August 2022 Lee Glynn: Part II
July 28, 2022
5 years. In some ways it was a goal, a made-up milestone to be reached. At one time it seemed a crazy, long way off anniversary that would commemorate my stroke. But now, on the doorstep of 5 years post-stroke, I wonder at how quickly it arrived. Gosh, has it really been nearly 5 years since my spouse, Secha, asked the doctor in Portland what my recovery would look like and the doctor replied “Let’s see if he survives the night, then we can talk?”
The PTSD I experienced, sort of expecting the other “shoe” to drop. The long grieving process and the doubt that slipped in behind it. I now read “The 7 Steps of Grief” like a biography of my first few years. The changed nature of my friendships and the “before” and “after” groups, self-sorting themselves into the appropriate pigeon holes. All that stuff fades into the rearview mirror. The stray thought still crosses my mind but my focus has become where I am going and what the future holds.
And from my perch at year 5, I can now confirm that the naysayers are wrong, neuroplasticity can go on and on. My brain continues to adjust, re-learn and re-route. I am still seeing positive changes and physical improvements all the time. For instance, in just the last few months I have finally stopped biting my tongue and cheek every time I eat. It is these little changes that are my measure of an ongoing recovery. I think the improvements are occurring for 2 reasons. First, because I look for them and secondly because I work at it. Like it has become my new job. I really do get back what I put in.
But most important of all the changes, is that at some point, the laughter and joy returned to my life. I don’t remember when it happened, but it is a wonderful realization! Real laughter that makes you walk away to catch your breath or to wipe away that tear from your cheek. I thought it was gone for good in my post-brain injury world. But it was here all along, it was just over shadowed by all that other junk. I am so fortunate that I found you guys because it was this community that provided the path that took me back to that joy.
Sometimes, you don’t realize how impactful a chance meeting will be. She seemed so nice, positive and bubbly were my first impressions. Secha and I were the new couple in the support group in Bangor and she was the featured speaker. I had come to the group seeking help dealing with the depression that I was struggling through. I thought that other survivors would understand and that they could offer encouragement. And they sure did.
The depression was understandable. A few months earlier I had a hemorrhagic stroke. In moments, my life had gone off the tracks. I went from a happily retired farmer, active and healthy, to fighting for my life in the blink of an eye. And now, after the hospitalizations and rehabilitations, here I was. My life was a daily struggle to walk without falling, or to spend 10 minutes tying my shoe. In hindsight, it is obvious to me that I was going through those steps of grief extending from my brain injury. At the time, I couldn’t see the laughter would ever return to my life. Ever. But because of that chance encounter in Bangor, the laughter would return to my life through activity and service to others.
Sarah Gaffney was the speaker that day. She told us about the Brain Injury Association of America’s Maine Chapter and the various ways that they could help. In the following months, she helped me start a support group in my hometown, Skowhegan. She also invited me to attend a committee meeting of the BIAA-ME. At that meeting I joined others within this community to discuss what was possible and what could be done to help others.
Now, 5 years out, I am a member of the BIAA-ME advisory board, a co-chair of the Maine Acquired Brain Injury Advisory Council, and a brain injury support group leader. I am so proud to have been part of so many big changes for the Maine brain injury community over the last few years, including the Maine Brain Injury ID cards from the Secretary of State’s office, legislative bills to address and equalize basic rights of survivors within Maine and MaineCare, increasing awareness around BIAA-ME’s helpline and resource facilitation (800-444-6443), expanding Maine brain injury support groups, and, coming soon, a Maine Brain Injury Trust Fund that will offer grants and financial assistance to survivors and families for everything from transportation to adaptive equipment.
I have watched all of these new improvements become realities for us in the last couple of years! Do I sound excited? I hope so, because I am! And this excitement has quietly replaced the grief. It hasn’t just taken its place, it has been the rising tide that lifts all boats.