The Game of Thrones actress has written an essay for The New Yorker offering insight into her experience having two brain aneurysms and how she managed to recover, just as she was becoming a huge TV star. The 32-year-old Brit details the fear she experienced as she was rushed to surgery for the first time in order to save her life.
"I remember being told that I should sign a release form for surgery. Brain surgery?" she wrote. "I was in the middle of my very busy life -- I had no time for brain surgery. But, finally, I settled down and signed. And then I was unconscious. For the next three hours, surgeons went about repairing my brain. This would not be my last surgery, and it would not be the worst. I was twenty-four years old."
Although the surgery was a success, the recovery was long and arduous, making every aspect of her life harder, including going back to work.
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"When they woke me, I was screaming in pain," the actress wrote. "The procedure had 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. This time they needed to access my brain in the old-fashioned way -- through my skull. And the operation had to happen immediately."
The surgery went well, except this time the recovery was even longer and harder. And now she had a titanium plate to replace parts of her skull.
"I spent a month in the hospital again and, at certain points, I lost all hope. I couldn't look anyone in the eye," Clarke wrote. "There was terrible anxiety, panic attacks. I was raised never to say, 'It's not fair'; I was taught to remember that there is always someone who is worse off than you. But, going through this experience for the second time, all hope receded. I felt like a shell of myself. So much so that I now have a hard time remembering those dark days in much detail. My mind has blocked them out. But I do remember being convinced that I wasn't going to live."
Thankfully, she was able to recover and continue working. Moreover, she's decided to devote herself to helping others recover from brain injuries and strokes with her nonprofit organization, SameYou.
Clarke is also covering the latest issue of Allure magazine, in which she discusses the sweeping success of Game of Thrones and why she believes it managed to catch the public's consciousness.
"The show is sensationalist in a way," she explains. "It's the reason why people pick up gossip magazines. They want to know what happens next.... You've got a society that is far removed enough from ours but also circulates around power. How that corrupts people and how we want it, and how we don't want it."
"I think it caught Western society at exactly the right moment," she later adds. "I don't know about you, but when I watch something, it's escapism. I'm feeling crappy; I'm just sad, moody, depressed, upset, angry, whatever it is. I know that distraction is what makes me get better. Distraction is what really, really helps me." [She laughs.] "I'm sure that's not what a therapist would advise."
During the interview, she also hilariously describes fangirling out upon meeting Beyonce at an Oscars after-party.
"I watched her face go, 'Oh, no, I shouldn't be talking to this crazy [woman], who is essentially crying in front of me.' I think my inner monologue was, 'Stop f**king it up,' and I kept f**king it up," she shares. "I was like, 'I just saw you in concert.' And she was like, 'I know.'"
Games of Thrones airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.