A Blessing in Disguise: Interview with Anita Hsieh
May 27th, 2021
Tina: Let’s start off with an introduction, what you are doing now, what you are doing before
Anita: My name is Anita and I’m from Ontario, Canada. I had a stroke at 24.
Tina: And how old are you now?
Anita: I’m 28 years old now. So it’s been four years since my stroke. A little bit about myself
pre-stroke… There was nothing much to recall… going to school studying, those things, and I
got a job after graduating from university, and I just started for… 8 months and my stroke
happened. I basically couldn't work afterwards. Thankfully my work was very accommodating,
so I was off work for one year, but I had a gradual return-to-work plan afterwards. I returned in
2018. So I would say my stroke was a shock to me, not expected, I didn’t even know strokes
could happen at a young age. I thought it was just people who were older or had health
conditions. I didn’t know what happened, since I don’t have the most typical conditions like
diabetes, cholesterol, or high pressure. I thought to myself that this is so random, and none of my
family, my grandparents has any stroke history, this is so random for me. So yeah, it’s been four
years now. I didn’t work for a year after my stroke. For four years I spent a lot of time focusing
on my health and recovery. I’m very grateful I had a team back them, had a lot of therapy and
physical therapy, psychologist, all those therapies. Now I'm back to work, but at least we get to
work from home because of covid.
Tina: Are you still with the company that you started off at?
Anita: Yes. I’m very grateful for my old manager, no longer my manager anymore but my
previous manager, I was very grateful that I had that.
Tina: After joining Voices of Brain Injury, I read about so many stories and came to realize that
it really can just happen out of nowhere.
Anita: When I was in the rehab center, after my stroke. I was definitely the youngest one, the
second youngest one was in his thirties. And I went after that, because he was considered young,
and after that is over 65. I felt so different. I couldn’t walk after the stroke, I was totally disabled
and couldn’t do anything by myself. That was.. I would say it was an interesting experience…
Tina: This is why it’s so great that you are doing this. To share with the world and to break the
Anita: Yeah, that’s why I wanted to do this because people assume donly old people get strokes,
and how important brain injuries were.
Tina: And moving right on to the meat of this interview, the nature of your injury, how it
happened, and what you were going through emotionally , physically, throughout that one year in
your life, of course as much as you feel comfortable.
Anita: I still remember it til this day, I don't think I would ever forget it… So I go to dance class
once a week, and on that day, I was just doing dance things and I was fine. And then I was
running errands. I went to Walmart, specifically Walmart, and started getting pain around my
neck and shoulder area. It was a different kind of pain, the one you think is muscle or sore ache,it was weird. When I went back home, I coulndt’ put on the seat belt because it was that painful,
even to just have it on my right shoulder. But I brushed it off, obviously I didn’t think it was a
stroke or something, I thought I must've injured a muscle really bad. I went home, and I took a
hot shower thinking it was just a muscle ache. But it was hurting for a good five hours. I
remember specifically afet my hwer, I'm assuming because it was a hot shower, I don't know if
that affected the artery or something, so the whole thing was that I had a clot. So I had an
ischemic stroke, I had a dissection, basically a tear in my neck in my artery, so that was clotting,
so no blood flow was getting to my brain or out of my brain. All of a sudden my right ear started
ringing very loudly. I was kind of delusional, felt like I was in an alternate dimension. So I called
911. Good thing it happened beforehand because right afterwards my speech, like I couldn’t
speak afterwards. So paramedics came and they did the fast check. Apparently my face was
drooping, they did the whole lift your arm things. I actually thought I lifted my arms up fine, but
I guess I didn’t, also a slurred speech. Yeah it was an out of body experience, good thing it was
very fast and I made it to the hospital very quickly. In time for everything so then the doctors did
their thing which I was not aware of. But I actually thought I was gonna die that day, I didn't
know what was happening to me. First they gave me some clot busting medications, and that
didn't work, so I went into surgery. I woke up a few days later , in the ICU, totally disoriented. I
couldn't really think and I didn’t have any thoughts because I see my mom, and doctors and
nurses ask you a lot of questions. That was basically my experience on that day.
I would say emotionally it didn’t kick right at the beginning. I didn't know what to feel.
Once I got transferred to the stroke rehab center, that’s when I felt like I understood what was
happening to me. The first thing I wanted to do was to research everything. But emotionally I
was very confused and frustrated. I looked up and asked. Like why me, why did this happen to
me. It was a long process. The first thing I really wanted to do is to walk. Again out of
everything I really just wanted to get up by myself. In the beginning you can see the progress
really quickly, but after the 6 months mark, you reach a plateau, like you’re still recovering, but
it takes longer. I thought I was gonna be better the next day, and be able to go to work the next
day. Even now, four years later, my right hand is still not at 100%, I would say I’m 90% good,
and still have some deficits.
