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Exploring The Ways You Can Heal Yourself with Sylvia Arellano
Here on the show, one of the core principles we work with is this idea of exploration when it comes to health and wellness specifically as it relates here but in general just exploration in your life and what that means. To me exploration has always been the most fun part of the health and wellness process and to me there’s a quote that really embodies the idea behind exploration. Not thinking about exploration as, “I’m trying to find that one thing that I can stick to for the rest of my life and everything’s going to be sunshine and rainbows,” but rather thinking of exploration as this continuous process of self-discovery. Creating this deeper relationship with yourself through trying new things and seeing what resonates with you and what doesn’t.
The guru who is Bruce Lee has a quote that embodies this idea and the quote says, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.” To me, this embodies this idea, not just of exploration, but also of the learning process. Accept what resonates with you, accept what works for yourself, your beliefs and what you’re trying to accomplish in your life. Reject what doesn’t because you don’t have to accept everything and then synthesize and create, “What is my special sauce? What is it I need to succeed to fuel myself? What keeps us all going is all individual. Why I got to get out of bed is going to be way different than why anyone else gets out of bed. That’s the fun part of the entire process of mastering our health and wellness is this idea that I got to figure out what works for me.
I want to master the basics. I want to understand health at a fundamental level, but what speaks to my soul? What gets me fired up to keep pushing, to keep growing and to keep pursuing that next level? To me, this has always been the process of exploration because there’s always another stone unturned. There’s always something deeper and more insightful you can learn about yourself and evolve yourself. I figured probably it’s because I spent a lot of time as a kid reading the book, Curious George, so I’ve always been curious about what I can possibly get into.
The reason we’re talking about exploration is because of our guest, Sylvia Arellano. She’s a physical therapy assistant who’s been working in the profession for many years. She specializes specifically in neuro rehab and stroke recovery. That’s how we know her. We know her through Sean. She was one of Sean’s physical therapist during his stroke recovery. What I love about her first is her compassion and her drive to be there for people. Why I talk about this in terms of exploration is she was always encouraging Sean to try something new in terms of healing.
If you are new to the podcast and you don’t know who Sean is yet, Sean is the other person you’ll hear on the podcast with Sylvia and he is part of our team. He is a stroke warrior himself and has been working on sharing his recovery throughout and Sylvia was one of the therapists that helped him to heal and recover. She had a unique approach. She very much knows the traditional physical therapy and the body and the mechanics and how it all works. Beyond that, she was always trying to cater to what inspired the individual. This is applicable to all of us, whether we’re going through a serious health crisis or we’re trying to improve in our lives. It’s about personalizing our experience to who we are through this process of exploration.
First, understanding who we are and what lights us up in life but then staying true to that and trying to keep exploring. As Bruce Lee would say, “Absorbing what is useful for you.” Holding on to those nuggets throughout life and to me, that’s really the type of person that Sylvia is, what she embodies and is this idea of tailor your healing to yourself. When you do that, you’re going to make leaps and bounds, more progress than if you’re trying to follow in someone else’s footsteps. Without further ado, please listen to the wonderful and inspirational, Sylvia Arellano. Please share this episode with someone who could use this inspiration and this motivation in their life. Thank you and enjoy.
Welcome to the show, Sylvia. How are you doing?
I’m doing good. Thank you for having me.
It’s a party. It’s not always we have a guest in person. Sometimes we’ll do one remote, so it’s nice to have you here in person and in the flesh to have some fun.
We’re ready to take this on.You only live once. One of my patients said, 'You’re wrong. Technically, you only die once but you live every single day.' Click To Tweet
Seany, how are you doing?
I’m good. I’m excited to have her on the show. My Sylvia, everyone knows of you from everything we’ve done together for quite some time.
For anyone who doesn’t know who you are, just a quick background on who you are, what you do and we’ll go from there.
My name is Sylvia Arellano. I am a physical therapist assistant who has been working in the field for many years. My main part of physical therapy was doing neuro rehab. That was my love. I started to work with stroke patients, head traumas and I focused on the neuro part of rehab of people after they’ve had a stroke. That’s how I got to meet Seany. We met each other in 2012. I was working at the outpatient for Providence Tarzana Hospital and he came into our outpatient seeking outpatient neuro rehab. Dr. Chow had told him that we had neuro-rehab there. He came in here and he was not a very nice person at the time and that’s okay. When I say nice, it was a lot to deal with when you have a stroke and especially when you’re very young. He looked at me and he said, “How old are you?” I said, “It doesn’t matter how old I am.” He’s like, “You can’t be my therapist. You’re not old enough to know enough stuff.”
