Thursday, 26 November 2015


I don't know about any of you lot that have had strokes but it took pretty much all of my confidence. I hated myself and who I'd become. I was anxious and emotional over any little thing; my mind was in limbo, my emotions all mixed up. I just seemed to cry all the time. I was scared of doing the simplest of things because I feared rejection and embarrassment. I hated going out in public; straight out of getting out the car, all eyes would be on me and I would trudge, head down, into a shop. I became isolated too; my friends had all gone to university and it was incredibly hard to make new ones.
And, don't get me started on looks; my face had some residual drooping (and no amount of makeup would hide a drooping eyebrow), my left arm hung awkwardly out of my shoulder socket (called subluxation) and after 4 whole months of not eating anything, when I was allowed to eat again, I wanted all food. McDonald's, Chinese takeaway, vast amounts of chocolate. Jam doughnuts were my favourite treat. Before I knew it I had become a lot heavier in weight.
Before my stroke I was underweight-ish then I lost nearly 10kg... then I piled it back on. And more.
I hated it.
And I had little way of exercising; I was confined to my wheelchair most of the time and very weak.
I went from being a skinny minny:

To some crazy burger-loving woman:

It was hard to find clothes to flatter my dodgy, subluxed shoulder and my now-bigger frame. Leggings hugged my legs in all the wrong places and big baggy jumpers made me look frumpy, even though they hid my belly well. It was a nightmare. It really got me down, weight is a sensitive issue at any age and for anyone but especially to a 17 year-old girl.
My metabolism had slowed right down; whatever I ate seemed to go straight to my hips, despite efforts to cut down.
Before I left hospital, the dietician on my rehab unit put me on a strict diet and made me keep a food diary. That was around the same time when I went home at weekends so I often lied about what I really ate when I was there.. Shh..
When the time came each week to be weighed, I stepped onto the scales with baited breath, hoping some weight had miraculously been lost. No such luck. Albeit smaller increments, my weight continued to mount up. The dietician seemed out of options really. I felt disgusting.

Then I was discharged and things began to change. I got rid of all my junk food. I bought an exercise bike too. My weight stabilised finally and began to drop.
Then 8 months later (once my GP had FINALLY cleared me to enrol at the gym) I lost weight faster (and I even built some muscles too!) and everything seemed to come together. I finally could wear nicer, fitted tops and tight jeans, clothes that I didn't mind hugging my new-found figure.

Before my stroke, I'd suffered with terrible acne (as you can probably see in the picture). I'd been prescribed the contraceptive pill for this.. but it didn't work. Instead it clotted my blood and caused a stroke. Fab.
The long time spent not wearing makeup and having good, nutritious supplements pumped straight into my stomach, cleared it right up, not a spot in sight. Finally my skin looked healthy.

Along with my weight loss, my clear skin and the fact that the residual drooping of the left side of my face had evened up, my confidence has soared right up.
My left shoulder still isn't completely normal, it still hangs a bit dodgy out of the socket but it's something that doesn't particularly bother me anymore. There are some things way more important in life than a weird-looking shoulder guys.
I don't have a 'before' photo but here's a photo of me 'after'- I love a good selfie.

You may have noticed my change in hair colour too; when I was very, very young it was white blonde in fact. Then it got darker and ended up a ginger/strawberry blonde colour. After I came out of hospital I just wanted to get rid of it, I just wanted to try and become a new individual, have a different identity. I didn't want to associate myself with the person I was before my stroke. This was me now.

Anyway, if like me you've suffered a stroke and suddenly found yourself in a pickle with your weight, I would say to you, to never stop moving, really. Enrol at the gym if you can, walk (not only will you lose weight but it'll be good for your rehab too!) or if you're in a wheelchair, cycle as often as you can! (Like in the top picture.)
Not to make it sound too much like a tutorial but for clearer skin, I recommend exfoliating everyday. Experts only say to do it twice a week but don't listen to them! I exfoliate everyday to enable a smooth base for my makeup.
Then use primer. Then foundation and then bronzer.


Hope I've helped in some way or another! By the way, I hope you lot know that if you do have questions or would even like to know more about me (hard to believe hehe), email me, contact me on Twitter or Facebook. I welcome anything; I would love your feedback even on how I could make my blog posts better or if there's something you want me to write about :)

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Education, education, education (+ anxiety)

One of the biggest hurdles I have started to overcome is returning to education. I have forever wanted to go back to school after my stroke but was never sure if I could do it. I had changed. Not just physically but I was now dealing with emotional difficulties. I now experienced anxiety and the very thought of being around 'normal' people scared me; would they think that I was weird? That my speech is funny? Or think that I was too different?

As most of you know I had just finished my first year of A Levels; I was studying Psychology, Biology, Chemistry and English. I hadn't done too awful I guess, I had got a B, a C, D and E.
Then I had my stroke and my education was put on hold... for 3 years to be exact. It was incredibly heart-breaking for me. Here I was, lying in hospital and all my friends and schoolmates were in class, studying. They probably didn't feel like it but they were the lucky ones.

