“When you talk, you are only repeating what you know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” Dalai Lama

May is the month designated to focus on strokes. Each May I try to share something new and unique about strokes, but as I was thinking about it, I thought why something new and unique? If I say finish these sentences, “Like a good neighbor …” or “the best part of waking up is …”, I bet most of us would say (or sing) a message we have heard several times. These examples might be from advertising in the United States but I would imagine there are others from many countries that invoke the same thing.

I’m going to use Spring Training in baseball as an example of the value of repetition. (It gives me another opportunity to use baseball as an example of life.) In Major League Baseball, Spring Training is a series of practices and exhibition games preceding the start of the regular season. Spring Training allows new players to try out for the roster or position spots and gives existing players time to practice prior to competitive play. In summary, Spring Training allows players time to practice new plays, review the basics and work on team camaraderie before the regular season starts. One thing I really love about this concept is just that we all benefit from reviewing the basics while we work on new things.

I love this quote from the Dalai Lama. There is a study by one of the universities where there is a “monk study” about meditation and compassion. The Dalai Lama has given several funds and supported the monks in this study. There are many ways to describe the study but basically it is about several scientists trying to understand the brain. When we think about it, most of us would be hard pressed to think of a group of people who remake their brain everyday.

I’ve said I love to read. It’s been a different experience re-reading something. (Pre and post-stroke makes one look at things differently.) I’m going to switch gears and talk about the theater. I’ve said Matt is on the board for a theater. We try to see each play a couple of times during the run of the play because I see different things each time. The first time I focus on the plot, the next time I’m much more aware of the language, or the costumes, or the scenery. The same is true of television shows. I record things I watch live and then re-watch them. (Of course my memory is so bad that I usually don’t remember watching it once before!) The same thing is true about reading. I remember a book was good but I don’t remember any of the details. So repeating gives me an opportunity to see or imagine things again.

Strokes are called “brain attacks”. May is the month set aside for stroke — to educate the public about their personal risk factors, increase awareness and celebrate survivorship. I see the stroke as two parts: Stroke Awareness and Life After a Stroke. This is FAST — a way to remember the signs of a stroke. I am aware that we all know this (or we should) but it’s a quick and easy way to be aware of strokes.

Stroke Awareness

  • F is for FACE – Does the face look even?
  • A is for ARM – Does one arm drift down
  • S is for SPEECH – Does the speech sound strange?
  • T is for TIME- Then it’s time to call 9-1-1 (or your emergency number!)

Remember a long time ago, I printed a C. S. Lewis quote that is used in the movie Shadowlands about prayer which is “It doesn’t change God, it changes me.” Whoever your God is, if you pray, this is a good example of the value of repetition. I need to be reminded of things several times and I think most people do also. So yes, I pray for the same things many times.

Do you know about a sand mandala? It ranks right up there as one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Several years ago we were attending a church which had a group of monks build one. We were able to go and see the process involving the creation made from colored sand. A sand mandala is ritually dismantled once it has been completed. This is done to symbolize the doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life. When I saw it, I did not get it! Now after this adventure, I see things very differently, I think I would get it today. It also makes me wonder, how many sand mandalas have those monks built? (Without judgement that they had done it before!)

Remember FAST

 

“If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb” English Proverb

Those who live in the Northern Hemisphere are probably familiar with this saying. With March being such a changeable month (in which we can see warm spring-like temperatures to late season snowstorms or continued rainfall) we can understand how this saying holds true in many instances. It is our hope that if March starts off stormy, it will end on a calm note. The key word is hope. However, this saying seems to be more of a rhyme or myth, rather than a true predictor! I don’t know about all that and in many ways, that’s the essence of the post-stroke adventure.

I’m also going to share in this post the Wind and the Sun from one of Aesop’s Fables. I was recently reminded of this fable and anyone who has had a similar thing happen in their life will totally get this. Here is the fable in a nutshell. The wind and the sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, until at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on. I particularly like this fable and this is how I see it relating to hope. It’s always more meaningful when we have that ah-ha moment and do things ourselves rather than at someone else’s urging!

Here’s how I see this whole post-stroke life as it relates to these two points … if you need to change something to make it fit or work, do so! Things don’t always turn out like we expect, but we can make things work in the long run. It was the Danish existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who said “the most painful state of being is remembering the future”.

I love this fable, especially as it relates it to my post-stroke journey. Most of us would think about the wind blowing thing as our first (and obvious) option. Then as we hear this story and think about it, the sun activity makes complete sense. That is a great example of the post-stroke journey. It’s not always the first or easy option, sometimes we need to think about other ways that we can be successful and accomplish our goals.

One of my favorite songs from a movie is The Rainbow Connection from the Muppet Movie. I love the first line of the song which goes “Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side.” Somebody said it’s about hope, optimism and love. Last month after one of our rainstorms, there was a double rainbow in our area. Our neighbor saw it and thought he would take a picture to preserve the moment He went outside to get a better picture and the best he could get was taking a picture of the rainbow over our house! How cool is that?

I’m going to stay with songs. One of my other favorite songs is I Wish You Love. It was adapted from a French popular song Que reste-t-il de nos amours? from the 40’s. It’s been used in many movies and been covered by many artists. My favorite line of the song is “to give your heart a song to sing” and that is a great definition of hope.

I’ve said before that Matt is a captain of one of the projects by the Peninsula chapter of Rebuilding Together. There is a huge service day at the end of April that gives people an opportunity to volunteer. When we describe what they do, many people say “like Habitat for Humanity? I know them.” Not really. While there is a need for both, one is working with a blank slate and the other works with what we have. (Much like a stroke!) Rebuilding Together has a great public service announcement done by the actor Morgan Freeman where he says “what does hope look like?” I just love that because I do believe that “hope” looks different for each of us.

Sometime I mentioned an HBO special (TV) by the late comedian Robin Williams where he does a great bit on the game of golf. He explains why our swings are called strokes and how each hole has a pole which has a flag on the top as a target … it’s to give us hope, he says! We see it 18 times in a game. Once is not enough. That has been a huge learning in my post-stroke adventure. The poet Emily Dickinson wrote a poem that starts “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul — and sings the tune without the words and never stops — at all.”

What does hope look like?

“7-letter word: Coming together again for the first time”

I love those Hallmark Channel movies. I call them “feel good movies”! This is from The Irresistible Blueberry Farm. I’m sure they have a profound meaning but I’m not focused on that, they just make me feel good. Most of us have enough of a difficult time in life and it’s just an opportunity to feel good. “Coming together again for the first time” was a riddle or crossword example in this movie. I knew what the answer was immediately when I heard the clue! I know the first time many hear this, it feels very foreign. But think of a person you haven’t seen in a long time and you cross paths — all of a sudden you’re talking like no time has passed and you pick up right where you left off. Later one of the characters in the movie says “it’s like coming home again, only I never lived here. So it’s like coming home for the first time.” That is a great way to summarize the whole post-stroke adventure!

There is a woman named Mary Maxwell who did a great bit after she gave the invocation at a Caregiver of the Year dinner sponsored by one of the agencies that provides caregiving and other services to people in their homes. She has a very quick wit and as part of her talk on aging she says “the thing about old age is you don’t get a chance to practice!” The same can be said of a stroke. Remember a long time ago when I did the post on ‘act as if’? I get that most people know exactly what that means. I’m thinking that many can describe the process as ‘pretending’, but it’s more than that. There are many things that I do to remember. For the most part, it is association I use to make things work. So the idea of reunion makes sense to me.

I’ve said that the concept of reading is an important one to me. There are a few books that I’ve re-read post-stroke — mostly to check my memory. Was it as good as I remember? One of the books that I re-read is Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. (It’s one of Matt’s ‘Good Reads’.) I love the way Robbins uses words and the visualizations he creates. One of the quotes at the end of the book is “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood”. It’s been linked to many sources of origin, but this is my reference. Now I don’t mean it from the standpoint of denial. Let’s face it, life is difficult for many. But in reality that’s a perfect saying and outlook. The book is really about how we make love stay (and also about writing the great novel). There is a line that says “we waste time looking for the perfect lover instead of creating the perfect love”. There are other lines from the book that stand out to me like “Price Charming really is a toad and the beautiful Princess has halitosis” and then there is the one that says “there are only two mantras … yum and yuk. Mine is yum.” This fits right in with my philosophy that it takes the same amount of energy for any outlook on life. As I’ve said, it all takes effort.

Last year we got an art piece by Brian Caraway called The Convenience of Forgetting. Isn’t that a great title? We got the piece through the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. The piece is fabulous and it’s the very notion that forgetting is a convenience that is a big deal to me. (And that’s the story with which I’m sticking!) I saw another Hallmark movie recently where they said “life is the art of drawing without an eraser”! We all have things in our life that we wish we could erase. Sometimes we can’t and so we make something out of the experience. I often call my post-stroke life, my adventure. (Turns out it’s Matt’s adventure also!) The point is, it’s about our outlook. It’s a reunion.

