This post is the second part to myStroke series that I began during Stroke Awareness Week last week. You can view my post and story here. I met Sharon when I joined a Bootcamp to meet some new people when I moveD to Melbourne. She was one of the trainers there. She was a hard task master! I got to know Sharon quite well particularly after I found out that she had her stroke. The day our class was told, I burst into tears. I remember having this overwhelming feeling that reminded me of the day I had my stroke and all the obstacles I had to overcome. I remember thinking that this woman may need me for support. I didn’t have support when I had my stroke, particularly from young people who have had similar experiences to me. You just didn’t hear of it back then. I didn’t want to push it or anything, but I remember sending her a message just to let her know I was there and that she could phone me any time if she needed someone to lean on Who could understand. She did ring me a few times, and I was able to listen to what she was going through and just tell her everything would be okay and the things she was feeling were totally normal for someone who had had a stroke. Even though her side-effects were different to mine… We had a bond and that was through hour experience with stroke. Four years later when I lost my vision, Sharon was there for me too. I remember being in bed at the time when she rang and I was in a dark place. I think I had spent most of the night crying. At the time, I remember thinking that this girl understands what I am going through. She understands the hurt, the grief, the anxiety and the pursuit for independence. She just knew what to say. And I am forever thankful for that. I am so glad that Sharon has shared her story with us today. She is a testament to strength and I think we all could learn a lot from what she has to say.
I would like to begin my story of stroke survival by extending my heartfelt thanks to Sarah.At a time where I was at risk of feeling very alone in my experience, Sarah was quietly there for me, checking in on me and helping to me to understand that I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling and experiencing. For that I will be forever grateful, so thank you Sarah.
My name is Sharon Corrigan.
I am the owner of Outstanding Achievements Life Coaching and Personal Training. I am a personal trainer, nutrition coach, life coach and mother to three beautiful boys.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story.
I had my stroke on 11th June 2013 which also happened to be my 36th birthday.
I was super fit. I exercised at a high intensity every day, I was running half marathons and I had an excellent diet. I was young.
I was not someone who met the “standard” profile of a stroke victim.
Two weeks prior to my stroke I began to get a sore neck and a constant headache. I put it down to wrenching my neck in a group boxing session. So, I just got on with doing things and ignored the headache.
But it didn’t go away.
I went for massages to try and alleviate the pain and even saw an osteopath just prior to my stroke, who cracked my neck, something that I will never recommend anyone have done. Ever.
I can remember the night before my 36th birthday, having family over for dinner, but needing to excuse myself early to go to bed because my headache had escalated and was unbearable. I can recall looking in the mirror and thinking that my pupils were acting a little strangely, dilating and constricting unevenly. But my head was so sore that I just thought that I was experiencing my first ever migraine. I tried to read a few lines of my book before I went to sleep, but I couldn’t comprehend the words. Migraine was my self-diagnosis.
The next morning, I awoke to the same headache. I was feeling very over myself by this stage and decided to pull on my running shoes and “run it off”.
Every step I took, my head pounded.
I was only about 2km into my run, on very familiar roads, when I had my stroke.
I can remember running up a hill and when I got to the bottom on the other side of the hill, my stroke happened.
At the bottom of that hill, I had to turn left. It was a new housing estate and the road to the right lead to a dead end. I knew that because I run that trace frequently.
But I turned right, oblivious to my error. I reached the dead end. Confusion hit. I ran back to the intersection. More confusion, and panic started to build within me. I ran up and down that 200m stretch of road several times, feeling more and more panic with each step. I know these roads like the back of my hand, but I couldn’t get out. I just wanted to get home, but I was so disoriented that I couldn’t even work out how to retrace my steps to get there.
Finally, I decided to approach a lady who was working in her garden and ask for help. I knew that I was not okay. She helped me to call my husband (thankfully I always run with my phone for safety) and, realising that I was not in a good way, this stranger was kind enough to drive me to meet my husband at the local shopping centre car park.
From there, all I can remember is sitting in the car asking Rob (my husband), “Where am I? Are the kids okay? Where are we going?”. Over and over again. I was stuck in a loop.
After that, I can recall waking in hospital, still with a pounding head, where I would spend the next 3 weeks of my life.
I did not have any obvious physical effects from my stroke. No facial droop, no loss of movement in limbs. Instead I had a massive blind spot in both eyes, a “migraine” that lasted for 8 months without even a minute’s relief and short term memory loss. You could literally ask me to remember one number and thirty seconds later I wouldn’t be able to recall what that number was. I also lost the ability to read, but I could write just fine (I just couldn’t go back and read what I had written).
