Regaining Independence

"Funny thing", this thing known as "independence" - a particular attribute I have been striving for, since surviving Stroke in October 2010 (and by that of course I mean "independence", not striving to be "Funny" lol). And when I mention "independence", it just simply means the ability to navigate places by yourself, without the need of help from another person. Note that I had spent over a year going to wherever, always with a chaperone (most times it had been my Father), where there was an intangible fear that I would fall, or be lost to my Stroke-relapse and no one would be the wiser to know what to do.

This is mostly a mental challenge, I admit. But a challenge it had been for a long while that I could not conquer, until only recently.

I have since surmised that whatever "independence" i have been conquering this far, were easier when it is with places and spaces I am familiar with, in the first place. It is the familiarity with retracing the steps I have had taken in the past, that builds up my own confidence and ability to cope with the now, and perhaps even future, or so I surmise.

Besides visiting my dad in SGH earlier on, the other places I have physically gone to by myself, were places I had visited in my "healthier days", like the Sunday flea market in China Square Central, the neighborhood Loyang Point mall, or even the post office at White Sands mall in Pasir Ris, and hell even the bus depot was somewhere I'd gone to numerous times in the past. Now navigating them, is not too much of a mental challenge, as I remember them and where things were, where the turns are to reach somewhere, somewhen.

Now that compared to going to Thailand, was a breeze. Navigating Bangkok, I realized I was able to get by, because I blocked all the fear and inhibitions, and just "walked on" - one of my current mottos in life is; "Move Forward. Always Move Forward". And that was what I did - literally moved forward, and on hindsight, perhaps I was not as I was 100% mentally when I was with folks, because I was spending a decent amount of energy blocking out my fear. And I will be the first one to say, hell yeah I was fearful to be independent and alone in a foreign land! The scenery was different, the geography was daunting, grappling with my own ability (or lack thereof) to catchup and be in the group, it was simpler for me to get along by myself, or with lesser folks in a group.

The meeting of 'old friends' did more good to me mentally, than anyone would ever imagined. Remember "familiarity"? If I am a stranger to the space, then let the faces of familiar friends calm thy temperament, I insist. My sincere thanks to a friend Thanya, for without her, it would have been an extremely harder task to "accept" Bangkok.

I realize these mental obstacles might well be foreign to most healthy, abled folks, but perhaps if you are dealing with Stroke-survivors, having the ability or even opportunity to interact with people and places from the past, may well help integrate them into the state they are currently in, if not help build confidence in their own ability to be "independent". And once that is achieved, then consider going off to places previously not been before, to be able to fully appreciate and enjoy their experiences, and not be fearful of themselves, in the first place. And being integrated into the community was just be as fulfilling, and not just the sense to need to "survive".

Hope I wish I could have enjoyed myself more in Bangkok, than I was masked with fear and trepidation, but the time has come and gone, and all we/i can do now is "Move Forward" :)


Keeping Pace

Bangkok was a … challenge. A challenge to navigate, a challenge for me to integrate with the masses, and a challenge to be covering the event (for which I was invited to attend as a Judge, and eventually tasked to cover as well). I had just returned from a 6-day trip to Thailand, which had been a experience pushing me to my physical limits and mental fortitude.

Navigating amongst folks, became a key challenge at most points. My limited physical abilities meant I had to play "catch up" to most everyone. Yes, most folks had been extremely 'kind' and 'concerned' to turn back and wait for me, but the reality is, moving in a group, I had to somehow "up" my pace to stay within the group's range - even if it meant dragging my heels behind everyone else - and that in itself was a tremendous 'burden' that got the better of me at most instances, so much so I had even forgo a chance for a group outing, because it does me no good to be languishing behind while everyone trudged on, and frankly no matter how I might have been able to express my difficulty, I do not want or need to feel to be a burden to anyone, much less in a group-scenario when everyone is having fun.

Now imagine that being thought of, by a much older Stroke-survivor, like an uncle, aunt or parent. Would folks actually "say" it out loud? The fear is, they do not. Because NO ONE wants or likes to feel like a "burden", and especially older-folks, IMHO. I certainly don't.

Sure, nobody is asking me to quicken my pace, nobody is rushing me to marathon-a-mile, but the reality is; in an instance like this, it IS all about the Stroke-survivor, and not YOUR requirement or judgement of speed. If you intend to bring out a Stroke-survivor and care for him/her, do not expect for him/her to follow your speed, but instead cater to his/hers, instead. If it is your intention in the first place, of course.

Regardless of what folks might think, or think they "know", the reality is most times something they cannot relate to, unless it is something they had the misfortune to experience.

