Saturday, 19 December 2015

A stroke survivor's Christmas

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas but I hate now how the countdown seems to begin earlier and earlier every year; even before Halloween you see Christmas adverts on TV.
I know that I probably sound like a right Scrooge but seriously, sometimes all the fancy lights and special gifts isn't what it's all about.

Back in 2012 I wasn't allowed home, my first (and last hopefully!) Christmas spent in hospital. And to tell you the truth, it was rubbish. The nurses can only do so much; the unit was decorated all festive and on Christmas morning, they even played Christmas music for us but.. there was no escaping the rigid daily routine; breakfast at 8am then shower time at 8:30 and out in my wheelchair for the day ahead. No waking up and coming downstairs in pyjamas and sitting on the floor opening the pile of presents before me. Not being able to see the look on my parents' faces when they unwrapped their present I had thought so carefully about. No turkey dinner. No crackers with bad, cringey jokes inside. No tradition. Nothing was the same.

My family arrived at 10 that morning, bag full of presents for me.
'Happy Christmas Bet!' Oh no, here come the tears...
Before I could attempt to reply, I burst into a crying, snotty mess. They're attempt at being merry only made me realise that they're were trying to cover up the fact that I was in here. And the fact that I had experienced, what can only be described as, the worst thing to ever happen to me.
Mind you, I had been dressed in the right attire for the occasion:

After 10 minutes of sobbing, I quickly cheered up and set my mind on trying to open the huge pile of presents on my bed, with one hand.
I had just been upgraded to a soft diet only, so in a flask my parents had brought some baby carrots, roast chicken and some gravy (suitably thickened for my still-impaired swallow). Even that small bit of lunch was glorious; way better than what had been served to me from the hospital!
After watching Christmas movies on the TV for the rest of the afternoon, my family left at 9pm. Nurses came and said goodnight but apart from that the unit fell silent. I lay in bed exhausted and fell asleep to the memory of my day.

So you see, I don't feel that Christmas is all about the fancy gifts. As long as you have your health and most importantly, your family, nothing else really matters. I know that sounds cliche but really, that's all I wished I had back in 2012.
New Year was the same; instead of watching the firework display with my parents, I was now tucked up in bed at 8pm feeling sorry for myself.
I had to come to terms with a new, very different version of myself. I was entering 2013 completely different to how I'd imagined; I still wasn't able to walk properly, use my left hand, talk or eat that well. The future scared me and I didn't know what it would have in store...

This will be my last blog post of this year so I'm going to combine this post with new year's as well.
2015 has been a better year than the last three but has still been a mixture of highs and lows. I think I've gotten used to the idea that now, my life will not ever be plain-sailing as I'd want but that's okay. I'm on a journey and I still haven't reached my destination yet. I'm bound to come across some stumbling blocks.
But here's why my 2015 wasn't so bad after all:

 I got my first car...

And passed my test.. first time!

I started college...

 I won a YOPEY award...

 And formed this blog as a result!

 Then received another award..!

If you think your year hasn't gone so well, take some time and look back on what has; there's something I'm sure.

To all my followers/readers of this blog, have a wonderful Christmas and I wish you all the very best for what you want to achieve in the year ahead :) Remember, us stroke survivors are all on a journey, it may be hard at times but you can do it for sure, don't give up until you're where you want to be.

I'll see you all in 2016! :)

Saturday, 5 December 2015

You can't turn back time

What's happened has happened, you can't turn back time, no matter how hard you wish.

All the while, laying in bed on the Acute Stroke Ward at Addenbrooks' Hospital, just thinking 'Why me?' I stared at all the pictures of my friends and family on the wall in front of me, constantly crying and just wishing I could go back to the fun-loving 17 year-old that I was. Back to normality.
Just seeing my name on medical documents sent me into a frenzy, 'my name isn't meant to be there..?' This just doesn't happen to anyone in my family. This doesn't happen to me. Up until now I had never been in hospital for anything. Never broken a bone, never suffered anything so serious.

I was the only 17 year-old on that ward. Not that I could move about or speak to anyone, I couldn't make friends with people anyway because our ages were so different. That was another reason for moving me to the Regional Rehab Unit in Northwick Park, at least there I would be with people of similar age, they said. I remember meeting 2 or 3 young people on that ward, stories all so tragic and heartbreaking but so inspiring to see how despite, what had happened, they remained so cheerful.

I accepted very early on that I'd had a stroke. Although I find it hard to comprehend sometimes that something so severe happened to me, never do I wish that it had never happened. I'm not saying that I'm thankful for it, no way, that's crazy! But basically it has set me on a path; I now know what I want in life. Apart from the typical things like love, good friends etc I now know what I want to do; help other brain injured people. Helping those who are going through what I've been through would honestly be the most rewarding thing. Knowing that I'm helping them go through what will be the hardest time of their lives would be invaluable to me.
Getting messages now from fellow stroke survivors is just the loveliest thing; I can't quite explain how amazing it is to know that I'm inspiring others. I always get so emotional too, I think to myself 'are they really on about me?'

