Two years ago, when I was 28, I had a stroke. I was on maternity leave from the rapidly expanding cleaning company I had set up in 2013. My three children were aged 10, 8 and 4 months.
It was the 25th October 2015 and I was a passenger in the back of my then partner’s car. He had just taken the driving seat over from me when I heard a strange high-pitched ringing sound – which at the time I thought was radio disturbance, I asked him to turn it down. He told me the radio wasn’t even on and then my vision suddenly went white, I felt a pain I can only describe as like being hit over the head with a heavy object. At first, I thought maybe I was just having a dizzy spell. I quickly realised my eye sight had not adjusted back again and I was having difficulty focusing, I felt violently sick.
When we got to A&E I had completely lost my balance and was walking into cars and people. I had lost the use of my right arm which just felt like lead. When we got to the reception desk they asked what my name was, I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t even remember my baby daughters name. It was then it occurred to me that I had possibly had a stroke.
Unfortunately, because of my age the doctors were reluctant to diagnose or even check for a stroke and I was sent home diagnosed with a migraine. After sleeping for 72 hours I still could not see properly. All the other symptoms had subsided but I had lost a significant amount of my peripheral vision and had a very apparent visual disturbance in my line of sight. I went to see my GP and on explaining my symptoms I was sent for an urgent CT scan which showed I had suffered from an Ischaemic Stroke. I was left with permanent sight loss.
My recovery has been frustrating. I was discharged from hospital to care for my 3 children, with no care plan. The support offered to me was not suitable. I had lost my ability to drive, and with that my independence. My partner did not understand my sense of loss and mood swings. He became physically and psychologically abusive towards me. He acted as if I had somehow brought it upon myself and that I was now a burden, our relationship ended. I became very low. Friends and family could not see the hidden effects of my stroke. When faced with becoming a ‘carer’ people’s demeanour can change. That was a very hard side of stroke for me, believing I was a burden to those closest to me, as though it was somehow my fault. Professionals implied as I was young I would adapt quickly but I felt so very alone.
On one of my desperate days (and there were many) I typed stroke support into my search engine. I came across Different Strokes, who appeared more tailored towards my situation. I joined their Facebook page and could interact immediately with younger stroke survivors like myself. It brought me so much comfort to talk to people who were living through the same nightmare I was, and to share stories and ask questions I felt I couldn’t ask those closest to me. It gave me hope.
It has since been found through various tests, that my stroke was most likely down to a small and apparently common hole in the heart called a PFO. Funding for PFO closure has been withdrawn in my local NHS trust, whilst it is decided if it is beneficial to reduce the risk of further strokes. I am therefore left in constant fear that I will experience another stroke.
A year ago, after meeting a wonderful partner, we quickly found out we were expecting a baby. The pregnancy was worrying and stressful, but again Different Strokes came to my rescue and through their page I could contact other women who had gone on to have children after their stroke. I was able share my fears and in turn be provided with stories and answers that diminished my worries. Our daughter is now 12 weeks old and we are both happy and healthy. My partner is amazing and helps with all the children as I am now unable to work, drive or read without an aid.
Looking forward to the future, and now that I have adapted to my permanent sight loss, I hope to continue to raise awareness of strokes in younger people and of course, raise money for Different Strokes. I would love to coordinate a face to face support group so that others like myself have a safe place to share their experiences and worries.
To anyone that has had a stroke I would say never give up. Whether that be looking for answers, asking for help or fulfilling your dreams. Don’t let stroke define you. You’re not alone, if only you look in the right places.