Monday, January 30, 2012


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


  1. Anonymous30/1/12 12:28

    Regarding the negative comment, I remember something from my shrink in Paris, a few years ago, who told me that I was giving way too much importance to the opinion people had of me, good or bad, because, he said "in this case, people at 95% don't speak about you, they try to avoid their fear" (or something like that... You see what I mean.
    I think you are very courageous to write about everything that happens to you right now. I, and surely all your friends and family, am behind you, cheering at your progresses and encouraging you when it's not going well, or sending you love and cheer you up when you are down, even if it is through a comment on your blog or on facebook.
    And then there is the power of blogging, sharing your experiences with people, with me, and give me food for thoughts. You have forced me to be grateful for what I have now, for encouraging me to finally stop whining and quit smoking. Reading your blog, again, makes me think about my life, it helps me get a new angle to think how I could be a better person and friend and family member. Your blog, and what you write makes a positive difference in my life, now as it did when I discovered you a few years back when you were in India. I wish that the circumstances today would be different, but this is life, it gaves you lemon, we'll help you make the lemonade.
    Even of most people who care about you are physically far, you are not alone. Oh no, no no! xxxx

    1. Wow! Thank you so much for this comment. It is really humbling for me to read your words. I hope I can continue to live up to them in the future. Thanks again!

  2. Sytske Casimir30/1/12 13:11

    I just had to go and read the comment out of curiosity, since it seemed so strange to me... It's nothing like I've experienced your blog. In fact I just sent a link to my mother telling her she had to read it, since I love how it is written. And I'm waiting for the book. Funny thing I followed the link to the persons blog, I mean I wanted to find fault with the person who couldn't see your courage. And then I realised, whatever might be going on for them.. It led you to write this beautiful piece about courage. And there have been times when I have accused people of whining, and they probably weren't, they were just dealing with what was going on for them. In any case all this to say, I disagree with the comment, and i'm very grateful it inspired today's post! Hugs, syts

    1. Thanks Syts... And thank you for also inspiring this post. A lot of how I view life and try to approach situations comes from the many talks we had.

  3. Anonymous31/1/12 09:42

    Another great piece from you, I know how much effort it is to write these blogs but all your friends and family really appreciate you keeping us up to date with your life and times. I am so proud of you for you strength and growth despite the set backs. Keep up the good work, LOTS of LOVE Jan

    1. Thanks, Jan... And thanks for always being there when I need someone to talk to... Or just when I need to hear the sound of my own voice ;-) Love you too! You're the best evil step mother EVER!

  4. Julie from Denver31/1/12 10:26

    Robb - great entry, loved reading it.

    I hope you get a chance to review some of your entries from the first week of writing about your stroke. I am sure you have noticed the difference in style and how FAR you have progressed in 5 weeks!! That is not to say your early postings are not worth the read; far from it. Each one brought tears to my eyes as I thought you of in your situation, trying to express yourself in writing, and keep your family and friends informed. Anonymous, Sytske and Jan each nailed it with their Comments: you are courageous, you are inspiring us and we appreciate it!

    The Good, the Bad and the really live life, we need to experience, feel and fight through each one. Julie

  5. Robb, I've been following your blog for a little while and I'm always amazed at how much improvement you're making... It's really awesome and I trully hope you keep it up, because from reading you, I can tell you're a great, loving guy who's been through a lot. You have your ups and downs, but you're strong and corageous enough to go through all of it, and I'm sure you'll be rewarded for it.

    Today I read your post to my mum. My brother is VIH possitive, and he was having some issues (nothing serious and, luckily, not related to his condition). We were worried and my mum was really depressed about it. I won't lie, she continued being depressed after it, but then she said that she should be grateful for having him now, and knowing that everything will be okay. She thanked God that his issues had nothing to do with his condition and I realized that although she was depressed, she saw things in a different way and most of it was because of your magically written words.

    I agree with you, having negative feelings doesn't make you a negative person. It is up to us to let those feelings control us.

    Thank you so much for your post. You're a really inspiring man. Lots of love, Euge

    1. Hello Euge... Thanks so much for the comment. I apologize for the delay in responding, I have been thinking about what to say and it is one of those times when words seem to abandon me... I am super glad if anything I wrote can help someone feel better or perhaps see things different. I hope she can get through her depression. I know what a dark and lonely road depression can be and I also know that when in it, it can feel as though there is no escape. If she is depressed about your brother and the HIV, perhaps it would help her to speak with a specialist who can answer her questions, which I can imagine she has. Even though HIV is no longer the gloom and doom death sentence it once was, the media still seem to portray it that way, with HIV positive people being lonely souls whom nobody will love and who will die alone. That is just not the reality. I have friends that are positive, some for more than 30 years, and they live active, happy lives, many of them in wonderful relationships and a couple of them that even have children.

      Thanks again for your comment and I will keep your mom in my thoughts.

      Take care!