Recovering from a Stroke and Returning to Work
It took me six-years and seven-months plus twenty-days to return to the workforce after my stroke; I returned to my profession as a software engineer. Shortly after my injury, I had a calendar where I would mark days off until I could go back. I stopped counting the days after a year when I realized that was not going to happen. All I wanted was for my life to be normal again. I never imagined that it would take me that long to return to work.
Strokes can happen at any age. According to the Texas Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council Report (2014), 34% of strokes survivors are under the age of 65. I had my stroke at age 29. It resulted in global aphasia. In the beginning, I could not speak nor could I understand anything. My stroke was bad; it was bilateral.
I was in formal speech therapy for over four years. Speech therapy is not cheap. My insurance paid for sixty sessions each calendar year. I had to pay the rest out-of-pocket which came from my 401k savings. My speech therapist gave me homework assignments to do that resulted in my husband becoming a part-time speech therapist. Year-after-year, I kept improving even though many medical professionals told me that progress ends after six-months. Eventually, due to financial constraints, I had to start looking for financial alternatives to keep progressing. This was when I started looking into going to BIND.
I tried to go back to work a year after my stroke as my job would be held for me. I wanted to get as much rehab as I could before I went back. My employer would not allow me to return; they said that it was not safe. At this point in my life, I was hopeless. I had to rebuild my life from the ground up. I did not want to give up because it is not my nature. My husband and I discussed different possibilities such as moving to a different area or state. I did not know how things would workout but we kept pressing forward.
I have faced tons of negativity in my recovery. It started when I was in the ICU when the doctors told my family that I would never work again. I cannot count the number of people that tried to reduce my confidence over the entire time-period. However, I had a few people in my corner rooting for me, which includes BIND, PCP, and audiologist.
When you do not return to work after an injury, depression is a major hurdle. Bills do not stop. I still had student loans even though I was not working. My student loans were discharged due to permanent disability after three years. Losing your job is an emotional blow; I did not feel like I had a life-purpose outside my profession. Many rehab professionals told me to look at other jobs or to take a part-time job. They suggested that I look at the SSDI ticket-to-work program that allows SSDI recipients to work while getting social security. My life situation did not allow for that since I was on LTD (long-term disability) and SSDI. If I went back to work, I would lose all benefits. I was the breadwinner in our marriage, so I had to make smart financial decisions. In my experience, these restrictions keep people from returning to work.
My first rehab kept telling me to look for volunteer positions, but I was scared because I was worried that I would lose my LTD (long-term disability). On Facebook, I talked to a woman who was on LTD and she always stressed her limitations on the required paperwork to prevent it from being taken away; I utilized this woman’s tactic. Over the course of my recovery, I volunteered at a few libraries, hospital, and horse rescue. My goal was to gain connections so I could return-to-work somewhere. Before taking my current job, my goal was to work at the hospital that I volunteered at in the IT department, so I did not have to move away from my family.
Attending BIND helped me to regain my confidence. Formal speech therapy focuses on the patient’s limitations; they try to fix what is wrong. BIND focuses on strengths. One thing that I have going for me is my strong work ethic. My injury did not change this personality attribute; all of my rehabs recognized it and BIND recognized it too. I became BIND’s communication leader. If given a chance, I always knew that I would shine. I read leadership books to learn how to model behavior and give praise so that I could make members feel productive. Helping others helped me regain my confidence.
This sad story has a positive ending. I returned to work a month ago. So far, I’m thriving in my job. My recovery journey has led me to meet all kinds of different people and situations; this includes doctors, therapists, BIND staff/members, and community volunteers. I returned to work for my first boss in my first job as a software engineer. With all the twists and turns, my life has a sense of normalcy again.