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On the move
"I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree...."
William Butler Yeats
5.1 ....even when the darkest clouds are in the sky....
There did not seem to be a lot of progress, boredom was the main enemy, an uncomfortable chair was the only escape from bed each day, I could only read for short periods, could never find anybody to take me to the recreation room to watch TV, the five inch TV we bought for the Derby horserace was a life saver, using earphones, I could watch it in bed. This only revealed how truly abysmal daytime TV is. On a bad day an episode of Call My Bluff could seem to last for at least eighteen hours and a dodgy edition of Richard & Judy (a husband and wife talkshow) was like Chinese water torture. At this time various whitecoats started to hover around for a few moments wittering about depression. I was not depressed but one day Teri remarked to a nurse "he is starting to seem a bit down." Prozac was prescribed straight away. It probably could not have done much harm but on top of all the other drugs seemed a little superfluous. Medical professions have a fixation on depression. Nobody must ever be down and if you are not constantly grinning inanely the prescription pad comes out. This ignores the human condition which causes some of us to be irritatingly happy all the time (happiness is especially irritating before ten a.m. and should be illegal until after morning coffee) some to be quiet and introspective and some to be predisposed towards melancholy. A healthy individual should experience all of these states sometimes. A PROZAC world would have us all bouncing around singing "Agadoo" or another of those awful, jolly holiday songs eternally. Now that is a truly depressing thought.
To go into detail about the physical problems of the early period would not be appropriate, anyone who has ever recovered from a stroke has their own experience of the physical shock and as the medical stuff is beyond me perhaps it is safer to stick to emotional matters here.
Everybody will recommend being positive, keeping a positive attitude, and being cheerful. That is good advice and well meant but it is too simple. What do we mean by "being positive." We could say that door to door salesmen greeting us with their fixed smiles as they pitch double glazing or Insurance policies are positive. They never seem to acknowledge the possibility of failure, pick themselves up after hundreds of rebuffs and carry on always simling, enthusing. Positive, or desperate? To me, being positive is a much more complex thing, a quiet acceptance of the reality of one’s situation, deciding on a course of action and seeing it through. That is much more difficult to achieve than just presenting a happy face to the world. Bad days are a fact of life, we have to face up to them. As human beings we have a range of emotions and should not be afraid of any.
Accepting one’s disabilities and refusing to let them become the defining factor in life is one way of being positive. We should think of what we can do rather than what we cannot. My own approach, slugging it out with the physical problems is the high risk option. But then, I always thought that life is a high risk option but the only one we have.
5.2 ....you mustn’t sigh and you must not cry....
Another overused word in the lexicon of stroke recovery is "despair." I remember being told "you will feel utter despair." A writer on the subject spoke of "waves of despair." I hate that. Words have a power of their own and there are some we should try to cling to and some we should avoid. In the USA a new profession has emerged recently, motivational speaking. These speakers, who are hired by corporations have studied the effect of words. They use powerful, energizing words. ‘Succeed,’ ‘Win,’ ‘Achieve,’ ‘Team,’ ‘Goal,’ etc." If we work as a team we will certainly succeed in achieving our goal of helping you recover. There, don’t you feel better already? Well, maybe not, that is after all a bit over simplified. One thing you should have noticed, whatever your problems if you have any, I have put myself on your team and so taken some of the responsibility from you. People do succeed in isolation but it is much harder. There are in fact lots of us out here who are on your side. We’ll never meet, probably not even know your name but we’re pulling for you all the same. Do not be afraid to ask for help, a support group or care worker, a relative or friend, somebody will care. Be positive in a subdued way. Never mind that false cheerfulness the world expects, if you feel quiet and reflective, in need of some time to yourself that is fine. But while you are there, think of what you can do rather than what you cannot. Think about who you really are and the person you want to be for the rest of your life. We fall too easily into living the life and doing the things expected of us. DIFFERENT STROKES, a U.K. support group publish on their web site a number of short biographical items from members. Many remarkable experiences are related there but one think that strikes me is the frequency with which people say that once over the initial shock of a stroke they feel in a bizarre way privileged to have been forced to reassess their lives and discover what is really important to them. How do I feel? Just look back at the title of this book.
Despair, like anger is a word that can, once planted in the mind take hold and spread like a virus. To immunise yourself just look in the dictionary. Despair - loss of hope, to be totally without hope. That must be quite difficult to achieve. We always have hope. I can acknowledge feeling pretty down sometimes, one is bound to, but in each case I managed to pick myself up and find something to smile about, even if it was only the Teletubbies. Actually one of my most vivid early memories is of the way a childrens’ Television Programme lifted me. It was a weekend morning and I was awake very early, about six or six thirty maybe. Putting on my earphones ( the hospital PA system broadcast the soundtracks of the terrestrial T.V. channels so that insomniacs with their own set could turn down the volume and listen through the earphones without disturbing other people) I switched on and flicked through the channels. Three of them were showing abysmal Japanese cartoons (Powermorph Ninja Sausages or something) but the last gave me a picture of some children singing and mucking about. It looked like a Disney sort of thing. The kids were performing songs about brushing their teeth and doing homework but the lead singer, a girl of about twelve or thirteen (who might have grown up to be Britney Spears) had such an infectiously happy voice that I could not bear to turn off. ME! My favourite artists are Leonard Cohen and Tom Waites. I had been having a really bad time for a couple of days, the inactivity and lack of progress were wearing on me and I wanted something to lift me out of that. Remember, no matter how down you feel, there are always good things to be found sometimes in very unexpected places. Despair is really too strong a word to use for an emotion so insubstantial that a bunch of kids singing a silly song can blast it to oblivion.
5.3 ...it must be an angel...
Amid this mess of conflicting signs and emotions it began to seem unlikely I would ever have my life back. Nothing much was happening and the surge of recovery so often mentioned began to seem like an illusion. Then one day, out of the blue, my faith healer walked into the ward as I was lying counting the ceiling tiles for the millionth time. A tall, beautiful blonde figure came and stood at the end of the bed, bathed in sunlight that poured like molten gold through the tall window. "Is it an angel or is it Julian Clary?" I thought. The figure spoke. "Hi, my name’s Kathy. I'd like you to answer a few questions to help us decide if a spell in rehabilitation will be right for you. Do you feel like doing that now?"
At once I knew it was an angel. Julian Clary does not have a Lancashire accent.
Kathy was Senior Sister in charge of the rehabilitation unit's nursing team and the first medical professional who was not terribly, gushingly sympathetic about the simply terribly awful thing that had happened to me. She was sympathetic in a practical sort of way, as if saying "you’ve had a very bad experience and it left you in a mess, so there is no point in pussyfooting around; let’s decide what needs to be done about it." To a problem solver it was the right approach, if I was going to carry off my "hey, I’ve had a stroke, no problem act (it was an act) being surrounded by people who behaved as if it was a very big problem could be helping. We liked each other straight away and even managed a few jokes, mine feeble, hers gentle, while working our way through the questions. This was my first evidence of the "surge of recovery" I had heard so much about. In six weeks I had progressed from flirting with death to flirting with nurses. The possibility of not walking again was hard enough to cope with but the possibility of not being able to flirt would be unbearable.
That first conversation with Kathy did not last long because at the time I was still not very responsive though not quite monosyllabic. It was difficult to converse with a stranger but the thought of being transferred and the confidence my visitor had shown that rehab. could "do something" for me was a big boost. If nothing else there would at least be a different set of ceiling tiles to count!
I learned later that before progressing in her profession to a level which required a certain decorum Kathy had had a motor bike. The angel bit had been right then, just not the sort of angel I’d thought.
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