Last Saturday marked 4 years since Finn had his stroke. It seems like a lifetime ago but also as though it was just yesterday. So much has happened since then and we’re both very different people than we were back then.
I do miss elements of our old lives. I miss feeling more (but not completely) carefree. I miss the ease of our conversations, I miss our early morning gym sessions (never thought I’d say that) and I miss associating hospitals with work and not trauma! Most of all though I miss hearing Finn’s old voice. The one filled with confidence and an accent so mixed up that noone could ever guess where it was from. Some people might say he sounds the same as before but to me he doesn’t. The memory is fading, it can only be glimpsed via one of a couple of videos from our past. I wish I had more.
Reflecting on the past 4 years I think its amazing how far we’ve both come. Finn has worked incredibly hard to regain his speech and he never, ever gives up. When frustration kicks in or he starts to feel defeated then I step in as his cheerleader. I remind him to celebrate improvements no matter how small. We look back at how his speech was in the beginning or a year ago and remember that progress is slow but steady. I applaud him for braving new things and even when he might fail I remind him to celebrate the fact that he tried. It takes confidence and courage to attempt something you’ve never done before and that’s without factoring in a stroke.
For myself I’ve found that this whole experience has instilled a new sense of self. Despite losing self-confidence and feeling hopeless, I’ve come out the other side stronger than ever and with a belief that I have the tools I need to be resilient. I am much more independent. I can no longer shy away from tasks that I used to avoid because there is often only myself that can do them. Most importantly I’ve learnt that happiness is a choice. It is not something that any other person can give me, nor is it something I can buy. If I choose to be happy and act accordingly then that is what I will be. That is not to say that I will be happy every day. I’m human therefore my mood will fluctuate and obstacles will arise to test me. I can choose to let them get the best of me or I can opt to deal with those events or feelings in a healthy way and work my way back to my happy place.
Over the last four years I’ve developed several tools to help keep me on track. I thought I would share them in case anyone is interested or searching for self care ideas. Feel free to stop here if you’re not!!
Firstly there’s the obvious ones: diet, exercise and meditation. For me that’s eating a balanced diet and cutting out processed foods where possible. But I don’t go overboard and if I want to indulge I will. Exercise wise I love yoga these days but I used to love weight lifting way back when. So I think it’s a matter of what fits my lifestyle best. Finally, I don’t meditate every day but I try and remember to do so as often as possible. I find that these days I am much more aware of my breath and when I feel upset or angry I’m more likely to take a step back and focus on my breathing. Positive affirmations are a great way to retrain your mind and fight off those negative thoughts.
I find that setting tasks for the day, no matter how small, helps me when depression hits and motivation leaves me. This was the first part of my CBT therapy and feeling accountable for actually performing those tasks helped me to make sure they actually got done. Although it’s probably important to note that there is absolutely no judgement in CBT for not being able to complete those tasks. Its just important that you forgive yourself and try again tomorrow. Be kind to yourself, its OK to not feel OK.
Journalling is a big part of my life now. I keep a fairly artsy journal which helps in several ways. Firstly, it’s a creative outlet and drawing provides a mindful activity every now and then. I create mood and activity trackers which allow me to notice themes of when my mood peaks or dips and also give me a way of holding myself to account to make sure I’m doing the things that will make me feel good. It also gives me a safe space to get any negative thoughts out of my head so they don’t have to clog up my thinking any longer. Often seeing a thought or feeling written down will help me to question the validity of that thought and the next time it pops up I dont have to let it overwhelm me.
Finally, reading is a great activity that helps to clear my mind. I find if I watch TV it often doesn’t quell the stream of negative thoughts and I end up rewinding a programme several times as I just can’t concentrate. On the other hand, a book seems to draw my focus and take me out of my own head for a little while. A good book does anyway! A good book in a nice hot bath is even better…