Friday, May 13, 2011

By Accident or by Some Strange Anne Design

In the photos above, one of my favorite moleskins, crammed to full, beyond full to bursting. I grabbed it off the shelf today on a trip downstairs to my office, thinking I'll use it in the coming weeks, in therapy, for the writing prompts and for various other reasons, maybe to squash that first summer fly or to steady an unstable table leg. You just never know.

I grabbed it today, however, to work on a piece that grew from yesterday's piece, which maybe will mutate further into tomorrow's piece, which was the hope of all this 30 days of writing and artwork crapola. So it appears to be working, this habitual bitching and moaning on paper, and then the art stuff and such.

A piece about my stroke and the "before" me versus the "after" me came about yesterday. Because I've been struggling with my version of what I call a migraine and some other head-related head case things this week, it seemed like it might be fairly therapeutic to continue in that vein. It’s also National Stroke Awareness Month, so why not jump on board with that too, right?

The website has a “Faces of Stroke” campaign going on right now, where stroke victims of all faces and places, shapes, sizes and scenarios tell their stories after pasting up their pictures. It’s a humbling feed. No two stories are alike, but if you read enough of the stories you see the common thread.

You read too many of the stories and it takes you a whole other direction and you might get angry and not want to be part of the group, so you have to be careful. You have to take it, yourself, your own story, a shot glass, and ... just kidding ... okay, maybe I'm not kidding. It's hard facing and telling your own stories sometimes. Some says you can own it, walk it, talk it, be empowered, want to empower others, and the next day you don't want to deal with it, AT ALL, are sick to death that it lives inside of you.

For my part, in case you haven’t already noticed, when it comes to any of my parts, I use sarcasm and some sugar-coating when I tell a story. Same goes for my stroke, but today, I’m adding a picture and I'm trying to keep it serious. This is the Face of [my] Stroke, age just turned 40, no real good reason for it, healthy, not overweight, no high blood pressure, no high cholesterol, no risk factors other than possibly heredity, history of “very iffy headaches and migraine activity since early teens,” head injuries x several, no clotting disorders, heart problems, mostly just luck of the bloody head draw:
(This picture is, in fact, still on our fridge in a magnetic frame, a constant reminder of my/our good luck. It's me and baby Ruth, taken the day I returned home from the hospital. )

I’ve been trying for YEARS to make sense of my own story and my own head (emotionally and physically) since then. I’ve also spent many years DENYING my own story and my own head (emotionally and physically) since then, as the journal entry below proves.

After my stroke, I waited a solid month and then opened my moleskin (a page prior to the one shown below) and attempted (and failed!!!!) to chronologically rebuild the five days of the stroke activities (the day of, the flight-for-life to the hospital, the time in the ICU, on the ward, etc. and my eventual and lucky-duck trip back home to my family, basically unscathed and yet changed forever.)

Up until then, I had just come home, embraced the kids, went right back to work and acted like it was no big deal. I had in fact not even told the people I was working for that I had had a stroke. Since I worked from home that part was easy. Who knew?!?!? Who needed to know?!?!? It was nobody's business! The only people that really knew were my family, my very immediate family, which meant the girls and very few others and a few close friends (very few).

I kept telling everyone that, yes, I was lucky because I had no “residuals,” because I didn’t drag a leg, have a weak arm, drool or require help breathing, swallowing or chewing my food. To the casual onlooker, I was perfectly, dandily fine except for the easy-bruising from the precautionary blood thinners, my incredible-no-matter-the-edibles Twiggy-like weight loss, etc. etc. I was alive and well and lived to tell the sarcastic humorous stories about how I had almost died and orphaned my children.

This is what the Face of Stroke looked like for me by the end of the summer, however:

It had taken its toll. I was melting down and I was melting away. I was not myself. I was literally disappearing, mentally and physically. At 5 feet, 11 inches tall, I weighed ... well, that's something the girls and I don't talk about. It was a scary summer for all of us.

I came home perfectly well, or so we thought, saved, a miracle, but I was not their regular mother. I hadn't come back whole. That transition for me has taken a lot of work, and it's something I still feel a lot of shame, anger and sadness about. I feel like they got robbed, especially Ali since she's the youngest. I feel like she had a different Mom than Carol and Bekah (and Sara) had. Sometimes, I wish they all could have their old mother back the way she was instead of the rebuilt, goofed-ditzed version, the one I have to wake up every morning and wind up like a toy whose gears are still, at best, still a wee bit "off."

My poetry that summer (below) sounds suicidal at best, but it's more the deep sadness over the loss of certain parts of myself that used to be there, but had taken on new form. Every physical and mental thing I loved to do seemed to be taken away from me all at once and sent back with reversed instructions. I was lost in wrappings and trappings and trip wires.

Physically, things like biking, hiking and swimming had to end because of the insane weight loss. Until that was figured out, I had to remain still. I was even losing weight in my sleep. Not biking, that loss, that release, so many things, it got to be a lot and not enough all at once. Imagine a 40-year-old woman shivering under an electric blanket in August, waking up with her stomach growling. I felt like my head and heart were eating me alive.

There was no real rest, and once awake
I was easily overwhelmed, depressed or manic, though in stroke vocab they have other words for it, which I might use tomorrow in my happy ending/new beginning story. I, and my stroke face have come quite a long way :)


prognosis guarded
morning broken
kicked bird
visibly shaken
vultures watching
death's dance
near complete

Already Drowned

I cry, in want, longing,
craving the freedom,
sans clothes, bare skin,
to run wild the dunes,
diving deep the wake,
but pointless effort,
lying, as I do, forever,
beneath sand and time,
beyond ten feet under,
past all seeing levels,
sub the pebbled flooring,
rocked at very bottom,
far below the water deep,
back stroke no match,
for Earth's thick core,
mottled, impenetrable,
now my strong hold,
tearing hair, loose my scalp,
busting tooth, tying tongue,
breaking bone, splintering nail;
can't swim for the life of me,
no longer is freedom an option ...
... already drowned.

This Side of Thin
Angry bones,
snarled and ropey,
unraveling from the inside-out.

Sharp angles,
puncturing the skin,
skeletal dust motes take flight.

... forgot milk.


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