I’ve never been one for shouting about my own achievements. I suppose part of it is natural modesty born out of the way I was brought up, but part of it is also because I see this blog and my podcast and my public speaking as just obvious ways in which I can do what I’ve done for all of my working life - tell stories and inform and educate people in an interesting way.
As someone memorably once put it, ‘if circumstances mean you can no longer be an elephant, then just try to be the best damn zebra you can be.’ That’s what I’m doing and that’s what I’ll continue to do in 2019, health permitting. But I got a message today from someone I greatly admire which really made me think how important these words are in raising awareness of stroke.
Brinton Helliwell was a talented teacher before his stroke 13 years ago (I include the words ‘teacher’ and ‘suffered a stroke’ in the same sentence far too often) and now describes himself as ‘a stroke research activist, inspirational speaker with interest in stroke rehab and travel - and a proud grandad’. I first met Brin when I started attending my local branch of Headway, the charity for brain-injury survivors. I was still trying to process what life after stroke would look like and latched on to Brin. He was interesting, erudite and determined to fight for more research to be done into what causes strokes, how we can prevent them and what can be done to help the 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK. (Did you know, by the way, that every two seconds, someone in the world will have a stroke?).
He was already heavily involved in stroke research and it was through him that I was steered towards contacting the Stroke Association. I quickly agreed to become one of their contacts for media people looking to do stroke-related stories and have appeared in some of their stroke-information films. I now work alongside doctors and professors on some of their panels which allocate grant funding; Brin and I are amongst a group of stroke-survivors on those panels who can ensure that the voice of the people on the sharp end is heard. As one of Britain’s leading academic stroke-researchers once told me: “We can talk all day about ideas, but we haven’t the slightest idea what it’s like to live daily with stroke. You have and it’s so incredibly important that your voice is heard and listened to.’
Brin’s involvement in Headway gradually declined as he became more and more busy with stroke-research work (don’t forget, stroke-survivors can’t say ‘yes’ to everything - in too many cases, saying ‘yes’ to everything is what put us where are are now) but we have stayed in touch and are connected on social media. We also see each other a few times a year at meetings at Stroke House, the Stroke Association’s headquarters in London.
His name was mentioned at a Headway meeting last week, which prompted me to message him and see if he was aware of this blog and my Warrior podcast (thewarriorpodcast.libsyn.com); not only was he aware of them, he told me he was a regular follower of the podcast and added: “I feel so pleased that you have managed to channel your skills into something that is so positive and a powerful message for life after stroke for other stroke survivors.”
Reader, that is exactly why I do this. Life immediately after stroke can be incredibly lonely and disorientating. It is so easy to think that you are the first person this has ever happened to (In fact, there are 100,000 strokes a year in the UK, a figure which is rising as our lifestyles become more pressured) and if these words help one person feel that little bit less lonely, to feel that someone else knows what it’s like and can offer a bit of help, I’m honoured and proud.