All of us encounter setbacks in life—some small, some medium, some super-sized. The unsuccessful job search. The long-term relationship that did not end well. The disappointing test results. We hope, of course, that we have the resolve to weather the sorts of unbidden storms that arrive in our lives. And that’s precisely what we hear from Michael Obel-Omia, whose inspiring persistence and grit are a lodestar. 

Michael Obel-Omia is a seasoned educator who lives with his family in Barrington, Rhode Island.

Since having a massive stroke on Saturday, May 21, 2016, I have been working hard to recover. 

Everyone knows about strokes, but, mine includes aphasia. What is that?

A popular definition states that aphasia “is an inability to comprehend or formulate language because of damage to specific brain regions. . . causing trouble to find words; to speak, read, or write. Intelligence, however, is unaffected.”

According to research, only 8.8% of people can identify aphasia as a language disorder. 

My aphasia is invisible. Most people assume I can follow their words and respond with my own… until I try to communicate. 

For instance, in December 2016, I took the bus to Kennedy Plaza, and when I appeared there, I asked the driver "Can I take the 1:15 bus to Atwells Avenue?" The bus driver described quickly where to go and what to do. I walked out and I couldn't find which bus to take. I panicked. I was so anxious. I wanted to flee: I wanted to ask a question, but I could not get the words out of my mouth. I was stuck; really stuck. I know what I am supposed to say, but words often escape me—I mumbled, and then I was speechless.

On my way to visits to speech therapy on Atwells Avenue in Providence, I stop sometimes at Dunkin Donuts. Four times, I asked for a donut and a large iced tea. “Do you want ice or sweetener?” the woman behind the counter asked. No, I would say because I didn’t understand what she asked. But I did want ice. I kept getting iced tea with no ice. She became annoyed, saying you said “no ice”. I was speechless and frustrated. Finally, my wife, Carolyn came with me and listened to the conversation. "No, Michael, no sweetener, yes ice."  

Every day, I learn better, and I process ideas better, but it takes lots of time. When I am asked “Take out or dine in?” I try not to panic. I slow down, I consider my words, and I say them as best I can. They are not always right, but they are improving, always improving.

I believe I can find my words. I can listen, I can speak, I can write. I ask for patience. From you and from myself. I believe you will hear and understand.