so what now?

playing with watercolor and shape
playing with watercolor and shapes

So, I got my stitches out a week ago- Thursday. Awesomesauce.

I’ll be honest, I’m still terrified there might be an infection in there. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells. I wake up every morning feeling good, but by the end of the day I just feel scared and worn down.

But I did my week of antibiotics, and my doctor is pleased, so… I have to trust her. And trust this whole process. But it’s so hard. This pin has been lurking for several years, and I’ve felt on the literal edge of disaster for the good part of the last year. I guess I just can’t believe I might be on the other side of it. I know I keep saying that, but I think it’s affected me a lot more than maybe I realized. I just feel very vulnerable and scared.

The incision from the surgery is kind of big, and it’s still very much healing, so I’m still a ways off from being back to the regular grind. I also have a big welt on my ankle from the combination of the gauze that they used to wrap my foot and ankle plus the the surgical shoe, and so I have to keep my eye on that, as well. That was a weird thing- when my doctor unwrapped the bandages to remove my stitches, she was actually more concerned about my ankle than the surgical incision. I think we caught that just before it turned into something big.

So now it’s just letting the incision heal and letting my ankle heal and being patient. I can’t really go out and do anything yet because I can’t cram my foot into my sneakers and I can’t wear the surgical shoe. Plus, I need to stay off my foot as much as I can to let it heal (and because it does hurt a little). So it’s sort of a weird time. But I’m okay with it- I’ll miss our summer ritual of seeing pretty much every movie released, but if it means I can get my foot healed, we’re all okay with it. Tom’s busy with catching up on the work he missed while he was going to all the pre-ops and helping me after the surgery, and Grace has different camps every week this summer (this week is sailing, next week is digital photography- I think…) and school stars early in June, so we’re all busy.

The best news, besides getting the stitches out, was that I got to go back into the pool.

I have been swimming five miles a day (about two hours and 15 minutes), every day for most of my adult life, so getting back into the pool was huge for me. But I can’t overdo it- soaking a healing incision that needs to dry out for 140 minutes every day is not such a great idea. So I’m swimming for about an hour, and making up some of the other hour on the recumbent elliptical, with my leg propped up.

BUT, swimming = bliss. Seriously.

The first day I got back into the pool, it felt like magic. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, the water was cool and refreshing and all sparkly, and as soon as I got in it felt like I was floating on air. It was just so amazing. I forgot how good it felt to be in the water, to glide up and down the length of the pool, to move all the muscles in my body, and to stretch myself out. My back finally relaxed and stopped aching. My mind quieted down.

I was only in for 20 minutes, and it felt way too short, but it was one of the most intense moments of my life- I felt such relief. I could have swam all day. I got out of the pool feeling better than I have in years- I literally can’t remember feeling as good as I felt that day. I felt like a brand new person.

I know this sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not.

This whole experience has been a bit of a “reset” for me. The last few years have been hard, and emotionally a struggle for me. Losing Delilah was sort of when it all started, and then I developed anemia which made me feel like shit, and then this thing with the pin in my foot started… it’s just been a really sucky bunch of years, to be honest. Not terrible awful, but not necessarily good either. Just part of the ebb and flow of life.

So my focus every day was just being “okay”. Not fabulous, not awesome. I’ve mentioned numerous times about that philosophy- it all started when Robin Williams passed, and I realized that nothing mattered more (not success, not wealth, not fame, not being adored by millions, not even having had a positive impact on most of the world, etc.) than just being OKAY. Sometimes all you can do is get through the day, and that counts for everything. And okay is pretty damn good when you’re in crisis mode or feeling terrified about things.

This last year, I started wondering if the fact that I’m getting older meant that my body would just start failing or something… I know this sounds melodramatic, but life with Spina Bifida can be a bit of the great unknown, and I’d be naive if I didn’t consider what how the natural aging process might change my health. I was responsible, but scared. And really sad, too. I know that sounds silly, maybe, but it was a little heartbreaking to suddenly think “okay, I’m no longer healthy, what’s next?” when I’ve sort of based my whole existence with this disease as being an example of someone who can have Spina Bifida and be an athlete and be healthy and have a good life.

I kind of worried that my “healthy” phase of life might be over, and it was hard to process. So I stopped thinking about it as a whole and just focused on being OKAY every day. Just okay was plenty enough. That’s what it’s been like for a long time.

But then I got in the pool last week and felt something more- I felt bliss, and happiness. For those twenty minutes I was in the pool and under the blue skies and gliding through the water (and a few hours after), everything was TRULY okay. And I felt peace.

And maybe I’m selfish, but I want more of that. It’s scary to admit that- it’s almost like I’m asking for too much. But screw it, I want to feel better. I want to feel *good*. The last few years I have felt little flashes of “good”- not a lot of it, but these moments where things seemed to sparkle and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I would sort of put it away because it scared me a little. But I held on to those moments, those feelings. It was like something inside me was reminding myself that there was more hidden way down deep, just waiting for when the coast might be clear to come out again.

And I really felt that part of me emerge in the pool last week. I wanted to hold it tight, but I allowed myself to savor it and enjoy it, and then be okay when it passed. I just reminded myself that feeling good in those moments was proof that I was still capable of experiencing true joy and peace, and that when the time is right, it’ll happen again.

I’m starting to see this whole surgery/recovery thing as an opportunity to re-evaluate things and figure out how to change what’s not working and spend more time on what is. It forced me to literally step out of my normal routine and emotions and anxieties and all the things I thought were important but really aren’t and hit “reset”. I think this is kind of a big deal, but I want to take advantage of it.

One thing I’ve been doing the last few months is taking the “Awakening Joy” class again. The last time I took it, I was about three months into the class when Delilah passed away unexpectedly, so “Awakening Joy” was kind of off the table. I decided to take the class again this year because I was feeling so crummy and because it’s a class based on Buddhist philosophy, and one thing I wanted to do this year was take a class on Buddhism, just to learn more about it.

Of course, when the whole foot surgery thing came up, I put it on hold for a little bit. I went back to using “okay” as my baseline for life. I did use a lot of the stuff that was taught during the “getting through tough times” chapter/lesson the last few weeks, however. The class is seriously useful, no matter what your life philosophy/beiefs are and what is going on in your life.

But one thing that is at the very beginning of class is this question: what do you really want from life? How do you really want to feel?

Back in February, my answer was:
I want to be okay. I want to feel okay and be okay. I just want to get through this. And that was more than enough for that moment in my life, because it felt like everything was on the verge of not being okay. So okay was pretty big.

Now maybe it’s changed a bit. I want to feel good.

One thing the class teaches is that by changing habits and, therefore, changing the neural pathways in our brains (there’s a lot of neuroscience in the class), you can actually create more opportunities for happiness to arise. That’s why the class is called “Awakening Joy”- it’s all about waking up the inherent joy that all humans are born with but that gets sort of mashed down with life experiences. For a long time I wondered if the joy got “mashed down” or if people just grow out of it. But then I swam last week, and it was a reminder that the ability to feel joy- to feel good- is not gone, just sort of buried.

So I want to really look at my habits and adjust things a bit, and see what happens. I thought I had been doing that the last six months, but now I really get a chance to do it. I hope I stick with it, and that I don’t just fade back into old habits and let this be a blip in my long list of health experiences rather than something that could have a profoundly positive effect on my well-being.

4 thoughts on “so what now?

  1. Wow, I really loved reading this.. Your description of how blissful you felt in the 20 minute swim is just wonderful. I love hearing how you process things. Also, the Awakening Joy class sounds amazing!

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