Peace in the Pause
Finding grace in an unexpected gift — a surgery recovery of body, mind and spirit
Your ultrasound shows indicators that you have an ovarian torsion, the doctors said. We won’t be able to know with 100% certainty that this is the case without undergoing surgery, where we’ll remove the cysts. If the ovary is twisted, as we expect it is, we’ll untwist it.
Worst case scenario, we may have to remove the ovary.
The rest of the conversation is a bit blurry now, but the next step was clear. As I lay there alone in the MGH emergency department, I mustered what little processing ability I had and eagerly accepted their diagnosis: If it was surgery I needed, so be it. They could have recommended a lobotomy at that point and I wouldn’t have batted an eye. Anything to get me out of the immediate, blinding pain I was in would suffice. It took all of my bravado to undress for the operation in the state of pain I was in, let alone consider its implications; I didn’t have time — or energy — to be scared, emotional, or anything really but a hospital bed potato.
I had just barely enough forethought to ask one question: Would this affect my fertility in the future? My vulnerable self — however hidden behind a wall of pain and fatigue — peeked out just long enough to know I would care about the response to it after the painkillers wore off. The short answer? Your fertility odds are not reduced in proportion to the number of ovaries you have. In other words, even with one ovary, little Marissa juniors were still a good possibility (hurray!). I could exhale a small sigh of relief at that news. From there, it was a brief pit stop in the ER made by the best friends and residents around for a pep talk — hugs, hand squeezes and all, a quick call to my worried-sick parents in Michigan, some deep yoga breaths and an unmemorable lights out, followed by a relatively pain-free-by-comparison existence in the recovery room for a nights’ stay (with a view!).
What. A. Day.
I blinked, and my world shifted a bit on its axis. Out went my short-term plans: going to Dallas for a work trip, running that 25k in Michigan in May, cheering on my friends to reach their own running goals in the Boston Marathon, two-week world domination…you know, just the to-do list of an eager, unfalteringly driven, tenacious nearly-30-year old.
People often say your life can change in an instant. I feel this deep down in my bones to be true — always have, always will — and my small yet profound recent experience has been a telling example of the power of moments to teach you something, if you’re willing to take the lesson life is offering you. In the aftermath, I’ve received clarity that can only be attributed to a gracious God (what I believe) or a cosmic universe (if that’s more your thing) laughing at my plans and throwing curveballs in the mix to make sure I’m paying attention.
Ok, I’m paying attention.
The past two weeks of doctor-sanctioned R E S T has been the greatest gift I could have been given at this moment in time, in my season of life. A forced reckoning, if you will, to see my circumstances for what they are and what they can be. To view the coming-and-going of time in slow motion, for once, has given me newfound courage, gratitude and self awareness. What are the most important reminders I’ve taken from all of this R&R? Let me share.
There’s power in surrender. This is something I wrestle with daily. If you’re a high achiever with an Achilles heel of perfectionism, you can easily understand this condition. And yet, time continues onward in spite of our own indignation. I’m reminded that the things outside of our control can be met with curiosity or resistance; they’ll happen either way.
Let your emotions be your guide. My abdomen may have been in need of serious healing, but my gut — intuition — is now stronger than ever. Moments during these past two weeks have brought me to tears on numerous occasions, trying to teach me something. I’m reminded that emotions are powerful guideposts for life direction, if you’re willing to scale the barriers we’ve placed on emotional intelligence and emotional acknowledgement from societal expectation/norms, ambition, pride, and years of being told that emotions are a bad thing (more on that some other time). If you lead with heart, you’ll reap the benefits, starting in your own life, seen first through greater assurance and ultimately creating a ripple effect around you. Seize every opportunity to bring your whole self to the table, for yourself and for others in your midst.
The grip of the grind is powerful, y’all. Can I get an amen? Case in point: the doctors told me I should take leave from work for two weeks. So what did I go on and do? I emailed my full coverage plan as soon as I could get access to my laptop, letting my manager know I’d take one week off…and then likely work remotely for week two. What crazy pills was I taking on top of the extra-strength pain meds?! My achievement complex — less than 24-hours post-op — was already whispering in my ear, You can beat the average! You will miraculously heal in 1/2 the time as your peers! Look at you, you speedy ace, you! Rather than allowing myself the full time for healing, I was already looking for ways to cut corners on my own health and wellbeing. The worst day of my recovery? Not day one or day two, but the Sunday/Monday going into the workweek following my initial surgery. It was a tough mental battle, you see, to remember my worthiness and inherent need to prioritize my own care, but — thanks in large part to my mama — I came out victorious.
It’s an ongoing process, the whole idea of being human in a world that fights with all it has to keep us running on autopilot. You guys, this has got. to. stop. I’m feeling a mama-bear-level call to arms against the literal and metaphoric machine. We are not robots! Especially in the name of the rat race we call “getting ahead”, at the expense of our own bodies and minds, we must demand better. I’m a horrible offender of “do as I say, not as I do,” and this moment of pause has been the ultimate hand slap of being caught in the act. I’ve put in my 2019 goals the new mantra, “I will put my health above all else” — and I hope you’ll do the same.
