My life with stroke and how it changed my travels
Most of you, luckily may I add, are not aware that today is an International stroke day. However, stroke is my new reality. My life completely changed on New Year’s Eve 2012. I was reborn that night, some might say. They say that cats have nine lives and human only one. Well, I have two. One before and one after the stroke. Since I am not an everyday traveler, being disabled for the past six years, I have decided to devote a post to my condition. Not to feel sorry about myself, more to stress how important your health is. If not the most important. It is easier to write about travels than to completely reveal my personal struggles. However, as much as travelling is a big part of my life, so is stroke. At least for the past six and a half years.
I don’t really know specific date when I’ve became addicted to travelling; I was most “productive” in the years 2010 and 2011. One can say it was during my semester abroad in Finland that the travel bug really have bitten me. And they say: “Once the travel bug bites you there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.” Well, to this day, this is true; I am happily infected. Probably will be the rest of my life. I was on a good way of fulfilling my dream of travelling as much as possible. I have visited 28 countries by the age of 24 and rounded that number to 30 till the age of 28. Probably it would have been much higher by now (currently at a number 35 at the age of 31 – will actually add two more in next two months), if not for a stroke.
Unfortunately, my body did not agree with my busy lifestyle. On January 1, 2012, when I was only 24 and a half, I’ve suffered a severe brain stroke, which has left me disabled. For the past six and a half years, I am not able to move left fingers and wrist and I have troubles walking. The reason for this serious condition, which caused a “hole in my brain”, as I joke about it, is unknown. Doctors couldn’t find out why I’ve had a clot in one of the veins. I now have to live with 60 % clotted vein in my right front lobe. I’ve spent a month in a hospital, then another three months in a rehabilitation centre, now it’s up to me to heal my body. Moreover, my mind too. Most people forget about mental changes that go hand in hand with a stroke. Not only the damaged brain caused a change in my personality, it is also a long and hard process to accept new me and new life. Just imagine going from an independent, healthy person to a disabled one in one second. Needing help from others and accepting it, was hard to deal with. I’ve had to make changes in my thinking and in my life in general.
What was the cause for the stroke, many ask. The answer it is not that simple. I was young, didn’t smoke, lived healthy, exercised … Doctors couldn’t find the reason. They said it was probably genetics and birth control pills. More I’ve thought about it, I’ve concluded it was also caused by stress. You may say, 24 and stressed. Yes, I’ve lived too fast, was focused on my work (I was a journalist at a newspaper), on traveling, my boyfriend of 9 years broke my heart a month before. You see. 1+1=2. It had all added up. However, here I am. Disabled, but proud and strong. One cannot alter the past, but we can control our actions today and make sure to have a better future. Of course, I think about how my life would be completely different if I was healthy. Not a day went by I haven’t thought about “If’s” and “Why’s”. For a long time I wished to turn back the time, however no one posses that power. Life goes on and it’s on you to choose wheter to give up or fight. My stubbornness wouldn’t allow me to give up, so my only option was to get up on my feet and fight on (even if only with my righty – the right arm fights strong for both, believe me). As time passes, I now know, it was meant to be. Everything happens for a reason. We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude towards it and we can start a new chapter with a happy ending. I remain an optimist, focus on the positive things (just thinking how it could all be much worse – I could have lost my memories, wouldn’t be able to walk, talk … So I guess I was/am actually lucky). I try to make the most of this new opportunity, learn from my past mistakes. It is true that sometimes the things we cannot change end up changing us. And if we want to change, first we need to accept the past. I will admit the road to there is hard and long. Our eyes need to be washed by tears once in a while to see more clearly. And I’ve cried a lot. You’ll need a lot of strength, courage, patience and support (I have the best parents and a brother and the best friends who have been there for me during the ups and downs). To be honest, I think I’ve still haven’t completely accepted everything. I guess I’ll never will; yet still I live a wonderful life. Now I live to the fullest, don’t take anything for granted, I’m focusing more on me, trying to be as healthy as possible, doing what I love, smelling the roses along the way, putting myself first, trying to relax (this is still a work in progress though), I’ve met my wonderful fiancé, best friend and a travel companion. There are no coincidences; I believe everything happens for a reason. Everything, even if at first it seems irrelevant, every decision, every action, every person that crosses our path it is meant to be. It is on us how we interpret them, as good or as bad. Life gives us challenges, obstacles, which we need to overcome, learn and grow from it. Even if we fall and feel defeated (and we will), it is only an opportunity to strengthen. Life is short, time flies past us. Disease forces us to listen to our body and give it what it needs the most – time. Time to heal every cell, time to accept it all, to adapt, time to heal your soul.
