The Process of Healing: the Unexpected, the Philosophical, and the Reorientation

Healing is a slow, tedious business, and progress is not a linear journey. I am in a re-recovery mode, nearly three weeks post-op. I thought the worst would be the first days — the waking up from surgery shivering underneath a thin blanket, the post-operative vomiting, the painful first steps to the bathroom, the ache at the base flesh of my palms from pushing too hard on my walker as I shakily navigated life outside the hospital. One week out, I felt I left the worst behind, quickly ditching my walker and climbing stairs easily after a week.

However, my body is still reassembling and reacting to a new hip and the trauma of its insertion. One of those reactions included an allergic/chemical reaction to the surgical glue and prep, which led to red inflamed blistering misery and days of pantsless immobile defeat. It wasn’t a rash, it was psychological warfare. I am now a little less confident of my future and what this journey will look like, not knowing what other surprises may lurk ahead.

Today, large swathes of my skin are still sensitive to touch, but the fiery red has faded to a muted purple. I am pain free and itch free, and I now understand that these better moments are to be appreciated. While we all live with the reality that our health is not limitless, I am aware that I am on new joint time, which will hopefully be 30 years, but could be as little as 10. It takes a good deal of cognitive effort not to let the what ifs and second thoughts take over. As a person who values logic, I struggle with medical decisions that seem like leaps of faith.

Healing for me will be more than a physical journey. It will be embracing new philosophies that include an altered vision of my future, as I build strength and exert caution. My hope is for a more intense love for the moment I am in, the people I am with, and the legacy I want to build. I will no longer defer dreams or adventures when my feet are once again solid beneath me. Today, though, I am appreciating this time of healing, which means being reflective and feeding my inner life. Not everyone has this opportunity to take off of work, to be able to pause and know that the bills will still be paid. I am lucky in this way.

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Second Opinions and the Tenacity of Hope

A second opinion is really just a second chance to hope. Really, do we seek these out when have already heard what we want to? My much anticipated trip to the research hospital with the impressively credentialed surgeons did not go as expected. It went worse. There’s bad news and then there is you should get your children x-ray’ed bad news.

My hips did not properly form at birth, causing hip dysplasia, which also threatens my right hip and may be present in my children. The surgeon tried to make this condition relatable, and perhaps less scary, by discussing golden retrievers. Apparently, if I were a dog, I would not be the pick of the litter. The analogy was not the doctor’s finest moment during the appointment, but it was an amusing and slightly offensive distraction, which is exactly what I needed. The physician’s assistant had entirely too kind and sympathetic eyes. At one point I told her that I needed her to look at me with cold disinterest or a scowl to keep me from crying.

Though the news was bad, it was exactly what I needed to hear to proceed on this journey to wellness. Clearly, I am not going to Kegel my way out of this. My second opinion, while devastating, was extremely informative. The experience was much different than my first visit to the doctor. The PA and doctor actually sat down and explained my x-rays to me. Prior to this appointment, I did not even see the images of my hip. They also let me know that I had cysts that needed monitoring if I delayed surgery, as if they grow, I could experience bone loss. While I left my first doctor’s appointment scared to have a replacement due to problems 25 years down the road, I left this doctor’s appointment afraid to wait to much longer.

Both doctors agreed on one point, which is that I should schedule the surgery when it keeps me from doing the activities that I love and interferes with my well-being. I am at this point and am now facing the dilemma of scheduling. When can a working mom find six weeks to recover? Scheduling the time off is causing me more stress and worry than the surgery itself.

If anyone stumbles upon this blog post and is dealing with pain and being prescribed physical therapy, demand to see an orthopedic doctor. I went through three rounds of physical therapy and numerous trips to the chiropractor and nobody properly identified and treated the cause of my pain. Instead I was told that I was sitting too much, that my hormones were loosening my ligaments, and that I should avoid gluten and other inflammatory foods. All this was delivered by healthcare professionals with the utmost confidence. That unfounded confidence is costing me my hip.

The Polar Vortex and Other Broken Systems

Two years ago, I was doing aerial splits on the trampoline. Today, I cannot get through grocery shopping without limping and holding desperately onto the handle of the shopping cart. I’ll forever remember this winter as the season that made no sense. The weather has added to the surreal experience, the broken polar vortex offering a nice metaphorical symmetry to my own internal system break down. In the record-breaking wind chills, I ventured to the orthopedic doctor to be told I needed a new hip at age 41. My life has been frozen by unseasonable forces.