After the first 6 months in hospital, my parents brought in my psychology and biology textbooks and my neuropsychologist would then set me homework out of them. Ok, it was only answering the questions but it helped. I felt like a 17 year old again. I felt a bit more 'normal'.
Just before I was discharged my neuropsychologist arranged a meeting with me, my dad and the teachers in charge of sixth form and learning support too at my school.
It went really well. They promised to do so much to help me; their aim was to get me back into studying as best they could. I was kind of excited in fact.
The meeting happened end of July and I returned later that year in September. Like anyone returning to school, the nerves set in and sleep did not come easily the night before. So many thoughts ran through my mind, I was too scared. No, I had to do this.

My first week back at school was a mixture of feelings. I was scared. I was lonely. All my friends had moved on, gone to university.
Back then I still needed a wheelchair to get around as my walking was still weak, so naturally, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was embarrassed. My stroke had left me a shy, timid little girl but now being in this environment, I felt exposed and even more awkward.
By Wednesday though, those feelings had subsided a little and I had got used to being back. Strangely, it felt kinda normal.
I was sat in the library when my old english teacher walked past me and said, and I quote, "Oh Beth, what HAVE you done?!"
What the hell does that mean? What was that comment in reference to?
Back to feeling embarrassed and shy I went.

Later that afternoon I had a Psychology lesson. It went fine, nothing too hard. When it was the end the group of girls that I occasionally said 'hi' to, were getting ready to go. My teacher asked them to take me, in my wheelchair, with them into the atrium for lunch, to which they nodded.
So they started to walk out, glanced at me, smiling... and carried on walking. There I sat, on my own, billy no-mates.
The shy, awkward little girl returned. Inside, I was shattering to pieces.

I had to leave early that week anyway as I was going up to London for my heart op but after that, I dropped out. I couldn't handle the rejection. Even such a small comment can be so devastating to someone with a brain injury. There are some things that just shouldn't be said. I mean, you don't have to tread on eggshells around me by all means (!) but this was pretty early on in my recovery and my emotions were a mess.
So I emailed the school and officially dropped out. Again.

3 years spent doing more rehab; my walking got better and so did my speech. I felt more confident now. I still struggle with anxiety.
I enrolled at Milton Keynes College in March 2015 and started in September. And I must add, it's one of the best decisions I've ever made. I didn't know how much I really missed being in the education environment until then; learning is such a privilege and it's one that I thankfully, got a second (well, third) chance at. Albeit I'm older now.
Those of you at university; I know you hate the workload and some days it's too hard for you but seriously, (you obviously won't think so) but you are lucky to be where you are. Never take education for granted.
Yes, I admit that some days I cannot be bothered and I'd rather not go in but when it comes down to it, I get on with it. I wanted this.

Returning to education can seem so simple sometimes.
Hold up.
A brain injured individual can't just 'go back'. So much change has happened; physically, emotionally, cognitively. You may think you're ready, your mind may seem altogether but is it?
All I'll say is don't rush anything. Rehab is so important, get yourself where you want to be first. YOU are the most important thing, not anyone else. YOU.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Happy walking anniversary to me!

Ok, so it's not the anniversary of my actual stroke but 3 years ago today I took my very first steps. I can't describe that feeling, knowing that you're actually doing it, in a way you're proving the doctors wrong but realising at the same time that the real journey has only just begun. You've still got a long way to go.

My feet touched the ground 2 months after my stroke onset. After my family were told that, while I may be able to stand (with a lot of help), I certainly wouldn't be able to walk again. It was highly likely, in fact 100% certain, that I would be reliant on a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
But oh no.
They didn't realise that they were talking to the wrong person here. I was 17 years old, I had my whole life ahead of me.
Pushing their predictions aside, I focused on my goal: to walk again.
When I told my key worker at hospital what I wanted my goals to be, they just went 'err... let's just break it down first. We need to make small, achievable goals.'
I thought 'oh f*** you! Don't tell me what I can/can't achieve!' Was probably a good thing that I couldn't just talk just yet.

The next 6 months were spent working on my balance and my leg muscles, just trying to get closer to walking.
Until one chilly morning in November, my physio casually said, on the way to the gym, 'We're going to try walking today!'
Sorry, what did you say..?!
My face lit up, my smile couldn't have gotten any bigger. I was going to walk. Yes!
First, stand up. Ok, try not to wobble! Right ok, left foot first. Breathe! The second physio pulled my left foot forward. Now move your right foot Bethany. The first physio supported my hips as I stepped, my core muscles still weak. Now just repeat, easy! You're doing it!

After that first time, many sessions were spent walking up the big, long corridor on the RRU, nurses finally happy to see me on my feet rather than flat on my back in bed.