Tina: Do you think the deficits will get better or are they perpetual?
Anita: I really wanted to be normal again, I wanted to go back to before the stroke, back to being
a 20 year old girl. I wanted to do things I could normally do, but I just accepted that I don’t think
I could ever be normal. I don’t think I want to go back anymore. I have come to terms with my
body and disabilities, I’m okay with the fact that I am a person with a disability. Before there was
embarrassment, judgement, and being ashamed. As Asians, you had to have [perfect], there’s old
people talk, with the aasian community,I felt that I have to improve and be better. I’ve come to
terms with that, but in the beginning I felt the pressure that I had to be a healthy young girl.
I would say the mental and emotional part is harder than the physical recovery part, for me. And
the feeling of benign judgment, embarrassment, and pressure.
Tina: Wow, this is my first time hearing about the Asian identity aspect of brain injuries.
Anita: Yeah, in questionnaires they always ask if you are a minority, then, what kind: female,
asian, I fit all the quiteria. People also say I’m such a rare case.The identity part added another
burden in the rehab process. As Asian, I was embarrassed with my Asian identity, and I always
hid that part of me, and to tie it with my stroke, I wanted to hide that part of me too because I felt
like there’s another added thing on my list. Because in my early twenties, just graduating from
university, there’s cliques so I had that mindset in the beijing. Now I'm 28, late twenties going
into thirties, so it sucked having my stroke, but it is also a blessing in disguise. I realized a lot
about being canadian, and a woman with a disability, especially the mindset, and people who are
minority also feel the same way that I feel. After that, my mom didn’t tell anyone in the asian
community. It’s hard to tell for me now, because I look completely normal. But my parents, they
accepted it eventually.
Tina: Was that disheartening?
Anita: Yeah, it added on to the burden. I felt like I was the burden to my family. Why did I
bring this to my family? For sure it was harder for my parents to accept it. It was the process of
grieving, denial, anger, and upset, and acceptance is the last thing. My mom is now worried
about me, that it could happen again. And as a woman, giving birth, and being pregnant has
increased risk because of estrogen levels. My mom was worried, because now that I’m at the age
of getting married. I have a boyfriend now, but before, is anyone okay with being with someone
with a stroke history. No one is going to love me as I am. But my boyfriend knows now. I don’t
really think in the future, I’m just trying to live in the moment now.
Tina: Is there anyone that helped you or inspired you during this journey?
Anita: Obviously the doctors that saved my life. But on top of the cultural thing, I would say my
mom. Love language is very different, and asian parents, it’s not words of affirmation but she
was there to bathe me and feed me. I didn’t like hospital food, so she brought me homemade
food everyday. I really appreciate her doing that. My mom and my grandma as well. They would
always be there with me in the rehab center. Without them I wouldn’t have recovered this fast.
Also my sister and dad, I know they were supportive of me too. My boyfriend inspired me in a
sense that he told me “to be a voice, not an echo”. Because I always hid everything, and I am a
rare case, so I should talk about it and share it and raise awareness. When I got vaccinated, the
nurse worked on the stroke floor, and she had so many questions for me because I am such a rare
cse, because it can happen to anyone in their twenties, teens, or thirties.
Tina: Are there any resources that you feel is important to share with the Brain Injury
Anita: The book A Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. She was a doctor and also had a brain
injury, and she wrote this book and did a ted talk. That was really inspiring for me. And also
HeART of Stroke. The rehab center gives a booklet from HeART of Stroke. Googling helped me
a lot. Especially the women’s part. I’m the type of person that wants to know everything and
wants to be in control of everything. I did my due diligence in research.
Tina: Were you able to hear about other people’s stories during your journey?
Anita: Yeah there was a lunch table at the rehab center. My therapist told me to share, but I was
not ready at that time. I think it was hard, especially a community that was younger, in their
twenties or something. That was really hard. I met a woman in her thirties, that was the closest at
that time. Still, as a female, it was interesting, because her stroke also happens after a hot shower.
Hers was from birth control, which was why I researched so much on females, because we react
so differently compared to males. Not a lot of people in my category…
Tina: Any final reflections?
Anita: Yeah I’m still living with this, it's a blessing in disguise and I wouldn’t want to wish it
upon anyone. But I feel like life has its ways, it's meant to be, there's reason and purpose, and I
really try to appreciate it. Trying to find the good out of it, which helped me a lot through the
rehab process. You know, don’t give up and it will be better in the long run.
Interviewed by Tina Yang