Recovery from the stroke
Recovery from a stroke is a very slow process, although I was lucky because I was young, which meant that my recovery was better than it would be if I had been much older.
- The biggest things that I struggled to overcome were as follows:
- Fatigue. I cannot even begin to try to explain to you what this fatigue was like. It was like it seeped right into my bones and lay like lead where energy once flowed. It would literally stop me in my tracks.
- Headaches. It took eight months of excruciating pain before my neurologist finally found a “magic pill” that took my headaches away. I can remember sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor and crying because the pain was so bad, but because of my memory loss, I didn’t know if I had just taken medication, or had just got the packet down to take the medication. I didn’t want to overdose so I would sit and watch the clock waiting for time to pass so that I could take something safely to alleviate the pain.
- Reading. I love to read and I couldn’t. Thankfully my oldest child was in prep and we learnt to read again together. We would laugh at our own mistakes and slowly, with time, we both learnt to read.
- Driving. I couldn’t drive for six months because of my blind spots and had to rely on the generosity of family and friends to help me out every single day. I will be forever thankful for this help, but I was always grumpy about it because I hated losing that independence.
- Memory loss. Remembering things was an absolute nightmare. My memory has improved so much now. I used to pride myself on being really good at remembering names, dates, appointments etc., but these days I need to keep a diary of everything.
- Fear. After my stroke, I developed anxiety about something happening to me. I was scared that I would be out by myself with the kids and have another stroke, and that they would be on their own. (My children were aged 2, 4 and 5 years old). I would go somewhere and I would feel as if the walls were closing in on me. I couldn’t breath and all I’d want to do is get out and make it to the safety of my car or my home. My strategy to overcome this was to carry a note with me stuck to the back of my phone saying who I was, what had happened to me, how many kids I should have with me and who to contact if something did happen to me. I carried this note everywhere with me for two years, until I was finally able to trust my body again.
Getting good at “life” again
The biggest step that I needed to take to rebuild my life was to forgive myself.
I was so angry at my body for failing me when I had been so fit.
So, I needed to forgive it and see the gift in the cards I had been dealt.
Of course, I wish that I had never had a stroke. My body is not the same as it was before. My side effects are still there, they are just there on a much smaller scale.
So, what was the gift that I could take with me moving forward from this experience?
The more I thought about it, the longer the list of gifts grew. The longer the list of gifts grew, the more I could forgive myself.
Today, I have forgiven myself. I have let go of the past and I take the lessons and gifts that I have received through my experience to create a happy life.
Here are some of my biggest gifts to myself:
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. To be completely honest, I simply did not have the energy to sweat the small stuff (plus I’d forget it with my memory loss anyway! Ha-ha!) The important things in life truly are being with the ones you love, creating beautiful memories through experiencing life together. The “small stuff” like reading a story to your children, is the big stuff that brings happiness in. Running 10min late because of traffic is the real small stuff. Let it go.
- My independence is important to me. Feeling like I had lost it was just awful, but fighting to regain that independence showed me how determined I can be and just how much I can achieve if I really want to.
- How amazing my body is. I survived a stroke. I have been able to teach myself to read again, I can remember stuff again, I don’t get as tired anymore, my vision is so much better and I can drive again. I have overcome anxiety and depression. I can exercise properly again. Most importantly, I can be the me that I want to be again. The mum, the wife, the family member, the friend. In fact, I have grown so much, and come so far that I feel really proud of who I am. I could not have said that even two years ago.
- Listening to my body. You know how people can get really run down? My body doesn’t let me get run down anymore. If I start to overdo it, my body sends me really clear signals that its starting to feel to tired, and I listen to it. I slow down, I rest, I check my priorities and I let the small stuff go. In the past, I would have pushed on in this fast paced life of ours, but I have learnt to listen to what my body needs, and its pretty nice to slow down and really take care of myself.
- Giving back. I love helping others to reach their goals. Whether it’s in health and fitness or in life in general. I especially enjoy helping others to rebuild themselves both physically and mentally after having experienced some of life’s hurdles. I now successfully own and run my own business centred around helping people to achieve their goals, and I feel so blessed to be a witness and support to each amazing journey.
Not every chapter in our lives is one that we would choose for ourselves. But the beauty of my stroke chapter is the realisation that I am so much more than the condition. I have turned so many pages in the story of my life since that day. How I choose to be, with whatever life throws at me, is the colour and light that I choose to bring to the pages of my story. That’s up to me.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read my story.
Thank you Sharon for sharing your story. I am sure many of my readers will be inspired by your strength and determination.
If you or a family member has suffered a stroke and would like more information and support, please visit The Stroke Foundation.