"Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light."
- J.K. Rowling, via Albus Dumbledore
The first few months after my stroke, also known as the dark(est) days, are emblazoned in my memory, forever holding the screams and tears of a locked in girl -- the screams only I could hear and the tears only I could feel. But these memories have a sort of glaze over them, as if they didn't really happen, and could have just been a dream, no, a nightmare. An intact mind, locked away in the highest tower of my broken body as the world unfolded around me -- it sounds like the plot of the worst and most terrifying horror film, but I, somehow, lived it, every heartbreaking minute.
But yet, I'm forced to remember, or more like haunted by the memory of those days like it was yesterday. I remember spending each and every day of those five incessantly empty months in that therapy gym. I remember being surrounded by people practicing standing and walking while I was in the corner, holding back tears, albeit unsuccessfully, as I stared at my lifeless muscles. I remember all of the other patients were at least fifty years older than me but were leagues ahead of me physically. But there was this one other young girl. She was my age, she had suffered a stroke, and she was in a rehabilitation hospital exactly like me. But yet, out of all the patients, instead of being comforted by her presence, I resented her the most. Now, I regret that ugly feeling so much.
Yes, she was my age and yes, she had also suffered a stroke, but yet, she was perfectly intact. She could run, she could jump, she could dance, and I hated her for it. I heard she was completely physically intact, and profoundly affected mentally. I was profoundly affected physically, and completely mentally intact. But I could care less. I wanted to run. I wanted to jump. I wanted to dance. That is what was important to me. That is all I wanted, to feel like me again. What is the use of an intact brain if you have absolutely no way of expressing what's inside? What is the use of perfect cognition if your body adamantly refuses to reply to every single signal from your brain? All my "wonderful" brain was doing was making me so acutely aware of how much I had lost. All it was doing was allowing me to feel so vividly the excruciating depression that was consuming me. How I wished to feel numb, how I hoped for the blissful ignorance of that happy jumping and dancing girl, how I prayed for a sweet escape from this hellish nightmare, the curse of a perfect mind trapped inside a useless body. I can't escape those memories.
A few weeks ago, an old friend who hadn't seen me since before my stroke, was planning to see me for the first time. I was actually really nervous about what he would think of this new, less-glamorous, more-pitiful, embarrassing version of me. I'm always ashamed to see people for the first time -- ashamed of my incredibly conspicuous wheelchair, ashamed of my unintelligible, toddler-like voice, ashamed of my virtually lifeless hands, ashamed of the broken human being I have become. People remember a beautiful, vibrant, accomplished girl who had the class and wit to rule her own perfect, little world. That's a lot to live up to. After our brief meeting where I didn't even get to say two words to him, to my surprise, he sent me a simple message -- a message I'll never forget. He said, "Nothing has changed. Your heart is still perfect."
I wasn't known for my looks or my body. I wasn't loved because of my dancing ability or my tennis skills. The best part about me was my mind. I was known for my brain, and I was loved for my heart. Though this stroke massacred my entire body and left my life, my dreams and my future in pieces, it somehow left the single best and most important part of me alone. My stroke robbed me of my arms, my legs and my voice. It stole from me my pride, my dignity, and that one ever evasive thing I once had loads of -- my happiness. But it left me my brain, my mind, my heart, my soul, whatever you want to call it, all in one piece. My therapist recently explained to me that it's rare for someone to have a stroke, and be completely and severely, cognitively intact. So here I've been for the last six years, complaining and whining loudly, ignorantly, and quite selfishly, that I've had the worst possible stroke ever in the whole, wide world. While, yes, I've had the worst stroke in the world physically, I've had the best stroke in the world mentally.
It's taken me six years to realize something so fundamental about my stroke, to finally accept the whole truth, or, if you will, to finally remember to "turn on the light." My steadfast relationship with my stroke over the years has basically been one of pure, unfiltered, 100% hatred. But, that relationship has, sort of, changed. It's evolved, surprisingly, but only a teeny, tiny bit. Now, it's, wait for it, a love/hate relationship. Don't get me wrong, it's a highly dysfunctional and absurdly imbalanced relationship, but a relationship nonetheless. I would say it's 99.99% hate, and .01% love. But that tiny bit of love has changed my little world indefinitely. After six frustrating and heartbreaking years, I think I've finally found my silver lining.
In any situation, from sickness to struggle, from adversity to tragedy, I've learned that one has to find the silver lining, and hold on to it for dear life. It may start off as a thin, dull grey thread that can barely be seen through all the darkness. But that one single thread can grow. It can multiply. It can shine. It can strengthen so fiercely that it becomes tough enough to be the wings that carry you through the darkness. For some, it may be the realization that the situation could be much worse, or discovering, through tragedy, how much love truly surrounds us and how much untapped strength lies within us. Finding the silver lining in even the most terrible of situations can be near impossible because it means, basically, to find something to truly appreciate within the terrible -- to find within yourself, a pure sense of gratitude for the terrible. It would be wildly misleading and absolutely false of me to say "I am grateful for my stroke," but I can now say, truthfully, that I am grateful for an aspect of my stroke -- albeit, a tiny aspect of my stroke, but a powerful one nonetheless. I may not look like me, I may not sound like me, but I'm still me. That has taken me to blog for the Huffington Post, start a new non-profit, even take courses here and there to satisfy my nerdy passion for science, and create a new life and new future for myself and maybe even a new chance at happiness. I'm still me, and I can dream again.