I am not entirely sure how I ended up studying for a “Magister Degree” – a Swedish degree between a Bachelor and Masters degree, within business, marketing & communication. But non the less I did.
I think it was a combination of listening to much to various grown ups, who with good intentions, wanted to help me down a safe path with a secure job and a good income and not being in tune with what I wanted to do. But I am not sure any young person knows with certainty that what they are studying for is what they really want to do. Hey, us grown ups hardly knows what we’re doing, so it’s a lot of pressure to put on a young person.
Anyways, I went back and forth between choosing courses and schools to go down the becoming a doctor path and the path of getting a business degree. The fact that I was more into painting and creating, well pretty much anything, didn’t strike me, or anyone else, as sign that I should maybe do something more creative and nature related with my life. Because when I wasn’t painting, writing and reading, I was out in the forest or down by the creek. Both when I was a young girl, a teenager but also as a young adult.
The years went by and life just happened, it was a lot of struggling years for me and my family for various privat reasons and I was always so focused on a future where I would be happy, that I didn’t contemplate if I WAS HAPPY in the present or if I was doing what was best for me. I was so sure that when I was done at the University, when I got that job and that “nice salary” that I would be happy. Because come on, I had been told so all my life. Happiness was just around the corner, when I had got that job, that office, that salary I was bound to be happ, right?
So I did what I though I was suppose to do and ended up working my way up to a great job with a nice office. It was nice. My boss was nice, the distance I had to commute wasn’t too bad and I could even go for an hour long walk to my office so that was…nice. I got to travel to other cities in my job too, which was nice. It was a nice change of scenery.. It was all very nice. But I was extremely unhappy.
And to make a really long story short, well at least shorter, I had a Stroke. At 32 years old I had a Stoke, just like that. One day I was fine, next day I was not. As it turned out, I got a Stroke for one of the more uncommon reasons. The specialist at the hospital said he saw maybe 1 or 2 cases like mine each year, tops. The reason for my Stroke was a malformed blood vessel in my brain who, due to being malformed, didn’t really behave like all the other blood vessels. I had it since birth and it could very well have been there all my life without making any fuss. But this little malformed blood vessel did make a fuss.
In one of the most unhappy periods in my life, it simply decided to shut down. Thanks but no thanks, no blood flowing through here anymore! But of course, getting a Stroke was a horrific, traumatic and gut wrenching experience. When your brain suddenly don’t listen, and you can’t walk straight, it’s not so funny anymore. And much of what once felt important, no longer feels important at all.
When I came home from the hospital I was suffering from fatigue, getting a brain injury lowers the serotonin levels and hence you can become both depressed and tired. But I didn’t feel depressed, but definitely tired. No matter how I felt physically, the second I sat down in our sofa I asked to get a large sketching pad an a large felt tip pen.
I started to write up different words; foraging, friends & family, a countryside home, being more creative, cooking, nature, painting, photography. The sketch pad filled quickly and when I was down I just sat and stared at it. After a while I begun crying. It wasn’t that I didn’t know at the hospital, it’s just that it became so evident what was wrong and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before.
What I had done was this: I had quickly, without thinking too much or analyzing what came out, written down what I wanted my life to include should I die within a year. The decision to do so was of course my own, and I was fully aware during the whole process, but it was like a punch in the stomach seeing those words written all over my sketchpad. When I started comparing what was on the list with my current life situation as it had been pre Stroke, it was impossible to ignore it. You had to be a complete idiot to do so.
My new list of what I wanted my life to be all about, and what my life current was like was very different. It was like two different people had written them, hence the crying. I decided then and there that this was my chance to turn thing around.
Another interaction that impacted me greatly, was the discussion with the physio therapist about getting a cane.
“There is a version that you can fold up, so it fit’s in your purse” said the physio therapist, like it we were talking about a new exciting ice cream flavor.
But I refused it and the thought of needing a cane only made me work harder. If I didn’t need a cane I wouldn’t have a cane. It wasn’t that I felt that it was something shameful or embarrassing about having a cane. It was just that Finish “sisu”- I am half Swedish half Finish. If you haven’t heard that expression before it is: ” a Finnish concept described as stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness and is held by Finns themselves to express their national character”. Yeah, Sisu. My grandfather has it for sure.
