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Stroke Survivor or Stroke Victim: Is There a Difference?

How does our language affect our perception of stroke?

Hello. This is our first blog post and we are so excited to share the Stroke Survivor experience with you. Have you had a stroke? Has your loved one experienced a stroke and you are seeking information to help them? Are you a health care professional who deals with stroke patients? In upcoming posts, I will provide my unique perspective on navigating a stroke. As a nurse, I dealt with many stroke patients, but never truly understood their difficulties until I experienced my own stroke.

One of the first things I would like to discuss is how you identify yourself. After you have a stroke, how do people refer to you? Some people call you a “stroke victim” and others call you a “stroke survivor.” Is this just a case of semantics? What difference does it make? Aren’t they just meaningless titles? Or are they?

Pixabay / No Attribution Listed on Pixabay
Source: Pixabay / No Attribution Listed on Pixabay

Identifying as a Victim

In the early days after a stroke, many people feel like a victim. They didn’t ask for this to happen or wake up one morning and decide, “I think I’ll have a stroke today.” However, they don’t have to remain a victim. When you identify as a stroke victim, you dwell on how unfair it was, and how powerless you feel. You may think that nothing will ever change. You end up focusing on everything negative and feel sorry for yourself. You may withdraw from others and make excuses. If anyone challenges you, you became immediately angry and defensive.

With this victim mindset, you set yourself up for failure and then perhaps do nothing concrete to work toward recovery. Some people who experience a stroke remain in this mindset for an extended period of time, and this can lead to anxiety, depression, or even suicidal thoughts.

Identifying as a Survivor

Alternatively, if you identify as a stroke survivor, you feel strong and resilient and focus more on the positives. Your mantra becomes “Look how far I’ve come.” Instead of making excuses, you are open to developing strategies to work toward improvement and take baby steps to progress. In my case, feeling sorry for myself was getting me nowhere. I became determined to call myself a survivor and continuously told myself, “You can do this!” It is possible to make improvements given a positive mindset and determination.

Even seven years after my stroke, I still waffle between these two labels on a regular basis. Some days I feel like a victim and other days I feel like a survivor, but I have discovered that mindset is everything.

Changing from a Victim to Survivor Mindset

On bad days, remind yourself, I AM A SURVIVOR. If anyone calls you a stroke victim, immediately correct them and proudly announce, “I am a stroke survivor.” You have worked hard for this. You’ve pushed yourself for this. You’ve overcome obstacles for this. You’ve earned this. I even got a “Stroke Survivor” tattoo as a constant reminder. It is my badge of honor.

Pixabay / No Attribution Listed on Pixabay
Source: Pixabay / No Attribution Listed on Pixabay

The difference between calling yourself a stroke victim and a stroke survivor is an extremely important mindset shift for your recovery. Words are very powerful, and they shape how we view ourselves and the world. In the case of those who have experienced a stroke, words can give you the strength to propel yourself forward to be the best you can be after a stroke, versus merely subsisting at your current level of recovery.

The brain is very complicated. Every stroke survivor is affected differently; every stroke survivor’s journey and recovery will be different. There will be challenges and setbacks, but there’s always hope.

I once gave a speech to a stroke survivor’s support group. Four people walked into the room using canes. Each of them had been told they’d never walk again.

I have met countless stroke survivors, both on social media and in-person, that have defied the odds and are able to complete activities they were told would be impossible.

Adopting a “stroke survivor” mindset will go a long way to defying the odds.

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