By Arturo The Cuban
It was raining. It was the type of storm that dropped heavy downpours darkening the day. It was a bitter 42°F outside. The date was December 4th, 2014. It was the day I was released from the hospital after suffering a stroke at the age of Forty.
Can you believe that shit?
Forty years old and I felt as if my life had just ended. I would no longer be able to work as a government contractor, a skateboarder, or musician. I would no longer be able to continue on the path I had chosen that was both an exciting and miserable as anyone could imagine.
It was for me anyway. Damn.
Worry filled my soul as I knew not how I would support my family moving forward. How would we survive? How would we eat? Pay bills? Questions I could not answer that would only serve to increase my pre-existing anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Regret enveloped me for not listening to the warnings of my doctors. My body, already damaged from decades of back-breaking work had finally failed me. I no longer would have any control over my future; about to be at the mercy of the government. People whom I do not know.
Years of being a semi-pro skateboarder, a heavy metal musician, a contractor, had steadily destroyed my body. I knew it. My doctors warned me for years. Prior to the stroke, my body had been sending me warnings via heat-strokes, dizziness, and fatigue. Signals that I ignored.
Five herniated discs in my lower back, two unrepairable tendons in my right hand, PTSD from the bodies in both the streets and in the homes of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I was a complete wreck. Yet I pressed on.
My neurologist and close friend would warn me and talk to me about slowing down and taking it easy. That working 12-14 hour days in the blistering hot sun, with temperatures that could climb above 100 degrees in the summers with regularity, would only lead to more health problems and potentially my demise, he would insist.
Again, I ignored his pleas.
What was I to do? This is what I’ve done my whole life. I can’t just stop. So my attitude was along the lines of “psssh, he doesn’t know,” meaning he has no idea about my life and what it takes to survive.
How would I support my family if I did that? How could I continue to provide my wife and kids with the lifestyle I made possible for them? My wife didn’t have to work, my kids were homeschooled, and if the family ever needed anything, I would provide it for them. Slowing down, for me, wasn’t possible. It just wasn’t.
We were doing alright.
Until of course that fateful day.
Sure, we had some savings. But we knew those savings would only get us so far. In just a matter of months, it was gone. We were hemorrhaging funds seemingly overnight. We did not panic. We’ve been here before. But there was something different about this. Lingering. Something that almost ended our marriage.
The difference this time is that I couldn’t get myself up to save us. Because now, on top of all my preexisting conditions, I have seizures several times a day. I can pass out at any given moment without warning. I could end up in the Emergency Room at the drop of a hat. This time there was no plan. You can’t plan for this. I was lost. We were lost.
Then, they took my driver’s license.
I was initially furious by this. But now I understand why it was done. You see, the only vehicle we have left is the truck we had paid off years ago and it’s a heavy sumbitch. We’re talking 8800 lbs. heavy. Imagine driving something that weighs 4-½ tons and passing out behind the wheel. The truck suddenly becomes an unguided missile with the potential to inflict heavy damage and/or death. I couldn’t live with myself if something like that were to happen. Life is hard enough without that terrifying thought. So I gladly don’t drive anymore.
That simple yet horrifying feeling is what made me come to grips with losing my license. Now, my wife and oldest son take turns chauffeuring me around. I’m fine with that (I just hope they are).
The question of supporting my family continues to haunt me though. How in the world am I going to do this? A new career? Turns out, I was already working towards that before the stroke. Except for the memory of it didn’t make it through.
Prior to the stroke, I had been taking web/app development classes through MIT and Texas Tech. After the stroke, I remembered none of it.
Sure I could still read, and I can only really write using a device of some kind as I relearn how to hold a pen or pencil, but I could not understand the context or syntax of which the code was written nor could I read or understand what the different programming languages meant or did.
The only reason I know of this is that my two youngest sons (ages 11 and 13 at the time) were enrolled in the same classes I was enrolled in. They tried running me through the programs, and some basic code for months to see if the memory of what I had learned would come back to no avail.
My kids would eventually become my teachers in relearning to code and I think it’s kinda cool. Full disclosure, I’m apparently not as enthusiastic about it as I once was.
I started over from the beginning. Yes, much of what I learned is coming back to me (at a much slower pace) and it’s the same with the music I’ve played my whole life. I am currently relearning how to play multiple instruments, sing, write, and produce music. I feel like it’s somewhat of a travesty to lose any talent and all the years of experience that come with it. I’m going to try and reclaim that.
You know, I’m well aware that I will never get it all back, but I’m determined to try.
The one skill I haven’t lost, that I’m still very passionate about, is writing. Putting words to paper. I don’t consider myself a very good writer, decent at best, but I love to do it and that should count for something. Right?
Here’s the thing. I have been writing my whole life and I typically don’t publish most of what I write for many reasons. One is the ever so common “impostor syndrome,” but the biggest reason I don’t publish, by far, is fear.
I’ve been writing about politics, racism, and social justice for nearly 15 years with pieces published on my blog and a few online outlets here and there. So it’s not like I have some sort of platform or base or tribe to lean on. It just me. Most of my stuff typically goes unnoticed and I’ve been working to change that.
Now, I’m starting to feel like my writing should take on new meaning. I still want to write about issues that are important to me, but I also want to write about me. Share my story. In hopes that I can reach like-minded people and maybe we can help each other navigate this crazy, fun, weird world we live in together.
People like me need help to deal with mental health issues beyond what medical professionals can do. We need real-life mentors and friends who can be there by simply clicking a screen. People who are willing to put themselves out there, making themselves vulnerable, and willing to openly discuss these issues within an established and growing community.
Especially men. The toxic masculinity in the world prevents men from speaking out like I am. I want to be a part of changing that. I want men to know that it’s okay to talk to others about these things. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It shows true strength. But the only way to make actionable, tangible change is by getting out there.
My mentor instilled that in me as I watched her do exactly that. They weren’t just words, there was also action to follow up those words and she’s doing it. She’s making change and it’s wonderful!
Here I am. Making myself vulnerable to the world. Hoping to participate in bringing some positive change through my words, my upcoming books, and through action.
While my family may have lost everything, I am not only thankful for having survived that which could have killed me, I am now presented with the opportunity to pursue my lifelong passion for writing. It took 2-½ years for me to come out of my bedroom and realize this.
Since then, I’ve been motivated to get back out there and provide for my family in any way I can. It is my goal to make writing all or part of that solution. I have so many unique stories to tell and once I finally conquer my fears and murder my ego, you can bet they will come pouring out.
Yeah, life after a stroke is hard. It was miserable there for a while and it seemed like no one could help me. But you know what? Life doesn’t have to be over. I’m going to make this work. I’m going to give back to my wife and kids who’ve done nothing but care for me for nearly 4 years.
This is how I save my body from assured destruction. This is how I ensure I’m here as long as possible for my wife and children.
I owe it to them.
Support my work:
Monthly (Patreon) – patreon.com/extremearturo
Arturo is a writer and upcoming author of “American Injustice,” a deep look at the correlation between law-enforcement and white supremacy. He has been studying racism, injustice, and inequality for over 25 years. He is an advocate for immigration and criminal justice reform.”
Featured image by Barbara Potter