The winter howled, iced, and snowed us in for the past month. We have had record snow day cancellations. The symbiosis between the external and internal environments of my body has left me feeling a bit witchy, as if nature is mourning my broken system as well as its own. We are aging poorly, accumulating irreparable damage, but we can’t stop the world. After I returned from the doctor, my son asked if we could go to the bowling alley/arcade because snow days are supposed to be fun. My children, thankfully, have no concept of tragedy. Mom is always going to be alright because she is mom. So I went, limped around, buried the horror, and built a new plan for myself.

My new bright-eyed young physician therapist claims we won’t stop until I am back to 100%. Perhaps I will experience a physical therapy miracle once my hips are realigned and my muscles are stretched and strengthened. I don’t know and the fog of pain and uncertainty shadows my daily life. As much as I want to maintain the persona of the plucky heroine who faces adversity with grace and humor, I sometimes need to let the mask slip sometimes and pout at my aches.

The hardest part is all the ways my life has gotten smaller, how fear of pain has infused itself into my decision-making process. The circumstances create a sort of existential claustrophobia. My only recourse is to pedal the bike at the gym, to pull and push on the rowing machine, to regain the feeling of strength and control over my body. I try to remember that life is bigger than my problems and that my ability to contribute to it does not require physical perfection. But I do not like limitations.

Good Morning or At Least Trying

I am tired, deep down bone weary. My friend and I discussed yesterday how we do not write anymore. Our lives are consumed with the daily dramas and demands of work, and for me family. Last night, I became increasingly frustrated at my 7 year old who simply would not go to sleep. As she fussed with hunger, thirst, the urge to go to the bathroom, the need to be cuddled, etc., my golden hour of free time slowly dissipated. When she finally fell asleep, I remembered the grading I promised myself I would finish before the night ended.

To reward myself for the herculean tasks of getting my minimal family and work requirements done, I stayed up finishing a book and then cried at the end – for the characters, for the toxic political environment and victims of sexual assault, for my daughter who is still struggling with social issues at school, for all the crushing worries that are stealing my peace of mind. When I finally fell asleep, I was disturbed by one child and then another crawling into my bed. This rarely happens, but when it does happen, it is usually when I am already emotionally and physically drained. In slow increments I was pushed out of the bed by knees and elbows. I tried to find sleep elsewhere, but by 6 a.m. the children were awake and searching for me, alarmed that I was missing.

Because time does not stop, I tried first to rouse myself with coffee and then an energy aromatherapy bath. My eyes still feel swollen and abused, but I found a moment here upstairs with my words, and I will try to keep finding moments throughout the day – to create, to experience, to enjoy the moments that may come. Good morning.

Taming the Anxious Mind

This week I am learning the limitations of my cognitive powers and how anxiety is a full body experience. No amount of philosophy or mindfulness has been able to stop the stress dreams, the stomachaches, or the clenching of my jaw. I am on a steady diet of high fiber, probiotic foods and meditation, yet still I am struggling. Even when I have successfully shut down my rehashing of events and can recognize no reason for stress, a knot of nerves keeps emitting distress signals. All I can do is ride out the storm and do what seems to bring me the most relief: exercise, time outdoors, and creative expression.

Each day my attention has been divided in multiple directions: work, school volunteering, extracurricular activities, my daughter’s health issues, household management, etc. When I am in the grips of anxiety, it’s easy to get frantic with all that I could be doing, but I am currently not. This is when I need to really turn to my mindfulness and simplify my schedule. I have limitations and that is okay. I cannot fall into the trap of social comparison, measuring myself against those that *seem* to be doing it all flawlessly.

This past weekend, I mixed up the time for my daughter’s last soccer practice and showed up to the fields three hours late. When I realized my mistake, I could not help being swamped with agonizing regret and self-loathing. Who does this? I hate to fail others, and I hate to make mistakes, but no good comes from wallowing in negative feelings. All I will do is keep myself in this cycle of turmoil, bad outcomes, and recovery. Instead, I need to reflect on the cause and work towards a positive course of action to avoid further mix ups.

Writing about this makes me feel marginally better, as if I put medicine on a wound. This weekend I have made concerted efforts to speak my feelings, not hold them in and have them mutate into some other form, such as grumpiness. It’s the advice I give my children – give a name to it, so that we can deal with it. Negative emotions hold less power in the light.

Needs, Wants, Work, and the American Way

Without realizing exactly what I was signing up for, I volunteered to be a Junior Achievement Consultant for my daughter’s first grade classroom. I discovered I would be leading five different class sessions to show the role businesses play in our communities and to inspire future entrepreneurship. Last week, I ran the lesson of needs versus wants. What do we truly need in order to survive? The lesson was presented in a fairly black and white manner. Clothes, food, and shelter were labeled as needs. Luckily, I had a few critical thinkers in the group, in particular, a little boy who challenged the idea that shelter and clothing were “needs.” In truth, these needs may be defined by the weather and the culture of where one lives. Also, not all food, clothes, and shelter are necessities. You may need a home with a roof and heat, but you do not need one with a game room.

