who have never had to deal with any disability for a long period will often minimize the continued struggle for the day in, day out slog. Repetitive muscle memory is what you lack right now, and your brain is rerouting the pathways to those memories. You know they are there and you are finding them… it’s the repetition that you’re working on. What no one can offer up is the effort and exhaustion that involves over time. You had 40-some years to learn the skills you had forged. You have spent the last 6 rebuilding from a lower level in some cases. Cut yourself a break and blow raspberries at the fools who would spout platitudes with no solid knowledge of the herculean mental strength involved in the wake up, work through a prescribed routine; allow your muscles to find the memories that exist; restructure of the pathways that allow access going forward and the pure bliss of the moments when those movements flow. Only to not be able to repeat the process again the next day…… knowing you did it yesterday. We got through these moments last as a toddler. When you look at the perseverence the typical toddler in falling down and getting up again. You know why they are exhausted and testy at the end of the day….. they are short and their bones are flexible and less chance they will break something that will take a long time to heal. The wonder of the human body and its resiliance is a concrete source of faith in a greater good in the world. Soft, no way, open to the wonder of the universe, is my take on your journey. Rock on woman and try to recall how much fun blowing raspberries can be…. laughing at the absurdity of it all. Thank you for making the conversation possible for all of us. You can’t begin to undersand until it can be part of the dialogue. There are all sorts of stubborn people on the world that will pooh-pooh these statements and I would only caution them that “God is not finished with you” yet either.

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  27. You are such a strong woman to me! Ive always admired your strength and your determination :) And Im ever so thankful to you for your regular updates on your blog. I’ve been suffering from severe back problems since october 2013, and it has been a real roller coaster ride ever since. At times i couldn’t walk, or even move. For years, I could only sit – thank goodness for knitting, it s what saved me from going too deep into depression. I was on a yoga teacher training when it happened, and i somehow managed to finish it, but it was very difficult and depressing to be surrounded by fit able bodied people while i couldn’t take part in the class and was just crying on the floor, on my mat. It was very difficult as i couldnt move much. I spend 4 years watching the others getting fitter and fitter while i got more and more depressed, and put a lot of weight on, from not being able to exercise much. I too have been grieving my pre injury body. I finished my training for my own personal achievement, as i felt that if i gave up it would be even more depressing. But yoga being such a lookist activity these days, i never really managed to get a class going. Now i sometimes do class covers in a disabled center, but apart from that, I wont teach able bodied people, as it really brings me down. Ive always looked up at you as a role model of determination. you seem to be so focused and determined to not let your circumstances bring you down. I admire how you just keep at it. I tend to get depressed and feel sorry for myself. I remember that gorgeous pashley trike you use to ride a few years back, with Bruce in a basket at the back, do you still ride it? Im looking forward to get my pre ordered copy of handy woman in the post :) thanks for sharing your story with us!

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  28. As others have said, able-bodied people sometimes just don’t know how to understand those who are not for whatever reason, and thus they can say the wrong thing. You said the person was someone you cared about, but rather than assume she/he intended to hurt you by saying you were “softer”, you could put her/him straight without a face-to-face conversation by simply pointing her/him to your blog so they can see your side, as well as all of our supportive comments. If the comment had been made by an acquaintance, I would say forget them, but as this is someone you care about, do try not to lose them because to explain yourself makes you uncomfortable.

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  29. Kate,

    The thoughtless remake made by someone you ‘care’ about says more about their vulnerabilities and lack of self confidence than about you, your strength and your journey.

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  30. To remark on a person’s “softening” reflects more on the speaker’s self-image than on the intended receiver. Women who may be threatened by the perceived “hardness” (like armor) of another woman may see the need to point out what they see as a chink in the armor. As if to show that, see, no woman can really be that strong. Most women are stronger, “harder”, than they ever recognize. The armor that others perceive may actually be an inner core of an absolute/ineffable spirit. When we are challenged with unexpected difficulties, we need to find increased compassion for ourselves and others – a true expression of that spirit. I find inspiration in you, Kate, in ways you can’t imagine.

