Episode 076 -- Identity, Isolation, and Art with Seth Shearer

Each month I go back to the hospital that treated my stroke to attend the support group they host. It's there that I met Seth Shearer. The more I learned about Seth's story, the more I wanted him on the show.


A selfie of Seth Ian Shearer leans against tile in a tank top with a blue tint over the imageSeth Shearer is a Seattle-based artist and designer. In September 2018, he suffered an acute ischemic stroke. Through rehabilitation he was able to regain use of the right side of his body. His painting practice helped to re-strengthen his arm and to begin the process of integrating his post-stroke experience with his with his former life. The transformation in his work led him to paint under his middle name, Ian, in recognition of his new life.

Neurological differences, such as a newfound hypersensitivity to light and sound drew him out to the "nighttime" world. Ian Shearer's paintings explore this post-stroke landscape. These urban vistas invite the viewer into a dreamlike world, woven together with light and shadow and possibilities.

Stroke Treatment is an Emergency

Most folks think a stroke happens, and that's it. All the damage hits at once, but that's not the case. It's actually progressive damage over the course of hours. And it's not a straight line of damage.

When I had my stroke, I woke up with symptoms, and over the next hour my arm, leg, and face declined significantly. The loss sort of leveled off for a while and then continued until 3:00 PM that afternoon. Because I woke up with my symptoms in June of 2017, I was well outside the 3 hour window for an intervention.

Since then, the standards have changed and the window for treatment has expanded.

In Seth's case, he also woke up with symptoms and even realized he was having a stroke. He was able to rally to take care of the pets before taking care of himself. He was also under the impression that once the stroke happened, there was nothing he could do and didn't rush getting to the hospital. It's impossible to know if faster treatment would have made a difference.

But maybe it could have.

Over the past year, we've seen the treatment window for stroke interventions expand. There are more and more opportunities to treat stroke survivors and prevent some disability. And that situation will continue to improve.

So in any possibility of stroke, get to an ambulance ASAP. Give yourself the best chance of the fullest recovery possible.

Ask and Answer the Right Questions

Seth talked about when doctors asked about memory, he assumed they were asking about long-term memory and not short-term memory. It took time for him to get treatment related to his audio processing challenges and memory issues because of this misunderstanding.

This is a common issue for experts when talking to nonexperts. And this happens in all sorts of context -- medical, legal, financial, marketing, operations, sales, etc. The more significant our expertise in an area, the more likely we are to make assumptions about things we think are basic and obvious, but folks outside our field will misunderstand.

During conversations with our medical teams or our loved ones medical team, we can keep in mind that we may not always be speaking the exact same language. Ask more questions. Clarify questions you get asked. Provide more information than you think might be needed.


Seth talked about feeling isolated following his and this is something I hear from lots of survivors. Sometimes it's because friends and family may be uncomfortable around survivors for a variety of reasons.

Various deficits -- like aphasia can also make socializing and connecting with people can be harder.

And then there's the challenge of other folks not quite understanding when we talk about our conditions. They can try to sympathize, but the experience of a brain injury is something you can't really understand until you have one.

How can you address the isolation?

Find other stroke survivors to speak with. Support groups are a great place to start. Or seek out the stories of other survivors on line or in books. And when other people try to sympathize, be patient with them. They're trying.


If the core of our identity is in our minds -- in our brains, what happens to it when our brain gets damaged? What happens when the defining balance between left and right -- between logical and ephemeral is thrown off? If you've read Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's book, My Stoke of Insight, you know that for her it meant an entirely new world view and perception of time.

In Seth's case, it manifested in an entirely new artistic identity -- one that's significant enough that he changed his name.

Many stroke survivors feel like they are different people after their stroke. They mourn their prior lives as they move forward with their new lives. Recovery isn't just about doing bridges, shoulder rolls, swallowing exercises, and vocabulary quizzes. It's also about meeting the new you and understanding who you now are. It's about meeting and getting to know the Ian inside you.


Hack of the Week

Managing light sensitivity at home can be simple. Instead of just putting up with lamps and overhead lights, simply string Christmas lights up in your home. They're not as bright or glaring, yet the can still provide enough illumination so you can safely get around without assaulting you with lumens.

Plus they are super cheap.

A similar option is LED strip lighting that adheres to your wall. This is what I use in my office. Of course, it's more expensive, and it does require more work to get them set up just the way you like them. If you can't stand the thought of Christmas stuff up in the summer, though, they're a great alternative.


Where do we go from here?

  • So check out Seth's website and IanShearerStuduios.com. Check out his work and if you are looking for art for your home or office, consider a purchase.
  • Who do you think might find Seth's story interesting? Share this link with them and ask their thoughts: http://Strokecast.com/Seth 
  • Discuss this episode in the Strokecast community forum on Facebook at  http://Strokecast.com/FacebookGroup
  • Don't get best...get better.

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