After my stroke in October, I was afraid I had brain damage. But I found out that things aren’t always what they seem, that I needed to learn to look a little deeper.

At first I couldn’t find things. When I came home from the hospital, I would desperately search through drawers and the refrigerator for things I KNEW were there, but couldn’t find. Then I got my eyes tested and discovered that I’d lost some peripheral vision in the bottom part of my visual field, something that my brain will eventually learn to compensate for. But before I knew this, I was sure I was brain damaged. Now I have dealt with the problem by substituting brightly colored containers for the everyday things I’m always searching for inside my dark purse (I’m even planning to get a bright yellow cell phone) and when I can’t find something, I remember to tilt my head and look down–and I almost always find it.

I went through a strangely gloomy period, when instead of being glad to be alive, I kept thinking, “What does it matter? I’m getting old and am going to die soon anyway.” I discovered that this is a common reaction to a brush with death. A friend of mine who had heart surgery said she went through the same thing, but these feelings eventually went away. Seeing a good psychologist helped–never hesitate to visit one of these wonderful practitioners. When you’re having problems you can’t solve, it’s a great luxury to have someone who’s totally on your side.

Then some of what I assumed was brain damage was actually side-effects from some medicine I was taking at the time. When I was able to stop taking the medicine, the problems went away.

In an earlier Diary, I wrote about how I couldn’t read clock faces when I first came out of the hospital. I discovered that this WAS due to brain damage, but of a temporary kind: the specific part of my brain that tells time was swollen. When the swelling subsided, I regained my ability to decipher clocks.

I also discovered that some of my confusion was caused by the fact that I was too vain to wear my glasses all the time and couldn’t see clearly. I got a snazzy new pair of glasses, which solved that problem.

In a way, I think I have the opposite of brain damage–I think I became SMARTER due to my stroke, that I’m now a better thinker and writer than I was before. I don’t know why this would be so, but I do know that about three hundred thousand years ago, primitive man evolved into the modern humans we are today due to the extreme pressures of the ice age. Archeologists have found beautiful art, such as bone carvings and cave paintings, inside anicent living enclosures covered with warm animal pelts to keep out the terrible cold. Maybe the stroke was my personal ice age.

As we go through life, we are dealt many personal “ice ages,” and while they may break our hearts, they are also opportunities for spiritual growth. I now see the force of destiny or karma or God (or whatever you want to call it) working clearly in my life.

I forgot to mention hair. I had my head shaved several times when a shunt was inserted into my scalp. It will be there permanently, so my scalp will always resemble Frankenstein’s a little bit, although I have managed to grow enough hair for a decent comb-over. I have a wardrobe wigs and hats. When I wear my real hair, I put a lot of gel in it, then spike it up. My son likes the look, while my husband doesn’t, so I know it’s fashionable.

Anne LaMott is one of my favorite writers. I think we would like each other, since we’re both spiritual people with shitty hair. In her exquisite book Traveling Mercies she says, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Her your plans.” I know one thing I’ve done this year: I’ve made God laugh.

NOTE: This Diary entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.

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