[N.B.: This post discusses post-stroke depression and crying, as well as the inspiration to be received from the music of Edwyn Collins. Depression is very common in both stroke survivors and their carers. (Post-stroke depression (PSD) has been reported in not less than 30% and up to 50% of all stroke survivors (Robinson, 1998; DH, 2007a). The prevalence of PSD peaks at six months after stroke.) If you think you or your family/carer may be affected by this issue, please help your recovery by going to your doctor. The National Stroke Association has also published an excellent fact sheet on coping with emotions after stroke, which I’d also suggest you look at if this is an issue for you.]
A while ago, I started writing an abortive post about celebrity stroke folks. It was going to finish with a competition to nominate celebrities who might have, but in fact hadn’t, had strokes. It was rejected by the apoplectic.me brains trust on grounds of taste. The piece started with a quick discussion of famous stroke sufferers, including Dick Clark (of course), Gerald “too much football without a helmet” Ford (as well as five other presidents!) and Della Reese, who each made it onto the list after a desultory google search.
A propos of nothing, Beth and I were talking the other day about the number of things I’ve had to start from scratch recently, such as walking. Since my stroke affected my basal ganglia, rather than the medulla oblongata, where autonomic functions, such as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and the appreciation of top quality popular music, are controlled, I spontaneously burst into a chorus of Rip It Up by Orange Juice. Almost immediately, I was appalled to realise that my abortive celebrity strokes post hadn’t mentioned Scotland’s very own talented and brave Edwyn Collins. Here in the States, he’s best known for his 1995 single A Girl Like You. Back in the old country, he’s also known for founding the influential Postcard Records and their band Orange Juice, and being OJ’s singer, guitarist and songwriter. OJ’s Rip it Up it was the first hit to use the Roland TB-303 synth. And, although he’d never know this, Edwyn’s also important to me personally for a couple of reasons….
Firstly, he bounced back from two cerebral hemorrhages suffered at the age of 45, in 2005. Like mine, his stroke was due to high blood pressure. You can find a lot more details in his 2007 Guardian interview with Simon Goddard, including that (1) he initially ascribed his nausea and vertigo to food poisoning before being admitted to intensive care two days later, followed by a lengthy programme of neurological rehabilitation owing to right-sided weakness and difficulty with speech and (2) the aphasia he suffered allowed him to repeat only four phrases, over and over again: “yes”, “no”, “Grace Maxwell” [sweetly, his wife’s name] and “the possibilities are endless”.
Second, unbeknownst to Edwyn, he was instrumental in my being able to mourn my mother properly. In March 2011, a few months after my mother’s passing, he played The Rock Shop in Park Slope. At the time, my life was a hectic mess, and although I was very sad, I felt like I hadn’t had a chance to grieve properly. But, a short while into the show, I was dancing like a maniac to an inspired mix of post-punk and northern soul, while sobbing uncontrollably. Why? Some kind of a combination of seeing this articulate, extravagantly quiffed man, forever young due to his association with Postcard and Orange Juice, ravaged by stroke, and his Scottish two fingers to his situation, rocking and painting and fighting back with sheer willpower and the help of his family.
The beginning of the gig was quite shocking, in that Edwyn’s entry echoed the description of his November 2009 gig at London’s Bloomsbury Ballroom. He was helped to the stage by Grace, relied on a silver-topped cane (ever the dandy!), and spoke slowly to the crowd, with his right arm curled up at his side. “But when he started to sing, his baritone proved as powerful as ever.”
With the particular resonance of my parents’ background growing up in Glasgow (the home of OJ) and Paisley, and my time growing up in Edinburgh (Edwyn’s native city), it was a beautiful and inspiring night, and the copy of the post-stroke album, Losing Sleep, that I picked up, even exceeded expectations. I was reminded that, with humor and joy and love and popular music, the possibilities were, indeed, endless. I was able to grieve at last, and refueled to fight for a better future.
Until my stroke, that was one of the last good, racking sobs I’d had (not that it was sad — more, an emotional release and expression of gratitude for the good times). That’s changed in the past months — I cry quite a lot now. I can’t quite put my finger on why, since what seems to set me off most often seems to be happiness, and gratitude for simple acts of kindness, particularly by Beth. Which is unfortunate, since she just wants to see me better, rather than convulsed with tears.
So, I’ve looked into the issue, to find that uncontrolled crying after a stroke is common (the 1-year incidence is 20%), and I’ve been interested to find out why, given that, generally, I’m not feeling depressed, and that sadness doesn’t seem to be the trigger for the tears. Some quick online research seems to indicate possibilities that the issue, though unrelated to clinical depression, may have physical (“stroke-induced partial destruction of the serotonergic raphe nuclei in the brainstem or their ascending projections to the hemispheres”) or chemical roots. In any event, don’t feel bad if you find yourself more susceptible to tears. But, I’d reiterate the advice at the top of this post for anyone affected by stroke — please see your doctor if you’re showing any signs of depression — it has the potential to adversely affect your recovery. And don’t be defensive about mental health issues just because you’re British. That probably just makes you madder, you repressed nut.
At last, friends, let me leave you with this cheery story, about the transformative power of pop music, love and happy tears. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll have to sign off, before I get too misty-eyed.