111: Debra Meyerson, PhD: Retired Tenured Professor at Stanford University and Author, has not only overcome a stroke that attacked the right side of her body, but she is helping others cope by releasing her book “Identity Theft.”

July 5, 2019

Debra Meyerson, PhD

Debra Meyerson holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Organizational Behavior Studies at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Debra went on to become a tenured Professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and the Graduate School of Business, along with being a faculty co-founder of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, and teaching courses in areas such as organizing for diversity, the leadership of social change, and educational and social entrepreneurship. Then the eventful life of Debra Meyerson, PhD shifted into a new, difficult season of challenge when a stroke stuck her when she was 53-years-old. Now she is rediscovering herself through the creation of her new book, “Identity Theft: Rediscovering Ourselves After Stroke.”

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with Debra Meyerson, PhD, Retired Tenured Professor, Social Scientist, Author, Analytical Thinker, Wife, and Mother of Three Children about her life after surviving a life-altering stroke. In 2010, during a vacation right before Labor Day in Lake Tahoe, Debra’s right leg wasn’t feeling good, she didn’t have control of her knee bend and couldn’t support her body at a certain angle. She had a serious headache and the next day she was struggling to get her right hand to grab an aspirin. Debra Meyerson shares,“Three years after her stroke I was going every day to therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy, every day.”

This stroke led Debra toward five important words when she lost some ability to speak and had paralysis on one side of her body, being able to say: “My name is Debra Meyerson.” The powerful journey of being able to say her name coincides with the name of the book and audiobook version she has as a testament of her achievements and a roadmap to stroke victims and their families: “Identity Theft: Rediscovering Ourselves After Stroke” by Debra Meyerson, PhD with Danny Zuckerman, who is Debra’s son. Debra Meyerson, along with the assistance of her loving husband Steve Zuckerman, share her miraculous adventure of reuniting with her identity, accepting the changes that occurred, and educating others in the process.

What You Will Learn:

Are you aware that just under 800,000 people a year suffer from a stroke and about 85% of strokes come from a lack of blood and the other 15% are blood vessel breaks that kill the brain cells? Far too often we assume strokes are circumstances of the elderly, but Debra Meyerson and her husband Steve Zuckerman correct us on those speculations with some valuable statistics. Steve states that, “25% of strokes are experienced by people under 65. So, there is this sense that strokes only hit the very old, when in fact, the younger population is affected as well.”

Debra Meyerson’s husband Steve Zuckerman discussed what it was like after her stroke, stating “I think really for the first three years it was getting back to her job at Stanford that was the litmus test for rebuilding her life…Her identity was so tied to her being a professor, it was a huge motivator.” When Debra lost her tenure position at Stanford she felt like she lost her identity, wondering who she was now and what was her purpose going to be moving forward. Debra talks about how she sees her purpose today as opposed to when she lost her tenure position.

Writing her book “Identity Theft: Rediscovering Ourselves After Stroke” evolved into exploring her purpose beyond just being an academic. She wanted to understand what other people’s experiences with strokes were like as well. Steve shares that, “In some ways, the book has really become a manifestation of the journey. At first, the book was like Deb’s ‘I’m going to prove to people that I’m back. I can write a book just like when I was a professor.”

Three things that came out after the stroke were: improvement, recognizing she won’t regain everything,  and identity changes. Steve explains how these areas of focus relate to others by explaining, “Two years into the book-writing process was when Deb got clear that this journey to rediscover who you are was not just her journey but it was so many stroke survivor’s journeys, and it was kind of a story that we didn’t hear after Deb’s stroke.”

Part of adapting to life after her stroke is summed up in her mantra of “look forward not backwards.” Steve Zuckerman describes this by saying, “Look forward not back. If you are living your life constantly evaluating yourself and your experience against what used to be, it is hard not to imagine how depression is not a logical result.” Looking for adaption for things that she loves like scuba diving, sailing, hiking and bike riding because she has lost use of her right arm are challenges Debra faces head on. Romantic intimacy is also discussed in her book, a chapter that her son stepped down from and allowed his dad Steve to step in on.

A Family Affair:

Having a strong support system in the form of family, friends, and network support, makes a huge difference. Steve discusses this by saying, “There is one chapter in the book that is titled “Stroke is a family affair,” and it really is. You talked about perspective…Deb’s disabilities are worse than a lot of stroke survivors but not as bad as a lot. In fact, chapter 9 in “Identity Theft” is all about stroke being a family illness. Steve goes on to say, “One of the things that we had to come to grips with is that it wasn’t just Deb’s life that had changed, and we had to change our lives too. And I think that if we don’t go there, the frustration and the resentment is just unbearable.”

Small Wins:

Small wins towards a much bigger goal are important and Debra believes we need to celebrate those. Her daughter’s concept of the importance of “pity parties” that have a clear beginning and an end to give yourself space to deal with the pain of loss or coping with ailments is extremely insightful. Listen to Debra Meyerson’s quest to make a difference, improve her capabilities, and continue her passion for teaching, in a new capacity, balancing frustration in a productive and healthy way. Debra teaches us that we can’t give up because too many people need us and there is a greater purpose in life for us to fulfill.

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