You sent me such an interesting challenge this year. I got a bilateral dissection in my carotid arteries (i.e. a tear in the two arteries that supply the majority of the brain with blood), and it resulted in me having a temporary stroke.
I was lucky… All I lost was sensation in the right side of my face, and most of it has come back. At the same time, this was a really difficult time for me.
For the past 4 years, I’ve really struggled with my health. I had to drastically change my lifestyle because I got to a point where I was in agony in every part of my body all day long. Finally, almost 2 years ago, a doctor diagnosed me with fibromyalgia and guided me through a treatment plan. I got so much better. My life became not just liveable but enjoyable again. So, in May, this year, I got off the medication that had been supporting me through the treatment process. And it was really tough. I mean, really really hard work. A lot of the pain came back, I had massive anxiety, couldn’t sleep… it was a nightmare.
2 months on, the pain wasn’t so intense and I was coping better – making space for the pain again, and experiencing less anxiety. In July, Pete and I went to a music festival in Madrid. We had a blast: 2 days, band after band, jumping, singing, dancing. It felt great… until, I could barely walk. I was in agony, I didn’t feel well at all, but I was so used to being in pain that I shrugged it off and blamed it on the fibromyalgia.
When we got back from the festival, I had an intense migraine that lasted for about 2 and a half weeks. For two days, I kept seeing big black patches where people’s faces or cups of tea should be, but a doctor told me it was because I had low blood pressure. A couple of days later, the migraine went away, but I woke up with half of my face, mouth and throat completely numb.
My doctor advised I go to a neurologist who suggested I do an MRI. I did this dreaded MRI, and it revealed that two of my arteries had swelled inwards (causing the passageway to severely narrow), because there was a tear in them.
What did this mean?
It was explained to me that this was very serious. The impaired vision, the migraine, the low blood pressure, were all signs that my brain wasn’t receiving enough oxygen. My face being numb was a sign that I was moments away from a full-on stroke. I was told to rest for the next four months. Rest, rest, rest: no exercise, no lifting, no driving, no stress, no nothing, for four months.
I reluctantly followed the rules. I sat and I read. I sat and I ate. I sat and I talked to friends. I sat and wrote blog posts.
During this time, I experienced a lot of different emotions. From the simple: irritation at not being able to move much, to the complex: feeling useless and worried that I’m burdening people, to the downright unpleasant: anxiety at being confronted by the reality that I’m going to die someday.
Talking & making space…
This experience really got me in touch with my mortality. I kept wondering if my body was trying to tell me that it just wasn’t made for life on earth at this time. I had been struggling with my health for so long, and just as I felt I was getting better, this happened. I felt so disappointed with myself. While everyone else seemed so alive – almost all my friends have had kids the past two years – I was struggling just to exist.
I went to some dark places, some very morbid places. Anxious thoughts, fear, confusion, loneliness. It was tough. I also received some really insensitive feedback from people who aren’t comfortable with acknowledging our mortality and the fear that can bring. I was told to “not make a fuss”, to “fight it”, or simply “not to worry”. These responses were meant to be helpful, but they completely missed what I was going through, so they weren’t supportive.
I really needed to take care of myself during this time, and one of the ways I needed to do this was by reaching out to people around me. I had a really difficult time with thoughts about death, or about being trapped in a body that was in agony… I felt fragile and vulnerable, and though, I have quite good self-care skills, they weren’t enough. I needed to reach out. I needed to tell people where I was with this experience. So, I chose people who wouldn’t shrug my fear off. I selected listeners who would hold the vastness of my anxiety and allow it to be there. I couldn’t hear another, “There’s no need to feel this way” when all I do is feel this way.
I spoke to Pete. I spoke to my mum and dad. I spoke to some friends, to my therapist. I even painted the fear with my therapist. None of it was a quick fix. No one could take away my fear for me, no matter how much they wanted to. But slowly, over about 2 months, the fear began to subside. The thoughts still pop into my head every so often, but they remain thoughts – they don’t become the visceral experience of panic and anxiety like they used to.
I’m so relieved and grateful to say that two weeks ago I did another MRI scan that showed my arteries have healed 100%.
I’m really grateful for this experience this year. It could have been so much worse, and I’m so lucky I got through this with no permanent damage.
I also feel blessed. I feel like this experience woke me up. I had been thinking about hosting the first A Life I Choose event, and when this happened, I embraced the fear that I might mess it up, planned it and did it (when I was strong enough to do so). I’m finding that the best way I can counteract this massive death anxiety is to live fully by taking risks and doing what is meaningful to me.
2017, there was more to you than this, and I will look at the rest of you on Saturday, with some other A-Life-I-Choosers at our New Year’s event. Thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone. Thank you for the support, thank you for life. 2018, I’m ready for you and am excited to live fully with you.
Mindfully close 2017 and set intentions to become who you want to be in 2018: join me at my New Year’s event this Saturday.
Watch my MRI experience when I was diagnosed with the bilateral dissection.
Watch the first A Life I Choose event, “On Choicefulness”, which I hosted a month ago.