Still learning , still hanging in there

Its been a little while since my last post, I thought this would be a good time to remind you of my disclaimer. I have no qualifications – other than I had a stroke on December 26th, 2015. Everything I write is related to something I am trying in my rehabilitation, or some research or interesting thing I’ve read or heard about. I am not a professional, so if you don’t agree with something I write that’s ok folks, I encourage you to do your own research. If you have something interesting you’d like to share please do so in the comments below.

Ok so now that’s out of the way….
This neat animated gif shows the location of the thalmus where I had my brain bleed


By Images are generated by Life Science Databases(LSDB). [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp (], via Wikimedia Commons

Our brains are designed to see patterns and make connections in order to navigate through the world.Following my stroke my body awareness was completely disrupted, my brain could not simply follow the map and make the right connections.

During the early stages of rehabilitation I followed the hospital protocols and worked to regain the movement that I had lost.

I simply didn’t have a plan, much less much of an understanding of the enormity of what lay ahead for me. Now I’ve reached 7 months post- stroke I can safely say that this path is not quite as easy and straightforward as I conceived it would be. Along the way I have also incorporated treatments that are maybe a bit less predictable.

The gains I initially experienced daily have slowed down, nevertheless its still important to celebrate those gains.

Since my last post I am working hard on correcting a lifetime of slouching, it was bound to catch up with me eventually!

I am learning to love just hanging out on my yoga bolster,( its a great chest opener ), and when doing so, concentrating on my breathing. This activity is really helping my shoulder, and my range of movement.

As I sit typing this, I am drawing my shoulder blades down, (not forward) tucking my chin, Hah!. It sure is difficult but slowly it is beginning to become a little more instinctive.

Today I learned about Lumo Lift Lumo Lift is a small lightweight wearable digital posture tracker that helps you train and maintain great posture . I have just ordered one, so I will be sure to let y’all know how useful this little gadget is once I receive it.

I have a growing frustration with my sense of touch, or lack thereof, (in my left hand). When reaching into a pocket I am unable to distinguish or even sense objects.

Our brains seamlessly integrate the tactile, sensory cues from our fingers with hand movements to perceive the different objects. The neural coding that underlies touch is very challenging. I had hoped that in gaining more movement in my hand and arm, that touch would follow, but it’s very very slow.

I have started using Electrical stimulation ( e stim). E-stim can be used for everything from providing a stretch to spastic muscles to regaining sensation on the “bad” side. It is an easy “do-it yourself tool” for recovery.

Drum roll…..

Today I picked up a dime with my left hand ( first time)!

Drugs can help or hurt recovery, but no drug can replace the hard work needed to rewire the brain, rather it can provide a temporary respite necessary to do the hard work necessary to rewire the brain. The nerve sensation in my hand , arm and face have become so much more intense, and much as I didn’t want to, I have started taking a pain relief drug. Its a trade off, so far the overall effect has been pretty good at reducing the nerve pain, but today I am experiencing a side effect of dizziness and finding it hard to focus.

There are no rules that guide you through the process of deciding when a set course of recovery action works. I have found that adding new things keeps it interesting, but also when something doesn’t work or provide a benefit then I have no problem dropping it… so that was my logic in trying the drugs!

Loosing knots, and flossing my nerves

This week I’ve been exploring the symptoms of nerve entrapment. In the early days, after I first had my stroke, I experienced a lot of problems sleeping. First of all I put it down to the hospital bed…. A side sleeper I just couldn’t find a comfortable position and often found myself waking in pain lying on my left arm , with my neck in a wrenched position. I blamed the bed… too small Goldilocks…. But guess what ? The problems continued when I returned home to my lovely king sized bed.

Trapezius muscle

Trapezius muscle connecting the upper extremity to the vertebral column;

One day I experienced a painful knot in my Trapezius muscle… and now on reflection, I am beginning to understand that this may have been a precursor of some of the symptoms I am now experiencing.

