Scare people? Yes, of course I do

Having a National Day for this, that and the other seems to me to be nothing more than a great way to keep PR people in business. But when someone who has no interest in PR but is actually a former schoolteacher-turned-talented-IT-person tells me that today is National Stress Awareness Day, it looks like an open goal that even I can’t miss. So here goes….

Anyone who has followed my story knows that my stroke, in December 2013, was caused by stress. I was a self-employed journalist editing a national magazine, then I lost 90 per cent of my income in one phone call when my annual contract to edit that magazine wasn’t renewed, through no fault of my own.

It was a month before Christmas. How was I going to pay the bills? How was I going to pay the mortgage? What was I going to tell my wife? For the previous four years, I had edited that magazine pretty much single-handed, with little or no help other than from a graphic designer.

I worked from home so, just because I could, I’d write emails at 7am or 11pm. I’d write articles at 7am or 11pm. Work had merged seamlessly into home life. But was I stressed? Was I f@@@. No, of course I wasn’t stressed. I could cope. Until I couldn’t. In the last six months, things turned south very quickly and I was under more and more pressure.

But could I see it? No, of course I couldn’t. We never do. So that when the explosion came, when that phone call came, I wasn’t prepared. And my brain exploded. Literally. An artery burst in the back of my brain, causing permanent brain damage at the age of 49.

That’s what stress can do. Sometimes it causes minor, but regular, viral infections; if you listen to James Perryman talking on my podcast ‘The Warrior’ at thewarriorpodcast.libsyn.com and on iTunes, you’ll hear how his work-related stress caused serious psoriasis. Mine didn’t do any of that. Mine just built and built and built until one Monday afternoon, as I was crossing a busy road, that artery burst.

My legs gave way, the whole of my left side was paralysed for a fortnight, I was left with memory loss, cognitive issues, massive ongoing fatigue, I had to learn how to walk and talk and use my left side all over again. I had to develop a whole new series of strategies just to cope with getting through every day.

I do a lot of public speaking about stroke-awareness. When I do, I always say that I scare people. And I do, because people need scaring about stress and what it can do. ‘‘It’ll never happen to me’’. Well, it happened to me.

If you feel stressed, the first thing to do is recognise it and talk about it. Then coping strategies can be put in place. Ignoring it, not being aware of it, is a good way to kill yourself.