June 8, 2021

Hanne’s story: How my stroke taught me to get better not back to my old normal

By Hanne Sorteberg

To complement our ongoing fictional story, of how Anna Liszt is conquering her work, I’m delighted to share how Hanne’s stroke changed her life. In this post, guest blogger Hanne Sorteberg shares her personal story. How her work life changed forever due to a life changing experience.

Regular readers will remember that Hanne is a Digital Business Developer for Storebrand, with a background in customer insight skills including BI, CX and innovation. She has shared with us before on topics including giving feedback, virtual co-creation workshops and cultural fit.

I recently challenged our panel of regular guest bloggers to share their personal stories. I’m delighted to say that Hanne keenly took up the challenge and in this post is very open with us. Get ready to hear her real-world experience of how your working life can change in a moment. Over to Hanne to tell us in her own words…

The day my life changed forever

Everything was perfect in my life when I was 42 years old. I had a hectic family life with a wonderful husband and two lovely small kids, a charming old house that needed continuous care, family, friends and a career that seemed to sky-rocket. I was successful; a go-getter, a career person. Then I had a stroke.

I was suddenly lying in the intensive care unit, being waken up every hour to check my neurological responses from head to toe. It was a real nuisance. Then I realised the reason they did this is that I could get a new, more fatal stroke any minute. There was a real chance I would never wake up again. With this realisation there was just one thing that was still important to me. I called my husband (who was home with our kids) and told him to get a baby-sitter right away and come to the hospital. What I needed to tell him was that if I died, or lost my cognitive abilities, I wanted for him to find a new love, live his life, and not be bound by me. I was relieved and at peace when I had told him.

Of all everyday worries and cares, it all boiled down to this, to secure the happiness of my family.

How my stroke pressed pause on my working life

The stroke was caused by a rupture in a blood vessel in my head. The doctors could never explain why this happened to me, it can happen to anybody, even children. I was lucky. The prognosis when the condition stabilises is good. And the stroke didn’t affect any physical function. It just muddled my brain.

Many people suffer invisible damage after a stroke. Cognitive difficulties caused by the loss of brain tissue. I could function as before, but I was sensitive to light and noise, and would suffer from fatigue. At some point during the day – I would shut down and not be able to do a simple calculation, small talk, or have the energy to care for a small child.

But I was strong, I was going back! I would redeem my life, my energy and my career! I started out working part-time, in constant brain-fog and with no option but to go to bed when I got home. It was a struggle every day. My family suffered.

Learning to rest and learning from rest

Then I was offered a stay at a recreational hospital for patients with cognitive disabilities. A cross functional team supported me – a doctor, a nurse, a psychologist, and both a physical and an occupational therapist. And I had many other patients around me that struggled in the same way. I was not alone, and I was understood. It was like a big hug to arrive there.

A part of the therapy is to understand the brain and how the damage affects you. The turning point for me came when we were shown a graph of phases in recovery. It much resembles the phases of losing a loved one – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. At year seven it said “you accept the damage rationally, but not emotionally“. That’s when I understood. I was never going back. I broke down right there. And I was literally hugged – a whole team supporting me.

After this, everything changed for the better. I accepted. I had to redefine myself. I’d never be a career person again. I needed what energy I had to be a family person. A mom and wife.

Discovering my creative side and a better life

At the hospital they had an activity centre. Ceramics, photography, and painting. I always enjoyed painting when I was younger, but never found the time in my hectic life. So, I connected with a teacher, an established artist. I started to paint again.

From there, I began my journey forward in a search to get better, not to “get back”. I did a lot of research and experimenting on how to balance activities to get the most out of my energy level. Time and a better lifestyle healed me over time. Enough sleep, eating really well and a routine of yoga and a walk outside every day are key elements in how I accomplished this.

What does my better life look like?

This is my life now – almost ten years later:

  • I’m a much a more understanding and participating mom/wife – I believe I am a better role model
  • I took up my passion of painting – I am excited to have an exhibition in a gallery this summer, aided by my mentor, the artist I met at the hospital
  • I work full time! But I no longer let my ambition get in the way of delivering real value – to myself and my employer. I balance my days to handle the work-load, and coach my colleagues to do the same. I feel a greater reward when I contribute to other’s successes, I’m not the one who needs to shine.
  • Finally, I’m grateful for my stroke. I wouldn’t want to be without this experience. It has made me a better version of me.

How have you learned from tough experiences in your life?

Many thanks to Hanne for being so open & vulnerable. Great characteristics in a leader. I’m delighted to hear how she has learned from her stroke and embraced a better life as a result.

What about you? If you’re like me, I’m sure you’ve also suffered from some tough experiences in your life and the lives of those you love. Often, in business, we don’t talk about these and yet (as Hanne has shown) when embraced they can often be transformative opportunities. Has that happened to you? How have you improved your life or changed as a data leader in response? Do you have a story to share with other leaders?

I hope readers are also enjoying the personal stories that different data leaders share with me on the Customer Insight Leader podcast. If you have a personal story to share, like Hanne, please get in touch.

P.S. The featured image above this post is an example of Hanne’s new artwork. Another beautiful example of why it’s worth checking out her art gallery: