I'm Still Recovering from a Childhood Stroke, But I'm No Longer Pretending I Don't Struggle

I would tell myself I'm fine. I didn't want to be that disabled kid who was depressed.
Publish date:
June 11, 2016
childhood, depression, paralysis, strokes, coping

Today is a hard day. I don't know why it's hard, but it is. I woke up and lay in bed contemplating how much I actually needed to keep my shitty restaurant job. I eventually went to work, smiled through all the terrible customers, and then I came home, ate a snack, and took a shower. I sang in the shower and planned on getting some writing done.

As soon as I sat down, an overwhelming sense of anxiety covered me. My skin felt uncomfortable to be in, and my mind was going a mile a minute. I'm confused again. I'm not sure why, but I am.

When I was a little girl, I was paralyzed due to a stroke. Doctors cannot actually explain why — only that I had small arteries and ended up bruising one. That's the easiest way I know how to explain it. I was paralyzed for one year and seemingly magically, one day, my brain "rewired" itself, and I was giving the chance to move again.

Everyday is a struggle, a physically and mentally draining struggle. I have nerve damage and chronic fatigue on the left side of my body. I'm basically always in some sort of pain and discomfort. But I hide it as much as I can.

A doctor told me to my face once that I would never walk again after I had fallen out of a hospital chair. Very typical of me to do exactly what everyone was telling me not to do. I had tried to stand up because I thought I could; I had no concept of what was happening in my life. The doctor was very mad at me for doing what I had done, and my family was worried.

Everyone always said, "Don't do that or you'll hurt yourself," so I quickly learned that if I wanted to be normal and functional, I had to pretend that I was OK at all times.

It wasn't easy learning how to use my body again — learning again which muscles did what. Even to this day, I'm still learning. Just because I can walk and move now does not mean that it's comfortable. It's very uncomfortable. I don't remember what it was like to have complete ability on both sides of my body. There's a part of me that is missing that I cannot get back. Most days I have to tell my left foot to move or else I'll trip and fall down. When I'm out on a Friday night, I have to exaggerate the left side of my smile for an Instagram picture because if I don't, my face will look lopsided.

I haven't fully recovered. I'm recovering.

Some days are harder than others to pretend. Some days I can't get out of bed. I think about my family most of the time. I have one older sister and one younger brother. Growing up, we lived in a very hostile environment. My father had a history of drug abuse and would sneak pills every once in a while. He would yell and punish us whenever he wasn't in the mood to be a father. He would prevent us from being close with one another because it gave him power. My mother tried to console us, and I didn't know any better than to accept that this was a normal way of life. So I pretended to be OK even though, deep down, I knew I wasn't.

I moved out as quickly and as soon as I could, and from that moment on, I have forced myself to move beyond my past and be happy. But I wasn't happy. For the majority of the time, I was on auto-pilot.

I didn't understand what was happening — I was doing everything right, I was doing everything to be better, I was focused and pursuing a career, I was working and supporting myself. But I was 20 years old and drunk almost every night, which was a terrible choice for me considering that when I drink, my nerve damage goes bananas. I was angry all the time because nobody saw what I was going through, and no one was acknowledging it — including myself. I was straight-up running.

I once had a therapist tell me, "You are probably depressed." I thought she was crazy. I would tell myself, "I'm not depressed. That's for people with problems. I'm fine." I didn't want to be labeled. I didn't want to be that disabled kid who was depressed.

Depression is a dark cloud that covers your entire body. An incredible heaviness in your chest that keeps you from breathing. Invisible chains around your ankles that keep you from moving. You feel stuck and suffocated. Nothing anyone can say will make you feel better. You are numb, and you wish you could turn your brain off. You are one the extras in The Walking Dead, just dragging yourself along the road, waiting to hear "Cut!" so you can go to craft services and get a snack. But you don't hear it.

"Just smile and cheer up," is a phrase I hear all the time. Words that are thrown at me in conversation with friends or family. Words that make me feel insignificant. If I could control how I feel, I would. I wish I knew exactly why I suffer from depression and where it actually stems from, but I do know what could contribute to it. I know that some days, when I wake up, the fatigue on the left side of my body is unbearable. I know that I fear the fact that as I age, the pain will only get worse. I know that the thought of speaking to my father fills me with anxiety, and any time I enter my childhood home, I feel sick to my stomach. I also know I don't have to justify my depression to anyone.

It's not easy, but considering everything, things are getting better every day. I take my time and try to acknowledge my feelings. I try my hardest not to pretend anymore. My best friend forces me to tell him one positive thing I've experienced a day, every day. Some days it's a lot easier, and other days I want to punch him in the face.

I still lie in bed after my alarm goes off and feel numb. And that's OK, because I'm alive today, feeling my feelings, being as healthy as I can. I can't do anything about the bad days, and I'm learning to be OK with that.