How Having a Stroke Reconnected Me Back To My Voice

I breathed my way through the delivery of my second daughter without medication.

I did so NOT because it was best for me, but because I thought that was what everyone “should” do. I was overdue by a week, and she was a big baby for me to carry this long.

As she lay under the lights for jaundice, I could not hold her…I screamed loudly as they wheeled her away and doctors surrounded my bed.

Why were they not listening?

I realized in an instant that they weren’t listening because they could not hear me. I was screaming inside but nothing was coming out. I was having a stroke.

I felt the warmth and protection offered me from another place. A level of protection I hadn’t felt in a long time.

In that moment, I would have been glad to slip into that place and be with light and love forever. But I didn’t.

I had lost my voice, but not my will to live.

In the days and months that followed, as I slowly emerged from physical therapy, vertigo, and trauma-induced depression, I reconsidered my will to live – more than once.

But in the end, my stroke and its aftermath forced me to face the voiceless Kathleen that had stared at me in the mirror every morning. Not listening to myself for years on end made my body shut down and say:

“If you won’t listen to me, I’ll stop you until you do.”

Maybe you have or maybe you haven’t had an experience like this. My hope for you after reading this is that you DON’T wait to listen to you — your body — your feelings — your truth.

My truth was that I listened to everyone BUT myself.

Years of people-pleasing, neglect, and difficult relationships had muted my ability to speak up and speak out.

And as I started listening to myself, I found myself hearing from the God who made me. And that voice deepened my resolve to NOT “skimp on the inner work” as Parker Palmer so eloquently talks about, and to “lift up the value of skills such as journaling, reflecting, reading, spiritual friendship, meditation, and prayer”.

Through that, I very slowly started to understand that what God says about me is more accurate than what I think about myself. And more truthful than the chatter in my head and the air-brushed images from the media that I had so readily taken in before the stroke.

With an infant and a 5-year-old to take care of, I knew some things had to change, and I also knew that my business had to change. The idea of dressing myself – let alone anyone else — was daunting.

Before the stroke, I could easily get dressed, had little to no weight problems, and absolutely loved clothes and makeup and accessories. After the stroke, I wanted to wear nothing but pajamas. I wanted my odd-shaped body completely covered.

I knew — instinctively, intuitively that finding my style again would help me find my voice — I had to figure that out — so I could empower others to do the same.

It was daunting. But I’d faced daunting before.

First, I had to feel my way into my closet — I loved nothing in there but a pair of penny loafers and one scarf. So I wore those loafers and that scarf with jeans and a t-shirt almost every day for a long while until I could find another piece I loved.

I could envision any of my clients in outfits. I could style their clothing. But I was not able to connect the mind and body. Until I could do that for myself, I could not help my clients do it.

It took more time than I wanted it to because I refused to wear anything that I sort of liked, that sort of worked or that I sort of loved. From a sensory perspective, everything felt different on my body.

Fabrics I once wore easily now scratched or rubbed, and I was no longer willing to settle for shoes that pinched.

I wanted to look beautiful, but more importantly, I wanted to FEEL beautiful.

The biggest shifts came when I started using my clothes as a resource to feel better. I found pink penny loafers and red pumps for business. I embraced my seamstress who tailored things for me (and cried every time she altered something and made it fit my body – because fitting my body meant the clothes were uneven).

I felt better in my clothes than ever before, and that made a big difference in my healing.

Because feeling better allowed me to face what had happened and why. To become attentive instead of anxious and clear instead of overwhelmed. I still have a long way to go.

The journey I’ve been on for the past 20 years has included many twists and turns but since the stroke, I’ve come to know that my work as an image consultant must involve that which connects both the inside wholehearted person and the correlating clothing on the outside.

The clothing is a representation of the inner work…And not just a representation but also a friend to help me recover my voice and speak my truth.

In upcoming posts I will continue to share additional details of my journey to recover my voice and my truth but suffice it to say that I treasure the ability to use clothing as a tool for healing — and I am grateful for what it has done in my own life and the lives of my clients I am privileged to work with.

As for my stroke, no medical underlying cause was found for the blood clot that formed. Probably nothing could have alerted me it was there except an ischemic stroke. I know that the stroke was my wakeup call to do the work necessary to survive, live and thrive.

I have for years now been able to empower my clients as I work alongside them to create wardrobes they love. We always start by feeling our way in.

As you think of your own relationship with your closet and your wardrobe, take a moment to consider…

  • Am I dressing the real me?
  • What is the real me trying to say?
  • Am I listening?

Accept what you feel – don’t judge.

Be open to what your body is saying (it’s always speaking) and be willing to listen. Take the time now to participate in the personal inner work that can, if you allow, bring you not to a place to be “fixed”, but to an awareness of your self that you allow to become YOU. Not only will you look beautiful, but you will also feel beautiful too.

And be open to what your body is saying (it’s always speaking), listen deeply and know you are absolutely beautiful.

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