Nothing beats a one-on-one walk tho, with a person shadowing or walking alongside you (it eases the fear and temperament), or simply being followed at the back by others who are looking out for you or you think are looking out for you). Note that walking in front of a Stroke-survivor means nothing if he/she would fall, and all you see is "after the fact" lol.

Walking behind, you'd be able to see the survivor's walking pattern, and even offer feedback on how he/she is walking. Like, if the person tends to lean towards the left sode of the body, or tends to veer to the right even tho he/she is walking straight. Know that Stroke affects a person's sense of direction sometimes as well, besides the ability (or "disability" to walk). But don't go shadowing the person right behind the back, and end up kicking his/her walking cane (sorry, but my mum has done that on numerous occasions hahahaha). But yes, walking behind does not mean you'd be able to rush in in time to "hold" unto the person if he/she is falling lol

The term I am faced with constantly is "community integration" (or sumsuch expression) - whereby the individual can join the community at large, to engage in activities as common to the regular physically-abled folks. I reckon I am still "integrating" and struggling too. Taking a public bus alone. Taking the train, or even getting a tray of food in a crowded food-court, are but the few activities for folks to "join in the community".

With being a part of the community, the Stroke-survivor need not have to feel being "alone" with his/her own medical-malady amongst other able-bodied folks. With independence, the Stroke-survivor can gain confidence in being able to cope with and perhaps even excel beyond his/her own medical-malady (within the given physical restrictions, of course).

It is one thing to walk by yourselves amongst a group, but to physically relate to, and/or catchup with a group's normal speed, is and will be a struggle. Folks might welcome the chance to assist the Stroke-survivor, but do not at any moment pretend you would know how they would feel in stances like this. And people would mostly ask; "Are You Okay?", and the answer would more likely be "I'm Okay" - because what is the alternative? Stop and turn back?

At one point in my time in Bangkok, I found myself in a situation where I had to walk by myself, from the hostel to the event venue - which is a walk in the park to most (not including the heat of weather lol) but one of the most arduous trek I have had to contend with thus far. I could barely walk straight and steady, and my eyes were fixed on the floor in front of me, most times. There were multiple steps to navigate and climb as well, but hey, I survived it, and can only pat myself on the back for being stronger, and frankly, that's all I could do.

Ironically, by myself at my own pace, it was not as arduous as having the need to follow another's pace. Is it the same for every survivor? I would not pretend to know.

The fear of falling on my face in a foreign land, was heightened, but was kept at bay with my own stubbornness to conquer the journey, and of my own misgivings and fear, and believe you me, fear griped at me most times I was up and walking.

And if folks know me well, "fear" is something I chose not to give into, but it does not mean I can ignore it's existence totally. For Stroke-survivors, "fear" might not be something that can be articulated easily, or gauged, beyond "I am scared" - for which able-bodied folks might gauge against their own "fear" instead of the survivors. Do not judge like that, and I can only ask you to acknowledge the fear that might exist for the survivor, much less "understand" it. As for "reacting" to it, it can only show the level of care and concern you do after being told subsequently. Sometimes, all is needed is for the Stroke-survivor to sit, rest his/her feets and catch their breath, and regain their confidence to continue the journey they have set out to conquer in the first instance.

Is it "(all) in the mind?" OF COURSE IT IS. Let there be no doubt about that. Although it does not mean it is 100% in the mind! But it is a strong aspect of one's reaction to activities around. If there was any physical manifestation, it would be an obvious physical reaction to it. There have been a few times when my legs buckled and I was caught breathless with heart palpating rapidly, and had needed to sit down immediately and rest (that is why i consciously choose not to "cover" events these days, I am not foolish enough to think I can physically do what I had done before, for the time being anyways until I recover fully).

A simple equation: The more you walk or move, the more chances you might trip and fall. Move slow and you might be able to control your movements, move fast, and pray that gravity will spare you a reprieve.

Regardless, this post is meant as a reference for folks dealing with Stroke-survivors and their movements. I am grateful for the opportunity to push myself beyond my regular mindset and fears, and lived to survive and return to Singapore in one piece. And because I simply choose not to constantly complain about my coping-issues, it is all on me to make myself comfortable, in the first place.

If I said I am grateful to be "alive", would you dare claim to say you feel what I feel? Do not attempt to, instead, spare a thought for folks out there who might not have the tenacity to survive beyond their own fears, much less their physical disabilities.

Heck, I still have a long road to recovery and journey in life I need to walk thru, but looks like I'll need to be keeping my own pace - rather than depend on others' - if I am to arrive at whatever my destination is, in good health and good spirits :)