Pen and Moon

musings, life lessons & poetry from Theresa Jarosz Alberti

The Sometimes Slow Process of Recovery, and Why That’s Important

Hello there… it’s been awhile. The last I blogged it was February and I was hibernating that whole month post-Knee Surgery #2, while it was wickedly wintry outside. I feel like I’ve been hibernating in other ways since then too — unable to write much, feeling a bit lost in my life, flicking in and out of some depression, and focusing on other physical and emotional recovery. 

The great news it that my surgeries went really well. I don’t have knee pain anymore! After a few years of excruciating pain, it’s a freakin’ miracle to have that go away. Unfortunately, I developed hyper lordosis, a back condition that makes my back hurt after walking short distances or standing too long. I’m working with my physical therapist to stretch my back and build up strength and stamina. I want to go on longer walks and be fully functional, and my back has been slowing that down. 

After two major surgeries a few months apart, I’m learning that recovery is a slower process than I think it will be. Of course I knew there’d be a hard period on strong pain meds and using a walker, needing lots of help and doing mega physical therapy… but after two or three months, I’d be good to go, right? Even though I got off the pain meds, switched to a cane and had a lot less pain, there was still plenty of healing to do. 

For instance, for several years I’d had to contort myself to minimize pain when walking, using stairs and getting out of chairs. That led to other body parts compensating, and bad form all around. Now with new knees, I’ve had to gradually relearn how to do those things “normally.” Another example is the way chronic pain leads to heightened levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — in the body. This can have many effects, including raising blood pressure and inflammation, increased anxiety, and affecting metabolism and sleep. My body is still recovering from the toll of this. It’s been interesting to see shifts in my appetite and blood pressure as I progress.

There’s also emotional stuff to recover from too. Part of it is from becoming disabled for a few years because of chronic pain and decreased mobility, and not being able to work. My life revolved around appointments and pain clinics and meds and fighting my health insurance company. After getting over the ordeal of two surgeries, I hit a slump. Now what? What am I doing with my life? What to do now? (Cue the existential/mid-life crisis.) Healing is still in process for me on this one.

It’s probably safe to say that most kinds of recovery take longer than you think they will. Whether it’s bones or wounds, diseases, drug or alcohol addiction, psychological trauma, or an eating disorder, recovery sets its own unhurried pace. In our society of fast results and instant gratification, this can be pretty frustrating. The values we place on Productivity and the need to “Get Things Done” all the time don’t help. Recovery and healing don’t look productive and often demand down-time, but there’s actually a lot going on behind the scenes. It’s subtle, it’s silent, it’s transformational.

Since I’ve been in recovery on many levels for awhile, I’ve been getting lots of practice in how to go-with-the-flow and let it happen. Forcing it or pushing yourself too-hard-too-soon can backfire. Take it slow and allow more time for yourself than you think. I’ve learned to lower my expectations and to ask for help.

If you’re in pain (physical or emotional), be sure to communicate that to your loved ones or caregivers. They won’t be able to tell how much you hurt. I had this happen with Bob when he was caring for me after the 2nd knee surgery. He thought I was doing a lot better than I was in the early days when my pain level was actually quite high. I thought it must be obvious, but it wasn’t. So I started telling him my pain level on a scale of 1-10.

While there may be active components to recovery, like physical therapy or going to meetings or therapy appointments, it’s important to make time for rest. It’s an inside job, and lots of healing happens when you’re in a relaxed state.

Two Superpowers I discovered that help so much with recovery are Self-Care and Compassion. Recovery can be rough, with pain and struggle and backsliding and doubts. Be extra kind to yourself, find some self-care practices that work for you, and aim for self-compassion in your inner dialog. If you have a more self-critical nature, it can really take conscious practice to move towards compassion for yourself. For me, my own inner critic could be very subtle and I wouldn’t realize the messages I was giving myself until I felt completely deflated, as if a gray cloud enveloped my head. Tuning in and having awareness were the first steps so that I could work on changing the familiar neural pathways of judgment, and help myself feel better during my recovery.

Self-care practices can be anything that helps you relax and get through recovery, based on your own needs and wants. Extra points if you feel pampered and cozy! My recovery self-care includes:

  • a pile of books
  • watching movies
  • phone calls to loved ones
  • naps
  • meditation
  • soft comfy clothes
  • a heating pad for aches
  • lots of pillows
  • big mugs of tea

Lastly, don’t fall in the trap of comparing your recovery to anyone else’s. Your body, your circumstances, your psyche all are wholly unique. I’m in a Facebook group for folks post-knee surgery, and I notice some people get bent out of shape because they aren’t progressing as fast as others, need more pain meds, or can’t bend their knee to 125 degrees. Everyone is different! Do your best and allow your healing to happen at its own pace.

I’m lucky to have a lot of great support people in my life to help me through the several kinds of recovery I’m in, from professionals to friends and family. Some days I do get discouraged, but I try to remember all I’ve been going through. I really am doing my best. Allowing that to be enough is a gift to myself.

 

Images courtesy of Chris Ensey 1, Bekir Donmez Eofm5r and Yoann Boyer of Unsplash.com

4 Comments

  1. Linda Hammersten

    July 18, 2019 at 10:50 am

    Theresa, I have been following your blog since you started. I really appreciated and needed to hear what you wrote today. Thank you. Wishing you all the best always.

    • Wow, thanks, Linda! That’s really great to hear. It helps me to know if anything I share is of use to someone else… I know I get a lot from what other people write, but I don’t often tell them that! Best to you, too.

      • Emily Wallner

        July 20, 2019 at 3:54 pm

        It’s of great use for me too, Theresa. Thank you for posting. ?? By the way, it’s been such fun going to the clothing swaps and I love that you and Gennie are there too. Such a positive, uplifting event!

        • Thanks Emily– I’m so glad the post was helpful… and I’ve so been enjoying running into you at the clothing swap, too! Maybe I’ll have to blog about that sometime. It’s such a fun way to get clothes!

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