Ep 122 -- After a Stroke at 22 Mimi Hayes Chose Comedy

(Transcript pending)

Mimi Hayes is a bucket of sunshine. Mimi and I have been in each other's zone of awareness for sometime and we finally connected to record a conversation.

Mimi is a stand-up comedian, author, former high school teacher, young stroke survivor, and is the only person know who walked around Scotland wearing a giant foam brain with Band-Aid on it.

In this episode we talk about the powerful words from an OT, the importance of writing authentically, the nature of burn out, and why everyone should have a fake attorney on retainer.


Mimi Hayes where's a black blazer, hat, and white blouse and looks at the camera with an expression that seems to say, "I can't believe this nonsense."

From Mimi's Profile on Amazon:

Mimi Hayes is a comedian and author of "I'll Be OK, It's Just a Hole in My Head." A former high school teacher and brain injury survivor, Hayes wrote her first memoir while recovering from a traumatic head injury at the age of twenty-two.

Her honest take on trauma and love followed her to the stage as a stand-up comedian where she has performed on stages such as Denver Comedy Works, Broadway Comedy Club, Stand Up NY, Dangerfield's, and The Upright Citizen's Brigade. She debuted her one-woman show "I'll Be OK" at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She is writing a TED Talk as well as a TV adaptation of the book.

You can find "Mimi and The Brain," her comedic neuroscience podcast available on all streaming devices. You can cyberstalk her at mimihayes.com, follow her on Twitter and Instagram (@mimihayesbrain), or send her a carrier pigeon.

From Mimi's website:

The cover of Mimi's book, "I'll be OK, It's Just a Hole in My Head."

I was always a funny person. Ask my mother. I came out of the womb with an Oscar-worthy performance.  And an audience.  I guess it was Take-Your-Intern-To-The-Birthing-Room Day or something. Anyway, I have grown up with a permanent smile on my face.

And then I had a brain hemorrhage. And I smiled some more.

I smiled more because smiling makes you laugh. And when you laugh, you forget for a second that your brain is actually bleeding which makes absolutely no sense. Humor has always been and will always be my defense mechanism. Perhaps this is why men can't tell when I think we're on the worst first date of all time. My bad. I'm just too good at convincing people that I'm stoked on life.  Even when I lose my motor functions and need help using my legs.

It's a funny life I live.

I'm all better now, by the way.  Well, mostly.  I still run into door frames.

This is my journey, my story, and my laughter.

I don't claim to know much, but I do know this: If you can survive a brain surgery with your sense of humor intact, it's a job well done.

(Commence slow clap)

Mimi Hayes stands in a parking lot wearing a giant foam brain costume around her waist and torso.

Like Minded

Like many of Strokecast guests, Mimi is one of the instructors in Jane Connaly's Like Minded program. You can find all those interviews at http://Strokecast.com/LikeMinded

Like Minded is a membership program featuring classes by stroke survivors, medical professionals, and adjacent folks to help people heal their brains. You can learn more about the program here: https://healthebrain.org/workshops.

Cavernous Angioma

A Cavernous Angioma caused Mimi's hemorrhagic stroke.

It's a malformation that can form in utero or later. It's an issues with a defective network of blood vessels.

Remember, arteries carry blood away from the heart and lungs to nurture the brain, toes, and everything in between. The arteries branch further and further and get smaller and smaller. Eventually, they become capillaries. This is where nutrients and oxygen can pass from the blood to the organs. And carbon dioxide and waste material can pass from the organs to the blood to be carried away. The capillaries get larger and combine together becoming veins which further consolidate to return blood to the heart and lungs so the entire cycle continues.

In a cavernous angioma, the capillaries in part of the brain mis-form. They clump together. The capillaries start feeding through one another.

Where it really becomes a problem is when this clump grows and starts pressing against other brain tissue.

The brain does not like that.

Or, as in Mimi's case, this clump starts leaking blood into the brain.

The brain really does not like that.

A common treatment is to perform brain surgery and remove the clump of capillaries.

