October is Mental Health Awareness month. To that end, we’re honored to share a guest post from Flannery O’Neil, the Executive Director of Stroke Onward, a non-profit organization that provides stroke survivors, families, and caregivers with resources to help them navigate the emotional journey to rebuild their lives and identities after stroke. Her post addresses some of the emotional issues associated with recovery from stroke.
When Stanford University tenured professor Debra Meyerson, Ph.D. experienced a severe stroke in 2010, she was left with aphasia and physical disabilities that left her unable to maintain the professor role that she worked so hard to attain. This left Debra to wonder “who am I now?” In the blink of an eye, Debra’s identities of professor, parent, wife, friend, daughter, and sister had been altered.
Beyond the physical implications of her stroke, she and her loved ones had to start thinking about her recovery in the context of “reclaiming the pieces that mean the most” and redefining meaning and purpose in her life. For Debra, this redefinition took the form of writing the book, Identity Theft: Rediscovering Ourselves After Stroke and founding of Stroke Onward, a nonprofit now working to change the stroke care system. For each survivor, this will look different — we don’t all have to write a book and start an organization to rebuild our identities and find new meaning.
Throughout your life, you are writing the story of who you are. Take a minute to think about how you describe yourself — not just what you do, but also the things you most care about. How do your friends and family describe you? Now, think back on your life… are you the same person as you were five years ago or 10 years ago?
Four key factors about identity:
The previous article in this series discussed the emotional adjustment after stroke and the stages of grief which historically ended with the acceptance stage. A sixth stage of grief was recently added – finding meaning. David Kessler authored the book Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief after experiencing the death of his son. After his extensive work on the subject of grief and having co-authored two books with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, including the creation of the Five Stages of Grief, undoubtedly Kessler is an expert on grief. Through walking the stages of grief yet again, Kessler realized that there was something missing from the five stages. As he writes in his book,
Loss can wound and paralyze. It can hang over us for years. But finding meaning in loss empowers us to find a path forward. Meaning helps us make sense of grief.
His book examines the role of meaning in our lives and particularly so after grieving loss, whether that be loss after stroke or death of a loved one. Meaning can come in different ways but helps us to understand that “your loss is not a test, a lesson, something to handle, a gift, or a blessing. Loss is simply what happens to you in your life. Meaning is what you make happen.”
At Stroke Onward, we define recovery by both the rehab and the rebuilding that you do. Remember that it takes time – this is a marathon, not a sprint! Using the tools above will help get you on your way to rebuilding a new you.
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