I have been doing quite a bit of contemplation recently. I think it’s a combination of circumstances.
We moved home in October last year and are just loving where we live. A very quiet spot, fabulous neighbors, surrounded by nature in beautiful countryside with gorgeous fresh air on the edge of a wonderful small town. We have seen in our garden (at various times) rabbits, hares, ducks and all manner of small birds. We’re told there are also deer, foxes and badgers. We see Red Kites flying overhead, we hear Tawny Owls hooting in the evening and, about 500 yards from our front door, is the confluence (meeting) of two rivers – the Teviot and the Tweed, world renowned for salmon fishing, where there are ospreys and herons.
We’ve just had our garage converted into a music studio so that I can finish my CD charity fundraising project and I’m currently getting all my gear
out of storage and then attempting to cable it all together and get it working. (It’s excellent physiotherapy and also very challenging for the brain!).
Additionally, I celebrated my 60th birthday in April and the 5th anniversary of my brain injury (stroke) at the end of May. So, it’s fair to say I am really appreciating life – my new life – and also appreciating the person that I’ve become since my stroke.
Yes, appreciating the person that I’ve become since my stroke.
Hmm – what does that mean?
Before my brain injury my life was very full on. When I worked in the corporate world, I held senior positions and traveled the world. Life was offices, hotels, airports and taxis. I didn’t see much of my two sons when they were small and I lost contact with my friends (this was before social media). It was work, work, work.
My passion in life was music and I decided I wanted to get out of the
corporate rat-race and became a professional musician, a drummer. So, I did (although the transition was a lot harder to achieve than I thought). For work I gave private drum lessons, taught drums in schools and played in wedding/function bands, as well as depping (deputising) for other drummers when they weren’t available for their bands. For pleasure, I played music I liked and that was a bit more challenging, like in a Pink Floyd tribute band or in a progressive rock band.
However, this was still very full on – my income was considerably reduced and I was working all day and often not getting home until late. (I remember driving home once and seeing a gorgeous sunset, only to then realize it was actually a sunrise!).
In terms of my character, it’s fair to say I was anxious and stressed most of the time, but I bottled it all up and didn’t show this externally. I now know I was a ticking time bomb.
So, back to appreciating the person that I’ve become since my stroke. I remember being in the neurosurgery ward in hospital several days after my stroke and maybe a day or two after emergency brain surgery had saved my life, thinking, Well, I’ll be back at work soon. Teaching will be OK, gigging might take a bit longer.
I had NO IDEA what had happened and how serious it all was. I reverted to default Andy mode – I’m OK, I’m fine, nothing to see here, move along.
This default Andy mode continued for some time. For example, picture this – just eight months after my brain injury, I auditioned for a band. The genre of the music was progressive rock, so it was reasonably complex music with some of it being quite technically challenging.
Now, imagine you are in said band and you know a potential new drummer is coming along to audition. He arrives in a car driven by his wife because he can’t drive. He can’t drive because he has double vision and has two
corrective plastic prisms stuck on his spectacles so, for him, it’s as if someone has smeared Vaseline over his glasses. For you, it’s as if The Fly has come to join your band as the drummer.
He walks with a stick, is stooped, sways around like a palm tree in a hurricane and is very wobbly on his legs.
You help his wife unload a multitude of drums, cymbals and stands from their car whilst he sits in the corner looking like he’s about to collapse, and you then watch as his wife sets up his drum kit under his supervision. This guy could be our new drummer?
I had explained to them about my stroke and they were very understanding, but, honestly, what was I thinking?
Needless to say, I didn’t play very well, I couldn’t keep time and I spent the next week in bed recovering from the exertion.
Still, I tried.
Eventually, over several years, the original default Andy mode was adapted, altered and shaped into a new default Andy mode, to the extent that my wife now refers to me as, The Upgrade.
So, what has changed?
In simple terms, I have slowed down. Now, that’s mainly because I’m unable to cavort around like I did before my stroke. I suffer badly from neuro-fatigue, so I have to nibble away at tasks in small chunks. As an example, these blogs are written at multiple sittings of about 20 to 30 minutes each.
So, I have been forced (very reluctantly and with much resistance) into doing things slowly, sometimes painstakingly so. However, this has provided me with the time to appreciate things which I would never have done pre-stroke.
For example, nature. The dawn chorus of birdsong used to really annoy me. What a racket! Why don’t they shut up and let me sleep? Now, I think it’s the most beautiful, joyous noise I have ever heard. This 180 is purely because I now have nowhere to be; I don’t clock-watch; I don’t have a timetable; I can simply be in the moment and enjoy what’s going on around me. It’s a revelation.
In the evenings, I lie in bed and listen as the birdsong recedes and the owls start to hoot. Glorious. I now sit in the garden with a cup of tea and
just watch nature performing all around me – bees pollinating flowers, spiders spinning their webs, young birds being fed by their parents as they learn to fly, a young rabbit feeding on buttercups.
My children think I’ve gone mad. I see them hurtling through their lives at 100 miles per hour and try to persuade them to slow down but to no avail. You can’t put an old head on young shoulders. Of course, all this has been forced on me. I don’t think I’d have chosen to do it if you asked me, say, six years ago.
However, I’m now at the stage whereby, if the technology existed to restore me to my pre-upgrade self and I was offered my old life back, I wouldn’t take it.
Don’t get me wrong, it would be great to get out playing drums and doing things again, but….
There is also a whole load of negative stuff that would also come with that life and I would not want that back. It nearly killed me. I can see now that, pre-stroke, the negatives outweighed the positives. But I didn’t know that then, I had no perspective. However, post-stroke, now that I have had five years of grieving for my old self, coping with the new me, working out who I am now, adapting to my limitations and settling into a new way of being, I can see that there are far more positives than negatives.
It took me some time to be able to see that, some time for my eyes to adjust to the new light, some time for my brain to accept my new reality and to learn a whole new way of living, but I believe that it’s a better life for me. Slower, calmer and more meaningful.
I feel I have very literally woken up and am now smelling the coffee. And it smells great!
Take care everyone, and thanks for reading my blog from Scotland!
About Andy: On May 28 2013, Andy was struck down by an ischemic cerebellar stroke. He developed complications and two days later underwent emergency brain surgery to decompress his skull due to hydrocephalus. He almost died and has five missing days of which he has no memory of whatsoever. Prior to his brain attack, Andy was a professional musician, a drummer, and earned his living both as a player and teacher. He has been unable to return to work but is writing a CD of music inspired by his stroke story in order to raise awareness of stroke, particularly among younger people. As fellow brain injury survivors will understand, work is progressing at a snail’s pace! This project will also raise funds for the charity, Different Strokes. Please visit www.brainattackmusic.com to read more and to listen to some demo tracks. Andy lives with his wife in the beautiful Scottish Borders, very close to where the River Teviot meets the world famous River Tweed and has two sons, a stepson and stepdaughter, all of whom have flown the nest and are making their own way in life. As well as a deep love of all types of music, Andy enjoys watching sport, reading about history, learning about the brain and enjoying the peace and calm of the Scottish countryside.