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One of the things that I have learned as a stroke survivor’s partner is that self-mastery is a myth – an unachievable goal; it is self-delusional. Self-mastery was fantasy that both Bob and I bought into with body, mind and soul – that was until the stroke changed Bob’s brain and how his body functions (or more accurately doesn’t function) as a result of the stroke.

Mind over matter would have been a daily mantra. Bob, as a martial arts instructor was an impressively fit 69-year-old, who believed he could achieve anything he set his mind to – and regularly set out on mad physical challenges to proved the rule.

He was training in the dojo, training in the gym way harder than many people half his age, and tackling some challenging overnight hikes. He’d followed the healthy living guidelines to an extreme and had no markers that indicated a stroke was likely, but when he woke on 9th September 2015 his whole world – one ensconced in personal development through physicality – had changed.

He tried to get up out of bed not knowing he’d had a massive stroke on the back right of his brain. Unable to use his left leg or arm he crumpled to the floor, and desperately tried to get himself upright. An ambulance trip to hospital, more than three months in rehab in hospital and nearly another three months at home, and Bob is still re-learning how to walk – and working daily for the tiniest of gains in physical control or movement in his left arm (no joy with the hand yet) , leg and foot.

He’s developed a side effect some stroke patients suffer from called central post stroke pain syndrome. This means that sensation on the affected side feels exaggerated and painful. A light touch on the left side hurts – and this together with nightly spasms that medication failed to control has severely hindered his progress.

Since Bob’s discharge from hospital he’s had two falls that dented his confidence, and while his balance is much stronger, he’s not walking as much or as well as he did when he was in hospital. Bob has tried every mental trick he knows to kick any form of recovery in – but progress is relentlessly demanding, painful and slow. There is no quick fix, there’s no magic bullet only a relentless grind hoping that neurons will slowly make new connections and allow some movement and control.

My conclusion from watching this is that self-mastery is a myth. Nice while you CAN do it – but it takes just a little change in the brain (be it a stroke, Parkinson’s, MS…) and self-mastery is simply impossible. Determined focus to improve day by day makes virtually no difference what so ever.

Self-mastery has an ego element that is totally stripped away when you suddenly have no control over the direction your life takes, or how half your body moves (or doesn’t move). Self-mastery is a myth when you watch one of the sharpest minds you know fall for scams they would not normally fall for. Self-mastery is a myth when you can no longer wake up and reliably recall what day it is and you think it is morning every time you wake up from a nap.

As a partner and carer, self-mastery is a myth too. The only element of self-mastery is in not losing your temper and digging deep to find the love and compassion to keep going. There is no healthy eating plan - you don’t eat and then binge your misery away. Eight uninterrupted hours sleep a night is a much-desired fantasy, as is an exercise plan or any self-improvement.

Aiming to live moment by moment with grace is the closest you get to self-mastery. Perhaps I’m being a little unfair: perhaps I should call self-mastery a luxury, rather than a myth. Perhaps self-mastery is a worthy ego-driven goal for those who have the requisite time and faculties. But if you can’t afford the luxury then self-mastery is as elusive as chasing after a unicorn. It’s a figment of your imagination; a delusion of the mind.

 

If you'd like to support Bob and Shaz in their rehab journey you can do so below. Thanks for reading.