Meet Shelagh, who shares her stroke journey through poetry

My life as an ex UK Detective Inspector of 25 years, and my current role as a Private Investigator in Australia seemed far away after my stroke on 15 April 2013. I had been gardening, overheated, and drank insufficient water. I was throwing up and my stroke physician said the movement of my head into the toilet caused a dissection in my basilar artery in the back of my neck. Blood burst through then stopped and I collapsed! The rest is history.

My life changed. I thought I could ‘beat’ my stroke. Within 3 months I had flown to the UK with my 11 year old son Patrick to see my nephew get married, flown to Melbourne with my husband David to celebrate my 50th and we had become Australian citizens. It wasn’t until all the celebrations had died down and life was resuming to ‘normal’, that I realised my brain would not allow me to return to what I had known. I had lost my identity. Me. Shelagh I knew and loved.

I stayed in bed crying thinking it was a phase that would pass. It didn’t. My brain was so slow. Physically I was ok, other than the fatigue. My sister hauled me to the GP and I was given meds, which stopped the tears but left me feeling ‘flat’.

I wrote poetry within days of my stroke as my brain would only work in rhyme. Too bizarre but true. During my ‘sad’ times, I wrote some sad poetry about my post stroke depression, my feelings of being low and much more. My poetry began being shared online and was helping others, so I continued to write it. Other stroke survivors resonated with how I felt, but could not express the words themselves. Below is a poem I wrote about my stroke:

Who stole my brain?

by Shelagh Brennand, A Stroke of Poetry

Some days I sit and wonder and think whose brain I’ve got
I used to be intelligent – and now I’m clearly not!
On that day I had my stroke, my brain, it did get taken
And replaced with a very mixed up one, that now makes me feel forsaken

My new brain, it won’t settle well, it doesn’t like my head
It makes me not do things I did, and makes me stay in bed
My new brain is all over the place, and often makes me late
When will I get used to my new brain and be able to think things straight?

Maybe I’ll start to like my new brain, but clearly no day soon
It makes me sleep by half past three on sunny afternoons
My new brain taps into different parts of me I’d never found
Of all the things I maybe could do and perhaps could make me proud

You know I do these silly rhymes, I don’t think that is amazing
So I really hope I’ll do something else or these will drive me crazy
So should I accept my new brain, or should I try and fight it?
Should I try and get my old one back and see if I still like it?

My old one was so full of things, and always on the go
So perhaps my new brain isn’t all bad, and it’s trying to tell me so
Then; withdraw the APB for my old brain, someone else can have it
And I will stick with my new brain right now, and hope one day it will fit

I hope you accept your new brains too, I know they’re hard to fit
So to my brain thief out there now, you’re most welcome to it

Early 2014 I began fitness training. Melinda, my trainer, suggested I participate in a Mind and Body 8 weeks challenge. This challenge changed my life. Melinda taught me to focus on what I CAN do, not what I cannot. She taught me to accept gratefulness into my life and continue to write and possibly share my poetry. So I began to climb mountains, kayak, cycle and started to run. I still take part in 10K runs each year. This is something I could do, in addition to my poetry and it made me feel good.

Roll on to October 2015, I self published my book A Stroke of Poetry, which is a rough chronology of the first two years of my stroke recovery in poetry, with affirmations and also colouring pages.

Roll on to now, I am a Stroke Safe Ambassador, visiting community and health groups in and around the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. I have been a keynote motivational speaker, presenting the voluntary stroke safe presentation on behalf of the Stroke Foundation, or my own stroke journey, educating people as I go. I am also a passionate stroke advocate and link in with local government about stroke awareness and campaigns and rights/needs of young stroke survivors. I work closely with the Stroke Foundation, who have been, and continue to be, a huge support to me and my family.

My goal is to get into the Health sector (more corporate) and educate Medical Staff about the emotional side of stroke, which I feel is rarely covered in hospital.

So, I have at last found my purpose once again in life and sometimes I feel I was meant to have my stroke as it feels very much like a vocation.