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  31. Dear Kate,
    I applaud you and honor you for being a voice for me and I think many others. It is very difficult to deal with physical vulnerability. MS is mine; diagnosed at 25 I have struggled for over 40 years to try to be able bodied in a not so balanced body. Your stories, your craft, your courage are extraordinary- and I thank you for sharing and being a role model for me. I wish you only the best in all you do.
    Most warmly
    Anne

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  32. One day I didn’t have breast cancer. The next day I did. I think we are all vulnerable. Some of us do not acknowledge the fact until something happens that hits us square in the face.

    I am really sorry that this person’s remark upset you so much. I have no idea what she meant by it, but I hope you feel better about it soon. You have done some wonderful things, Kate Davies, and I always enjoy reading what you have to say and seeing what you’ve created.

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  33. I’m not going to speak to the comment or tell you how to think or feel.
    What I want to say is this- look at that picture of you swimming out in open water!!!! That is just an amazing feat. And you do it regularly! I think you underestimate the wow of that.
    I also want to mention that the comments to this post have been so well written and heartening to read. Seriously.
    I enjoy reading your blog for so much more than knitting and gorgeous photography!

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  34. Oh Kate, the glib remarks people make can have a devastating effect on the recipient can’t they. You are not at all “soft” but are a strong and determined woman who is overcoming the residual problems caused by the stroke. 18 months ago my friend had a major stroke with 3 aneurisms in her brain and we thought we were going to lose her but she fought back with a vengeance. Now she has lost a lot of her former confidence and walks with what she describes as a “wonky” gait, but she is definitely not soft, she is the strongest woman I know!

    I have had major eyesight issues from childhood and had to wear hideous Mr Magoo type glasses for many years before the advent of thin varifocal lenses. I can still recall how I felt as a child when a schoolyard bully pinched my glasses and started taunting me but even worse a similar thing happened to me as an adult.

    People don’t realise how much their choice of words can hurt a person.

    Good luck in the gym xxx

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  35. I can resonate with your words Kate. A year
    ago after being a healthy 59 year old I had
    an illness that attacked my nerve endings
    causing paralysis to face and weakness in
    my nerve endings in arms and legs. I am
    recovering well, but at times as nothing
    now visually to see, have been made to
    feel by certain people that I made a fuss
    or wasn’t strong. Reading your post has
    confirmed that friends even family do
    not realise the mental and physical strain
    you go through to get your health back on
    track, and how the slightest negative or
    unthoughtful comment can hurt and hinder.
    I know you through Instagram and your blog
    posts and you are an inspiration to anyone
    fighting a debilitating illness. Your strength
    is such a tonic, as is your creativity. I think
    as we get older, we can learn to be more
    selfish, and not feel guilty doing what we
    want, when we want to, and to not be
    scared to come across hard or soft. We have
    earned that right. I am looking forward to
    receiving my pre-ordered copy of
    “Handywoman”, it will be a treat. Tina.

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  36. Kate, my mother had a benign brain tumor in the motor center that weakened her right side. After surgery to remove the tumor, she was told she’d never walk again. She told docs that she would. And she did—in high heels! She worked hard to make that happen. She had grit. You aren’t softer, you are grittier!

    Despite her successes, mom walked with a pronounced limp and always worried about falling. But that never stopped her. She was awesome. And so are you.

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  37. I struggle with vulnerability. I was strong, now I’m not. I fight the reality daily and don’t like it. I look for the me I used to be, she’s missing and I mourn her and fight the stranger left in her place. I’m softer, sympathy has given way to empathy. Experience has made me more aware, and softer.
    Kate,You inspire. Soft, isn’t how I’d describe you.

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  38. Oh heavens. Who would say that? As an occupational therapist of 35 years, the vast majority of stroke survivors I meet are tough as nails and very strong, both physically in their individual ways, and mentally in their fortitude.