And since I was determined go after my “real dream life”, meaning to walk in the woods, forage and hike the way I wanted to, go out for photo sessions early mornings, nothing could stop me. The discussion about the cane just made me work harder on my physio therapy exercises and hold tight onto my new “life list”. At one point I actually fell into a rose bush with torns while doing physiotherapy to heal my brain. The way you do it, is that you do different exercises including walking and moving your head at the same time to induce the dizziness attacks. When that happens your brain is forced to find new “pathways” around the damaged brain tissue that once handled balance and other functions. You can imagine what that looks like. Inducing dizziness and then trying to walk and balance on one leg falling and stumbling. It’s like a Swedish midsummer party where people had a tiny bit too much to drink and then try to play various games, running around like lunatics.
So there I was with my list, and my refusal to get the cane. I could walk, but at times I got such intense dizziness attacks that I was rushed yet again to the hospital, where I had to stay for surveillance for a few days. But no matter how many times I went back to the hospital, I was determined to start taking action.
And several years later, I have realized that ACTION IS KEY.
Because since then I have met a lot of people who want to make changes in their life, but they are too scared. Sometimes they are scared just to choose what to do or where to go. It’s like there are too many options in this world. What will be the correct decision for them? Is one better than the other, and how will they know? So they contemplate, and over analyze, and spend a lot of time agonizing about what the right choice is.
But the thing is, there are no way to fully know what the right choice is. Sometimes you just have to chose (act) and then just be happy with whatever your choice leads to. Even if the lesson of making that choice is that it was the wrong choice. You can only learn by experience something, and to experience it you have to chose it and just go with it. You have to say yes, you have to move, you have to try, and sometimes you fail and then you learn something by the act of failing.
Action is what counteracts anxiety or shortly; Action beats anxiety. Or what I usually tell myself when I feel I am thinking too much, going back and forth about something: Less thinking, more doing.
You can’t control every aspect of your life, or what will come your way, no matter if you fel that every choice you make is the right one. You can still end up in a totally unexpected situation or loose everything. For me, I could not have foreseen what would happen to me, not in a million years. Not that I would get the Stroke, and not what happened after. Not the struggle, the falling, the failing, but not the success, the friends or the experiences. Not the commercial film with Ikea, not the cookbook deal, not the trip to Tuscany to stay in the villa of that wine baron but also not getting turned down or getting told that I was not good enough by professionals within the business.
But back to taking action! This is how I started to move forward towards my goals after my Stroke:
- I wrote down everything I wanted my life to include should I die 1 year later. Not based on outer validation, but what would made me feel loved and happy.
- I checked my list to find what I could start with then and there or what would be best to start doing to see a result or a change within the next months. For example, I wanted to move into the countryside but I knew that it was something that needed more planning and time, hence that wasn’t what I should focus on as my first action. What I could start doing was being more creative; painting, cooking, baking and practice photography. And that is what I did. I focused on those more immediate changes while simultaneously planning for others that were further away in my future.
- I started prioritized differently. This one took a while for me to “sort out”. I knew I wanted to be more creative, so I prioritized that which then automatically made me have less time for what wasn’t making me happy. I still got invited to some parties and gatherings, I still went out for coffee ind the city – but for each activity that I took part of (or created and invited people to myself) I asked myself if it felt like the right thing to do. Was it really making me happy or would I have wanted to spend my time doing something else? For most part it didn’t feel like I wanted to repeat that same behavior or experiences. And it’s not they are wrong or not fun, they might be totally right for someone else, but it’s that they weren’t right for me. I still enjoy drinking coffee or have a glass of champagne, but not at crowded bars or restaurants with loud music and drunk people. I rather have outdoor coffee over an open fire, followed by a sauna and a swim in the lake. I rather drink bubbly while painting or hanging out with a friend under the apple tree, talking honestly, openly and from a point of vulnerability. I rather wake up early going out to take photos than sleep all day due to partying late the night before.
- I started planning for my long term goals, as mentioned earler. I looked at where I was at and what was needed to get where I wanted to go. If I couldn’t get exactly where I wanted, due to a lack of money/abilities/options/other factors, I came up with a realistic alternative to that specific goal and I set up a step by step plan to reach that goal within a reasonable amount of time.
I hope that my story can inspire you to follow your heart, and know that it’s never too late to change the course of your life!