22 October 2012

Life after a stroke: finding a new voice

My speech will never return and my body will never look like those in the glossy magazines, but I can work to make it as strong as possible, writes Lesley Potgieter.


My speech will never return and my body will never look like those in the glossy magazines, but I can work to make it as strong as possible, writes Lesley Potgieter. Here's her story:

It’s been three years since my stroke and when I look back and reflect what has changed and remained the same, this is what I discovered.

Perhaps the biggest change for me has been my willingness to accept the circumstances. I remember for the first six months after my stroke I tried desperately and unsuccessfully, I might add, to be the person I was before.

Unfortunately, I would never be able to change people’s perceptions but I could change how I allowed them to influence and impact on me. I  made the decision not to try be defined by others' misconceptions; and by allowing myself this, I have felt a huge sense of relief and freedom. Admittedly, this is not always easy as it is a natural instinct to want to feel accepted. I could control how I chose to respond to them.

I cannot be responsible for others' inability to handle situations and it is not a reflection of myself.

I hesitate to say I have lowered my expectations - I would rather like to think I have changed the yardstick and made my goals more realistic. Where before I expected to swim 20 lengths of the gym pool, I have learnt that if on a good day I manage five, I can still be proud of the accomplishment.

Clouded in darkness

For a long period of time I felt myself clouded in darkness, ashamed of what had happened to me while struggling to accept it at the same time.

But slowly as I learned to accept this new version of myself, I have begun to open the door and (as clichéd as this may sound) invite new people into my life. Ones that had no knowledge of the previous person that I was, and who were simply willing to be friends with the person before them. This unexpected gift has allowed me to open myself up to other avenues that previously I would never have ventured to, and to them I am grateful along with it, new and valued friendships.

I am forever indebted to my family. It is never lost on me the huge sacrifice and toll the stroke has taken, and the impact it has made. While I am still touch-sensitive, we have learnt to find our own rhythm - one that few understand. I still long for a warm embrace from my family and the super power strength not to feel exhausted after attempting to communicate. I know that our bond as a unit has grown ever stronger .While my stroke had the potential to divide us, we have not allowed it to define us. (Instead, it has strengthened the unique bond that lies within all family units.)

There are some harsh truths I have had to face. My speech will never return. My body will never look like those in the glossy covers of magazine stands but I can work to make it as strong as I possibly can and be proud of the image I see reflecting back at me.

Unique experience

Strokes affect people differently and each survivor feels the affects uniquely to their set of circumstances.

I am reminded of this, as I page through support groups and comment on remarks, that there is always someone in a worse situation than my own, that I was once where they are now and that I am never truly alone and, should I falter I have refuge.

In the beginning when I embarked on this journey I was still waiting to find my voice like a nightingale. Now three years later I am learning to listen - like an old friend, it sighs. Before, I was uncertain of who I was. I now stand firm in my beliefs. I know who I am.

My stroke has given me this gift. While the stroke took many things it has allowed me to be grateful too. There will always be those who fill the air with constant chatter. Whereas before I still waited to hear mine, it now whispers softly reminding me that it is still there, waiting for me to make it louder.

- Written by Lesley Potgieter. Lesley writes stories for children. Visit her website

- (Health24, October 2012)

Read more:

Silence and the gift of speech
Life after a stroke
Early intervention can save stroke victim


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