It feels like years and years since I’ve posted here. Going through grueling physical recovery from two surgeries has changed me on a molecular level. It’s been a flurry of progressions with an equal amount of regressions. What I’ve learned is if I don’t take the time I need to fully heal, maybe this would have been all for nothing. My goal is to return to writing by the end of this year, or early next year. My brain is ready to go, yet my body still says no. I keep this photo handy every time I berate myself for not showing up. “They” say that time heals all wounds, but I’ve come to realize that it’s what you do with that time that evokes positive change and enlightenment – genuine growth.
Four months is a long time to be away from expressing myself through the written word. I’ve missed sitting at my desk, in front of my computer, using a keyboard to write about living with depression. I enjoy sharing my stories to connect with others who might be struggling and hiding in the shadows with their mental illness. Writing is a form of therapy for me. It helps me to manage my anxiety when I’m overwhelmed and keep my priorities in check when depression has managed to seep through every pore and infect my brain.
I’ve been off the radar because I had surgery on my spine last April. My condition is called Degenerative Disc Disease, something that I inherited from my grandmother. The physical recovery from the operation has put me in the very uncomfortable position of relying on others – technically I am completely dependent on family, friends and neighbors to do chores for me like throwing trash bags down the garbage shoot and going to the store to buy me Gatorade during a few scary bouts of dehydration.
Asking for help has always been difficult. Depression robbed me for so long from having a healthy sense of self-worth. How dare I ask for assistance when I didn’t believe I was worthy enough to receive it? From the outside, I gave the impression that I was strong and didn’t need anyone or anything. But that wasn’t the case at all – my fear of rejection and lack of confidence left me convinced I was not good enough to accept help from others.
All of this changed in an unexpected moment of complete surrender. On the day before I checked into the hospital, among the many good wishes of love and support was the popular advice to “Be Strong.” Since I was going in for a very serious operation, the kind where you’re asked your religion as you’re being wheeled into the OR, I knew I would have to exude a sense of courage right up to the minute I was put under sedation. However, it wasn’t until I was in the recovery room that being strong meant having to place all of the negative beliefs about myself aside and motion to the nurse that I needed a bedpan, immediately.
Being strong was throwing away decades of negative thoughts. I had to believe I’m worthy of help, and to receive it with grace and gratitude. Realizing I had survived the operation, my spine intact, I gained a new appreciation for my own life. I never imagined an epiphany of this scale would take place laying on a gurney, emerging from hours of anesthesia, dressed in a flimsy, untied hospital gown and debating whether to pee or not to pee. Who knew it would take all of that to convince me that I count, too.
Accepting help got me through the most arduous times in my recovery. Some days the agony was so fierce that I had to dig deep down to conjure up the strength I needed to endure. So it was with some trepidation that after being home from the hospital for eight weeks I said yes to have a day in my life documented and recorded for a cause much bigger and greater than any physical pain I’d sustained.
Reading the email on my iPhone from bed, I knew that the company philosophy and their new hope and grace initiative was something I had to participate in. The only way for me to join in was to ask for aid from the production crew. On what was the hottest day of the year, the kind and patient team said yes to everything I’d requested: breaks from shooting to rest and ice my neck; cold orange juice within reach at all times; finding a comfortable interviewing chair; allowing me to wait in their air-conditioned mini-van while they set up outside.
These may seem like small, no-brainer requests, but the old me would not have asked for any of these things. I would have suffered at my own expense – not feeling that I was worthy of being comfortable and hydrated.
It took a long week for me to recover from that grueling day. But when I saw the final product, the incredibly moving and powerful video that launched philosophy’s hope and grace initiative on July 15th, I was bursting with pride. In what is a groundbreaking commitment by any corporation, philosophy will contribute 1% of product sales on philosophy.com to the hope and grace fund, which will award multiple financial grants each year to local organizations working to empower women through the promotions, prevention and treatment of mental health and wellbeing.
The first grant will go to Bring Change 2 Mind. As someone who has been a volunteer, spokesperson and official blogger for this incredible organization for over five years, being part of this new Bring Change 2 Mind venture has been nothing short of amazing. The collaborative effort to eliminate the ugly stigma that surrounds mental illness is one of the many silver linings that have resulted from asking for support and receiving the gift of reward and recognition.
In one month, I’ll be having yet another surgery – this time on my shoulder. Again, I’ll need to rely on others for help while I recover. My friends and family need not worry that I’ll ask them for a bedpan, but coming up to my neighborhood for an iced-cappuccino and a slow walk around the block is always welcome.
I’ve got to make this quick. My time online has been reduced to about 30 minutes per day. That doesn’t leave much for a scroll on Facebook, reading and responding to emails, online grocery shopping, and the one thing I miss the most – writing/blogging. If not for my iPhone and iPad mini, I’d be completely out of touch with the cyber world. I was not expecting to suffer so greatly from FOMO – the fear of missing out on who my friends were in past lives (Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde), which city they’re supposed to be living in, which flower they were meant to be. It’s one thing to choose to take a break from the online world, but being forced to choose how to spend half an hour a day (before Percoset kicks in) has forced a new way of prioritizing the best use of 1,800 seconds. Today I decided to post on my Chat Lounge, and I’m not even going to spell check or proofread for grammar fuckups. Yeah, I just cursed, BFD.
