I learned so much the day I died.
My first memories of what I call my second life are of the movie ‘The Truth About Cats and Dogs’ being played on repeat above my head and the light in the room never being dimmed. For days. And days. And I remember my one thought being, “I am here. The exact same person is here, and I can hear you. Please treat me as a whole and not just a broken body.” My mind and spirit were unbroken and needed to be reassured that they were acknowledged and respected. Medics came in and would touch me and prod me and poke me and only one gorgeous soul ever took the time to ask my permission first. Even though I could not answer, the respect I was given by that one nurse, profoundly changed me and my approach to my own practice and clients.
My new rule in life would be “don’t make assumptions that you know how it is for someone else. You can read about it, you can hear about it, but unless you have experienced it, really listen to how people say it is for them. And believe them.”
I spent the majority of my first thirty years being a brain that had to carry around a human body. Intellect was highly valued in my family and I was so unaware of my body that I was constantly bumping into things and being surprised that I had arms and legs. Mirrors aren’t my thing, so I lived in my head and in the energy around me and only took care of the very basic things my body required.
Childhood Trauma had made me very adept at escaping into, or out of, myself, and I lived in daydreams and books. Maybe because of this I was extraordinarily naïve, and life took advantage of that with boundary issues that led to emotional neglect, eating disorders, and several sexual assaults. A marriage that was merely a vehicle to escape my home life became difficult when after two premature babies – the neglect of my own body had a price – I lost one of my next twins and the other was born with serious issues. A year and a half of constant life and death hospital visits which I handled with extraordinary bravado at the time and I was exhausted. Totally bone exhausted. As you often find, once the stress is relieved, that is when your body feels it can react.
React mine did. I crumpled into an empty bath and cried. I have no recollection of the time I spent in that bath. I was at home, alone with my three children and I felt emotions that I hadn’t allowed myself to feel for years. I had my very first panic attack and was convinced that I was dying. I went into each of my children’s rooms and kissed them goodbye and landed in that bath.
I’ll fast forward a bit here, we can get into details another time, but I was spent. Totally exhausted and found myself unable to fight the anxiety and depression that encompassed me. ‘Club Med’ – the local psychiatric facility – my name for it, became my home for the better part of a year and my memories are sketchy. I was given all sorts of drugs and finally a course (or three) of Electro Convulsive Therapy.
I’d had migraines for years and one night, in ‘Club Med’ I just didn’t feel right I was still exhausted. The medication was being increased but not really working and I just felt odd.
I woke up in that room, unable to move, with that Cat and Dog movie – which I never want to watch again – and my brain was broken. I’d had a stroke. It turns out now that it was a genetic thing. It devastated me. My brain, my reason for being, my friend was damaged, and I could not move or talk or even remember anymore. Who was I without my brain?
Now comes the part of the story that people find difficult. Even at that point, but especially so now, I am so eternally grateful for that stroke. The self-centered, know-it-all, “I have a degree”, I can fix whatever you have girl has gone. The A-type personality could no longer exist in this body. I learned acceptance of myself, I learned acceptance of help, I learned to be vulnerable and humble. I had to regain contact with my body in order to learn to move it in different ways. I saw people who were so much worse off than me but so strong in spirit. I learned that people are so complex. People are not their body, nor their mind, nor their spirit. They are wonderfully complex and resilient beings with a capacity beyond anything you could imagine.
I vowed to treat my clients as exactly this. To not quickly dispense advice and send them on their way. To not act as if my first solution would work on everyone, exactly the same way. I learned to listen. Not just to their words but to their bodies. I learned how important it is to be seen and heard for who and what you are. I learned to withhold judgment. I learned to grant time and energy and a safe space. I learned to be patient, both with myself and with other people. I learned to be available.
Finally, the main thing that I learned was that no one person is the same. Our minds, our bodies, our spirits all react differently. During my time at ‘Club Med’ and the hospital for the stroke, I was a patient, a number. Groups of doctors would come in and recite my patient notes and I just wanted one of them to find out I was a mother, a sister, a friend. I wanted to tell them that my favorite color was purple and that I was worried I would never be able to find joy in cooking again. I wasn’t worried about the walking that they were obsessed about. Would I be able to nurture my family with food?
The doctors would beg me to come back in so that they could do studies of the genetic blood disorder for them. They wanted my blood and my body to study. I wanted to scream that I was far more than what they saw.
I wanted one of them to sit down with me and ask me what I wanted to relearn to do first. What my priorities were. I wanted to be able to make my children’s lunch and accomplish the now extraordinarily difficult task of wrapping it in sandwich wrap. I wanted to remember their friend’s names and I wanted to be able to go to their school and pick them up.
In my practice, I now try to take the time to get to know my client’s lives. To ask what their priorities for healing are. I want to learn why these are their priorities. I want them to know that this will be my goal too. To ask how quickly or how slowly they want to make the changes. I honor them when they need to take a break and regroup. I accept that I won’t be their healer. That they’ll require a team that will change with time and that ultimately, they are the person at the wheel.
I had to learn to let them go when I could no longer serve them. I learned that they do not have to take my advice and that they know themselves and their bodies far better than I ever will.
So – no – I do not feel any anger about having a stroke at 30. I only feel so grateful to be able to approach my work with a new mindset that everyone is an individual and that this should always be honored and respected.
I learned that I wanted to continue my practice by making people’s burdens lighter and making sure that they do not feel different or alone. My final goal was to get a Psychology qualification. I’d felt so misunderstood, like a case study during my time in hospital and I wanted a place where people could go and feel really understood. I can only hope to accomplish this in my lifetime.