Express gratitude often…and you’ll see the people, places and things around you in an altogether new light. My nurses and doctors are remarkable people: for their calm, direct assessment of my pain, for their compassionate aid in my moment of need, for their affability and much-appreciated attempts at humor, and for their swift, decisive action. My friends came through in ways I could have never imagined, from chocolate-covered fruit deliveries to Damnit Dolls to bed snuggles to cat cards to flowers that have nine lives (I kid you not, they’re still going strong two weeks later) — and everything in between. If I needed a reminder that platonic love is as sustaining as romantic love, I got one loud and clear. Thank you.
And to my mama, who drove to Detroit in a rain/sleet/snow storm, having barely cleared the flu to take the first flight out the morning following my surgery: you never missed a beat. I think I understand my mom now more than I ever have. Her love language is Acts of Service: I’ve known that forever. To know her is to love her, and to understand her need to stay busy as her way of showing affection — even if that means ironing jeans, pointing out all of the expired condiments in my fridge, or talking about 1,001 ways that my newly-fixed garbage disposal will change my life. And yet, an extended week with her gave me glimpses into her love and care, the essential way that love is demonstrated through all of what is unspoken in moments where no words are needed (and I say that coming from someone whose love language is Words of Affirmation). My mom and I may be very different people, but seeing her vulnerability through her concern for my wellbeing during recovery gave me a potent reminder that family is an enduring connection that gives even when it seems there is no more to give.
People in life have the power to pleasantly surprise you, especially when you take down the guardrails to see them as they are, to ask for help when you need it, and to savor the sweetness of receiving their gifts with a grateful heart.
See the beautiful in the mundane. Each day, I looked forward to my one-block walk more than anything. It made my spirit soar. It wasn’t lost on me that the magnolias were in bloom in Back Bay for the very brief time that I was on house arrest…ahem, medical leave. And so my walks went, both accompanied by my mama and done in total solitude. Untethered to any outcome, I could enjoy them to the fullest: I would give the tortoise a run for his money in a race-to-the-finish, after all, so I had a reminder anew of the power of taking things slow. I could absorb every fragrance, experience every magnolia varietal with curiosity and delight. I got to know the neighbors — and their look-alike pets — taking the dogs for ritual walks at 2:30 p.m. Myrna was a sassafras; Buddy was a big-pawed, Beagle puppy ball-of-love and a total attention tease. The postman kept treats in his bag for the lucky fur friends who crossed his path. This felt like next-level presence to take in the ordinary, and I took the time to enjoy it while I could. I’ll treasure this time for giving me such a gift, and an invitation to take advantage of each opportunity to walk slowly and intentionally whenever possible in the future, as well.
As far as my predisposition for impatience is concerned, I learned a great deal, too. I couldn’t help but write down this notion while reflecting on my experience:
You may not do something major every day, but every day you can do little things that prepare you for the day when something major (to you; whatever “major” may mean in your life) will present itself.
I think I have a bit more wisdom — and the tools to apply said wisdom — on the topic of taking things in stride, now that I can more readily appreciate the little things required each day: sitting up for a meal, bending down to pick something up, raising your hand (not just for that “next opportunity”, but simply to wash your hair!), or even performing a successful bowel movement (I know, eww, but bear with me here. I’m being real). Some days will be life-changing, other days will be mere existence. It’s the accumulation of both kinds of days that make a life. And that’s more than okay — it’s affirming.
One final thought
Through this recovery journey, I’m reminded of the fact that no one is guaranteed anything in this life: the best we can do is get up each day and try our best. I’m heartened knowing I have a new lease on life to do just that, and I wish the same for all of those I know who are suffering in silence or with the help of their communities.
For those of you going through trials much greater than my own, I see you. I’m thinking and praying for you. And, importantly, I’m hoping you can extract some nugget of goodness in the bad, on the days when you can. You are showing up each day, and that’s brave and more than enough on its own. People with ailing parents, undergoing cancer treatments, battling depression or grieving loss — just a few examples — have had their worlds uprooted, a one-eighty in a flash. I can’t even begin to comprehend the struggles you experience each day, and if my recent recovery has taught me anything — with special thanks to a conversation over tea with my mama — it’s that we cannot really know what someone is going through unless we can walk in their shoes. If a little more empathy can be spread by seeing what I’ve seen in the last few weeks, I’m glad to have written this post, but I don’t intend to overlook the ongoing battles being fought behind the scenes and up-close-and-personal for so many. When life isn’t fair, positive thinking can only go so far. Perhaps it can bring some comfort to awake to a new day with the reminder that it’s a gift, with whatever can be extracted from its hours and interactions. And that, alone, can be everything.