The Wall Street Journal recently published an article http://on.wsj.com/1LmwVb3 on a new area of research — the surprising upside of surviving a tragedy — like stroke. In 2013 a young psychologist at Harvard surveyed 50 individuals who’d been paralyzed in accidents decades earlier, 50 lottery winners who took home about $6 million a decade earlier, and the same number of people who had experienced neither. The three groups reported about the same level of happiness, though the accident survivors were slightly happier than the others.
That probably amazes most people, but after reading posts on stroke Facebook groups, listening at support groups and interviewing people who’ve recovered from strokes, I’m not surprised. So many individuals have said how grateful they are and how happy they are with their “new lives.” They refer to the date of their stroke as their “re-birth” and throw parties. There is life after stroke, and it can be happy.
This is all part of a new way of thinking about and researching the aftermath of trauma. Working in the early 1980s, Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun at the University of North Carolina, first coined the term “post-traumatic growth” to describe the positive changes that many survivors were reporting. I’ve seen a lot of evidence of this and would love to hear more about it. If you have comments or stories, please let me know here.
People often ask me why I’m writing about stroke. They assume I’ve had a stroke, or that someone close to me had a stroke. Actually a friend of mine, a doctor, told me that when her mom had a stroke she knew what to do for her in terms of medical help. But she and her family had no idea how to help her go on with her life after the stroke. So, they did what most people do. They googled. They went to the bookstore. But they found very little a family could use. She thought it would be a good idea for me to write a book for patients, families and caregivers.
I knew from my work as a reporter and writer that most people are helped by stories about other people that they could relate to. So right away I knew I had to interview lots of people and get lots of stories. I started to listen to stories and I was amazed at how many different kinds of individuals have strokes. I was fascinated with how they recovered and went on to live lives — not the same lives as before — but good lives, happy lives.
I also learned that stroke neurology has advanced, particularly in the last twenty years. I couldn’t find those improvements explained in one place so that people could read in layman’s terms about the new life-saving advances in the field. There’s a lot of new ideas, from the clot busters that have been proven safe and affective to neuroplasticity which means the brain can learn to compensate for lost abilities. It’s now known that patients can continue to improve for years after stroke. It’s these ideas that I want to write about, and how they affect every day peoples’ lives so that anyone who has suffered a stroke, or their loved ones, can learn more about how to successfully survive stroke.