When I was a kid, one of my favorite expressions was "Don't have a spaz," which I would say to someone who had lost emotional control. I didn't know it then, but spaz is a derivative of "spasticity," which is a common result of stroke. It describes a state of continuous, uncontrollable muscle contractions.
Absent the proper signals from my brain, my fingers clench into a fist. My arm curls toward my chest. My foot turns inward, pulled by tight muscles along my inner leg. My chest constricts like a steel band around my lung. Sometimes it's hard to breathe.
I am on two types of medication to counteract this problem – daily oral baclofen and quarterly Botox injections. They both ease but do not eliminate the symptoms.
My therapists tell me that I can learn to control the spasticity. For each movement, I concentrate on extending one set of muscles then contracting the opposing muscles. To straighten my arm, I focus on relaxing my bicep then recruiting my tricep. It's exhausting mental and physical work. I sometimes break a sweat just moving a can of tomato paste.
My no-longer neurologist told me that I'd be fighting spasticity the rest of my life. I'm not sure how that statement is supposed to help me. As someone who cultivated flexibility during 10 years of yoga, the idea of spending the next 30-plus years with half my body contracted totally makes me have a spaz.
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