By guest author: Rochelle Anderson
I’m not sure what disability means. Does it mean the inability to be employed as stated by the Social Security Administration? Is it the World Health Organization (WHO) definition as an umbrella term covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions? For me, disability means the right side of my body is broken, and I also have aphasia. I had a stroke thirteen years ago, and my life will never be the same.
When I say the right side of my body is “broken” it means I don’t have sensation and am weak on the right side of my body. For example, I can’t feel the teeth on the right side of my mouth and cannot brush my teeth correctly. My right ear always hurts. I can’t feel my right arm and have trouble eating with my right hand. Since my hand often hurts, I cannot write very well, even when signing my name.
Right leg weakness makes it hard for me to walk around, go to the bathroom and shower. We now have comfort height toilets and grab bars in our bathrooms and non-slip tiles and grab bars in the shower. Walking on an indoor flat surface is fine for me, but I have a hard time on snow and ice, and on irregular pathways and trails. Buses and planes are hard for me to walk through the aisles, and low to the floor chairs are hard for me to stand up from.
About a year ago, I fell down and was afraid I might have passed out, but then I saw that the same episode of M*A*S*H was on so I was relieved. Another time I fell and was able to look at my watch and know that not much time had passed. Bicycling is too hard for me because the right side of my body is weak. I still canoe short distances in small lakes in the Boundary Waters but need someone to help.
Aphasia means I have trouble talking, writing, and speaking. When I go shopping, see movies, eat out, and go to the dentist and doctors, I sometimes feel like I am in a foreign country where people don’t understand questions I am asking. Some people think I’m perfectly normal but that’s wrong. I try really hard but I’ll never be the same.
After my stroke and aphasia, I suddenly could not work. I was an attorney and needed excellent language skills which aphasia took away. People that are retiring can think about it for many years and figure out what to do afterwards. For me, I worked one day and then couldn’t go back to my job.
Seeing something written down allows me to understand it better. I cannot read books without using a Kindle text-to-speech feature so I hear the words as I read them. People’s names are really hard for me but it helps to see the names written down; then I can usually know who is being discussed.
I have known my brothers my whole life but still get their names confused. My husband, and my friends have helped with aphasia. Recently, I have started using dictation which has really helped me. Although dictation is not 100% correct, it is much better than trying myself, and I do not have to rely on my friends and husband as much. My life is so much better since I started using dictation. I feel alive again.
So part of my body is broken and I have aphasia. Which one is worse? Sometimes I wish I wore a T-shirt that explains all my problems so people don’t assume things about me.
Depending on what I am doing I might think the broken part is worse, other times my aphasia interferes more. Most people can see very quickly that my body doesn’t work quite right and is broken. But if I don’t talk very much some might not even know I have aphasia. Twelve years ago when a speech therapist asked what was worse—aphasia or brokenness—I said aphasia. With dictation, time, and much work on my speech, I now think my brokenness is worse than the aphasia.
I am glad I didn’t die. My loving husband helps me with all the things I can’t do anymore. Even though my life is much different than before my stroke, I am still very happy.
About the Author
Rochelle Anderson is from Minnetonka, Minnesota, is married and has two grown daughters. Rochelle practiced law until she had her stroke in 2007. Since then she has suffered from aphasia. Current activities include bothering the teacher in Robbinsdale Schools Adult Learning Program to continue a book club for those with aphasia, writing a blog for Minnesota Connect Aphasia Now (MnCAN), and writing several short stories and letters to the editor. Rochelle says that having aphasia without dictation is like trying to live on Mars without a spacesuit.