A few years ago, I woke up with horrific pain in my abdomen. I have endometriosis, which is often described as feeling like you have barbed wire twisting in your stomach, so I calmly assumed it was just that kicking in again and went ahead with my daily routine. Then, I felt the pain sharply move up my right side and into my ribcage on my drive to work. I screamed out in pain as I tried to find the quickest escape off of I-95 while I felt like an army of tiny serrated knives were cutting their way through my body. With the shoulder completely blocked with construction cones, I realized I would have to focus despite the pain and wait until the next exit when I knew there was a hospital off. Darkness started blocking my peripheral vision the closer I got to the hospital. I began to imagine that this was the way I would go, blacking out in the middle of rush hour traffic on a Wednesday with terrifying, growing pain in my abdomen taking over. I quickly reminded myself of the calming mantras I learned through meditation and yoga and prayed to God just to let me make it as far as the hospital. I started sweating and feeling dry heaves emerging through the darkness creeping in as each hospital sign continued to show a straight arrow. When the hell was one going to establish a turn arrow? When I finally saw one with the turn arrow, I didn’t even know if I’d be able to drive as far as the ER entrance, but I did. Once outside, I literally could not move my hip on the side of the pain. It was as though the army of serrated knives had completely taken over and blocked any entrance for movement. I was screaming and crying like I hadn’t called and cried since I was a child and waved dramatically at a landscaper to come to my car. He looked at me in shock, unsure what to do, and said in broken English that he did not work for the hospital. I begged him to go inside and let someone know I was out in my car. He then understood and returned with a nurse. That angel of a gardener stayed with me until they safely got me out of my car, into a wheelchair, and the hospital.
The doctor told me that I ‘wouldn’t look this great’ if I was sick TWO different physicians before a surgeon took me seriously. Five days in the hospital and two surgeries later, I began my road to recovery from what two other passing doctors failed to diagnose.
There is something to be said for those moments that stop us in our tracks that we have no control over. Suddenly we are dealt cards we have to play when we never asked for new cards in the first place.
I think one of the most challenging things for me has been the judgment- from the physicians who completely missed my appendicitis and other threatening illnesses because of ‘how I looked’ to the ones that feel that this time of rediscovery and healing has been a little vacation by the beach for me. To be candid, I did spend some dark moments feeling resentful, bitter, and angry at those who chose to judge before they understood. There were some cuss words, some curt phone calls, and some sides of myself showed through that I didn’t even realize was there. Facing life-altering moments bring out our shadows, and it took me a couple of breaths to realize that we have a choice as to how we navigate amongst the shade.
More challenging than healing the physical gashes in my body has been shielding myself from the swirling hostile world of back-to-back doctor appointments, running to the next Quest to get more bloodwork done, and dealing with people staring you down at your most vulnerable. People can be harsh, and you become more sensitive to it when you feel like life (literally) punched you in the gut. (While this post focuses on finding the light amongst the shadows, I have to take this moment to say that I have received so much love from the unique places during this time in my life and am so grateful for every prayer, card, and gift I’ve received from friends, coworkers, and family).
Now, here’s the deal– what I have dealt with in the past month is not unique. We all are dealing with our share of issues on different levels of severity and confronting our shadows (and others). And oh, how much easier it is to wallow in the shadows than to step out into life, but if you want to survive this life, you have to find the light no matter how dire your situation.
Something finally pushed me so hard last week that I felt the fight within me burn my soul. I could not control the amount of pain, the weight loss, or the inconvenience of where all of my stitches were– but I could control my response and outlook for the future. It was as though my body gave itself its little pep talk and said, ‘enough is enough. So, here’s what I did:
Planned Out My Next Novel
Now, for you, this might be writing a new song, taking new photos, etc. For me, writing is my everything. So, I sat in a very uncomfortable chair and pinned millions of little sticky notes with descriptions of the characters, themes, and parts of the novel I have always wanted to write. I thought of ways I could use what I’ve experienced in my own life to inspire others to take the next step forward.
Why It Works: It distracts you from self-pity while tuning in to one of the greatest passions.
Reconnected With My ‘Firefighter’ Friends
I heard a fantastic sermon a few years ago that said we have ‘firestarter friends’ and ‘firefighter friends.’ The firestarters are the ones that love any drama they can get their hands on and then help that drama spread into a wildfire. You know the ones- -the girlfriends you go out for drinks and gossip with or the guys you get all the intel from on what’s going on in the office. While these friends have their place, in times of struggle, it’s best to reach out to our ‘firefighter friends’. These are the friends that help us deal with real-life issues and do whatever they can to help us put the fires out in our lives that are destroying us.
I spent an entire night thinking of who the firefighters have been in my life over the years and reached out to them the next day to circle my wagons, as my mom says. Suddenly, I felt strong, encouraging love surrounding me. It was enough love to make me feel strong enough to get through anything.
Why It Works: Firefighter friends know what you might not want to hear but need to hear. They also tend to ‘donate’ a bit of their strength to you, so you suddenly feel like a superhero amid your fight.
Put Up Boundaries
This is SO HARD FOR ME. OMG. I am the person that will have a three-hour conversation with someone I have no interest talking to because I don’t know how to appropriately end the conversation. However, putting up boundaries gets incredibly more straightforward when you are fighting to heal and recover from surgery. I found my patience levels were low and that alone provided me with a newfound strength to say ‘no.’ I did cut myself off from social media for a bit, though, and tightened my inner circle until I knew I had the strength to deal with more people. It’s okay to reel life in sometimes. Facebook and Twitter will still be there when you feel social again.
Why It Works: If you don’t set boundaries, you will only get sicker and more in the shadows from the stress.
Found A Light At The End Of The Tunnel
I had to have something to look forward to. I read in my favorite blog (www.iwrotethisforyou.me) that when you feel sad, you should plan a vacation, even if you never plan on taking it. Just planning the holiday will help you feel good vibes. I thought of small things I could look forward to, as well as big things like asking people I love to come to visit.
Why It Works: When you have something to look forward to, you are more motivated to heal and get better so you can go out and do it. A vision board would also be helpful for this tip. Create a corkboard full of places you want to visit and things you want to accomplish. This seriously does wonders.
Talked To God
I didn’t particularly appreciate how I was getting so irritated during my recovery time and had a serious conversation with God about it. I asked him to clear my heart of any resentment and to allow me to understand what other people are going through so I don’t take what they say so personally. I also prayed for favor in situations that were tough and made sure to include prayers for others I knew that were struggling in my life.
Why This Works: Prayer is one of the most potent weapons we have against the shadows. When you pray to God, you are admitting the problem and outright asking for a solution. It doesn’t get better than that.
The greatest thing I learned was that getting frustrated or snippy with others who question who you are and hit you during your most vulnerable moments gets you nowhere. The best thing you can do is convert that energy into something beautiful: compassion, empathy and understanding. If you’re going through your struggle today, think of how you can give back to those around you and put more love into the world. If you’re experiencing judgment, criticism and uncouth comments, then you know damn well it needs your love more than anything.
– Marji J. Sherman