Stroke Day 365 – PTSD

It is one year today that our new life was thrust upon us.

I guess it says something that I haven’t had stroke as the forefront resident in my life for more than six months, as evidenced by my last of posting. Indeed, other normal things have taken their rightful place and the stroke got stuffed more to the back burner where it belongs.

I know fully that this not necessarily the case with strokes. I know that in the realm of  the ‘unlucky’ we are indeed ‘lucky’. But just because my world didn’t cave in a year ago …doesn’t mean it didn’t change.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t having some sort of anxiety about today. As if some date on the calendar was the magickal instigator of this upheaval and not the myriad of contributing health factors and practices!

To top it off, he had extensive oral surgery last night and that is only adding to all the PTSD anxiety.

When I attack it logically, I understand that at no minute am I in control of what will happen. Just like I wasn’t in control that morning when out of the blue on the way out of the shower his left side went non-responsive.

But that’s what PTSD tries to do…get me to think I can control things, but that I didn’t. BULLSHIT!

At any moment things can and do go wrong. Nine times out of ten they are not earth shattering/life changing. I am not going to let the ONE out of ten run my life – not now, not ever.

The difficult part about Chris’ success in rehabilitation is that he made it look easy. To look and talk to him you’d never know he’d ever had a stroke. To live with him, you don’t see all the damage he feels. Its almost as if it never happened…but it did and there are scars to prove it.

One of the things most affected is his processing and emotions. He gets easily frustrated (especially with new info) and can’t always find the right way to express himself. This comes off as ‘crotchety’ to put it politely. I hate having to always explain that. It helps, so I’m happy, but in the moment I feel like I’m acting like his mother and not his wife. I hope he doesn’t see it that way.

I never ever want him to feel like that.

He seems relieved when I do it, if he doesn’t think of it, so I take that as affirmation. Explaining to others that can’t see, that what they are seeing by way of behavior is nothing more than a scar on his brain. Understand that and we can move on well, his anxiety, frustration and agitation go down instantly. No more Mr. Crotchety Pants.

What This Year Taught Me

It isn’t a new idea. I’ve held it for a long time, but I’ve really dug deep on it this year.

I’m not interested in dealing with pettiness. 

I have eliminated relationships that are not synchronous. If you have been a ‘taker’ in my life, I’m not ‘giving’ anymore. I don’t have time for silly games of quid pro quo relationships or those who think I ‘owe’ them something. That isn’t what love is supposed to be about and my life…is ALL about the love. Unconditional love. I’m happy to love you, though from afar. No more emotional tap dancing to try to match the imaginary music in other people’s heads. No matter who you are.

This totally helped me break things down to a ‘keep or dismiss’ mentality.

Everything comes to you with one of two energies: towards your highest life or away from your highest life. Whether it is a person, a job, an activity, a food, an idea or even a location. It is either going to add quality to your life or detract quality from your life. With each decision we make towards our highest experience we make two moves away from our lowest experience. Of course, the reverse is true as well…every move towards our lowest experience results in two moves away from our highest.

I am all about making every move I make count towards my highest experience. No one deserves the right to take me off that path.

So, here’s to a year of growth!

Of not giving in to the fear or victimhood. Of taking chances even though ‘the worst’ had happened. Of not playing small. Of living truth. Of realizing the value of my life, once again.




Stroke Day ? – Shift, Balance, Shift

April 3, 2017, Monday

It never stops.

Not for one minute does it let me breathe. The air is being sucked out from my lungs. Its a back and forth tug.

When we met five years ago, we had an instant chemistry; across the internet, without faces, we danced with words on a screen. There was always this balance in the way we connected and communicated.

As our relationship grew, so too did this incredible balance. It reminds me of the lyrics “when you move, I move”. No move went unanswered. If I went left he went right and vice verse. It was beautiful. It was so so so beautiful.

