Life post-surgery can bring on a lot of different emotions. More often than not, people say all the wrong things to try and make you feel better. Today, I want to talk about the different emotions I experienced post-surgery and how I felt like my feelings were sometimes invalidated.
If you didn't read my story, let me give you a quick recap. In college I was a Division 1 collegiate volleyball athlete. Going into my Junior year was in a serious car accident. I fractured my neck (C2) which is the same place that Christopher Reeves fractured his neck. I also ended up with some big scars on my right arm from the glass of the car. I was lucky to be alive and walking. In order to heal the fracture, the doctor put in a rod for 6 months to let the bone heal. When the rod was taken out, I thought I was going to be the same volleyball player as before. This may seem like a silly expectation, but I was told that I would be back to normal after my second surgery. To me, normal was feeling like a strong athlete and contributing to my team. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. I wasn't able to gain the same strength that I once had, which started to show in my abilities. Slowly I went from a starter to a bench player and I ended my collegiate volleyball career crushed.
During my recovery, a lot of different emotions overcame me. Sadness, defeat, loss of identity, isolation, self-esteem issues and anxiety just to name a few. I felt like a different person; I couldn't connect with this new Molly. I was valid to have moments of grief; I was valid to be self-conscious of the scars on my arm. My feelings were valid but they didn't feel that way 6 years ago.
After trauma or surgery, people will always try to say things that make you feel better. While this is great, people don't understand that often they can be invalidating your experience. I would often hear comments such as, "at least you're alive", "good thing those scars aren't on your face", "at least you can walk". I know that these comments are 100% true, but that's not the point. While these people were trying to make me feel better or help me put things into perspective, they didn't realize that these comments were actually frustrating. Yes, my scars aren't on my face (which I'm very thankful for), but does that mean I'm not allowed to feel self-conscious about them anyways? I didn't want to talk about my struggles because I didn't want to seem ungrateful. I felt that my feelings weren't valid so I kept a lot of things to myself.
There will ALWAYS be someone that has it worse than you, but that doesn't mean you still can't have your struggles.
If you're reading this blog and are going through a similar experience, or even are about to go through surgery, I want you to remember that the feelings you have are valid. Don't let other people, consciously or subconsciously make you feel otherwise. I spent too many years bottling everything up, but now that I'm more open with my feelings, I understand how helpful it can be. Try and confide in a friend that's a great listener or could understand what you're experiencing. Kate and I still confide in one another and talk about the difficulties of life after surgery because we know that the other will be able to connect.
If you're having a hard time finding that safe space, feel free to email us! If there is anyway we can support you, we would love to do so.
Last week, I wrote a blog called Leaning into Fear - Part 1. I wanted to talk about my experience with anxiety after my car accident. I've always been a worry wart, but about 4 years after my accident, anxiety hit me hard. After countless therapy sessions and some reframes, I'm finally in a good place. I wanted to share the steps I use when anxiety starts to set in, especially for anyone that has experienced trauma.
Here's a quick recap of my first few steps from last week:
1.) Understand the root of your fear so you can start to move forward
2.) Remind yourself you're safe
3.) What are your triggers?
As I mentioned, my anxiety involved catastrophic thoughts. I was in worst case scenario mode 24/7. Not only did I have to remind myself that I was safe, but I also had to remind myself how catastrophic these thoughts were. Yes I could get shot tomorrow, but the chances of being in the wrong place at the wrong time at that exact moment was slim.
While telling myself that my thoughts were catastrophic, I would take deep breaths. Bringing yourself back to a state of relaxation is incredibly important. Luckily, it only takes 2 minutes to get your body back to a state of relaxation. This can be done through breathing. After a few minutes of focusing on my breathe, I felt more in control.
The last thing I would do when I was feeling anxious was to distract myself. I'm a sucker for watching Friends or The Office on repeat. Those shows are my go-to's; they always put me in a good mood. When anxiety kicked in, I would turn on one of those shows and just let my mind take a break from the world. I use this method more now when I'm feeling overwhelmed with work and I just need an easy fix .
The biggest lesson I learned when dealing with anxiety, was that I needed to relinquish control. It made sense that I was having catastrophic thoughts because my accident was so random, but it was out of my control. I felt like I needed to be in control of everything. At the time, I was not a very go with the flow kind of gal. I would avoid events that could potentially cause something catastrophic to happen. That was my way of "controlling" life. I really had to learn to let go of the idea that I can control everything. I can't control life and death. I can't control if I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time. What will be will be.
Remember that everyone's anxiety is different. There are people that will be able to relate to this blog, and some may not. It took me about 6 months of seeing a therapist regularly to get to where I am today. I don't suffer from anxiety anymore. I do think I still have some anxious tendencies, but with these methods that I've described, I know how to handle anxious thoughts that come my way. If you have the chance to go speak with someone I strongly recommend it. Seeing my therapist totally changed my life, and I still go to her because I think it's important talk things through with someone who isn't involved in your life.