I thought she was 25 or something.
I said, “I will be your therapist and you will be quiet and we will get this thing started.” I said be quiet in a nice way. I told him, “You’re going to shut up.”
I like that because you took control of the situation. You said, “I’m your therapist. Get ready because we’re going places.”
You have to do that. You have these people who have suffered head trauma or stroke. It changes your life and there are many different stages to a stroke. Western medicine is there to help you and they saved your life but the aftercare is what was hard. Some people don’t always get that and some people don’t have people believe in them and you’re going to get doctors to tell you, “After a year, if you don’t get a lot of return, you’re not going to get it back.” That’s not true. That’s BS because I’ve seen people after five, six years get returned back. It takes time. Everybody’s body is different. Everybody’s mind is different. The brain is amazing because it could do many things that sometimes it’s unexplainable and I’ve seen miracles happen.
If you continue to move forward and get the help and the stimulation, I think you can conquer whatever you want. Sean, you have seen that because they said you weren’t going to walk and you weren’t going to be able to talk. When you first came walking into our outpatient, you used to walk like a crab. When I say crab walking, you were walking side, your strong side and your cane and then your affected side followed you and you dragged it on. You used to wear sunglasses because the light was a lot of stimulation. The noise was very hard for you to process and that’s normal in somebody who’s had a stroke or head trauma. Everybody reacts a little bit different, but it takes a while to rewire that brain and to create the neuroplasticity that the brain needs to heal and make progress.
How did you first get into more of the neuro aspect of healing versus other forms of physical therapy?
Right out of school, I dug myself into trying to learn every aspect that’s out there. I thought I wanted to do pediatrics. I did an internship with peds and I liked it, but it was really hard. It was emotionally hard. At that age, I was young and I didn’t know if I wanted to be in that emotional stage of with these kids because you don’t only have the emotion of the kids, but you have the emotion of the parents too. I think I wasn’t mature to handle that at that time. I did everything. I did orthopedics, I did cardiology, I did oncology and I had these amazing mentors that were great at neuro and they started to explain to me. They asked me, “Do you want to try this? We need a therapist in the rehab center.”
I used to work at Encino Hospital when they had the best rehab center out here in the Valley. It’s no longer there. The dream team is gone. That’s what gave me my love for neuro rehab. To see how we can create and retrain the brain and give people hope and progress to recover. At that time, that was in the early ’90s, around there or mid-‘90s. We did the NDT, which is called Neurodevelopment Technique and we stepped out of the box. We did a lot of different things and a lot of it had to do with the amazing mentors that were showing us and guiding us in doing what we did. We interviewed our patients and we asked them, “What it is that you like to do?” We found what they like to do so that we can tap into that and not make therapy a chore but make therapy fun.
What was that technique you mentioned?
Is part of the process figuring out what someone likes to do?
No, I think we stepped out of the box. We did a lot of unconventional things. We did a lot of things that weren’t the normal playbook thing like, “You’ve got to do this.” A lot of the old ones where it’s like you slap a knee immobilizer on the leg that is flaccid so that you use it as a strut versus allowing normal movement. The important thing is creating normal movement so that when you get the muscle return and you make the connection, you create the neuroplasticity, you rewire the brain because that’s what it is that you created in a normal movement. That’s important. You want to get back to normal movement but you don’t want to start teaching them how to compensate. The problem is that they don’t teach you that in school. You learn that through experience, trial and error.
I don’t think it’s trial and error. I think it’s figuring out that what works for one person may not always work for another person. Learning to do that and weight-bearing and getting the therapy in there. Sean had a very hard time with noise and light and sensitive and some patients don’t. Some people you have trouble because they’re aphasic, they can’t speak. The stroke affected their language part in the brain. You have different obstacles with different patients. You have to figure that out. The mentors that teach me that was we didn’t treat the diagnosis. We treated the individual. That’s the key thing. In school, they teach you to treat the diagnosis but we flipped it around and treated the individual.
I think that’s an awesome way to approach healing because just in my experience as a personal trainer and working with clients, I came to realize that everyone has some different issue or little secret sauce in their life that’s either holding them back or something they do that speaks to them. Just hanging out with Sean too realizing and watching him go through his process, how important it is to find things in your life that inspire you and allow those to carry you to where you want to go. It doesn’t matter what it is. You mentioned talking about what people enjoy doing and work with that. If you find that little inspiration or that moment, you start to basically get them excited about something. I don’t know. Did you have that experience of people, “We’re more excited to do this because I love doing it, so I’m going to keep going?”