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  39. Thank you, yet again, Kate for a wonderful blog post that is so eloquent and thoughtful and inspiring. As someone who’s recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, I’m very conscious of the things that people say to me that they think are reassuring/positive/helpful but sound, to me, hurtful or dismissive. I think it’s often because people don’t really process what they’re saying through the ‘what does that actually sound like’ part of their brain, partly because they’re in a panic and/or rush to say something that sounds like they understand. As a culture we’re not very well versed in handling things that are difficult or upsetting or that scare us (including life threatening conditions) as we tend to pretend they don’t exist until they happen to us or those we care about.
    But we’re also not very good at calling people out when they say things that upset us – at least I know I’m not – but maybe that is the only way to re-educate them.

    I’m so excited about getting to read ‘Handyman’ soon – your work has inspired me for a long time and now I’m facing my own illness I’m also starting to reconsider the way I live my life and the choices I make with work etc, so am keen to hear more about the way you dealt with the things the stroke threw at you. I’m even considering starting my own blog!

    Thanks again Kate (and loving the new ‘do by the way!) xx

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  40. I have not had a stroke, but am dealing with Early Onset Altzheimers. Your talking about your swimming experience helped me get back in the pool. My doctor told me that early morning exercise can be beneficial for Altzheimers patients, but I need a hip replacement and walking and other things are extremely painful now. I DID NOT want to swim again, though it truly made the most sense.

    I did get back in the water, finding that my replacer left shoulder does not want to cooperate with doing the free style, my hip does not allow breast stroke . I just kept plowing away with the free style, slowly I might add. I added the kick board but I am so slow, it is almost like I am not moving. But, I concentrate on improving my stroke with each lap and not comparing myself to all the people who swim normally. I tell myself that no one is looking at me any more than I watch others.

    I am early on I’m my journey with accepting my new diagnosis and learning to live with it and do all that I can do to maintain “me” in this new road. Your honesty and candor about how you deal with your challenges has helped me face mine. I have always loved your designs, but learning your story has made me love them so much more. I am a million miles away here in Arkansas, but your honesty about your path has helped me immensely .

    I am a recovering alcoholic, sober 40 years, and early on I decided not to be ashamed to tell people about it, in the hope that my story might help someone. I have found that it has helped others to be open about something that 40 years ago was not “cool” at all. You have done the same for me. I am sure this does not take the sting out of what your friend said, but on the side, you are helping people in ways you probably never thought of.

    My admiration for you only grows.

    Thank you for being you.

    Carol Stuckey

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  41. Kate, I only know you through your blog and your work. “Resilient, TOUGH, determined, focussed, SUCCESSFUL” are all words that come to mind when I think of you.

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  42. Your thoughts give me incentive to do more to achieve my own body make over plans. Keep being the brave and honest person that you are.

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  43. There is a motivational speaker in my country who in spite of losing his legs became a sign writer who regularly has to climb scaffolding. After one of his motivational speeches where he exorted people to treasure each day and value life etc a member of the audience said to him, “It’s easy for you to say that, you’ve lost your legs.” That comment made to you from your friend is equally moronic. If anything, a stroke makes you tougher. So sad that a close friend doesn’t get “it”.

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  44. You are strong, but you know viscerally what many only know intellectually: we are all vulnerable. Any accident will prove it as well as the passage of time. You have accepted reality and are doing what you can to maintain yourself. Many people never manage that feat.

    Liked by 2 people

  45. God, that picture of you in the open water is impressive!
    The way that we negotiate the world is so fraught in so many ways. Looking at our responses and analysing our fears can be so confronting. If I may say, I think your brain injury has forced a presence of mind in your everyday existence that has made me, voyeristically, more aware of my own movements in my everyday space. Thank you for being so open and erudite about your experiences and I wish you evermore understanding and appreciation of your body. Looking forward to being able to buy your book. x

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  46. Kate, the word that came to mind when I read this (and when I think of you in general) is *resilience*. There is a very particular kind of strength required to find a way forward when life derails us, to find new ways of simply *being*. You have it in spades.

