Blog 19 – The Anniversary

Blog 19 – The Anniversary

Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano is the Happiness Hero at John’s Crazy Socks. While still a young woman (Claudia is only 36), she suffered a major stroke in January 2017. Claudia is an essential team member at John’s Crazy socks working to spread happiness and show every day what is possible when you give a person a chance. Claudia is sharing her recovery in this blog, so others can learn of the challenges facing stroke recovery patients and people in recovery can take strength and inspiration from knowing they are not alone.

It is only a week until the second anniversary of me having a stroke.  January 11.  I should be happy because I survived.  And I am.  But as far as my recovery goes, I am so sad.  I cry every night, and as it closes in on the anniversary, I will probably cry in the morning, too.  As far as walking is considered, my right side is still limp.  My right foot does not hit the floor right.  I don’t know if it is a dropped foot or if it has to do with Neuroplasticity, but whatever it is I have a limp.  Because I was on steroids for a while, it was fine. Then I got off the steroids and slowly but surely it cramped up.  And my hand, well, I have 3 fingers on my right hand.  My other 2 fingers are there, but they don’t work. They are crunched in like I am making a fist.  And it hurts if I try to move it. 

And my speech, who knows?  I will have speech issues my whole life, or maybe it just feels like that.  It’s probably true.  Before my stroke, I was a damn good speaker, and my writing was excellent, too.  And now, I have none of that.  Everything that made up me is now gone.  It’s gone, I am not a speaker anymore. I am not a writer anymore.  For 34 years, you are one thing, and then, through no fault of your own, suddenly, you cannot be that thing anymore.  And maybe that is true, and maybe it’s not true.  And I am two years out, and I think it’s true. 

I am feeling so lost.  I try every day to get up and put this happy face on and go to work.  Most of the time I am happy, but I am so lost. I feel like I’m having an identity crisis. My career. My interactions with my friends and family. If I fight with my husband, I can’t express my self correctly, or sometimes not at all.  And the only person who can understand me is my friend who had a stroke, and they can’t communicate with me very well because they suffer from aphasia.  Each stroke is different. The outcomes are different.  And when I think about why I had it, they have NO IDEA! That messed me up more than I ever thought possible because I’ll never know what caused it or how to prevent another stroke. I lost weight, I quit smoking, and stopped taking birth control but who knows if it will be enough?

The stroke completely affected my career. I was the Executive Director of the Huntington Historical Society.  I was moving up in my career.  I have my Master’s in History, and had experience with fundraising, programs, exhibits, grants, creating and modifying the newsletters, and running huge events. I am so grateful to John’s Crazy Socks. I love my job. But I just struggle because I paid off the debt for a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree that I can no longer use.  If I never had a stroke, I would still be continuing my career at the Huntington Historical Society because I love history. I love the idea of taking history and making it accessible to all.  That is why I created the “Lunch and Learn,” and History Trivia.  I loved the Historic House Tour.  

You might be asking yourself why I ever left my job?  I was an excellent Executive Director before the stroke, and after the stroke, I felt like nothing but a shadow of myself.  If you couldn’t talk or write you would cry every day, too. It’s frustrating. The Board would speak for me because I couldn’t speak for myself. I was so grateful that they accepted me, but I needed to speak for myself.  That is why I left because I was unhappy thinking about the person I was before the stroke, and everything that came from that.

So yes, I am grateful I am alive. I am grateful to get up every day with my husband.  I am grateful that I can just get up.  I am grateful I can drive over to my parent’s house and participate in family gatherings.  I am grateful I can drive. I am grateful that I can go out with my friends. I am grateful that I have a job. I am grateful to be at John’s Crazy Socks because everyone is different, and I was taught to celebrate my differences by Mark Cronin, the founder of John’s Crazy Socks.  I am grateful that I have an outlet to share my thoughts and feeling with all of you in this blog.   

Every day, every week, I take more steps. It is hard, but I keep getting better.  Happy 2nd Anniversary to me.