Celebrate with me, the 5th anniversary of my stroke!

Today marks the 5th anniversary of my stroke and I am celebrating with a training run and pie with my kids.  In April, I will again run the Boston Marathon as another celebration of my journey. I am celebrating for many reasons.  I am celebrating most obviously, that I am still here.  I am also celebrating that I am not just here, not just surviving, but I am thriving.  I am celebrating because I am genuinely grateful for February 28, 2018 – a day that changed my life in so many great ways.  I am celebrating because I am so thankful for the opportunity to have experienced at 37, what many others may experience, but not until their 70s or 80s.  I was given this gift to not look back with regret but to look forward with intention, purpose, and renewed focus.

Five years ago, on this day, I came home from a swim to get my older son to preschool.  I was moving books from a shelf in his room when my left arm inexplicably dropped the books, and a tingle shot up and down the left side of my body.  My arm went offline.  I took some migraine medication convinced this was just an odd symptom as I had had complicated migraines before, and I went about my day, taking my oldest son to school, taking my younger son to childcare, and going to a parenting class.  I clearly remember mentally questioning at the parenting class, if people could tell I couldn’t feel the left side of my face or that my tongue felt funny when I spoke, but I carried on.

By lunchtime, the numbness persisted.  I called a doctor I’d been meaning to call to establish care since we’d moved to LA and was told they would not see me.  Instead, they directed me to the ER.  So, I directed my car to UCLA Westwood with, I will admit, a little frustration with this inconvenient situation.  I remember my husband and our two-year-old meeting me there and being greeted by a whole team of physicians who soon informed me I’d had a stroke.  I remember the first words out of my mouth were, “Can I still run the Boston Marathon?” The doctor responded, “There will be other marathons” to which I explained that I’d run 10 marathons to finally qualify, and I really wanted to run this race. I remember thinking, I don’t need my left arm to run. People thought I was crazy, including these doctors, and as I reflect, I’ll admit, I sounded pretty crazy.  Six weeks later, I ran the Boston Marathon in some of the worst weather in the history of the Boston Marathon.  I crossed that finish line with the odds stacked against me.  I didn’t run another marathon until last June when I decided qualifying for Boston and running the infamous marathon would be a really great way to celebrate the post-stroke years.

 I remember all the “shoulds” that flooded in with good intentions.  I remember choosing to sit in the discomfort and pause, to not be too quick to take action, but to allow myself to question, research, feel the fear and anger and frustration and grief. A few months later, I had an “ah-ha” moment.  I call the first of these epiphanies, a “God moment” as it was sincerely life-changing, from the inside out, and felt as if it has been a thought simply delivered, not conceived.  One morning, as I stood in our home office, the sun gently coming through, I felt warmth and light from within and there was a sudden knowing and confidence that came over me. I’ve learned to be more comfortable with these moments that garner looks of judgment from others, that garner those looks that say, “you’re nuts!” I realized in that moment, I didn’t find it crazy that I’d run the Boston Marathon after a stroke because I’d been training my whole life to overcome.  I’d had so many opportunities to overcome that it had become second nature. I was determined and resilient and strong and courageous because of these experiences, and this stroke was no different.   I realized the time had come to stop hiding these experiences that made me different – brain surgeries, lots of moves, financial struggles, growing up in a Hispanic family, so much self-doubt and lack of belonging – it was time to celebrate them.  These were the experiences I’d been taught to hide in order to “fit in” but by hiding them, I’d been denying my very existence.  I had been denying my voice, my value, my worth, and my strength, courage, determination, grit, and resilience; I had been denying my superpowers.  The time had come to own my power, to use my voice, to be fully and unapologetically me.  Over the coming months, I also found a deep desire to support others on their journeys of authenticity, to find and own their superpowers, too. There were more learnings and epiphanies that came that year that have encouraged me to live boldly, fearlessly and more authentically.  My life now has direction and my struggles and triumphs have a purpose.

Since my stroke, I have learned to live bigger, to begin to stop listening to the “shoulds” or at least to question them, to speak up, to stop banging on doors that don’t want to open, to follow the path unfolding before me, to allow things to be easier, and to be more intentional and less reactionary. I officially launched my own business and had the third child I dreamed of having. I started a PhD program to look at what is impacting elementary school teachers tasked with implementing social and emotional learning programs after realizing my own vision for the way emotional intelligence might increase our capacity for being human, and therefore increase our capacity for other humans such that we might realize our full potential and become the unique puzzle piece in this world that we are meant to be. I started coaching, facilitating EQ workshops, and writing. I have also been working as an adjunct faculty member at Seattle University. As a child, I wanted to teach. I have reacquainted myself with my inner child and the wisdom she holds. I am manifesting these dreams, one day at a time.

I am learning to invest more in the people who see me and love me for who I am and who I am becoming. I am taking more risks, allowing myself to be seen, to be vulnerable and authentic. I am learning to dare more greatly, to cultivate an ability to listen to my inner voice and to follow the direction and guidance this voice provides.  I am committed to my own well-being, growth, passions and to being an example to forge a unique path rather than trying to follow and live up to others. I am no longer chasing – chasing opportunities not meant for me, chasing relationships and love not freely given, chasing people who don’t or won’t see me, chasing a sense of worth and value determined by others. 

I am taking time to observe and appreciate the little things too often taken for granted.  I am making the space for the things I’ve learned seem small but have a big impact, like volunteering to read in the classroom of my son, reading with my kids and taking them to the library, teaching them to ski, playing Magna-tiles on the floor with my daughter, snuggling under the blankets to watch a movie with my three littles, and giving and receiving more hugs. I am reminding myself as needed, that life is best lived in the moments, and restful moments are just as important as productive moments.

I am learning to see my own value and worth.  I am fully committed to creating my own authentic journey, to exploring the meaning I make from life and how this meaning-making influences my choices. I am learning to be freer and kinder to myself, to stop and admire the beauty that surrounds me, and I am finding peace, deeper satisfaction, purpose, and joy.  So, on this 5th anniversary of my stroke, I hope you will join me in a toast to living a life that is true and full, never taking for granted tomorrow, and never letting yesterday’s regret keep you from living life today!

As Henry David Thoreau said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined!”