I was able to build trust with every moment. Every time I stumbled on the floor he was there to stable me. I never fell. I never even came close. He made it seem so effortless and like I’d never have to worry again about falling.

But that’s gone now.

We had balance. Then it shifted.

I have to keep us both from falling now. When I move, he may not move. Or he might move, but only a little. Or he might move in the wrong direction. It’s gone. That balance. There is just shift now. Shifting sands.

If I ask him to bring toilet paper upstairs, he will, but I will find in the bedroom not put away in the bathroom. This is no way helps me.

I can’t imagine what its like to wake up and not know yourself. To not understand how your own brain works anymore. To not have full control over it.

It’s ironic, you know. That my mother was brain injured in a car accident when I was six and now my husband has a brain injury as well. I feel like in some ways I should know this dance. The shift should feel familiar. And I guess it does to some extent, but I wasn’t expecting it.

Yes, the shifting, that has familiar feelings.

I am hoping our shifting sands will one day settle back into a nice beach. Or better yet our dance floor. And that when I move, he moves…in my direction…as much as I move. Its ok if we move differently than before, as long as we are connected, choreographed and in sync.

That’s what I miss. Being in sync.

I remember when he knew what I needed before I knew; and how I knew what he needed before he knew. Now we are both struggling with just knowing what he needs. Then I struggle with knowing how to communicate what it is he needs, when he doesn’t agree. That’s the really tricky part, trying to relearn how to communicate with a man who’s communication style facilitated our bonding in the first place.

It’s heart breaking at best, devastating at worst.

I could approach this like its a new relationship; like we are getting to know each other again, but its not and I can’t. Perhaps if he were completely different I’d have to approach it that way, but he’s more himself than he isn’t. And the things that aren’t, are things only really I notice, because I’ve danced with him and know the nuances of his rhythm. To anyone else, things may appear continuous.

When you were younger did you ever go somewhere that had a replica of The Swiss Family Robinson’s tree house with a wooden rope bridge? That’s a lot like what it feels like now. Very wobbly and unsteady. If I’m not holding on, I will fall, but I also have to hold onto him as he holds on.

Ugh. Strokes suck.


*I don’t know why this didn’t post in April. Here it is January, but it was such a good piece I needed to share it…



My Apologies

I apologize.

I’m morphing. I intended to write a day by day account of our journey through stroke recovery. That was probably a very ambitious goal.

The truth is, we all do the best we can at every moment. Right? I mean no one really says “Yeah, I could hit this out of the park, but I’m just gonna bunt right here.” No one intentionally underperforms.

Initially, as I fell behind a day or two, I didn’t even panic. “I accept what is.” However, as I got further and further behind most recently, I had to totally reconsider the whole goal, as there is likely no way I can catch up at this point.

As I was processing what this moment was presenting me, it suddenly occurred to me. The title of the draft I had last worked on was “Progress Is Not Linear”.

It isn’t neat and orderly either.

Progress happens all at once one step at a time.

While Chris continues to progress, gaining lost ground inch by inch, measurable month by month, we have many other things happening in unison. Life is a great thing! It gives us challenges and blessings all at once so that we can dig deep into our Souls for strength and grace. So that we can truly rise above each challenge and see that it isn’t a give and take but a continuous give.

Every challenge and blessing is given for our highest good. Everything is for our highest good. Are you hearing this in your heart? There is nothing that is not in your life that isn’t there to lift you into the highest version of yourself.

Our lives since the stroke, look very similar to what they were before the 19th of January of this year. In many ways, however they look very different. We have both been forced out of the complacent routine we had created. We are expanding in different ways. We are digging deeper, going wider and flying higher than ever before.

Expect miracles out of us.

But don’t expect daily posts from me about it, because when you are in the midst of miracles you don’t always have the notion to document it!

But DO expect that I will be writing fairly regularly to share our where our journey is taking us and how we handle the off roading on our new tires!


