15/08/2016 13:24 BST | Updated 16/08/2017 06:12 BST

Dark Nights of Recovery

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There is far more to healing than the objective physical approach. In an injury we often are able to look at what is broken, help fix it and then monitor its recovery. This applies particularly well to the body as we can constantly monitor and record how blood levels return to a normal range, bones mend, scars fade and infections burn out. Yet there is far more to this process than observation, simple quantification and measurement.

Often overlooked in our Western approach to medicine is the intangible psychological and spiritual healing that must happen as well for someone to move on from whatever trauma they have suffered. For some this is made possible due to whatever support systems they had in place already, others it never happens. All of us find ourselves somewhere between the two, depending on where we are at in our lives when upheaval strikes.

In the case of a brain injury, as I am discovering all the time, the healing all takes place literally in 'your own head.' The physical healing is obviously there, but so too is the emotional recovery. When we are hurt or injured, our confidence in life can be deeply affected, in ways that we might not be able to express or even truly be aware of.

Part of the freedom of being alive is that we trust in our bodies to support us at any given moment. This unshackling of mind from body allows us to wander off into our thoughts and be entirely elsewhere rather than necessarily have to take in what is around us. However should this trust be broken then our approach to life can quickly become one of uncertainty and nervousness. 'What happens if I break down again?' or 'can I really do this?' murmur up from the deep. Pain has a searingly centering yet imprisoning effect as it makes it almost impossible to be anywhere but that very place where we are at that excruciating moment.

We rely on mind and body as though they should work, they should be there for us, that we can treat them as we see fit. They are 'ours' after all, no more than willing servants for our individual objectives. This attitude, I believe, leads to great abuses of these incredible evolutionary structures that really have only been lent to us. When we believe that something will last forever, we tend to take it for granted and forget to maintain it. The subtle curse of fervently seeking and honing our individuality, perhaps, is that everything in our lives becomes no more than a means to an end in our quest for glory. Our own selves included.

I wonder if part of the current destruction of the world we live in must be in part to the fact that it is taken as a given. It is there now, it will always be there. There is little consideration that we may be guests on this planet, in our bodies even. How many of us truly see our lives as here by invitation rather than right? Respect for who we are and where we live will be always beyond us if we take what we do have as some sort of divine-given privilege.

So it is only when we arrive at a time when the body, we thought we knew, may not be as reliable as we hoped that our perspective may be open to change. Hidden, darker thoughts may finally then emerge which we have kept locked away or we were never even aware of. Previously perceived security and certainty in the present moment is nakedly revealed for what it truly is; an entertaining illusion. In fact no such thing has ever been there, but we have hitherto had the good fortune to have never had to experience this. While others we know may have been subject to the whims of fate, there is a sense of protective insulation in terms of our own lives.

One of the striking differences that seem to separate young and old is the approach we have to our bodies. In youth we are blessed with an almost unstoppable, unconquerable frame to which we need pay little attention. One of the first signs of 'ageing' is when the body stops performing or behaving as we might like or expect. One elderly patient explained his mantra towards the increasing aches and pains of his life with a wry smile commenting that 'old age is not for wimps!' This ability to embrace our decline plays a strong role on how we age and how we accept our inevitable deterioration.

During the initial recovery period I would have regular nightmares of having another stroke, intense dreams that would wake me suddenly with my heart racing. In the dark I would come to and frantically check all my limbs to see if I was OK. The battle was then on to calm myself and try to switch off.

Due to the fact that it was while I was lying in bed when I had my stroke; to be back in the same spot whilst Amy was peacefully sleeping, felt incredibly lonely. After a traumatic event it is hard to be on our own in the initial stages, we need and search for company and distraction as ways to cope. These nights were the first stages of being alone with my thoughts and worries concerning what had happened. The more I would think, the more my heart would begin to beat harder. Then would follow unsettling thoughts about what the next heart beat would bring would rise up. I would periodically have to move my feet, legs, arms, fingers and face just to check nothing had happened. The stroke was completely painless when my face froze, there was no warning or drum roll. It just fell away. It was so hard not to forget this and be locked into a state of constant nocturnal paranoia.

I even found myself in a never before considered situation, finding refuge in the very medication I had been given. The 300mg Aspirin that I was now taking once a day was there to attempt to guard against other clots forming. Having been quite proud of how I had managed to avoid rarely taking any pills up until this point (although more than happy to prescribe them as a Doctor), it was humbling in the extreme to now maintain some peace of mind by actually taking them.

I began thinking not only about my own situation but also the sleepless nights perhaps we've all had. Those long nights where we do not feel in control of one aspect of our lives or another. Try as we might, we cannot find a way to reconcile the ruminations or obstacles of our minds. The more we wrestle for a solution, the more alert and agitated we become. And almost as a cruel punch line, the world seems ever more increasingly still and peaceful.

Ultimately, when confronted by the reality that we cannot control everything, the last option is simply one of surrender. We have no choice but to place our own outcome into the hands of fate, God, the unknown or whatever way we describe that part of the world we do not understand. There comes a point when we must stop wasting energy in a fight we have no chance of winning, let go and hope that we will still be there the next day.

(Excerpt taken from Brushstrokes- Thoughts, Reflections and Poems on having had a small stoke at 34 years old)