Several weeks ago I had surgery to stitch up a hernia in my stomach. It was supposed to be very simple but the recovery for me was horrific. Worse than labor, or gallbladder surgery, or stepping on a floor made of loose LEGOs. I had complications and developed a seroma, which is a “tumor-like collection of serum from damaged blood and lymphatic vessels after significant tissue disruption or trauma.” It sounds worse than it is but it hurts like a bastard and I’d end each day exhausted and teary and unable to take complete breaths without flinching. I might need more work done to fix it but they often go away on their own so my doctor decided to wait. So we’ve been waiting. And this weekend I was able to walk around and leave the house. And Monday I could sit up from laying down without wanting to scream. And Tuesday I felt almost normal for several minutes at a time. And today, if I’m not moving, I feel good. Really good.
The point is…today I feel okay for the first time in what feels like ages, because time – when coupled with pain – drags by so slowly. I still hurt, but more like someone punched me, or like other people probably feel when they do too many sit-ups. I can finally sleep without waking myself up thinking I’m being stabbed, and I can completely forget the pain for several minutes at a time. That sounds small, but if you’ve ever pushed through pain that doesn’t stop for weeks at a time then you know the blinding relief that comes with a few minutes of peace that doesn’t accompany the nauseous dizziness of narcotics. There’s a moment when you feel aware of the absence of pain, and that simple moment is such a wonder that it’s practically euphoric. And you remember what it’s like to not hurt. What it’s like to live. And it is so beautiful there aren’t words for it. It’s so incredibly easy to forget what it’s like to breathe when you’ve been holding your breath for so long.
It’s the same thing that happens when I come out of a rheumatoid arthritis flair-up that puts me in the hospital. It’s the same relief I feel when I pull myself out of a depression that lasts longer than a week. After a while you forget exactly what it’s like to feel good again, but then when you come out the other side, it’s dazzling.
I’m writing this to remind myself of the light. Of the dazzle. Of the fact that it’s worth trudging through the muck because the way out is so much better than you can remember. It’s like the first shower after a week in the woods, or the sun on your skin after a month of night. I’m writing this because I know I’ll be in dark places again and I’ll forget how wonderful it is to emerge. I’m writing to remind you that if you’re struggling now, it will be good again. It will be so much better than your lying, forgetful brain remembers. And I’m writing to tell you that if – right this moment – you are healthy and well then you should stand up and do something wonderful to celebrate it. Go walk barefoot on the grass. Treat yourself to a good book. Call or visit someone you love. Make plans for a trip. Eat a chocolate ice cream bar. Enjoy the sun.
And if you don’t see the sun right now, keep trudging. It’s there. It’s blindingly magnificent. And we’re waiting for you. Promise.
Just remind me of this the next time pain or depression lies to me.