maryreidhillphotoWhen you meet Mary for the first time, she will swear she has half a brain. Don’t we all? But she means it literally, as in when she was 38 she had a gigantic stroke, which left her essentially with half the brain and body capacity she had previously possessed.

From a twisted, abusive childhood to a misguided teenage marriage to a diagnosis of cancer at age 22, Mary entered “adulthood” with a load of problems to unpack, and she did that with gusto, using her skills as a visual artist to carve out a career in the male-dominated world of sign design and installation.

As she was enjoying the peak of her success, Mary fell off a ladder and ended up suffering a massive stroke, and for more than 15 years she has defied doctors, therapists, and even friends and family to stubbornly and relentlessly find her own equilibrium and happiness, “in spite of” all the health challenges, psychological roadblocks, and spiritual upheaval.

As Mary says in her memoir, “Having a stroke triggered the loneliest time I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. While many portrait artists use a grid to anchor their work, my drawing (referring to the front cover of her book) is meant to convey a covering of chicken wire around my face, which keeps me shackled and protected, all at the same time. It used to be bars before that, from the feeling of being locked in a room and tied down to a bed, muzzled by confusion, fatigue, and headache.”

Mary has become a living example of what the human spirit is ultimately all about––faults and handicaps be damned–– and an inspiration for us all. Oh, and let’s not forget. She’s funny and smart and takes no prisoners.

“I do not know the word “no,” she says. “It’s not in my vocabulary. I don’t think it has ever been, and if you do say no, you’re going to get it from me––not from a belligerent point of view or because I’m a jerk––it’s just that if you tell me I can’t do something, or it’s not the right thing to do, then it’s like, ‘Okay, that’s it.’ My brain gets stuck. It’s like when I needed to keep it together in the nuthouse I grew up in, or how I coped with endometriosis as a teenager, and then the cancer and the rotten husband, and the aftermath of both of those debacles, and the menopause, and the stroke, and the skin cancers––all times when I could not accept the word “no” because that would have meant surrender and a life on the couch, dying a slow and stupid death. When I get something in my head, it has to get done. It doesn’t matter, and I can’t help myself. If no one is available to help or willing to get up in the middle of the night just because that’s when I want to do something, I will adjust. That’s what I do––because I can––and for many years, I could not, and that sucked so bad I am making up for it now however I can.”

Mary calls her book “In Spite Of . . . ” because with every direction she has ever attempted to take she has faced resistance and challenges and she has refused to let any of that stop her from living a life of value and meaning––and fun. In spite of it all, Mary is still here, and her story is one you won’t want to miss.

Mary plans to start a foundation to help people with strokes and cancer get their lives together, and help those who care for them figure out how to do it well. Especially for those in stroke recovery, she wants to help everybody get better, especially people who don’t have hope. It’s more to help with the emotional aftermath of the stroke and the psychological shit. Most people have physical therapists and the occupational therapy they need, but what’s needed are the things that fall through the cracks in medical treatment, like a person’s heart and soul and their will to stay strong and fight against it.

“I do not know the word NO. It’s not in my vocabulary.”

“She says, “Don’t ever listen to anyone that doesn’t promote and support you getting better. Period. No exception. If someone can’t do that, or isn’t willing to, you know what to tell them. It’s simple, really. If you’re not with me then you’re against me. That’s just the way it goes. And if you are in my way then please get the fuck outta my way and let me keep sailing on my adventure––without you, if necessary. That’s it. If that’s how it has to be, then so be it. End of story. After all is said and done, my only conclusion is this: In spite of it all––the fucked up childhood, the abuse, the drunken father, the lack of money for school, the bad marriage, the cancer, the harassment at work, the next bad marriage, the fall off a ladder, the stroke, the rehab, the end of rehab, the doctors, the stupid doctors, the weight gain, the weight loss, the next cancer, the insurance battles, the lawsuits, the divorce, the death of my husband, the list goes on and it’s enough, and you know what?

In spite of it all . . . I’m still here.”