A big decision - at last

‘You’re doing an awful lot of good with your stroke-awareness work, but you’re no good to anyone six feet under.’

That’s the blunt warning I’ve had from several close friends (I’m thinking of two, in particular) over the last few months. They worry about me dashing all over the country doing talks, they worry about me getting up at stupid o’clock too often for breakfast meetings, they worry about me not getting enough rest and sleep and not remembering that, as one of them told me a while ago, ‘you’re medically retired for a reason.’

And by and large, I’ve ignored them and, by definition, ignored the message I am so passionate about delivering to others. Like too many of the people I speak to about stroke-awareness and the dangers of stress, I’ve shrugged off the warnings because I felt OK in myself.

Recently, however, I’ve started to feel far from OK in myself. I’ve begun to feel increasingly fractious (especially in the mornings), stressed, tired and worn. And if I can’t see that those are warning signs, how can I expect other people to see the warning signs in themselves?

More importantly and scarily, however, I’ve started to get headaches. Not the searingly painful ‘atom bomb going off in your head’ experience I suffered when an artery burst in my brain and changed my life forever, but annoyingly noticeable headaches that get worse when I’m tired. Again, it’s an obvious sign. And when I saw something on social media this week with the daughter of a stroke-survivor commenting that: “I have to remember all the time that my dad’s brain is having to work ten times harder than mine just to have a conversation,’’ it flicked a switch for me.

This isn’t the place to go into detail, but things have been going on recently which have caused stress that I don’t need and could easily walk away from. The fact that I haven’t walked away has been, I accept, entirely down to my desire to help others. But, as they say in those flight-safety films, ‘‘You must inflate your own life-jacket first.’’ In other words, you can’t help anyone if you’re dead before they are.

So on Monday of this week, I did something I probably should have done weeks ago. I sent a WhatsApp message resigning from a position I have held (and held dear) for nearly three years. I may go back if several sets of circumstances change, but when an oft-quoted statistic about there being a 30% chance of me having another, possibly fatal, stroke starts becoming increasingly prominent in my thoughts, it’s time to act.

For the last 48 hours, I have taken plenty of rest and done pretty much nothing other than watch TV and write this blog - and I feel better for it. I intend to continue that theme over the weekend and into next week. I have appointments with my GP and my epilepsy consultant next Thursday which hopefully will start to uncover any problems and I have asked my neuropsychologist’s secretary to organise an appointment, because I cannot continue down the road I’ve been on. Mindfulness, meditation, rest and recovery have to be my watchwords - not stress and tension and anxiety and pressure.

I missed the signs last time and came within a few inches of being killed by my ignorance. I’m not going any further down that path again.