Written by David Roland
When my stroke came, it took away parts of my brain that held memory, the parts that told me how to navigate to familiar places, how to understand speech and to respond. It left me feeling weak like an old man, swooning and bumping into things on my righthand side. It took away former joys too and one of those was being active in nature.
For me, swimming in the ocean, walking for kilometres through forest or along a shoreline, working in the veggie patch, running for cover during a rainstorm, were activities I took for granted, but after the stroke I could do none of these. Even bending down to pull weeds in the garden dropped my blood pressure, leaving me faint and dizzy. I couldn’t do yoga anymore because lowering my head brought on this same vertigo. After trial and error, I found that the only exercise I could manage was using Pilates equipment with the guidance of an instructor. She kept me horizontal or vertical without any sudden head movements. This started me on the road to physical recovery.
After weeks and weeks of Pilates and gentle walking, I progressed to swimming in the pool where the stable water level kept me safe from the up and down movements that would derail me. Then marvel of marvels, after months, I progressed to swimming in the ocean when the swell was not up. My walking improved too, and I could walk a few kilometres on flat ground going round and round our local sports fields.
It wasn’t only the physical exhilaration of being in nature that I craved, it was also the sensory quiet and the peace within that it gave me. If ever I was feeling tense or anxious, or overloaded, I always knew that sitting at the beach caressed by the swishing sound of waves, a dip in the ocean, a walk in the forest, or at least, a long walk through our town’s treelined streets would calm me. My recovery from stroke showed me how much I needed nature.