One Fine Day
From following the various Facebook groups that I’m a member of, one of the recurring themes amongst new survivors is along the lines of, “How long will it be before I’m better?”.
It’s a very natural question, and one that I asked four years ago when I had my brain attack. I’d heard of stroke but had no idea what it was. I didn’t know it was a injury to the brain. I didn’t know, therefore, that survivors will have brain damage and disabilities (like memory problems, speech problems, paralysis and mobility issues). In not appreciating that it is a brain injury, I also didn’t know that it can also cause emotional problems (like depression and anxiety). So, the “when-will-I-be-better” question is quite common, and quite natural.
The truthful, brutal answer to this question is – nobody knows. A quick internet search reveals the following statistics about brain attacks:
10% of people recover almost completely (Note the use of the word ‘almost’)
25% of people recover with minor impairments
40% of people have moderate/severe impairments
10% of people require care in a nursing/care home
15% of people die
So, we have a 10% chance of being in the “almost complete recovery” category (again, I must really emphasis the word 'almost'). So, the likelihood of being ‘better’ (i.e. back to what you were pre-brain attack) is very slim. Myself, I’m with the majority, in the 40%.
In his book “Stronger After Stroke”, Peter Levine says that “Recovery begins at the end of your comfort zone”. If you are a new survivor, I strongly suggest you read this book and commit the quote to memory. It means if you stay in your comfort zone, that is where you will stay. To get the best recovery you can, you have to keep pushing yourself, day after day after day, expanding your comfort zone. Because only by expanding your comfort zone, will you start to recover. And recovery begins at the end of your comfort zone. So, when you reach the edge of your comfort zone, that’s when your recovery starts. Geddit??
Just so we are very clear:
There are no shortcuts.
There are no easy solutions.
There are no magic pills.
It is just plain hard work. Physically and mentally. You have to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. For two reasons.
One, you have an injured brain, your brain is damaged (all of us survivors have damaged brains, affecting us in different ways). Unlike the other major organs of your body, the brain cannot be transplanted so you need to create new neural pathways, new neural connections. This makes your brain work harder than it ever has before. It takes time and there are no guarantees. How much better you will get will depend on how much brain damage you have and where precisely it is. (Well, there is one guarantee, actually. I guarantee you that if you don’t commit 100% to your recovery each and every day for months, years, maybe the rest of your life, then you won’t get any better. I guarantee that. Sorry for being blunt but it’s the truth).
And two, because of your new brain injury, your very being, your every fibre, has to work so much harder to do anything, so even simple tasks require much more energy than before. So, recovery is hard work, but it’s made even harder by the fact that you have an ABI (Acquired Brain Injury). I am now four years on from my brain attack, and I can now have a shower without having to take to my bed to lie down for an hour or so afterwards. Mostly. Occasionally, on one of my ‘Zombie Days’ (as I like to call them), I will need to lie down after showering. But, generally, I can manage to get dressed (another energy sapping experience) after a shower but then I will need to sit down for 30 to 60 minutes to recover. In other words, it has taken me four years to be able to shower without feeling completely exhausted. I just feel tired now. Mostly.
So, this is the magnitude of what we’re talking about (and I’m fortunate compared to many). You will need to dig deep. Very deep. Again and again. You will need to fight. You will need to be stubborn. Obstinate. Determined. Bloody minded. Strong mentally as well as physically.
It is a daily battle and you will not be defeated, will you?
Until next time,
“What seemed so simple is still so far away”.