Hannah McGrath, 28 from Manchester, was working night shifts as a nurse in 2015, when she found herself needing medical care after having two strokes.
Fortunately, Hannah hasn’t had lasting physical issues. But the emotional effects have had a huge impact on her life. “I really struggled with anxiety and fatigue,” she says. “I was 23 at the time and I felt like I’d lost all control over my life. I moved back in with my mum. I didn’t know if I’d be able to go back to nursing and thought everything I’d worked for had gone.
“I had such bad anxiety about having another, far worse, stroke that I wasn’t sleeping. I was exhausted during the day and had no interest in doing anything.
“Breaking out of that vicious circle was a gradual process. To be honest, if it wasn’t for my mum, I’d probably still be in bed. She gently encouraged me to come downstairs, get a shower or to go into the garden to let the dog out.
“I just took it day-by-day and built up from there. I started working in my local pub’s kitchen for a couple of hours a week, just washing pots and peeling potatoes. I also started volunteering for the Stroke Association as a telephone befriender. I’d ring a couple of stroke survivors a week and we would have a chat on the phone for half an hour or so. It gave me purpose, much-needed social interaction and helped me to begin to rebuild my life.”
Hannah was able to return to nursing less than a year after her strokes. “I know how lucky I am that I was able get my life back on track. I’ve learnt that progress builds over time. It isn’t a quick process, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully there emotionally, but I’m a lot better than I was five years ago.
“I’ve thought about some of the things that helped me to work through my anxiety and depression. And I hope they’ll help you too:
Start with the basics
“Set short-term achievable goals. For example, ‘Today I’m going to get out of bed and get washed’ - you always feel better once you’ve had a shower. Even if you don’t achieve anything else that day, you’ve taken a step forward and can build from there.”
Give yourself something to aim for
“When you’re feeling a bit more confident, pick a longer-term goal to aim for. Having something to focus on and work towards keeps you going and helps control the anxiety.
“To give me a focus and to keep me going, I decided to try to raise £2,016 in 2016. I did something to raise money every month in the year and ended up collecting over £4,500.”
Talk to people who know what you’re going through
“There are lots of resources out there and people you can talk to if you’re feeling low or isolated.
"I spent a lot of time on Stroke Association forums and on young stroke survivor Facebook groups. I’d definitely recommend online forums to anyone – carer or stroke survivor – who is struggling. Particularly if you don’t have a friend or family network, or can’t or don’t want to go to meetings. You can read the comments without posting or you can vent and people can reply and relate, or give you suggestions.
"I found comfort in knowing I wasn’t the only young twenty-odd who’d had a stroke and that others in my situation, or worse, were rebuilding their lives. In time, I was able to answer comments and help new members too. It made me a lot stronger and gave me the courage to get on with things and to make improvements in myself."
“Being outside is good for my mental health. I try to go for a walk or a run at least once a week. But you don’t have to do a physical activity - just sitting out in the fresh air helps."
"A real turning point for me was realising that I had to stop comparing myself to how I was before. This is me now. I’m adapting to this new version of me, and accepting and building on who I am."