Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Brain Farts and Afterthoughts



It’s been 2 years since my stroke. The anniversary was actually 4 days ago, but I’ve been so busy, I’m just now writing about it. Two years is a long time. I spent the first year expecting big things to happen: get out of the wheelchair, ditch the walker, go back to work…Then the first year came and went and not all of those things happened.

I’m still not able to work and I admit that for a long time that was a massive source of stress and anxiety. Women in their early 30s are either career-oriented or embracing their domestic prowess and kicking ass on the home front. I have never considered myself a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM,) nor have I considered myself cut out for it. Now that I’m disabled it’s a bit of a stretch for me to identify as a SAHM. So what the hell am I?

I’ve spent all this time waking up with nowhere to be, no schedule to follow and it has taken a toll. When you’re working you fantasize about that sort of thing, but it’s a bit shocking when you get it. After my 1st year anniversary I realized that I wasn’t going to ever not be disabled and if I don’t find something to do with myself, I’m going to lose my damn mind and drag my poor family down with me. So I decided to go back to school.

WAIT. Hold up. I’m not actually going to school. School is coming to me through the magical powers of the interwebz! I decided to take two classes online through a local community college, just to see how it goes. I’m happy to report I’m kicking ass. You know the best part? No, it’s not the glimmer of redemption in my college professor father’s eyes or the “Excellent work!” comments from my teachers (OK yeah it kind of is those things) but the really super-duper bestest part of the whole deal is that I get to wake up in the morning and say,

“I GOT SHIT TO DO TODAY!”

It’s a glorious feeling! Oh, you’re too busy to have lunch with me? Well that’s fine because I have a paper to write. BOOM! You know how fucking good that feels? I have deadlines now! I have rules to follow and bureaucrats to roll my eyes at! Oh sweet heavens, I have a purpose!

It’s incredibly liberating to know that I’m studying what I want and not what will get me a job. This is for ME. I’m getting a Liberal Arts degree with an emphasis in Sociology because I want to understand people, so that I can write about them. Actually, I want to understand people because in turn, I’ll better understand myself. There are so many facets to who I am: Mom, Disabled, Atheist, Multi-ethnic, Woman, 30-something, child of an immigrant…the list goes on. Understanding these elements from a sociological perspective will equip me to reach out to others like me. And holy fuckballs will I have loads to write about!

So that’s what I’ve been working on. That is why I’ve been so busy. The day of my 2-year stroke anniversary, June 8th, I was studying for finals and finishing up a term paper. I was so busy I didn’t realize what day it was. I had a total brain fart about it. Later that evening when I finally remembered, I couldn’t help but feel comforted that June 8th was an afterthought. That day changed my life but it hasn’t defined me. I don’t have it marked on any calendars, and I sure as hell didn’t sit and brood over it all day. It’s worth mentioning, but that’s about it. 


Monday, March 11, 2013

Limbo


I’m over a year and a half out from my stroke and the lists of things I can and can’t do both continue to grow. While most of it feels normal now, I still have those moments that make me feel proud or totally pissed off.

I’ve always fancied myself an optimistic cynic; a fucked up Pollyanna, if you will. The other day I had an epiphany. It came to me while watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Shut up. It happens. I had this revelation that there are things I will never ever do again, and I'm glad! Your hear me? GLAD. GLAD. GLAD!

I will never ever be obliged to dance the Limbo. Seriously, fuck the Limbo. I hated that stupid dance, game, whatever it is - frankly, I think it's a bit of a stretch to refer to it as a dance. As a disabled person, I am not physically able to do it. Before the stroke, I would have been an asshole for being a grouch and not wanting to play. But now, if you ask me to do it, you’re the asshole!

Surely, there must be other things I loathe that I can no longer be expected to do. I spent much of the afternoon with a maniacal smile on my face, thinking of more things that I can’t ever do again. Here are some highlights:

Charades. Whenever they show people playing Charades in sitcoms, it’s always some dorky suburban couple giggling with their boring couple friends on dreaded game night. Barf. Charades is really one small step away from being a Mime, only no one gives you money to do it and you have to perform in front of your friends. Thankfully, my limited use of the right side of my body makes me a terrible player. You guys go ahead. I’ll mind the bar.



Team-building exercises. If you have ever worked for a large office, you know what I’m talking about. You get stuck in a giant room with your fellow disgruntled co-workers and given a task – like build a massive house of cards without any of them overlapping – that can only be accomplished together. It is bad enough that there is pressure to participate and not look like a dick in front of your boss, but now you have a whole fucking team of people depending on you to not screw it up for everyone. There’s a pizza party on the line and damn it it’s gonna be your ass if you tip the cards! Don’t tip the cards! Lucky for me, I’m not touching the damned cards. Between my wonky hand and my vertigo, I’m likely to wind up lying on top of the house of cards. So no.


