Instead of cake and Champagne, Aimee Messerschmidt had a stroke for her 31st birthday.
The night before, she left the gym feeling dizzy and barely able to drive. The next morning, the mother of two from Missouri Valley, Iowa woke up paralyzed on the right side of her body. Neither she nor her husband thought it was a stroke. “I was healthy and strong to begin with; I worked out every day, ate right, and did everything that I was supposed to do, and yet this happened,” Messerschmidt says. “A stroke doesn’t discriminate.”
Four years later, Messerschmidt suffers from no physical or cognitive repercussions. She’s able to work out daily, care for her daughters, and work full-time. Instead, she suffers from what Messerschmidt refers to as the silent symptom of stroke survivors: depression. “I’ve been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and [doctors] certainly don’t talk about that,” she says.
Messerschmidt admits she has a shorter temper and copes with the emotional impact of “facing mortality at such a young age” on a regular basis. “You look the same and you sound the same but you’re not the same person,” she says.
Just one day after her stroke, Messerschmidt was minutes from death. Tests revealed a carotid artery dissection and her kidneys began to fail. Doctors advised Messerschmidt’s family she may not survive the airlift to a nearby hospital to perform surgery.
That near-death experience is what impacted Messerschmidt’s emotional state. But stroke support groups, a strong family, and finding the right combination of medications are what helped her “see the light at the end of the tunnel” for her depression. “[A stroke] is a traumatic brain injury just like a car accident and there are a lot of mental and emotional changes,” Messerschmidt says. “I wish [doctors] would’ve prepared me for that.”
Although Messerschmidt considers herself lucky to have very few adverse symptoms post-stroke, she knows she’s not the only stroke survivor grappling with depression. “I just want people to know it’s OK to admit you’re depressed,” Messerschmidt says. “I think the key is to find a good doctor you can talk to and be open with … so they can get you the right medicine and make sure you don’t feel ashamed of being depressed.”
For more info, goto Stroke.org