There are three major nerves that run from your neck all the way to your fingers: ulnar, median, and radial. The ulnar nerve runs along the inside of your arm and ends in your pinky and ring fingers. Entrapment of the nerve, is when the nerve gets trapped at a location, then when you move your arm the very taught nerve gets pulled and results in pain.

Ulnar Nerve

Front of right upper extremity, showing surface markings for bones, arteries, and nerves. Gray’s Anatomy, Plate 1235

What’s a bit tricky in recognizing that my pain, and some of my symptoms , could be a nerve entrapment issue, is that the symptoms of tingling fingers and sensory loss as a result of stroke are also a symptom of nerve entrapment. Nerve entrapment generally causes referred pain, meaning the site of the issue can cause pain in another area much like the shoulder pain I have had.

By the by, did you know my maiden name was Holmes? I just have to keep digging….. It drives my hubby crazy because I have theories about a lot of things. This nerve thing though….. it so makes sense at the moment.

So this is where my headspace has been this week. I have been working on loosing knots, and flossing my nerves!
Coincidently there is every indication that my research will pay off, the tingling in my fingers is starting to ease.

There are several nerve flossing videos on YouTube, here’s one that I’ve been incorporating to my rehab.

* I want to caution anyone reading my account, that I am no medical expert, I am writing this as a personal account of how stroke has affected me, and it’s my journey of recovery.

You will get better….. trust me

I’ve been reading “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor and wanted to share this quote with you.

“Recovery, however you define it, is not something you do alone, and my recovery was completely influenced by everyone around me. I desperately needed people to treat me as though I would recover completely.”

So true….I was having a bit of a wobble, and this quote completely nails it for me.

I cannot change circumstance, but learn from it rather than being a passive helpless participant. I cannot change circumstance but I do have control over how I react to it.

disabled parking passOver the weekend an old friend came to visit, co-incidentally he had a stroke 6 years ago. His encouragement resonated, “you will get better…. this is not how you are going to be, trust me…..”. Just a few words of hope, but something that I really needed to hear. The multitude of cautious professionals, who have been treating me since my event, fear to opine so simply and the right words can be such a powerful catalyst.

The Anat Baniel Method and Clinical Pilates are the perfect marriage of treatment for me . With Pilates I am learning that focus on my breathing allows you to be more present in the body, and with both approaches awareness of movement is key.

I continue to gain benefits and enjoyment in my weekly clinical pilates sessions. This past week the focus has been on my neck. The brain computes movement of the whole body. The mouth, tongue and jaw take a huge part of the brain, and the movement of the neck and back are intimately connected to it.

Slow is extremely important, but at times I find it quite counter-intuitive, so often I catch myself rushing. Moving slowly takes much more control. Fast the brain can only do what it has already learned, and only by moving slowly are we able to upgrade the quality of movement. Its hard to change patterns that are already so ingrained, and I need to trust that change will happen with neuroplasticity, and my brain will heal and recover.

For me, it’s been important to have a space devoted to recovery, somewhere free from distractions. When I had my stroke we were busily renovating, a former office space was redundant and was ideal . So it was decided to use this room as a place where I could concentrate on my recovery. Previously I used a community gym for daily exercise, but with the initial problems that I experienced with mobility having a space at home seemed a better solution.

My first acquisition was a treadmill that my son wasn’t using. I already possessed a good selection of weights, resistance bands, yoga mats and blocks. Slowly I am adding . I have several balls of varying diameters, from large, to small and weighted. I recently purchased a yoga bolster , which has proved to be wonderful new prop, especially useful to do my chest opening work- and infinitely more stable than the ball I used prior to getting it.

Be very cautious though when assembling your space, always be cognizant of your safety. For example, a treadmill provides a moving surface that may be inappropriate for some stroke survivors. Even something as simple as a ball can facilitate a loss of balance that can cause a fall. Having a non slip floor is important, as is appropriate footwear, stabilizing bars or a solid chair is helpful for balance.

* I want to caution anyone reading my account, that I am no medical expert, I am writing this as a personal account of how stroke has affected me, and it’s my journey of recovery.