Eighteen months have passed since major abdominal surgery and six months since my hospitalization for a blood clot in my lungs, yet I still haven’t figured out the new me.
Physically, emotionally and mentally, it’s still all a jumble of trying to discern what I can and can’t do, what will affect my energy levels, and to what I can commit. It drives me crazy.
I have a few friends in similar predicaments, and we all have less-than-empathetic folks in our midst who just don’t understand us — their newly flaky, non-committal, unreliable buddies. (Are you one of us?)
Thirty-something Joslin*, for instance, had thyroid surgery a couple years back — thyroid removal to be exact. Like me, she struggles to know when her energy will run out, if she will be able to attend parties or events other than the ‘necessary’ travails of each workday. Even normal work activities often milk more from her precious and limited energy reserves than any of us probably can imagine.
Fifty-four-year-old Tarin* has fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. She’s a small business owner, like me, and we joke about the clients who don’t understand when we say an envelope will be mailed tomorrow rather than today.
“But all it takes is printing the sheet, placing it in an envelope, affixing postage and dropping it in the mail,” the customer comments politely, yet incredulously. Yes, I know, perhaps a two-minute task at the most. But what the customer doesn’t realize is how something so minute, so seemingly inconsequential to most any other individual can have such a devastating affect on those of us whose health has been compromised on some level. To manage such unexpected stressors it’s necessary to manage energy. Consequently, a promise to complete a task at a more opportune time is sometimes the best option.
Those with visible ailments — serious accident survivors or those going through debilitating cancer treatments for example — seem to be better understood, and are provided more leeway by everyday citizens.
Conversely, maladies like Tarin’s, Joslin’s and mine are “undefined” in the layperson’s mind,and often quickly forgotten since they leave no discernable imprint to the naked eye. There’s no highly visible scar or expected outcome to serve as a reminder. “Expected” is the key word here, as each day may bring a newfound side-effect, energy drain or emotional moment. There’s no road map to follow, not even warnings of challenges to overcome, yet they do come-often with a vengeance.
I can’t speak for Tarin or Joslin, but for me, I’m only now realizing that there’s no timeline to expect these symptoms to subside. The feelings of fatigue and seemingly diminished mental capacity are feelings that do dissipate with time, but to harbor expectation about when these symptoms will be gone, well, that’s just a recipe for disappointment.
Yesterday, at last, I had a breakthrough. After months of trying to pinpoint “okay, you need this much sleep to function normally,” “all right, running is too draining, but at least you finally can do yoga,” and “allow yourself two days to recuperate after any major change in location (e.g. travel),” I finally figured out that anything that affected me before, now affects me ten times more.
I see it as a blessing, for no longer can I abuse the gifts provided to me at birth. Foods that don’t nourish my body now have an immediate affect on my mood, energy level and overall state of being. People who “suck” energy from me can literally take days from which to recover, and even minor situations that cause stress have a heightened affect on my physical and mental demeanor.
Yes, even a stubborn old dog like me finally is learning a new trick — namely to stay clear from the things I know are harmful to my being in order to experience lighter, brighter days. I’ve now set (and hope to stick with) boundaries that are meaningful to me, no matter what others may think, and I’m learning to ask for what I need, rather than wondering, or heaven-forbid, expecting others to know what’s going on in my head or with my body. In other words, I live my mantra “permission to be selfish,” even saying it aloud when necessary to help me propel forward with action. And, as always, when said with grace, gratitude and positive intention, it benefits those around me as much as it benefits me.
And, with luck, a bit of patience and some empathy for myself, I plan to one day treat the new me with the respect she deserves.
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent!