I had surgery last week, and am only starting to feel back to normal now.
It was much, much more exhausting and debilitating than I’d thought or planned for, starting with the hospital stay.
My room was across from the nurses’ station, and I could hear EVERYTHING going on. I had a talkative roommate who never quit. She was very nice, but the last straw was the “Are you asleep?” queries at 2 a.m., 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Between that, and the almost hourly nurse visits (alternating between me and my roommate) and I was a basket case by 6 a.m. When my husband showed up the next day to take me home, he asked brightly, “Did you catch up on your sleep?”, I dissolved into a puddle of tears.
I couldn’t wait to get home and sleep, sleep, sleep. After the two-hour drive home, that is.
Finally, I was home, sweet home. And I DID sleep, off and on, almost all of that first day.
By the second day, though, I had a most unwelcome visitor. Racking back pain, sciatica, brought on by inactivity and too much bed rest. The powerful meds I was on couldn’t touch it. It was so violent, I could only find relief by walking or standing—NOT what my exhausted body, already nauseated by the strong meds, could cope with so soon after surgery.
I was in major pain, and I was terrified. I imagined every single worst case scenario: blood clot, slipped disk, permanent pain.
I felt totally out of control of my situation.
Absolutely nothing gave me any comfort, or interested me, beyond the pain.
I thought it would last forever. That’s what it felt like.
After a few phone calls to my doctor and some adjustments to my medication and regime, I was able to get some relief by the next day.
But I was STILL exhausted. And worse, still depressed. The worst of the pain was gone. Hallelujah! (The blessing was, by contrast, my incisions felt great! But I still found absolutely no interest or comfort in anything. Not my family, not my home, not the beautiful June day. I felt exhausted and used up.
My studio and the orders waiting for me there felt like a burden more than anything.
I tried thinking of the simplest pleasures—coffee and chocolate (can’t have any for two months); alcohol (can’t have any for two months); sex (OW! I don’t even want to think about it!); yard sales (What?? Bring home more junk? No way!); movies (can’t sit that long). Even reading, usually my prime escape, seemed dull and sad.
The list grew longer. This scared me almost as much as the pain. I went to bed last night feeling pale and wan and futile.
But then something happened.
I woke up this morning.
My first thought was, “I could make the bed.” (I don’t know why, but I always feel better when the bed is made.) That thought felt pretty good.
My second thought was, “I could fold some towels.< That wouldn’t be too hard.”
I did. That felt pretty good, too. (I was sure to not think too hard about the other baskets of laundry sitting there looking hopeful.)
I felt better.
My third thought was, “I could clean the rat’s cage. That wouldn’t be too hard.” Mavra is the sweetest animal on the earth, but she is a bit smelly in her old age.
My fourth thought was, “Maybe I could just do one or two things in my studio today. Maybe just get one surface clear.” I knew I would feel better if I could accomplish that.
My fifth thought was, “I can’t believe how much better I feel just doing these tiny tasks!”
My last thought? “I should blog this!”
So here I am, before I’ve even made the bed or had breakfast. Before the thought fled my mind, which so many do with frightening frequency lately.
Why do making these small changes to my environment make me feel so much better??
I think this is another version of the micro-tasks I’ve written about before. The one where, if you are trying to exercise more but can’t find the time or inclination, you just put on your work-out clothes. Because just committing to that tiny action often leads to the bigger commitment, to actually work out.
There’s something good about realizing you can make tiny changes and achieve small—very small—results. Results that make a difference.
There’s something empowering about those tiny changes, in themselves, that can make you feel much, much better about yourself. BEFORE those changes can even really make that difference.
Oh, yes, and getting some sleep.
The next time you find yourself overwhelmed about life or your work, first take care of yourself.
Focus on getting through it, even if you can’t see the end. Know that it WILL get better, eventually.
And as soon as you can, make some teensy, little changes for the better. Even if you can’t see where they fit in the bigger picture.
Because just CHOOSING to make those changes is a good thing.
And making even TINY changes is a better thing.
They WILL add up. And you will quickly move on to even bigger and better changes.
But even more importantly, they will change YOU.