No One Addresses This “Activity of Daily Living” During Stroke Rehab
Recovery from a stroke involves training to return to some kind of a “normal” life. I spent six weeks in a rehabilitation hospital learning how to walk and take care of myself. I had a baby eight weeks after the stroke. Occupational therapists worked with me on figuring out how to breast feed the baby without the use of my left arm. There were tricky therapy sessions on attempting to change a diaper in the same way. I learned how to dress myself. We did some kitchen training. I had psychotherapy to treat depression. I worked on improving my cognitive skills in “speech therapy”. I was not cleared to drive again until I completed an intensive driver rehabilitation program. There was nothing offered to prepare me for the massive changes I would face in my intimate relationship.
I had been married for 13 years when I had a massive cerebral hemhorrage during the sixth month of my second pregnancy. Our marriage was pretty typical with many of the usual ups and downs. We had weathered a few major bumps in the road, but nothing prepared us for the thermonuclear fallout from having a massive stroke at age 35.
When I was discharged from the rehab hospital, I naively expected my life to become normal again. I had spent three months in hospitals away from my husband, 2 year old son, and my newborn baby. I arrived home in a wheelchair. I could walk some, but not very safely. My left arm remained useless and painful. I needed help with many “activities of daily living”.
Of course, life did not much resemble any kind of “normal.” My husband was thrust into a serious caregiver role. He had been a typical dad to our two year old by being very involved in his care when he was not working. He did need to continue working, but now had to be much more involved with child care during his off hours. I was practically an adult size baby who also needed care. It was nearly impossible to re-establish our husband and wife roles under these circumstances. Both of us were suffering from a form of post traumatic stress disorder. I noticed my husband did not look at me the same way when I was undressed. My body had certainly changed, and not in a good way.
There was this elephant in the room that we did not talk about. Would we ever have sex again? Not being able to walk together or pursue physical activity with each other contributed to further disconnect. We were able to go on traditional dates to the movies or out for dinner.
My recovery progressed slowly but surely over years. I became independent with walking, driving and self care. I learned how to ride a horse in a therapuetic riding program. Life became fuller, but there was no intimacy in my marriage. I knew this was a major problem. My husband didn’t seem overly concerned. I think I was always more sexual than him.
When I brought up the issue with him, he had a laundry list of reasons why he just couldn’t do it. For five years, he told me he was “too traumatized” by what happened. I was too injured and traumatized myself to face this issue with intelligence and clarity.
When I finally forced the issue five years into my recovery, we had some very awkward sex. Half of my body did not work right. We were emotionally disconnected. No one wants to feel “forced” to have sex. But that was what was necessary for me to recover that missing piece of my life.
Our relationship never fully recovered. I don’t know if relationship/sex therapy early in my rehabilitation would have helped. I only know it was definitely a missing link in the process.
Thank you for reading:)