Survivor Stories

Working My Way Back To Work After Stroke

Post on 03/12/16

Janelle Yeo acquired a physical disability because of her stroke. Her journey back to work was trying, but a desire stronger than her self-doubt spurred her to find a new job, and with it, renewed confidence.


Woman on a wheelchair with laptop, horizontal

As a stroke Survivor, my most challenging struggle was to be gainfully employed and financially-independent. I had a hemorrhagic stroke 15 years ago at age 38 and acquired right hemiplegic conditions. I lost my job and with fast depleting savings, getting employed again was my top priority.

However, I regained very few functions of my dominant right hand after three years of intense rehabilitation. I have to accept the reality that I could not use my right hand anymore. If I want a job, I have to start training my left hand. I bought kindergarten books on tracing and started practicing with my left hand. As my left hand got stronger, I started copying motivating phrases or stories. Every day, I practised one-handed typing using free software on the internet.

Low self-esteem and loss of self-confidence were my biggest challenges. I couldn’t face my friends, let alone go back to work. A lot of people know me in my neigbourhood as I was a kindergarten supervisor in two preschool centres, and also a grassroot leader for many years. I feared stepping out of my home and meeting familiar people.

A Desire Stronger Than Self-Doubt

But I thank my husband’s “cruel” love and persistence. He would wheel me around the neighbourhood every evening despite my strong protests. Of course, I cried tons of tears and would be depressed for many days whenever someone recognised me and started asking about my condition, or if they avoided me. Soon, these emotional outbursts got less frequent as people around me get used to the “new” me. Or, perhaps I became desensitised to the experience.

The next hurdle was my self-confidence. Could I still find work with one hand? Could I take all the work-related stresses? How would my colleagues see me? The more questions I pondered, the more I felt I couldn’t do it. But desire to lessen my family’s burden was stronger than my self-doubts and it spurred me to take my first step out.

I managed to join a sheltered workshop programme in a voluntary welfare organisation as a trainee administrative coordinator, despite strong disapproval from my family. They felt it was not worthwhile spending at least 10 hours working, including the travel time, for so little allowance. But to me, it was an opportunity to test myself after stroke.

My bosses and colleagues ended up making a huge impact on my self-esteem and confidence. They have been helpful, patient and understanding. There were many opportunities for training, and most importantly, I was allowed to grow at my own pace. Finally, I was accepted as a staff and went on to graduate with a diploma in business administration and earned a promotion.

One Step at a Time

My employment journey as a stroke survivor was not smooth sailing. Due to my condition, I had to overcome the same difficulties that a normal working adult faces, and much more. I wanted to give up many times but friends and colleagues would encourage me. I dried my tears, grit my teeth and carried on as I knew it was not easy for a stroke Survivor to hold on to a job while also having understanding and good bosses and colleagues.

Unlike 15 years ago, now there is much more funding and resources to assist people with disabilities to get training and employment. However, I also believe some people with disabilities need to manage their expectations. Some may not be able go back to their old job due to their newly acquired disability, while others may need to re-train or upgrade their skills. Whatever the reasons, I hope they persevere and don’t give up.

As Lao Tzu said: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” That one step is no easy feat for stroke Survivors. But many have done it, so it is possible. Just need to take a step at a time, though slow and painful but soon it becomes a mile!

By Janelle Yeo, Survivor.

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