Yes, we had a patient who was a karate instructor who had a stroke and came to us. We brought up the mats and we did karate movements and karate stance because that was familiar with him and that gave him that hope and that faith.
Are you a yellow belt now?The brain is amazing because it could do many things that are sometimes unexplainable. Click To Tweet
I think I stopped at orange. I did kickboxing and I stopped at orange. I haven’t done it in a long time. We found what people like to do. I had a private patient of mine who collected cars. He loved cars and his love was to go out and wash his car. I hit the road with him. I didn’t know how to engage him anymore. He didn’t really think that he was making that progress. I came in and said, “We’re going to go wash your cars now.” He’s like, “I can’t.” “You can. It may not be the prettiest. We may get wet.” We went out there and I made him wash his car and his eyes shined and he got excited and he had movements. He was able to shift his weight a little bit because he was doing what he loved. We washed cars and I was soaked from head to toe but that wasn’t the point. It was fun.
For the people you’re working with, this sounds like an incredible way to connect them with who they are to help the healing process. It’s almost like you are approaching this from a place of creativity and inspiration yourselves. You always got to be working with a client in some new interesting, fascinating way. In my head, it’s like it almost allows you the space to, “Yesterday we were doing karate and now we’re washing cars.” It’s almost like you’re creating an environment through their own creativity to help people heal on a different level.
It was a great team that we had and I think that’s what made me fall in love with neuro. Stepping out of the box and we had some doctors say, “What are you doing? This is ridiculous. This isn’t therapy. How are you going to make the patient get better?” We had doctors saying, “If it’s working, it’s working.” This is not written in a book, you don’t learn this in school. You learn it with experience. You learn it with mentors and you do it. The sad part is it’s hard to get good after-care in a rehab center because when I first started doing acute rehab and people would come and stay with us for three months. This was in the ’90s. You’re lucky if you get seven days. What are you going to teach someone who’s freshly stroke and is paralyzed on one side of their body and can’t move it, who can’t sit up, go to the bathroom, stand up and has trouble concentrating? Some of these can’t talk because it affected their speech. Some can’t eat and you have ten days.
It’s impossible. You can give hope but what she’s talking about is so true. The fact why we even started doing the Move-to-Improve and why now we interviewed someone who’s doing NextStep Fitness. Have you heard of that?
It’s a guy named Janne Kouri. He was diving into the ocean and he hit a sandbar and broke his neck and ended up paralyzed from the neck down. Through his own experience, he started facilities to make treatment more accessible to people called NextStep Fitness. I think they’re up to six or eight around the country. It’s providing access to therapy so that people can not only connect with the community but have access to these beyond seven days. They’ll pay 70% for the people who are coming in. They try and make it as affordable and accessible as possible because seven days, ten days, what are you going to do in seven to ten days? You can’t even make a habit in seven to ten days.
It’s not possible. You fought my insurance for months. You’ve got me days and days because of you.
The most important thing after suffering any acute illness but mainly a stroke, is to have somebody on your side that’s going to be a good advocate. I remember with outpatient they would say, “He’s done.” Then I called one afternoon and I got somebody from his insurance company and they say, “We’re not going to pay any more. That’s it. He’s been going for X amount of weeks or months.” I said, “He’s making progress.” The problem is when you’re dealing with people with a brain injury, the progress can be minimal and it’s small steps, but small steps make big movements and the problem is it’s expensive. Companies don’t want to pay for a long period of time and everybody’s brain heals differently.
The progress is slow but it could happen. People can get better, but the cost of it is outrageous and that could be a whole different subject with the way healthcare is and the way things are. Everything is super expensive. Medicine is super expensive. Why? Because somebody out there is making a lot of money when they shouldn’t and they put money over a human. Going back to getting more authorization for him and they go, “I am sorry, you can’t.” I go, “Okay.” I said, “Will you be there tomorrow?” She goes, “No, I’m going on vacation. I’ll be back in a week.” I said, “You have a very good vacation.” The next morning I called, I spoke to somebody else. I said, “I am the therapist for Sean and I’m trying to get more authorization. He’s making this much progress.” She goes, “How much do you want?” I said, “Can we get three months?” She goes, “Fine.” I tried a different person. I didn’t stop. Sometimes with my other patients, I would call different times of the day to try to get a different person because a lot of times and I don’t blame these people. They’re trained to do their job. They have to do their job. Just because you see a patient on paper, they don’t know who that person is. I’ve pulled this card before and I said, “If this is your mom, wouldn’t you fight and want her to get more therapy?” If I had to pull the mom card or the dad card or your kid card to get my patients more therapy, I did whatever it took.
