Five months ago, I suffered a small stroke. It hit me like a bolt of lightening to the brain, just minutes after I’d arrived home from work. It was terrifying and traumatic. I take really good care of my body and I never imagined that I’d have a stroke at 32.
As you can imagine, the stroke had a huge impact on me both physically and mentally. After the initial symptoms went away, I was left with some serious issues with my balance and coordination. I had trouble walking without stumbling and kept listing off to one side. Even small movements could set off bouts of dizziness and riding in the car made me nauseated. I experienced numbness in my left hand and the left side of my face. Mentally, I was just a tangle of emotions. I swung wildly between extreme fear and elation. I was terrified of having another stroke, and relieved that it wasn’t more serious. I felt furious at my own body and fearful of what it could mean for my future. I became exhausted from the seemingly endless medical appointments that stretched out before me and depressed by the trauma of what had happened.
For the longest time, sex was the absolute last thing on my mind. I had bigger things to worry about than my sexuality. But as things settled down I began to think more about finding intimacy again. But it was really difficult to do that. I felt like I’d been betrayed by my own body. For so long I’d been walking around feeling unwell and it was difficult to imagine my body ever being the source of positive feelings again. I was incredibly tired for months after the actual event as my body recovered. I could barely find the energy to chew my dinner, let alone have a sexy romp with my partner. I was also navigating a body that had changed, that had a whole new feel to it. Things that used to feel good now made me dizzy, or felt prickly or numb. My roadmap for what my body liked had to be completely rewritten. Most of all though, I was very afraid. I was afraid to do anything that might set off another stroke. I was frightened to allow myself to fully inhabit a body that was in crisis. It was easier to disassociate myself, to divorce my mind from my body.
Slowly but surely, I’ve been working sexuality back into my life. Sex is something that matters a great deal to me, something that not only gives me pleasure, but makes me feel powerful. It allows me to connect with myself and my partner in a uniquely special way and not having sex in my life didn’t feel right to me. I’m still working on exploring my sexuality post-stroke, and it’s a constant challenge. If you’re also rediscovering your sexuality after a major medical event, here are some things that I found helpful.
Talk with your doctor
After any huge medical event, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about how this will impact your sex life. Your doctor will be able to reassure you if you’re worried about safety, and draw your attention to any precautions you might need to take.
Explore on your own
Solo sex is a great way to explore on your own with fewer pressures and fears. When you’re playing on your own, you have complete control. Masturbation is a great way to reacquaint yourself with your body, and rediscover what you do and don’t like. Start with some solo play and then work up to playing with a partner once you feel confident again.
Talk it out
If you have a partner, make sure you keep the lines of communication open. I had a huge heart-to-heart with my partner about all the things that were scaring me, all the things I was concerned about and what I wanted. Telling your partner what’s going on inside your head gets you both on the same page, and fosters a sense of emotional intimacy and trust.
Take it slow
Don’t rush yourself to do things that you’re not quite ready for. It’ can be tempting to put a time limit on your recovery, to feel like you “should” hit certain milestones in a particular time frame. Putting these limits on yourself isn’t really helpful when it comes to recovery and sexuality. Pressure and anxiety are the quickest way to kill your libido, so putting too many expectations on yourself is setting yourself up for failure. Be very gentle and patient with yourself, and ease into your sex life in a way that feels comfortable and safe to you. It might take a lot longer than you thought, but if you go at a slow pace, you can just focus on doing what feels right and good, and shrug off some of the fear and shame that might be holding you back.
Connect to your body
For a long time, my body felt like a prison to me. I became exhausted from living in a body that felt broken, that was a constant source of frustration and discomfort. One thing that really helped me to learn to trust my body again was to find new and positive ways to connect with my body. I worked hard to find pleasant sensations to focus on, to ground back into my body. Things like eating delicious food and really focusing on the textures and flavour, wearing clothes in beautiful fabrics that felt good against my skin, taking my shoes off in the grass and running my fingers through my cat’s fur. All of these little positive sensations brought me back to my body, and reminded me that my body is a vehicle to experience good things as well as discomfort.
Boundaries become even more important when you’re dealing with a body that’s been through a big change. It’s vital to re-evaluate what your body can handle at the present time, and what things you don’t feel ready for. Be very clear with your partners about your physical state and be sure to bring up any pertinent information. For example, if there are some positions that it hurts to hold, if certain movements make you feel dizzy or if you don’t want to be touched in a particular way. Make sure that everyone you’re sleeping with understands your personal limits, and adheres to them.
It’s been a really rocky road these last couple of months, and I know that I’ve still got many miles to travel. But step by step, I’m slowly improving and moving on from what was a scary and life-changing event. If you’re also going through a trauma or illness, I wish you all the best and send my support to you. It’s very difficult, it’s challenging, but we’re tough and we’ll get through this.