Thursday, November 20, 2008

Permission to Heal

A year ago today, I had surgery. I won't link to it, because this website has standards and the physical location of my surgery pretty much dictates that I can't tell you too much about it. Let's just sum it up as "repairing injuries sustained in childbirth," k?


Though my "down time" with the surgery was only supposed to be two to three weeks, the actual procedure ended up being more extensive than my doctor expected. I was out of work for a full month. Even once I returned, I was unable to work a full day for another two or three weeks.

I don't think I need to tell you what that meant to my ability to mother my two children.

In the beginning, right after the surgery, I was on strong pain medicine much of the time. When I was awake, which wasn't often, I was often in enough pain that I needed to be alone so that I wouldn't scare the kids. I couldn't walk any farther than 5 or 10 feet by myself. I came home with my catheter still in. I rarely ate and couldn't bathe. I had an alarm to tell me which meds it was time to take. My husband visited the pharmacy to pick up scripts for me every few days.

I was completely helpless.

And for the first two weeks, the time I had expected to be out of commission, I didn't feel a single pang of guilt about that. But once I was "well enough" to take only insane amounts of ibuprofen for my pain, I lost the guilt-free recuperation time that narcotics had given me.

I began to over-do it. I felt so badly that I could not provide the day-to-day services that my kids were used to, that I did whatever I could do. The consequences for exceeding my state of health were usually immediate, and sometimes devastatingly painful. If, in a rush of guilt over how abandoned Funk felt, I swept in and picked her up, I would be unable to stand for the rest of the day.

One night I decided to bathe the kids, a task that has been predominantly mine their whole lives. I almost passed out from the pain, yelling to my husband from the bathroom floor to relieve me. What could have happened if I had actually passed out? With my three year old and one and a 1/2 year old beside me in a tub full of water?

I learned quickly that I could only do what I could do, and that the slower I took it, the better off everyone would be.

It wasn't easy to do-- I am a "doer" and my kids see me as their nurse, cook, personal bather, laundress, and book-reader.

It was probably February before I was anywhere near 100%, and during those two and a half months I had to ask for, or be willing to receive , a lot of help. Accepting help doesn't come naturally to me, and asking for help is even more difficult. But when your options are a) accept help, or b) pay for your stubborn "independence" in pain and bleeding, you gain perspective quickly.

I had to ask myself for permission to feel crummy, and tell someone about it. I had to give myself permission not to pick up my children, because I needed to heal. I had to tell myself that the wages of overdoing it were not worth it-- for me or for the person I thought I was "helping." When I overdid it, I was in pain, crabby, and impatient. So instead of helping, I was hurting those I loved (even if the task was getting done.)

Before my surgery, I used to think to myself, "man, I wish I could just break an arm or something, something non-major, so that I could just have a break." It was the worst kind of extravagance, the way I wished my health away just for the break I could have anytime, if I just asked. I never thought twice about it, until I didn't have my health anymore.

These days, the lessons I learned in those recuperating months are all but forgotten-- I caught myself wishing for a minor injury today as I climbed the stairs to work. "I just need a break!" I thought to myself. Like most moms, I do too much, I rarely say no, and I am loathe to ask for help, even when I need it. It's unfortunate, because as I learned after my surgery, I have lots of people in my life who are ready and willing to step in and help me and my family. I shouldn't need to have major surgery to give myself permission to take the mental and emotional time I need to be healthy, but it's difficult to do.

Are you overdoing it? What can you give yourself permission to say no to today? Are you waiting to be forced to take the time you need?


Kimberly A. Suta said...

What a great blog entry - definitely struck a chord!
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Heather said...

I hear you. It was so difficult to ask for and accept help after D was born. It was about 3 weeks that I was dependent mostly on Craig to some degree. It's humbling, and frustrating. Health is easy to take for granted when you have it; that much is definite.