[present]: six

I had a stroke again yesterday.

And the day before that. And almost every day for the past 6 years.

If it’s not a stroke, I have another brain tumor or some other disease I’m probably too young to have, but who knows I mean look at my track record.

So I test my right arm and leg. Can I oppose all my fingers in quick succession? Have I lost any feeling? I ask Troy to do a neuro exam on me. Is the right side of my face drooping? I check my pupils for reactivity to light. Are they equal? I squeeze my right hand as hard as I can. Am I losing strength? I touch the scarred divot on my skull. Is it less indented because pressure in my brain is increasing? I see if I can close my right eye, because I couldn’t do that after the stroke. I frantically check and double check it all BECAUSE IT’S HAPPENING AGAIN.

At least that’s what it feels like.

If you know me or have read my blog before, you know that I have had severe anxiety/OCD issues since I was in kindergarten. That was my life’s “big trial” -- or so I thought. When the stroke happened, my coping skills were turned upside down. I realized I could no longer rationalize my way out of anxiety or a panic attack with the mantra I had used since childhood: What you’re afraid of isn’t going to actually happen! It never does! This no longer works, because, well, it did happen. I did have a life-altering medical emergency. I did lose control of my body. I did almost die. So, how do I cope now?

Answer: not particularly well.

It could be that I am currently in a darker place than normal with my anxiety being at its worst in 6 years, but lately I’ve been struggling with the aspects of my stroke recovery that have nothing to do with the physical. In fact, the mental and emotional fallout has far and away been the worst part of this whole experience. Because of my pre-existing anxiety and my mind’s penchant for ruminating on fear, I have been unable to leave That President’s Day behind me.

Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about or revisited the moment I suddenly lost feeling and movement on my right side, or the terrifying days that followed. Some days it’s just a passing thought. I’m so glad I had the ability to call for help. I can’t believe I survived. Wow, that really happened? Many times, however -- especially lately -- my thoughts and memories about those events are so obsessive and strong that I physically feel my right side going numb, or tingling, or not moving like it should. It feels 100% real, even though it’s not.

In so many wonderful ways, I am far removed from my stroke. I am walking. I can use my arm. I can dress, bathe, and toilet myself. I can even drive and work. By all accounts, my physical recovery, the recovery people can see, has been incredible -- and I am indescribably thankful! I may never run or skip or jump or play sports or act again. But physically, February 21, 2011 feels like a long time ago.

Mentally and emotionally, though, it feels like almost no time has passed.

Neurological injury and mental illness have a lot in common. One true fact about both of them is that recovery is not finite or a discrete event. It’s a lifelong deal, and it may never be "complete."

So, while I have achieved the majority of what my damaged brain will allow physically, I still have a ways to go before I’m where I want to be mentally. I am realizing that, while the stroke was terribly difficult, the anxiety/OCD/PTSD/depression is still my life’s “big trial.” Even if a million other horrible things happen to me, the anxiety will always make things a million times worse. That’s just what it does.

I am trying. Every day is a challenge, and some days I don’t think I’ll ever make it. And the truth is, things have gotten so bad that I won’t make it -- at least not on my own. So, I am asking the Savior to help me bear this burden. He said:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
(Matthew 11:28-30)

I believe Him. He has performed many miracles for me. I know He will help me still. With His love and grace, I will one day feel at peace with February 21, 2011.