Tracy Leyden – Gooooooallllls
In 2013, Tracy had a stroke in her brainstem. She had to relearn everything, including breathing, swallowing, speaking, sleeping, learning to control and use her arms and how to walk. She is the proudest mother of one son and lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband.
During the Covid -19 pandemic, so much has changed, and that ‘new normal’ now applies to everyone. Your ‘win’ as a survivor: you have experience. We adapted for post-traumatic life at least once before and we will again. We are stronger together.
How can I make it better if I can’t go back? It’s no doubt a question asked in some form by everyone at this point in every language on every continent.
Again, a win. We asked it before, and came up with an answer that aided in our survival. I often write, speak and encourage peer survivors with my favorite topic: goal setting. Goal setting is a constant in my infinite recovery process. And I hope I can make it a habit for you as well.
Psychologically, it makes sense. Set a goal, achieve, revise, achieve, repeat. You won’t become complacent and regress. It’s a great motivator. We rebel against failure. Therefore, we will continue to move forward, in spite of ourselves. Goals were made, and rituals created, routines were crucial to our brain injury recovery. Oftentimes to remain safe, or maintain our progress and further our mobility. I learned tricks I still use today. I still feel with the backs of my legs for the chair before I plop. When I get up, I keep my legs touching the chair until my equilibrium readjusts so I don’t plop. Or at least if I do it’s only back onto the chair and not the floor.
As the virus spread and more and more restrictions were implemented, more and more daily rituals and routines seemed to get discarded with the fact that we don’t need to attend that appointment in person. Or go IN to the essential grocery store. Curbside pickup of anything and everything has made it easy to justify wearing my pajama bottoms, always. Showering became a chore and a ‘whatever’. I have many of those ‘whatevers’. Who’s gonna notice, who’s gonna see me, why bother. Throw my hair in a clip; jewelry, ha; mascara and makeup - whatever. Fill in your own.
PS1 (post-stroke, day 1) there were therapies that began in earnest. Learning to walk started with a goal of standing first. Then the first step with an aid. Speaking began with a grunt. Breathing on my own was terrifying. Regaining the ability to swallow was daunting, but an ultimate goal achieved. All because of the habit of ‘practice’ and goal setting. They all were accomplished by breaking it down to achievable goals. Goal, habit, routine….repeat.
I have noticed the change in my gait, it’s much more disjointed, no longer smooth or natural-looking. My balance is abominable. Eating habits are deplorable. My self-esteem is nonexistent. Sleep is fleeting. I’ve become depressed, enraged at what I can’t control, gained weight, and lost my confidence. I can blame it all on the pandemic, but really, it’s because of the loss of my routine.
On Mondays, I volunteered in the hospital as a peer motivator. Tuesdays were usually a social outing with a friend, Wednesday was a chore day. Thursdays shopping. Mall walking on Friday, and Saturday, more weekly chores. Sunday….. laundry. Many of those days I ‘dressed up’, put on earrings and a necklace, even shoes! There were regular bed, wake and meal times. Daily grooming for being in public. Every day had to have a goal, a purpose. It’s the way I remained a productive member of society.
My way of life was upended. No more socializing, or outings - even if it was to drive to the cleaners, or to get milk. It was my routine. It is no more. But it will be again.
It has taken a lot of introspection, strength and gumption to make a change. To regain control of me. To change and adapt again to my environment which I can’t control.
I have realized I need to:
- Reassess my goals
- Revise my routines
- Reapply myself to Reachive Results
Now my goals are back to basic.
- Wake up at a reasonable hour;
- Don’t linger in the bed for hours;
- Get dressed;
- Brush hair;
- Brush teeth (different brushes, of course);
- Walk 1000 steps a day;
- Eat right and regularly;
- Do a ‘chore’;
- Minimize TV watching and couch potato time;
- Limit screen time;
- Go to bed at a reasonable hour.
Granted, even the basics don’t look the same, and adaptations have been made, but there is a purpose, routine and goals for each day. And, it has made a difference. The depression and rage aren’t as deep and debilitating. My gait’s not great, but I have a ‘goal’. The weight gain slowed. Another goal to work toward. Sleep, eh, it’s been an enigma anyway. During this temporary upheaval, I believe it is necessary to reassess, adapt, and implement goals. Achieving them will become routine. It takes anywhere from 18-254 days to make or break a habit. Don't be discouraged, that’s only 8.35 months. Basically, the time since the pandemic arrived. The
average number of days is generally 66 days. That means you can begin cementing your goals, habits and routine in two months. (See what I did there, I broke down that daunting number into manageable and achievable increments.)
That’s your goal: to finish this unusual and hopefully one-of-a-kind time with an investment in yourself. That’s your win.
Be strong. Be safe. Be kind. Be hopeful.