Anxiety, Brain Injury, Depression

Triple Whammy

Dealing with depression, anxiety, and a brain injury is confusing and disheartening.

Were my lows this low, before the stroke? Did I always hate crowds this much? Did I overthink things this much? . . . or everything just a little bit worse? I don’t remember so I can’t make an accurate comparison.

I spend a lot of time scrutinizing things like, what to do with my time, who I’ll spend it with, where I’m comfortable being from moment to moment, and how I’ll get there.

I make mistakes, but they’re not as drastic or detrimental as they used to be.

I have no regrets because in each wrongful act I’ve committed, or mistake I’ve made, I’ve learned more about myself and human nature.

As humans, what we want and what’s right, don’t necessarily coincide.

On top of that sentiment, it’s all relative to who you’re surrounded by, what your beliefs are, what takes priority at the given time, what makes you tick, what resources are at your disposal, etc.

That being said, I’d like to strive to be a better person, while minimizing emotional pain across the board.

A few of my goals for this winter are to remain seizure-free and to combat my impending, debilitating depression. That means staying away from stressful, demoralizing situations.

Part of this quest for salvation is having to battle my inner demons and win. It can be done but it’s not easy and it’s a never-ending struggle.

So, after a week of serious thinking, in early December, I decided to try remain to sober.

My neurologist okayed me to have ONE alcoholic beverage per day. However, I can’t ever predict whether I can stop after one.

For instance, on a Wednesday night about a month ago, I thought, “A glass of cabernet sauvignon would pair nicely with a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie,” and it did but . . . Then, I had two more glasses of wine, only one glass of water, and forgot to take the evening dose of my anti-convulsant.

The morning after the “wine and pie fiasco,” I had a seizure.

I was treating the site where I bit down on my cheek during said seizure. It wasn’t healed after a week. This, among other things, solidified my decision to try self-restraint.

I’m really good at justifying things to myself. I never, really, considered sobriety before because I’ve never believed in abstaining from something. I believed that telling yourself, you can’t have something is just . . . cruel. But, in weighing pros and cons, at this moment, allowing myself to drink is more cruel because of the imminent domino effect.

Overall, I need to take better care of myself.

It’s been a solid month of sobriety. The more time passes, the prouder I am of myself. I’ve been treating myself the way I’ve always wanted to.

I figured, if I could just make it through the holidays, the rest would be cake.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve wanted to drink within the past month to deal with stress, to make myself comfortably numb, to “fit in,” to not remember, etc. But, I realize that those “coping mechanisms” are temporary, counter-productive, and NOT healthy. Again, one drink would be alright, but I never can tell if I’ll stop after that one. It’s better FOR ME to cut it out completely.

It took a few weeks but, now, I feel better than I have, in a long time.

I’m more in-tune with my body. If I feel “off” I think, “Did I take my meds? Do I need food? Do I need sleep?” There’s no ignoring, or guessing, or forgetting.

For about a year or so, I was afraid to leave my apartment; afraid I’d forget my morning meds, worried I’d have a seizure or a panic attack at the gym or on the bus, stuff like that. Irrational fears, really.

I people say, I’m sharper and my speech has improved. I think it’s true. Even if it’s a placebo effect, I’ll take it!

I’ve been having weird, embarrassing dreams where I slip up and do something stupid. When I realize it’s only a dream, I feel relieved and reminded of what could be or has been and I’m like, “No, thank you.”

I’ve had more energy. I still NEED my naps and I still crap out from general fatigue, but it’s less frequent and doesn’t last as long.


It helps that everybody in my life has been so supportive.

They say, “Do you!”

And I say, “Hmmm . . . Okay!”


I don’t know. Something just feels right about 2016.

Blood, Hindsight, Recovery

The Perfect Storm’s Inertia Vs. The Unbalanced Force

My stroke is considered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

On October 5, 2013, I suffered from a bleed in my brain. It was a hemorrhage in my left-frontal lobe. It affected the right side of my body, my speech, and my cognition. If you draw an imaginary line down my middle, I, literally, couldn’t feel a thing from my right side over.

My brain wasn’t acknowledging that the my right leg and arm were even a part of my body. That’s why stroke victims have a droopy side to their faces. Because, again, the side that’s affected, the brain no longer “knows” is there.

At my year check-up, my neurosurgeon said, if the bleed was two centimeters over, I wouldn’t have been able to regain any of my speech at all. He and my neurologist, both commented on how impressed they were because, normally, people who sustain the amount of trauma I have, even a year out, are hard to understand.

When I had my stroke, my neurosurgeon performed a craniotomy to remove the hematoma (clot) and relieve pressure from the resulting swelling of my brain.

