I heard two things after my stroke:

  • “You look fine—I can’t even tell!”
  • Nothing.

Though said with good intention, both responses meant one thing: They didn’t understand what I went through.

For me, the hardest part of the stroke was the lack of support I found afterwards.

All of the effects of a stroke aren’t visible: Even after I regained use of the right side of my body, I wasn’t fully healed. I had to relearn English. Bright lights made me nauseous. Noises from the vacuum cleaner and lawn mower, previously routine sounds, would make me dizzy.

More than that, I didn’t know who I was.

It’s like being two different people in the same lifetime. I went from being a vibrant, social person to being paralyzingly shy. I felt a panic when around people and I had to tell my friends that I wasn’t interested in going out and being social anymore. Brownies were too sweet for me and most food was too spicy. I’m not as shy as I was initially after the stroke, but I’m still not my old, outgoing self.

Because I physically look fine, people assume that everything is back to “normal”—that I’m the same Charu as I was four years ago. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever be her again—or if I’ll recognize her if I do. This is my new normal. Looking from the outside, you can’t see my struggles with depression. You can’t see me asking my husband when my mother’s birthday is or what the portion of my leg above my ankle is called.

As a society, we know so little about mental health. We don’t want to talk about it. And the fact that it is not visible makes it even harder for others to recognize and provide support.  This knowledge gap makes it difficult to connect with people and explain what you’re going through.

My advice, to anyone who has lived through a stroke or is the caregiver of someone who has, is to find support. Find a group of people who understand what you’re going through and can empathize and offer meaningful advice. My husband and I started facilitating a caregiver and stroke survivor support group, and being surrounded by a group of people who were living with similar symptoms and feelings and mindsets as me was invaluable—I was understood.

You don’t have to recover alone. To find support, resources, and wellness tips after surviving a stroke, check out Community Health Charities’ health resources for life after stroke.