How Suffering From 3 Strokes Before 30 Taught Me The Meaning Of Life
I am what most would call lucky.
By the time I was 26 years old, I had nearly overdosed on booze and pills from my party lifestyle, and by the time I was 27, I suffered from not one, not two, but three strokes.
To put into perspective the rarity of having a stroke under 30 years old, it is said that anywhere from seven to 15 people out of 100,000 will have a stroke.
How lucky am I to be one of those to 15 to have experienced not one, not two, but three?
Now, at age 28, I am once again battling for my health, having spent days in and out of the ER for treatment.
Oddly enough, all these health anomalies have put a lot of things into perspective for me.
They have allowed me to understand things I normally would take for granted, and also appreciate everything I have.
When I suffered my first stroke (a brainstem stroke, or what is known as an Ischemic stroke), I was terrified beyond my mind. I was paralyzed on one side of my body and temporarily lost vision in one eye.
At this point, I was sure I was going to die (dramatic, maybe), and it got me thinking. Have I done all that I wanted? Do the people I love and care about know what they mean to me? But more importantly, have I actually made the most of my years on this planet?
Being sick does that to you though, whether it is the flu, an operation or a stroke. It makes you reflect and learn things you were too stubborn to learn or unwilling to accept.
You learn who your true friends are. It’s amazing how your true friends will step up to the plate when you most need it.
Your true friends are the ones who will take time out of their days to bring you the latest "Archie" comics and joke with you about how sh*tty you looked, but they’ll also smuggle in food for you to hide under your bed, as it’s a known fact that hospital food isn’t exactly gourmet cooking.
Being in the hospital, I was able to evaluate the ones who were just taking up my time for the sake of it, as opposed to being in my life for a purpose.
Along with figuring out who your friends are, if you’re in a relationship, strokes will put it to the test. Is this the person you see yourself with? You get to see how he or she handle you at your lowest and weakest, and it is a great way to gauge whether this is someone you want to be with.
I was lucky during my first stroke to have my girlfriend (who also happened to be a nurse) by my side. It made us stronger and it made me love her even more.
It made me appreciate the fact that even in my blue gown, three days of no showering and in my incapacitated state, my girlfriend still loved me.
She made me feel like no matter what, it would get better and I would be able to bounce back from this. It’s amazing how something as simple as that can actually help you recover faster.
This was a lesson my girlfriend taught me, and something I didn’t realize I lacked was positivity. I thought I was a generally positive person, but saying something doesn’t make it true.
I realized that while though I may have said it, my actions and my thoughts didn’t always sync; I was going to change that.
In life, things happen beyond our control, and there is nothing we can do. What we can do is handle things with as much grace and elegance as possible.
Will we lose composure sometimes? Of course! Not everyone is perfect. Even the Queen loses her sh*t sometimes. Accepting that you aren’t perfect and life is about the unknown makes it a little bit better.
Another thing that I realized as I laid at death’s door (not literally, though it felt like it at times!) was that we miss out on opportunities we don’t take, second-guess and question.
I have always been very strategic in life. I made choices based on what would get me far and I networked not because I wanted to, but because that is what you had to do to get far in life.
Up until that point, all the choices I made were not because I wanted to make them, but because I thought I had to. To me, everything was a business transaction with a payout.
I realize now that this way of thinking pushed people away from me, but also affected my happiness. I learned very quickly that something had to change; my way of thinking, living and how I treated people had to change.
I don’t regret how my life has played out. I also don’t regret the choices I've made and the bridges crossed. But, I can tell you that when something comes up now, if I want to do it, I don’t second guess it. I just do it.
Whether it’s a job, a chance to travel or saying I love you, I don’t let a chance pass by because I never know when I’ll get that chance again. And, given my odds with health, I try not to waste what time I have.
So it came with no surprise that with each stroke I managed to overcome, I found new found appreciation with every lesson that the previous stroke taught me.
But, the most important lessons I learned after having gone through all these health scares and life changes is the simple things in life provide the greatest moments. Being loved is the greatest feeling, and life is what you make of it.
The money and the long hours at a desk mean nothing if you are sick or have no one to share the success with. It’s clichéd, but it's all about the moments, not about the “things” in life. Buy memories, not objects.
For me, knowing my friends were there for me and my girlfriend was by my side and loved me gave me strength to not let what I was faced bring me down.
Instead, I used her love and strength to inspire me, to help me get better and to overcome this just like I had overcome all the other obstacles in my life.
And finally, when it comes to life, we only have one shot, so it’s important to make the most of it. We have to give it our all and not let our fears, insecurities, doubts or even health get in the way of living the lives we want to live.
How amazing and true it is that when you are facing a scare or fear, life suddenly becomes clearer. For me, life has never been clearer and I have never been more ready to face it.