Personal Mask Of A Stroke Survivor

A Short Story featuring Anna Casamento Arrigo

Sometimes, I think, I’m clear in my explanation of what is going on in my head, how I feel, the struggles I’m facing, and the myriad emotions that, often, run amuck and find difficulty reeling them in.   After my stroke, I found, for the most part, that I wasn’t the only one who had gone through changes (some visible, some not).  It was a gradual realization, if indeed, I may call it that!  As an impatient stroke survivor, I followed directions as best I could and met challenges as they were laid out before me.

During rest periods, however, was when, I, left to watch and observe, realized that others were working on their respective effects, on their own journey; they mirrored or tried to, the tasks before them as well.  I wondered, how their perception of themselves, replayed itself in their brain.  This very thought, in my head, played itself out numerous times during rehabilitation.  What would the future hold for them, for me?  My speech was, for the most part, intelligible; though, I often struggled with what I had just said or who I had said it to during the course of the hour or day.  Changes are difficult; I’ve heard many people say.  Indeed, the unexpected changes, though, are probably, without dispute, the most difficult.

What you see though, it is said, is not what you get! Every one of us faces a personal goal, admittedly, even those who have not had a stroke.  For the stroke survivor, however, the arduous task of rehabilitation is sometimes (and sometimes, often) marked with more significant challenges, greater obstacles than some may believe or try to accept; if one can see it, then, one can, often, explain it.   For the survivor, though, it not as simple as that; the body, usually one side, but not always,  appears to be unresponsive, twisted, dangling, paralyzed, or whatever other descriptive words one wishes to associate with strokes and their aftermaths.  Again, though, what is not visible is what is not easily defined or explained.

Rocky Dennis (Eric Stoltz), who suffers from a skull deformity, also known as lionitis, or the Elephant Man’s disease, in the movie, “Mask,” while at camp, is befriended by Diana Adams (18-year-old Laura Dern),  who has been blind since birth.  Rocky, who is an extremely bright young man, uses his intelligence to explain to Diana the descriptive words, like billowy clouds using cotton balls as a touchable vision of them; he uses a rock, he has purposefully warmed, to explain green, and, then, tells her that once the rock has cooled or has become frozen, it would simulate what icy blue might ‘look’ like. 

If you’re crying, you’re depressed; if you’re always ‘tired’ and want to sleep more than usual, you’re depressed; if you’ve lost interest in things that had previously given you pleasure, you’re depressed; if you’d rather sit alone than hold a conversation, you’re depressed. What came first, the chicken or the egg? And so it goes. I wasn’t depressed before the stroke, my stroke. But now, it seems, whenever I don’t react (or overreact) to things as I did before, I’m depressed.
“We know you’re depressed and it’s a disease.  You need to take your meds.”   
“Maybe someone needs to do some research on strokes before that blanket statement!”

Sometimes, in my own head, there is a DVD that will replay, rewind, then replay again at will.  I get caught up in those episodes as my life is replayed over and over.  I could hit the stop button or, at the very least pause it; I don’t.  Don’t know why I don’t. I just don’t.  While some moments (episodes) are of those times when strokes were something that happened to the elderly, those who drank, smoked, and ate meat wrapped in meat sandwiches topped with mayonnaise and an ample amount of bacon, there are those episodes that I don’t recall at all.  The character is smiling; she has a smile, the one that I usually had pasted on my face; the one that disappeared somewhere on the editing floor of the filmmaker.  

You see, sometimes, I think my life has become someone else’s.  And even as I write this, I think I’m writing it about someone else; it’s someone else’s life I’m talking about; someone else who can’t find the verbal cues that once were readily accessible; someone else who is walking like they’ve had one too many at the corner bar; someone else who appears to be walking on eggshells; someone else who has difficulty remembering phone numbers, grocery lists, or if her shoes are on her feet.  

What you see is not what you get sometimes.  I’d like to put into words how it feels to walk, talk, share ideas, and discuss the order of things; but for now, I’m just like the John Lennon song states, “…watching the wheels go round and round…” or watching the reruns of those episodes in my head.  Ask me how I’m feeling; don’t tell me how I’m feeling.  Allow me to feel the billowy clouds and warm and cold…

Anna Casamento Arrigo is the author of several children's books, including Mr. Moon Mr. Moon ( Fulton Books ) and the electrifying romance novel, The Shadow's Secrets ( Page Publishing ). Anna is an artist with many talents; a visual artist, a painter, and a teacher. After recovering from a stroke, Anna realized that she could no longer fulfill the physical demands of being an educator, but her heart remains to be a teacher. In her upcoming book, When Daddy's Going Away( Fifth Pillar Books ) she's able to capture the longing of a child when legal separation and divorce happens, the life after divorce, and the unending love each family member has for one another.