    I’m so glad you found a safe, supportive space in which to explore your new boundaries, they’re hard to come by and they mean the world. I hope your body holds some happy surprises for you to discover :)

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  47. Dear Kate, You have nothing to fear. Your true strength and strong will power have come through in all your achievements to date, and there is so much more to come. Forgive that person’s comments that have caused you so much pain, and put it behind you. If anything you are the stronger for it. God bless you.
    Prov.18:21.

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  48. Well meaning people say things without thinking of the impact. And it is hard to ‘let it go’. My gran used to say ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. A bit of a sweeping generalisation, Granny, but with more of a grain of truth.

    You are a very strong lady. And even stronger than you think you are. Keep on, keeping on.

    And If this has come out all wrong – please don’t be offended. Its just cos I care.

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  49. Being someone who can keep the seed of someone’s comment alive in my mind and nourish it with my imagination to a dangerous new presence, I try, rarely succeed, to go back to the source – I suppose for you, the person who said it – and explain how great an effect it had. As it’s someone you like, it could be easier than you think, but it’s full of dangers too. I doubt whether any outcome would be worse, however, than the blow their remarks dealt you in the first place. The ‘soften’ aspect, as spoken to a woman (not sure whether from a male or female) have so many interpretations, and a conversation with the person may be worthwhile. Only you will know in due course whether it’s worth expending more energy on their remark.

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  50. Kate, I am a physiotherapist so really understand what you have achieved. My own youngest son had major surgery at 15 for scoliosis., titanium rods in his spine. He recovered absolutely following such major, life altering surgery. His school at the time fully supported his recovery.
    However, a few months later his PE teacher recorded on his report without any reference to this surgery, that not reaching certain goals required was a failure. I was absolutely incensed and wrote a carefully worded email that in actual fact he had achieved a total PASS in medical and physio terms! I actualy could not believe the appalling ignorance displayed.
    10 years later this boy has a 1st class Honours in Archeology and is embarking on a PhD. He plays tennis and the rods in his spine are like e wearing a shoe he tells me:-)
    So, hang in!

    Liked by 3 people

  51. Soft?! Wow. I think of you as a bit of a badass to be honest (I’m being serious).
    I sympathise with a lot of this though. I have a permanent spine injury which can never get better: it can only stay the same or get worse. When I did it I was 14 and a consultant told me “you have the back of an 80 year old; you’ll be in a wheelchair by the time you’re 40”. I told him where to go but it has haunted me ever since (I’m 32 now). When it flares up I can’t move (sit/stand/walk etc) and it’s really frustrating, but then once it goes back to normal it makes me realise how awesome it is to be able to walk. However I am always on high alert for falling over as if I do it could cripple me, and when my back is bad I also have a huge fear of getting jostled as it can be incredibly painful. I’ve had a lot of “you’re young and fit, you can do this” – especially in my 20s, and that can be really hard to deal with. It’s that whole invisible disability thing, isn’t it? You just don’t know what people are going through.
    Anyway, I love this blog post and really just wanted to say I sympathise and thankyou for writing about it. And rock on! (And sorry for waffling on!)

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  52. As always your posts continue to give support to so many. By sharing your experiences I continue to see “weaknesses “ in a different light and also continue to learn to accept mine. Thank you!

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  53. I’d say that post-stroke you have new dimensions of understanding: of ability and disability, of the work that it takes to get through the days, of one’s body and it’s limitations. Whether your friend meant that by “softened,” I don’t know. But this understanding is strength rather than softness (unless perhaps there’s some kind of Zen where strength is softness and vice versa). I’m always amazed at how much you get done and how you challenge yourself, and I found it lovely that you cried tears of joy after your visit to the gym. That’s strength.

