Ella Sofia, a fellow stroke survivor and habit coach, is constantly asking, “How can I turn a bad experience into a competitive advantage?” I think about this question a lot since my stroke. How can I turn this shitty situation into my very own competitive advantage, or the greatest thing that ever happened to me?
I have always been THE most impulsive person I know. Since childhood, I’ve had a tendency to rush into things without properly thinking them through. Act now, rationalize and figure out logistics later type of thing. Any activity, you name it:: a spontaneous beach weekend with friends, an impulsive hot summer´s day swim in what turns out to be a leech-infested river.
Okay, so I didn’t say I was the smartest risk-taker, but this impulsive mentality usually served me well. I had fun.
After my stroke, all of this changed. The fun and spontaneous, happy-go-lucky girl I once was was gone. I woke up post-brain surgery in a hospital bed groggy, confused, and unaware of how to go on. I was paralyzed. Life sucked. I just wanted my old life back.
I know that we can’t completely have control over what happens in life, but we do have control over how we respond to the challenges thrown our way.For me, my shift in perspective post-stroke made me much more appreciative of the moment. Because let’s face it, shit happens, and how we respond to obstacles says a lot about us.
I can distinctly remember the moment when I decided that I couldn’t just accept my situation and had to take control of my future. I was inpatient at Kessler, learning how to walk with a quad cane. Typically after therapy, I would practice walking up and down the halls with my cane and the help of one of my parents or siblings (and my wheelchair to rest in for a break). On one such day, my brother Charlie and I were walking (more like trudging) down the hall. I hated these walks; they were hard, and a part of me felt like throwing the towel in and asking, why bother?
My left ankle was wrapped in an Ace bandage for my foot drop until I was able to get an AFO brace specially made for my foot. We stopped in front of an open door to rest (back then I could only walk about 20 feet or so before I needed a rest break) and at this moment I thought, what am I doing? Yes I can’t walk far, but I can walk, and that itself is a huge blessing. Yes, I have to take breaks every couple of feet because I’m tired, but I can stand up and take that step. If I kept working at it, I was only going to improve. How much, no one could say, but I knew that I had to put in the work to find out.
Every day, I think about how the neurosurgeon told my family that my situation was grim, and he couldn’t guarantee my survival, but he was going to do everything he could. When I think about that, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to still be on this Earth. Each day of life on this planet seems like a bonus chance to me, an extra special opportunity to work towards my goals.
My change in perspective has affected virtually everything in my life: my relationships with the people I know and meet, and even my relationship with myself. I appreciated life before, but it takes on extra meaning now. I easily could not be here to write this blog post today, but I am, so what does that mean for how I spend my time? Life is nothing if not a constant journey, so how will I choose to live my journey? I have been given this incredible opportunity to work hard and get better, and I owe it to myself and everyone I interact with to give it my best shot. I made the decision early on to turn my horrific experience with stroke into my own competitive advantage. Post-stroke, I´m no longer as impulsive as I once was, and find I need to budget more time to plan activities. But that´s okay.
As stroke and brain injury survivors, we have a very unique lived experience that shows our ability to adapt and make the most of challenges. I can’t do most things like I used to, but I can try and discover new ways to accomplish tasks. I refuse to fall victim to complacency and accept my situation, and want to push myself beyond the realm of perceived possibility and see what I am truly capable of. And look just how far I’ve come.