Andy’s Story “It was like someone lit a blowtorch at the back of my head and pressed every pin in the world into the base of my skull” Andy had a stroke at the age of just 42 years old in February 2017. Luckily his wife Nic had seen FAST adverts so knew she had to act quickly to get him help right away. Andy’s recovery has been a long and difficult process, but he was determined to keep going and now wants to share his story to help other stroke survivors. Searing pain I was on a conference call in my office at home when it happened and I remember it so vividly. It was like someone lit a blowtorch at the back of my head and pressed every pin in the world into the base of my skull. The night before, I had been training hard in the gym and I was rather knackered but really didn’t think anything of it. So when I suddenly felt this searing pain in the back of my head, I didn’t know what was going on. I put myself on mute because I didn’t want to seem rude and just disappear from the call, and quickly googled my symptoms as you do. From the results, it sounded like vertigo so I took some paracetamol and tried to have a rest. I stood up and tried to walk but couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. I had to crawl upstairs to get to my bed for a lie down. I started to feel confused and scared, I had no idea what was happening to me. I rang my wife Nic and told her what was happening to me, and then I think I must’ve drifted off after that. The room was spinning like I was drunk. Acting FAST The next thing I remember was Nic coming into the room and the look on her face was pure shock. I told her I had a migraine or something but when she flicked on the lights I didn’t react at all. Luckily she’d seen the FAST adverts and said ‘right okay sit up in and say chicken soup’ – but I couldn’t – my speech was very slurred and I drooled. Nic rang for help and soon enough the paramedics were in my bedroom hooking me up to machines and asking me questions. It was all very surreal, like I was having a bad dream. I couldn’t move my legs and couldn’t lift my arms and it was terrifying. I remember I heard in passing the words ‘stroke victim’ – that’s something no one wants to hear. But I still didn’t really know what was happening to me. I woke up in hospital with faces looking down at me on the stroke ward. And that was really the start of it all. A bit of a blur The first few days were a bit of a blur. I couldn’t stop being sick and had chronic fatigue – I’ve never felt so ill in my life. I was told I had a stroke the size of a plum on the back of my head. I couldn’t help feeling so angry at the world. I was so fit and active and kept thinking ‘why me, why has this happened to me?’ I started feeling empty, anxious and confused about my life and what my future would look like now. I was so fit and active before the stroke, and now I couldn’t move from my bed. My wife was my rock throughout all of this. I know she must’ve been horrendously scared but she told me we would get through it no matter what. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. Struggling to recover At first, I couldn’t walk at all and I struggled with all types of things, like brushing my hair, or even holding a fork to feed myself. I slowly started to get back on my feet again although I wasn’t steady – and I walked out of hospital with a walking stick. And then, one week after I got home from hospital, I got a call to say my dad was severely ill and had acute myeloid leukaemia. He died in the May, and my stroke just seemed insignificant after that. The pain of losing my dad seemed to numb the pain of my stroke for a short while. I focussed on getting better and becoming strong enough to carry his coffin – that was my goal and I thought of nothing else. I was constantly doing my rehab exercises, in the garage on the treadmill slowly walking, or throwing a tennis ball from one hand to another. All to make sure I was ready for dad’s funeral. The day before the funeral, I went for a run and found I couldn’t walk again and I thought ‘oh my goodness’ this can’t be happening again. I can’t be having another stroke. But I was okay, even though looking back now I know I was in overdrive and I was grieving, pushing myself too hard. I managed to carry my dad’s coffin on the day, and it’s a day that will stay with me forever. But the next day, I think my body had completely had enough. It basically said ‘I’m going to stop you right there.’ Hardest 18 months of my life I rang the stroke support nurses and I broke down – there’s no other way to explain it. I was hugely depressed after my dad’s death and I didn’t think I would ever get back to my old self. What happened after that was the hardest 18 months of my life. I went into counselling, physio, hydrotherapy and started to take antidepressants too. The only way I can explain that time is saying that it feels like you’re trapped underneath murky water. You’re deep down in the darkest depths of the ocean and you can sometimes see the clear water at the top. I spent those months trying to get into the clear water, and get my head above it all. That’s how I visualise my stroke. My wife was there for me throughout and she was such an amazing support. But I felt sad and guilty when I looked at her. I couldn’t help but think ‘this isn’t the man you married.’ ‘You didn’t marry a damaged guy like the one I am now’. I thought she would be better off without me. Whizzing machine of anxiety I found my mind was like a whizzing machine of anxiety. I had a good and bad guy in my head, and couldn’t stop the bad guy saying things like ‘You’re not worthy’ ‘You’re brain damaged’ ‘You’re not good enough’. I’ve never experienced darkness like that. But I found counselling really helped me. It helped me manage the dark and negative voices in my head and they gave me techniques to manage my depression. And five years later, I am proud to say I have had a stroke. I am so much more positive about life and physically I have never been fitter. I run ultramarathons, I take on cycling challenges and make the most of each and every day. I want to share my story through Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland because I know so many other people will be feeling like I did and they will be struggling. And if I can help just one person who has had a stroke, then it will all be worth it. I just want something positive to come out of what I’ve been through and help others.