“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience in trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.” (Hellen Keller)
10 years have passed. In a blink of an eye, one could say. First couple of days seemed forever, laying in the hospital bed, unable to move my left side. Feeling pain in the arm and the leg, feeling the pain of constant muscle spasm, however not moving one side of the body at all. Those first days, rather first months of recovery were passing too slow. On 1.1.2012 life had stopped for me. Once I was back in the everyday rhythm, however, a decade had just vanished somewhere. And I am still not well. Not ok. After so much time. Some physical limits still remain. However, I’ve made a lot of progress in terms of accepting myself.
My memory of the crucial day is foggy, I actually do not remember how it happened. As my friends told me, I’ve just collapsed. No one knew what was happening to me. It was an unlucky day, celebrating New Year’s Eve. It was my first celebration as a single girl after 9 years of being in a relationship. At age 24. Still so young with all life in front of me, I though. Boy, was I wrong. It was hard adjusting to my new status. However sad I was because of my new life; I could not even begin to imagine a meaning of new life. This was the last year I was healthy. Who knew in one second my life would change forever? That I would never be the same again. Not just physically; personality changes are even harder. Invisible (to others that is, to me more painful than physical disabilities), but sometimes even harder to overcome and most definitely hardest to accept.
As I’ve said I do not remember the events, also first month in the hospital is not really clear in my memory. I was mostly laying in bed, trying to comprehend what happened. Those days seemed long, never-ending, painful, depressing; however, 10 years have gone by so quickly now. Feeling like I’m missing my life. I’ve stopped, my life was on a pause, but the world did not stop turning. I was living to the fullest and now here I am recovering, trying to live the best way I know, getting my life back. Still. After 10 years and that is hard for others to understand, that I’m still not fine. That I am still learning who I am. How to live this new life being trapped in this body.
My story goes like this:
On 1.1.2012 I’ve suffered a massive ischemic stroke due to dissection of right carotid artery. Why this happened remains unknown. I was young, lived, at least I thought so, healthy life. But thinking back, I was probably living too fast, too much, feeling and carrying too much, stress, bad genes … I’m not going to write how it happened, click and read more.
Every story is different. Every illness, every stroke, every recovery is different. One cannot compare with other warriors. We are all fighting own battles. Surviving one day at a time. The best way we can, for sure. Not comparing it’s easier said than done. Comparing with others and more comparing with yourself. Your old self. Person who does not exist anymore. In some ways I miss old me. Being able to move all fingers, walking without a limp, pain free, having all the confidence in the world. Mostly being independent. Despite all the obstacles life threw on my way, I’ve managed to “jump” (ok, step, I cannot really jump anymore) over them with my head up high. And with a smile on my face.
Ten years after I do not want to write about reasons why (it can happen to anyone, so why not me?). I want to stress how I’m still able to be happy and find million reasons to live, even in the moments one might find million reasons to give up. Not an option for me. I have a lot of fight in me, my inner fire is burning bright, I have motivation, hope, love. There were and still are times all those positive thinking is hard to find. Stroke broke me, but I’m putting puzzles back together. I wish to write about my courage. Being survivor. Choosing to be happy and overcoming all dark days. As Carl Jung said, “I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
My story was typical. For the first 24 years, that is. Degree from University, trying to find a job in journalism – doing what I love (if you love what you do, you’ll never work in your life, they say. I’ve dreamt of being a journalist since I was little. Dreams were/still are put on hold now), being in a relationship for almost 9 years (wrong person; I know that now), traveling, blessed with best friends, loving family, confident, ….
I thought I’ve had it all. Seemed that way. But as it turned out I didn’t have the most important “thing”. Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “The first wealth is health.” I could not agree more. Unfortunately, most people become aware of how important one’s health is, the moment they lose it.
Stroke has left me with several deficits, the biggest being loss of the function of my left arm. I cannot use my left fingers, left wrist, also left ankle is not stable, so I cannot step on the heel and my ankle twists. It hurts with each step (I’ve got used of living with the pain on my entire left side of the body, if being honest). Sometimes I stumble. But hey, they say: “If you stumble make it part of the dance.” I used to love dancing. Now I dance a bit different, awkward and not so often, unfortunately. Sometimes we lose balance, we stumble, we fall … That’s life. It’s how you respond to it … that’s character. If I fall, I’m quickly back on my feet, laughing to myself: “clumsy me.”
One thing I have to mention, is also how stroke had messed with my mind…I’m now much better than I was, but at first, I’ve had a lot of troubles with controlling my emotions, mostly laughing when I was nervous, embarrassed, sometimes sad. I don’t like to talk about this too much, as I was always filled with confidence, but I think it’s important to speak about all the aspect of this illness, the good and the ugly.
Ten years is a long time, lots of time to improve my health, mental state. Lots of time to thrive through the stroke. I still might not be 100 percent regarding physical status, however through focusing merely on myself I’ve made a huge improvement in my overall health. I have a hole in my brain, nonetheless. How can I be perfect, if an important part of me is gone? The most important remained. Compassion, stubbornness (if I wasn’t so stubborn, life would be easier, specially for those around me, however I would not have overcome all difficulties without my stubborn character) , positivity, optimism, energy.
Surviving stroke taught me I am stronger than I think. I always was, just wasn’t aware of it. There is nothing that tests your strength more than nearly dying. I’ve discovered my inner strength and realised that saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is absolutely true.