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  54. Kate, people can be sleep walking whilst awake. Some of these remarks ‘go in’ and Jeannie’s description of ‘startling’ is heartfelt. People, unable to feel and fearful of something out of their comfort zone, say ‘boxing’ and labelling things, in an effort to find comfort for themselves. It is about them, but tricky to handle when the thoughtless barb finds entry into our energy. Your creativity finds that wonderful space outside of any labels, as do you. <3

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  55. You know I got quite cross at the beginning of this post with the idea that softness meant weakness. Cos you are so much stronger than me with your swimming and walking. And I would not consider myself weak even though my body collapses occasionally. Thankfully it didnt when I was climbing a steep bank the other day.! My body is older and weaker but getting stronger. I wonder if the softness is about being driven in a different way, I know academia can be cut throat and ruthless at times and in having to move from that to your business maybe you are fulfilled in a different way which has brought out a different aspect of your personality rather than your body? I don’t know , I’m just surmising and I could be so off base. I’m glad I read to the end of your post. And you still challenge in the way a good teacher does, I will mull in this whilst I go about my day. Thank you

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  56. Able (as in not disabled) people take for granted the ease with which activity, of any kind comes. It is only those who have lived with a limitation in that capacity who can really know how strong they are.

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  57. As a species we’re idiots and often don’t think about how the things we say are interpreted BUT although traumatic it seems to have given you an opportunity to reflect on your progress and achievements you’ve made so far. Considering this I imagine constant self progression or even just trying to prevent a deterioration must be absolutely exhausting making throw away comments demoralising to say the least. You are an inspiration of what determination and self respect can achieve. Congratulations on another milestone, wishing you many many more. With your new gym efforts in mind, have you considered Pilates? I’m a nurse and Body Control Pilates teacher and am amazed on a daily basis about the improvements I and my clients experience in focus, balance, coordination, strength and flexibility. Please please consider it – I can tell you more if you would like.
    BTW I too am grey not pregnant and ditching the horrible chemicals has helped me feel amazing x

    Liked by 1 person

  58. My heart goes out to you Kate at how thoughtless we can all be when we’re faced with something/someone and don’t know what to say. We just don’t think what we are saying, and somehow we want to make the situation alright . I don’t know if I’m explaining myself very well, but thank you for having the courage to be open about this and maybe it will help us all to sometimes engage our brains before opening our mouths, and maybe there’ll be a bit less pain created. Christina x

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  59. silly – but very hurting – remarks from wel-meaning friends/people, i experienced quiet some when my mother died i was emotionally too vulnerable to be angry, i tried to classify them as : that is just the way people are. but i keep remembering them. shall i remember them for ever?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you can find a way to let it go! I’m really trying to. I honestly think these things simply reflect a sort of bald discomfort around / lack of understanding of trauma / grief and grieving people (whether the loss is that of a mother or an able-bodied self). It somehow seems easier to contain things in a ‘happy’ box than acknowledge how tough things are.

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  60. I don’t think that “softer” means “weaker”. You are unbelievably strong – you must be to have achieved what you have in such a relatively short space of time since your stroke. I think that with or without knowing it, we realise that there is more to life than what we may previously have thought. After a traumatic life event, priorities change and we can let go of some of the crap that we thought was important before and realise just being and functioning is a major achievement in itself. Just keep doing what you’re doing and doing it SO well!

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  61. Kate
    I cannot tell you how very much I feel your description of this vulnerability shows your true inner strength and power.
    It echoes my own experience of living with a similar disability .
    It gives me great strength to move forward too.
    You are an inspiration.

    Very best wishes
    Ali Fergusson

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  62. it never ceases to amaze me that people say the most startling things, if only they thought before speaking (or maybe they do). My partner is a stroke survivor and had a brain stem stroke seven years ago, he was completely paralysed but has progressed to the point where he can walk a few steps indoors. People often say “oh you dont look ill” which for me negates all that we have been through to get to today. The most shocking was the assessor for PIP who said “after reading everything I expected to meet a dribbling old man”

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    1. to hear the old “but you don’t look ill” chestnut from a member of the able-bodied general public bespeaks plain ignorance. . . but to hear such remarks from a PIP assessor, is deeply, *shockingly* offensive. All power to you and your partner!

      Liked by 3 people

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