When Bridie Kirsopp woke up with a severe headache, which quickly developed into a blurred vision, vomiting, and leaving her unable to stand up, she knew she wasn’t well, but at 17, couldn’t possibly have guessed she was having a stroke.
Neither did her doctors, but five days later, a CT scan revealed she had a clot on her brain.
“I just never thought it could happen to someone so young,” said the fashion blogger, from Leeds, West Yorkshire.
Although Bridie, now 29, only spent a week in hospital, after she finally called an ambulance in December 2012, the clot dispersed with treatment, but twelve years on she is still suffering from severe physical and psychological side effects of the stroke.
She said: “When my pain is at its worst, that’s when I can’t bear anything touching me or I can’t use my hand.”
Immediately after her stroke, Bridie was left with severe fatigue and weakness on the left side of her body which, after a few months, developed into severe pain that “burnt from head to toe”.
Bridie explained she was offered no help to deal with the symptoms which she battled with daily.
“I was just such an anomaly without any proper support; you’re never told you’re going to have a stroke at 17 and no one else believes you can have one either,” Bridie said.
“I didn’t understand enough about strokes or the chronic pain condition I was left with. Looking back, I was quite naive and fearful and that played havoc on my anxieties.”
The severe side effects meant Bridie couldn’t enjoy being a teenager or do what her friends were doing as she entered her twenties.
She said: “I was just so caught up in healing and controlling my pain. I didn’t have time nor the good health to do the normal teen things like parties, dating and university. It’s all I’ve known through my most important years.”
Bridie, who will celebrate her 30th birthday next month, feels she has missed out on her youth and still has to manage how much she can do each day.
She said: “I don’t have any choice, I just need to limit myself and rest as much as I can.
“I still to make the mistake of taking too much on because I forget I don’t have a normal brain. I just need to listen to my body and accept it.”
As well as being left physically unable to do as much as her peers, Bridie’s psychological state has also suffered.
She said: “The mental impact has definitely been worse than the physical, and that is saying something with the debilitating pain I have.”
Bridie has undergone several years of psychotherapy to enable her to find a way of coping with everyday life, which includes never classing herself as a victim.
She said: “The word, victim, has negative connotations and puts emphasis on the suffering, making survivors seem weaker than they are. It puts the stroke above the person, even though they are doing all the work to get themselves back on their feet.
Bridie opts to use the term ‘survivor’ as a way of adapting to “her new self after trauma”.
She said: “I cannot imagine being me without my survivor identity. I’ve lost a lot, but gained so much more and I’ve figured out what truly matters in life.”
Bridie now works closely with Different Strokes, a charity helping young stroke survivors in the UK reclaim their lives.
Her neurologist introduced her to the charity after she had the stroke, but she didn’t get in touch with them until they were reintroduced in 2020.
She said: “I think I felt too ashamed. I didn’t want to admit that I was now actually a stroke survivor, especially because I was so young.
“I quickly noticed a difference in how I see myself and it made me feel less alone and gave me a sense of purpose.
Bridie now feels after her stroke she is wiser, kinder, more receptive, and more open-minded.
“The biggest thing is my ability to feel deep compassion and advocate for what’s right. Becoming marginalised completely changes you and your mindset.
“I feel like I’ve gained a superpower and I use it to my full advantage. The resilience I’ve carried has shaped me into the most authentic version of myself.”