Michael Hayden is a four-star US Air Force general. He headed the CIA and the NSA. And he’s also a stroke survivor. Six months ago, his very busy life changed when he experienced a stroke right before Thanksgiving. He told his story recently in an opinion piece on CNN.

We’ve been profiling well-known people with aphasia, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Gabby Giffords. We’ve now turned our attention to Michael Hayden.

“The answer to that question is not an easy one.”

Hayden internally asks himself if he’ll be okay, and he responds that the answer is not an easy one. What does okay look like when you are experiencing physical and verbal difficulties after a stroke? His life after certainly doesn’t look like his life before, but does that mean he isn’t okay?

He is accustomed to traveling the world, speaking to large groups of people. And now, he writes, “It is humbling to face these challenges that were once so routine. To dress. To eat. To walk. To read. To recall the names of loved ones.”

Finding Hope

And yet every small step towards recovery brings hope. He explains, “I get meaning from the small steps I make. It gives me hope for what I will be able to do in the future.” He finds happiness in time with family and gratitude that he is making strides as part of an aphasia study at Georgetown University. It’s these moments that give him the necessary fuel to keep going, even though he knows that every day may be the day that he hits the moment where things are as good as they’re going to get, language-wise.

His opinion piece is a wonderful, raw, honest recount of what happens after a stroke when you’re experiencing aphasia and wondering what the future holds.

Image: Michael Hayden via the NSA [Public domain]