I’m really just dropping in to say ‘ello to my pals, let everyone know that I miss them and that I can’t wait to have my surgery and get back to normal (my normal, not society’s definition) and reconnect and catch up on the fun stuff I feel so left out of – like the notes to yourselves about never leaving the house without checking that your socks match, and to always be kind to strangers, as we’re all struggling with our demons and that your cats love you even though they don’t show it. I knew I was going through cyber withdrawal when I nearly had a panic attack on siblings day – luckily I made it just in time to post a profile pic of my sister and me but not without breaking into a sweat, searching for the “right” photo where we both look decent and uploading it (and cropping the thumbnail so we both have even space in the shot) – it was a marathon I tell you.
So while I have at best ten minutes to go on my laptop before my arms start to feel like they’re being pulled off, I still need to sort through about 100 resumes for a job I posted last week, order pet food for Anya, pay bills, and see if anyone’s cousin had a baby, if a friend of a friend I’ve never met in person is able to get WiFi (Yay!) during their holiday on an exotic island in the middle of who-knows/cares-where, and which teams are playing and which of those teams suck ass or don’t deserve to be on the field and who on FB is sitting on field level and must take a photo from every angle and post it like right now, like immediately, to show that they have THE BEST seats and how close they are to the players – so close that they can see the pores in their skin even under their helmets or hats. Personally, I am sad that this is Jeter’s last season with the Yankees. He’s turning 40 – and now I feel old, so I better NOT look at Facebook because I’ll feel even older, fatter and more loserish than I did 20 minutes ago – because EVERYONE on earth is living a healthier, more fun, more interesting, more fulfilled, more cultured and definitely tanner life than I’ll ever have.
Anya told me to bark hello to all of you and seriously hopes that I post a photo of her soon because she’s afraid you’ll all forget how cute she is. What’s that, Anya? You want your pic on Instagram too? I better go then, looks like those resumes will have to wait until tomorrow.
“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”
From “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns, Scottish Poet
I’ll be taking a break from posting in this space for the next few weeks. What I thought was a routine problem with my shoulder, turned out to be a much bigger and more serious health risk. Long story short, I need to have surgery relatively soon, and will be using my energy to prepare for what lies ahead. All of the projects and plans I had scheduled over the next six weeks are currently put on hold until further notice. While this is disappointing, the good news is that I’ll be in better health all around once I’m fully recovered. As always, I’m so grateful to be living in a time in which medical advances for treating all sorts of mental and physical illnesses were not available fifty years ago – maybe even twenty years ago.
Thank you to my friends at esperanza magazine for your good wishes and for holding a place for me on the Hope Blog while I’m out.
I’m looking to chat or email offline with others who’ve had cervical spinal fusion. Please contact me if you’re willing to do so. I would really appreciate it! Thanks.
Many thanks to everyone who has reached out to me after I shared the news of my upcoming surgery. I’m still scared and anxious, but just knowing that I have the emotional support from near and far makes this ordeal more manageable. I’m especially grateful to those who have told me about your loved ones who have gone through the same operation. I don’t know anyone who has gone through this, so just knowing that some of you have witnessed this first hand and the results have all been successful takes a lot of my fear away. I was hesitant about even mentioning the spinal fusion at all, but now I’m so glad I listened to my inner voice telling me that if I shared my situation, I’d be helping myself and anyone else who is going through something similar, just as I do when I talk about my struggles with depression and anxiety.
I started making a list yesterday of everything I need to do before the surgery. Since I know that my throat will be very sore for a few days, making it difficult to swallow – I’m now researching to see if my daily medications are available in liquid form. I’d rather drink my meds, than crush up the pills and mix them into yogurt, but if that’s what it comes down to, I’ll make do. Included in my list are questions I have for the surgeon. I’m carrying around a notebook because if I don’t write down my thoughts as they pop up, I will totally forget them. Keeping lists has always been a good method for keeping my anxiety in check. Being anxious about my surgery can lead to confusion and uncertainty. This is one operation where I want to know every tid-bit of info before I step foot into the OR.
Again, I really wanted to express my gratitude for the good wishes, prayers and support you’ve given me these past days. Sending you all one-armed hugs for now.
Here’s the latest from my never-boring world:
After two MRIs and many x-rays to find the cause of the unbearable pain in my right arm, shoulder and neck from the past two months, I was diagnosed on Thursday with degenerative disc disease (spondylosis) I’m shocked, terrified and haven’t gotten past the “WTF???” stage yet. What I can tell you now are the facts.
1) My surgery for spinal fusion in the C3/4, 4/5 and 5/6 vertebra in my neck is scheduled for April 23rd at Mount Sinai Hospital.
2) I have to meet with a plastic surgeon prior to the operation, since the incision to reach my spine will be made on the front of my neck, next to my voice box, and I don’t want to be left with an unnecessarily big scar.
3) My voice will be very hoarse for 2-4 weeks post-surgery.
4) From today forward, I’ll be making preparations for the surgery and post-operative care – meaning prioritizing my work-load, writing/blogging and personal responsibilities.
That’s all I can say for now, even though there a gazillion thoughts running through my brain, trying to sort them out here on my blog page isn’t something I’m ready to do.
Follow my personal blog for what’s sure to be an emotionally charged, freak-out rollercoaster ride.
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