Stroke Day 34 – Killer Tacos

February 22, 2017 Wednesday

I made tacos tonight for dinner. First time since the stroke. Up until now, they’ve been kind of a staple in our house. If Chris tells you this story, he will tell you that I tried to kill him by way of taco.

It turns out the many little bits that make this delicious treat are difficult for someone with a stroke to manage and swallow. He was choking and gagging with every bite. It was painful and terrifying to witness.

A quick remedy was to make it into a taco salad and he was able to eat without issue.

Killer tacos. Never to cross our threshold again.

In our lives laughter is indeed the medicine we take in the highest doses. It takes the edge off. It lightens our perspective so that we can rise above it.

For those familiar with me, this will sound very familiar: “What happens to you does not matter; what matters is who you become through those experiences.” As far as I’m concerned this is the secret to a happy life. You can become bitter or you can become better.

EVERYONE has a reason to become bitter, not everyone has the wisdom to become better.


Stroke Day 33 – Half Empty/Half Full

February 21, 2017, Tuesday

Today was the first day Chris drove – alone. We were both equally nervous. There are so many unknown variables in driving and they depend on the ability to react. He called me about 20 mins into the trip, the adrenaline rushing through my ears kept me from hearing him clearly the first time. He got a flat tire on the trailer and stopped to get it fixed. Whew.

He did say it freaked him out a bit at first, unable to discern what exactly was happening. However, he handled it and that is really all that matters…

“How do you think you are doing?”

I’ve asked Chris this twice and the answers I got were very different and unexpected. At first he felt he was 90%. I was surprised, we were still in the hospital and I didn’t see him operating at what I would call 90%.

A few weeks later when I could see him doing so much better he felt he was at 70%. I questioned him on this…he said what he measured against was different.

The first time he was measuring against how bad it could’ve been…

We were still in the hospital and engaging with others on the unit who had a stroke also. Even the staff joked with him that he did not belong there, “look at that guy pretending to be a patient.”
The second time he was measuring against how good he used to be…
Being on the job and holding himself up to his pre-stroke standard made him question and re-evaluate; finding himself falling short of expectations that he had no business having.
This is so poignant in life, not just recovery, right?
That what we measure ourselves against can give us different perceptions of ourselves. Often we measure ourselves against our goals. Which is really setting us up for failure, right? Because we are measuring how far we fall short of those goals. If we measure ourselves against our starting point we would be measuring our progress!
These are little mind games our ego plays with us to tell ourselves a story. If we want to be the victim of our story we will measure our weakness, deficits and shortcomings. If we want to be the victor of our story we will measure our strength, accomplishments and achievements! That’s it. There’s no other secret to anything! Its all in your perspective. There is no ‘truth’. No ONE-way to look at it. The thing is just a thing until you assign it a value, so why not color it bright?
It’s a little like “are you a glass half full or half empty kind of person?” I’ve had a hard time answering that question, because for me it depends on what stage of life the glass was in. If it had been full and I drank half, the glass is now half empty. If it had been empty and I filled it half way, then the glass is now half full.
The journey of life is about marking our progress, our evolution, our ascension. Its not about marking our decline. (Remember progress is not linear!) When we look at ourselves it’s imperative that we look with the eyes that will show us the picture that will inspire us, not defeat us.
How do YOU think you are doing?

Stroke Day 32 – Self-Care for the Caregiver

February 20, 2017, Monday

I firmly believe that what happens to us is not important, but rather who we become through those experiences that does.

Today, I’m talking about caregiving, specifically.

When one has a stroke they themselves change in an instant. What was familiar yesterday no longer exists today. You’ve changed at your very core, but nothing else has and now that leaves you feeling afraid and disconcerted. You have no choice, you have to find a new way to live.

For the caregiver it is inside out. You haven’t changed, but everything around you has. What once was familiar and comfortable is now strange and disconcerting. You have no choice you have to find a new way to live.

