By Rebecca Schmidt-Lachlan,  Altered Abilities

I want to start by saying there are no rules or a single path in stroke recovery!  

What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. Your individual recovery journey will be trial and error as you navigate new paths.  

Most of the time you will be able to achieve results using the same steps as you did before. Every now and then, you may have to think outside of the box and try something in a whole new way. This might require extra steps or seem completely crazy – the goal is that it gets you where you want to go or does what you want to achieve.  

It can take a long time to build up the courage to do something totally against the grain of what others think. One thing I have learnt in the past 15 years on my stroke recovery journey is the sooner you can let go of the fear and worry of what others may say or think, the quicker you can be happy within yourself.  

My suggestions below may help you find that certain something that lets you feel more at ease in your own skin, especially after all the changes you have gone through physically and mentally from experiencing a stroke.  

If my suggestions don’t resonate with you, that is perfectly alright as well. I hope they still inspire you to think outside of the box and come up with your own methods to achieve the results you want. Keep an open mind as your brain can surprise you and come up with ideas that you didn’t even know were in there!

Positive Self-Talk

Your mental wellbeing is the most important part in making sure you can be happy within yourself no matter what!

Positive self-talk can bring a whole new element in the way you perceive everything. From the day in – day out stuff to the major challenges that pop up just to throw a curve ball when life is going great.  

I will not say keeping a positive open mind about the things that can occur is an easy task. You will fall back into old patterns or behaviours; your mind is designed to focus on the negative in everything to help you look out for potholes in the road.  

While you often have a choice, it sometimes can take charge and cause physical effects on your body telling you not to go down this path. I suggest taking baby steps to overcome any anxieties that may pop up along the way – there is no timeframe this must be achieved in, only do what will not put you too far out of the comfort zone. As you go along this road it will get easier and you will notice all the hazards as they appear earlier and can adjust yourself accordingly.

Positive mindset is a skill you can learn and do not have to be born with.  I was caught up in the world of doing everything the way I was told, learnt at school, or saw on TV. I was totally stuck in this loop and found myself tripping up on a regular basis, getting angry and wondering what I was doing wrong. This was not how things had been explained to me in my youth. I found the road does not always go straight ahead as I had been told, there are twists and turns with some hills and many other hazards that can come up all the time!

I now realise it doesn’t matter if I have to add extra steps to achieve the desired outcome, all that matters is that I did it and got there. Being proud of the little wins can boost confidence and improve the overall outlook on so many things.  

I had always been great at thinking outside of the box for practical things and using a new method to achieve the same outcome. An example is my right arm would not stay up when standing to put my hair in a ponytail after my stroke. I worked out gravity is my friend and if I lay down on the ground, I could now tie my hair up. This is great for me as I have long hair and I would not have to cut it off. I have been doing my hair this way for 15 years now! I make a joke with others when they ask me what I am doing. "Don't you do your hair on the ground?” I act like they are the ones doing something abnormal. It eases their concern that I am on the ground (Did they think I fell over?) and lightens the mood at the same time.  

Can I take this method of thinking outside of the box about practical things and apply it to all areas of my life? Once this thought was seeded in my head, so many things opened up for me.  

I found myself letting things go of the small things we tend to turn into big things when we get stuck believing it has to be a certain way. I stopped getting caught up on the problems I had no control over or could not change. I saw the problems as now in the past! This made life a whole lot easier.

I wrote a book on the patient perspective (something you don’t see often). Writing allowed me to document my traumatic experience and let go of those thoughts. I am now able to look at it as something that happened to me a long time ago and does not define the person I am today.  

An open mind and belief

I believe mental wellbeing starts with a positive open mind. Keeping your mind open to possibility as daily challenges arise is where wellbeing begins. From my experience, if your heart is not in it and you aren’t open to possibilities, they will not work.

After my stroke I was unable to move anything from my eyes down. The doctors called my condition ‘locked in syndrome’ and told me I would remain this way for the rest of my life.  

A scene from Kill Bill Vol 1 kept running through my head, the part where she escapes from her hospital room in a wheelchair and her legs will not work. She manages to pull herself into the back seat of the car and repeats to herself, “wiggle your big toe” until it starts moving.  

I thought this sounded like a good idea and gave it a try. What was the worst that could happen – my toes would not respond? Amazingly they did. Not only was I shocked it worked, but the entire medical team were also just as amazed.

What was the main source of this power? Belief! Belief that I could achieve the impossible against all odds and determination I would be walking out of that hospital. I didn’t know how this was going to happen although I knew this was the starting point.  

As it turned out, I never got to walk out of that hospital as I was transported to another then another rehabilitation hospital. I did get to walk out of that final hospital. I was so proud of myself for coming so far and reaching my goal. It took 7½ months and I had to use a walker as an aid, but it didn’t matter to me – I was walking! Something I was told would never happen again in my life.  

Having belief in yourself can make the impossible suddenly become possible. Every day brings a new challenge for me with balance to do the basic tasks many of us take for granted. I know this because I took it for granted and just thought it was what was meant to happen. I now appreciate how complex even the smallest thing can be and how much goes into every task.  

I think back to when I was a toddler and kept falling over, it didn’t seem to faze me, and I just kept trying. I wonder where I would be if I had decided to stop as I was sick of falling over. Somewhere along the line we stop trying and just expect that it will always work that way. It is not until something happens to upset the applecart that we even think about what this might equate to in everyday life.

The possibilities are endless.

A life changing event such a stroke can be so overwhelming. There are so many aspects of our lives we feel we need to control. This is not only what we hear from every direction around us, but we are also the biggest critics of ourselves!  

The good news is this way of thinking can be turned on or off at any time and that is something in our control.  A positive open mind is probably one of the only aspects of our lives that we are in charge of. Having the courage to be true to yourself even when it may make others unhappy or unimpressed is the bravest thing you can do.  

We can determine our limits according to how uncomfortable that makes us. A little discomfort may be a good thing and push us to try new avenues although your gut will usually let you know if it is too much – listen to it and have the courage to follow it – whichever way things may go.  

Look inside yourself, only you know what is right for you! Don’t be scared to be yourself and live life on your own terms. Life is an adventure and there are no failures, only learnings for the next time. Maybe the learning is do the same thing again or maybe it's try a new way and see what happens. Possibilities you had never dreamed of could open and the choice is yours!