Writer: Delanie Stephenson
I had my stroke at the age of 33
Before I had my stroke at the age of 33 in 2012, I was what I thought of as the ideal mom. I had a teaching job, young kids in school, one in daycare and one in kindergarten, was a wife and 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. Essentially, be Superwoman. I felt like I had everything under control — or so I thought.
June 6, 2012 all this came to a screeching halt. I suffered a massive brain stem stroke which affected my ability to talk, walk, and swallow. I was locked in with no movement except my eyelids. I felt trapped in my body and the only thing to do was think. All I thought about was my family, my husband and my kids ages 4 and 6 at the time. Would I ever be that Superwoman again, so 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 I may never be able to play again?
After six months of intensive speech, occupational, and physical therapy which involved ICU, a sub acute hospital, inpatient rehab, and outpatient rehab, I was able to gain back most of the physical abilities I lost. I walked with a cane, but was thankful I could walk at all. My speech came back, different, but I was able to communicate. My swallowing reflexes were also relearned and believe me, I made up for lost time when I could not eat!
Stroke emotional toll
Then came the emotional toll the stroke had taken on my brain.
I was prepared for the physical part; I was not for the emotional. I had experienced bouts of depression in years past before the kids were born. While I was in the hospital, the doctors put me on antidepressants, expecting 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 pseudo bulbar affect. A combination of antidepressants and other medication brought the PBA under control, somewhat.
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 the “Old Mommy” and “New Mommy.” The “Old Mommy” was fun and the “New Mommy” wasn’t so much fun. He wanted to know when the “Old Mommy” was coming back. He developed separation anxiety and anger issues. He was mad at me for leaving him for a long period of time form the summer I was in the hospital. My daughter, however, became my nurse at home. 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.
my stroke and my family
It has been four years since my stroke and my family is still learning the new “normal,” whatever that is. I am not where I used to be and am coming to grips with the fact I’ll never be the “Old Mommy.” My kids seem to be accepting of 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 is the solution. 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 puzzling, 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.