I like you. You’re tenacious.
She saved my life.
What you’re saying is you connect with your patients and you’re driven by this intense love, compassion for their healing, their recovery, their step-by-step efforts and you’re hounding the insurance companies. You’re the one that’s fighting for these patients who can’t always fight for themselves.
She speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves and she stands for those who can’t stand for themselves.
You have to have the will to be able to want to do it. You have an obstacle with a lot of patients. There are some patients who give up and you try to be the best to be their cheerleader and maybe it’s a situation at home. There are a lot of people who don’t have a support system, who don’t have the funds. Some of these people who don’t have insurance to get the help that they need and they’ll sit in a chair until the day that they die.
I’m curious to know what keeps you going? It’s got to be very challenging to keep showing up in this capacity for not just one person like Sean, but for all of your patients and fighting for them. What keeps you charged on this course?
It’s trying to figure out the puzzle. I look at it as the more difficult patients’ deficits are, that means I have to work harder. It is hard. You take a lot of it home. I burned out. I did and I’m going to be honest, I had a burnout. I haven’t done neuro rehab in about four years, because I hit burnout and then in those four years I lost my father and it was very tough. A lot of it was if I have the power to do what I can for this patient, I’m going to do it. Why? Because I know what these patients go through, but I’ve never had a stroke. Your life changes. I know that. I can tell you everything and the different stages of a stroke, but I haven’t had a stroke, so I can’t 100% say I know how it feels because I don’t.
There would be times where when I was a student, I would go home and say, “I’m going to pretend I can’t move my arm because I wanted to feel what these patients could feel so I could better understand that.” A lot of what keeps me going is my dad instilled that in me. He always said, “When you do something, you give it 100%. If your first job is you have to wash toilets, you wash that toilet like it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.” In Spanish, she used to say, “Echale ganas,” meaning give it all you’ve got. That’s what keeps me going.
I want everyone to take a moment and soak that all in because there’s something so profound in that, which is take what’s before you and put 100% of what you do. You put 100% of your heart and soul into that.
With age and with experience, you learn lessons. I don’t think they’re failures, they’re lessons. You learn from it and you gain the experience from it. It’s not a quick fix. It’s an ongoing thing. I think I wrote a few things down. I think the most important thing is you have to have faith and hope. You have to have faith, you have to fight for it. You have to have the attitude, you have to have the I can, you have to be tough and you have to have hope. With hope, you have to have others push you every day and faith and hope will bring you progress.
It’s very poignant. What is faith to you?
Faith is believing that you can do whatever you want, believing that you have an energy or you have God or you have a spiritual calling to be able to do whatever you want. Faith is every day getting up and doing the best that you can. I had one of my patients tell me this and we hear this all the time. People say, “You only live once,” and I said that and she said, “You’re wrong. Technically you only die once, but you live every single day.” That hit me so hard. It was a good hit. She’s right. I was like, “That is totally right.” We always say you only live once. No, you live every single day. Every single day you have to wake up and echale ganas.Small steps make big movements. Click To Tweet
I’ll say something to you. We did things so outside the box. We went on hikes, we went to the beach where I didn’t want to walk on the sand. You took me to a place because you want to find my joy and my happiness because I was so angry and so depressed and such in a dark space. You bought the light and the divine into my life. Thank you for that, Sylvia.
You’re welcome. We did a lot of crazy things and out-of-the-box things. I took you driving for your first time.
In a car or in the golf cart?
I learned to drive in the golf course with my dad at the club and then I got in the car with you and totally got spun around.
To make this clear for your audience, Sean did go through the DMV program and he took the test and we got his license again. You don’t want to get in a car and do that. We can be funny and talk about this, but on a serious note, you need to make sure that you don’t get in a vehicle and just go drive. We went out and we drove. Let me tell you, I’ve never prayed so hard in my life. I was like, “My children are going to be motherless.”
The brain was rewiring and I still didn’t know my left from my right at times, I think. It was too early and I get asked this question a lot, “Seany, when did you drive?” I can’t put a timetable on anything. I tell everyone wait as long as you possibly can.
It’s funny that you say you didn’t know your left from your right. I have a little bit of dyslexia and I don’t know my left from my right, so both of us in the car. We were going to go for lunch and we ended up on the 101 and on the freeway. I’m like, “Oh my God.” You did well, but I think it was because I knew the deficits that you had at that time and I was like, “What am I doing? You are crazy.” People used to tell me, “You’re crazy.” I had a lot of people look at me and say, “Are you doing silly therapy? I don’t think that’s right.” I think I was dancing to my own beat, but then now that I look at it, I think everybody was dancing. I think everybody else was dancing on their own beat.
