Let's talk: my mental health and life post stroke

With this week being Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I'd write a very open and honest post for a bonus post this week. This post also ties in with the fact its Make May Purple month for the Stroke Association - see for me these two things go hand in hand. Everyone has a mental health story. For some people it's full of positives, a happy frame of mind and a story that paints a bright picture. For other people, there story will be more of a rainbow, where dark days are followed by good and good so much they reach a pot of gold. Then for others their story might be one that takes a lot of courage to paint. But it's just that, their story. Everyone has one, everyone's read differently.

For me my mental health story began in a pretty meh way really. I was always quite a bubbly child, but I wouldn't say I never had my down days. As I grew up people's opinions mattered to me more than I'd like to say they would. As I went through my teens I wrestled with which friends were the right friends - that had more of an affect on me than I thought it would. Looking back it's not that people were bad people it's just that they weren't people I wanted to surround myself with at the time.

But the defining chapter in my mental health story began on the 25th July 2014. The day I had my stroke was represented by so much more than a bit of dead brain. Along with the death of many brain cells, went a large chunk of my confidence, a handful of my sanity and pretty much all my independence. Caught up in the whirlwind of therapy and hospital life I began to lose touch a little bit with the real world. The reality was hitting that university was a pipe dream and it dawned on me what had actually happened. A distinct memory was after I'd lived a day I'd planned pre-stroke, post-stroke and I just broke down. I had a friends birthday garden party in the afternoon and then I'd agreed to go to another friends for a movie night that evening. Pre-stroke me would have been more than happy bopping around all these social events and it wasn't until afterwards I realised that pre-stroke me wasn't who I was that day. I was shattered just by the care journey there, a forty minute drive where I did nothing more than sit in the passenger seat (I didn't even hand out sweets - couldn't!). The chit chat at the party was all to much and I could see people questioning 'why is Hannah in a wheelchair? What's happened?'. To go to the movie night after was the straw that broke the camel's back. My friend bought me home early because I was struggling. She text me afterwards saying she was proud of me for the hurdles I achieved that day, stepping out and showing up being one of them. In that moment I sobbed for an hour into my Mum's arms. I could see no end, and in that moment, anxiety became a part of my everyday life.

I was lucky that the area I lived at the time had a 10/10 stroke service. From the hospital care to the community care to the stroke association support. I began to see a therapist and they commented at the time 'we wondered when we'd see you, it was all going a bit too well'. And yeah, it was. Because the 'this is fine, I'll cope' thing was kind of just a way to convince myself it was all find and I would just cope. As the weeks went by I began to realised my anxiety wasn't going to go away overnight. How complex and individual it is, means there is no quick fix solution. We worked on many a therapy technique and even know I use them regularly. From mindfulness, to sleep techniques, to panic attack aids, they all feature in my life even three years post stroke. I just don't get what this feeling that comes over me is sometimes. How does something impact me so much that I feel so much loss of control and confusion for why my heart gets faster, tears fall, and hands shake.

As the first year went on I wouldn't say things improved so much but steadied off except my anxiety triggers became more varied. Originally they centred from that struggling to cope with life after stroke notion, then as time went by the became more struggling to cope with life. Concerts, car journeys, nights alone, worrying I'd said the wrong thing to somebody, worrying I'd worn the wrong thing, done the wrong thing, everything you could imagine.

A time in particular was when I fell over as I was going from the kitchen to the sofa. I had a trolley I could wheel my things on, as well as use as a walking frame to support me. I was plodding through the living room and I just fell over. I landed in a heap surrounded by my cornflakes. I was frustrated but we had one of those if you don't cry you'll laugh moment as my mum got the hoover out and my dad scooped me up of the floor. That night I remember lying in bed thinking, I need someone to get this, because I don't get it myself.

In that year I surrounded myself with people who had been through what I had. I joined an art group ran by the stroke association every Friday and it honestly kept me sane. Although the people there were older than me, and theoretically we had nothing in common except the stroke, we had the friendship that just clicked. It was a little escape and without it, and without the support of the stroke association, I'm not sure what I would have done.

As I headed to university for the first time I realised the impact mental health illnesses have on people and the variety of people that are impacted by them. Taking my job as a student midwife out of the picture, my close uni of friends at uni, I don't think one of them hasn't suffered with struggles with their mental health at some point in their life. I'm not just talking anxiety here either, I'm talking a range of things.

There's been times while I've been at uni that I've found myself sinking into a place I really don't want to be. I think back to what my lovely psychologist used to say to me and it was always 'surround yourself with positive people, and don't be afraid to ask for help, you are stronger than you think'. In the run up to Christmas last year I just wasn't sure what I was doing, I felt like I'd lost myself a little bit. I asked for help and with a bit of effort got myself out of that place. I forget the importance of talking and asking for help and the benefit it can have on your wellbeing. Cliché but it really does change things.

Three years ago I was just an A-Level student, kind of floating through life. Today, I'm a strong independent woman (say that in a strong independent woman kind of shout!), who has a story to tell both physically and mentally. I am who I am and I'm proud of that person. I'm a stroke survivor, and I have anxiety - but I have many other things that define me so much more (I must be - I'm rolling in the tinder matches!). I'd love to say I'm a live everyday as it comes kind of person, but I'm not. If I was it would probably benefit me. But I am a live for everyday kind of gal - you've got to be! If you don't have hope then what do you have? Life is one long obstacle course and everyone has to get through it. Even when you don't think it's possible, try to approach the next hurdle with optimism, courage, and smile, because on the other side lives a whole new adventure you haven't reached yet.

I started writing this blog post, post panic attack. I'm in bed, in my PJ's with a peppermint tea beside me and tonight for some reason, after things got a bit too much, I opened my laptop and decided to talk. I haven't edited this, I've just typed it, and I'm just gonna share it (after taking a very deep breath and maybe adding some vodka to that tea!). Why? Because tonight, I decided that I'm not gonna be beaten (get the strong independent woman voice back on)! And if today is a day where there's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for you...you won't be beaten either!

All my love
Hannah x


  1. ❤️❤️❤️ No words, just very proud, you strong independent woman! *sassy clicking emoji* xx