A Year (and a half) of Living Vulnerably
This piece originally appeared on Medium in 2019.
I did not expect to spend a large part of 2018 & 2019 supine. I did not expect to be a regular visitor to the ER. I did not expect to spend days at a time in a hospital room feeling a mixture of gratitude (at getting needed care) and fear (that I was never going to get fully well). And yet I did.
Beginning in July of 2018, my health sat me down on a roller coaster and said “ready or not, we are going for a ride.” I had a history of diverticulitis and by this point, my body was done playing games. The bout I had in July led to another in August and one in November. That one landed me in the hospital. With a micro-perforation. A teeny, tiny little tear in my intestines that if left untreated could turn into a big tear and lead to sepsis. This was my first real encounter with vulnerability. And I didn’t like it one little bit. But, I was grateful it was fixable and that I met the criteria for surgery — 3 attacks in one year (it may be in 6 months in some cases).
From that point forward, I became paranoid about pretty much everything I ate. I was suspicious of not only what seemed to be my trigger foods, but pretty much everything else, as well. I lost a lot of weight. As someone who has always struggled with her weight, I found it hard to be happy about this. It was because I was scared to eat. It was months and months before a green vegetable touched my mouth again.
Thinking about Thanksgiving made me incredibly anxious and scared. We had invites, but I didn’t want to go to someone’s house and have to turn food down. Or smell deliciousness I was too afraid to eat. So I asked Paul if we could stay home and make things I could eat and we did and it was wonderful. You can read more about how I spent the holidays last year here. I worked hard to enjoy them and it was worth it.
This past year has been tough, if not tougher. I have had 3 surgeries. Spent much of the year on the loveseat wondering if I was ever going to be able to use my abdominal muscles again. And found out that my oldest friend had breast cancer. That really threw me for a loop. It made my own issues seem somewhat trivial and it took that second and third surgeries to realize that they weren’t. And that I did not need to minimize my own stuff because someone else had stuff, too. Unfortunately, I did that after more pain, more uncertainty, more insecurity and some hard learned lessons.
My second surgery was for a hernia. Hernias are not a huge deal, but they can be painful. Mine was, and given my recent surgery, there were reasons to take care of it sooner rather than later. So in early August, I had some decisions to make. I had committed to being Stacy’s chemo buddy and planned to make it to all of her sessions. But after round #6, it was pretty clear that my body was not okay. I was not magically going to get better and I couldn’t wait much longer to have surgery. I also could not travel back and forth the way I had been. I had to shirk my chemo buddy duties. And I hated it.
Stacy understood, rounded up a couple of new chemo buddies, I had surgery and became pretty depressed. I was mad at my body. I felt as if I was letting myself and everyone else down as I laid on the loveseat which I was starting to feel like I was part of. I was working as hard as I could at as much as possible, and it never felt like enough.
And then, I developed an infection. One Saturday morning, I went straight from the ER to the operating room. Spent 4 more days in the hospital. It was at this point that some things started to come together. Some really important things. And this time, while I was recovering on the loveseat, I didn’t berate my body or feel betrayed by it. I thanked it for being strong and getting me through this stuff (in addition to newly diagnosed asthma and a recent chest infection).
I started to think about all of the things that I had done while dealing with A Lot of Shit. I was there for my friend, even when I couldn’t be physically. My heart was always with her and we kept each other informed about what we were each experiencing. And importantly, not just the logistics — the emotions, the fear, the vulnerability of being ill. I maintained my business and a positive attitude for it and my part time job (most days, though good friends to vent with are priceless).
I usually felt like I wasn’t doing enough and that caused me to feel depressed and overwhelmed. For what felt like forever. And then one day, everything seemed to come together, to start to fall back into place. It seemed my time on the loveseat was not time wasted, after all. I had obviously spent a lot of time thinking. I thought about how grateful I was that it seems my friend is doing well and will live a long life. I thought about what I wanted for my own life: better health and an improved outlook. And I started to take steps towards it. I decreased or eliminated bad habits (smoking, for one) and increased good ones. This was slow and gradual. More reading, less scrolling. More showering and dressing, less days in sweats. More acceptance of my vulnerability and more gratitude for those who did for me what I couldn’t. Primarily, my husband. Paul walked the dog while my nurse visited, he did the cat litter and made the bed and cooked the food and maintained our business. I never would have made it through the last year without him. He did all of this while never once complaining and despite his own chronic illness. Sometimes, he even managed to make me laugh.
Once I was able, the increase in good habits led to more walks with Hazel. More stretching and dancing and definitely building core strength. You don’t realize how much you need that until you have none. More ability to focus on work and to say no when I need to. That’s a biggie for me and despite the fact it took serious health issues to make me realize what I can and can not do, I am grateful for it.
Which is where all of this was leading to: gratitude. It’s Thanksgiving Day. I can eat whatever I want. My friend is doing well and we learned more about ourselves and each other this year than either of us probably ever imagined. I am so thankful that we have had the chance to do that. My physical and mental well-being are better than ever. Those dark days of feeling like it would always be dark and hopeless are gone. Gratitude doesn’t feel like a big enough word for that.
It also doesn’t feel like a big enough word to describe how I feel about Paul. Though I bitched and moaned and cried and screamed and probably made him not feel so great about me, he never stopped doing for me, for our pets, for us.
I’ve learned valuable lessons this year. And one of them is that a little bit of vulnerability ain’t gonna kill ya. For that, I am thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving, all. ❤️