When my winter semester ended, I had the choice of whether or not to teach more classes, as I already fulfilled my yearly contract. If I were to work more, I would earn more money. And as my Junior Achievement Consultant Handbook explained, money is necessary to supply both one’s needs and wants. However, it did not explain the harm of pursuing more money to purchase more wants. If I were to work more, I would have less quality, stress-free time with my children; I would have less time to read and write for pleasure; I would not be able to exercise as much; I would not be able to cook as many healthy meals; I would spend more time sitting and less time outdoors, etc.

I make enough money for the necessities of life and some savings. If I work more, it would be for items I truly don’t need. I am fine driving an older model Equinox I found through Craigslist, even though I don’t really like the color. I could work harder and purchase a newer, more stylish vehicle, but for me, the cost of working overtime is not worth the benefits.

Yes, I realize I am lucky that I have the luxury to choose. But a number of people could work less and have less. I marvel at how the picture of middle-class life has changed since I grew up.

According to Bloomberg, “In the 1890s, Americans had an average of 400 square feet of residential space per person. But by the early twenty-first century, that figure had doubled to 800 square feet.” Not only do these large homes cost more to build, they cost more to heat and cool. My childhood home was a modest ranch modular home. It was cute and comfortable, but no more than what was necessary. We bought our current home, which is an older cape cod structure, because we liked the peaceful setting and school district. Yes, higher ceilings, a large master bathroom, and an open staircase would be nice. But I believe a mortgage payment of under $800 is nicer.

Another change I see is in the school parking lots. Instead of driving vans, families want to drive Suburbans, Yukons, and Expeditions. It is not surprising that people are complaining that they no longer can live on middle-class wages. You can’t if you want to have all these so-called “necessities.” What happened to living below one’s means? It seems we are all being expected to live at the ceiling.

The big takeaway in the Junior Achievement “needs versus wants” lesson was the idea that individuals need to budget and prioritize. This concept is applicable not only for money management, but for time management. We can get buried in busy without actually accomplishing the items that are most important for our well-being and personal success. Time, like money, is a finite resource. And sometimes, we need time more than money.

Right now, I am a bad cog in the capitalist machine, as I am choosing time over money. Still, I can’t help but feel a twinge at guilt when people ask, “Are you off for the summer?” And I am not really off. I run a department, which means meetings, scheduling, staff interviews, etc. I am also expected to professionally development and plan my fall classes. Still, I am not working as many hours as I can, which doesn’t does not seem like the American way.

In my composition classes, we analyze the following commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNzXze5Yza8.  The Cadillac commercial should be viewed as a satire. Instead, it is a realistic portrayal of American consumerism: “As for all the stuff, that’s the upside of taking only two weeks off in August.”

A New Year of Daily Intentions

Spending New Year’s Eve sick was the best dose of reality. New year’s day was not the day I would begin my marathon training; it was not the day I would sort through my closet and minimize; it was not the day I would begin writing ten pages a day. It was the day I took care of myself, so that I could heal faster.

The best advice I read for the new year was to set daily intentions instead of one overarching resolution. On a given day I may intend to create a new lecture, clean out the fridge, write a blog, or rest and drink lots of liquids. It means taking a moment to read the day, consider my obligations, and gauge my own personal needs. Some days I genuinely need to work out, not to meet a dictating resolution for the year, but to clear my head and balance my emotions.

In my field of composition and rhetoric, I have learned that timing is key. A writer crafts his response to fit a particular moment. The action is co-determined by the setting, the current conversation, and audience. Likewise, my everyday actions are also determined by multiple factors. Perhaps it would be different if my life did not involve children and a job that has varying demands day by day. All I can do is make the best decisions in the moment. This is what I can cook and eat with the available ingredients and the allotted time. I have had write this blog post in pieces because sometimes a six year old appears on my lap or the noise level in the house escalates beyond the point at which I can concentrate. In those moments, I move on to a different intention, which doesn’t require the same cognitive labor or better serves the needs of my household.

My goal is not to set myself up for disappointment or agitation but to still have expectations. I have discovered when I have set up unsustainable goals, such as I am going to write 500 words a day, when I fail, I quit. A daily intention is not about a streak of behaviors that can be broken. It’s not a diet you can fail. It’s about waking up each morning and planning what you have to do and what you want to do. Today is the last day of my children’s winter break. My intention is to remove the holiday decorations, visit with my parents, let my children dictate some fun activities, and prepare for a work day tomorrow.