I am pleased to present Julia Fox Garrison, a very funny woman who has rebuilt her life after suffering a near fatal stroke 14 years ago at the age of 37. She is now an author, motivational speaker and patient advocate. Her book, “Don’t Leave Me This Way Or When I Get Back on My Feet You’ll Be Sorry” attests to her witty, finding-the-humor in everything, personality.
“Your attitude is the only control you have left in your life – that and your nail polish color, of course.”
- What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?
I use humor to cope. I also grew up in a family of 8 brothers and no sisters, the only girl of 9. I think that prepared me for what I was going to face in my future. You can’t be a shrinking violet in that type of dynamic.
I’m very strong and I get my strength from all the support around me. I feel that I’ve been given qualities by God. My faith is what sustained me through the really tough times. I was never one to say, ‘poor me’. I hate the word ‘pity’.
Wow, that brings me right into the next question:
2. Did you go through a period of self-pity?
I never ever said ‘why me’. It was always, ‘this happened to me, let’s move on, what do I need to do.’ I talk about pity parties in my presentations. It’s important to have a pity party; I had them at night when no one was around as far as crying and trying to figure out where to go from here. I did suffer; not feeling sorry for myself, but I went through an identity crisis. I was in the corporate world climbing the corporate ladder and then a day later I’m fighting for my life, having brain surgery, coming out of that totally paralyzed on my left side. I couldn’t even feed myself, or go to the bathroom on my own without three nurses lifting me. Those were the things I felt sad about but I never felt ‘why me’. I know that that’s a gift.
What I asked of people when they came to see me was not to come in and say, ‘oh poor Julia, oh I’m sorry this happened’, because pity is really a worthless emotion. It does nothing for the recipient; it might be an emotional reaction for the person giving it but it’s not helpful. I made every effort to create an upbeat, positive and happy atmosphere in my hospital room (where I was for several months). I know it may have been a façade; of course it was because there I was drooling with a face like a melted candle, but I felt it changed the air of the room and made me not feel like I’m in a dire setting. So everybody who came across my threshold knew they had to bring a good joke. I used to get in trouble by the hospital staff because they were always saying, ‘is that room having another party?’ Because there would be so much laughter and that’s not a normal thing in a rehab setting.
- Did you have a strong support system in place? If so, how did that help you?
First of all, my son Rory, turned 3 years old just a few days prior to my stroke. He has always been my little sonshine of inspiration. He was the primary reason I worked even harder than I thought possible.
I never ate one hospital meal, except for breakfast. Every meal was provided by my family. Each of my brothers had a day that they came in, sat with me and fed me physically. And my parents were phenomenal. People who read my book think I made up my husband because he’s so good. I couldn’t have written him as good as he is. He’s the kindest, purest, gentlest soul. He and my mother; I think I married my mother. My husband is my left side that doesn’t work anymore. I feel like I can never complain because I’ve been given so much.
I’ve done a lot of radio shows and one host asked me, ‘you’ve been given so much support, what do you say to the people who don’t have that?’ I thought for a second and felt ‘geeze he just threw me under the bus’, because we were live on the air. Yeh, there are people who don’t have as much as I’ve been given and blessed with; but I think it’s about the choices you make in your life. Hopefully the choices I made prior to my stroke were what helped foster the positive relationships I had; and I didn’t do a one-sided relationship with people. I always tried to give as much as I could of myself.
- Was there a specific moment/thought/epiphany that helped guide you to a better place mentally and psychologically, or did it evolve over time?
After my brain surgery, the first words I said when I came to were, ‘I have a purpose. There’s a reason I am here; and I may never know that purpose but there is a reason. It has evolved in the sense that I thought I would never learn what that purpose was, but I do know it now. Every person on this earth has a purpose but not everyone gets the opportunity to learn what it is. Mine has come full circle for me. What I need to do is impact someone every single day.
During my emergency surgery, I had a vision of a girl climbing a ladder and the ladder had no beginning or end. This ladder represented my relationship with God; and I instinctively knew that I could stay on that rung or come back, albeit in a broken body (and I did ask for Beyonce’s body but He said no, clearly), and just keep working and climbing the rungs toward becoming a better person.
Five years prior to my stroke I had a dream that I was going to be in a wheelchair and that I was going to be a better person in this wheelchair. I think we all have some kind of intuitive projection of what can happen to us in the future; we just have to open to it and pay attention to it. I do pay attention to my dreams now; I’m looking for that lottery one now!
I am so wealthy in the lottery of life. I would never trade my life for anyone else’s.
5. What are your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?
Every day I get up I say thank you for another day. I truly feel that every day is a gift. It’s so cliché, but it’s so true. I have gratitude for everything. I think we cannot have enough gratitude for what we’ve been given.
Humor is my vehicle for getting through the day. My left-side neglect can get me in a lot of trouble. My brain doesn’t realize I have a left side; I’ve had some great fun with some of the predicaments it’s gotten me into.
It’s a choice – do I want to survive or be a victim. I don’t want to be a victim. Victims are underground. Everything is based on a choice.
For me happiness is a choice. That sounds so simple and basic but it takes a lot of work. Some days happiness doesn’t land in your lap, you have to really work at it.
I’ve learned not to be embarrassed. Embarrassment is what I think other people think of me. Nobody can judge me but God. So I’m free-spirited now. It has made me a lighter person in how I view things. When I’m true to myself I’m true to others.
I celebrate my ‘homage to my hemorrhage’ every year (July 17th) ; I have a party. It’s a day of reflection and of gratitude for these extra years. When people ask, how can I celebrate such a horrific day, I say, ‘that gives me power over it’.
- What advice would you offer someone going a rough situation, so they can come out intact?
It’s all about choosing how you approach it. My motto is positive outlook equals positive outcome. If you illuminate the positives, you’ll get more positive outcomes. It doesn’t mean the problems go away; the problems are still in the dark, but they’re in the shadow. They’re not getting as much power. What you concentrate on becomes more powerful.
I never talk about my deficits; it’s clear I have them but I don’t talk about them. I don’t think of myself as handicapped and that gives me a lot more freedom. If I think of myself that way, then I’ve handicapped my mind. And then I’ve handicapped my family, and it spreads. As a person surrounded by loved ones, those people are affected by everything you do.
One of my other messages that I think is important for anybody is to perform simple acts of kindness daily. When people think of doing something for another, they always think of it as something grand and sophisticated; but kindness is really simple and not sophisticated. I don’t think we do enough of that. We get caught up in routines and lose sight of humanity. That’s what we’re on this earth to do – to help each other.
We need to stop saying can’t, or at lease use the word ‘yet’ with it. That way you’re keeping the doors open to opportunities. We say ‘can’t’ so often that it’s become second nature in our conversation. So I can’t rollerblade yet, but I plan on it someday, maybe.
Thank you for stopping by and reading this interview posting. Please share Julia’s uplifting and insightful words and thoughts.