Then after a month or so, I progressed to walking on my own around the ward (but with a stick). I could get to therapy sessions on my own now, a sense of normality (well, apart from being in hospital itself after having a stroke) returned, I was as independent as could be at that moment in time.

And then my fear of falling set in.
I hated walking. I hated going around the ward on my own. What made it worse was the fact that they'd moved me in a room by myself so I was very lonely as I didn't venture out to see my friends in the bay next door.
I told my neuropsychologist and my parents but not even they could fully understand what was going on in my head. I had good stability, my legs and my core was getting stronger. I don't blame them, even I didn't know what was going wrong.

Then I was discharged altogether, my time had come to return home. After an incredibly emotional farewell, I was free. Goodbye RRU.

Over time, my fear has significantly reduced. I'm very stable with walking now therefore I have no reason to feel unsafe, right?
To an outsider, watching me walk for the first time, you would probably say that I walk like a penguin. I waddle sometimes. I may look unsteady but I'm not. That is just how I walk. Sorry if that looks weird to you or would be embarrassing for you, but I don't care.
Like me, if you do feel unsafe at times, have someone there. Don't go out on your own if you're really not up to it. There's pushing yourself but then there is just doing too much. Push yourself when someones at least around you, it's better to feel safe at first when you're practising.

It's like driving a car, you have someone with you while you learn and you're building up confidence. Then you take your test (and depending on whether you pass or not) can drive on your own, you can do your own thing.

It won't ever happen overnight guys. As they say, practice makes perfect!

Friday, 6 November 2015

Emotions aren't scary

I thought I'd write a blog post on the emotional changes after stroke. They can be hidden and very hard to understand. If you're maybe over emotional (like me) people will just assume you're depressed. Which is not the case. At all.
People don't see the emotional side so when you are emotional or anxious, people don't understand and unfortunately, they judge.
It is 100% normal to have emotional changes after stroke or brain injury, it is very common but we still don't like to talk about it that much.

Ok, I'll be open with you, I suffer with emotional lability and anxiety. I see them as the worst combination of emotional problems sometimes.
Emotional Lability (or Pseudobulbar effect- PBA), as defined by good old wikipedia, is 'a neurological disorder characterised by involuntary crying or uncontrollable episodes of crying/laughter.'
Now people looking at this will think 'omg' or they might even think that I'm a complete weirdo who's emotionally unstable but I can tell you now that it's not like how it is characterised. I never experience uncontrollable outbursts of crying or laughter. My emotional lability is characterised by, kinda, 'over-the-top happiness' so basically I'm a very smiley, happy person. If you ask anyone, the first thing they'll say is that I smile a lot. Even when I'm angry or upset I will smile, I try not to make it seem deadly serious sometimes, that helps a lot.
When I get angry I may giggle uncontrollably sometimes or I may cry; I always say that my brain makes it come out wrong. People then think that I'm upset but I'm really not. Trust me.
So it's not awful, right?

Then my anxiety, just like it affects others, I can become sweaty, my breathing will accelerate and my vision can go a bit 'funny', if I come across something that particularly scares or makes me anxious. So with walking (on my own only), I have a fear of falling, so my anxiety can increase then too. It doesn't become severe but it will niggle at me and my breathing might change a little.

And then we have talking. Due to my speech clarity I have an automatic fear response whenever I talk to someone new. I don't panic but just like when your nervous, I will get 'butterflies' in my stomach and may have sweaty, clammy palms. My mouth might dry as well.
Once I get talking, I will not shut up. I come out my shell and talking becomes natural to me again.

Emotions are hard. Sometimes it will be completely different to how I've described. Not worse or anything, just different. It's unpredictable. Everyone's emotions are. Even if you haven't had a brain injury.

My tips for ANYONE experiencing emotional lability or anxiety, similar to mine, would be:
1) Listen to music
This automatically calms me down, no doubt about it. You don't have to listen to a soothing, relaxing tune (well, only if it helps you). I listen to house music or some music thats upbeat and happy a lot of the time so I just put that on. It's what I'm used to, it's what I like.
2) Laugh!
If you're experiencing something that is making you angry, laugh about it. I've found that my mum will always make a joke or say something funny when I'm really angry at something. This will help stop me crying and just help with anxiety about the situation.
3) Breathe!
I know it's said a lot but seriously, breathing does help, surprisingly! From my emotional counsellor at college, I learnt to draw a figure 8 over and over again with your finger while you breathe in and out deeply.
4) Distract yourself
If you can feel anxiety or stress bubbling up inside you, instead of it becoming 'too much', just do something else. Look at your phone. Make a joke.
One time at college I felt my emotional lability beginning to surface, so I just distracted myself by putting my notebook and pencil case back in my bag. My mind instantly calmed.

So if you're reading this, don't be hard on yourself. We all have emotions, we all display them differently.