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June 9, 2003, is etched in my memory like the “Titanic.” A day forever carved in my personal history when at 37, I suffered a stroke.
On that fateful day, a storm as severe as the winter storms that blow in from the East awakened inside of me. I didn’t realize a torrential downpour was on its way, but when it arrived, it blanketed my life. Winter storms often immobilize and well, like this type of catastrophe, so did my stroke.
All aspects of my life shifted dramatically – marriage, family, friendships; even my job changed. It seemed anything and everything the stroke could get its greedy little hands on, it altered. I became the “it” factor. The source of trauma, of wonderment, of disbelief and, of course, “lest dost thou forget,” the sympathy center. The “Did you know?”, “Have you heard?” and “Oh my God!” person, even though I neither knew nor asked for it. I lived trapped in a land of unconsciousness, some days in white light, stoned on morphine and other drugs I can’t even pronounce.
Eventually, when I did awake, I was too distracted befriending white rabbits, erasing children’s writing from the hospital walls with an imaginary chalk brush and doing “to do lists” in circles on tiny shreds of paper, to neither realize nor care what was happening around me. Moment to moment thought to thought, everything was a haze. I was nice to some and Linda Blair in “The Exorcist” to the others – especially to my husband and older brother.
In an instant, I was no longer who I was. I was different. Ways, in fact, I know can never be measured. Symbolic to a finely tuned violin as it’s played and the strings bleed, my stroke breathed in so much beauty, yet at the same time caused so much pain. Like the theme from John William’s piece for solo violin and orchestra playing in the background of “Schindler’s List.” you don’t want to watch or hear the Nazi’s were doing in the war camps. You can’t help but look and listen though. Beauty? You might ask. Well, yes, that and pain do go hand in hand, but then that’s a whole other story, isn’t it?
You may think right now, as you read this, that I am different from you. We both know; however, that this is a fallacy that comforts you. Tomorrow, someone you love could suffer a stroke. Worse, it could be you. That’s why you should read this. I didn’t have a stroke because I was unhealthy, or sad, or undeserving or “if only I had been a little nicer this wouldn’t have happened to me.” The stroke breathed silently and unsuspectingly into my life.
For me, I was fortunate. My stroke did not deter me from getting back my well-being, my sanity, my essence, my gifts, my talents and most importantly my “me.” Every day, I am thankful for my returned good health. Not to be fighting a terminal disease, I feel blessed. I’m alive and can move forward with my life. I am humbled. Strokes can be both debilitating and deadly. Luckily, I recovered, virtually unscathed. I am the rehabilitation hospital’s success story.
On June 9, 2003, I could have died and I didn’t. Today, I’m taking this opportunity to say something that because of my stroke, I have the balls to say it: It’s time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and do what it is you really want to do with your life. That secret desire that has been buried deep within you . . . pull it out . . . it is time. You may die tomorrow. Face reality. You are no better me, and you mean nothing more. It doesn’t matter what you drive, or how much money you make because despite what anyone says or thinks, at the end of the day, we are all the same – human beings just trying to survive.
We all have the power to destroy – just watch the news – but we all can conquer too. Instead, why don’t we rid this Earth of hate, disease, hunger, crime, and racism? Come on! We can do it! Let’s celebrate! Let’s have fun! Let’s not wallow in damaging self-pity! Let’s get off all the pills that trap us into believing the head honchos of the pharmaceuticals companies have our best interests at heart. I can’t help wondering why they ride around in beautiful cars, live in fancy houses, acting superior, and we live pay cheque to pay cheque? Why are we supporting this lifestyle? Do they care about you and me? Probably not but, who cares, you and I don’t need to worry about that. Instead, you and I should create, perform, enjoy and love the gift of life.
I’m privileged to be alive and healthy today. I volunteer with my dog in a pet therapy program. I take the time to acknowledge and celebrate the paths that I am traveling. I am proud of where I am today. I try to give back those same things I needed when I was sick – understanding, patience and, most importantly, the belief that I can succeed to the capacity “I” allow myself to reach to, not just someone else’s depiction. Today I take my guitar and singing lessons, and my writing more seriously than I did before my stroke. I’m confident now that I will succeed, and become the writer I have always dreamed of becoming.
Finally, the one thing I must impart to you . . . we may look sick, we may act ill, we may suffer some, but we are still perfect, no matter what stage we are at. We are alive. We make sense. We are understandable. So, try bending down closer, and come into our worlds and just listen. Amongst the gibberish, there is the blissful sound of laughter. Amongst the pain, there is the abundant blessing of love. And amongst me, there is you reflected back to you from my eyes. It could just as quickly be me looking at you where you see from today. So don’t walk away from us, reach out. We need you, almost as much as we need ourselves.
Remember, the painting of my life forever altered . . . by just one stroke.
Kim Friesen © A Stroke Survivor
For more information, please visit Heart and Stroke BC. It may save yours, or someone you love’s life – knowledge is power!
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