This week, American actor Bruce Willis, aged 67, famous for blockbuster movies including the Die Hard series, announced he is taking a step back from acting due to aphasia.
While I don’t know the cause of his aphasia, I can relate, and have empathy for him and his situation.
I, too, struggle with this, on and off, since my stroke. I have word finding difficulties, or difficulty with word recall. The symptom is worse when I am tired (often), or stressed (also, often). It frustrates me and scares the shit out of me.
I have a job that requires me to give presentations time to time. I have one coming up in a few weeks. I’m also constantly in verbal and written communication with other healthcare professionals. It’s agonizing when I’m trying to remember a word while I’m on the spot. Panic rises and I know how stupid I must sound to the person on the other end of the line.
I also sometimes suffer from dysarthria, which is a speech impairment. I slur sometimes. Between these two things, I’m amazed I still have a job. I’m waiting for the day that someone I’m talking to thinks I’m drunk and asks my manger. I’m in constant fear that my calls are being audited and someone will find out that I’m a bumbling mess.
In reality, it’s probably not as bad as I think it is. It’s been five years since my stroke, and no one has ever said anything to me about this.
I can’t help but wonder about Bruce. When did it start for him? Did it gradually get worse? Will I gradually get worse? Will I have to retire early because of this?
It’s distressing to think about, to say the least.
For me, it’s definitely getting worse and not better.
I feel for Bruce Willis, and for everyone else who has to go through this. The helpless feeling of trying to remember a word on the tip of your tongue is agonizing. It happens to everyone from time to time, but for some brain injury survivors, it happens frequently.
I wish there was something we could do. I try to speak slowly and carefully. I find when I am animated and excited (like when talking to family, not at work) the symptoms are worse. It’s really the only thing that has helped me.
For now, I’m left wondering: who notices? What do they think about it? Are they as worried about my performance at work as I am?
Hopefully, as time goes on, I learn better skills to deal with this annoying side effect of my stroke.