Sometimes when you're at your lowest, the universe kicks you in the pants. It's funny isn't it? Just when you think you're making some headway. Two weeks ago I had surgery to remove some diseased bowel tissue, another remnant of my traumatic pregnancy. It's not something I really talked about - I mean, who really talks about that? The biggest thing for me was actually getting myself into the operating room without having a panic attack. My PTSD hovers over me in every aspect of my life, but the hardest thing I've had to tackle has been preparing for another surgical procedure. This is a massive trigger for me, bringing up all the traumatic visions of being in pre-op when I had surgery to remove my little girl from my body. I haven't been able to even write about that experience yet, I can't. I knew that if I had a panic attack having a gastroscopy - a simple quick procedure where I was be awake - then I would have to do some serious mental prep to get through a general anesthetic.
I have been preparing for months. I've talked to my psychologist who gave me some visualisation strategies. I've been doing mindful meditation. In the week leading up to the surgery I spent time every day doing my mindfulness exercises. Then while I was relaxed I would visualise myself entering the hospital. I would visualise the operating room and the doctors & nurses in their scrubs. The white walls, the surgical implements. On the morning before the surgery I did yoga, had a bath, did a couple of different meditations, including this awesome surgery preparation one. When Nick & I arrived, I sat in the waiting room with headphones on listening to calming music. When I met the anesthetist and talked about my PTSD she gave me some midazalam to calm my nerves and changed the order of surgeries so I was next on the list and didn't have to wait too long. After taking the tablet I lay on the bed, Nick lay behind me & we listening to some soothing ocean sounds. When it came time to go to the operating room I was calm. I hugged Nick Good Bye and walked into the operating room. I calmly got on the bed, my heart rate was under control. When they put the oxygen mask over my face and I started to feel claustrophobic they agreed to hold it to the side of my face. Then I don't remember anything until waking up in recovery. When I woke I was very very dozy. I couldn't open my eyes for a long time. But I was wheeled back to my room and Nick was there. It was ok. He stayed until about 10 o'clock, until I'd had a sleeping tablet and was as comfortable as I could be. So overall, the experience went as well as I could have expected. I was really proud of myself. I have managed to "re-frame" my experience. Having a positive surgical experience "should" re-programme my thoughts. But I still think that if/when I need to have another procedure I will still have to do all this mental preparation. I think this is just what I need to do to survive a trigger experience. But the main thing is, I know what to do now. I am empowered.
The bad news is that I was so focused on the actual surgery that I was completely unprepared for the realities of my recovery. And of course, being me, my recovery is on the severe side of what can be considered normal. My body is having an extreme inflammation response. I won't go into too much detail, because no one wants to hear that but I have been in excruciating agony for the past two weeks. I can't sit down, if I do walk (and it's only as far as the bathroom or kitchen) I shuffle around with my legs spread like I've just got off a horse. The first 5-6 days were a blur of vomiting & nausea. My body clearly hated the general anesthetic. It also hated the antibiotics and pain meds. The pain meds actually did nothing to stop the pain and I was in tears of pain, crying out like a wounded beast. Every day I get better, but I'm still unable to sit properly, so driving or leaving the house isn't an option. And when you can really only lie down you can't do any housework, any meal prep.
After last year with me being out of action for four months with an awful high risk pregnancy and then for two months in a cast after my wrist surgery, we pretty much have this down. Nick is amazing, he steps up and manages the whole household, caring for Sam, getting Sam to & from preschool (with the help of the grandmothers) all while working full time. In a job he's only just started might I add. Not to mention he cares for me. Attempts to feed me. He's been an amazing pillar of strength. He's basically my hero.
So then of course, because the universe seems to have a vendetta against us, something else went wrong. About a week into my recovery I got a call about 9.30 in the morning....
Nick: "Hi honey, how are you doing, are you ok?" (that was normal, he'd rung every day to check on me, no reason to be concerned)
Me (groggy, having just woken from a painkiller stupor): "M'ok"
Nick: "Ok, well, I'm an ambulance. I've been hit by a car"
Queue panic and realisation that there is absolutely no way I can be with him.
So yup, he got knocked off his bike on the way to work by some dozy cow who wasn't looking where she was going. The result is he's busted his shoulder. It could have been so much worse and that's such a scary thought. The ligaments are dislocated so the shoulder is just hanging there. It can't be put back in, he either has to wait & see if it heals or have it surgically repaired, we don't which yet because of course, he can't see a specialist for a few weeks. He's also bruised & scraped. He tore his ACL in his knee previously playing football (and he's waiting on surgery for that later in the month) so his whole left side is pretty messed up. I'm so mad that this happened to him. The last week has been so hard. He's understandably in a lot of pain - both his shoulder & his knee. He's still working full-time, but he can't really use his left arm. He can't drive, can't lift things. So having both of us out of action has meant the last week has been ummm, challenging.
After our awful year last year we realised that we need to ask for help. Asking for help is really hard, it doesn't come naturally to us. But we told each other that if there was any offer of help, we'd just say yes. So we've had a week of meals from some amazing friends and family. We've had other Mums take Sam to preschool, family members pick him up. Our mothers have helped with Sam & helped with washing, changing sheets. My mother in law is paying for someone to clean our house this weekend. It's been a really hard time but we are surviving. But we're letting a lot of things go because we have to, like attending my cousin's wedding this weekend in the South Island (completely gutted). We're both so wrecked that really all we can do is rest. So for everyone who has helped us over the past week, thank you. We so appreciate it.
