Learning to Be a New Person
Before I had my stroke at age 33 in 2012, I thought of myself as the ideal mom. I had a job, one child in daycare and one in kindergarten, was a wife. I thought I could do everything. I tried to keep the house clean; be the ideal teacher, who never brought any work home; and be devoted 100 percent to my husband, Curtis. You know, essentially, be Superwoman. I had everything under control. Or so I thought.
June 6, 2012, all this came to a screeching halt. I had a massive brainstem stroke that robbed me of the ability to talk, walk and swallow. I was locked-in with no movement except my eyelids. I was trapped in my body, and the only thing to do was think. All I thought about was my husband and my kids, ages 4 and 6 at the time. Would I ever be Superwoman again, determined to be the best in every part of my life? Would I be able to hold and kiss my babies? Would my husband leave me for another woman, more able to fulfill the role of wife and mother, the part that I might never be able to play again?
I had six months of intensive speech, occupational and physical therapy that involved ICU, a sub-acute hospital, inpatient rehab and outpatient rehab. I gained back most of the physical abilities I had lost. I walked with a cane, but I was thankful I could walk at all. My speech came back, different but at least I was able to communicate. I re-learned how to swallow, and believe me, I made up for lost time when I could eat!
Then came the emotional toll the stroke had taken on my brain…….
I was prepared for the physical part. I was not prepared for the emotional part. I had suffered from bouts of depression in years past before the kids were born. (After the kids came, I always said I didn’t have time to be depressed!) While I was in the hospital, the doctors put me on antidepressants, expecting a little depression after what I had been through. They thought it was normal to experience this after the stroke. But once I was home, I knew I was experiencing more than depression. Uncontrollable crying and laughter were taking over my brain daily. It was an emotional struggle to make it through the day. I talked to my neurologist about the issue and was finally diagnosed with pseudobulbar affect (PBA). A combination of antidepressants and other medication brought the PBA somewhat under control.
While my body and mind were healing, I was learning to be a new person. It was as if the old Delanie left, and my husband and kids had to deal with a new wife and mom. My son often referred to me as Old Mommy and New Mommy. Old Mommy was fun and New Mommy wasn’t so much fun. He wanted to know when Old Mommy was coming back. He developed separation anxiety and anger issues. He was mad at me for leaving him for such a long time with no explanation that summer I was in the hospital. On the other hand, my daughter became my nurse. She got me anything I needed and made sure all the toys were out of the way so I wouldn’t trip on them. It was interesting to see two kids who went through the same experience and how they reacted so differently.
It has been four years since my stroke and my family is still learning the “new normal,” whatever that is. I am coming to grips that I’ll never again be Old Mommy. My kids seem to accept this: Mommy can’t go on field trips with a lot of walking. It’s too hard for Mommy to bring homemade cupcakes to school on their birthdays — store bought are going to have to do. Mommy may be too tired to do certain things and need to take a nap. Life is not better or worse than it was, just different. Not only does my family have to accept that, but I do, too.
This may sound weird, but I’m kind of glad I had my stroke. It has helped me and my family to slow down and appreciate the little things in life like spending time together and being thankful for each and every day. Life can change in the blink of an eye.
Delanie Stephenson is a stroke survivor and former teacher. She is now a published author and stay at home mom. She has written two books, The Calm Before the Storm: A Stroke Survivor’s Story and a children’s book, Mom Had a Stroke, both available on amazon.com. She can be contacted via email and Facebook.
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