Initially, your focus is solely on your survivor, as it should be. However, if you don’t take care of yourself you cannot take care of your survivor. In my work with clients, one of the things I include is the ‘airline philosophy’. When the oxygen masks drop you HAVE to put it on yourself first. If you pass out you can’t help your children, or your parents or anyone else.

So, if you are reading this today, I’m taking it that you need some YOU time!

Make sure you take time whatever it may be, to tend to something of yourself. Actually, you need to do something for yourself everyday. Every day. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it does need to be daily. Now on a weekly, monthly or even yearly basis you need to do bigger things.


  • hot bath
  • mani/pedi
  • girl’s/boy’s night out
  • walk in the woods
  • exercise
  • art gallery/museum
  • sit by a lake
  • play with puppies
  • snuggle a baby
  • meditate
  • journal
  • yoga
  • art
  • writing poetry

At this point I’ve let my own self-care go far too long. Have you?



Stroke Day 31 – Beginnings

February 19, 2017 Sacred Sunday

One month.

Without meaning for it to be a celebration we went out to brunch today. It was long over due as we planned to go to our favorite brunch place the week he had his stroke to celebrate our combined birthdays. But the fact that it landed on the month-iversary of the stroke struck me poetic.

It is cause to celebrate.

Much like members of AA celebrate each day of sobriety, we too celebrate each day post-stroke. So celebrating one month does not seem that off.

Sitting in our favorite brunch spot, eating our favorite foods resembled our old life and yet it had a new luminescence to it. A promise of things returning to balance. This favorite spot of ours is the place we got married.

It’s where our beginning began.

The beginning of our new life. The Michigan maiden voyage of the Klemos family. The beginning of my new career. The beginning of Chris building his business. The beginning of Emma’s new life, too.

Today we let ourselves marinate in the celebratory energy. We soaked in the environment, the sun of the day and the air of Spring (because today was unseasonably warm and it smelled like Spring.)

You don’t need to have a stroke (or your loved one to have one) to start anew and appreciate your life. We didn’t. We shared a great appreciation for the life we’ve had. We never took a second of it for granted. That’s one of the benefits of the over 50’s crowd. You don’t tend to take things for granted like in your youth.

So when a catastrophic event occurs it really takes that appreciation up a notch. I guess it might be a little like the appreciation for Spring after a particularly hard winter. There is always appreciation for a new season, but none such as powerful as that from Winter into Spring. At least that’s how it is for us now. Its like Spring after the stroke of Winter.

We are finding new life in all this.

This is where our beginning begins again…


Stroke Day 30 – It’s the Stroke Talking

February 18, 2017 Saturday

Our first fight.

I love Chris, but I do not love his stroke. The stroke however, like a serpent, comes in and strikes before I recognize its snake eyes. He looks like Chris and sounds like Chris, until he doesn’t. It isn’t often, thankfully, but that only means that it comes when my guard is down.

Today was the first day I felt awesome. Two days ago I had the flu and it caused me to put myself first, for the first time since January 19th. It wasn’t my choice so much as a default position. I was too sick to do anything else.

He seemed pretty awesome too, taking on the appearance of my pre-stroke Chris. He was paying bills, coordinating finances and making lists. Then he was yelling at me. Telling me that he is overwhelmed and can’t do one more thing. I yelled back, that he isn’t the only one who feels that way.

“But you aren’t the one who had a stroke.” He said.

The words sliced through my heart like a pick axe.

I feel like I took two steps back and doubled over with pain in my gut.

I didn’t have the stroke, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been affected by it. I’m the one who has taken up the slack for what the stroke stole. I’m the one who has to decipher what doesn’t make sense to him and translate it back. I have been nonstop worrying, compensating, planning and caregiving; to have his words discount that hit me deep.

I needed to remove myself from the situation before it got out of control, so I took myself for a drive. By the time I got back we both had cooled down and reset. This is us…breaking things down and moving through them.

