The Stroke Has Really Been Good For Me - Margie Mee Pate's Story

by Al Siebert, PhD

THRIVEnet Story of the Month - June 1997

Margie Pate remembers loving her life in the summer of 1991. The youngest of her four children had just graduated from college, she had a good marriage, a lovely home, and a very satisfying position as executive director of "Friends of the Zoo." She did volunteer work raising funds for art and went with her husband to many to social events. Her life was rich with friendships, parties, and family activities. At home she loved working outdoors converting their hillside backyard into a lush, secluded bower. Very health conscious, she enjoyed swimming, walking, and cooking nutritious meals with herbs she grew.

In August, 1991, Margie began to have headaches. During the next few days they became worse and worse. Nothing was found on a CAT scan, but it was obvious she was having a stroke. Her right arm and leg were weak and she couldn't speak well. Her doctor put her in the hospital. Ultra sound tests and an MRI showed that her carotid artery was blocked and she had a stroke on the left side of her brain.

While in the hospital she says "I couldn't make or find words. I tried for 2 to 3 hours to write my name. It was so frustrating. I didn't know what to do with my lipstick. It was the oddest feeling. And the hospital staff felt frustrated. They talked louder to me, like I was a child. I wanted to go home, but they were concerned. What if I didn't know how to use the stove or what if I had to try to telephone for help? It was very frightening that this happened."

She started taking speech therapy, but says "there is not as much support for stroke recovery as for head injury and MS. Not as much is known about strokes. I had terrible dizzy spells and headaches for four years," she says. "At a party I'd get dizzy and have to stand against a wall so they didn't know. I couldn't be in crowds, it was too overwhelming. I had to turn off the radio to talk with someone. I kept having episodes. They didn't know why. They thought I might be having mild seizures, that happens sometimes after strokes. They did an EEG and tried a drug, but it didn't help. There was so much I couldn't do. My math skills were whacked out, I couldn't handle money or my check book. I couldn't read very well. My judgment wasn't good. I couldn't take trips by myself. I felt like a basket case."

Margie says her husband Dennis was "helpful in the beginning, but he didn't know what to do. After two years he became exasperated. He threw up his arms. I saw it wasn't up to him to take care of me, it was up to me. I thought there must be a reason for all this so I kept pursuing it."

What kept her going? "I didn't feel like my life was over. I never gave up. Books about spirituality helped. Reading is difficult, but the books helped--Deepak Chopra, Norman Cousins, The Road Less Traveled, The Artist's Way-- gave me courage. I had to for my children. I couldn't give up, it would be a poor example after all the years I tried to give them real life lessons. And there is my personal religion. I didn't want to mess up my Karma. I wanted to learn the lesson so I didn't have to deal with it again. I would sit and think about being better, that I would recover. I'd write over and over how I had the courage to do all I was doing. I set a positive pattern. I didn't feel like my life was over. Taking art classes helped a lot. That part of my brain didn't get zapped. They never encouraged me to exercise, but I started doing it on my own. I started running and joined an aerobics class at the Y. What kept me going? Just loving life."

Now, six years later, Margie smiles and says "this has been really good for me. I've learned so much. I wouldn't want to wish it on anyone, it is kind of a hard way to learn, but it has been really good. Because of the person I was, I really needed to be jarred."

Why has this been good? "I was keeping a record on my computer," she says, "of how I felt and my episodes and symptoms everyday. Then I was in a bad auto accident with my husband. He broke three ribs. During the winter after the accident I kept having attacks regularly. I went to a doctor who is doing research on light therapy. I told her of the symptoms I kept having. She suggested I was having panic attacks! She explained it was physical, not psychological and can be induced. She showed me that sometimes I would have none for two weeks, but get worse under stress like when I would go on a trip. She put me on Nortriptylin and the funniest thing, it all went away, little by little.

"Last Fall I began to feel relief, like I could have a life again. I felt more confident. I could take trips, go places and not worry -- like I might freak out at a party. After the medication was successful the doctor asked if I had any episodes before the stroke. I did a few times! In fact twice I'd gone to a hospital emergency room when I felt like I was going to die. That was a long time ago. Now I learned that I'd been having panic attacks all my life from too much stress. I used to set goals, do lots of things. I was set on a track and not as aware. Now I'm not rushing anywhere. Now I make choices about letting it go.

"The stroke was a gift in many ways. Now I can't hide anything anymore. After you have a stroke your emotions are close to the surface. That's a good thing. Now I can't mask what I'm feeling. I did that for a long time. My father died when I was nine. I didn't cry at his funeral. I was the oldest child. I didn't want to make things worse for my mother. I tried to take over for him to help her. When Dennis left me this January I felt the same as when my father died. I felt those emotions, but they seemed worse than they should have been. I cried and cried and couldn't stop. All those feelings I never let out. I'm more "knowing" about things happening. If I feel uncomfortable I stop and think about what is happening.

"So the stroke was a good thing. I still don't learn as fast as I once did and the financial stuff worries me, but I'm getting better all the time and in many ways I will be better than before!"

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