Sports. I’ve always hated playing sports, so this is a huge win. I can’t run anymore. It’s not like I just have to try and it will come back. No, I actually can’t. So picking me for your team would make you a dick. (Unless you want me to keep score. I’m OK with that. I like having that kind of power.)



Outdoorsy stuff. See Sports above. "Outdoors" usually involves sports in the sun for an extended period of time. Ugh. Just ugh. And really, if you try to get me on a zip-line or a river raft, I’ll have criminal charges filed against you for attempted murder.

Assemble furniture.  I won’t ever have to hold two boards perpendicular to each other while trying to screw them together. I did try once, just to see. To no one’s surprise it ended with cursing and dropping boards on the ground. My right arm doesn’t extend very far and when it is holding something, those fingers are completely useless. This task is now solely my husband’s responsibility. I did give him moral support during the FOUR hours it took him to put together our son’s train table. I yelled out things like, “Wow, babe! It’s really coming along!” while I watched movies on the couch. Oh, think I’m insensitive? I’m disabled! Who’s insensitive now, biatch!
I will never have to stay up until 3am assembling a bicycle or art desk or anything else. Ever. Neener. Neener.

Aerobics class. I enjoy aerobics. It’s one of the few exercises I don’t mind – this goes for both before and after stroke. However, I have never thought the idea of sweating and shaking my uncoordinated ass in front of a group of strangers sounds like fun. Girls love to invite other girls to this sort of thing. “Hey! Wanna put on clothes that accentuate all your problem areas and then dance next to me and my amazing body, which make you look like the Hunchback by comparison?” Ick. Now instead of conveniently being sick that day, I just don’t get invited. I still get to look like the Hunchback when I exercise, but at least it’s in private. Go me!
 


Pollyanna was a righteous bitch. She played The Glad Game because she knew no matter how shitty life was, there was always something awesome to smile about and feel grateful for. And I’m grateful I won’t ever feel pressured to wear high heels again.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Turn Already?



One in five stroke survivors will have another stroke within five years of their first.  

1 in 5

Last week my number came up. (Sort of.) Last Tuesday, I was standing at the stove slowly whisking my homemade Thai Peanut Sauce. My 3 year old son was playing with his train set and hubby was upstairs playing handyman. I’m standing there, stirring the sauce, and it occurs to me I’m swaying. I tend to rock a bit due to the weakness of my right leg, but this was different. I was swaying hard. My breaths were shallow. I looked up at the wall and an overwhelming spinning sensation came over me. My first thought:  Just.Like.Last time. FUCK.

Then my mental checklist:

  1. Get to a chair.
  2. Check blood sugar.
  3. Scream for hubby.

Next steps are all contingent on Item #2. Dizzy spells can be brought on by a dip in blood sugar, so I knew to check that first. I don’t know how I remained logical in that moment because in my gut I knew what I was feeling. I pricked my finger and the glucose monitor read “177.” OK so it’s not that.

OH MY FUCKING AHHHHHH!!!!!!

And then I lost my shit. Screaming, scrambling up the stairs – albeit not the smartest move – to get my husband. He came running down and helped me up the rest of the way, still unsure of why I was freaking out. He was oddly calm. We checked my blood sugar on a 2nd monitor I keep upstairs. It was 173. Clearly my blood sugar was not the problem. He held my face and said, “Keep calm. Sit down. I’m getting the phone and calling 9-1-1.”

I said, “AHHHH! MY ARM! MY FUCKING ARM! AHHHHHH!”

I’m not very good with directions.

I felt the right side of my body turning to lead, very heavy, difficult to move. My son sat next to me and said, “Don’t be upset, mommy. Your arm hurts? I kiss it, OK?” He was so sweet and calm like his dad. It brought me back down from my hysteria.

EMTs came and took me to the hospital. They noticed the right corner of my mouth was drooping a little. After 2 CT scans and an MRI, they determined that it was not in fact a 2nd stroke. Good news. But it wasn’t nothing either. The Neurologist explained it was most likely a TIA, (aka “mini-stroke”) or a temporary exacerbation of the old stroke (whatever that means.) An artery in my brain stem is forever compromised from the first stroke. There is build-up there, and whether it’s scar tissue or something else doesn’t matter. It’s narrower. The arteries in the brain stem are already narrower than arteries in other parts of our body, so it’s an especially shitty place to have a problem. If that artery flexes or spasms, it can temporarily block blood flow to the brain causing stroke symptoms. The vessel then relaxes, blood flow is restored, and your body is like “Huh? What stroke? You’re just trippin’, dude.”

