Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Getting Better...

There is much more to walking than simply putting one foot in front of the other and repeating the process. I realized yesterday that I have not been walking “naturally”. I was walking flat-footed, without using my heels or toes, I would just light my foot off the ground, lean a bit forward and let gravity create the need for my feet to work and then I would slam it back down on the ground. Basically, I was walking like a zombie minus the chanting “Must eat brains…” I realized this wasn’t good. I was learning to walk, but I was learning wrong and I know that learning wrong will only lead to having to unlearn and re-learn Learning to walk again once, sucks. I don’t want to have to do it again.

Today, I went back to square one. I went outside, and forced myself to tae a step by rolling my foot up onto my toes and then stepping forward, landing heel first. I almost fell over. That was a whole lot of movement in one go. I stopped, got my balance and did it again. Again, I almost fell over. It felt odd, but at the same time, familiar like a forgotten memory. It took about five or so minutes to get the rhythm down.

My balance wasn’t great, but my walking was better. A few minutes later, I realized I wasn’t using my arms. Well, I was using them, but I was holding them out as a sort of balancing tool instead of swinging them by my side. I forced my arms down and then had to manually coordinate the swing of an arm with the movement of the opposite leg. Once again, it felt both foreign and familiar. I walked a couple of rounds, all the while my mind repeating the process: “Look straight ahead… Roll left leg onto toes and lift from ground… Ignore the wind… Move right arm forward slightly, but not too fast… Don’t look down… Put left heel on ground… Don’t move head too fast… Stop forward movement of right arm and flatten foot…”

I never realized how many movements go into a single step. And then there has to be the confidence that one foot is firmly on the ground for support and balance before starting the process with the other foot. I kept the process chant going in my head, quickly realizing that any stray thought, say, about life, travel, a movie, or anything non-task specific, would immediately throw me off and I would lose my balance, feel dizzy and have to start over. Surprisingly, it didn’t take long to get the hang of it. I wanted to go faster but I forced myself to stick with the process and just perfect it. I managed to keep it up for fifty-two minutes, the longest walk yet. I did it without help and without a walking stick.

Everyday, I learn things about myself. Today, I learned I can’t take too much input at one time. Normally, I am all about sensory overload. Now, I prefer and need things to be calm and as simple as possible. This was first brought to my attention when I took a bajaj (rickshaw) to my follow-up appointment with the doctor. Looking forward in a car, I am ok, but one glance to the left or right as the scenery is speeding by, and I immediately get a feeling of dizziness and falling. Sitting in a bajaj, with open sides gave me the feeling I was falling out the entire distance to the doctor. Fortunately, it is only a few minutes away and so I kept my eyes focused forward and my thoughts occupied. I made it to the doctor and everyone, including me, was happy with the results so far.

My next experience with too much input was a little more daunting. After the doctor, I went for a much needed haircut and then Ulco and I decided to have a quick drink (non-alcoholic) at the waterfront. Before going home, we did a quick stop by a grocery store. As we walked in the first aisle, I felt uncomfortable and nervous, but I felt it was just being back in public, around a lot of people. I don’t really want to be around too many people. I don’t like all the movements and noises and I don’t like strangers looking at me. Not sure if it is a temporary reaction due to the stroke or a change in personality, which is not uncommon. But when I walked into the second aisle, I froze. I felt dizzy, things were spinning and I just wanted to run out but my feet froze for what felt like hours. It must have only been a few seconds as Ulco didn’t notice anything until I mentioned it. I can’t say it was painful, but in was just unbearably uncomfortable and I couldn’t take in all the colors and shapes and music and people and also make my body connect with my brain. I quickly realized what was happening and managed to get myself out of the store, into a large, mostly empty white space and felt my myself calm down.

I am getting used to these discoveries of the new or temporary me, and with each one, I am learning to deal with it a little faster. The more I learn, the more I can also avoid those situations, or actively put myself into lesser versions of them to overcome the feelings.

My vision is getting better each day. I have all but ditched the eye-patch and I am able to watch TV without too much trouble and I can read on my Kindle as long as I have the font turned up enough to be seen from space. Being able to see well enough to read again is a spectacularly wonderful gift. In addition to being thankful I am alive, I am super thankful that I have all my language skills.

Tomorrow, I start a full body workout to get myself back in good condition. I learned today from one of my books, that “stroke survivors have, on average, half the amount of cardiovascular strength as age-matched, non-stroke survivors who are out of shape. Many daily activities, most notably walking, take twice the amount of energy compared to people who’ve not had a stroke.” This was shocking to me. I know my body had changed, but I had no idea how much some things had deteriorated in just a few short minutes or the few following hours.

That said, I am not upset or depressed by it. I find it motivating. My goal is to get myself in better shape than I have ever been. It will take time and I can’t do a lot of exercises at the moment, but time will change that. I will be stronger, faster and better than before!


  1. Anonymous19/1/12 06:58

    I have had the same issue with walking after a broken ankle, wanting to flat foot it, I guess thats why we call it toddling when children are learning that basic skill. So keep counting you blessings and aiming for you goal Lots of Love Jan

  2. Julie in Denver21/1/12 09:49

    Robb ~ not sure if you are getting any therapies but occupational therapy may be able to help with the sensory overload. Sensory integration issues affects many and working with a OT or COTA may bring some relief; I'm happy to send some info via email if you want it. (I know, you didn't ask for advice so feel free to tell me to take that long walk of the frikkin' short pier) ;-)
    Hang in there my friend ~ j