My doctors were worried the stroke could have been caused by an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), meaning a collection of blood vessels that is abnormal. It was hard for them to tell, at first. But, what looked like an AVM, was made clearer over time, as the excess blood and swelling dissipated, which was shown through various scans of my brain. As in, I didn’t have one. Phew!

So, what caused this . . . thing?! Welp, I don’t know, exactly.

Here’s my theory:

Roughly, 10 years prior, my biological father was hospitalized with pneumonia. Turns out, he had a blood clot, too. He found out he has a blood disorder called, Factor V Leiden. It tends to be genetic so, both, my brother and I got tested for it. And, guess who has it . . . this guy.

In women, Factor V Leiden increases the chance abnormal clots with pregnancy or increased estrogen intake. Other contributions could include, traveling for long periods, smoking, stuff like that. If clotting is on the warning label, partake at your own risk.

I spent the next five years testing out and doing research on alternative forms of birth control. I was careful about stretching my legs out and walking around while traveling.

I think, ultimately, my stroke came down to poor treatment of my self. My heart was in the right place, but that’s not enough.

On top of the blood disorder, I was stressed about work, my personal life, you name it. I had been through an emotional wringer for the last couple of years and my schedule, at work, was more than full for the three months ending the year. I was tattooing 6 to 8 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week. A few months before my stroke, I started going to the gym, which you’d think was a good thing, in its stress relief and exercise. But, I wasn’t sleeping or hydrating. I thought, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I was drinking, at least, two triple lattes (that’s three shot of espresso each) a day and taking diet pills. I know, now, caffeine (a primary ingredient in espresso and, said, pills) is a diuretic, which causes dehydration. I was drinking alcohol, a lot, too, which contributed further to dehydration. I was smoking, less than, half a pack a day, but that’s still too much, in my now-humble opinion.

You may be thinking, “What was she thinking. Duh!” The truth is . . . I wasn’t.

You know what they say: “Hindsight is 20/20.”

In drinking, I was trying to keep up with my friends, while not having think about anything that was bothering me; just trying to live in the moment. I took diet pills because I didn’t want to stop drinking. I was smoking to take breaks at work. Idle hands, ya know? I didn’t sleep because I thought staying active was more important so I burned the candle at both ends.

Inertia, dude. Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion: an object at rest, tends to remain at rest, while an object in motion, remains in motion, at the same speed, in the same direction, unless acted on by an unbalanced force.

My stroke became my “unbalanced force” caused by the perfect storm. I don’t think it was just one thing, or, for that matter, two or three things. When it hit I was angry. I was convinced my life was being put on hold. Now I’m looking forward.

I have to remember that I could have, just as easily, not woken up on October 5, 2013. Everything happened the way it was supposed to.

I have to have faith that I’m destined for greater things. I still want to tattoo, again, but I need to start thinking outside of the box to do it. I knew, that even before it sunk in that I had a massive stroke, that I wouldn’t be able to tattoo for awhile. But, what I won’t do, is rush into it. My apprenticeship was rushed. Now one of the few things I have control over is when/how I will tattoo again.

I’ve made my recovery public all along for several reasons.

I still have my wits about me and I’ve made some real connections with amazing people that ask the same questions I do.

I have a new, better perspective. I THINK. I thought I thunk before but, now, I realize that I did selective thinking.

I get down sometimes because I’m in limbo. I can’t do much with my right arm still, I walk with a limp, and my speech is slow and I stammer more than your average bear but a few little birds told me that I give people hope.

With my ramblings, they’re helping me process what happened that turned my world upside-down and I’m hoping to reach others.

I’ve heard that some people who have brain injuries or are chronically ill or are their own worst enemy, stuff like that, feel alone in their struggles. Hell, at times, I feel alone too.

My point is YOU are not alone. I’m not alone. WE ARE NOT ALONE.

So, I created an e-mail address for people who want to comment on my “ramblings” but aren’t comfortable doing it publicly. I’d ask you not to abuse this gesture. I WILL NOT respond to inappropriate inquiries and I WILL NOT give out my phone number.

This e-mail address is meant to help people, survivors and caregivers, alike.

I’m not a medical provider. I’m not a therapist of any kind. I’m just a survivor whose willing to share.

“I kept asking Clarence why our world seemed to be collapsing and things seemed to be getting so shitty and he’d say, ‘that’s the way it goes, but don’t forget, it goes the other way too.'” — Alabama Worley, True Romance

Confusion, Hunger, Stroke

What is happening?!