I now appreciate my strength, endless energy, persistence, courage, determination, stubbornness (people around me might disagree). My life is different. But different doesn’t mean bad. My goals have changed, also priorities in order to live my life to the fullest.
I might not have a job, don’t have children, still live with my parents at 34. My wish is to change all that. When the right times comes, it will happen. Before you judge me, know, that recovering and working on yourself after a difficult illness, also finding out your new identity, is hard as hell. Hardest job.
Living with one functional hand is not easy…just try to dress yourself with using only your right hand. Tie shoe laces, close buttons, close zippers, close your bra (if you’re a woman); undressing can be a difficult mission too. Taking care of yourself and doing every day tasks with one hand is not an easy task, trust me. However, not impossible. It can be done with lots of practice and patience. I still need lots of help, though.
I still have bad days, I’ll admit, when all I want to do is cry and lay in bed. However, laying down sometimes hurts more than exercising, so I push myself and go for a walk instead. To clear my head, get at least 10 000 steps daily (those turn into 30k on some days) and mostly feel better about myself. Exercising saved me. In all aspects. Getting out of a depression and pity mode is hard, I’m proud of myself I’ve had the strength to push through the difficulties. I may be disabled, but I’m in the best shape. Energy level, stamina …
I’m not me any longer, I’m different Jasmina, new person. Better? I appreciate and take time for different, more meaningful things for sure. I’ve had to let go of the picture of what I thought life would be like to learn how to find joy and happiness in the new story I’m living. I’m blessed with so many angels on my path, they’ve helped me heal both physically and more important mentally. I appreciate all my friends, family, therapists, each and every person that is, was and will be part of my story. Some pages were torn out. Only to make space to better ones, more inspiring ones.
Back in my best days I was living life to the fullest, first year after stroke I was one of those who just observed life passing me by. But my nature is to give it your all and best. Despite all, I’ve stood up, fought throw the difficulties, kicked the black clouds away and started living. My boyfriend Luka had an important role of bringing me back to life. We only get one life. Do not wait too long for a wake-up call. Start living healthy today, enjoy each giving moment, love every breath you take. There is no better moment than this one. Let go, live with no regrets, make the decision to go all the way. Give it all you’ve got. Live for today, for this moment.
Having a stroke thought me to how precious life really is, what is important, to appreciate little things in life (mostly those things are not things, but more people, feelings and moments), I’ve learnt to let go of perfection, which was, trust me, a difficult task for a perfectionist. I’ve had to learn to put my needs first, to focus on me. Nobody said surviving, recovering, hell – sometimes simply living – is going to be easy. But with each step forward I have found the forgotten me. My passions, my love, my purpose. My life.
Sometimes life will test you, but remember this: when you walk up the mountain, your legs get stronger. I’ve had all to right reasons to make excuses, but I’ve decided to be stronger than it. I’ve stopped complaining, forgot the pain, start fighting for me.
I still miss my old life sometimes. Mostly because it was easier. Doing things with both hands is easier, learning using only one hand took a lot of energy and finding new ways to taking care of me.
Being independent is an important value. Process of getting back lost independence is long and hard. You get different perspective on life and start to appreciate everything healthy people take for granted. I’ve wished (still do at times) to turn back the time and be young, healthy again. I’ll do it in a heartbeat, just under one condition – I can keep all the knowledge, all experiences, all lessons I’ve learnt along the way of recovery, all the people I’ve met along the way. Wishful thinking, I know.
Many have to cope with losing their loved ones. Death is hard. I’ve lost myself. Road to rediscovering me, to chasing of the shadows surrounding me, wasn’t an easy one. I’ve lost the important part of me: my confidence, independence. But the Earth kept turning, it won’t wait for me to get better. So, in order to be happy, I needed to start being content with what I’ve have in this moment. Even if not healthy.
Life does not come with instructions on how to live, but it does come with beautiful people, smiles, sunrises, sunsets. Even in the darkest times one can find sunlight, happiness. Life doesn’t always take us on the straight path, just do not give up, do not stop fighting, because you never know what beauty lies in the curves. We never know where the road may lead us. You might miss extraordinary views. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” There’s no point in stopping, the best views are always on top.
One cannot control what life throws at us, but we can control how we handle it. Accepting my new self is still “under construction”, but I’m getting there. “Slowly but steady wins the race,” they say. I may walk slower as I did, but with each step I’m getting faster.
Looking on all the positive aspects of life the stroke brought, it was in a way a life saving event. I used to live too fast, life was passing me by, I didn’t think about my health, my well being, I didn’t take time for myself. Now, as cliche as it may sounds, I appreciate being alive, living for the moment, being happy with things most people take for granted; like walking, talking, being alive. Waking up and admiring sunrise is a miracle.
Sometimes life gives you obstacles. Obstacles that may seem unfair or too extreme. But you are given choices. Break through the obstacles or let the obstacles break you. I’m getting control over my life again. Took me couple of years, but I’ve needed the break from life to reinvent me. To remind me who I was, figure out who I want to be. And mostly figure out how to achieve my goals. Being perfectionist is hard while dealing with a serious illness.
Every year at this time I hope for a miracle … I always have only one wish. Do not know how I keep on hoping for recovery after all this time. Hope dies at last, I guess. If my path as a stroke survivor had taught me anything, is that no matter what, I’ll be happy. As long as I accept my new path and make the best out of it.
My wish for you is to be happy. Healthy. And live to the fullest – no one is promised tomorrow.
“Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won and all the fears you have overcome.” (Unknown)