Keep on proving them wrong

April 02, 2020

By Annie Brennan 

Annie sitting on her porch

On the 23rd of August 2011, I was at home doing an assignment and my fingers fell off the keys of my computer. I remember thinking that it was bizarre. Not knowing about stroke at the time, I went about my usual routine of shopping, picking up the kids, cleaning and other normal everyday household chores.  

But, after having a couple of near misses in the car and scaring my kids, I went to see my Doctor. He unfortunately only diagnosed me with ataxia and sent me home.  

I was getting progressively worse, and was confused and unbalanced, so I took myself to the ED, only to be sent home again. But, after a few days my head started to pound. The pain was excruciating and unlike anything I have ever experienced. I knew something was terribly wrong.  

As I live in rural Australia, getting an ambulance proved to be difficult, but after the third try one came. By this time, I was showing the signs of a stroke and was taken to hospital.  

After my stroke I was completely paralysed. I was ‘locked in’ for three weeks before I could talk, and it took five weeks for me to sit or stand with support. I had no movement on my left side. I had left-sided neglect and vision loss (homonymous hemianopia).  

Stroke Foundation often talks about how rural and regional stroke patients struggle to get good care, and my experience illustrates that. Where I live, we have no access to tPA or a neurologist, and ongoing care is pretty limited. It took me well over a year to see a neurologist, and 13 months to get a foot brace to help me move about.  

That said, I have never (ever) lost the drive to improve, and I am happy to say that over time I have continued to make gains. It’s now over eight years since my stroke and I am finally walking unaided – it’s bloody brilliant! 

Annie with her Physio

To describe the amount of effort it has taken as immense would be a gross understatement. It has taken an enormous amount of effort, not only my own, but that of my kids, my family and the health professionals that have guided me.  

As a team we’ve found creative ways to keep me exercising, every day, for over 3000 days, and we’ll keep ongoing, as now my goal is to swim.  

Keeping myself motivated has been a challenge. Even with the support I have, it’s been a slog, but my kids would have killed me if I didn’t keep at it. There are no words to describe how much of an impact they've had on my life – I am here because of them.  

If I have any advice to give, it is to believe in yourself. It may sound cliched, but it’s true. You can improve, but it takes time and effort to make gains, and it can be hard to get your head around.  

I talked to myself for years and kept a firm hand on my mind’s negative chatter. I never let myself get too far down the road of I can’t, it won’t. I believe in every fibre of my being that negative self-talk can have a profound effect on your ability to recover. If you say you can’t, then your brain won’t.  

The day my brace came off, and I put my thongs on, I cried like a baby. I was told that I would wear the blasted thing for the rest of my life – well I proved them wrong!  

Annie;s foot in a thong