A good friend once told me “pressure is a privilege,” and I couldn’t agree more. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to work hard.
Suffering through an experience as traumatic as a stroke has an interesting way of putting life into perspective. When I woke up from a coma in the ICU, I had no idea of the stress and grief, not to mention the grey hairs, that the last 24 hours had caused my family and close friends. The realization that I was lucky to have survived hit hard. So many people don’t survive an experience like this, but I’m here to tell the tale and share my journey. So why was I afforded this second chance, and more importantly, what was I going to do with it? I had an incredible opportunity to refocus and work hard, so I thought that I owed it to myself and everyone else to constantly place the pressure on myself to try new things that seemed outside the realm of possibility. And who knew, I might even surprise myself.
After having a massive brain hemorrhage, yes, I was grateful to be alive, but also scared and unsure of what would happen from here and what my life would look like. Would I ever be able to walk, write left handed, drive a car, or live on my own again?
One of my biggest long term goals I’m still working up to is complete independence so I can live on my own. To get to that point, I know it’s important to always keep pushing myself to try things I didn’t think would be possible a short time ago. Learning to walk was hard, but what’s been even harder has been adjusting to compensate for my vision loss. After I got rid of the cane and was given permission by my therapists to walk around unaccompanied, I still had to focus hard on being aware of my surroundings. Adjusting for vision loss means I need to constantly turn my head over to my left side so I’m seeing everything. In crowded situations, this is really difficult. But part of achieving independence is learning to manage these uncomfortable situations. I really wanted to get acclimated to taking public transportation so I could travel on my own to meet up with friends like I would have before.
The train station in my town involves a big step up from the platform into the train. At first I was so nervous to try, because I wasn’t sure I could manage the big step with the weakness in my left leg and iffy balance. Oh, and I could only hold on to the railing to help myself up with my right hand, as the left’s ability to bear weight and hoist my body up was questionable. So when I first started taking the train I boarded from the next town over, where there was no big step up and I could walk straight from the platform onto the train. Which was great, but I still secretly entertained the thought of walking up into the train from my town like I used to. I figured it would be nice to have the option.
I’ve always been a goal- oriented person, and when I set my sights on a goal, I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve it. And if I can’t, well at least I’ll have given it my best shot. The goal of stepping up and onto the train was an ambitious one, but I was determined. It’s small wins like this I wanted. Stepping up into the train might seem like an easy no brainer, but for me it was a challenging task and a grim reminder of what I could still no longer do. That is, if I chose to see it that way.
See, I’m not one to dwell on the negative. The stroke experience really ingrained that into me. What good is it to focus on the bad when there’s so much to be grateful for and work towards?
I tackled the train first with the assistance of my dad. We practiced walking to the station together, and he would stand back while I tried to hoist myself up. And it was surprisingly easier than I had anticipated. And the more I did it, the more comfortable I got doing it by myself. Now, I can walk myself to the train station without the help of anyone, ride the train, and disembark without a hitch (even with a big step). 🙂
Now that I’m confident I can get on and off the train without help, my next goal has been to be able to ride the train while managing luggage. Not surprisingly, it’s difficult to do public transportation well when one hand doesn’t work as well as the other. Navigating airports, trains, and even Ubers can be hard with just one hand. When I take the train into the city to spend a weekend with friends (because I can now!!!), I have to fit all of my belongings into a large backpack that is easier to manage than a suitcase. Now that I’ve successfully achieved my goal of getting on and off the train without help, I know that without a doubt I’ll be able to achieve the next step of managing luggage and public transportation. For now, I’m celebrating this little win end working hard towards this next goal. I can roll one suitcase in my good hand, but not yet two at the same time. But practice makes perfect, right?