I Had A Stroke In My Early 20s And Still Have No Idea What Caused It

by Jess Catcher
Jess grew up in Oklahoma before moving to New York to become a writer. She has a cat named Agnes.

I thought my life was pretty great when I was 22.

I was finally back on track to finish my undergraduate degree, I had my own tiny-but-perfect apartment, and I was working a steady office job at the Cherokee Nation Tribal Headquarters in Oklahoma.

Plus, I was somehow magically able to get free cable on my TV. What more could a girl ask for in her early 20s?

This was also around the time that I decided to become a vegan. It wasn’t easy in my small, meat-loving Southern town, but I was determined to rid my life of all animal products. I had already been a vegetarian since my teens, so it wasn’t too daunting to drop a few other food items from my diet.

The rest of my family, on the other hand, couldn’t wrap their heads around my decision. They even worried themselves over how it might affect my health.

My mom was particularly troubled by my nutritional intake — especially after I experienced what my family now refers to as the “burrito episode.”

Allow me to explain…

My Current Health Status

jess catcher
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

Today, I’m a mostly healthy 30 year old. I have pesky sinus issues that like to pop up and torture me a little too often (more on that later). I also struggle with depression and anxiety, but have regular visits with a psychologist to discuss such things.

Oh, and I’ve also moved to New York and achieved my dream of becoming a professional writer. Yay!

Factors That Might Have Led To My Stroke
My Not-So-Healthy Vegan Diet

me at 22
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

Back in 2009, however, I was a 22-year-old bouncing around from three different colleges (and eventually graduating from a fourth a few years later).

Confession: I was not the best at being vegan.

Even before omitting dairy, my mom liked to call me a “chip-atarian” due to my frequent decision to snack on vending machine options instead of digging into a real meal.

taco bell
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

So, it probably won’t surprise you to learn I’m also hopelessly addicted to fast food.

At the time, I was afraid my deep love for Taco Bell would come to a crashing halt with my new dietary restrictions, but was even more overjoyed to learn their beans are totally vegan-friendly.


Changing My Birth Control

birth control pills

On top of switching to a vegan diet, I had also been placed on a new birth control prescription.

I began taking oral contraceptives as a teen when my menstrual cycle decided to go all wonky.

I had gone off the pill for a couple of years when it seemed like things were evening out again on their own, but decided to get back on them when my uterus started with her old, unpredictable tricks.

My new doctor gave me a different prescription, but I didn’t think there’d be any issues.

How I Felt During My Stroke

standing in a parking lot
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

It happened on a Saturday that I spent hanging out in my apartment watching TV all day. In the afternoon, I realized it was after 3 p.m. and I hadn’t eaten anything. This was and remains a rare occurrence.

So, I hopped in my car and headed to my favorite drive-thru down the street for a quick bite.

After placing my order, I started getting a weird feeling in my right hand. As I inched my way behind the couple of cars in front of me, I began to also notice that I couldn’t feel the steering wheel under my fingers.

By the time I got to the window, the numb feeling had traveled up my arm to the right side of my face.

I was able to grab the food and thought I’d be OK to drive the few miles back to my apartment, but pulled over at the empty bank parking lot next door not even two seconds later when my vision started getting hazy.

It all happened so fast and I had no idea what was really going on. My parents lived nearby, but were unfortunately out of town for the weekend.

me and my brother adam
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

I tried pinching the skin on my hand and arm to see if the sensation was coming back. It was not.

I decided to call my brother even though he lived an hour away.

When he answered, we both instantly became aware that my speech was slurring and I couldn’t even manage to form the word “burrito” when he tried to ask me simple questions about what I was doing.

I was terrified at this point. My brain was screaming, “BURRITO, I ORDERED A BEAN BURRITO!” But I just couldn’t make my mouth agree.

my eyes
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

It only ended up lasting a few more moments, but I was obviously shaken up by the whole thing.

I carefully drove back to my apartment. Meanwhile, my brother was calling my parents, who in turn called one of my uncles to come and check up on me.

Of course, by the time my uncle got to my place, all of the symptoms were gone. He said my eyes maybe looked a little more dilated, but that was it.

Past History Of Similar Symptoms

me as a little girl
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

This wasn’t my first time having strange neurological symptoms.

Although I don’t remember it happening, my parents have told me about a series of fits I had as a child when I was not quite 3 years old.

Apparently, any time I bumped into something while toddling around — even if it was a soft bump — I had a bad habit of forgetting how to breathe and would then pass out.

My parents took me to get tests, as you can see in the sweet photo above, but there was never any conclusive diagnosis.

my family
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

They weren’t too worried about the lack of information at the time since I just stopped that behavior shortly after the electrodes got strapped to my head.

We chalked it up to the tests basically scaring me straight and I went back to being a normal little kid.

My Mom's Diagnosis Vs. My Own

eating popcorn
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

At 22, it was clear I had suffered a small stroke that day in my car.

My mom was quick to blame my vegan lifestyle, claiming it left my body without enough B12 and other important nutrients. Meanwhile, my dad was more alarmed that I had remained a vegan even while visiting Paris, a land of many wonderful cheeses.

As for myself, I figured it was probably my new birth control that caused the episode and decided to stop taking it.

My Actual Doctor's Diagnosis


My doctor had me undergo a brain scan and walk around with a heart monitor for a few days. Still, no one had any solid answers for what the heck had caused my “burrito episode.”

The only thing my doctor diagnosed me with after looking at the images of my brain: chronic sinusitis.

According to her, my sinuses are slightly larger than they should be and therefore more sensitive to even the slightest irritation.

While this could have been a factor in producing my stroke, I’m still not sure what was the true culprit.

My Health Since The "Burrito Episode"

me and my mom
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

Thankfully, I haven’t had any repeat episodes in the eight years since that day.

There have been a few times when I felt that same tell-tale tingle traveling down my hand, but it’s never escalated to quite that level again.

I also went back to eating dairy and even added fish to my diet about a year ago to give my brain some extra omega (much to my mother’s relief).

I still don’t know what actually caused my stroke, but I’m just glad it hasn’t happened again.

Warning Signs For Strokes

<u>Warning Signs For Strokes</u>

The American Heart Association lists the following symptoms as early indicators of a stroke:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

They also offer a handy acronym to keep in mind with the word FAST:

  • F – Face drooping
  • A – Arm weakness
  • S – Speech difficulty
  • T – Time to call 9-1-1

How To Prevent Strokes


Obviously, strokes are unpredictable, but there are things we can all do to make sure they’re less likely to happen.

Whether you have already had a stroke or are at risk for the symptoms, the AHA recommends the following tips to help keep you healthy:

  • Manage high blood pressure
  • Control cholesterol
  • Reduce blood sugar
  • Be active
  • Eat better
  • Lose weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Discuss an aspirin regimen with your doctor

mirror selfie
Jess Catcher for LittleThings

Be sure to SHARE my mysterious experience with your loved ones on Facebook to help prevent someone else from suffering similar health issues!