When I was at Strong Memorial Hospital for a week, everything was a blur. When I woke up from my craniotomy the left side of my head was so swollen, I couldn’t see out of my left eye. I think I remember my contacts still being in so I left the right one in so I could see while someone fetched my glasses. My right side was completely limp and numb. You know the feeling when a limb falls asleep? Well, that wasn’t it. From the middle of my body out on the right, I felt nothing. I don’t remember when I realized how bad the situation was or when it dawned on me that I had had a stroke. I was so out of it.

A few days in, I went for an angiogram. It was the most conscious I’d been in days but I’d been on a steady dose of morphine and was sedated further for the procedure. I was, essentially, dead weight as I was transferred from my bed to a table. The doctors made an incision in the artery that flows to my groin and injected dye so they could see the blood vessels in my brain. It didn’t hurt because it on my right side. Then, I was alone in this room. I fell into a light sleep. I started dreaming. I don’t what about, exactly, but when the machine started taking picture, the flashing was like a storm in my sleep. When they were finished, they turned the lights on and I woke up and lost it. I was confused. Whatever I dreamt about gave me an overwhelming of loss and despair. And I was really scared.

A pretty good indication of the drive I’d have during my recovery was when I had my first and only swallow test. I noticed my difficulty swallowing right away. Later it would be explained to me that stroke victims often have this problem because it’s all about your brain “forgetting” how to do even the most simple tasks and lacking the coordination to properly perform the function, even if you do figure it out.

Anyway, back to the swallowing. Let me tell you about me and food. I love it. Always have, always will. By the time I was a little more with it, I was HUNGRY. Luckily, I wasn’t so bad off that I needed to be fed through a tube but I could see everyone’s concern about there being a choking hazard. The nurses weaned me into applesauce and pudding and they would suffice for a few days. Then, they brought me breakfast one day. It looked like sausage links and waffles but it wasn’t (it was gel) and, on top of that, it was nasty. The consistency was awful. Blech. So, I needed real food. I remained conscious of what it took to swallow and I took my time, making sure I didn’t choke so when the nurses administered the test, I passed. Nobody gets between this girl and her food.

Visitors came and went. I’m thankful for that because I thrive around people. One thing I didn’t feel was alone.

For the first few weeks, I felt the most vulnerable than, I think, I had in my entire life. My mom made sure I didn’t sleep alone for a month or so. I think she slept on two chairs at Strong. I’m so grateful for her because, like when she was there when I was loaded into the ambulance, her being there calmed me. She is the mother of mothers. I always say, “When I grow up, I want to be just like her.” My work name, Mariah Rose, is a kind-of homage to my mother. Yes, my real first and middle names are Mariah Rose but could have easily gone by something else.  Rosemary is my inspiration. She is the kind of mother I’d want to be. She encouraged me to be creative my whole life. She even gifted me with my first tattoo machines. And, when I had my stroke, she was so stoic and strong. She was careful to not cry in front of me which must have been hard because she’s an emotional person. I didn’t notice her lack of tears at first but I became more aware and less vulnerable, I was grateful for her tact.

My Aunt Perrin was a God-send. She’s a neurologist at UCLA and she flew out to be with my mom and me. She would translate what the neurologists at Strong would say into layman’s terms for my mom and she and my mom are like two peas from a pod so I’d like to think my mom was comforted by her presence.

My brother, Devon, drove all the way from Boston with my brother from another mother, Dan. I’ve said before and I’ll probably say it till the day I die: Devon is my rock. He’s my voice of reason. If I’m feeling blue or ill-at-ease, he knows just what to say to make snap out of it. So, when he showed up, for a split second, all was right with the world.

I’m the oldest of three children. Our sister, Dana, was a little trooper from the get-go. I call her “little” because she’ll always be my munchkin even though she’s taller than me. This experience has got me doing a lot of soul-searching. I’ve had thoughts, some rational and some irrational, and I’m working through them all as we speak. One of those thoughts that I had early on, was that by having a stroke, I was letting everybody down. One of those people was Dana. She’s supposed to be able to look up to me. Now look what I’ve gone and done. How can I be a role model to her from a hospital bed? But I could tell she was just happy to see me. All that other stuff would come later.

Another emotion was that I was a disappointment to my mother. This was another irrational one, of course. I just felt like I haven’t done anything to make her not have to worry about me. I’ve always put myself into stupid situations; whether it be drinking Visine before I knew any better (as a toddler), breaking into an abandoned building with people I barely knew, not acknowledging or trying to hide the fact that I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, etc., etc. Then, there is stuff like the fact I was in the ICU for the first week I was alive because I wasn’t breathing and now this. I wondered, “When is she going to ever catch a break?” But like I said previously, she is a saint and whatever I throw at her she takes it with grace and tries her best help me through because she unconditionally loves me and she knows I’m malicious, just careless and gullible. So, I’ve been learning to get over that and work on making her proud.