This past weekend, I hit another major milestone. I took the subway by myself for the first time post-stroke. Which may not seem like a huge deal, but trust me, it is. And, in retrospect, is probably still not the safest thing for me to do, but I needed to prove to myself that it was possible. I wanted to show myself that I could get around without help.
On Friday after work, I packed my backpack for the weekend and hopped on the train to New York Penn. I was headed to the apartment of my college roommates for an evening of catching up. I’ve been taking the train a lot on my own, but navigating crowded situations with my vision loss is still a challenge. It’s busy in Penn station, and no one is paying attention to what’s in front of them and instead focused intently on their phone screens. Aka a messy situation for a person with visual and spatial awareness issues like me. Lots of potential for accidents.
While on the train, I decided that once I got to the station, I would try to take the subway to Chelsea, since my friends’ apartment was only one stop away and a two block walk. But I knew that if I were to actually do this, I’d have to be hyper aware of things on my left side. I don’t always pay attention and have been known to run into signs or people on my left side because I didn’t see them. But if I were to do the subway on my own, this simply could not happen.
And so when I got off the train, I headed over towards where the subway was and made my way to the E downtown line. I took my time walking, and stopped to read the signs to make sure I was heading in the correct direction. I was extra careful, looking over my left side constantly. And when my train arrived, I hopped on (thankfully it wasn’t crowded), and hopped off one stop later.
Luckily, one of my other college roommates who was going to dinner happened to also have just gotten off the subway, and so we managed to meet up near the exit and walk over together (shoutout to Find my Friends for helping us locate each other). It’s times like these where I find technology to be very beneficial to my life.
The trickiest part of this little adventure was definitely making sure that I saw everything. Prior to having a stroke, I never thought about visual scanning, but I knew that if I were to be walking by myself in the train station, there was no room for error, and I had to be as careful as I could. So I walked slowly and deliberately, taking my time to scan and read all the signs and make sure I wasn’t headed towards collision with passerby. I make sure that I allow myself ample time to navigate, so I’m never in a rush. I need to take my time.
I was so proud of myself for taking the subway all by myself, but still don’t quite feel 100% confident in my ability. I know I’m vulnerable with my walking and lack of awareness, so this is all still a work in progress for me. But it’s all steps in the right direction, and I know I’m getting there slowly but surely.
When navigating public transport, there’s so much to be aware of. And because of my vision loss, I have to be extra aware with my other senses. I tried to pay extra attention to the sounds that I heard, to warn me of when someone was approaching. Cultivating a sense of awareness is much harder than I would have thought, but the more I practice it the more it improves. I know that the more I place myself in situations slightly outside of my comfort zone, while remaining safe, the better I will get. How are you working on spatial awareness after stroke? As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email (Maddiniebanck@gmail.com) or Instagram (@maddistrokeofluck). I’d love to hear how you work towards your goals of increased independence post brain-injury. Onward! 💪