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.