I'm alright. I was alright within a couple of hours. I spent the night in the hospital to make sure it had passed. I woke up the next morning still disabled, but not more disabled. I was back to my normal.

My husband and I realized that this may very well happen again. I am working hard to prevent it, but there is no guarantee that it won’t. It's a reminder that accepting our new normal comes with a greater responsibility of self-awareness and constant vigilance. It's a reminder that we're not like everyone else. But who the hell wants that anyways.

This isn’t a woe-is-me-oh-no-I’m-forever-doomed post. We all have our baggage, our ailments, our crap that we’re supposed to do but easily overlook due to complacency, laziness, ignorance…This is more of a flick in the earlobe; A reminder to not be so damn complacent.

I also can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to your body. My husband was on the phone with 911 within 15 minutes of the onset of my symptoms. You don’t have to be sure. You just have to act. Let the doctors worry about being sure.

CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

(I am disappointed in the interwebz for not having a sound bite of MadEye Moody for me to insert right here. So disappointed.)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Zombie Babies



I made the mistake of going out in public alone with two children. I thought it would be fun to take my 8 year old niece and my 3 year old son to the Halloween store. We’d get out of the house, laugh at monsters, she’d get a goodie and my kid would finally get his costume. I can conveniently blame my stroke for the fact I can’t create a homemade costume for my son, but the truth is I wasn’t terribly crafty pre-stroke either. I also have a black belt in procrastination. Last year he was happy to run up and down the aisles, screeching and giggling past the zombies and werewolves. I figured this year would be the same, which is why I knew I couldn’t take him alone. So you see, enlisting the help of an 8 year old kid is pure genius on my part!

Not.

My niece is an awesome kid. If I ask her for help, she helps. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that we were in public…with a toddler. Toddlers are unpredictable. It’s easy to kid yourself into thinking that two identical scenarios will play out the same way. A year is an eternity, yet I was somehow convinced he’d be squealing with joy like last year. My son proudly held my niece’s hand, much like a stalker whose prey just smiled at them at a book signing, and stepped into the store. We were greeted by a crowd of zombie babies. I saw my son’s face go from glee to “what the ever loving fuck!” He let go of my niece’s hand and tried to scurry up my leg like a rabid monkey. 

We laughed and pointed at the zombie babies to show him that they’re fake and really quite funny. He smiled but would not let me put him down. Here I am, disabled mom with two kids and an agenda, and I can’t take a step because I’m not sure my body can. Oh yeah, I was also holding my cane. My left hand is the only one that can use my cane, as my right side is too weak and uncoordinated. My left arm is also the only one that can hold my son. Great. Fantastic. 

Halloween 2010. OK so he's seen those babies before. Clearly he loved them the 1st time.

I did what any mom would do. I handed my cane to my niece, tucked both my arms under my son’s butt in a tight embrace, and waddled with him over to the toddler section. I’ll be damned if I was going to get all the way to the store and not check out the costumes.

I was afraid my arms would fall off, or worse that I would fall, so I had to put him down. That lasted about 10 seconds. The teenagers in the store weren’t helping, running around with bloody masks and hitting the buttons on every screaming, freaky ghoulish noise-making prop in the place. The vision I had of giggles, costumes and tasty treats quickly faded into reality. Well not faded, more like popped me in the face revealing the truth of what we were: a very bored tween who was perfectly happy draped over my couch watching the Disney channel before her crippled aunt opened her big mouth about how fun the Halloween store would be; a scared shitless toddler who was frightened into suddenly forgetting how to walk and wondering who’s sick idea this was (oh yeah, it was mommy’s); and an extremely frustrated, out-of-breath mom who’s kicking herself for being so stupid and also quite pissed off at the shitty selection of costumes for little boys. I mean seriously! No wonder my boy begged us to just let him be Veruca Salt. Girls have all the cool dress-up shit.

I think we lasted about 15 minutes in the store. When we got home, I let them eat whatever junk food they wanted and ordered my son a costume online. Sucky McSuckerson, that’s my name! Disappointing children is my game!

Another pic not taken that day. It's not the first time they've been given sugar as a consolation.

This is usually the part where I share what this experience taught me. I wish I could. But you see, I didn’t learn shit that I didn’t already know. I know I can’t go in public with my kid without another adult. It sucks. It totally fucking sucks. I suppose it’s good that I tried. I have to be reminded sometimes of my limitations. I’ve been so empowered by the things I’ve overcome that I sometimes forget there are things that I won’t. I am not a pessimist. I’m a realist. And when the line between the two becomes too blurry, you need to put yourself out there until the line becomes clear again. Holy crap. I think I just discovered that disappointment can be healthy. Tada! There you go. That’s what I learned.