In the U.S., the college basketball championship happens in the month of March. It’s called March Madness and it’s a big deal. 68 teams get picked to be in the single-elimination championship initially, culminating in a championship game between the two top teams. As a family, we have always been into the whole March Madness event. I personally am not a huge college basketball fan, but my association is this … when March Madness times comes and it’s time for the championship game, the baseball season is about to start! It’s new every year. Lots of things don’t feeI familiar, but that’s a big part of being a stroke survivor. No chance to practice. I’ll just act as if it I’ve been there or done it before (especially if I’ve forgotten) so I can have that reunion.

Yum!

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” L. Frank Baum

Are you familiar with the term Act II? I have a friend who says of stroke survivors and the post-stroke life, “it’s a new normal” That is right on target! Sometimes people choose to do something different and sometimes life changes on us and we have to choose to do things differently or find something new to do. This quote comes from the movie The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her dog Toto end up in the land of Oz after a tornado.

I’ve said before that I love to read. For many reasons, reading has been a hard thing to do. It is something I’ve worked a lot on in therapy. Before the stroke I had a goal of reading every book that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Just remembering that goal was a big deal to me. I was thrilled when I figured out to use some kind of ruler or bookmark to move to a new line to see the words or isolate them. In many ways this idea of reading is an important part of the journey. After 11 years, I just don’t have the stamina to do that but the whole idea of imagination (or using my mind) in the process is still important to me. Matt and I talked about it and our primary goal was to come up with a solution as an alternative so I could still enjoy the stories and use my imagination. Matt set up my Mac to download Audible Books and then I can listen to them using iTunes! So if we stay with the idea of Act II, this is definitely Scene II in that process. That makes me think of the on-going process of it all. I’ve told the story before, but one of the first therapies I did after the stroke was water therapy. Relearning to swim — really? As if once was not enough! It’s ironic that the boys are so great in water polo and Matt still swims every Sunday morning. Me? As I’ve said before … I know I was a rock in previous life! So as part of water therapy when I got to the deep end, I thought that we were done. That’s when the therapist said to me “now you have to keep moving to stay afloat.” Talk about a metaphor!

Tesi Sanchez-Halpert had a stroke when she was 48. She taught Physical Education at one of the schools in Southern California. After she had the stroke, she had to decide what to do professionally — whimsical metal sculptures (http://atesisculptures.com) of course! (Made from recycled materials, I might add.) There have been several articles published about her and what she has done. This is phenomenal. Sculpting wasn’t new to her, but her husband realized how therapeutic the activity was for her. She donates a lot to charities and she says “my new life as an artist, making my silly sculptures, has brought me lots of joy, because I can bring joy. It fees like I have a superpower that I never had before.” Now that is a great way to look at this adventure! I love this idea from the standpoint that her Act II is as much about her and about the rest of the world. I particularly like that sculpting wasn’t new to her. We often think that Act II means something completely new and maybe it just means doing something new with that skill. Last month I did a post called “Secret of Life” which is a song by former baseball pitcher Barry Zito. He played guitar and sang before, but now he’s making it more a focus on who he is and what he gives. So Act II doesn’t have to be something completely new to a person.

Do you notice that these two examples have art being the Act II? Karen Altree Pemme is the Artistic Director of The Red Ladder Theater. They have a Facebook page and one can do a ‘like’ to keep current with their activities. In a recent interview that she did with the quarterly magazine ISQ, she talks about with whom the Red Ladder works and the concept of art and the path of transformation. She has a great perspective as she talks about the path to transformation — which begins with an understanding that transformation is possible. And that’s thing about theater — that’s the thing about art. I think that is a great perspective and certainly fits in with the ideas I have. In the play As You Like It (Act II of course), William Shakespeare says “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”.

Matt and I discovered a fabulous winery (https://www.scheidvineyards.com) who has their tasting room in downtown Carmel. All of their wine bottles have screwcaps. There is a whole technology about using screwcaps versus corks! Who knew? This company had a debate for years about what direction they should take. Once the science was proven then they had to consider how they would deal with perception. (This is always a concern of mine when it comes to strokes.) In May 2008 they decided to provide screwcaps on all their bottles. As they say screwcaps “aren’t cheaper to buy, they’re not easier to produce, they’re not prettier or more trendy. They’re just better. At the end of the day, isn’t that what matters most?” When the no alcohol restriction was lifted, using a corkscrew on a wine bottle was one of my post-stroke learning experiences. While it was not easy, I did it. Screwcaps are definitely easier/better as a person with limitations. There is pretty much nothing that I take for granted. (Another Act II, Scene II experience.)