The 5th of October, 2019 began for me like any typical Saturday morning as of late: breakfast, weight bearing, get dressed, chug some coffee. Except it wasn’t any typical Saturday morning, because today one of my very dearest friends was getting married. It felt like Christmas; I was so excited for this day, and couldn’t believe it was finally here.
When the bride, Hannah, asked me to be the maid of honor at her wedding a year-and-a-half ago, it felt like I had all the time in the world to prepare for the big day. I set an ambitious goal that day to walk down the aisle in a pair of heels. And at the time, this goal seemed lofty and unattainable considering I still needed a leg brace and my balance was extremely questionable. The brace severely limited my footwear options, so I found myself wearing a lot of tennis shoes, since that was just about the only thing that worked for me. But prior to having a stroke, I loved rocking a pair of stiletto heels for a night out on the town. I would love to get back to that eventually, and figured if I just practiced a little bit in the months leading up to the wedding I would be okay for a (tiny) pair of heels.
In May of 2019, I got myself a Bioness units to help with my walking. I had experimented a bit with the Bioness when I was in physical therapy, and it helped tremendously with my walking. The Bioness is a cuff that wraps around the calf right below the knee, and it sends electrical stimulation down to the foot to lift the ankle, facilitating a heel-toe strike. I needed this help, because without the assistance of a brace or Bioness, my left ankle would invert and slap flat-footed to the ground. I figured if I bought myself a Bioness, not only would I hopefully improve my gait, but I would have more options for shoes, and maybe even be able to wear heels for the wedding. Two months before the wedding, I really amped up my practice in the Bioness, and once I bought myself a short pair of nude heels that I could wear with my bridesmaid dress, I began practicing wearing those with the Bioness on too.
And it wasn’t pretty at first. I knew that I would really have to practice every single day to get comfortable enough to walk down the aisle in heels. Over the summer, I lost confidence in my walking while wearing the device, and got nervous that it wouldn’t perform well and turn my ankle in instead of out while I was walking. And I think that this fear started because there were a few times I was wearing it that I felt it misfired, causing my ankle to invert. And so I became more cautious, looking at the ground when I walked and afraid that with the next step I took my ankle would turn in. I think it was probably all psychological, but I became really nervous and didn’t want to wear the device for fear that it would do the wrong thing.
I realized that this was a problem and that I needed to kick the nerves if I was going to wear heels at the wedding in October. I began practicing a little bit after work every day. It probably wasn’t going to look as good as I wanted it to, but I just wanted to be able to make it down the aisle.
The night before the wedding, the whole bridal party met at the church to rehearse. And here I found out that as the maid of honor, I would be processing down the aisle unaccompanied. So the pressure was on. I was also told that I would be sitting up on the altar next to the bride on her left side. I knew that this was going to be a problem for me, because there was no railing at the steps leading up to the altar, and I needed something to hold on to to get up the steps. And so the priest kindly offered to assist me up to the altar once I reached the steps. I was thankful for this and my anxiety temporarily dipped, but I was still hella nervous that I wouldn’t be able to make it down the aisle alone. What if I fell down on my walk towards the altar? There was no one with me to ensure my safety. I said a quick prayer for confidence and grace processing down the aisle the next day.
The following morning I awoke with a slight sinus headache (or hangover from the rehearsal dinner, who can say. I popped some Advil and met the bridal party bright and early at the salon to get our hair and makeup done. I opted for a blowout, because my hair is naturally wavy and I wanted to emphasize the curls.
After the salon, we all went to the bride’s family’s house to get dressed and take pictures. The photographer wanted some photos of the bride outside, and so I held the train of her dress and carried it in both hands while walking outside in my heels. This was no simple feat. Not only did I have to think about my foot placement while wearing heels, but I also had to manage my left hand well enough to carry the train of Hannah’s dress and not drop it. So to accomplish this mission I opted for what I fondly refer to as “the smushing technique”: mash my left hand against the fabric to hold it up as opposed to struggling to maneuver my uncooperative fingers around the fabric.
And it worked. I was able to walk in my heels and carry the train of Hannah’s dress outside so we could take pictures. We then took a limo to the church and I got out for the moment of truth, aka the procession to the altar in heels.
I grasped my bouquet of flowers in my left hand and rested my right hand on top for stability. All of the bridesmaids walked down the aisle one by one with their groomsmen to accompany them, and once all the bridal party finished processing, it was my turn.
I walked down the aisle alone with my flowers in hand, laser-focused on keeping a smile on my face and not looking down at my feet. After what felt like an eternity, I made it to the altar where the priest took my arm and walked me up the steps to my seat. Once the gorgeous bride made it up to the altar, she handed me her bouquet to hold for the duration of the ceremony. And boy, did my arms hurt. But I kept telling myself, it’s only an hour, you can suck it up.
At the end of the ceremony, I walked over towards the best man, who took my left arm and escorted me down the steps and out of the church. I was a little nervous about this, because I don’t trust my left arm to support me, and the best man stood to my left. I always prefer to hold on to my surroundings with my strong arm, the right. So we casually switched sides and headed out. This way, I felt much safer if there were to be a slip.
With the ceremony behind me, I got back in the limo and promptly changed into a pair of sneakers for the reception. Following an afternoon of photos at The Mansion at Natirar, I danced the night away (or tried to) in the company of dear friends and family.
I’d love to connect and chat with you about your experience with goal-setting after stroke: Shoot me a message (firstname.lastname@example.org, Instagram @maddistrokeofluck). Check out @maddistrokeofluck on Instagram to see video of me walking in heels!