I don’t particularly like telling people up-front that I’ve had a stroke. Of course, if someone were to see me walking they would probably guess that something wasn’t quite right, although I’m not sure they’d pinpoint a stroke. But if I wasn’t walking…. Or if I were sitting sipping a coffee , it’s probably unlikely that anyone would notice that I’m only using one hand. Plus, of course, there are things like writing blog entries, which appear to the reader no different whether someone is disabled or not.
I found out a long time ago that these tiny printed cards exist, business-card-sized, which explained that the bearer had suffered a stroke. They’re mainly designed for people with communication difficulties – I didn’t really have any of these (it’s a sliding scale – I notice I’m not quite as good with words, but you wouldn’t) so consequently was never particularly interested in the cards. In my mind, using one of these cards is tantamount to saying to someone, “look, this conversation is going to be a bit rubbish, but I’ve had a stroke so please cut me some slack”. I don’t like it when people have to cut me slack. In the very early days, I strove hard to regain the communication ability I had from before – this can backfire a little these days because disabled people don’t realise that I’m disabled too. They’ll start telling me of some of the implications of their disability, and I’m just left thinking “don’t I know it”.
Another area where I’d feel uncomfortable is when interviewing for work. I wouldn’t particularly mind talking about my stroke to explain my career break – I’m not ashamed of it, it happened, period – but equally it isn’t my defining characteristic. Not in an interview, in any case (it’s a dit different on here, but this is a stroke-themed blog.) I have a friend, a kind-hearted chap, who said to me that why would I not talk about the stroke? Because in his eyes, it doesn’t matter. He chats to me, we have the same intelligent (or silly!) chats we always used to have, I’m certainly not unemployable. But equally I was told by a call-centre worker that, upon her return to work, she was asked to sit in an office on her own, lest any of the other employees “caught” her stroke! Britain, 2018, I’m not making this up! So ultimately I think I have a responsibility, not to conceal my stroke, but to get myself to a recovery stage where it is less of a focal point.
I think this is just human nature. In the schoolyard, children will torment anybody who appears different. I think grown-ups are basically the same, but they learn to be far more subtle.
I’ve noticed that a lot of stroke survivors will fall back on saying they’ve had a stroke up-front. Instead, I tend to judge a conversation (and, sometimes, a person) based on whether I need to tell them that I’ve had a stroke. I mean, sometimes it is unavoidable – for example telling my doctor’s receptionist that I can’t use the surgery’s blood pressure machine because I only have one functioning arm, but really, most of the conversations we have shouldn’t require this level of personal detail. The other person has a responsibility for the quality of the conversation, too.