I am leaning in to some discomfort here with this post and allowing myself to be vulnerable through self-disclosure (thanks for the inspiration, Brene Brown!).
I had a major surgery to remove almost half of my liver at the end of July. There was a tumor the size of a baseball on it that was causing fatigue and other problems, and for these reasons, it had to be cut out. When I was told by my doctor that I had to take 6-8 weeks off of work, I am pretty sure I responded something like, “Are you effing kidding me?” I could not wrap my mind around the idea of taking that much time off of work. I love what I do. I am not sure if anyone else understands or can relate to this, but I think I was more upset by the news that I couldn’t work for about two months, than the discovery of the tumor or the actual surgery itself. Problems of a passionate work-a-holic.
Turns out, when you have a major surgery, and a professional tells you that you can’t do several things that you love to do for an extended period of time (like working out to relieve stress, or traveling outside the walls of my house, for that matter), it can often lead to feeling depressed. I cried because I was sad, frustrated and exhausted. I yelled because I was angry at my situation. I felt helpless and dependent. I felt like I was a burden to others. And I did not like feeling those feelings.
I realized feeling sorry for myself wasn’t going to do me any good. I needed to quickly change what I was thinking, feeling and doing, in order to feel better.
Here are FIVE ways I found to cope with the depression:
1) Distraction techniques
Watching TV got boring quickly. A person can only watch so much Netflix. So during this time, I rediscovered my love for crossword puzzles, word searches, Sudoku and reading. I also colored in several adult coloring books (yes, the ones with the cuss words I found to be the most enjoyable and calming). I listened to music. I did my physical therapy exercises. I did research for mine and my husband’s upcoming relocation. I napped. I connected with others through my phone when I was feeling isolated.
2) Changing my thoughts
Focusing on the things I COULD do versus the things I could not – really helped. I asked myself, “Can I change what is happening right now?” And answered that I could not. I worked on accepting the reality that this time off was necessary for me to heal, instead of fighting against it and prolonging my recovery. I also shifted my thoughts to gratitude, honing in on what I was thankful for during all of this.
Full disclosure, some days, changing my thoughts was hard for me. During my recovery period, my husband and I moved to a new home in a new city. With an inability to lift anything heavier than a half-gallon of milk after surgery, I felt frustrated and helpless. But the reality was, the surgery happened, I was recovering, and I needed to accept this and allow my body to heal. So I shifted my thoughts to gratitude: I was grateful the tumor was not cancerous. I was grateful to be alive. And I was grateful for all of the love and support I received during this difficult time (more on this later).
3) Changing my self-talk
In the beginning of my recovery, I felt bad for myself and felt guilty that my husband, family and friends were working hard to pack up my home while I was “sitting on my ass.” I did not show myself compassion and convinced myself that I was useless. A week or so in to the recovery, I recognized that my self-talk was not helping me. In changing my own inner dialogue and telling myself, “I can give myself permission to relax, accept the help, and let my body heal” over and over again, I began to feel better, emotionally and physically.
4) Leaning on my support system for help
Even though asking for help can be hard sometimes, I set aside my pride and accepted help that was offered from my friends and family. Their encouragement, reassurance and support throughout this process played a crucial role in my recovery. I will be forever grateful to them for that. I also saw my therapist (yes, I have one too!) to help me process through all of the major changes that were happening and prepare a plan ahead of time to cope. I was also grateful for her help during this time.
5) Focusing on my goals
My main goal was to return to work after six weeks. By identifying what my goal was and what I needed to do to reach that goal (i.e. focus on self-care, listening to medical professionals, accepting help, etc.), creating an action plan ((i.e. I will do something each day to help myself get there), and following through by taking action, I was able to return to work at the beginning of week seven. Folks: if your goal is realistic, attainable, and you put your mind to it, you can make it happen.
Disclaimer: Any advice or comments in this blog do not replace professional counseling and therapy services. Having major surgery is no fun, and the journey through recovery can have its ups and downs. If you know someone who is depressed, for medical reasons or otherwise, encourage them to seek help.
Call 630-797-9192 today to start your journey to wellness with me supporting you every step of the way!