I’ve been thinking about the “old me” and “new me” axiom, and I have my own take on it that I thought I would share with others. I hope it doesn’t read like a Bertrand Russell essay. Every one is different, this is how I approach it, because I don’t really view it as a change in me, but a different chapter of my life.
I can understand the concept of how stroke has changed me, but not to the point where I can distinguish a change in the essence of who I think I am. Indeed, the person I was is still very much in charge of the person I am now, and is also in charge of being responsible of how the stroke has affected my brain. I appreciate that now my capabilities have to be modified, but that’s no different to any other long-term injury or morbidity I may suffer during my lifetime. In fact, interestingly, I have replenished many of my childhood hobbies like miniature painting and metal detecting, and many of my childhood habits have been revived as part of my lifestyle. These were very much a part of my “old-old self”, and are a truer reflection of me as an individual. On a surface level, I see myself as me with a brain injury to repair as best I can.
I have written before that I am an idle-minded sort of fellow, which is why fatigue, although infuriating, is really an extension of who I was, but much more pronounced. Before the stroke, I often felt mental fatigue, not on the level of now, it was never mental exhaustion, but I would get world-weary and need to sequester somewhere for periods while I restored the hwyl needed to get back to the hubbub. When I get fatigued, I often let out a long sigh. This is emblematic of the person I was before the stroke, except those sighs were shorter. I guess, the way I handle fatigue is as an adjustment that is needed when attempting inessential daily tasks, but now I find myself replacing those tasks with something else. So, because it drains me to move about, I may just lie on the couch and do some gentle studying. This is a sensible adjustment to do with my condition. I don’t really feel it is the new me, but it is the me that should have been doing this all along, instead of prioritising things that could wait, nourishing my soul with things that are pleasing and beneficial to myself. In the past, doing my tax was exhausting, and so tedious I would put it off for months. I don’t think the fatigue will affect much of that process this year, doing my tax will still be exhausting and tedious
I suppose it’s other people who see me as different more than I see myself that way. I don’t have the endurance or spontaneity I used to have, and there are things I could manage at a drop of a hat which now requires the hat to stay on, and I don’t have the prowess to multitask instructions or tackle hasty, chaotic scenarios, but before my stroke there were also things I couldn’t do well, and things I shirked at. I have, therefore, adopted a new mantra, “I can’t do that, but I will do this instead.” I think it’s a fair compromise.
Perhaps now, the shift of doing other things is just part of a change rather than a deduction from the life I had before stroke. I’m not saying all this hasn’t got me down about what’s happened, I have spent time lamenting not being able to attend to my garden borders with the same oomph I used to or cook for a family occasion without feeling completely frazzled. But I have to be shrewd now, and apply strategies to dealing with these things. That’s not a change in myself, it’s a change to my approach. Not necessarily negative ones either, although the reason is frequently not positive. Much of this approach has stemmed from taking care of my orchard, and letting go a bit. I have missed three pruning seasons after the stroke, I have had to tell myself that is okay, let the trees grow wild for a bit. I have done other things instead of pruning like my Tai chi, that’s a good thing. Tai chi is good.
I think the most remarkable change, if you like, is once bitten, twice shy. In the past, I would think nothing about going for long explorations into the woods. In my mind, the thought of adventuring in isolated places was all about the adventure and survival. In the past, I wouldn’t have considered that things like a stroke can just happen to people. Of course, I was aware of things like heart attacks and strokes, but they would never factor into what I was doing. Now, once bitten, twice shy. In the past it would be inconceivable to think I wouldn’t go wandering in the woods because I might have a stroke. This fearful part of my personality is the most radical change in who I am now compared with who I was before the stroke.
In my mind, I tell myself that I am Rupert who has had a stroke, and now Rupert does “this” instead of “that”, and Rupert lives “this way” instead of “that way”. I think it may come from being a writer, I see the overall narrative of things, and the different chapters in-between.