What I've learnt about myself during this physically challenging time is that I'm not as broken as I thought I was. I will survive this. I have continued to do meditation every day, this time on healing my body. I've let everything go. I've enjoyed the small moments with Sam and relished when I was comfortable enough to resume our morning cuddles a few days ago. I have not let this spiral me down into a negative space, though at times I've really wanted to. Maybe I'm tougher than I think I am, or maybe having Nick be injured and vulnerable too has made me push through my own pain to support him, maybe not physically but emotionally.
We've had a terrible couple of weeks, hence it being a while since we have posted, but we are still coping. We may be broken physically but we are positive. We look forward to being physically able again. We have hope that things will get better. And hope is the most important thing.
Why is it that all the shit always comes at once? When one book falls off the shelf, the rest of them are sure to follow.
People ask me "how are you guys doing?", and how is the "recovery", and I always feel like a soppy dickhead answering them, because I've still got a laundry list of crap that's going wrong for us. Annamarie is still in the middle of a mental recovery and she's still physically very unwell. I'm dealing with my own mental crap as well as physically recovering from being Hit. By. A. Car, And of course I'm trying (and regularly failing) to support Annamarie through all of this and be a loving and calm father to Sam.
Recently I went to football and wrecked my knee. It swelled up like a balloon, making it hard for me to walk and generally putting me in a grump. I quickly discovered it was likely to be quite a serious problem, which could put me out of football for at least a few months (longer if surgery is needed, which it is), and potentially could spell the end of playing full stop. The prospect of having to give up a past time you have reveled in for most of your life is a pretty fucking bitter pill to swallow.
And then, as if on queue, Sam started it up. He's a great kid overall, apart from the occasional tantrum here and there, but he's just gone 4 and seems to have flipped a switch. He pulled his pants down in the butcher shop recently and told everyone to "look at this!". That might have been funny, but it was less so when he pulled them down again and peed in the middle of his Kindergarten. Not OK, bro. Apart from the public nudity and urination, he's just started to be (there's no other way to say it) a complete shit about some stuff for no reason at all. He refuses his dinner, and when given options or potential consequences he pouts and huffs. Then when he pushes us too far and we get a little grumpy he has a big cry about that. He spat at me the other day. Definitely not cool bro.
Now of course all of this is normal pre-schooler stuff, we know that. Every parent deals with similar behaviour at some point or other. I just find it absolutely typical that he would launch the new phase at the moment when we are both at our weakest - or maybe that's why? Maybe we have been distracted and not giving him the attention he needs, so his reaction is to play up in other ways? Either way, it's quite the bollocks.
Recovery from grief and trauma always seems to be talked about as this linear thing. You're taking it "step by step" as if you're walking in a straight line, or at least walking forward. The reality, for us at least, is more like flailing around in the dark - you're moving, you're taking action, but you're never quite sure if you're going on the right direction, sometimes you slip on something gross, and sometimes you stub your toe, and sometimes you think you see a sliver of light and it turns out to be nothing at all.
Even the word "recovery" doesn't feel right. It suggest putting things "back", a returning to the natural and original state, which is so far off what this journey has been like for us. "Moving on" is wrong too - that suggests a leaving-behind of things that never really happens either.
This isn't a cry for help. I've had a few people reach out to me since my last post, to ask if I'm OK, or if I need a hug. That's been amazing, and awesome. We often forget in our "real lives" that we're doing this blog, and that people actually read it and care. I'm really grateful to those who have checked in, but I'm not writing this as a beacon call for a friend. I'm writing it because I know that, right now, there's someone out there who feels like their whole life is one repetitive cycle of pain and hurt and unfairness. I feel that way too, in this moment. But, perhaps unlike that someone, I have been here before, and I know there is a way out. I know that things will get better. And then probably worse. But then better again.
If you are that someone, if you know us or not, if you have been following our journey or if this is the first time you've seen this blog, then I have something to tell you. I won't tell you you're not alone. People say that all the time, and I always want to reply that it fucking well feels like it. I won't tell you that it will get better. Hell, it might not for us (at least not as quickly or as easily as we'd like it to). But what I can offer you is something that I heard in a meditation from Pema Chodron, and which really resonated with me. That is, that "others feel this too". Whatever you are feeling right now, anger, hate, sadness, excrutiating pain, joy, laughter, arousal (OK, maybe not arousal, that's a little creepy) - other people feel this too. And probably, at the same time as you.
There are 7.5 billion people on this earth. Maybe none of them can reach you in the place you are now, but without a doubt there has to be one of those people who understands what you're going through, whatever that might be. If you fly in an airplane (chances of dying 1 in 11 million) or drive a car (1 in 5000) you bet on better odds than that every day. And yes, you might be the unlikely 1 - we are more than familiar with the unpleasant feeling of being in a statisically shitty minority - but you also might be in the other 7,499,999,999. Even we like those odds.
Remember, we have resources that we've found helpful on our journey listed here, and if you want to get in touch with us to let us know what you think of the blog, or even reach out if you need help, you can contact us here.
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.