You took me to a shopping center where I had to walk around. We went to Ventura up to the Outlets and it was the hardest day because the people stimulation, the walking in and out of stores, but that rebuilt the muscle in my brain. Believe it or not, that rebuilt me because I didn’t have the endurance. My eyes were still nystagmus or is that what you call it?
You still had some tracking issues, but a lot of it is I took you out of a controlled environment and put you in real life. I think that’s the hardest part for a lot of head injuries or stroke patients is you get them in a gym or you get them in their house or you get them in the clinic. It’s a controlled environment. You can control the noise, you can do that. When you go out and we take for granted the small little things of parking your car or finding a parking, going up the curve, opening the door, watching people go by, sitting on a table, all the noise going around and having to read a menu, “What do I want to eat?” Sitting uncomfortable and my arm is not going right. There are many things that are going in and they have to process it. When you have a normal brain that’s no problem but when you’ve had a stroke, it’s a big major problem. It’s like you get being dropped into a foreign country and say, “Okay, go,” and you don’t know the language and you don’t know anything of that situation for somebody who’s had a stroke. We went driving the first time. It was our first time out. I think we ended up in the Pacific Palisades.
That’s a good memory.
Because it just hit me.
It sounds like a confusing place to drive even if you don’t have a brain injury.
We’ve gone to Sunset and now I do it all the time. I drive every day if I have to but the first time, it was so long and I didn’t understand the concept of time. My anxiety was out there. Sylvia, I have to ask you something because I get asked a lot about this too. How do you deal with spasms with someone who’s coming off a stroke? What do you do besides massage?
A lot of weight-bearing. Weight bear the limb. After you have your stroke, you get stabled and you’re ready to do the therapy, the most important thing is weight bearing on your affected side. If it’s flaccid, some people will have spasticity. Weight bear as much as you can because weight-bearing gives you the sensory input to create the neuroplasticity to rewire the brain and send that information. Our hands and our feet were made for sensory input. When you don’t have those messages go into your arm then you don’t have those messages go into your leg. Weight-bearing is the most important thing to help get control and to help stop the spasticity in the arm.
You put me in a plank, you had me do a lot more stuff with the arm and the hand at the time and it was painful. Like anything else, we got through it. Sam Morris said, “Just when you think you got somewhere, there’s another level that’s deeper, more stuff that you’ve got to get clear up.” As soon as you get this next step, there are twenty more below that and the courage to keep going and to keep digging in on it. Sam is a full paraplegic from the waist down. He had no feeling from anything. He was on the show and now he teaches breathwork and he’s a life coach and he is next level. When he speaks, the room shuts down. We listen to him.
You’re an inspiration to others. I’ve heard some of the other podcasts and when you had your stroke, you were young. There are not a lot of support groups out there for people who had strokes very young. Usually, when people have strokes, they are 70, 80 years old and usually retired. When you’re the main breadwinner of your family, the head of the household, your life is going perfect and sometimes you’re in perfect health and you think you did everything and you have a stroke for whatever reason you had a stroke for. There are not a lot of support groups because I remember we’re trying to find a support group for you and you went to a few and you’re like, “Sylvia, I can’t go to them. I can’t go back.” I knew why. You go, “They’re all 80 years old in a wheelchair,” and here you are, 41 years old. There are not a lot of support groups for people who have had strokes very young and getting to understand that here you are in your prime life raising your children and you have a stroke and your life changes.
It’s funny you say this now on the show, but my daughter who is now eight is sitting behind us. I didn’t have a relationship with her the first four years of her life because I wasn’t able to engage with her because the noise, the sound and light. I was able to imprint on my second child and now we have this relationship that is unique to most others. We have a bond and that’s so common too with people. Once you get through a traumatic experience, you not only lose your limbs at times or your speech or your eyes, you lose your family around you and you were my family. Your daughters, Nick, Melissa, Stephanie and Junior, you guys took me in. Thank you because I came from a nice family. It was tough with what was going on at the time. My mother was sick and she was on her road to heaven, as I say now and it was hard. Thank you for being there because what you do and what and how you touch people is outstanding.
Thank you. It’s nice to hear that because I did get burn out and I got to a point where I’m like, “What am I doing?”
