Coping with the after-effects of stroke
For a survivor, learning to cope when life as they once knew it has been altered completely can be very difficult emotionally. Mood changes and feelings of frustration, helplessness, apathy and even depression aren’t uncommon. A survivor should not feel ashamed about this. It’s important to remember that anyone else going through recovery can and will feel the same.
Physical impairments and emotional shortcomings affect everything, even a person’s sex drive. Self-esteem, interests and connections to others are also impacted greatly.
It’s crucial for a stroke survivor’s recovery for both themselves and their loved ones to remember the following:
- Be patient: Recovery is a journey and much of it may feel like an uphill climb. A rehabilitation team will help a stroke survivor through the difficulties and celebrate their triumphs with them. It will help things along if a survivor can find ways to learn to accept that it will all take time and a great deal of effort. A person should think of rehabilitation as the ‘new normal’ and adapt. A survivor is not alone in this and can lean on those that are there for them. This allows for breathing room and time to rest too. Small successes will come.
- Find support where it’s needed: From an emotional perspective, it may be difficult when a person finds themselves surrounded by healthy people who are able to do the simplest of things with ease. It may be challenging for a survivor to accept that others ‘understand what they’re going through’ at times, including the medical team. There are support groups which allow survivors a place to congregate, share information and exchange experiences. If a person feels that this will help and add value to their recovery, it is a good idea to find a group to join.
- Take care not to become isolated: Physical challenges can make it all too easy to want to hibernate from the world. Don’t. A survivor should try and find ways and means that enable them to get out of the house (or care facility) and take in some fresh air. Hiding in a hole is a gloomy place for anyone and can be more destructive than helpful. A stroke survivor may have days when they feel discouraged. Alternatively, they may have others where they feel self-conscious. Frustration and disappointment can hamper progress. A survivor should be mindful of this and take control over their emotions where they can. A good way to do this is to lean on loved ones. A survivor can tell them what they need and ask them for the kind of support they feel is in their best interests, giving each a day a purpose. There are places that a walker (Zimmer frame), cane or wheelchair can be easily manoeuvred. A survivor should get outside as often as they can and find an environment that is invigorating and fulfilling.
- A stroke survivor is never alone: Loved ones, colleagues and the rehabilitation care team all know about what a person has been through and what they’re going through during recovery. Everyone will want to help in some capacity or another. A survivor should let them. Not everyone will know what a person needs though. A survivor should find ways to tell them. A home cooked meal. Reading a book aloud. Putting on a film to watch on a Sunday afternoon. Getting some fresh air in a park on a Sunday afternoon. Driving to a therapy session. Helping to dress or assisting with hair brushing. Whether a person’s needs require a few seconds worth of effort or a whole day, a survivor should reach out to those who can help and are willing to help. A person need not struggle alone with things they can’t yet do themselves. It’s also important to remember, a stroke survivor’s state of being is also being experienced by a perfect stranger elsewhere too. A person going through recovery is never entirely alone.
- Keep going: Conversation and communication can be intensely challenging. It’s important not to give up. A survivor can use the techniques they’re learning in therapy and practice, practice, practice. This way, it’s easier to learn what works best (such as making an effort to communicate during more relaxing scenarios during the day), and by extension improve self-confidence. This will help a person to relax, connect better with others, as well as learn to enjoy the company of others. But, a person must be patient. The journey may begin with a handful of words, a specific tone of voice, cue cards or pictures and a selection of gestures. These can be effectively used to communicate through the process of therapy, improving slowly and carefully. In time, a survivor will improve. The brain is a marvel and will adapt in a functional way. If a survivor makes the effort and practices patience through the process, they can make successful progress, one step at a time.