In a deeply personal New Yorker essay published Thursday, the British actress opened up for the first time about a medical condition she’s kept secret from the public for the past eight years.
After filming the first season of the HBO fantasy series based on George R.R. Martin’s books, a 24-year-old Clarke suffered a “a life-threatening type of stroke” in the locker room of a London gym and was taken to a local hospital shortly after for brain surgery.
“I reached the toilet, sank to my knees, and proceeded to be violently, voluminously ill. Meanwhile, the pain — shooting, stabbing, constricting pain — was getting worse,” Clarke recalled in the essay. “At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged.”
She was diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a stroke that only one-third of people fully recover from.
The surgery was ultimately successful, but Clarke initially struggled to communicate ― she was unable to remember her own name ― due to a condition called aphasia, which often occurs suddenly following a stroke or head injury.
“In my worst moments, I wanted to pull the plug. I asked the medical staff to let me die,” Clarke confessed. “My job — my entire dream of what my life would be — centered on language, on communication. Without that, I was lost.”
Clarke rebounded a week later and went on to film the second season of “Game of Thrones,” which she described as her “worst,” as she lived in constant fear of death.
After the first surgery, Clarke informed her “Game of Thrones” bosses about the condition, but pledged to proceed with press commitments and shooting as planned. In the essay, she recalls sipping on morphine between interviews at San Diego Comic-Con to ward off the pain.
“I didn’t know what Daenerys was doing,” she wrote. “If I am truly being honest, every minute of every day I thought I was going to die.”
Clarke experienced her second aneurysm in 2013 after completing the show’s third season. She was on hiatus in New York City, where she was rehearsing for an upcoming Broadway play “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” That’s when she underwent two more life-threatening emergency surgeries after a doctor noticed a growth in her brain had “doubled in size” during a routine brain scan.
The actress spent the next month in a hospital, suffering from “terrible anxiety, panic attacks” and “convinced that I wasn’t going to live.”
Clarke said she’s now “healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes” and has since thrown herself into charity work for the organization Same You, which provides treatment to patients recovering from brain injuries and strokes.
“But now, after keeping quiet all these years, I’m telling you the truth in full. Please believe me: I know that I am hardly unique, hardly alone,” Clarke wrote. “Countless people have suffered far worse, and with nothing like the care I was so lucky to receive.”