So here we are. The 1-year milestone. A very fitting paper anniversary gift to myself and you. The long-standing readers/sufferers who have had to deal with the agony of waiting 323 days since the last full blog. Most of you have been able to keep track on the Insta which has been a lot easier than trying to churn out one of these every few weeks. I do have to begin by saying I started this post a week ago today and the physios who will be reading this will be glad to hear I stuck to my word at the end of the last one. I am using both my hands to type (no speech to text cheating or wonderful wife to do the work for me). I do still have Beth in my life you’ll be glad to hear. She, however, refused to help on the grounds that “If Max wakes up you haven’t got a boob to stick in his mouth!” Fair enough I suppose.
Anyway, what a year eh? We were thinking that doing something grand like an extreme fitness-based challenge which involved some serious training and hard work would be a great way to mark the anniversary. Instead, rather fittingly, we decided on fish and chips at the beach with the 3 most important people in my life: the already mentioned wife, mummy and all-round superhero Beth alongside the 2 reasons that I’m always smiling when I come home after a long day back at work. The soon to be 3, in 3 days, Henry and our not so new bundle of smiles Max clocking in at a ridiculous 9 months old already – where does that time go? The excitement I get knowing that when I walk through the front door those two (and Mummy) are there to greet me fills me with the utmost joy. It’s impossible to put into words.
It’s also impossible to narrow down what has happened over these last 10 and a bit months since the last blog post, but in layman’s terms my life is pretty much back to normal albeit at a little bit of a slower, more cautious pace. Certainly, less energetic which in a way I’m actually thankful for as it means I am much better at prioritising and only doing things I’m capable of – not pulling myself in a million different directions trying to please everyone. I have regular 12-week Botox injections into key leg muscles and before you say it, they’re not to prevent the wrinkles. Not just yet. Although, I am turning 30 this year…
I still take an aspirin a day even though I have been given the all clear by the doctors because you just never know in this life (as we saw with Christian Eriksen this past week). I’m working full time in school as a cover supply teacher, TA and general busy body with a view to teaching my own class in September which I’m excited but also a tad sceptical about. I know I can handle the running of a classroom and more importantly, the kids, from 9 to 3:30 but it’s the workload outside of those hours that I fear may become too much. I am a perfectionist and having to sacrifice my attention to detail on spreadsheets and PowerPoints to get the job done efficiently is something I’m going to have to deal with. If it doesn’t work out then at least I can say I had a go – a little bit like my failed footballing career attempt. Fingers crossed it works out better than that did.
Not only will I be dealing with my own class in September but Beth will be going back to work full-time from maternity leave too. I firmly believe that, even with 3 blokes at home – one who can’t wipe his own backside properly, one who insists on eating his pudding before his dinner and one who can’t walk properly yet (I will let you decide which one is which) – she will be amazing and come out the other side with that beaming dimpled smile. We’ve already talked about how our teamworking skills are going to be tested but we’re ready for it. The main priority, as it always has been, will be, how can we put the kids first? I know we can do it.
To be entirely honest with you, although my recovery up to now has been pretty good in comparison with other stroke survivors, I haven’t worked nearly as hard as Beth has over these last 6 months to keep her fitness up. I’ve lost count of the amount of evenings after the boys have been put to bed that I’ve come down to sit on the sofa knowing full well I should be rehabbing. Instead I sit there with my bowl of Sensations crisps or a packet of biscuits and watch the cricket, golf, F1 and now the Euros whilst she has got the dumbbells out and smashed out another Joe Wicks in front of me. Again, superwoman.
It also brings me nicely onto my next point about how deceptive social media can be. Please don’t get drawn into painting a picture of what you see behind the never-ending stream of Facebook or Instagram posts. To the naked eye my recovery page would suggest that I’m putting some serious effort into getting back to where I want to be but frankly that’s not the case. Yes, I did work hard in those early months to get me functioning again – back to work. Check. Back playing golf. Check. Able to live a full life with my family that doesn’t need assistance. Check. Those were the key goals in my eyes and anything else was a bonus. Yes, it would be lovely to get back and lace up the Phantom’s one more time but truthfully, if I’ve played my last football match for Bideford or Park United then I know I’ve had a pretty decent career. And what a last game to bow out on. Dropped by Joycey for the first time in 10 years only to come off the bench and score the winner in a 3-2 comeback away at Melksham. It’s what dreams are made of.
