“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 
 ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Much of my adult life, the secular books that have shaped most of my life philosophies include Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning and George Orwell’s 1984. Both these books are written from a sense of desperation, Frankl’s ability to rise above a terrible situation and document amazing stories of overcoming those situations. Orwell’s piece although fiction illustrates another man attempting unsuccessfully to combat his desperation. In no way am I comparing the situation to the survival of a concentration camp, but often we need extremes that help to identify the norm. For those that haven’t read Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived the camps and later documented the experience by pointing out what people had done to help others while in the camp. The quote above illustrates that fact, he documented the humanity in the worst of situations such as a man giving his last handful of bread so another could survive.

While I cannot quote this book chapter and verse, the imagery resonates in my head every day, that is the ability for any person to choose his own attitude in any situation. We see this every day amongst our daily heroes, whether they be teachers, police, parents, soldiers or anyone else operating in what sometimes can be a very chaotic world. In my experience as a counselor in urban schools I would often define this to students in a different way. A more controllable way, I would tell them” learn the game, master the game and then change the game” particularly when faced with the challenges of classism and institutional racism. But I digress, all of us have periods where we are down, we feel oppressed or that someone or something is against us. I attempted to do so, sometimes successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully.

My strategy as a more adjusted adult than young person has mostly been to maintain this positivity with frequent but truncated bouts of negativity and stress. First to those who follow me on Facebook some of this is repetitive, I used Facebook as a kind of journal during my stay in the hospital. Sometimes my general positivity in life is dueto having a very strong foundation, a strong wife, relatively happy family, great friends and a good job. I know this isn’t all accidental, I worked hard, got an education and managed all of my strong relationships and attempted to get rid of most of the negativity around. We joined a progressive church based on love and support and we attempted to ignore all that would bring us down, this doesn’t happen every day, some days really suck.

This foundation for even the ability to be positive in the hospital was built thanks to many others. Among this gratitude during my health episode is to my union and the labor movement in general. Because I was able to bank my sick time for 15 years and have great health insurance I could concentrate on getting better and not losing everything I’ve worked for in my life. I know others don’t have that privilege

There is a mythology in this country of the rugged individualist. By most accounts people would probably consider me to be bright, hardworking and pretty strong and “tough” physically and emotionally but this can happen to any of us and I am blessed to have this soft-landing into a safety net. Regressives want to tear this safety net apart. Vote wisely people and think of those who don’t have it as “easy” as I do. As they say in Scripture, for whom much is given much is expected. A small part of my effort to give back is the construction of this blog.

Back to the matter at hand, when this first happens, it is impossible to be positive. It is the thunderbolt, the burying avalanche, the tornado that metaphorically knocks you to the ground. I think for many of faith, the first thing you say “why me ,God?, I’m your servant, why did you knock me down when I’m truly trying to do your will.” Atheists will often bring that up as well, if there is a God why did this happen? Strokes have nothing to do with God, they are quirk of human physiology. What happens afterwards, the universal oversoul of those around you, of those who support you is where God is. At the beginning as I said earlier, there are prayers of desperation, they soon this turn prayers for strength. Early on, I texted my friend Terrell and asked him prayers he used during basic training, he sent me them and I used them as part of my initial recovery. But this is not a religious tract, for those who are now tuning out it, it is just part of the story.

As I’ve written, the initial days of a stroke are fucking terrible, there’s just no way to say otherwise. You are buried in a hole in the darkness, it is desperate,there is no way out. Any attempt at positivity seems ludicrous. You’re completely defeated emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. After a few days you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel but you see the tracks below you and realize no trains are behind you. This is reallyimportant ,likely until you get to rehab you will be in this state. Once I got to rehab I began to see stroke victims that were way worse off than me but also those who have moved forward. Asking the nurses and doctors and therapists, that talked about what the next few weeks would entail and that people with strokes got better. Soon I made the decision ,I was going to not only become a stroke survivor but a stroke defeater. I was going to kick this motherfucker’s ass.

These are easy words to say to yourself in your head lying there not being able to move your arm or leg and a whole other thing to maintain it for a long period of time, the psychologist said many stroke survivors after about two months suffer from severe depression. So I gotta keep an eye on that but for now my outlook continues to be positive and I am moving forward.

I’m not pretending to be some type of tough guy, there were many times that I would cry, often at night was alone or in the morning when I woke up. Sometimes when kids left or talking on the phone to my mom I would well up or just cry for no reason. Being positive does not mean not bowing to that crazy emotion of sadness from time to time. It’s more of a general attitude and not a 24/7 thing

One morning in my twisted mind I spent a considerable amount of time between pining for my kids like a little bitch and obsessing over the movie Robocop in my head. The brain works in strange ways. Fighting depression is not a game, that motherfucker wants to knock you hell out. I did not find the psychologist to be super helpful but your experience may vary. You can always ask for help

In groups you would see many people who had sort of given up, I tried to clown a little bit, do stuff like talk about my kids to try to bring up the morale in these groups. There are many people, particularly the older white guys, really seem to have just surrendered or thought that the miracle of modern medicine would save them.Any medical professional in the hospital; Doctor, nurse, aide, or therapist will tell you will tell you that a strong, positive attitude is necessary for healing. Stroke recovery has a lot to do with the work you put in. By not being a cranky douche bag, you will find that your therapists work even harder with you, that your nurses pay you more positive attention and that your aides are more helpful. It’s human nature to help those who are easier to help and willing to help themselves.

I also really have to thank my male Fuentes hardheadedness and stubbornness during the beginning of this journey and its rare usage in good instead of evil. This positivity is not a firework but a slow burning fire within you. No matter what you need to do to keep up your spirits do it. For me, talking shit with my boys, hanging with my girls, posting to Facebook, eating good outside food with friends and family all helped to keep me going. But mostly is going to be the fire inside you that keeps you going. The willingness and strength to get you back to normal, however you define that normal and live a great life ahead.