In our new blog series, people affected by stroke share their experiences of social distancing.

Ruth's keeping busy by staying in touch with friends, enjoying the outdoors and writing

Photo of RuthI was born with a congenital heart problem and have ulcerative colitis, both of which contributed to me having two strokes in 2016, when I was 30. So I’m vulnerable and shielding. It feels odd, as I’m normally very social and volunteer three times a week. It’s boring and annoying that I can’t meet up with friends normally or go out to many places, but I’ve got used to it. 

With modern technology being what it is, I’ve found it easy to stay in touch with friends on Zoom, WhatsApp and Skype, or just through texting or phoning. In fact, we’re probably able to keep in touch more – old friends from university have been getting back in contact too, and we’ve had group conversations over Zoom.

I'm living with my parents, and we all get on fine, so I have some company when I want it. I help with Dad's gardening sometimes. We’ve had a couple of bonfires recently – they're always enjoyable, and quite enchanting. I don't know why – it’s something primitive within us!

I occasionally have to go into hospital for infusions for my colitis. I have gloves and goggles, use the stairs instead of the lift – anything to reduce contact with others! My parents don't come into the hospital because of the coronavirus. They drop me off and go for a walk in the grounds. It sucks, but at least it's an outing!

I try to keep fit and walk a lot – usually about 1.5 hours in the morning, and another hour late afternoon – whatever the weather! I keep my distance from people, and wear a buff for extra precaution. 

I like walking in the woods near where we live, especially during this beautiful sunny, cloudless-sky weather we're having. (Cue the thunder!) It gets my heart pumping and legs turning. Since my strokes, I’m more prone to feeling stressed out, but walking really helps with this. The fresh air and nature lift my mood.

I have a couple of projects on the go too. I’m working on a humorous children's novel about the real lives of fairies and genies. I started writing this story about seven years ago, but then went travelling for a year. Soon after I was back, I had my strokes and had problems with writing, so it's been a slow process. However, with practise, my writing has improved a great deal. Having the story to get on with makes me concentrate and think – and it’s fun.

So that's what I'm doing. Stay safe!

More staying at home stories:

Gardening, running and volunteering are helping Ruth to stay positive

Photo of Ruth

As stroke survivors, we’ve already survived having our lives turned upside down. So really, we’re very well equipped to deal with this new worldwide challenge!

The key is to keep busy and positive. Every day, I think about the things that make me feel grateful. The roof over my head. I’m safe in my house. I have food on my table and water in my taps. 

I’m also lucky to have a lovely garden – it’s my saviour in all of this. It gives me a quiet space to reboot my brain – something us stroke survivors need to do quite often. Pottering in my greenhouse is as good as meditation for me. Growing healthy fruit and vegetables gives me a focus, something to care for and watch grow.

Before the world slowed down, I was training for the Edinburgh Marathon Festival 5k (now postponed until September) to raise money for the Stroke Association. My friends and I had just completed week 6 of the NHS ‘Couch to 5k’ app – running continuously for 25 minutes!

Determined not to let all that hard work go to waste, I’ve created my own running course at home. I run around my garden, along a little lane up the side of my house and then, careful to check no one’s around, to the street and back to my garden again. I’ve even given every part of my course a name, including the ‘hairpins’ (a turning point at the front of my house), and the ‘lamp loop’ (where I run round the lamppost)!

Running is helping my physical recovery, especially my breathing, energy levels and the strength in my legs. Mentally it’s a great escape and helps me feel “normal”. I tell myself: “I get to go running in the morning,” rather than “I have to go running”, which is a good way to be kind to yourself. 

I’ve also signed up to become a Lived Experience telephone volunteer, helping stroke survivors and their carers who’ve recently been discharged from hospital – sometimes within 48 hours of their stroke because of coronavirus. 

I can’t imagine what that must be like for them and their families, so I’m trying to help in small ways. Volunteering is a good way of giving back and creates a sense of achievement and wellbeing, as you know what you’re doing helps others in a similar situation.

Stroke Ambassador and volunteer, Tom, shares his experiences

I had a stroke at 52. I had to learn to walk and talk again, but found the impact it had on my mental health hardest to deal with. Over time, I’ve learnt to open up, talk about my feelings and ask for help.

Recently, my family and I talked about how we feel about the huge changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m bored and frustrated at losing my sense of freedom – it reminds me of how I felt after my stroke. I was glad to be able to tell them what was in my head. It loosened my anxiety a little and I knew I wasn’t alone with my feelings.

It’s tough situation, but I’m finding ways to cope.  Here are my tips on dealing with social distancing:

Get online if you can
A friend of mine has set up a Facebook Messenger group for school friends. We’re having such a laugh together, remembering what we used to get up to! The chat has lifted my spirits, helped me to feel less isolated and encouraged me to get in touch with people I’ve not contacted in a while. 

Go back to a hobby
When I was recovering from my stroke, I attended an art class. In the last few weeks, I’ve gone back to it and finished a painting for my wife, Joanne – which, to my delight, she framed and hung up!

Helping round the house and with the kids
I’m ‘extremely vulnerable’ according to the government guidelines and so are my daughters, so we rely on Joanne to do the shopping for us. She never stops working, so I’m helping her as much as I can with decorating and odd jobs. 

I have two teenage twin daughters so staying at home can be a bit trying at times! As a trained chef, I’m encouraging them to learn to cook. They made macaroni cheese the other day, which was delicious – better than mine!

Taking stock
I’m learning to appreciate things that we take for granted. When I go for a walk, it brings me back to my childhood: fewer cars on the road, more people walking and breathing in clean air.

Read more from Tom in our Stroke Stories section.

Meet Angie. She’s a stroke survivor and lives in Edinburgh

Photo of Angie

After three days of living and working from home on my own, I began feeling lonely. So, I decided to take people up on their offers to help me. I moved in with my Mum for company. Having lost Dad last year, this suited her too. We’re both in the ‘increased risk’ group, so we’ve made the decision to self-isolate. My brother is doing the shopping for us, but we could use the team of volunteers in the community to help if necessary. 

I miss my independence, seeing friends, having banter with colleagues, going swimming and shopping for what I want, when I want. I’ve felt ‘flat’ and down about the restrictions. But I know I’m not alone and I’m finding ways around it.  

I walk at least a mile every day with Mum. We go out in the evenings when it’s quiet, keeping two metres from others. It’s good exercise and one I can do with my disability.  

I bought a new spiked chopping board and I’m enjoying making healthy meals now that I can easily chop veg. We can’t always get the groceries we want, but have fun being creative with the food we have.

I’m enjoying the Skype check-ins my manager has organised so that our team can stay connected. Another of my colleagues has set up a WhatsApp group so we can carry on talking socially too. 

I use Zoom to chat to friends and family, particularly those who are living on their own. I had a virtual night in with my uni friends last week, which was great fun. I’m also using My Stroke Guide’s social forum for company. I’m getting lots of support from people dealing with the same challenges as me. 

With help and support from friends, family and other stroke survivors, I’m now managing quite well. I’m finding activities to help break my day. I dip into the news at lunchtime, enjoy some telly in the evening, and fit in Pilates exercises when I remember! I’m also writing a journal, which is a great form of ‘release’ for when I feel a bit down. My next plan is to buy some seeds online and start growing my own veg – could be fun!”