Bitterness, Guilt, Denial and Relief After a Stroke

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A stroke is a brain attack- a lack of blood supply to a part of the brain that results in a neurological deficit due to damage of the affected region of the brain. A stroke is generally unexpected and always unwelcome.

The effects of a stroke are widely variable. Some people recover from a stroke with minimal neurological consequences- such as mild loss of sensation of a small part of the hand or face.

Other stroke survivors are reminded daily that they had a close brush with death and have to live with long term loss of vision, inability to walk without significant assistance, incontinence or even inability to get up from bed and eat on their own. 

Given the extensively long list of stroke risk factors and the complex dynamics that influence stroke recovery, it can lead stroke survivors on any part of the spectrum to wonder, “Why Me?”

The question of ‘why me’ comes in several different flavors.

Relief That it Was Only A Warning

Some stroke survivors may approach a stroke as a sign to begin to change harmful habits, such as smoking or uncontrolled diet, or lack of exercise. Many stroke survivors feel that their stroke was a ‘close call’, especially if they emerged with less disability than initially expected. When recovery  after a stroke is better than expected, this may serve as a motivation to improve lifestyle habits.

Nothing Can Hurt Me Now

Other stroke survivors who experience good recoveries may take a more reckless approach, believing that luck is on their side. Some may take credit for their own recovery, believing they deserve it, while believing that others who don't recover as well after a stroke did not deserve to.

Some individuals choose denial as a way to avoid making inconvenient lifestyle changes or thinking too much about frightening health issues. A close brush with a severe health problem can convince some people that they are unstoppable or indestructible.

Guilt

Some stroke survivors who experience good recovery may feel guilty if they personally know stroke survivors who are severely incapacitated. They may wonder why they were able to evade serious consequences while others were left disabled. Guilt is often a component when a stroke survivor did not take good care of his or her health prior to a stroke and witnessed someone else suffering from debilitating post stroke problems. Guilt about a good outcome may also stem from guilt about something else in life- such as dishonesty or relationship problems. The stroke may be a confusing reminder of unsettled personal feelings.

Bitterness

Yet some stroke survivors may take the approach of,  “What is the point of taking care of my health? I have bad luck anyways,” or “Terrible things always seem to happen to me.” This attitude of bitterness can affect people who have mild disability or people who have severe disability.

It is more common when people feel lonely and isolated. Some stroke survivors are angry or anxious about how others with treat them after recovery.

Grateful

Other stroke survivors may exude a sense of gratefulness. Gratefulness may be a characteristic of stroke survivors with mild to moderate effects or stroke survivors with severe disability.  These people appreciate the fortune they have to spend more time with loved ones after they experienced the real possibility of death. They do not dwell on the misfortune, but rather see even the smallest recovery as a victory.

Different people's approach to 'why me?' in both good and bad circumstances often fluctuate over time. It is unusual for someone to maintain a constantly bitter or a constantly optimistic attitude after such a dramatic event as a stroke. But it isn't the actual condition, recovery, disability or neurological changes that control an individual’s reaction to a stroke. It is the individual’s personal temperament and the environment of supportive friends, family,​ and co-workers that combine to determine a stroke survivor’s outlook.

A stroke brings to the forefront the uncertainty and unpredictability of life. Some stroke survivors find solace by learning about the experiences of others. Often, joining stroke recovery support groups and learning about the experiences of others can help when life seems uncertain.

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