From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Stroke of Inspiration

Make your own recovery the first priority in your life.

Robin Norwood

It was one of those surreal moments. I was experiencing what was happening, but I was also outside myself, watching it. One minute I was standing at my desk dialing my phone. The next, I was looking at my right arm hanging limply by my side. My brain was telling me to raise my arm and continue dialing. My arm wasn’t getting the message. In an instant, I knew I was having a stroke.

The ride to the ER seemed like a dream. My right arm wouldn’t move, but I kept trying to force it to. My brain was spinning. Two things were certain—my arm wasn’t working, and my obesity was the cause.

At age forty and weighing nearly 300 pounds, I ran a mental check of the past ten years. I had lost 127 pounds a few years before that, and I had successfully kept the weight off for almost six years. But for a number of reasons (or rather, excuses) I had managed to not only put the 127 pounds back on but an additional thirty. My mind went to all the times that I bypassed the exercise classes in favor of watching TV, all the times I had eaten pizza, fries, ice cream—anything but the healthy choices that had led to my weight-loss and maintenance success years earlier. I laid there in the ambulance and later in the hospital mourning the abilities that I had lost in a moment of time. And I laid there cursing myself for losing them due to my own poor choices.

Several grueling tests later, the cause of the stroke was found—an interaction of prescription medicines I was taking. I looked at the doctors in disbelief. My heart was healthy. My arteries were wide open. And the only thing wrong with my brain was the area damaged by the stroke. My weight and sedentary lifestyle didn’t cause the stroke this time.

No matter the cause, I was still in a bad situation: my right hand not working, my balance gone, my nerves shattered. But I had a second chance to ensure that I would not have a stroke due to my lifestyle. And I seized it.

I immediately made plans. My mind was working overtime. I had used an exchange program the last time I had lost the weight. I knew that that was how I wanted to approach my eating again this time. The fried, sugary, buttery choices were gone from my view. Instead, the food pyramid was front and center.

But changing my eating habits was only part of the equation. I had to move again. I wanted to move again. And I prayed I would be able to. I thought back to the exercise classes I had taken. I watched the aerobics videos that I used to do. Heck—I watched the exercise video I was in! I knew I couldn’t move like that right away, but I was determined to get to that point again. I laughed and cried. And I dug my heels in to fight the fight.

Exercise began as physical therapy for several months poststroke. Still, I sweat—literally and figuratively— through three supervised sessions each week. And I “exercised” at home.

I worked hard to regain my balance and to regain the use of my hand. I kept the vision of myself doing an exercise video and walking around the neighborhood firmly in my site. I would watch Sweatin’ to the Oldies 3 and see myself moving like I used to. I thought of the time in the years before my stroke when I could have done those things and more, but I chose not to. That knowledge hurt.

I made slow changes to my eating. While I made much healthier choices, I was still eating too much. Too much of a good thing isn’t much better than eating the “bad” things I had chosen in the past. The fact that I have always been an emotional eater didn’t help in this situation.

Even though I had lost my ability to move quickly, my emotions didn’t. I was on an hourly roller coaster, going from elation at the progress I was making to anger and regret to sadness and apathy, and ultimately, to fear.

Fear that I wouldn’t recover the way I so desperately wanted to, fear that I would have another stroke, fear that I would die weighing 300 pounds. Fear that I would spend the rest of my life observing rather than participating. And as always, the emotions led me to reach for food. The difference was that instead of reaching for a candy bar, I was reaching for an apple or cereal.

It became obvious to me that what I was lacking was accountability in my eating. I was accountable in my exercise—the physical therapist saw to that by measuring and recording my progress several times a week. I needed the same for my eating program. So I joined Weight Watchers.

That was the absolute turning point in the path to my full recovery. I got the point, so to speak. I am now counting what I am eating and relearning portion control. Weighing in weekly makes me accountable for the choices I make during the week. It helps keep me honest with myself. Journaling is the key for me. If I don’t write down what I’ve eaten, I “forget” about the fact that I have used up those points for the day. It has to be in black and white and, thankfully, in my own handwriting. My food journal is tangible evidence of what I’m doing right—and what I’m doing wrong.

I’m a people person. I always have been. But my stroke made me more introspective and reserved. That is another area in which Weight Watchers has proven to be a huge benefit.

The camaraderie of the weekly meetings is not only inspiring, it is fun. We cheer each other on, and I look forward to seeing the peoplewho have come to bemy Sunday afternoon friends. It is much more fun to share this journey than to walk the road alone. And it is much harder to give up when you know there is a group of people looking forward to seeing you each week.

Exercise is still a challenge for me. My balance isn’t 100 percent and neverwill be. But I can’t andwon’t let that stop me. I can’t imagine choosing not to move after not being able to. I’ve always heard that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone . . . but I never truly understood the truth in those words.

By the grace of God, with a lot of help from others and buckets of my own sweat and tears, I can do Sweatin’ 3 again, and I can walk confidently around the neighborhood. There are still many evenings when I don’t feel like exercising, but I do anyway. I do because I can—and that’s a wonderful gift to make the most of.

I carry reminders of my “stroke of inspiration” every day. Most people would not notice them, but I do and I’m grateful for them. They are reminders of how far I’ve come and of where I don’t want to find myself again. I am on the path to total health, and it’s a fun and exciting road to take again.

I have lost over fifty pounds at this point. I have a long way to go . . . but I’ve come a long, long way already. Life is good.

Charmi Schroeder

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