While we know that roughly 80% of strokes may be preventable, strokes like Mimi's are not. They can strike anyone at any age regardless of how healthy you are.

BEFAST Ignored

The troubling part of Mimi's story is how the Emergency Rooms disregarded Mimi's condition. The only way she got an MRI was that her mother threatened to sue. Once the saw the results, then they knew Mimi was having a stroke.

We talk about knowing the signs of stroke through the pneumonic BEFAST. Balance, Eyes, Face, Arms, Speech, and Time to call an ambulance. Any change or issue with one of those indicates someone may be having a stroke, and the appropriate response is to call an ambulance to seek medical treatment immediately.

Mimi was ticking the box on three of them -- Balance, Eyes, and Speech. She did seek medical treatment and none of the doctors, nurses, or triage folks thought stroke. They never sought to treat Mimi with anything other than pills for vertigo.

Her mother had to threaten legal action before they did their job and ordered the diagnostic scan.

The healthcare system should be adversarial; we shouldn't have to fight to get appropriate treatment, but sometimes that's what it takes. And Mimi's mother's anger and fake attorney may be the sole reason Mimi is alive today.

Those are good resources to have in your pocket.

Stroke symptom graphic


I really like the story Mimi tells about how she got her book published. Sure, in part it's about who you know. It's about those magical "connections" she had. She got her deal through networking.

And you know what? That's not a bad thing.

See, networking isn't about schmoozing with business cards at a cocktail party.

It's about just meeting people just to get to know them. When Mimi met the guy who could help her publish, she didn't set out to meet him. She was just open to the conversation with him and lots of other people.

While we're in COVID-19 world right now and not going out to bars or whatever, we can still connect. We can stay in touch with current colleagues or former colleagues through email or LinkedIn. Or whatever. We can stay in touch or renew our relationships with college or high school friends. We can message our neighbors.

We don't need to connect just with folks who can help us. We can look to help others.  And just be a person.

That's really what networking is.

The other thing about Mimi's story is that it demonstrates my favorite definition of luck -- when preparation meets opportunity.

When she met this contact, she already had been doing the work on her book. She'd finished the draft and had already been rewriting. When the opportunity presented itself she was ready. That's how Mimi got lucky.

Power in an OT's Words

 "You are really brave, and you are really strong."

With those words, Mimi's OT gave her the gift Mimi really needed at that moment in time. She acknowledged Mimi during one of the hardest things in Mimi's life. 

Did it take a lot of time or energy for the OT to do that? No, but it made all the difference to Mimi. Encouragement at the ow point in our lives can change everything.

Mimi Does Stand-up

So is Mimi funny? YES!! And not just in our conversation. Here she is doing standup.


And here's the trailer for her book:


Tig Notaro

We mentioned comedian Tig Notaro in our conversation.

Tig was diagnosed with breast cancer after recovering from a massive CDIFF investigation. Almost immediately after her diagnosis, she went on stage and performed about it, off the top of her head. It's an amazing performance.

Tig has gone on to make surviving cancer a significant part of performance.

You can hear part of that performance on this episode of This American Life. It's an amazing performance, and Tig is a genius story teller. It's one of the most profound pieces of audio I've listened to.

You Can Quit

Mimi talks about the conversation she had with her friend. She was talking about how overwhelmed she was with work and all the other projects. When her friend suggests she quit.

Mimi's reaction is basically, "I can do that?!"

Yes you can. When you have too many projects that are no longer contributing to your life, you can quit.

If you're pursuing things because fir some reason you don't feel you're allowed to quit, and it's hurting you're life. It's okay. Though I certainly don't have the authority, it doesn't really matter. I give you permission to quit.

Hack of the Week

When things go wrong, acknowledge it and accept it. Especially after stroke when we deal with disabilities that may have us walking into things or laughing inappropriately, it can help to accept that it happened and lean into it.

That doesn't mean you don't take steps to avoid those thing. Not at all.

But being embarrassed about it and beating yourself up over something isn't going to undo it. There's no CNTRL+Z in life.

So lean into it.


Where do we go from here?

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast

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