That time I had a stroke and what I learned after

It was a Tuesday and I was dreading that the Bank Holiday was over and I was back to work. Wake up, commute one and a half hours, work, another one and half hours of commuting, training, some more work, sleep, repeat. The only thing I didn’t know was that something was going to break the routine that day… At 8:45, I was the first person in the office — I sat down on my chair and suddenly my left arm went numb, I heard very loud ringing in my ears and the room started spinning really fast. I didn’t think much of it at first, but it was only getting worse by the minute and by the time my colleagues arrived I couldn’t walk by myself. So fast forward 2 hours later, I was sitting in the ED, vomiting uncontrollably, waiting to be seen by a doctor. A neurologist came and it took her only a minute to conclude that I am suffering an ischemic stroke… I was 26 and I had a stroke, which was particularly upsetting considering that I didn’t drink excessively, I didn’t smoke, I worked out 5 times a week and I tried my best to eat healthy. But here I was laying in the stroke ward of Euston University Hospital. After a CT scan, 2 MRI scans, endless blood tests and a heart ultrasound… there was absolutely nothing wrong with me and it was even more terrifying than the stroke itself. A team of neurologists all deduced that there was no reason for what happened to me and I should get back to my normal routine as soon as possible. This proved more difficult than I anticipated, but more on that later. As I was being discharged from the hospital, it felt like everything I knew about myself was wrong. All the issues and obstacles I had experienced just 72 hours before seemed minuscule in comparison to what happened. It will be a year today since it happened and there are a few things I learned along the way.

No one is invincible and that’s okay.

I always loved to push myself to the limit, whether it’s work, sports or personal development — I love to challenge my limits and see where it lands me. And my arrogance always was that I am invincible. I thought I was doing everything right, but somehow at 26 I landed in the hospital with a stroke. As I was sliding head first in the MRI scanner, that was all I could think about — where did I go wrong? What I can do now to prevent this from happening ever again? And there is no right answer for it, no matter how well you take care of yourself, your body can give you the finger anytime. It was scary for a minute, but I came out on the other side in one piece. Am I scared that will happen again? Maybe, but now I am prepared and I know I am not invincible and that’s okay.

Live today, sometimes tomorrow lands in the next life.

Nothing grounds you like seeing the priest coming to the stroke ward 3 times a day. The first night I spent in the hospital I couldn’t sleep, as I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up ever again. There were a lot of patients in my ward, young and old, and some reached their final destination there. As I lay down I couldn’t help but think what would’ve happened if I was one of them. Was something there that I would regret not doing? Maybe something that I procrastinated over, that I would’ve never gotten a second chance doing? I realized that every moment is the wrong moment to start anything. There are no perfect circumstances to take the first step to anything. Want to work in a better team? Hand in your resignation today. Want to travel more? Start saving for a trip around the world today. You want an athletic body? Get up from the couch and go to the gym now. Want to tell someone you love them? Don’t wait on the perfect moment with a romantic background music, call them now and say it to them. There will be no perfect circumstances… ever.

When life lands a heavy uppercut, you better find the strength to get back up.

First few weeks after I was discharged were very difficult to say the least. I was getting dizzy just going up the stairs, I struggled to do a set of 20 push ups and couldn’t stop thinking that I will get back in the hospital sooner than later. It was a heavy blow for someone who was looking forward to a kickboxing competition just a few days prior. I was just a shadow of my former self — all I wanted to do was stay in bed and watch movies all day, I struggled to commute to work and was afraid to get back to training, because I thought my body won’t be able to take the strenuous workouts anymore. And then it came a day when I was sick of it and it hit me — If I plan to live my life I can’t plan to dwell on what happened to me anymore. I can only use this as an opportunity to learn, grow and expand. The day I refused to be defined by what happened is the day I started to live again. Headaches were fading each day and in just 40 days I was back on the mats sparring. Slowly but steadily I started doing all the things I was doing before and even more and a year later I am still here and I plan to stay.

Find appreciation for what you have, there will always be more to strive for.

I was always obsessed with success — work was everything. I had mostly material goals and I was so convinced that working 15 hours a day was going to help me achieve them. In between having a full-time job, trying hard to start my own business and training, I barely found anytime to sleep and be with my loved ones… And then I had an involuntary paradigm shift and I know better now. There will always be more to strive for. There will always be better cars to drive, fancier clothes to have and more expensive restaurants to dine at. Now I focus more on having more time for myself, more time for the things I love to do and less drive to be the richest man in the room. Happiness doesn’t have monetary value; it’s measured only in experiences and good memories.

I never asked for a stroke, but I’m glad it happened to me. I’m here, I’m alive and I’m pushing forward.