Monday, 10 December 2012

Obligatory One Armed Hug

A few days after leaving hospital, it was bonfire night... One of my favourite nights of the year. I had spent the previous 72 or so hours trying to settle back in to home life, and trying to establish a routine similar to the one I had in hospital. Mum never left my side, I needed her more than ever. Luckily her work was amazingly sympathetic with our situation and told her she could stay with me for as long as she felt she needed to.
Previous bonfire nights for my family and I had always consisted of going to a local bonfire and firework display on the Saturday closest to the 5th November. We'd all wrap up in big coats, hats and scarves, and don our wellie's in preparation for the muddy fields we were about to squelch around on.

Like I assumed most other things would be, bonfire night was going to be different, post stroke.

Dad and Chris wanted to get me out of my funk and get me in the spirit of things. Chris had invited two of our closest friends round, and he and Dad had gone out and bought a massive box of fireworks for us to have our own mini display at home in the back garden. At first I didn't think Mum would be thrilled with the idea, as we'd never done it before and Dad and Chris were teasing her with their grand ideas of the display they imagined they'd put on, but Mum was really excited. I think the whole family wanted to make everything as normal as possible for me and so they didn't want me to miss out on anything we usually took part in.
I wanted to get as excited as the rest of my family were, but the anxiety that I'd been feeling since coming home hadn't left me.
I smiled along as Mum made plans to cook baked potatoes for everyone, and looked on as Dad and Chris decided where in the garden they should let off the fireworks. I desperately wanted to enjoy myself, and feel normal, but I was having to bite my tongue to stop myself from revealing that all I really wanted to do was curl up on the settee, wrapped in my duvet, and aimlessly watch TV without having to interact with anyone. I wanted to lose myself in a film, or comedy series, and watch fictional characters live their lives, rather than deal with my own sorry story.
I felt a growing ball of nerves in my chest as I anticipated my friends coming over. They'd visited me in hospital where I could watch over as my family entertained them, but I would have to make an effort with them when they came to my house.
How should I act? What do I do when they ask me questions? What if I get upset? Will they still act normal around me?
I didn't know what to do. Before the stroke I had been so socially confident. I would have been happy to be the leader of any conversation and I adored the company of a large crowd. Post stroke I felt very socially awkward and shy. I just wanted to be with my close family and any time I had a visitor, which was more than once a day, I didn't want to be left alone with them. I was frustrating myself. My feelings and thought processes were annoying me, but it felt like I couldn't do anything about it, I felt lost in the maze of my own mind with no way out.
I painted on my brightest smile and and sat up as straight as possible on the settee when I heard the knock at   the door that I had been so anxiously anticipating. As our friends walked into the living room, my nerves were at their most aggressive, though I did my utmost to conceal them behind the acting skills I was so quickly acquiring.
I gave out the obligatory one armed hugs and tried to immerse myself in to the conversation that had quickly fired up between everyone else in the house. I felt myself start to relax slightly. but it was as if there was a barrier in my subconscious telling me not to get too comfortable and to always be on guard. I felt fidgety and agitated, I just wanted to run upstairs for a moment to catch my breath and take control of my feelings... But I couldn't. I couldn't run anywhere. I could barely walk anywhere. I was trapped.
It was soon time for Dad and Chris's  firework display. Everyone made their way to the garden, moving slowly so as to try and imitate my snails pace. I tried to make a joke out of it not wanting anyone to feel sorry for me, but I was embarrassed and felt let down by my stupid body.
When in the garden, I sat between my Mum and my friend on the bench and we covered our knees in a blanket so as to stop our knees feeling the biting, November cold. Anna dished out the sparklers while the men prepared the launch pad, (4 bricks.) The air was filled with dispersed smoke from surrounding home made bonfires, and the smoky smell erupted a nostalgic feeling that sparked contented emotions from memories of previous bonfire nights.
I snuggled in between my two loved ones and looked around at the rest of my family and friends seeing the excitement that was building in their faces as we waited for the first firework to be let off. Maybe this bonfire night was different...Different in a good way.
As the whistling scream sounded from the first firework filled my ears, I forced my brain to concentrate on nothing else but the bursts of colour that filled the sky with a bang.
Different...Different in a good way.