It’s a thankless job. It’s not like a fireman or a police officer where they go up every day and they show up. Then the first one to be pointing the finger to and you stood out from everybody else and said, “We’re going to do this.” She tried things that weren’t norm, which is okay and it worked for me.Faith is believing that you can do whatever you want. Click To Tweet
We found things to work. We used to do the Wii. We used the Wii a lot to work on balance. On the Wii, the games you can do different balance stuff, but I also used it for the visual part, the coordination part. He had to engage and watch the screen and then have his body move it. We played the game and you get a score and stuff. I wasn’t too worried about the score. I was more worried about that visualization. It’s like when you’re playing baseball, you’re going to hit that ball or softball. It’s visual. Can you make contact with that eye? The best hitters are the ones who could do that.
What she’s saying though with the Wii, which is so interesting is the first time we did it I think I was exhausted. I passed out. I was so tired. Mentally you don’t realize what goes on and it’s like with CTE. You know all about that. These guys with head traumas, it’s all relatable but it’s the focus because I wouldn’t be able to sit here with you the first time we met. I would have been crying or hysterical because I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t stay here.
We used to patch your eye. Not only the affected eye, but the other eye. There are a lot of many different things that you can do into neuro rehab. It saddens me that there are not as many neuro rehab facilities out there because it’s scary.
What I’ve noticed is it’s a hard aspect of health to wrap your head around literally and people avoid it because it takes a deeper understanding of yourself and someone else to be engaged in the neuro rehab. Oftentimes it goes beyond just the physical body. It goes into your thought patterns and how is everything wired in your system to engage and react. Basically, what you’re doing is you’re helping someone to rewire their brain and regrow the parts that were damaged through the neuroplasticity. It’s like taking on a monumental task, not just in understanding, but also creating the environment where someone can rewire their own system because it is such an individual specialized process.
It takes a village to raise a kid. It takes a village to help those from a brain injury get better. It takes your doctors, it takes your family, it takes your loved ones, it takes friends, it takes therapists and it takes your nutritionist, your dieticians, everybody. Whoever you can, your neighbor, the mailman, you give credit to everybody. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of people that have that access. That’s the hard part. You get to a point where I used to take it to heart and I was like, “I want to try to save everybody.” In a perfect world, in this real world and not even a perfect world, you can’t, it’s hard. You could only do what you could do. You come along and if I was rich and I didn’t have to work to pay my bills, I would donate my time. I can’t do that. It’s hard. There are many times that I had to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help. I can’t do that.” Not because I didn’t want to, but I didn’t have the time to do that.
You said you at one point or maybe several points, you got burned out. How did you deal with being burned out?
I love to hike, so I would go and hike in nature and take some time for myself. I’m so used to helping others and being a caregiver that as most caregivers we forget about ourselves. We have to remember that if you do not take care of yourself, with your health and your mind, body and soul, you’re going to crash. We have to be able to take care of that, take time, take our time off and take a vacation. Even if you don’t go to exotic, just a stay vacation, go out to the beach and unplug. Especially now with everything, our phones and phones are getting smarter, but sometimes they’re making us dumber. Just unplugging, going out and doing what you want to do, what you like to do.
What are some of the things that you do for your own self care?
I do hiking. I like to go camping. I love the beach. I go to the beach and take walks and sometimes going to the beach by myself, sitting by myself and doing that. Give me alone time because every day when I work with my patients or my clients, I’m always teaching them. I’m always telling them. I’m always talking so sometimes I don’t want to talk. It’s silence.
You’ve got to get away and find your happy place it sounds like.
Yes and music. I’ll dance around to any kind of music. I’ve learned to do that.
At home where nobody’s watching?
At home, in the car, anywhere.
That’s how I’ll start my day sometimes. Put some music on, dance it out when nobody’s watching. Nobody needs to watch.
A lot of it is also I’ve learned to get in touch and open my space into feelings. My dad died years ago and it’s been tough. There are some days that I wake up and it’s hard. I’m sad. I’ll turn on music, a song that reminds me of my dad. I’ll cry my eyes out. I’ll let that sadness flow through my body and engage in it. What happens is a lot of people don’t do that, so it gets stuck in you. That’s important because sometimes, you were very angry or you would have pain. Sometimes the pain is not true pain, it’s an emotional pain. It’s that fear of I don’t think I could do it. I don’t think I want to do that. I’ve learned that a lot. We have to embrace our feelings. When you’re sad, be sad, don’t get stuck there. When you’re angry, be angry. If you’re angry, go for a run or punch a punching bag or something and let it out. I remember I had uncles and stuff like, “You’ve got to be tough.” I grew up with four sisters, no brothers. My dad had five girls. I was also taught, ” You need to be tough. Don’t show your emotion sometimes.” I think you need to show your emotions. I think the older I get, I show my emotions so sometimes I’ll be doing something or say something and my daughter goes, “Why are you crying?” because I’m showing my emotions.
