Roughly three months from having my right first rib removed, and just days away from having to repeat the surgery on the left side of my body, I’ve realized that this recovery process has proved incredibly beneficial to me. It’s been hard, this recovery has challenged me in ways I didn’t expect. At times it has really hurt, both emotionally and physically, and the following are some of the greatest lessons I have learned, and continue to learn. Hopefully these personal, and profound (at least for me), experiences spark some new ideas and inspirations!
1. Waking up really early, and I mean really early, has been rejuvenating!
I’ve always been a bit more of a morning person. I like starting my days with the time to drink coffee, slowly prepare for the day, and ease myself into being an adult with responsibilities and tasks and such. As a result, I wake up at 4am six days a week. Prior to the surgery I would use that time to watch Netflix or youtube, and generally just zone out and not use my brain. I was a zombie. Since the operation however, I’ve found that using this time to meditate and journal to be much more invigorating! I’ve also found that doing these practices first thing in the morning to be a better environment for myself. First, the stillness and quiet of the morning are hard to replicate during “normal” hours. The peacefulness of 4am is pretty awesome! Additionally, I’m a lot nicer and more honest with myself right after waking up. Perhaps it’s because I have yet to feel the pressure of the day start to mount, but I am a lot more likely to address uncomfortable emotions or thoughts when I first wake up than I am later in the midst of the days happenings. Having the daily quiet and uninterrupted time has been a blessing, and something that makes setting a 4am alarm clock worth looking forward to.
2. Meditation has made me less anxious
Meditating is not something that’s new to me, I’d done so very inconsistently for a few years, and have known of the benefits attributed to the purposeful practice of giving yourself some headspace for some time. However, I had never made the act of doing so a regular part of my life. Lately though, with limited physical capacity, and more free time, I’ve committed to making a 10-minute guided mediation a daily habit, and after only two weeks I can clearly see major returns to my day to day life. As someone who is always running through ideas and thoughts, and as a result has trouble being mindful and in the moment, meditation has helped me begin learning how to recenter and come back to the present time. This ability is especially useful when anxieties and overthinking (something that happens regularly) begins to take hold. Additionally, I’m admittedly slow when it comes to recognizing and expressing my emotions, and admittedly even less a fan of doing so. What meditating has done is allow me a place where my brain as the space to begin addressing any sort of emotions that are going on. The practice of allowing my brain the time and place to take step back and clear out whatever has been going on, while taking deep full breaths, has made me a more aware, calm, and present person, which has made me generally happier and more pleasant to be around. All good things!
3. Journaling helps me sleep
This lesson went hand in hand with meditating for me. If I don’t write things down I will obsess over trying to remember thoughts and sort everything out internally. Where meditating has given me the space to become aware of emotions, thoughts, and even physical senses, journaling has provided the medium for mapping out where those thoughts/feelings are coming from, what they look like, and how I may be able to go about addressing them. Whereas before I used to be so in my head trying to mentally map out my life that I would often find myself contemplating every little aspect of my existence while trying to fall asleep (as that’s when you have the brain space and time to think). I now meditate and journal to keep my head clear. Once something is written down in ink, I no longer feel the need to obsess and fixate. I can come back to it whenever I want. My brain is clear and I sleep well again!
4. Acknowledge the mental monsters. Bringing them to the light kills negative thinking
This is one I first learned as a freshman in college, when a prolonged episode of homesickness, depression, anxiety, and a strong splash of heartbreak, had me contemplating ending my own life. I had never really talked about my struggles up to that point, and that period in my life, where I had so much negative overflowing my life, presented me with two choices; address my issues or self destruct. Fortunately I chose to address things. Since then I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable talking about the hard stuff (I’m still not great at it but, hey, I’m getting there!) and it was again something I had to practice after my surgery, when fears, insecurity, and self doubts were more frequent. What I found is that when these unpleasant thoughts remain internal, they can grow in size and intensity and become monsters. Once these emotions and thought processes grow to be monsters they are much harder and scarier to address. They feel overwhelming and dangerous. However, when brought to the light and looked at, be it by talking with a friend or counselor, or through journaling, these challenging scary emotions are seen for what they are; mere thoughts! Negative emotions thrive in the dark, and addressing these dark, uncomfortable emotions, and bringing them to light, more often than not reduces them to something much more manageable and less scary.
5. Emotions don’t vanish, but they can evolve. How they evolve is up to you
Every day we experience emotions. During times of adversity these emotions come more frequently and more intensely, at least that’s the experience I’ve had during my recovery. Emotions, no matter how uncomfortable and unpleasant, have to be addressed eventually, they can’t be bottled, swallowed, and made to disappear…I know, I’ve tried. The negative, emotions, fear, anger, doubt, insecurity, sadness, etc. are especially dangerous to try and cover up. They are going to present themselves somehow, and that somehow is up to you. Addressing unpleasantness head on and discussing it, journaling it, drawing, meditating, or somehow decompressing that internal pressure of built up emotion in a positive way can pay huge dividends in happiness and general life satisfaction. The alternative, pretending an emotion is gone or otherwise negating it, doesn’t typically go so well. That emotion will find a way to present itself. For me, during times of difficult emotion and attempting to bottle these feelings, my negative emotions have come out sideways and shown up as eating disorders, brutally negative self-talk, lack of internal self worth and huge amounts of self doubt. The negative emotions spiraled and became much, much worse experiences. Further, you cannot selectively dampen emotions. By blunting my negative emotions, the positive experiences became muted as well. However, when I’ve addressed these things head on, acknowledged them, and been honest with myself and others, the “hard” stuff never seems quite as bad, and on more occasions than one has ultimately become an experience I was able to grow from and make strong personal connections with others during. That growing experience and connection with others has certainly been the happening in my recovery and I am tremendously grateful for that.
6. Self-advocacy is not only loving yourself, but respecting others!
One of my greatest challenges in communication is self-advocacy. I have long feared coming off as arrogant, entitled, selfish, or needy. So instead of advocating and communicating, I would neglect my needs and wants in order to not disrupt the status quo. I was really bad at asking for help, and would almost never tell people what I actually wanted, unless I felt as though it wold have no impact on anyone but myself. This was a seriously fast way to feel as though I wasn’t important as a person. I wasn’t willing to acknowledge what I wanted or needed, and as a result I started to doubt whether or not what I wanted or needed even mattered. From these doubts it’s not a fear leap to wondering whether or not I mattered as a person. What I’ve been learning recently however is that you have to self-advocate to feel fulfilled as a person. Beyond that feeling of self worth you experience when respectfully advocating for yourself there is also a bond that develops with others. What I mean by this is that by allowing others to see what you need, and to include them in your wants and let them help and support you, they will feel valuable to you and your relationship. Post surgery I have been forced to ask for help! I have needed more help during this time that possibly any other time of my life. I’ve need assistance with carrying groceries, opening jars, doing laundry, changing my shirts, and many more tasks. I’ve also needed help remaining optimistic about my recovery, feeling like I still provide value to those around me, and generally seeing the forrest through the trees of being injured/recovering from a major surgery with another one around the corner. The best part about needing that much help is that people have helped me! I’ve received so much support that it blows my mind, and that realization has lead to probably the best lesson of them all…
7. You matter
I’ve learned/reaffirmed that I matter. And beyond that, you matter. As mentioned throughout these writings, self worth is something I’ve struggled with for years. What this recovery period has reaffirmed and shown me again is that I matter to those people around me. The outpouring of love and help and support that has come during this time has humbled me and shown me how much power and impact the actions of human beings can have on one another. This might be a, “Well duh!” thing to point out but it’s important. Today, with so much media and content highlighting and dramaticizing everything, it is easy to compare yourself to others and feel less than important and less than amazing. That’s bullshit. You are amazing! I’m amazing. People, human beings, are so valuable to one another. We can’t forget it. Who we are, what we do, matters. I matter. You matter!
I’ll finish these writings with two quotes that I’ve found to resonant with me deeply during my recovery.
“Baby don’t cry. I hope you got your head up. Even when the road is hard, never give up.” - Tupac Shakur
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightness us…as we let our light shine, and as we are liberated from our own fears, our presence liberates others.” - Eric Thomas