I debated about whether I should write about my stroke or not. It wasn’t an easy decision, as writing about it would mean to let people into a very personal situation that was and is still unfolding. I don’t mind people being on the periphery of my private life, but I am quite choosy about who gets full access. When I decided to write about it, I did it for a few reasons. One of them was to record for myself what was happening, what I was feeling and going through, so I would not forget the details and the emotions. I discovered early on that my short-term recall isn’t so good. The memories are there, but my brain has other priorities at this moment, like repairing itself and making sure I can stand, and so I don’t always remember things so clear after the fact. I am sure that when my brain is done rewiring and fixing itself, that issue will go away. I also decided to use my blog as a way to keep family and friends in the loop. With my vision, it is not so easy to write at the moment, so I opted for this medium instead of dozens of emails to various people.
Another reason was that I felt isolated and alone. As far as I know, I do not directly know anyone who has had a stroke, and so I had nobody to talk to or ask questions to that would have inside knowledge. Doctors, friends and family have been great, but sometimes you want someone to say “I know exactly what you mean, I had the same thing and when this would happen, I would do that.” I also knew I could not pour out my feelings all day everyday on anyone who happened to be around me and I certainly could not keep them inside. So this blog became sort of my external brain, it is where I think and ponder and examine my thoughts and things going on at the moment. Lastly, I decided to write it in case anyone should find themselves in a situation and feel the things I feel and felt and will feel, hoping that maybe they would stumble across my blog and see something familiar and useful.
When I decided to write about my situation, I made only one commitment to myself, and that was to be honest, even if it meant being uncomfortable or embarrassing and I believe I have done that. If you have been following my rollercoaster the past five weeks, you know there have been highs and lows, breakthroughs and set-backs.
So, I was quite surprised to read a comment on my post Saturday that basically told me that I was a grown man and that whining and complaining would not do me any good and “I don't like people feeling sorry for themselves or feeling unable to give a fight they owe to themselves.” I kept reading it and going over the events of the last few weeks, and then I got angry and then I started wondering if indeed, that is what I was doing. I also checked in with people that I know would tell me if that were the case and I did a lot of thinking.
Then I realized, no, I am not feeling sorry for myself. Like anyone who has been through a major, life-changing experience, there are emotions and psychological processes which we must go through to deal with the specific situation and ignoring the negative parts is not only cheating oneself of the true recovery process, it is denying a part of ourselves that makes us human.
There is a quote I love from Ambrose Redmoon which reads “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” In order to be courageous, I believe we need to acknowledge the fear, see it for what it is and then make the decision about how to deal with it. For me, this is the same principal as being positive. Being positive is not about the absence of sadness, depression, anger, (insert negative feeling here), but what we do when faced and confronted with those emotions, which, like fear, can often be so overpowering as to be paralytic. I know there are many people who believe you should just ignore them and pretend they aren’t there, sing a happy song, put a smile on your face and bury them, hoping they will just go away. But I have learned from experience, that when left un-dealt with and buried, negative emotions fester and boil and become even more toxic. And they don’t stay buried forever. Sooner or later, they come back up, and the longer they have been pushed aside and buried, the more destruction they seem to do when they are finally free.
Winston Churchill said “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” I think listening to our negative emotions can be the scariest thing of all. I don’t know about you, but mine can be pretty dark and ugly. But I have come to see negative emotions in the same way I see annoying and obnoxious family members. They are out there and sometimes, no matter how many times you move or how hard you try to hide, ultimately, they will find you out and come banging on the door. I don’t particularly want them, but I let them in, we hang out for a while and I listen to them and then I get them to leave. I have learned that by doing that, the emotions don’t build, and if and when they do come back, they have less power. I have also realized that some of the biggest and most profound lessons are buried not in the positive, but in the negative. I see the emotions for what they are, I look at them, acknowledge them, I hear them and respect them for the role they play and then make my decision about what I will do. Do I always make the right one? Nope. But then again, I am only human, prone to make mistakes.
I think it is good to feel sad, depressed, angry (insert negative emotion of choice here) for a bit of time and see it for what it is. Feeling them for a short time, or perhaps longer time if needed, does not make us negative or people that feel sorry for ourselves, it makes us human. It is only when we let those emotions take over and make our decisions for us and control our lives, that we have a problem.
So I will continue to feel and be honest about my negative emotions but be driven by my positive ones. In fact, just today, I woke up feeling great but a little off. I had my breakfast and then looked at the list of exercises I needed to do and decided I didn’t want to do them, I wanted to sit on the sofa and put my feet up and cruise around Facebook. So I made a deal with myself. I sat on the sofa for fifteen minutes, then I did my workout, and then… And then, I went walking for three kilometers, the longest walk yet! And the best part, I ran into Khaleeda, who always puts a smile on my face and we had a yummy lunch! All in all, it has been a great day. And here is one last quote about courage:
“Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow.” - Mary Anne Radmacher