Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Stroke Survival: Putting Words in my Mouth

I've mentioned here several times in the past that I have aphasia from my strokes. Actually I have a host of problems that can be linked back to my stroke but this one really bites me in the butt. Mainly because I depended on my ability to speak and write so heavily before my strokes.

I made my living as a minister which is heavy speech. As a writer, words and stringing them together creatively was paramount in importance also. Both are history for the time being.I still remain hopeful that one day I might do those things again.

After my first stroke, I couldn't speak fluently but it was better than not being able to speak at all (like just after my stroke). Conversations with me took on average of five minutes for a couple of sentences. With writing, there were blank parentheses where the appropriate word should go later when I could remember it. It is still how I write this blog today, but the number of lost words and the time it takes to find  a word is less. That's how I could write so many words in my WIP (work in progress, "Don't Get Your Panties in a Wad." I had comprehension, but I couldn't remember the correct word.

But that all changed with my second stroke. I lost a major portion of my comprehension. I can't read words off a printed page with a true comprehension the first read through. It takes about four or five times reading through anything more than a couple of sentences with comprehension. It gets sifted and shifted between my eyes and my brain, or my mouth and my brain. Eventually, comprehension does occur, but not without a major effort on my part. I stopped writing because it was too difficult to understand and get my point across in written words. Even my speech took a blow and it got set back some.

The longer I try to verbalize- the more my frustration levels rise until my brain stops working because it is overwhelmed. It's a vicious, circular, downward cycle.

One of my favorite shows on television (streaming) is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Don't ask me why 'cause I dunno. I'm not even a follower of comic books. I believe the last one I read was the Archie's way back in 1969. It's just a quirky little waste time show. One of the characters suffers from oxygen deprived brain cells from a drowning incident. As a result, he has expressive aphasia. I watch as he struggles to find the correct word and the Mack character plays twenty-questions with him until he finds it. Boy, can I relate to this. I lose words all the time. It is better now because I might be able to string whole sentences together without losing a word now, but it has been challenging to get to this point.

Like the brain damaged, supporting character, Leo Fitz, I know exactly what I want to say in my brain, but it gets lost by the time it gets to my mouth. It's lost in translation. When it comes out of my mouth, if it makes it that far without pausing, I'll know I said the wrong word. Then, I'm back tracking trying to find the right word if I utter it.

It's easy to laugh it off by saying I'm brain damaged, but it isn't a humorous laugh. It's down right embarrassing and frustrating having simple, verbal conversations. Writing is different although that is challenging as well. When I first started writing  Don't Get Your Panties in a Wad after my stroke, it was full of (XXX description of a word) because I couldn't recall the word I was looking for. Added to this learning to type one handed and you had a whole lot of relearning going on. I had slight dyslexia too which compounded my efforts, but I kept writing hoping it would get better. I kept writing until my second stroke totally FUBARred my comprehension. I finally stopped writing except for a few writing exercises, answering emails, and this blog. My second stroke totally scrambled my eggs for brain in how it was wired or rewiring itself.

So how do I write this blog if I'm so messed up?
  • I have a topic I want to write about in mind. That's the first line on the blank blog page.
  • I list three to five items concerning the topic. That's the next thing bulleted like this.
  • Then I write the point of bullet.
  • Then I write a personal observation or example of what I am talking about. I always connect it personally because that's what my readers want to know.
Example of  my writing before editing
Yes, it's a basic outline used in most writing. I've never had a use for detailed outlines before my stroke, now I can't even write a blog without one. Sometimes I'm even missing words as I type and don't catch it. Next I find pictures to help me illustrate what I'm trying to say to help me. In the initial blog post there are a whole lot of misspelled words and (XXX description of word)s.

Then comes the painstaking editing where I correct the misspelling and try to fill in the (XXX)s. Filling in the (XXX)s may take days to do.  But I do it because the only way to learn or relearn to do it correctly is to keep at it. 

The same thing in speaking. I just keep talking. Yes, there are still pauses in my speech pattern. Yes, I still lose my words in mid sentence and like a lost little pup, I'm scurrying around in my brain trying to find it.  I still utter words that have nothing to do with what I'm trying to say. This is life with expressive aphasia.

As a listener, you may have to play the twenty or forty question game to understand exactly what I'm talking about, but I am still recovering and may be for the rest of my life. I may be slower with the aphasia but by no means does it reflect my intelligence. Think about that for a moment. My brain during a brief pause (now under a minute) is sorting through a hundred words or more to get my point across. How many of you normal people can say that? It takes more brain power to communicate with aphasia, but with time and reconditioning, it can be done.

Nothing is impossible with determination.


  1. {{{{HUGS}}}} Jo, you're amazing to me. By the way, we love Agents of Shield too. ;-)

  2. I agree that what you do is amazing. I blog so rarely because, although my words are all on hand, I have less and less to say.


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