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A few weeks ago, I had surgery for the first time and last week I wrote about some of the life lessons I gained from the unsettling and unpleasant experience of undergoing surgery and facing some of my biggest fears — namely, anything related to doctors or medicine! (Check out PART I here.) It’s been a challenge to get back to the point where I’m able to do work and write again, but I’m so happy to be getting better day by day. Keep reading to discover some of the lessons I learned from having surgery and spending weeks recovering from it…
7. VERY FEW THINGS ARE AS URGENT AS THEY SEEM.
Before surgery, I never would have dreamed of taking a week to respond to an email or asking to push off a deadline for a month. When it comes to work (and even to simple things like text messages), everything always seemed urgent to me. I had to respond as soon as I could. I had to complete a task before it was due. I had to text back right away. But now — after rearranging my workload, getting back to people when I felt up to it — I’ve realized that there is very little in this world that’s urgent. Almost everything can (and does!) wait if you allow it to. That’s not to say I will be putting things off (that goes against my Type A nature!), but I’m hoping I’ll learn to chill out a bit more now that I’ve seen first-hand that not everything needs to be taken care of ASAP.
8. BE CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT YOU READ.
When I’m faced with an unknown situation, my first instinct is to gather all of the information I can about it. Having a better understanding of a subject makes me feel more secure and prepared. So, of course, when I found out about my condition and the surgery I’d be having, I began Googling like a madwoman, gathering all the data I could so I’d know what my doctor was talking about and, more importantly, I’d know what to expect. This was both good and bad. On the bad side of things, I read some horror stories that made me more anxious than necessary. But on the good side, I got some great post-surgery tips that really helped (and that my doctor failed to mention) and I had some idea of what to expect. For example, I knew that there was a good chance I would have to have more than one surgery so, when I met with my doctor for my post-op checkup, I wasn’t surprised (or upset) when he told me another surgery would be necessary. Information is powerful (in a good and bad way) so be mindful of what you read.
9. YOU WILL LEARN AS YOU GO.
Surgery has taught me that you’ll learn things you never thought you would need to learn (like how to pull up your pants when you can’t properly bend your legs!). You’ll learn how to do very unpleasant pre-op prep. You’ll learn how to follow post-op instructions from your doctor. You’ll re-learn how to do basic things, like showering and sleeping. And you’ll learn to do things you’d never heard of before — and you’ll become good at doing these things. One of the great things about humans is how amazingly well we adapt to new circumstances. Things that seemed really difficult right after surgery are now second nature to me. Things I once thought of as gross don’t even faze me now. I’ve learned, in a very short time, how to take care of myself in new ways and it’s shown me that, no matter what we’re facing, we can and will adapt.
10. JUST TAKE EVERYTHING 10 SECONDS AT A TIME.
If you’re an avid Positively Present reader, you probably know how much I love Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (read my post about it here), and the show taught me a very important life lesson that proved invaluable in the face of pain and fear: take it 10 seconds at a time. In the show, Kimmy gets through difficult situations by telling herself that she can get through the next 10 seconds…and the next 10…and the next 10. This little trick can be a lifesaver when you’re in pain (emotionally or physically). When faced with pain that feels as if it will never end, it’s so helpful to break it down to 10 second bits of time. You can do anything for 10 seconds, and when you think about it only as surviving through that short period, whatever pain you’re facing becomes more bearable.
11. LITTLE VICTORIES SHOULD BE CELEBRATED.
Who knew that simply taking a shower could be considered a major accomplishment? After surgery, I quickly learned that it was important to celebrate the little victories — no matter how small. Even the act of getting out of bed was something I could be proud of! Instead of focusing on what you can’t do (as I often found myself wanting to do since I felt immobile and unproductive), celebrating the little things you can do is a way to shift the focus away from complaints and toward gratitude. While there was a lot I wasn’t able to do, I was still able to do somethings and, as I recovered, I was able to do more and more things. Celebrating this little victories — even if it was just with a “Look at you! Good work!” — helped me feel as if I was making progress.
12. DO WHAT YOU CAN WHERE YOU ARE.
The most important lesson I learned while recovering from surgery was this: do what you can while you can. Throughout my recovery, I was very frustrated by the things I couldn’t do, but I tried to transform that frustration by finding things I could do. For example, I was able to get a lot of reading done, which I loved. Due to the beauty of my iPhone, I was able to respond to emails while lying in bed and even draft this post! I downloaded some apps for my phone to keep me busy (like Colorfy and Boggle) and allowed myself to do some research for future work projects. I wasn’t able to do much, but I did the best I could to fill up my time with what I could do and this served two important purposes: (1) it distracted me from my pain at times and (2) it gave me a feeling of productivity. While I’m not saying we should always be doing something, I was glad to learn that, even when stuck in bed, there are ways to make the most of your time.
Whether you’re going through a situation like mine or just looking for some inspiration, I hope theses lessons have inspired you in some way. I’ll leave you with one final thought that helped me get through recovery: try to envision yourself healthy again. As I was stuck in bed, I sometimes found my mind wandering to a negative place, thinking thoughts like, “I’m going to be in this situation forever.” or “I’m never going to be well again.”
Of course, those kinds of thoughts are immensely unhelpful when it comes to recovery and I knew it. So whenever I started to think this way, I’d remind myself to calm down, focus on the moment, and keep in mind that this was just one chapter of my life. As a greeting card I got from a friend said, “This is but a crappy chapter in your amazing life story.” When I focused on that thought — reminding myself that I would get better, eventually — I found it much easier to cope with the pain and frustration.
So if you ever find yourself in a tough spot in life, remember those words: This is but a crappy chapter in your amazing life story. It really does help to remind you that one day you’ll be in a another chapter and whatever you’re struggling with right now will be nothing but a memory.
Great post Dani. All very good tips. I love the 10 second tip. I will start including that practice in my daily routine coping with Sjogren’s Syndrome.
Wishing you healing and wellness.
I really enjoyed your article , you give us some very interesting tips, am particularly convinced that the number 9 is a great truth.
This is an encouragement to me as I often forget number 11 and I do not often realize the relevance of number 12.
Thank you for your kind, encouraging and inspirational words.
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