With any major change in life, the ups and downs rarely feel like soothing waves lapping on a picturesque beach. For me, it was more like a hormonal rollercoaster death trap with peaks and valleys that were exhausting to keep up with. From diagnosis to treatment, I tried to keep my head down and stay solution oriented.
Now with a viable solution before me (a laparoscopic myomectomy to remove fibroids), I indulged in some moments of freaking the fuck out. I had never had surgery before, so there was lots of anxiety and catastrophizing around what exactly happens, or what could happen. As I became a tightly wound ball of stress, I realized I had to get myself back into solution mode.
So, I channeled everything I had into three areas: physical exercise, meditating, and talk therapy. In the months leading up to surgery, I spent my time reading up about women’s health and hormones, and these three things were “doables” that came up in books. They also set me up to go into surgery well – and rewarded me afterward with a lightning-quick healing period.
The Power of Pilates
I experienced a lot of progressive physical limitations in the six months leading up to my surgery. I’d been an avid horseback rider but got to the point where I couldn’t tolerate sitting in the saddle let alone galloping in a field. I didn’t have the stamina to do other forms of activity I used to like strength training, yoga class or spin. Thankfully, I started working with a trainer who has a specialization in Pilates, and we embarked on a four-month program that went at my own pace while helping to strengthen my core. It also gave me an outlet to release some of the tension and stress of this healthcare journey.
I credit this prep work with helping me to ambulate quickly after my surgery. To get discharged from the hospital, you have to get the catheter taken out and go to the bathroom by yourself. The day after my procedure, I breezed my way into the “en-suite” and sat on the toilet smoothly (much to the excitement of my nurses). I’m sure the painkillers played a part, but so did Pilates.
Meditation is something I always dabbled in but had never committed to. A “crisis meditator,” as my teacher, davidji, would say. High stress at work? Family problems? Relationship troubles? Then I’d sit.
But as the pressure and fear surrounding my first surgery started to take up more real estate in my mind, I leaned more on guided meditation to help, well, guide me through. I began almost compulsively doing meditations any time I felt a surge of stress hormones. In the morning, at night, during work — hitting play on my meditation app became the best decision I didn’t realize I was making. Meditation helps with physical stress (tightness, headaches, body pain) and imbalance (especially of hormones like unapologetic, cute lil’ cortisol). I experienced first-hand how a reduction in stress can make a big difference to someone living with a chronic condition. It made such a difference for me that I actually certified as a meditation teacher with Unplug Meditation so that I could work with women’s health warriors.
Talk it Out
Maybe it’s because I grew up with a psychologist for a mother, but therapy has always been a go-to coping method for me. And during a time of high stress and transition, it became critical in helping carry me through the periods before and after surgery. I literally spent one session getting walked through every step of how surgery happens so that I could understand what was to come. Having someone hold space for me so that I could go to crazy town (population: one) and flip out or worry or cry — and get walked back by a professional — was game-changing. Especially since my therapist was someone who had the utmost compassion in helping me navigate the menopausal whiplash I went through in the months leading up to my surgery.
I feel a certain level of superstition about going under anesthesia: I believe that you’ll wake up feeling better if you’re in a positive mindset. At least for me, having talked it out beforehand is what helped. Paired with my trusty meditation app, I was able to keep nudging myself back on the rails when I needed to while I waited to be taken into the operating room.
After I got home from surgery (I was admitted one night versus others who go home same-day), I seemed to be doing ok until about one week post-op, when I had a full-blown meltdown. I was still swollen, in discomfort and not yet independent (although arguably, yes, I was healing). For someone very self-sufficient, it was really hard for me to ask for help — and so I dove down into the depths of sadness. I didn’t feel solution-oriented – far from it. I just wanted to cry and scream. So I did. Then I thought back to what I had learned in a therapy session: it’s perfectly normal to feel this way…and better yet, it’s perfectly ok.
Waking Up to a New World
The surgery itself went from a myomectomy to an endometriosis excision (the former a more straight-forward removal versus an intricate 5.5-hour doozy). As I rallied into alertness in the recovery wing of the hospital, I had a hard time understanding just how much had been done — just how much endometriosis there was riddling my pelvic cavity. My surgeon had prepared me going into this that he suspected he would likely find endometriosis, but I didn’t realize how much of an impact that would have on me when I came out the other end. The revelation that the chronic back and gut pain wasn’t what it seemed made my head spin.
The average time for a woman with endometriosis to get a diagnosis can be upwards of 10 years, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Although endometriosis affects one in 10 women in their reproductive years, it doesn’t really show up on scans or other types of tests. The pharmaceutical interventions out there are often ghastly. And it’s often misdiagnosed as one of a plethora of other plausible conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, back pain, digestive issues, and fibromyalgia. So, I guess I can take comfort in the fact that my journey with excruciating, unabating demon pain, actually, makes me pretty average.
Unfortunately, I’ve got lots of company.