Ten years ago I was a student at The University of Texas at Austin. I was thriving academically, happy, healthy and an avid runner. Needless to say life was wonderful. Little did I know my existence was about to take an unexpected turn that would change my life forever. One night I was out with friends when the symptoms began. I was trying to type a text message but having great difficulty, started feel off balance and then a knife of a headache hit me. I went home thinking I just needed some sleep. The next morning things hadn’t gotten any better. I attempted to go to class and as I took my pen to the paper I began writing diagonally. This was when it clicked that something was really wrong. I didn’t have a clue though what it could be nor could I have imagined what it actually was. My roommate took me to the emergency room where I was diagnosed with a migraine and surprisingly tests weren’t taken. I required supervision and luckily my parents lived in the same city. Over the next couple of days I only began to get worse and the headache wasn’t subsiding. My general practitioner sent me in for an MRI where they found the bleed in my brain. I was immediately admitted to the hospital and had lost the ability to read, write and walk. Upon being admitted I was told I was experiencing a hemorrhagic stroke.
I hadn’t even heard of a hemorrhagic stroke. What is going to happen? I’m only 21 so how could this be happening? In general what is happening? Am I going to make it through this? Why me? These were just some of the questions that were flying through my mind yet I wasn’t able to grasp since I was incapable of gathering the racing thoughts. Extreme anxiety began to wash over me. I could feel the fear and worry start to take hold. Intense anxiety and panic attacks are something I would deal with and have to learn to manage for many years. I was taken up to my room where things started to sink in more and become ‘real’. Besides random trips in my wheelchair around the hospital, or attending therapy, that bed would be my little safe place to begin the healing process. While in the hospital I began speech, occupational and physical rehabilitation. During therapy I was aware that I knew how to do what my therapists were asking but I couldn’t get my mind to connect the dots. I knew that I knew how to walk, even run, but I couldn’t get my mind to make my legs move properly. Looking at the words in a book I once again knew I knew how to read but I just plain and simple couldn’t read. This caused frustration and at times even doubt of whether I would be able to return to the life I once knew. I was in constant and extreme pain that was only relieved from strong painkillers, physically weak and exhausted like I had never experienced. However, a voice within me kept speaking to keep moving forward.
Then something rather interesting began to happen. The bleed took place in the left hemisphere of my brain affecting my analytical side making mundane tasks like counting coins near impossible. As a result, the right side of my brain, the creative side, took over almost in overdrive mode. While in the hospital I began to have ideas of clothing designs and my creativity spiked. My occupational therapist decided to take advantage of this and gave me a project using my newly developed creativity. They had me work on my eye hand coordination, analytical skills and more by learning how to sew. At that time what seemed like simple tasks (such as bathing myself and blow drying my hair) I wasn’t capable of doing. Learning to sew was quite a process but slowly and surely helped me fine tune the skills I needed to once again do simple tasks. I decided to make a dress I could wear to my college football games. I was determined to walk again and live an independent life. The dress was a visual representation of me getting back to my “normal” life as well of a visual representation of me being a fighter and a stroke survivor. I made the conscious decision that I wasn’t going to be a victim. My dad took me to the first football game I could attend where I wore my dress with pride and I internally saw it as proof that I was moving forward. I wasn’t going to let the stroke win. During the football game people kept stopping and asking me where I got my dress. I was flattered and thought maybe I could make more. Making the dresses wasn’t easy, each dress was a challenge, but with the help and support of others, I made it happen. I sold several dresses and a local store even picked them up. My dresses weren’t a big business but they were an incredibly special endeavor to me that illustrated progress and resilience.
The dresses are still imprinted within me. When I was in that hospital bed, even though we didn’t know the cause of the stroke, I knew I was meant to do something big and influential with my experience and in time it would be revealed. The dresses showed me an entrepreneurial spirit to create things that bring other people joy. To this day I still strive to do this. It is what helps me stay focused on being a survivor and not a victim. Even if one project doesn’t work, I refuse to be defeated, just like I still refuse to let the stroke defeat me. Instead I seek out that little spark that revealed itself during my recovery. The stroke taught me that life is not only fragile but an extraordinary blessing. We should live every moment to our utmost capability. That we should honor what little fire is within us and when fear starts to creep in do our hardest to fight it with complete faith in ourselves. It took me several years to gain my cognition completely back and for the pain to subside. I still have a seizure disorder from the stroke that requires me to be on medications for most likely the rest of my life. I’m beyond blessed that’s all I have today. I’m now married to a wonderful man, have a healthy and happy little boy and living my life day by day. I had always wanted a family and had fear that with my medical history it would be too difficult for me. However with the support of family and a wonderful team of doctors my ‘high risk pregnancy’ went smoothly and my son was born completely healthy. He’s a daily reminder of the miracle of life. I want to share my story to let others know they aren’t alone and perhaps inspire them to move forward, have faith in themselves, challenge themselves and know that the life they want to lead is possible. Through dedication, hard work, acceptance of the ups and downs and patience they too can be a survivor.
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