I understand his feelings. I empathize and I support him, but I can’t accept yelling at me. I can’t accept him discounting the value of my contribution. I know it was the stroke talking, but the stroke doesn’t get any free passes from me. I know the brain regenerates. I know it grows new connections everyday. So I treat the stroke like I treated my daughter when she was growing her brain, too; unconditional love and direction.

Bad behavior is bad behavior and that’s not who we’ve been to each other. We’ve always been appreciative and loving in our partnership. It doesn’t mean we haven’t had ‘moments’ but it’s usually been a result of stress related to money. This is new.

Thankfully, the stroke has not seemed to affect the way we manage conflict resolution. Chris has had a temper. It takes a super duper lot to set it off, and its always due to an internal struggle and never really about what he blows up at. The stroke did not steal this away. So, we did what we do. Found our respect for each other and talked about how ego-centered that comment was and what was really bothering him. Surprise (not), it had to do with finances and the pressures of returning to work with the expectations of having the same abilities as pre-stroke.

I also too had to bear some responsibility because I had not shared with him my feelings of ‘not being able to do one more thing’ as well as my own hope (not expectations) that things would return to ‘normal’ at some point.


Its really kind of an ugly joke we play on ourselves. Expectations are projections for the future. What a joke! Who the heck knows the future? It is so dependent on so many variables, that you can’t even begin to predict! There is hope, sure, but hope seems to have expectations as an accessory if you aren’t paying attention when it gets dressed.

He has to work on changing his expectations of himself and what he thinks he should be able to do. Progress is not linear, remember? Adjusting his expectations can avoid these kinds of meltdowns. He can’t expect to be back at 100% just one month post stroke (tomorrow). No matter how small and mild the stroke. He is, after all, 66.  His brain is 66. His neurons are 66. His nerve pathways are 66. His growth hormones are not surging like they did in childhood when the brain was busy generating daily at 100% speed.

One thing I’m learning is that a stroke will shake out the loose bricks of your very foundation, and its up to you to replace each one with strong mortar. Your survival depends upon it.

Stroke Day 29 – Faith

February 17, 2017, Friday

If you are sad. Be sad. Its ok to be sad.

Give yourself 24 hours to be as sad as you need to. Journal about it. Watch sad movies. Talk about it. Give yourself 24 solid hours (like a flu) and then release it.

“Ok I’m done being sad, today I will be….” and chose a new emotion to experience.

I believe that sadness becomes depression because we tend to sweep sad under the rug hoping to ‘get over it’ not ‘get through it’. When I honor my sadness it does not try to ruin my life by becoming depression…

My emotions run rampant these days.

I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m mad. I’m grateful. I’m scared. I’m irritated. I’m relieved. I’m overwhelmed. I’m awed. I’m annoyed. I’m done.

(What??!! ‘Done’ is a legit emotion.)

Denying it, ignoring it, downplaying it, running away from it, all do only one thing…

…exacerbate it.

The ONE thing you can do to make it better is HONOR it. Whatever ‘IT’ is, honor it.

This is for anyone going through anything or nothing. Honoring yourself is the single most important healthcare intervention. Honoring your feelings allows you to hear the quiet message your soul is speaking rather than waiting until it becomes a health crisis in order to get your attention.

A few weeks ago, when Chris told me I was being mean, I didn’t dismiss his feelings. I looked at them with an open heart. Was I being mean? I know I was frustrated, scared, overwhelmed, terrified and tired. That could’ve made me ‘mean’ I suppose. What was absolutely true though, is that I was fighting those feelings. I was putting my ‘faith’ to work and putting those feelings on the back burner. I just ignored them and tried to ‘believe’ them away.

You know those beliefs don’t you?

The ones that keep you from really processing your feelings. The ones that I call ‘Scarlet Ohara beliefs’…”After all…..tomorrow is another day.”

