Dear Angela: An Open Letter to My Former Self by Angela Hager
In recognition of World Stroke Day 2017, I decided to do something a little out of the ordinary: write an open letter to my former, pre-stroke self for all to read. My hope is that this piece will offer encouragement, inspiration and maybe even a little motivation to anyone either directly or indirectly affected by stroke.
My decision to write this letter wasn’t an easy one to make, but in time, you’ll come to understand that my need to write these things ultimately outweighed my hesitation. At 34 years old, life is comfortable. A routine has been established and the task of balancing work and family life has gotten easier. You’re a planner by nature and thrive on organization and predictability. So far, the storms you have encountered have been weathered pretty well; however, as you’ll soon discover, a darkness like you’ve never known looms just around the next bend.
Over the course of the next several months, you will begin to experience a series of “odd” moments, both physically and mentally speaking. These occurrences will pass rather quickly, giving you reason to chalk each of them up to just “one of those fluke things.” Unbeknownst to you, these seemingly trivial oversights will end up covering you in a thick, smothering cloak of regret…
The first oddity will be a sudden change in your eyesight; your vision will unexpectedly shatter into a million colorful pieces, almost as if you’re looking through a kaleidoscope. This effect will dissipate almost as quickly as it appeared, much to your relief. You’ll tell yourself that you just need to eat something and after a quick bite, all will be forgotten.
The next bizarre episode will be mental in nature. You’ll experience a brief bout with confusion at your place of employment. You’ll sit silently in a befuddled state, unsure of your assigned tasks. Again, this phenomenon will come and go within a matter of seconds. Once your brain regains its focus, you’ll shake it off, grab the next patient chart and simply carry on with your workday.
The third incident will appear to be more of an embarrassing mishap than anything else. A fast-paced walk down an office corridor will come to an abrupt halt with a sudden fall to the floor. You’ll pick yourself up with a bruised ego and place full blame on your newly acquired pair of heels. Little do you know that at this point, you are now barreling straight towards the eye of a storm so dark and so fierce that you’ll question whether or not the sun will ever shine for you again.
Just before your 35th birthday, your life will be irreparably split into two, very separate, very distinct chapters; pre-incident Angela and post-incident Angela. On a hectic morning in early June, you’ll be stopped in your tracks by a very strong ‘locked-in’ sensation. You’ll suddenly lose the ability to think straight or speak clearly. The left side of your body will lose its strength and simultaneously, you’ll feel a sense of numbness wash over your limbs. You will literally be frozen in terror. Once your mind loosens its grip on your body and you regain some control, you’ll notice a drool stain on your blouse. This will be the telltale sign for you: at 34 years of age, you just suffered a stroke.
The following days/months/years will be chock-full of every emotion imaginable. You’ll spend many days in bed, particularly in the beginning of your post-stroke journey, unable to function due to depression. You’ll often lash out in fear and anger and you will resent yourself deeply for not recognizing those earlier “flukes” as actual TIAs, or mini-strokes. Oh, the power of hindsight…
Although your stroke will be diagnosed as ‘mild,’ the lingering mental challenges will be devastating to you. You will be unable to return to your fast-paced work environment and the art of multi-tasking will become virtually impossible. Confusion, memory lapses and sensory overload issues will be at the forefront of your difficulties. Anxiety and insomnia will undoubtedly haunt you on a regular basis. The Angela that existed before your stroke will remain a distant memory, but take heart, sweet lady, I can assure you that all will not be lost nor in vain.
As difficult as it is to imagine, I promise that you will find happiness again. Learning to love the new you won’t be an easy journey, but with the unconditional love and constant support from your friends and family, you, we, eventually make it through to the other side. In the end, we will have gained a new perspective; a new appreciation for the simple things in life. Time is now more precious to us than ever and we grab hold of every opportunity to say, ‘I love you.’ No, all is definitely not lost. Our life may not be perfect, but I can genuinely tell you this truth: we’re now in a really, really good place; a place where the sun has never shone brighter.
Stay strong, from one Angela to the other.