It was just a normal day for Tom, cooking in the pub kitchen where he worked as a breakfast chef. All of a sudden he had a stroke, leaving him collapsed on the floor and unable to speak. "It was confusing, I thought I’d just fainted", Tom recalls. "I didn’t know what was going on – all I knew was that I was on the floor. In the ambulance they were asking me questions but they couldn’t get a word out of me."
"I started to talk a few days after, but it wasn’t the right words that were coming out. I was thinking the right word but saying the wrong one. Everything was going through my mind. I’m not working – how’s the mortgage going to get paid? How’s my family going to cope? I wasn’t thinking of me, I was thinking more of them than anything."
Tom, who was 52 at the time, soon realised that life wasn’t going to be the same. "I was a football coach and thought I could go straight back into coaching, but again fatigue took over. It was a shock to us that I could sleep 22, 23 hours of the day." This took a toll on Tom’s mental health, and after having a second stroke he sank into a deep state of depression. "I was doing a phased return back to work so life was good, then on the way home one day I had a second stroke whilst getting off the bus."
During this time, Tom’s depression spiralled out of control and, during one of his lowest moments, he attempted suicide while still in the hospital.
Tom later received help from psychiatrists and explain his reasons for wanting to end his life. "I describe my depression as a dog. When it’s at its best it’s like a puppy – a wee puppy just sitting in the corner. At its worst it’s a big straddling dog, where nothing can get in because this dog is there snapping and biting."
To help in his recovery, Tom attended the Longstone Stroke Centre and decided to take part in an art therapy class. "We were told to just draw what we want! So I would draw something that was in my head. We started chatting about how we felt and everything got put into the picture. In the beginning, mine were all dark and gloomy, because that’s where I thought I was. Then over the weeks it lightened up and changed. It helped me immensely."
"It helped with the rehab of my right hand and arm too – using my hands and holding paintbrushes helped me to start writing again, because you’re moving your hands and wrists."
Tom now volunteers for the Stroke Association as a Stroke Ambassador and recently told his story at the UK Stroke Assembly in Glasgow. "Before the stroke, I wouldn’t talk to a stranger. Since stroke it has completely changed – I love telling my story. People were coming up to me and telling me about their story. I really enjoy it."
"The biggest thing I try to tell people is that you have to say how you feel. If you say you’re fine every single day, you’re lying to yourself. But you can also laugh at your stroke, because this is the new you."