Did you know you could do that? Use ‘faith’ as a denial tool? Yup. Its a thing. Using faith as if it raises you above the human experience. Nope. That’s not faith. Its denial. It’s one thing to let go of the worry and give the situation up to your higher power, it’s another thing entirely to bury your head in the hand and leave all the work up to that power.

Faith is knowing it will turn out for your best, but acknowledging the fear in the unknown. Acknowledging it. Not giving into it. There’s a difference. Denying it is there because you are afraid it means you don’t have faith is just as unhealthy as giving into it and becoming paralyzed. Faith is doing your work but knowing you are not alone doing it.

Understanding that this human experiment is for our benefit and moving through our emotions knowing that good is on the other side, THAT is Faith.

We grow, learn and develop through the challenging times. It causes us to reach deeper than platitudes and pull true strength from our souls.


Stroke Day 28 – The Other Side of the Mirror

February 16, 2017, Thursday

I was supposed to drive Chris to work today, but last night I began to feel ill and today was full on flu. Chris planned to drive himself, first time, but when he got up he said he didn’t feel up to driving, so he stayed home.

Chris is very specific with his language and yet vague at the same time. He never said he didn’t feel well. He said he didn’t feel up to it. I took that to mean he was getting the same flu. Later conversations, however, would reveal something new.

Since the stroke he has said that he doesn’t feel hunger like he used to. That it doesn’t feel the same, and thus he doesn’t know when he is hungry, or thirsty or full for that matter. He doesn’t know what it is that he is feeling. He never developed any other symptoms like I did today, so now we don’t know what it is he felt this morning. He did not have the flu though.

I am glad he is at least honoring his body by listening to it. If he didn’t feel up to driving then he didn’t feel up to it, that’s just fine with me.

Another ‘stroke side effect’ that has sort of become ever more present is in the evening/nights, when he’s tired, he is quick to anger and is completely irrational. He can get disproportionately irritated by the smallest things; the dogs barking, the sheets on upside down. It presents as frustration over what doesn’t make sense to him, but then it escalates into a disproportionate response. I get so mad and hurt then. I am doing so much and he blows up?

Last night I had to tell myself that is the stroke, not him and it worked to keep my feelings in check, but I’d like to find a way to keep his in check. I know it is hard because he doesn’t have the words to express what he’s feeling. To him it is like he’s feeling it for the first time. Not to belittle him in anyway, but I have to think back to when my daughter was an infant and had no words for her experiences. What did she do? Cry, yell, get mad, so yah Chris’ reaction makes sense.

If I can think like that, validate his experience and talk him off the ledge things go better. At least there isn’t a blow up or melt down, just a little tension for a minute or two.

Of course none of this evaporates when I’m sick, right? So, I have to be on my toes even when I’m flat on my back.

They say alcoholism is a family disease and it is very true. It needs to be recognized that the stroke (a brain attack) is a family event too. Just like alcohol changes an alcoholic’s behavior and personality, which then affects the family dynamics, so too does the stroke.

We are experiencing two sides of the same event. A little ‘through the looking glass’ kind of feel. He is stuck on the inside, where things are backwards and I am on the opposite side trying to make sense of the side I can’t really see into all while trying to translate his new world for him.

Geez, no wonder I sleep more now.

If he can’t discern if he’s hungry, full, thirsty etc. what else can’t he discern? How would he even know he can’t discern it? How would I know? Could this be the cause of some of the irritation? Asking for something and then having it not be what he thought he needed?

Thus far his work quality seems unaffected. While he says it takes more concentration and time to do what he’s been doing all his life, his work product is the same based on other’s assessments. It just takes him longer, but for someone who’s nickname is “Mr. Rushypants” that’s probably a good thing.

That image of him being on one side of the mirror and I on the other, is really sticking with me. What we see of the other’s experience is backwards from our own.

One day I believe we will look back and realize he’s walked back through the looking glass and we are better for the trip.