Seven months out from my stroke. The predictions of medical folks back in August 2021 seem very realistic. Most days I feel like me. Hiking, tennis, eating out, planning traveling, seeing friends, planning visits, driving, cooking, making lists, reading, writing. I have a sense of adventure to try new things. I can do them — and just a little bit longer, and go a bit farther without extreme fatigue.
There are still some “glitches.” Usually I can figuratively look at them and say, “Ah, there you are.” Some of those growing brain cells are either taking a coffee break, out at the training session, or sleeping in their little brain hammocks. Easy does it, Ethel. It’s spring. It’s beautiful here in Tucson.
The 7th Inning Stretch
The other day there was an ad on TV for tickets to baseball spring training up in Goodyear Arizona. I remember my Dad was a baseball fan. I don’t know if he ever got to a game in person. But he and my older sister would watch on tv — she avidly getting into the runs, hits, and errors. The numbers were confusing to me even then. But when the 7th inning came-that caught my attention. After the top of the 7th, all the people sitting in bleachers would stand up, take a break, stretch their arms and legs, maybe walk around, get a drink, then sit, and the game resumed. It was the 7th inning stretch, a baseball tradition dating back to the 1860’s.
That’s it. I’m in my 7th Inning Stretch. I’m 7 months post-stroke. I do daily language and memory exercises, physical balance, aerobic, and stamina workouts. I’m devouring books about the brain and brain injuries. It’s tiring. I need time to stretch and relax. Yoga, getting my body and feet out on the earth, listening to Deva Premal, or a Thich Nhat Hanh CD, taking a nap, meditating are ways I relax.
A Different Kind of Stretch
When I resume my brain recovery work, I also stretch in other ways. I did 100 ab exercises yesterday; do 150 today. Do more than you think you can. Make phone calls; make those repeated phone calls to get insurance information. Write it down. Don’t give up.
Sometimes it’s a stretch. A stretch emotionally to deal with surprises. A stretch mentally to learn new strategies to deal with the confusion that comes with loud noises, more than one conversation in a group, or changes in plans. A stretch physically. “Use it or lose it” has kept me exercising regularly for years. What I’ve added to that is “Use it and improve it.” 100’s, 1000’s of repetitions help me remember how to make coffee, or make a quiche easily without a lots of gaps of remembering. Working out strengthens me physically.
Strategies for Awareness, Surprises, Confidence
Training strategies for awareness- I slow down my pace of speaking and walking. Pause before entering a room. Where’s the quietest table to sit? Where’s the restroom? Pausing before speaking sometimes means the conversation has progressed to the next topic. If it seems important to respond, I feel comfortable saying, “I need to go back to the thing about Italy/or salad/or exercise.”
A strategy from my speech language pathologist helps ground me if I have a surprise change in plans or get overwhelmed by a sudden noise, or sounds around me. Use the five senses. Go somewhere by yourself – a hallway, outside, the restroom, your car. Sit if possible. Think of 5 things you can see. Say them out loud. 4 things you feel/are touching. Say them out loud. 3 things you can hear. 2 things you smell and 1 thing you can taste (may not be applicable). It works. I usually feel more grounded, less shaky.
There’s a scene in Legally Blonde where the law professor asks a question. The always-prepared student’s hand shoots up. She calls on him. He answers in a strong, factual voice.
She pauses and looks at him. “Are you sure?”
It’s a huge lecture hall filled with students.
He replies, “Yes?” But there’s that self-questioning in his voice.
She tilts her head and moves closer to him. “Would you stake your life on it?”
Well, in my case it would have been, um, no, wait, maybe.
Second guessing has been an issue in my stroke. Not in basic facts but in what I felt, wanted to do, remembered from a conversation. So during memory recall exercises my brilliant language pathologist would do that head tilt thing and ask, “Are you sure?” Oh, Jeez. Um, yes, wait, no, maybe.
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic.