Lent, the holiest season in the Christian and Catholic calendar. It is a recollection of the sacrifice that Jesus, the son of God, made for us for the forgiveness of our sins. In turn, it has become a tradition that believers give up something of value or luxury during the forty days of Lent starting on Ash Wednesday (that’s the day when Catholics are identified by the ash smudge on their foreheads) ending on Easter Sunday. The belief is by giving something up, we are offering up a reflection of the sacrifice that Jesus had done for us.
When I became a Catholic CEO (Christmas and Easter Only), I had turned cynical of this tradition. People were giving up alcohol, chocolate, rice, and sweets. And more recently, social media. I was cynical coz Facebook? I thought the whole point of giving something up was to learn the value of sacrifice, stewardship and inner reflection. I was imposing my own biases onto another person’s values and this was unfair. I wasn’t even giving anything up myself, I really had no place to judge.
Giving in and Giving Up
This year, I decided to embark on my own Lenten journey. I thought I would participate in the tradition of giving up. In that spirit, I have decided to give up behaviors and habits that were holding me back or slowing me down. I needed to find a way to reconnect with myself.
I gave up multi-tasking. For me, this is out of necessity rather than growth. I do things very slowly. And my attention span is crap. If I try to do more than one thing at a time, and I do, chances are one of those things will be ruined or forgotten. Hence, there were some burned dinners and half-written blog posts. I need to be able to complete one task before I move on to another. I also need to stop keep feeling so frazzled because I have so many things going on at the same time. I end up with many unfinished projects. I’m also learning to prioritize and to avoid distractions. If that means doing things on a timer or on a schedule, then so be it. Trying to do more than one thing at a time accomplishes nothing and just stirs up my anxiety. Giving up spreading myself thin has been a great stress relief and a boost to my mental health.
I have given up on trying to prove myself stronger when in reality my body and brain are begging for me to stop. I have recently written about my struggle withnerve pain.While doctors are playing roulette with my meds, my nerves have gone on a wild and rowdy rave. They’ve all been lit and fired up at the same time. I have been in pain. A whole lot of pain. And because I am stubborn and hard headed, I continued to push through the pain. Mind over matter and all that. Until it got to the point that the pain had moved to my shoulders and moving had become painful. I spent a whole weekend curled up in a ball crying under the covers. I was forced to rest. It was a hard way to learn what should’ve have been a simple lesson: for my brain to heal, my body had to rest. These past few weeks I have not been going to the gym. Which really bums me out, but then I got hit the flu so yeah… I had to give up the idea that I have to be “fine” and strong all the time. That it is okay to admit that there are moments that I am weak and that my body needs to recover and sometimes that recovery may take some time.
Summing up, I believe I could say I have given up pride. That meant knowing when to reach out and ask for help. And when to accept help when offered even from the unlikeliest source. I had a woman come up to me today and asked when I had a stroke. Then asked if she could say a prayer for me. There was a time when I would have been weirded out by this, but this time I said yes with an open mind and an open heart. I prayed with her. I cried. I felt a certain lightness.
As we celebrate Easter, I hope to continue to “give up” on the negative habits and thoughts that weigh me down. I could only get stronger when I embrace my weakness and learn to grow from them. I hope to continue to gain insight, understanding, and acceptance of my own limitations but still be able to push through them without causing harm to myself.
One of the many unwanted gifts of the stroke is neuropathy. It is nerve pain that affects my left foot and left shoulder. When neuropathy pain attacks I feel like I am being stabbed with a million hot needles The neuropathy is worse on my foot.
It gets so bad at times that the nerves cause my foot to spasm. My toes curl in, my foot lifts and I am not able to take a step. Through the years, this condition has improved a bit.
This Boot was Made For Walking
Recently, I went through a procedure called serial casting. It was done to help improve my gait. For five weeks, I had to wear a walking cast meant to stretch my Achilles tendon or heel cord. i
Walking on Fire
The serial casting was deemed a success. I was given a carbon fiber ankle-foot orthosis (it sounded so high techy to me) or an AFO which is a brace to continue to help me with walking.
Although I have noticed an improvement in my walk, an unfortunate and unexpected side effect occurred. The nerve pain on my foot intensified. It was neuropathy on steroids.
My first test run with the AFO was at the mall in the height of Christmas shopping season. It started out nice, I was by myself and was free to look around without anyone bugging me to hurry up. Unfortunately, after about 20 minutes I got a searing, shooting pain from my foot to my leg. I was able to push through for a few minutes, but the pain kept getting worse. It was so bad, I held back tears as I walked out of the mall.
The next day, I had on the brace when I got on the treadmill. I wasn’t on for more than 10 minutes when the searing, burning pain started up. I had to remove my brace to continue to workout. But even then I was struggling with spasms.
Throughout the months of December, January and February, I was in agony. Walking was excruciatingly painful. I finished the 408k in February by the skin of my teeth and the help of a few good people.
I was hardly finishing workouts due to pain. I didn’t even leave the house all that much. When I did go outside, I would break out in sweat and grimace in pain when I took a step. Thank goodness no one noticed.
The Long Road to Relief
I emailed my PT about the pain. During our January appointment, she determined I had plantar fasciitis caused by the brace. Her advice was no walking, wear a night splint and to ice my foot. I had the 408k race three weeks after that appointment. I tried wearing the night splint, but it only exacerbated the pain. Icing my foot every night didn’t see, to really help.
When I told my pain management doctor about my pain issue and he suggested a nerve conductivity test or an EMG. After a fun time of getting shocked and poked (sarcasm font really needs to be a thing), the test yielded nothing. The next step was an MRI and a referral to a neurologist.
The MRI was to rule out any discs pinching nerves on my back. There were no pinched nerves, but they did find gallstones!! (I am seriously a hot mess). No worries though, they are too small to cause problem. I just have to eat healthily and drink plenty of fluids (cran-vodka is a fluid amirite?).
Moving on to the neurologist. Dr. tells me he will perform a “highly sophisticated and high tech” test on my feet. I was rather embarrassed when I took off my shoes since I haven’t had a pedicure in a while. Since was too painful to have anyone touch my foot, my toes were quite scary. As he gloved up, he again tells me that the tools he will be using are sophisticated but accurate. His face was serious. He then takes out a safety pin. Wha???? He proceeded to poke both of my feet with the pin. Noting that I cringed every time he touched my left foot. I cringed the same way when he touched my left foot with a cotton swab. I told him about the serial casting. He repeated the tests a couple more times, using his “high tech and sophisticated tools” having the same results each time.
He determined that as a result of the casting and my foot being placed in an awkward position for five weeks, my nerves had been damaged. Healing will take weeks if not months.
I was also referred to a pharmacy specialist. She went through the list of my current medications so that she and my doctor could prescribe the proper medication. It was recommended that I take an anti-seizure medicine. I read about the medication and was not keen on the side effects which included brain fog (I already have that), sleepiness and weight loss (that one isn’t too bad ). Besides, I really did not want to add any more pills to my already long list of medications.
Giving in, not giving up
After some serious consideration and really bad days, I gave in and am trying the anti-seizure meds. I cannot soldier my way out of this. How am I able to go to the gym when just walking is too painful. I cannot even stand in the shower as my foot would spasm as soon as I step on the tile. The pain I was experiencing was giving me a lower quality of life. Who knew that the procedure that was supposed to help me walk better would be the thing that would stop me on my tracks.
I placed a wheelchair request with my doctor. Walking has become has become so painful. He approved my request with this caveat:
“If you do get the wheelchair, I would not recommend using it very often, only occasionally when you have to walk very long distances. Walking is better to keep your muscles and bones as strong as possible.”
Really? Really? This guy has been my doctor for the past three years. I’ve talked to him about my frustrations of not being able to run. I see him every three months. I am insulted that he would even insinuate that I am being lazy. Does he not take notes? Has he not heard a word I’ve told him all these years? I am not trying to get out of walking. The last time we met face to face, I told him that I had just walked the 408k race. I had walked 5 miles! It is infuriating that he has not made an effort to get to know me as a person. An added frustration is that I cannot easily switch doctors. He is the only one under my insurance provider that is trained in both administering Botox treatments for my spasticity and adjusting and refilling my Baclofen pump. Rant Over.
I have been on the anti-seizure meds for a week and a half. Going to the gym pain free was delightful. The pharmacist warned me that there might still be breakthrough pain which has happened. But they are not as crippling like they were before! So far, I haven’t felt any of the side effects including weight loss 😝.
I am ecstatic that I’ve had two pain free work out days! My nerves are finally settling down. My PT still would like me to not wear my brace just yet. To make sure everything is completely healed up.
It was discouraging that the serial casting didn’t turn out the way it was expected. The damage it seems is fixable. This time around, I didn’t have to push too hard to get the help I needed. I guess, by now they know I don’t give up easily. Ha!
Plataeu: (v) a state of little or no change after a time of activity or progress.(n) an extensive area of flat upland usually bounded by an escarpment (i.e., steep slope) on all sides but sometimes enclosed by mountains. The essential criteria for plateaus are low relative relief and some altitude.
I know I’ve talked about this before, but I feel that it is worth another discussion. It breaks my heart when I read about recent stroke survivors who are in despair after they are told by medical professionals that they have plateaued and not expect anymore improvement six months post-stroke. The “opinion” is prevalent and frankly, distressing.
Athletes, musicians and mountain climbers all hit plateaus. They do not stop training, practicing or climbing. They see these plateaus as an opportunity to hit reset and develop new plans. Often, after these plateaus, the athlete, musician, etc. come out better, stronger and more determined.
The Ugly Cycle
So why then, are stroke survivors told that after six months, we have reached a plateau, not to expect any more progress?
A stroke could cause serious physical and cognitive deficits. Losing the ability to stand, eat or speak is shocking and emotionally devastating. When a patient enters inpatient rehab, therapy is really intense. The stroke survivor will make big improvements. Upon discharge, outpatient therapy is also intense. Progress seems to be at an upward pace. Family members, friends, doctors, and therapists are encouraged by this progress no matter how minor.
Eventually, insurance will limit therapy sessions. The survivor gets tired, friends and family are not as enthused as they have been in the beginning.
Doctors start bringing up the possibility that recovery has stopped. Anyone hearing this will surely be discouraged. The survivor might lose hope and motivation and would no longer work hard on their recovery. Subconsciously halting their own progress.
Do not let anyone put a time limit on your recovery. Change may be slow, but you would still be moving forward.
When you hit a plateau, here are some ideas you might consider in order to help you move to the next climb.
Continue doing your exercises: Even when it seems you are not making progress, do not stop working on your exercises. Repetition is key to rewiring our brains.
Challenge yourself. Even if it seems the challenges seem like baby steps.
Avoid comparison. This is advice that I need to take myself. Seeing other survivors doing things that I could only dream of makes me sad. I need to embrace my own progress. Comparison is self-defeating behavior.
Reward yourself: It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It could be something as simple as a nice long bath or quiet alone time with a good book. Or a luxurious massage.
Ask for support: Push your therapy team for help. Ask them for different therapeutic methods they have not tried. Rally your family and friends to continue to push you and help you in your recovery efforts
Share your success: Share your victories large and small with support groups, family members and/or social media. You never know who you will inspire.
I’ve learned to accept that I am in this recovery trek for the long haul. I will see peaks which I will celebrate, valleys where I can give myself the space to heal and renew my spirit.
When I reach a plateau, I will use it to recharge, analyze and adjust my methods to continue my road to recovery.
I signed up for the 408k race a few months ago. It was right around the time I decided to get serial casting to help with my foot drop. I had high hopes that by the time race day arrives, I would be walking better and faster. My plan was to train during the months of December and January so that when February rolls around, I would be ready to tackle 5 miles of San Jose.
Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out the way I expected them to be. I was getting miles on the treadmill, at the park and at the track. My leg and my foot were still not working with me. I was suffering bad neuropathy after walking a few miles.
I know I needed someone to walk the race with me. I reached out to a former co-Represent Running Ambassador. To my surprise and gratitude, Ashley said yes! There was no backing out now.
The weather forecast for race day was grim. Rain all day. A storm was blowing through the Bay area on Saturday. Armando was trying to talk me out of walking. I love running in the rain, but I wasn’t looking forward to walking in the rain for two hours.
Race day came and the sun was shining! It felt so good to be around a race environment again. Being surrounded by motivated, strong and determined individuals were energizing. At the same time, the crowd, the loud music, and the activities were overwhelming. I was anxious.
I started the race feeling good. I was walking faster than my usual pace. The atmosphere was energizing. Anxiety was quickly fading away. The weather stayed dry and the sun as out. It even got warm enough that people were shedding layers of clothing. Ashley & I were enjoying getting to know each other as. We plug right along. A few runners asked me how I hurt my leg, (I just shrug my shoulders), while others were cheered us on. Eventually, all the runners passed us. My neuropathy started to kick in around mile 2.5. About halfway done. Each step felt as if I was walking on fire. Other than 2 other women, we were the only ones left on the course. I was really touched by the families who stayed out to cheer us on.
We got to the three-mile mark. I took a pain pill which helped relieve the neuropathy. But no amount of medication could relieve the spasms. My left leg was giving out. At mile 3.5 I asked Ashley if I could hold her hand. She saw my distress and knew I needed help. Ashley offered to ask one of the sweep cars for a ride. I resisted at first. But I knew in my heart, I would end up getting hurt if I continued to walk. So I accepted the ride. Sgt. Mario wanted to drop us off as close to the finish line as possible. That was just not acceptable. We were in the car for about half a mile. There was one last mariachi band playing, a handful of volunteers cheering us on, and a fine drizzle had started to fall.
Dead freaking last
Ashley and I crossed the finish line hand in hand. The spectators had gone, other runners enjoying their well-earned bunch were cheering us on. But much to my delight Represent Running was still there to announce our finish. I might’ve ugly cried a bit (the rain helped hide it. It was great to be greeted by my friend Josephine at the finish line. She came out to support me and give me a ride home.
Finishing this race meant so much to me. This is my favorite local race. It is well organized by a group of amazing, passionate and really, really nice folks which gives this race a true hometown feel. I have not run any races this past year because I had lost my mojo. This is the longest distance I’ve gone since the stroke.
Ashley, you believe that every runner counts. Girl, you literally walk the walk. Thank you, thank you for your support, your encouragement and for recognizing I’d be out of my mind if I didn’t stop and hitch a ride with the officer.
My Take Aways:
There are really good people out there. Ashley and I have only met once in person. We’ve mostly communicated on Instagram. Yet, she readily said when I asked her to help me with this race.
Mind over matter is a great mantra until it’s your mind that matters. Leg spasms came as a result of exhaustion. There was no way I could control them.
I need to listen to my body. I didn’t want to get a lift from the officer, my pride would not let me. I would not have finished the race at all if I didn’t take that short break.
Runners as a group are encouraging, helpful and supportive people.
My the spasticity and tone on my quads are still really high. I have more work to do to get my leg to bend. I am looking for ways to get relief.
As much as I would want to run another race I need to work on getting my left side working. I am putting too much on my right side creating possible long term damage.
I will find other ways to get that adrenalin high. I will continue to work on getting stronger, working on my balance and healing the rest of my body.
So here we are in mid-January and I’ve already breached my new year “resolutions” list. I admit I am was of those people who say “ I don’t do resolutions, I come up with action plans!”
My “action plan’ for 2019 looks kinda like this:
Go to bed early so I can get a better quality of sleep: But I keep getting drawn into Garcia’s computer hacking wizardry and snappy comebacks. And yeah, there’s SSA Morgan…
Learn mindfulness and meditation. I’ve got the audiobook and ebook downloaded. I am listening to a mindfulness podcast as I work on this post! Oh, wait…
Publish at least one blog post a week. Well, it the third week of January and this is my first one…
Eliminate sugar from my diet. I’ve had great success on this one the last few months of 2018. I avoided juices, cookies, soda, candy and pretty much anything with added sugars to it. I survived Halloween candies and Thanksgiving pies. I felt great and had been told I look good too. Those were motivation enough to keep avoiding sugar. Tiramisu was the evilness that grabbed me by my ankles and dragged me back to the world of Wonka. I quit cold turkey last time. That might be the way to go again.
Wake up early and plan a productive day. See number 1.
Learn something new or improve on an old skill.I will try my hand on calligraphy again. Or perhaps learn the ukulele? Youtube, here I come!
This past holiday season was a tough one. The pain of losing my mom earlier in the year is still fresh and quite raw. I chose not to attend our extended family party this year. We have a tradition of taking family photos and I know that it would have been emotionally too painful to not have my mom there. My boys were quite busy with their own activities that we missed going to Christmas at the Park which was an annual tradition. The boys have for a few years now, abandoned waking up before dawn to open Christmas presents from Santa. Although this has been quite nice not to get up at 4 a.m after wrapping presents from Santa til 2 a.m. It is also a sign they’ve lost their childlike wonder.
These changes could have had me curled up into a ball or roll with it and grow with the changes. This new year will be a time to foster growth and challenge and change old habits that hinder that growth
Here I am rolling along. Armando and I have come to slowly accept that our boys are growing up and are forging their own identities and will someday form traditions of their own. As a couple, we have to adjust to this new reality and create new traditions for ourselves.
While I am not making great progress with my goal list, I am taking small steps to achieve them. And as I have learned, small steps lead to big changes.
I make a daily to-do list: Seeing things checked off gives me a sense of satisfaction and crumpling up the list at the end of the day makes me weirdly happy.
I use a timer: It seems simple, but it works! I set a timer while I journal, when I write a blog post, and while I read. I’ve made it a goal to read a non-fiction book for 30 minutes a day.
Reduce distractions: No T.V until I am done with all of my essential things on my to-do list. I am also working to reduce my use of social media.
I am setting reachable goals daily: I take into consideration my physical and mental limitations, while also stretching them out to make better progress.
Cheers to the New Year! Here’s to making progress, achieving new goals and celebrating success.
Do have tips you can share for maintaining resolutions and meeting goals?
First a confession. When I signed for the Downtown Dropdownchallenge, I thought it wasn’t happening until October. I would blame the confusion on my broken brain, but confusion has always been my M.O. even before the stroke so there’s that. Anyway, I received the welcome email and was shocked and kinda scared that the event was only a week and a half away. Eek!!
The fundraiser benefitsDowntown Streets, an organization which serves homeless and low-income individuals, giving them the chance to make a positive change in their lives. Living in the Bay Area, where the cost of housing is astronomical, homelessness has become an epidemic. The fundraiser is still ongoing. Any amount you could give will be helpful & appreciated.
My family was not too excited about this craziness that I got myself into. They have every reason to be nervous. The building is 236 feet high (16 stories) and I will be lowered by ropes, with no net to catch me at the bottom. I was a little nervous, but I was also confident that I would be safe. I am sure that a big company like Adobe would not allow for an event such as this if all the proper safety precautions were not taken. There were little things niggling in my head: how will I be able to hold on to the rope? Will I be able to kick off the wall to help with my descent? How high is the building again?
The “day” arrived. I read all the instructions, precautions and details. After all the waivers were signed (there were a lot of them!), it was time to put me in the harness. It was a full body harness which wrapped around my hips and upper body. I had trouble putting the glove on my left hand, my fingers were not going in the proper spots. People kept asking me, “are you nervous?” Umm duh… We took the elevator to the 15th floor, then climbed up the stairs to the roof. There was a set-up for “training”. Basically, they taught me how to control my speed, what to do if the harness locks up-the rope has a braking system that locks up if one is going too fast. The lever to lead me down the rope will be controlled by my left hand. At first, I was “uh-oh, that would be tough.” But after a couple of practice sessions, I knew I could handle it (no pun intended).
So after the five or so minutes of training, I was ready to be hooked up to the rig. I was reminded of the steps: left hand to release, right to give the rope slack, keep feet on wall and gently walk down. And oh at around 20 feet there will be a stone column and you will lose your footing. Just keep going down then return feet to wall. Yup, easy peasy! Hooked up to the rig, I was ready to climb the ledge. That was the toughest part! It was not from fear that I couldn’t get up, but my left leg would not move. I asked one of the volunteers to lift my left up for me. The view up there was breathtaking. San Jose stretched out before me in all of it’s blue, hazy glory. It’s go time! One cheesy smile for the official photographer (which will be my profile photo on social media for the next few years.) and I was off! I truly tried to enjoy the view, but there was so much stimulation happening around me. There was music, The instructions to remember, the cheering and reminders on the radio. It was no wonder that I was so tired after.
I had too much to think about and my poor brain could only hold so much info. Left hand-pull lever, right hand pulls rope. Feet on wall. Enjoy the view. Annnd…the stone column was before me. My left hand had slipped from the lever, and from down below, it looked as if I was stuck. The pros were checking in with me through the radio. I just had to readjust my grip and I was off. I had to adjust my grip a few times. My feet did not work out too well. Once I was past the column, I could not get them back up on the wall. Someone on the radio was telling me to return my feet to the wall. Sorry lady, that was not happening. I don’t know what I could have done differently. Perhaps, I need to further strengthen my core so I could easily lift my legs up. My descent wasn’t as graceful as I would have liked but hey I landed.
I was so proud of myself! I felt strong. I felt like a total badass. With my feet firmly on solid ground, I glanced up. That was when all the tears came.
I probably will do it again next year. It all depends on whether I could raise the funds. In the meantime, what’s the next crazy challenge should I tackle? Maybe skydiving. Again?
In my prior post, I talked about the ups & downs and ins & outs of public transportation while traveling with a disability.
Let us now get to the touristy part! From the books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen, it was always raining in London. No matter the season, the sky could open up and pour down. So I packed an umbrella and practiced a few bars of Singing in the Rain( Because in my head, I live in a musical). A very good friend who was in England at the time, had warned me about the heat wave. She was giving temperature updates via Facebook on a regular basis while she was there. Okay, they were more rants on how hot it was, so I took them as a warning. Sure enough it was HOT! I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t get to experience London rain. Maybe next time.
London is a beautiful city. The mix of old and new architecture was definitely something that had me in awe. The crowds and noise, especially in the Piccadilly Circus area were overwhelming. My poor, broken brain had trouble processing all of the input. People moved either too fast or too slow and for someone who has trouble with reaction time such as myself, that proved to be problematic. I eventually got into the groove and managed to weave in and out of the crowds without too many problems.
Walking on Sunshine
Or more accurately, walking on the sun. It’s worth repeating that it was ridiculously hot when we were there. We took the tube everywhere and then we walked to see the sights. I love exploring. I try not to focus on a destination so I am also able to enjoy the journey. Our first “destination” was Notting Hill. This was a perfect example of enjoying the journey, not just the destination. We were looking for a park or something that looks like a studio lot where the movie was filmed. It turned out that Notting Hill was a whole neighborhood, we were walking so fast through it, we missed what we came to see.
There were a lot of churches. All of them old and beautiful. St. Paul’s Cathedral was breathtaking! I wish we had come in, but the last mass was over and they were not letting people in anymore.
Sidebar: Armando and I were STARVING! We were looking for a pub. But all there were in that area are preppy, hipster “pubs”. So we wandered into this one restaurant. Hostess said to pick a table and when we sat down this was the center piece.
I was disappointed that there was no moat at Kensington Palace. The place is beautiful! The artwork, the furniture, and the ornate fixtures were all gorgeous! I tried taking photos, but being in a wheelchair made that kinda hard. I didn’t want to get up from the chair to take photos afraid of what other people will say. I really should not have worried about that so much.
We happen to visit the palace during an exhibit of Princess Diana’s dresses. They are beautiful and glamorous. The pictures that accompanied each dress showed a kind, beautiful and graceful Princess. I felt sad that she had missed on meeting her grandchildren.
All the Ice Cream
It was hot, enough said.
The West (End) was Won
One of the things on my must do list in London was to see a show at the West End. Our travel agent scored us great seats for Wicked. The West End is London’s historical theatre district, seeing a show there is on my bucket list. We’ve had a full day of walking and exploring Kensington Palace the morning of the show. The rushed walk back to the hotel in the heat was no fun at all. My anxiety level was quickly rising. We still had to get cleaned up and get dessed. The zipper to the dress I brought with me broke! Luckily, I had another outfit nice enough to wear to the theatre. The stress and anxiety was getting to me which caused my foot to spasm. It was hideously curled sideways and I had on open toed sandals so part of my foot was dragging the ground. Gross! It was rush hour so the train was crowded. Anxiety levels were quickly racking up. We needed to get to the theatre early coz we still had to pick up our tickets. All I had was a voucher. Once we were finally above ground, construction work and long lines to the theatre greeted us. We had queued up at the wrong spot! We were to go to the box office to claim our tickets. I believe that the ushers at the front of the building radioed our arrival to the guys out back. They were waiting for us! I was helped up the stairs, they helped with getting our tickets (they let us skip the queue) I truly appreciated all the assistance they offered. Once I realized we had great seats, I let out a nice big breath of relief. And when the show started, I was mesmerized. I’ve seen Wicked in San Francisco, but the London show was just on a whole different level. Spectacular would be an understatement. After the show, I’d forgotten all about the mishaps and missteps of the day.
The Mad Dash Tour of London
Tuesday morning, we were signed up for a double-decker bus tour. It didn’t start out well. We were stuck in traffic for a good two hours. The first stop was Westminster Abbey. I had an inkling that things were not going as planned when the tour guide announced that the scheduled 10-15 minute stop would be cut down to five minutes. I opted to stay on the bus. I knew I would not make it to and back to the bus in the time allotted. That was just the beginning!
The whole darn thing was, in my opinion, a disaster! We had missed the changing of the guards at Buckingham palace, so after watching the Horse Change Parade, the group made a mad dash to Buckingham. Holy heck! The lead flag was going so fast! Armando and I could barely catch up with the group. We stayed and took pictures at Buckingham for a good 10 minutes before the bossy tour guide rounded us up and herded us back to the bus. We had a quickie Thames river tour. The boat was speeding down the river, as the tour guide pointed out key landmarks. Blink and one would have missed them.
The highlight of this day was our trip to Stonehenge. It is incredible to witness the immense power of human determination. I mean, these big rocks have been there for thousands of years and no one really knows how they were moved there. It is believed that some of them are from 500 miles away! No one knows how or why they were built. But then, aliens.
A small city with a castle! And a rich history. We took the Hop On, Hop Off (Hoho) bus which was so much easier than an organized tour. We didn’t have to hurry to keep up with a group. We walked around Mermaid Quay, took in a boat tour and headed back to Cardiff Castle. There, we walked on the castle walls and under the walls. Which were used as bomb shelters during World War II. The inside of the castle was gorgeous! I turned on my runkeeper when we started walking at the Quay. We had walked 3.35 mi total for the day! A 5k with a castle for a finish line is a good day for me. I would definitely visit Wales again.
Good Bye for Now
Eight days were definitely not enough time to explore London. There was a lot of walking, stairs and good food. Funny story: After having fish and chips at a few pubs, I told Armando “I think I’ve had enough of fish and chips for this trip”. On one of the days, we were tired, hot and hungry. We wanted something cheap and fast and McDonald’s was the first place we saw. I ordered a fish filet and french fries. It wasn’t till later that I realized…
Armando and I had a hectic, but fun trip. I am looking forward to seeing more of the world.
We will definitely return to London. We might even take the boys next time.
Armando and I took an eight day vacation in London in July. Now, this will not be a travelogue of where to go and what to do as there are many books written about that Lonely Planet London is my favorite. I would rather talk about my experiences as I travel abroad for the first time as a stroke survivor. As someone with a disability.
Planes,Trains, Automobiles and Wheelchairs?
The first overseas trip I had with my husband after 22 years and 3 and a half years post stroke, had to include a nine hour flight. I had dreamed of going to London for quite some time, so I figure why not now? We’ve had a tough few years, so this trip was well earned.
