My name is Ron, and I am a stroke survivor. Since my stroke, I have been involved with March of Dimes, Patient Visitation (previously known as Peers Fostering Hope), The Toronto Stroke Networks, and Patient and Family Advisory Committees (PFAC). In the last couple years, I have become an advisor for Living with Stroke, ONDRI and OBI. I have met so many inspirational stroke survivors and families that have taught me so much. Being a part of all these organizations is very fulfilling as I get to meet passionate clinicians, researchers, therapists, and administrators that work tirelessly to advance stroke recovery.
Having a stroke drastically changes your life
Before my stroke, I did a great job at multi-tasking at work and working overtime. Also, I gained the opportunity to work with great co-workers and management during this time. After experiencing a stroke, things changed, and my life altered drastically.
Now, I had to make sure I was trying my best to prevent a re-occurring stroke from happening by making important changes to my life.
Lifestyle changes included:
- No more 16-hour days
- No more multi-tasking
- No more shift changes
- Not being able to return to my old job
From Stigma to Success: Returning to work post-stroke & dealing with workplace stigma
After about nine months, I started a temporary day job which involved working on a single task and having set lunches and breaks. I was able to do this for a year, and then I was told I had to switch to a more permanent job. I ended up accepting a job I was offered at a call centre which involved booking trips.
A couple weeks later, training started immediately, and I was having difficulty focusing on my job. I was surrounded by other workstations with people who were having many different conversations. These other voices reminded me of the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoon. It was so hard to stay focused on making calls and I was so worried about forgetting things or entering the wrong information, which resulted in panic attacks. I never felt confident. A couple times I thought my heart was going to explode. I spoke to my family doctor, and she said not to continue.
I had to return to my original workplace, for a progress meeting with the new management and had to pick up more paperwork. However, the people I used to work with weren’t the same anymore. No one had time for me, and it wasn’t the same group I enjoyed working with. To make matters worse, human resources and the new management didn’t do anything to accommodate me during my return to work.
Talking with others helped me combat my depression
Over the next couple years, I had multiple check-ins with my doctor. My doctor did what was best for me and asked me if I was showcasing symptoms or feelings of depression. I always answered no, as I was not aware I had depression at that time. These depressive feelings that I always contributed to my stroke, were actually symptoms of depression. However, my depression built up over time due to lifestyle, diet, and work changes. The little things started to impact me. For example, when I was in the middle of a sentence, I would forget what I was trying to say, or I would receive eye rolls and sighs for forgetting other people’s names even after I was apologetic about it.
I was diagnosed on Monday and started treatment on Wednesday, two days later. From my very first visit, I felt confident that receiving treatment was the right decision. The first visit was mostly answering the doctor’s questions about myself. After a couple visits, we started working on the causes of my depression and anxiety and how to control those feelings.
Most importantly, I can learn new things and work to rebuild my confidence. To me, getting better begins by talking to someone you trust and/or seeking professional support from your doctor. Talking helps so much.
Having empathy for others and building meaningful connections
To me, having empathy for others is extremely important. It bothers me even more when I see someone else being treated poorly. Sometimes people have trouble communicating or asking questions and they are just ignored or told to sober up by others. For example, I have seen a person boarding the bus with an assistive device and other passengers reacting with a sigh/eyeroll and a mumbled comment. Or a person on the bus experiencing a seizure and people being dismissive of it and not offering help as their only concern is how long the service will be delayed. On the flip side, I have had so much support from my family; my wife especially, has been there every step of the way. My friends have also been understanding and supportive (of me).
The one thing that turned things around the most was getting back to work. After years of being told “you can’t do this” or “there is no training available”, I got a job on a golf course. This moment was so special because my two bosses treated me with no special treatment and over two years, I learned how to operate about a dozen different machines. I was so happy at the end of the season when I was asked if I would come back next year – I immediately accepted the offer.
Ron has a stroke recovery support blog to not only aid in his own recovery but also to assist and empower other patients and families. You can access it at: https://strokerecoverysupport.com/
Resources: Returning to work
Breaking Stigma, Building Empowerment: a storytelling project amplifies honest and diverse narratives from advocates with lived experience within the brain health community. To read other stories from Breaking Stigma, Building Empowerment, visit https://braininstitute.ca/buildingempowerment
Your Brain Health
March 11, 2013
Give your brain a workout On their own, physical activity and cognitive (mental) exercise can each act to keep our bodies and our brains fit. But did you know that challenging your body and your brain together can maximize the brain health benefit?