Because football seems a long way away for me at this time in my recovery, all of my competitive fixes are coming through golf. Be that a midweek Monday Cup session with the ever-growing crew or a monthly medal off the back tees, I’m managing to compete and get around without too much hassle. Mentally it is so tough not being able to do the things you used to find easy. Golf is where these frustrations are at their worst but through practise and learning more and more about my body and swing, I’m starting to plot my way around the old course and build a score like I used to. Instead of beating myself up over shots that I can’t hit anymore, I’m now relishing the challenge of learning new, inventive ones that I can.
This principle of adaptation is what I thought I was going to have to apply in general life too. But actually, I’ve managed to retrain my hand into using it for pretty much everything it used to do. The extremely intricate movements are still some way off but using cutlery, typing this blog, lifting and carrying objects are all things I do without thinking. I used to panic about this the most in those early months but now the best compliment I can give myself is that I very rarely need to think about changing what I used to do naturally. Hot drinks are still a bit shaky but I will keep persevering even if the scolding coffee burns through to the bone – I will carry two full mugs into the living room one day!
On the physio’s advice I did this by keeping everything as normal as possible and use my weaker left hand even if it meant taking twice, three or even ten times as long – OK maybe not ten but that’s what it felt like some days! Apart from my elasticated laces in my shoes, because who has 10 minutes to tie their shoes in the morning, everything is as it was. A few things have been instrumental in making this way of life possible. I’ve bought an electric trolley for golf (which most golfers use), we’ve bought an automatic car (which is fully electric and was going to be our next big purchase to try and do our bit for the planet anyway) and a flame red trike (because I wanted to ride on the Tarka Trail alongside the boys without the fear of falling off and diving into the river on a normal bike). I also wanted to look like a boss.
The fear of falling over is the one major thought that remains constant pretty much anytime I’m up and moving. Be that around the house, at work, out running or on the golf course. I know falling over can happen to anyone but having ‘properly’ fallen 5 times in the last 12 months due to lack of balance, I’ve actually been lucky to get away pretty unscathed physically. The scars and memories they leave mentally though will remain and ensure I’m extremely careful moving forward. One I’ve documented before was after getting too excited on Wii Fit Skiing, another was early on to trying to walk too close behind HD on his balance bike and two were at work where thankfully no kids were hurt. My favourite though was when I was recently watering the grass out the front and after hitching my toe on the front step I had to take decisive action and leap into our newly flattened row of bushes. Pride well and truly swallowed. The back garden is still intact – at the moment…
I still blame the stroke and the damage it has left behind for a lot of tricky manual tasks but I think my resilience to attempt them is improving and actually realising that the only way to see whether you can do them or not is by having a go. It’s definitely got me into a better frame of mind these last 10 months. I know that these small challenges every day will not define me as a person but hopefully by seeing me persevere and keep going, this ‘don’t quit’ attitude will rub off on my two little chaps as they face their own challenges growing up. An excellent life-long skill to have.
Well done if you have made it this far – I know I can go on a bit, that hasn’t changed. It feels strange to say this is going to be the final blog as it has been really therapeutic and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting the creative writing juices flowing again. Never say never I suppose. The Instagram account is still where I post here and there (@seansstrokerecovery – shameless plug). However, I am hoping that I don’t finish this one with a disappointing ‘Line of Duty’ style ending. Underwhelming and ambiguous. So, I will just say this:
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read, follow, comment and send well wishes to me and my family over these last 12 months, I do genuinely read and appreciate them all. Thank you to every doctor, physio, nurse and NHS worker who ultimately saved my life and got me back to this point today. Thank you to the family clans (Downings, Hipwells, Browns, James’, and Watsons) for always being there for us no matter how many times Henry hangs up on you on FaceTime.
But most of all, my last and most heartfelt thank you goes to the guys who are and will continue to be everything to me. My two perfect boys and Beth who ultimately has to put up with me day in, day out. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve you but if this last year has taught me anything, it’s taught me that no matter what life throws at us, I know I can count on you to pull us through and we will all be standing there together at the end of the storm. Hand in dodgy hand. Forever and always.