At first, I was not intimidated by the thought of a nine hour flight. To minimize stress at the airport, I called ahead and requested a wheelchair. Admittedly, this was one of the better ideas I’ve had. Being able to breeze through security was nice, I got a good old pat down though coz I set off an alarm in the full body scanner. (duh of course I set off alarms, I’m a hottie). The wheelchair was a huge help. McCarran airport is huge! We might’ve missed our London flight if I had walked.
Our outgoing flight was nice. The plane was not full, so we had an empty seat between the two if us. I was worried that walking to the bathroom would be precarious, it turned out that it wasn’t too bad. It was hard to get up off my seat without holding on to the seat in front of me, thankfully it was vacant. I had a motorized cart waiting for me at Gatwick airport. Zoom-zoom!
The flight back was not too pleasant as the plane was fully booked. Holy crap! Who shrank the 747?? Those seats were tiny! Three in a row was a tight fit. It was tougher to get up to walk to the bathroom.
I thought about renting a wheelchair while in London and I am glad I decided against it. I would have had to depend on Armando to push me around. Visiting London at the height of a record setting heat wave would have been twice as miserable for Armando. Besides, I was prepared for all the walking. I spent spring and early summer training; at the gym, in the pool and at the track. It was great to feel as if I was “training” for a race.
We were to meet my sister for tea a few hours after we arrived. It was her birthday and she was celebrating with high tea at Fortnum and Masons . Still jet lagged and entirely out of our comfort zone, Armando & I called for an Uber pool. Welp, let’s just say that the first ride was an interesting experience. After we picked up our “pool” buddies, the driver zoomed his way through traffic. The woman who was sat at the front passenger seat started
freaking out! She was swatting at something and screaming wildly. I was worried that she was going to smack the driver and we will all die in a ball of fire in front of Harrods Department store. It turned out that she has an extreme phobia of bugs and one landed on her arm, causing her to panic. This was day one!
The next day, I was determined to learn to use the London subway system, the Tube. Armando was a bit apprehensive, but I convinced him that it would be easy to figure out and economical. I knew there will be stairs, lots of them. And not all of the stations will have elevators. I was a little nervous about getting on and off the train, but I was pleasantly surprised that the doors stays open for a bit longer than the trains I’ve been on in the U.S. Most of the stations we took were elevator free, but the availability of assistance is incredible I saw a blind man being guided by a Tube employee up the stairs. The employees weren’t the only ones who were helpful, I witnessed the kindness of strangers as they helped a family get a wheelchair down the stairs.
The one route that intimidated me was the Piccadilly Line. The elevator took us
to floor -1. The way out was the longest escalator I’ve ever been on. My anxiety was high. The crush of humanity, the noise, smells and the heat were overwhelming.
We got touristy and got in a black cab. That was an expensive tourist attraction! Lesson learned, use Uber. You get a thrill ride and get to your destination faster for a lot less!
When we went to Kensington Palace, I was offered a wheelchair, I accepted. They also had a concession price (a discount for anyone who is disabled). The wheelchair was a welcome relief. The palace was huge! Umm, yeah it was a PALACE!
Traveling while disabled/handicapped/differently abled was not easy. I had to make adjustments and accommodations to make things easier and accessible. I used a wheelchair after I left the hospital, but worked very hard so I wouldn’t need it for very long. It was awkward being in a wheelchair. I needed it at the airport otherwise we would have missed our flights and I would be completely exhausted. Since I am able to walk, I want to get up and look around, but felt that I would be judged. I know, I know I should have not cared about the opinion of others. But it was tough. It was tough to not to be in total control.
I love to travel, I love to explore and take on big adventures. I am still figuring out how to manage this new way of traveling. I am slower, I am not able to carry my own bags and I definitely slow everyone down. I have to make adjustments and my family needs to make adjustments. There is still so much of the world to see and many more adventures to under take. My family and I will continue to explore the world adjustments and all.
One day, I was struggling to put on a pair of high top shoes. My toes were curled up, my foot would not move. I was getting very frustrated. Armando, sensing my frustration asked, “why do you keep using those shoes if it’s too hard?” . At that moment, all I could say was “because they are cool”.
Later that day, I had more time to chew on the question “why do it if it’s too hard?”. If I don’t do something because it’s hard, I won’t be doing anything at all.
Many of the things I do are difficult. Taking a shower, getting dressed, cooking and going up the stairs are just a few examples.
Resilience in the face of resistance
The American Psychological Association (APA)defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences”
Stroke recovery is not linear. There are moments when I feel victorious, conquering every obstacle that comes my way. I have celebrated small victories like being able to use a can opener and making dinner on my own. Sometimes, all I could do is get out of bed.
