If you have had a stroke or know someone who has you know how difficult it is to recover, depending on the severity. The confusion, loss of brain function, speaking skills and most importantly loss of the use of an entire side of your body makes it one of the most devastating neurological events we experience, whether you are a caregiver or had a stroke. Great strides have been made in the health system to help stroke patients but they are still missing the most important element of recovery – relearning how to move from your center. Neuroscience now knows that our brain develops through adaptable and complex movements. If you have a stroke some areas of the brain are simply ‘lost’ or ‘frozen’ and no longer available. It is a bit like losing part of a computer program, some things sort of work and other stuff is simply not there. To fully recover from a stroke you must relearn how to move again from your center in all activity. The movements you do in this realm have nothing to do with stretching, strengthening or flexibility but everything to do with optimizing how you move in balance for any activity.
The following relates some milestone moments of a client who had a massive stroke at 39 years old. He was in a coma for 3 weeks, unable to walk or talk for 2 years yet he had, over twenty five years, relearned to talk, drive, walk and write using just his left side. He came to see me because he wanted to get his right hand and leg working again. He was fed up looking at his right arm and leg and willing them to move yet nothing would happen. The first thing I did was ask him to close his eyes and tell me what he felt in his right side. After a few seconds he opened his eyes in shock and said ‘I can’t feel anything!’
Now he understood why looking at his right side and willing it to do something was never going to happen because his brain had no awareness of his right side. Functionality is not visual, it must be felt how to move. There have been many other watershed moments in his recovery:
- One day he complained that his mind was always chattering. I asked if it used to not be and he said no, he didn’t used to think about anything, this chatter was brand new. I welcomed him back to our exhausting, chattery human world again!
- Another time he was all excited because numbers made sense again. He explained before his stroke he was a whiz at math but for 25 years it was just a jumble. He could separate the numbers now and do simple adding and subtracting.
- He came looking perplexed one day and said he watched a political debate. He wondered if it was always like this because before his stroke he was thinking of getting into politics. i said yes and he shook his head laughing and said boy, is he glad he didn’t get into politics.
- Just recently he excitedly told me that he can multi-task now. He said ‘I can talk, think about what I want to say next and do an activity at the same time.’ He also noticed that his aphasia is decreasing and his sentences have less hesitation or gaps.
His recovery is from the center meaning much of what we do is about balance. Since his brain used to do everything with only his left side, his balance was a left side balance, now it is in his center allowing him to bend over, squat down, turn around himself without falling and more. When he closes his eyes his brain is aware that his right side is now part of him.
For twenty five years he made very slow progress, once in a great while he would become aware of something new, but in the main his life was one of stasis. Today he is often exhausted mentally because so much is changing. Every session results in big changes as he recovers more functionality intellectually, emotionally and physically.
He is doubly challenged because not only is he recovering functionality as a result of his stroke but he is also undoing habits established during the preceding 25 years. Habits are the most difficult to overcome because they are what we are used to, it takes conscious awareness to retrain the brain to habituate a new pattern.
We have a $100 bet that when his right hand becomes functional he will automatically know how to write. I am betting against it but hope he proves me wrong and that I owe him $100! We will know soon who is the winner.