I think the emotional side of health is hard for people. One, because it’s very misunderstood, but also because feeling your emotions isn’t accepted. You can’t walk out the door and start crying because people will look at you, “Why are you crying?” You put it so cheerfully and happily. I’m feeling my emotions. I think there’s this unnecessary connotation where people think that crying is a bad thing. It’s just an emotion and it is what it is. I don’t know. I’m on the board with you where I come from the perspective of stop labeling, “This emotion is good and this emotion is bad and I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I should be feeling this way.” Just feel the way you’re feeling and understand, “This is where I am right now, but this isn’t where I want to be and this is where I’m going to work towards being but right now I have to be right here in this emotion. As soon as I get through this, then I can move on to where I want to be.
Having a stroke or a brain injury is a very emotional roller coaster. You have your highs and you have your lows. Life is but dealing with after stroke is very emotional and there are different stages. People are very angry. When I worked with you, you were very angry and it was hard for you. We stopped working for each other for about two, three years and now that I see you, as I told you, you gave rebirth. You’ve learned to accept your emotions. You’ve learned to accept. You’re not angry anymore.
What I learned was I had to open up my heart. I had to heal my heart because if I didn’t heal my heart, Sylvia, I could never heal my body. It is so connected and you tried to teach me that and you did. I meditate now. I visualize and the silence is okay. Just to breathe, take a breath, stop, go and let it out because there’s nowhere to go, there’s nothing to do. We used to go 180 miles an hour a minute and now if I go even 55, I can get a lot more done in 55 than I can at 120 because I would drive you crazy. I drove everyone nuts and that’s pre-stroke too, which I had come to terms with. I had to realize. What good is that going ever to be if I’m always going so quick and so fast. The stroke happened for a reason to bring us together.
I will say this too. Sylvia, if it wasn’t for you, this podcast would not be happening and my other show, 5 Minutes with Seany. It started by us fooling around. I came in there and I said, “You’re going to hold my phone and start recording.” She goes, “Why?” I said, “I don’t know. We’re going to start recording.” She was holding it the wrong way and I said, “You’ve got to hold it landscape versus vertical.” You go “What are we doing?” I said, “I don’t know.” The next thing you know, I’m trying to walk a ladder. I’m trying to do other things. She became I had to say my everything because I didn’t want speech therapy. The OT was great, we love them but Sylvia knew to push me. I wanted to get an arm bike, I wanted to do this and I want to do that. Now, whatever God brings in front of me, I will try but I’m not searching for the ultimate cure anymore. I don’t need it.
I’ll tell you right now what I see in you. You stopped looking for the why, “Why did this stroke happen to me?” Many times we want to know, “Why?” Sometimes you just got to let that why to go and do it. You let go of the, “Why did this stroke happen to me? You had many times where you would say, “I don’t know why I lived.” I would say, “You have a purpose to live here. Why? Because you have children.” That was your why, your kids. You would say, “I can’t even hug my daughters, I can’t carry them,” but you can still see them in present flesh.Silence is golden. We tend to make ourselves so busy that we need to stop and listen to the divine energy that is out there. Click To Tweet
Depression is worse than the actual physical side of the stroke. You’ve just experienced it and you walked through it. You went through it with your father, you said. You lost your dad. Tell me about that because I know we lost the contact and I tried to reach out me being persistent as I was and I’m sure you went through some serious pain.
I did. I got angry because cancer took my dad’s life and I wasn’t ready for that.
I get it. I understand. It took my mom. What people don’t realize is you were working on me. I got better and then you worked on my mom and she got worse. I’ll never forget my mother telling me before she left. She goes, “You drive now. You drive to therapy. Don’t ask her that.” I don’t know if she was right or wrong, but I almost killed Sylvia on the way but you started to work on my mom. Tell me about that.
It was hard. It was hard to work on your mom than you and I’ll tell you why because I knew your mom before she got sick. I didn’t know you before you got sick. A lot of my patients, I didn’t know them pre-stroke. I see them when they get stroke and try to get them as better as possible to what they were before. They talk about their life and how they do and they’ve had their breakdowns with me. I get a lot of their emotions of crying but when I see your mom get sick, I had just treated your mom at the clinic and she was walking away dragging one side of her body. You turned around and started walking after her and said goodbye. I see you following her and I’m like, “Whoa.”
