Sitting in the car, heading home, on the Friday of my first week back at work after my surgery, I put my head in my hands and started to cry. I was exhausted both mentally and physically. I felt like I had just been through a week of boot camp. I had totally underestimated the amount of stamina I needed to get through one simple day of work. I was frustrated with myself for being tired. What was wrong with me? The surgery was over, I had rested at home for a week and worked from home for another, why wasn’t I one hundred percent?
At three weeks I still couldn’t chew very well, my lower lip was still (and is still) numb which made everything from speaking to eating to crying an effort. Everything felt like an adjustment -- from wearing a seatbelt to talking on the phone, to the clothes I could wear, to rinsing out toothpaste. I was overwhelmed and depressed.
It took me a while to realize the problem was not with my recovery – the problem was my expectation of what should happen.
I have a long history of ignoring what my body is trying to tell me. I have an arrogance about my will being able to drag my body along regardless of any illness or injury. I’m that person who never gets sick for a day, because I don’t let myself be sick. When I’m under the weather I tell myself to buck up, I deny the sniffles, ignore the sore throat and open the window to cool off from a fever. When I do finally succumb to illness it isn’t pretty. It takes me out for a week, lands me in the doctor’s office listening to a lecture about how close I had come to being hospitalized.
I guess at my core I believe I am useless if I am not contributing to society in some way. Clearly my sense of safety is predicated on being in the world, making a contribution, working until I drop. Being sick makes me feel like that wounded antelope you see in all those nature films that gets eaten by the lions. Who wants to be that guy?
Yet who wants to be the woman crying in the car at the train station because she has pushed herself too hard? Frankly, I’d almost prefer being the antelope.
It is hard to face your own limitations and to respect what you need to heal, I’m afraid it is even harder to continue to ignore the small still voice inside you that asks you to breathe, to listen and to honor the amazing vessel that enables us to live fully in the world.
I am lucky I have people in my life who remind me to slow down, and who are patient with me when I cancel plans because I am too tired.
I am now seven weeks out from the surgery and take great pleasure in sleeping on my left side again, and being able to turn my head without using my whole body. The sensitivity in my left back molar has returned, something that used to annoy me but I now take as a reminder that my nerves are slowly coming back to life. Worrying about what I still cannot do, takes the focus of what I can do again, chewing came back just in time for the best corn of the season and because it is often hard to talk when my lip is acting up I save my words for when it is really important (and honestly, I like the challenge of taking less and listening more.)
Yesterday, after being able to take my first long walk, it occurred to me that I had been looking at this whole recovery thing all wrong. Instead of thinking it was taking me away from my job, I realized it was my job to recover and it warranted my total and complete focus and priority.
I stopped wishing I could get back to my old self and made peace with this newer, modified version of me. With any bit of luck she won’t met that crying woman in the car anytime soon.