This morning I looked at the date of my last newsletter and it left a sour taste in my mouth. It’s not like I publish them all that often or even weekly as I respect that people’s inboxes are already filled with enough noise, AND I know that my clients know that if they have a question or need, I’m always a chat, email or call away. That being said, I had started to get into a groove…until life put me in a rut.
Just six days before I sent out my last blast, I had been informed that I needed some fairly major surgery…and quickly! Knowing it was medically necessary (aka, life-saving) and that I had been through some doozies in the past, I didn’t waste too much time worrying about the fall-out. Sure I made the typical checklist for comforts to have on hand (God bless you to THESE!!), but my focus was more immediately on things like getting taxes filed, stocking up the freezer, coordinating help for the family as needed, communicating with clients and making sure they were set while I was out of commission, etc. With only a three-week notice, the time flew by before my husband and I were checking in to Mass General. Because I was the first procedure of the day for my surgeon, things moved quickly after check-in, but that’s about where expectations stopped being met.
Sparing you the gory details, let’s just say that we were all caught flat-footed for how serious and invasive this would be for my body and how badly it would leave me broken, both physically and spiritually. There were some (very serious) complications and (completely) unexpected outcomes, and for lack of a better word, I was left quite debilitated initially. In short, we were scared, I was in excruciating pain, and things looked quite bleak, and yet all of it worked to bless me with as well as reinforce for me some very positive life lessons. Despite not yet being fully recovered (and not knowing if I ever will be) and having learned I need another (more minor) surgery as soon as next week, I’ve had some time to reflect. I’m happy to say that I see the light at the end of the tunnel and wanted to share some of the things learned.
1. Healthy Living Matters ALL. THE. TIME.
Too often we focus on health AFTER something has happened to us (injury, new diagnosis, etc) or ONLY because of something foreseen (class reunion, summer beach trip, family wedding). The problem with that is that it leaves you unprepared for the unexpected and I can honestly say that every single doctor and nurse involved in my care has said 1) that I am light-years ahead of where I “should” be in terms of recovery, BECAUSE 2) my health going into surgery was probably the single biggest positive determinant of my outcome. Having a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be NOW because YOU are the most important reason.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”
2. Mindset Makes the Difference.
Oh, trust me, I won’t get preachy with you here, because there were plenty of dark moments (hours? days? Ask my husband.) but finding the internal faith to believe that whatever it was, it would be temporary, it would get better, and even if it didn’t change as much as I wanted, I was strong enough to handle it, had support when I needed it, and had control over how I was going to respond to it. Sure, at times I ugly-cried and said things that might embarrass me now, but vocalizing your fear is not the problem…the problem is letting that narrative define your situation. Even in my worst moments, after recognizing and honoring the pain and fear, I would shift my thoughts to asking “what can I do at this moment to focus on something else?” Maybe it’s as simple as taking three deep breaths (although at first even that hurt for me!!), looking at your awesome dog sleeping at your feet, or just getting the sun on your face – nothing heroic, just something other than focusing on the bad stuff. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t effortless and sometimes it was an exercise that I repeated every 10 seconds just to get through a day but choosing how to live in those shorter moments made all the difference.
3. Do What You’re Told, Not What You Can.
Yep, even for a Questioner like me (see HERE), this is an important one. I’m a bit of a DO-er and have trouble “resting,” something that is essential to recovering from anything, whether physical or emotional. My surgical team gave me explicit instructions regarding what I was not allowed to do (who knew 3 pounds could feel heavy??) and then left me with what I considered to be a more general message of “just rest and recover.” Thinking that they could not possibly mean do nothing, I managed to find some gray area here and took full advantage (I mean, why not ride your bike indoors on a trainer if you have the energy??). Let’s just say that did not work out well. Who knew that sometimes NOT exercising is the healthiest choice? Folks, when someone tells you to rest, REST.
4. Asking for Help Isn’t Just About You.
For anyone who knows me well, it’s safe to say this one is really hard for me. I’m fiercely independent (thank you, Dad.) and being the only female in a household of strong, amazing men, I pride myself on my self-sufficiency. Well, that came to a crashing halt and although it wasn’t the first time, it was still humbling…and paid dividends. When you cannot so much as squeeze toothpaste onto your toothbrush or put on your slip-on shoes on your own, asking for help is NOT optional. What I learned, however, is that it is also not weak. By surrendering to my legit needs at any moment and reaching out to another for help, I gained strength. I was able to separate my world into what I could do and what I needed others for – ironically this simplified things for me which made it easier to function because my options were always clear. In addition, and this might be the most important part, it brought others into my recovery circle. Not only did this show me how much love I had around me, but also it gave these others an important boost by being able to help someone else (especially when that “someone” rarely accepts help). Whether it was the friends who just sat by my side during the opioid-haze days, or the neighbor who dropped off fresh scones, or the friend who sent me edible love (aka an entire box of paleo dark chocolate), or those who texted every day even when I did not respond, or the elderly man outside the bank who opened the (for me) too heavy door, or the flight attendant who made sure my ziplock was always filled with ice – we both benefited, and I cannot thank you enough.
5. When in Doubt, Bring in the Experts.
Seriously, whether you’re a research junkie like me and read everything you can when in the midst of a problem or whether you just get overwhelmed and flattened in the moment, most often the best course is to find an expert on your problem and get them involved. To be clear, this NEVER means Google…or anything online, ever…when it is something so personal. I’ve met some incredible individuals the past few months through my surgeon and no matter their background or experience, every single one of us would admit that at some point we HAD to reach out to an expert – maybe that was a therapist, a psychiatrist, a pain management specialist, an occupational therapist, etc but we would never have progressed without the input of these experts. Again, strength in knowing your limits!
BONUS Lesson: WIth Faith and Family, Everything Will Be Fine.
If you’ve known me for more than five minutes, you know that my life has been a colorful one (see what I did there? mindset.) and every single time there has always been just two constants. God and my boys (betrothed and birthed!). I’m not going to lie, there were too many moments where I might have yelled some choice words at the sky, but at the end of the day, when I lay my head upon my pillow, I asked for His help, His grace, His love, and His protection. As much as things did not follow the path that I had planned. they followed a path through which I had His guidance and for that I am always, eternally grateful. Let Go and Let God, it is the only way. And as for family – whether that of blood or of choice – lean on them! For my boys, I have to say that I am the luckiest person alive. My husband was LITERALLY my right hand, minute upon minute, without fail and with so much love and saint-like patience, and each of my sons filled my heart to the point of overflowing. Matt, your regular check-ins gave me something to look forward to and your loving concern was palpable. Nick, your stoic but compassionate and gentle words were always the nudge I needed and no one does my ponytail as well as you (although Dad is getting close!). Luke, staying the course when the road was rough and never missing a chance to needle me when I was wallowing were appreciated beyond words. Bo, you are absolutely God’s gift to me and I could not be happier to finally have a sous chef. Each one of you was what kept me going through the darkest of darkness. I love you.