My own brain tried to kill me and now it’s sending the left side of my body false messages: No, you can’t bend your leg, no you cannot use your fingers separately. So, everyday my job is to retrain my brain to how to properly communicate with my body. The resistance is sometimes hard to fight. But I plug along everyday.
I get frustrated, depressed and angry. I’ve had goals met and goals I just wasn’t able to complete. I have cried myself to sleep too many times, my poor husband is probably thinking I am slowly losing my mind. Then I wake up the next day, if ever so slowly I get up and out of bed and face my challenges head on.
Resilience for me is not a choice, it’s a necessity. I can have a positive outlook on everything, but without having the ability to recover from setbacks, positivity will not be very helpful. Resilience allows me to learn to adapt & adjust, reset my goals and start over. Resilience what prevents me from wallowing in failure.
I would like to think that I have always been a bad ass bitch able to bounce back from anything life throws at me. Alas, I was not. I was a hot mess of self-pity and internal loathing. I eventually found ways to gain confidence and strength. This hot mess became a hot momma. Then BAM! The stroke took that confidence away.
I had a choice: either curl up and slowly whither away or put on my (clean & pretty) big girl panties and fight this shit. Resilience is not something developed overnight.
I am blessed to be surrounded by loving & supportive family and friends. They help me keep my head up when I feel that I am losing this battle.
I have goals I haven’t met, no matter how hard I’ve tried. I have not given up on them, but I have adjusted and re-adjusted them so that my goals are manageable. Giving myself room to take a break is crucial to my mental and physical health.
The APA gives these guidelines on how to build resilience. It does not happen overnight, but resilience helps in the long run. Our lives will be fraught with changes and surprises, some good, some bad. Our lives will be affected either way. It is how we react to these changes that shapes and forms who we become. Resilience is strength from the inside. It is power we cultivate, exercise & grow.
How do you practice resilience? In what aspect of your life you feel you need to be more resilient? Let me know in the comments below.
Earthquakes happen suddenly, with no warning and if strong enough, leaves massive destruction at its wake. Then the aftershocks follow. Little tremblers that are just as nerve wracking as they could be signaling another big one.
I use this analogy because this is how I felt after the stroke. I get anxious whenever I get a headache or a tingling in my hands or feet. Afterall, the stroke literally caused a shift in my brain.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has always been attributed to veteran soldiers returning from the harrowing experiences of war, survivors of tragedies such as accidents, personal assaults and natural disasters. What most don’t realize is that there are stroke survivors who also suffer from PTSD.
PTSD is a psychological disorder characterized by depression, anxiety, flashbacks and/or nightmares. This study indicated that 1 in 4 stroke survivors suffer from PTSD and yet, it is not a well researched field. Stroke survivors often have huge physical recoveries to tackle, their emotional health is often put on the back burner.
When I was discharged from the rehab hospital, my family was given resources to help me recover physically. Appointments and referrals were set up for physical, speech and occupational therapy. Medical pros had to check my home to see if it was accessible to me. My family was even “trained” to help me transfer in and out of my wheelchair. They were given information on how to keep me physically safe. I do not recall if my family was ever warned of the psychological toll specially PTSD.
The stroke was caused by a blood vessel that burst which flooded my brain with blood killing precious brain cells. This according to the pros, was a direct result of high blood pressure. Armando and I became vigilant about checking my blood pressure. If it was a bit high, I start panicking- which resulted in my pressure going higher. It was an ugly cycle. Every headache was surely a sign of another stroke. I would do the FAST (face, arm, speech, time to call 911) evaluation, but would be very upset because I cannot move my left arm, the left side of my face was numb and so was my leg. It was aggravating. I took a couple of ambulance rides to the ER only to be sent home embarrassed and upset. And inadvertently scaring my boys.
I read somewhere that lifting weights could cause strokes. I immediately emailed my neurologist, my primary care physician and my physical therapist my concern. I was working with a trainer and weight training. They all told me to chill the fuck out (okay, in a very medically polite way) Mind you, I wasn’t lifting anything over 10 lbs. I could not even hold a 5 lb dumbell with my left hand. Ha!
After three years, I have managed to calm down. I still fear that a headache (which I don’t get often thank God!) is signaling another stroke. I have a nagging fear that I will have another stroke and that one will leave me in a vegetative state. These little aftershocks haunt me in my dreams too. I relive the moment I had the stroke and I wake up screaming. Will I ever be able to NOT think about another stroke? I doubt it. This is a reality I now live with.
However, I will not allow these aftershocks to stop me in my tracks. I take many precautions so that a stroke will not get me again. I eat healthy, exercise and avoid stress (yeah, that one is not happening).
For anyone reading who is a stroke survivor, please know that the fear of having “another one “ is not irrational. The anxiety is very real. Our fear is valid. Know that you are not alone.