Even though I've known about it for weeks now, until this Monday I hadn't actually thought about my surgery. I'd considered the emotional aspects of the procedure, made arrangements for my recovery, and eased into some lifestyle changes so clearly I did "think" about the surgery- I just hadn't thought about the surgical procedure itself. The hospital, the needle, the scalpel, the laser, the bandaged incision sites. I hadn't actually thought about my body getting operated on. But then I had to give a blood sample on Monday and I saw the needle go into my arm and shit got real. I'm not particularly squeamish and am far from a hypochondriac but I think it is safe to say that heart surgery would freak anyone out.
In two weeks from tomorrow I go under the knife or "laser." Going under the knife is so 90's. Intellectually I am not afraid of the surgery and emotionally I'm actually excited because I can't wait to feel how I function with a fully-functioning heart. There is a middle part of me though...a primal, visceral part of me - probably my ego- that is registering fear. When I think about the surgery I'm not scared. It's when I'm NOT thinking about it that I'm scared and all that anxiety is extremely toxic. I don't actually feel stressed out, I feel very drained and a bit vulnerable. My subconscious anxiety is sapping my physical and emotional strength. Up until this point I have not any pre-surgery jitters but now that they are here, I have to be extra vigilant with my self-care regimen. That may sound like a very silly thing to have, but I swear I would not survive with out my self-care regimen. Maybe you're a cool cucumber but if you're at all like me, here are a few simple things you can do to keep yourself from reaching your breaking point during stressful times:
1) Stick to your stress-relief routine! If you already have an activity that brings you great stress relief- running, yoga, playing video games, whatever - don't give that up when you start to feel overwhelmed. For me, dragging myself out of bed to 7:00am yoga during an emotional rough patch is a non-negotiable. The difference in my ability to withstand stress is palpable. I feel like a weak reed on a windy day when I don't take the time to center myself before work. Right now I have the urge to take a nap as soon as I wake up, but if an activity truly relieves your stress like asana does for me, doing it will actually give rather than take away energy from you.
2) Avoid stress consumption! Everyone has the thing that they decide to binge on when stress hits. In the past for me alcohol, online shopping, and white kit kats have all filled that role. The problem with bingeing on whatever your vice of choice is when you are stressed out, is that it adds guilt to anxiety. Sure, you might get a small rush of oxytocin and temporary gratification but when that wears off you are left feeling guilty, unhealthy, hungover, broke, or all of the above. At this point in my life I am very committed to my routine, but when I used to go off the deep end I would go and go and go and crash and burn. It wasn't pretty and I never want to be there again. Avoid this temptation at all costs. When you are stressed out you should take better cafe of yourself, not worse.
3) Don't be afraid to speak up! Disclaimer: If you feel like you're at your breaking point more than one week out of every six months on average, maybe you should skip this one. No one likes a complainer but if you're really not feeling OK you can't expect people to read your mind. In the past I've hidden my pain - physical and emotional- and allowed the aggressive pace of my life to continue unchanged until I've just snapped over something miniscule. Had the person known I was going through a rough time, perhaps they would have taken it easier on me or given me some space. Give people the opportunity to be empathetic because occasionally, they'll come through.
4) Cut yourself some slack. Today I got extremely flustered at work and I cried. And I let a coworker console me. Under normal circumstances I would not advocate crying at work but today I felt overcome by my emotions and I let it happen (but if you work in a ginormous office, you might want to follow the spirit and not the letter of this piece of advice). This doesn't mean you should be a big blubbery mess but if you need to cry every once in a while, for goodness sakes allow yourself to cry. If you want to skip a social obligation because the thought of making small talk makes your throat close up then by all means stay home. When you're already running on half-empty it becomes even more important not to waste your flavor.
5) Try a little empathy, even as you need empathy from others. Today I am thinking of two very close friends of mine who are going through much more traumatic, and difficult, and stressful moments than I am. Sure, my pain is legitimate but I always have to remember how lucky I am and think of those whose suffering is more acute or more enduring than my own. I will not wallow in my pain just as it would hurt me to see them wallowing in theirs. "If you want others to be happy practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." - Dalai Lama
Had I known how to cope with my stress years ago, maybe I wouldn't be counting down the days until surgery right now but that's not something worth thinking about. I believe that each obstacle in our lives is manifests in order to teach us something. I've already learned and grown so much since my diagnosis so tonight instead of being anxious, I'm going to focus on my gratitude for this opportunity to grow. Ok, I might stress out a little- but I'm going to try really hard not to.