I had suffered a massive stroke that morning and while Dr. Grobelny was in my brain removing the clot, a large saddle clot formed in my lungs and I couldn’t breathe. He quickly removed the clots; however, because of a drug they started to reverse the stroke effects in my brain, they couldn’t do anything further. The MRI of my brain showed extensive brain damage and Dr. Grobelny saved pictures of my clots because they were so large. I remained medically paralyzed and my body had to fight if it wanted to survive.
And fight it did.
The next morning, on what I’ve come to call miracle Tuesday, my room started to buzz with the neurologist, cardiologist, hematologist and their teams in the teaching hospital. Amidst the busyness, Dr. Grobelny and his team came in and the room fell silent. I didn’t understand what was happening as all eyes focused on Dr. Grobelny, an older gentleman with kind eyes. He said, “I won’t be long. Rachel, I just need you to do one thing for me. Can you raise your hands up high?” As I raised my hands, his eyes filled with joy, he leapt off the floor, pumping his fist in the air and said excitedly, “that’s all I needed to see. You’re going to be just fine. You’re my miracle.”
I was physically healed and you wouldn’t know I suffered a stroke by looking at me.
However, my recovery hasn’t been easy and I’ve had to find ways to motivate myself to shift from surviving to thriving. Here are my best tips that worked for me.
1. Set goals
Such a major medical event zapped every ounce of energy from my body. At first, all I could do was sleep. I was asleep by 8 p.m. and didn’t wake up until noon. For someone who always had a lot of energy, this was very hard. I had to adjust my work so it fit within the times I was awake. After a month, I started setting an alarm to wake up 30 minutes earlier than I had been waking. Slowly, I’ve been able to wake up earlier and earlier and still feel rested.
2. Track your progress
As last summer approached, I wanted to take advantage of being able to walk outside, because it energizes me. I set a goal to walk the quarter mile to the pool every day. Some days, I didn’t have enough energy and hitched a ride while other days, I could do it with ease. I kept a journal to log my progress and soon I could see that I could challenge myself to the return trip, too. As a marathoner, these short distances sound ridiculous, yet they were monumental for me. And, seeing them on paper helped me feel accomplished.
3. Ask for help
This is SO hard for me. One Saturday in the fall, a friend of mine came to visit and we decided to spend time in Chicago at the Starbucks Roastery. I had been there before during the week and it was busy, but not like it was on that Saturday. The line to get in wrapped around the building and there was nowhere to sit and wait. I knew I didn’t have energy yet to wait in that line. I decided to ask the doorman if he would be able to accommodate my needs and he graciously did. He expedited us in right away so I could find a seat while my friend explored the building. I felt more confident that others would willingly lend a hand to me.
4. Step into your fears
I never imagined that all the regular activities I did pre-stroke without thought would now bring anxiety to me. My daughter had a fall break at the end of October and I decided to plan an outing for us, even as my fears and anxiety waged on. I was used to my husband driving me anywhere that was further than 15 minutes away and he was always at the ready with a medical bag of supplies and an arm to steady me. This was a girls’ day out, though. My daughter invited a friend from school and I invited my sister-in-law to go with us into Chicago to shop. We had a wonderful day, even as I fought all my worries that I might get too tired and there might not be any chairs for my tired body. Thankfully, none of my fears came true and I was not afraid to navigate new situations on my own.
5. Find places where your emotions are welcome
The stroke impacted my emotional intelligence center making me a weepy stroke survivor, especially when my newly diagnosed social anxiety kicks in. I know from experience that anger is an acceptable emotion to express. We allow others to blow off steam or share anger in ways we don’t allow others to share their sadness or anxiety, especially when it comes with tears. I was so worried I might cry as I resumed my work with high-powered women. I found that these women are all human. They not only held space for my tears in business settings; some of them even joined me with tears. I felt affirmed that my tears are nothing to be ashamed of.
6. Celebrate life and express gratitude
This is probably the biggest motivator of all. I will never forget Dr. Grobelny in his professional setting showing so much enthusiasm that I miraculously recovered. When times have felt especially hard this last year, I always remember the sight of someone celebrating my life. Eight months after my stroke, I went back to thank Dr. Grobelny for saving my life. He smiled and asked if I still have the blood clot pictures he took. I told him I did. He said it’s incredible to see the miracle I am as those clots were significant. He also thanked me for coming by to share my success story with him. He said “I do this work 24/7 and I don’t always have success like this nor have I had patients come by to thank me.”
I’m grateful for the gift of this life I get to live and for all the amazing family, friends and even clients who have held space for me this last year. They motivated me not just to survive, but to thrive.
Work with me
I know the struggles of fears that hold us back and the fight it takes to get up each day and motivate ourselves to keep moving. If you’re looking for someone to help you navigate your leadership journey, click here to pick a time when we can talk.