Maggie Whittum – What have I gained?
Maggie Whittum suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke in her brainstem, caused by a pontine cavernous angioma, at age 33. She is creating a documentary film, The Great Now What about her experience with stroke, disability, and resilience. She has presented on stroke and disability to medical students, social work students, and stroke survivors, most recently at Johns Hopkins University and Denver University. She writes in honor of World Stroke Day.
It has been nearly four years since my hemorrhagic stroke at age 33, and I still often think of what it has taken from me. Loss of health, loss of relationships, loss of independence, loss of conventional beauty and femininity (this society doesn’t usually picture a “pretty woman” with a cane and a paralyzed face), loss of money, loss of career, loss of self.
“How can the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses” is the line I always remember from the extraordinary poem The Layers by Stanley Kunitz. Life is loss. And gain. And loss… and gain… and loss… and gain… and so on. But so much loss at once can be overwhelming. It often leaves me in a dark pit of despondency and despair.
But what have I gained?
I have gained some things, one is: Time.
At first so much empty time was maddening, suffocating. But now I feel just a little bit blessed to have so much time. Modern life is exceptionally hectic. No one has any time. The schedule I used to work, the pace of my life, was frenetic, frazzled, and unsustainable.
Now I have time. Time to contemplate so much.
How do I become a better artist? In creating my documentary film about my stroke and my struggle, how do I create the most impactful, empathetic and human film possible, that will profoundly engage stroke survivors, caregivers, and the medical community?
How do I become a better friend? How can I make more purposeful quality time to spend with my good friends and family? What would make a good handwritten note? How can share that podcast I just listened to, that article I just read, that song that just moved me, with a certain person to brighten their day? How can I do more?
How do I become a better citizen? What are the issues that I care about, and how can I act in a positive way regarding them?
There are more, including, but not limited to:
How do I become a better partner?
How do I become a better advocate for people with disabilities?
How do I become a better advocate for stroke survivors?
How do I become a better advocate for women?
I have been using the monumental amount time I have now to ponder these questions, and hopefully improve myself in the meantime.