Her brain tumor affected her right side of her brain, which caused her left side weakness too.
She had very aggressive cancer, glioblastoma. It was hard because I knew your mom pre-cancer.
She was strong. People who don’t know her she picked me up from therapy every day and she looked at me and she’d go, “Did you thank Sylvia for everything she’s doing because you’re a pain in the ass?” What we were doing for Christmas, she was always on top and making sure everybody else was fine. She was stronger than most people I know and when she got sick, it was so weird. It was surreal. I still think about it now, but it’s the loss of what you experienced with your father. What do you call the bull in Spanish?
El toro. My dad was the trunk and the foundation of our family.
Do you think helping Sean and his mother helped you in a way to go through what you went through with your father?
Yes and no. I’ve seen many people die. I’ve worked in oncology and I’ve seen it. When it hit my dad, that was my dad. It was tough to see my dad slowly die. We took care of him. He came with the hospice and it was tough for all my sisters. If it wasn’t for my four sisters, it would have been harder. I don’t know if we could do it. I remember telling my sisters when I brought my dad home from hospice and if the family is out there, they got to stick together when somebody needs them. I told my sisters, “We need to be the caregivers for my dad and my mom needs to be his spouse because that’s important.” They need to say their goodbye. It was hard. My dad’s death was hard because he’s my dad and I couldn’t accept it. It was hard. I was mad because the universe took him away. I lost faith but I got through it with the help of my family, with the help of my daughters, with the help of Nick and people being there. Then my granddaughter was born. The circle of life.
I’ll never forget when Steph got pregnant. The look on your face like, “How are we going to do this?” Now, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you.
My granddaughter was born on January 11th and my dad passed away on March 1st of the same year. The circle of life and the universe took my dad, but he gave me my granddaughter to help me heal. You can find a purpose for everything whether you want to or not. It’s there. I think that’s why you think silence is golden because we tend to make ourselves so busy that we need to allow it to stop and listen to the divine energy that is out there. You can find some new answers.
Do you feel like your dad is still with you?
All the time. I have signs. Sometimes grief is hard and I think when you love great, the grief is going to be great. I’ve had grandparents pass away and uncles, but I was a big daddy’s girl. That one was a big blow. I knew my dad was going to die, but my dad was so full of life. My dad lived seven years with stage four cancer. Even his oncologist, he was the longest patient to live that long. It was because of my dad’s will to live. We would go on vacation and my dad would refuse to use a wheelchair to get taken to the gate. My dad said, “No, my two feet still work. It will take me 40 minutes to get there, but I’ll do it.” We would get to the airport early and start walking early and he would lean against the wall, rest for five minutes and then walk again. He refused to sit in the wheelchair. I told him, “Why?” He said, “Because once I sit in a wheelchair, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get up.”
That’s strong. I can see in you that same strength that your dad has and that you’re speaking of. I think he instilled that in you and that’s what’s allowed you to become who you are as this very amazingly gifted and powerful woman who has helped people walk again and has helped countless people to regain a piece of their life that they thought they lost. I’ve got an interesting one for you. I know your answer, but I like to ask it anyway. You mentioned that with deep love comes deep pain. Would you ever give it up though?
No. Because it’s better to love than not to love at all and people need to remember that. I’ve been through divorce and I was always like, “I’m never going to love again. I don’t want to deal with it.” We put these boundaries on us and we say, “I’m not going to go that pathway. I’m not going to do it again.” We have to open up our soul and our heart to love again because if not, then you’re not fully living. In order to love greatly, you will lose greatly. It’s better to lose than never to feel those emotions.
You nailed it, Sylvia. No one could have said that better. I got one more question for you though. It’s a question we ask all of our guests because I think it is so important. You touched on this early in your show and you talk about people finding what inspires them. My question for you is what inspires you?
That’s a good question because these last two years were tough and for a while and nothing inspired me but what inspires me is the love that my father gave me because now I have to spread that love. I have to spread that inspiration because I know that’s my purpose and just to make somebody smile. We walk by so many people and if you say hi to somebody and if they say hi, good and if they don’t, that’s even better. What inspires me is the ability to wake up every morning and say, “What can I do to make myself better?” That’s one thing that my father taught me is, you can’t control anything around you, but you look yourself in the mirror and that’s the only person that you can control. What can I do to make it better? You go out there and echale ganas.
I love you. You’re amazing.
I love you.
Thank you so much, Sylvia.
About Slyvia Arellano
Physical Therapist Assistant with 25 years of experience in all areas of healthcare with a primary focus on Neurorehab.