I'm struggling. Struggling to be well. Struggling to maintain a positive attitude. Struggling against the perceptions of others. Just struggling.
It's funny. You prepare and you do your research and you're ready for the worst when going in for major surgery. But that's the easy part. What they don't tell you is what happens afterward.
When you get your face cracked open, you expect that there will be massive swelling, nasty bruises and grotesque stitches. You mentally prepare yourself for that, and when it happens, it's not quite as bad as you thought it would be. You figure that once your jaw gets unwired and the physical signs of the procedure are gone, you're home free.
If you want the truth, I would gladly go back to having my jaw wired shut right now. Because the moment the wires came off was when things started getting difficult.
I expected it would be tough to eat for awhile, but not for as long as it has been. I still can't eat anything chewy or hard (raisins or fresh vegetables, for instance), because I literally can't chew it. And it's been more than two and a half months since the surgery now.
I expected that my mouth would have a limited opening for awhile, but I didn't expect that getting my range of motion back would be such a painful, slow struggle.
I expected that I would have some pain and that I might be tired, but I didn't expect that every physical action would be so exhausting.
Anesthetic stays in your body for up to a year after surgery. It slows you down, you forget things, you lose your train of thought, you stumble into doorways, and you get tired easily. When you go off prescription painkillers, you can plunge into depression because of the withdrawal. And after major surgery, your immune system is compromised, you're more susceptible to viruses and they hit you a lot harder than they did before.
You go to the mirror and see someone staring back at you who looks fantastic and you can't figure out why she just can't get it together already. The surgery is over. The time off work is over. Why is it getting harder instead of easier? What is wrong with me?
One day, I posted this status on Facebook: "Bella looks absolutely fabulous but feels utterly miserable." It's rare that I have a status that is less than racy or bizarre, so a friend of mine who had major brain surgery a few years ago responded with concern. I wrote him back:
It's the post-surgery stuff. Everyone is so supportive when you're just out of surgery and you look like hell. Flowers, cards, understanding, etc. But once you look okay, they forget that you've been through this major procedure and treat you like you're back to normal. But you're not.
I'm finding right now to be one of the most difficult times because I look great - you'd never know I had surgery. However, I'm so tired and everything is an effort. I misplace things, use the wrong words, forget what I'm doing, etc. Stupid anesthetic brain. Anyway, it's tough.
How long was it for you until you felt fully functional after surgery?
His response was right on the mark:
How long? In my case, I'm still waiting....The way I thought about what you're describing was to re-pronounce the word 'invalid' - i.e. as 'valid' with a prefix, meaning 'not a valid person.' I suspect that like mine, your inner person is seeking validation for the experience and the way it's making her feel. How to find validation? I dunno. Is it frivolous to suggest dark eye shadow UNDER the eyes, a sallow make-up foundation, and a carefully understated limp?
It felt good to talk to someone who knows what this is like. These days, I just feel frustrated. Frustrated that I can't do everything that I could do before. Frustrated that anything that contributes to my stress levels becomes unmanageable quickly. Frustrated that just when I think I'm doing okay, something as simple as chanting in a mellow yoga class re-injures my jaw and leaves me with crippling migraines for four days straight.
Frustrated that the people around me respond, if at all, with patronization or their own frustration at my lack of ability to be my usual high-functioning, overachieving, reliable self.
Frustrated, alienated, alone. Depressed. In-valid.