[past & present] 4 years?! 4 real.

yesterday marked four whole years since my stroke! that's a presidential term. an undergraduate degree. twenty eight dog years. the amount of time between decent Arizona Diamondbacks teams. wow. 

since 2011, this time of year is filled with a lot of contemplation and gratitude, a little bit of sadness, and not a little bit of anxiety. 
contemplation of, and gratitude for, the blessings and miracles that allow me to be alive and as functional as i am today; sadness and mourning for the old Ashley and what she used to be able to do that she can no longer; and anxiety about having another stroke, my brain tumor regrowing, the constant possibly of another health crisis and countless other worries. 

to celebrate my strokeiversary, Troy and i spent the day being as active as i've been in a long time. i am physically a lot weaker than i was before my stroke, so i wanted to feel my muscles moving and my heart pumping as close to like the old days as possible. i woke up and stretched, did some ab and arm exercises, rode my sweet trike down the canal path to a nearby park (3.5 miles roundtrip - holla!) and played catch and hit some whiffle balls with Troy. 

note: after yesterday's activities, i am so sore today. oh. my. gosh.
if you knew me before my stroke, you would know i loved playing softball, and consequently, it is one of the things i miss the very most. my right arm gets really tight with any fast movements, so throwing is tough. but i can do it! not in the same way and not as far or accurate, but i can do it. and i am thankful! 

(my right leg also gets displeased with fast movements/exertion, hence the shaking and losses of balance.)

even though quite a lot of time has passed since my months doing hardcore therapy, my recovery process has not stopped -- nor will it ever if i have my way! recovery after a neurological injury is a lifelong process. there is rarely an end. working as an occupational therapy practitioner in a neuro rehab clinic, i have seen this knowledge come as a shock to a lot of my patients and their families. in our culture, i think we are used to having time frames provided to us my doctors: wear the cast for 6 weeks. take this medication for 10 days. avoid heavy lifting for 2 months. with recovery from neurological issues, we don't get an end date. recovery just becomes another part of everyday life.

in the past year, there have been some standout moments in my recovery that i think are worth sharing. let's review, shall we?

  1. i started working as an occupational therapy assistant at SWAN Rehab in Phoenix a little over a year ago. most of my patients are stroke survivors like me. i help them return to independence -- just as my therapists did for me. i truly love what i do! as this is my first full time job since the stroke, it has been a challenge to maintain the 40-60 hour/week pace, both physically and mentally. my job is incredibly physical already, and then managing my balance, strength and muscle tone issues on top of that makes for a very tired body at the end of the day. (napping at 6 p.m. is ok, right?) it has also been difficult to manage my anxiety, which has increased so much since the stroke. but i am thankful to have a job that i love and to BE ABLE to work! every morning i thank God for that.

  2. i got an adult trike! after looking around for a while (those things ain't cheap!), we found a winner on Craigslist. Troy created a strapping mechanism to keep my right foot on the pedal and also built a platform on the back so he can bum a ride. i had tried to ride a 2-wheeler a couple years ago but decided a trike was much safer for me balance-wise. i love it!

  3. this one is a biggie. in April, i was able to get a Bioness L300 unit to help me walk. basically, i wear it on my leg and it provides electrical stimulation to the nerves that are not getting signals from my brain. the stim brings my ankle up and out so i can walk without my AFO (the black brace i always wore). getting the Bioness was a miracle in itself as i had attempted to get it through insurance before and was denied, and we didn't have $6k lying around to buy it. i tried again to get it through my new insurance, and they paid for EVERYTHING! i was apparently the first person to be approved for the device through my insurance company. such a blessing! so now, i have the option of wearing my AFO or the Bioness. that sentence can also read: so now, i have the option of wearing different sized, unstylish shoes or wearing cute shoes that are the same size. :) 

    oh yeah, i also did a news story for Bioness. you can watch it here to see how i walk with and without it on. technology rocks!

  4. back in June, Troy and i made a visit to the site of my stroke -- Snowbowl in Flagstaff, AZ -- for the first time since my stroke. i had attempted to visit on one other occasion but couldn't bring myself to go any further than the base of the mountain. we made the trip in June because we were planning to take a flight and i wanted to make sure ahead of time that my brain wasn't going to explode due to elevation. i thought i would be ok going back to the start of it all; it had been more than 3 years, after all. boy was i wrong! it was really, really tough. there were a few times i almost turned around. sitting where i sat when my body started to lose all movement and feeling was surreal and more frightening than i had anticipated. i'm really glad i went, but i have no need to go back for a while. :)

  5. speaking of that June flight, it was the first time i flew since my stroke. i had avoided flying because i was worried that the change in elevation would cause another stroke, even though the doctors were uncertain if elevation was a factor in the tumor rupturing. i was nervous for most of the flight, but the trip Troy and i took to Cancun was so worth it! we has such a great belated honeymoon. i even boarded another plane a couple months later to go to Colorado for my friends' wedding. glad those first flights are done, and even more glad my brain behaved!
    on the plane. there's no going back now!

  6. i French braided my hair for the first time. ok, so next to the other milestones, this one might seem pretty inconsequential. it was special to me, though, because i used to be able to do my hair in all kinds of styles, including braids. while my right arm/hand works well when my arms are around waist- or chest-height, raising them over my head (like in braiding) is harder. i sat on the couch where i could prop my arm up while i braided. it's a start!

  7. this is another huge one for me. are you ready?!! *drumroll sound*I RAN FOR THE FIRST TIME! ok, so it was more like a canter. or maybe a trot. but it felt so good (and was exhausting!). i wore the Bioness and was harnessed above the treadmill. my right leg lagged a little, but i never tripped. thanks to my co-worker, Mark, who provided his PT skills to help me meet this goal.

well, there you have it! writing this post was a great opportunity to reflect on the past year and to realize the progress i am still making. i am still so thankful for all the prayers, love and support that have been given to me throughout this journey. to all those who have prayed for me, provided encouragement and/or cheered me on: i am forever indebted to you. you have impacted my life more than you will ever know!

and to Troy, who, apart from me, is the only one who knows the extent of my daily struggles and triumphs: thank you for being my safe place and my biggest supporter. thank you for reminding me to use Righty and for catching me when i fall (literally and figuratively). you are my biggest blessing and i am so glad to be alive so i can live life with you.