  1. I'm glad to hear that it was different in a good way Becky. I hope that things are good, it sounded like a really fun night to me.

  2. Becky

    Once again I can understand on a small scale what you mean - much more importantly you write so well!

    Hope you (and your family and friends have the Christmas you want!)

    Mike - soon 60 and lucky stroke survivor!

  3. I just wanted to say I admire your strength and wish you all the best. Merry Christmas!

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  5. Just read the whole blog. I just want to say how much I admire your bravery and that you write excellently. All the best.

  6. I found your blog through Twitter (a re-tweet from Nina Conti? I think so anyway). As the daughter of a stroke survivor (my Mum had two strokes in her late 30s/early 40s) your posts bring tears to my eyes reading about the experience from the suffer's side.

    You are so brave, and write so eloquently about your experience. I look forward to following the rest of your story. Happy New Year, and all the best to you.

  7. Neil Gaiman tweeted your blog, and I came to it and couldn't help but read through the whole thing. I can't even imagine what this whole journey has been like for you, but I admire your perseverance. I will be looking out for an update! Also, Happy belated one year strokiversary (I guess happy? hah).

  8. Hi Becky - I just found this blog after seeing it RT-ed on Ryan Lochte’s twitter. I’ve just read the whole thing from start to finish and just wanted to say how wonderful it was to read. It might seem like an odd thing to say given the topic but I too had a stroke April last year when I was only 24. Like you, I was an otherwise healthy person – I liked going out with my girls, having a few drinks, dancing, just being a normal 24 year old!

    Then one Monday morning I woke up with the most pounding headache. I got up to get some tablets and sort of collapsed onto the floor, although I was still conscious. I went numb all over and went to the doctors that morning. He dismissed it as a panic attack, and even when the numbness left one side and stayed down my left side he still dismissed it as a migraine or a virus. I could speak fine but couldn’t do anything – hold a phone, dress myself, I became totally dependent on my boyfriend at the time. It took another 3 visits for the doc to finally accept that I wasn’t exaggerating or putting it on, and then 4 days after I finally went to A & E.

    Because of my symptoms I was put on the stroke ward and just remember saying to my mum ‘oh my god, why are they putting me here?!” Little did I know lol. They couldn’t do a CT scan until the Fri morn and I was kept overnight there. Luckily like you I had my own room, rather than having a large ward with everyone else who was so much older than me.

    Even the docs there were telling me it was probably nothing to worry about, so was way down the priority list. I didn’t get my CT until 5pm that day! I immediately knew something was wrong when the doc came in with my results just 15 minutes later. She told me I’d had a substantial cerebral infarct in the RHS of my brain (where the headache had been on Monday).

    Everything you write about describes exactly how I was feeling after that. The horrible feeling of having to depend on others just to do the smallest things, the strangeness of seeing visitors after what had happened, how terrifying it was to be finally discharged and be in the house without the safety of being surrounded by docs and nurses. As much as my friends and family are sympathetic and try to understand, I don’t think they can until they’ve gone through that situation. Reading what you’ve written it is so good to see someone else who had these same thoughts and feelings.
    I’ve been very lucky really. Despite losing the ability to do things like add up and tell the time in hospital it all came back fairly quick, although I’m a bit slower than before. My left foot and arm have lost all sensation but they are still usable, but again, a bit slower than before. But other than that I look completely normal – people are so shocked when I tell them what happened! I feel pretty normal too, although I do get quite down sometimes, and whenever I get a pain in my head I’m terrified that I’m having another stroke.

    But other than that I’ve been so lucky. Although a large part of my brain was affected, it managed to miss anything too serious thank goodness. In an odd way, I’m almost thankful it happened now (that sounds like a stupid way of saying it, because I’d of course rather it hadn’t happened at all, but don’t know what other word to use) because at least I can recover quickly (got age on my side as everyone tells me lol!) and I can be on the right meds to hopefully stop it reoccurring in the future when it could cause more damage.

    Anyway I’m sorry to ramble on so much on your comments page, but everything you’ve written on here just struck such a chord with me. You describe everything perfectly.

    I hope you are recovering well now, and thank you for writing this blog x

  9. Just found your blog! Thanks for sharing, I hope you're recovering well Xx

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