Let me go back to the beginning of my new life post stroke. I still cannot move my left wrist and fingers. After not being able to move my leg at all for three weeks and spending four months on a wheelchair, I’ve learned to walk again. Though I’m still having troubles walking, at least I can move. They say: “If you stumble, make it a part of a dance.” Moving has kept me going forward, trying my best to heal my body and soul. My mind is fortunately unchanged, I am thinking the same, and I am still a travel-lover. Stroke didn’t stop me. It only made everything extremely difficult. Moreover, it had made me stronger! What does not kill you makes you stronger. At first, I’ve needed a lot of help with everyday tasks, but as the time passes, I am learning to perform many of them using only my right hand. I am fortunately resourceful and can quickly adapt.
I was once perfectly fine as a solo traveler. Sometimes I actually preferred it, since that meant travelling in my own rhythm, seeing what I wanted to see. I don’t get tired easily and I have too much energy (this has remained true even after stroke). Many people can’t really follow my rhythm (some friends have told me they were always tired while travelling with me before). Nevertheless, after stroke, I rather travel with company. I know I would be able to take care of myself on my own, but you know … just in case. Not only I still need some help with taking care of myself, just carrying heavy bags, picking them up, carrying them up on buses, trains and metros, up and especially down the stairs where there are no elevators . All of the things you encounter with when travelling. Let me point out how big cities are not disabled friendly. A simple thing like an elevator (they are elevators on many metro stations but they’re usually out of order – or is it just my luck) would make travelling so much easier. I am lucky I can at least walk, use the stairs or an escalator, but if I would be on my own, I do not know how I would deal with my luggage. Everyday things a healthy person do not need to think about.
Before I would sleep in cheap hostels, sharing a room also with up to 10 strangers, but now I chose private over dorms and enjoy the convenience of having an ensuite bathroom. I prefer spending a bit more money and being comfortable. A shared room comes with a shared bathroom and that is not an option for me anymore. I also can’t climb on top of a bunk bed like I’ve used to do on my travels. And that is pretty much it when it comes to sleeping arrangements. Private room with private bathroom and maybe a shower rather than a tub if I can choose. I don’t need any other special treatment, since I can walk and don’t use a wheelchair. Because I have a 70 percent disability, I am entitled to a parking card for disabled people. In Slovenia, I use it for parking. I’ve learned to drive an automatic car with one hand and it is easier to park on spaces reserved for disabled. Not only it is harder to turn the weal with one hand only and parking it in small spaces, I have troubles getting out of the car, I need more space to open the door all the way. With the card, I also have free admissions in some museums or castles. In Italy for instance, parking was free of charge too (unfortunately, I’ve learnt that on the last few days of my travels). In France, many museums have free admission for disabled and those accompanying them; you can also skip the line – you don’t have to stand in long lines for the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower or at Versailles, just to point out the most popular ones. It saved me a lot of time standing in the line and a lot of money also. If you own this card, make sure to check all the benefits it offers. I’ve had some free admissions also in Portugal.
So what are other difficulties I’ve faced while travelling as a disabled person. Let me start on the airport. You can imagine it is hard carrying and lifting up a suitcase or a backpack with one hand. It is not convenient when asked to take off your shoes when going through the security check, as it is hard to tie shoelaces with one hand and I need to seat down to put on my shoes cause I have a weak left leg and can’t balance on it for long. It was embarrassing one time when I was examined and the person asked me to open my fingers on left hand. Is it just me or the lights beeps every time I walk through the scanner? Lucky me I’m always picked randomly. But that time I think the lady was more embarrassed than me when I explained my situation. She apologized three times to me. It is also impossible for me to give left fingerprints. I thought it would be a big deal at immigration in Malaysia, but we actually started talking about my illness with an officer. No biggie. It is not impossible to travel; it is just a bit harder. Because all of the above reasons, I prefer to travel with someone else and not solo.
My biggest wish remains to see more of the beautiful world. As I’ve said, stroke did not stopped me and my wish to travel is still much alive; it had only made everything harder. I am hoping to make my dream come true in the next years.
Ischemic stroke occurs in the blood vessels of the brain. Clots block blood flow to the brain’s cells. It is an urgent medical condition and immediate treatment is needed. Time is of the most importance as in about two minutes after the first signs of a stroke approximately two million brain cells (neurons) die.
Long story short – I survived.
Me before stroke:
Me after stroke:
“But… as bad as it was, I learned something about myself. That I could go through something like that and survive. I mean, I know that I could have been worse – a lot worse – but for me, it was all I could have handled at the time. And I learned from it. «
Yes! You are Jasmina! True Warrior!!
I survived 15 hemorrhagic strokes.
You are a true survivor!💪
Maybe so. But, I have been out of the woods, since December of 1987. everything that has happened since that time has been only based on my will to never throw in the towel. That is what I really want brain injury survivors to know that is my main emphasis.
What I came to the realization of, several years after my brain was injured, was that even though my short-term memory was damaged, my long-term memory is still intact.
to value vim
theyve got w/in
heir fins which
& need to flee,
from stream to
sea & roam
from home, from
shoal to foam,
where they can try
to find a mate who
floats, w/ whom they,
soon, can sow their oats
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