As someone who was a journalist for nearly 30 years before my stroke, language is important to me.
Correct use of language allows us to express ourselves clearly and it allows us to be understood clearly. I should say, however, that I’m old enough not to be offended just for the sake of being offended, which seems to be a curse plaguing the English language these days.
Something was brought to my attention recently, however, which does offend me. It offends me for no other reason that it’s just plain wrong. Nick Clarke (@69Clarkey) a fellow stroke-activist who founded the charity Strokeinformation (strokeinformation.co.uk) drew my attention on Twitter to something which he said was on display at an NHS England hospital for the benefit of staff which referred to ‘the rehabilitation of stroke victims’
And it’s that word ‘victims’ that annoys me. It implies a sense of suffering which I’ve never felt from the first day I started my stroke journey. It implies that I’ve had something done to me against my will and I’m not fighting back.
Well, I am fighting back and so are the 100,000-plus other people in the UK, from Andrew Marr to me, who have strokes every year. Anyone who has ever read any of my scribblings, or heard me speak about stroke-awareness, will know that I prefer to use the word ‘stroke-survivor’. My stroke probably should have killed me because not only did an artery burst in my brain, but it caused me to collapse paralysed in the middle of a busy town-centre road and nearly be hit by a bus.
But it didn’t kill me. I survived it, lived to tell the tale and lived to say why I object to the use of the word ‘victim.’
Yes, I had a stroke but the word ‘victim’ implies something passive. It implies that I’m just sitting here and letting the consequences do to me what they will. Anyone who knows me will know that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor, a battler, a fighter (a warrior, indeed) who will keep trying to overcome the consequences of my stroke for as long as I can.
Sure, there are lots of things I can’t do as a result, or where my ability is affected by the mental and physical consequences, but there are so many things I can still do, or do better than before.
Without facing and overcoming such a massively life-changing event, I wouldn’t have started this blog, for instance; I wouldn’t be producing the highly-successful Warrior podcast (thewarriorpodcast.libsyn.com) which is getting my stroke-awareness message out to people worldwide; I wouldn’t have been contacted last week by a lady from Aberdeen, seeking to connect me with the family of a stroke-survivor in Fife; I wouldn’t have stood in front of a room full of hard-nosed business people last Tuesday evening and held them spellbound for 30 minutes with my story; I wouldn’t have had an invitation to do something similar next Monday evening.
Does all that make me sound like a victim? No, I don’t think so, either. The stroke-survivors I know are some of the most inspiring people I have ever met, or will ever meet - from the former teacher who had to have half of his skull removed so that doctors could treat his brain injury, to the lady who does burlesque despite having the use of only one arm, to the extraordinary lady who has no feeling down one side, yet does so much to promote mental-health awareness while being involved in a successful business.
They and others tell me I am inspiring, too; it used to bother me until someone told me: “If people want to think you’re inspiring, then f*** it, let ‘em.”
So now I do. The one thing that I (and all those other people) am not is a victim, so please don’t call me one.