My life took an unexpected turn and the past 3 (coming up to 4) years have been crazy, to say the least. I've experienced both highs and lows that I'll admit, have been hard to handle at times. I have days where I get overwhelmed with the things that I now have to deal with, I can spend all day curled up in my room feeling crappy. Not once though do I ever blame the stroke itself, I honestly cannot.
But 9 times out of 10 I'm very happy and cheerful! :)
I have met some truly incredible people along my journey and you have all made my recovery so much easier.
My neurophysiotherapist, Haley Mersh, MUST get a mention. You are amazing; since coming to you, I have improved continuously, despite being told my recovery would stop. You always surprise me with what techniques you've come up with to help my rehab, every session is different. You are only ever a WhatsApp message away and I love how I always message you when I notice even the slightest of improvements in myself and you will always message back with multiple emoji's to show your delight!
I always look forward to sessions with you because I know we'll have a good old laugh!

Bev Creagh, my friend for life. Not only have you followed my story for nearly 2 years but have always been there for me; all I have to do is send you a quick email. You've taken me where I've wanted to go if my parents haven't been able to and you've highlighted possibly every aspect of my story/recovery in the newspaper, helping me raise awareness.
And of course, you nominated me for the Young Person Of The Year award this year.

Kate Allatt, I've only met you once in person but you have inspired me from the very day I found out about your charity 2 years ago.
When I met you, I felt an underlying connection, I think both our stories are just so similar. I don't think I've ever cried so much as when I read your book!
What you've achieved since your stroke and what you continue to achieve inspires me so much; one day I hope to write a book and give speeches around the country about my story too. I am in awe of you!

Daisy Hythe-Clayton, you are an absolute star! Every time I see you, it's always so lovely and we have such a laugh! You've enabled me to share my story in the media many times, which I am so thankful for. You helped me with ideas for this blog; it was a great 2 hours spent in the pub!

Lizzie Ashmore, Angharad Lloyd-Thomas & Lauren Bradfield, you have all been invaluable! After my stroke I felt like the only young person to experience this, I felt so isolated. But meeting you guys has enabled me to feel normal again, messaging you lot and sharing my story or just talking to you about 'normal' stuff, has made me feel like the young girl that I am. Thank you!

Vicky Pickford, Dora Asalon, Krishna Pindolia, it's an absolute pleasure talking to you guys. Vicky, you always give me such great support in anything I do, we share knowledge and understanding and I know I can message you when I have an issue I want help with! I will definitely come up and see you & Paul in 2016!
Dora, it's so nice to just have someone to talk to, especially going through hard times. I so hope we can meet before Christmas :)
Krishna, you always give such positive feedback on my blogs! Your story inspires me, even 10 years on, you're still achieving great things! It's amazing to see where you was after your stroke, to now; it's definitely giving me hope.

I haven't forgotten people; everyone I've met on Facebook, stroke survivors or not, thank you!
Receiving messages from you lot means so much to me, I don't know how many times people I don't personally know have contacted me but it's means the world to know that I'm reaching out to you in someway or another.

I love you all!
:) :)

Thursday, 3 December 2015

You can do a lot with one hand

Yes, at first only having one good arm was a bit hard to adjust to. Up until the 16th September 2012, I could do anything I wanted; plait my own hair, paint my nails, pick up my dog...
And then at 1am that morning, that ability went. I had neither arm, both were paralysed.

It's pretty devastating to suddenly have to rely upon someone else to do such basic tasks for me. I was 17 years old, I was meant to becoming independent, not regressing to a baby-like stage where everything was done for me. It's knowing that you physically can't do that anymore that hurts the most.
Nurses would brush my teeth for me, shower me, dress me, even shave my legs for me. My mum became my own personal assistant; she always kept my nails painted and she even used to squeeze my spots for me. That's love, right there.
My prognosis was that I'd maybe end up applying only moisturiser on my face with my right arm and help from someone else.
Not the independence I was hoping for. I was crushed.

Thankfully though, my right arm returned to full function after 2 months. But the help didn't stop there. Having just one useable arm can present so many problems too: what about doing my bra up? How do I tie my shoelaces?
Luckily I learnt from my occupational therapist how to do this, and final little tasks. I was all set for home.

*To put your bra on: do it up first then put it on like a t-shirt
*To tie your shoelaces: wear shoes that don't have any!

I can't tell you everything that I do day-to-day with one hand; I just do it, it's natural to me. Ok my left arm doesn't work how I want it to but it's still attached to my body, I still use it. It's how I hold my bread down to butter it, it's how I untangle my earphones, carry clothes to the bathroom or wash my right arm...
There is so much you can do with one hand/arm; I actually challenge you (if you want to try it) to use only one hand/arm for the whole day. I'll be honest, everything will take longer and you'll probably just end up using both arms anyway to save time, but just think about those people that can't, they have to do it the long way, always.

Top tip: If you really can't do something, hold things with your knees or teeth, trust me it's a total life saver.

My left arm may never come back 100%, my brain may never reconnect fully but I'm trying all I can, everyday I try to do at least one thing with my hand/arm. It's hard on somedays, college takes up a lot of my time now so it's hard to fit in time for therapy.
I shouldn't look on to the fact that it may never move the way I want again but hey, if it doesn't it's not the end of the world. Remember, there's a lot you can do with only one hand.