"Just when all my childhood dreams seemed to have come true, I nearly lost my mind and then my life," Daenerys Targaryen recalls.
In a gut-wrenching New Yorker essay penned by Daenerys Targaryen herself, Clarke got candid about the story she's "never told" publicly before today.
"Just when all my childhood dreams seemed to have come true, I nearly lost my mind and then my life," the Mother of Dragons began, explaining that she had just finished filming Season 1 when she suffered her first aneurysm. She was 24.
Clarke said she had just started working out with a personal trainer "to relieve the stress" of her newfound fame. On the morning of February 11, 2011, she was in the locker room, getting changed into gym clothes, when she began to feel a "bad headache" coming on. She pushed through the pain, put her sneakers on and managed to get through the first few exercises.
Once she got into the plank position, however, she felt as though "an elastic band" were squeezing her brain. She tried to "ignore the pain," but she couldn't, so she took a break and headed back to the locker room, "almost crawling."
"I reached the toilet, sank to my knees and proceeded to be violently, voluminously ill," Clarke explained. "Meanwhile, the pain -- shooting, stabbing, constricting pain -- was getting worse. At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged."
Clarke said she tried to "will away the pain." She convinced herself she wouldn't become paralyzed or unconscious by wiggling her fingers and toes and reciting some of her lines from "Game of Thrones."
A woman who was in the locker room saw what was happening and immediately put Clarke "in the recovery position" until an ambulance arrived. By this point, the actress was weak and in and out of consciousness. Once at the hospital, she was sent for an MRI. Results showed she had suffered a life-threatening type of stroke known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which is caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain.
In a state of "drugged wooziness, shooting pain and persistent nightmares," Clarke was asked to sign a release for brain surgery. "Brain surgery? I was in the middle of my very busy life," she recalled thinking. "I had no time for brain surgery."
But she signed anyway, and three hours later, doctors had repaired the arterial rupture. Clarke was then moved to the ICU and was told the "great hurdle" was to make it to the two-week mark. "If I made it that long with minimal complications, my chances of a good recovery were high," she explained.
But one day after her "safe" day, Clarke could not state her own name. She was suffering from a condition known as aphasia, a consequence of the trauma her brain had suffered. "I knew I was faltering. In my worst moments, I wanted to pull the plug," she recalled. "I asked the medical staff to let me die. My job -- my entire dream of what my life would be -- centered on language, on communication. Without that, I was lost."
The actress was sent back to the ICU, where she recovered for the next week. Before returning to her duties as Daenerys Targaryen, Clarke was told that she had another smaller aneurysm on the other side of her brain, but her doctors assured her it would likely "remain dormant and harmless indefinitely."
But the pain continued, the fatigue continued, the feeling of hopelessness continued. "I was often so woozy, so weak, that I thought I was going to die," Clarke recalled. "Staying at a hotel in London during a publicity tour, I vividly remember thinking, 'I can't keep up or think or breathe, much less try to be charming.' I sipped on morphine in between interviews. The pain was there, and the fatigue was like the worst exhaustion I'd ever experienced, multiplied by a million."
In 2013, Clarke went in for a routine brain scan. The growth on the other side of her brain had doubled in size, so doctors advised that they "take care of it." The surgery was expected to be relatively simple, but unfortunately, the procedure failed.
"I had a massive bleed, and the doctors made it plain that my chances of surviving were precarious if they didn't operate again," Clarke said. "This time, they needed to access my brain in the old-fashioned way -- through my skull."
She survived the operation, but the recovery was brutal. "I looked as though I had been through a war more gruesome than any that Daenerys experienced," she explained, adding that bits of her skull had been replaced by titanium.
Clarke spent a month in the hospital, recovering. At the time, she tried to keep her condition under wraps. "Six weeks after the surgery, the National Enquirer ran a short story. A reporter asked me about it, and I denied it," she said. "But now, after keeping quiet all these years, I'm telling you the truth in full."
Since then, Clarke has helped develop a charity that aims to provide treatment for people recovering from brain injuries and stroke. It's called SameYou.
"There is something gratifying and beyond lucky about coming to the end of 'Thrones,'" she concluded. "I'm so happy to be here to see the end of this story and the beginning of whatever comes next."
Read her full essay here.
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