I underestimated how hard it would be to re-tell my brain surgery experience. I also underestimated how hard it would be to drive by that first neurosurgeon’s office, where I sat outside with my husband after the appointment and sobbed under the pine trees, feeling like I was counting down the remaining days of my normal life. That might have been the heaviest day of my life.
I couldn’t go back in my mind to my surgery day for quite some time either. In my first few weeks post-op I was trying to catch up on journaling some details to include in this blog, and I had to work my way backwards. As I got closer to surgery day I started to feel a little anxiety/ PTSD sinking in, and I was avoiding filling in anything about that day.
Though I had worked so hard to keep anxiety at bay leading up to surgery, I definitely reached maximum anxiety capacity at the hospital that morning. I wasn’t so much worried about survival, as this surgery doesn’t seem to have much risk of that historically (and amazingly!), but I think I was just afraid of pain and afraid of not knowing what my life would be like “on the other side.” Having never had surgery before, I was in deeply unfamiliar territory.
Once I HAD made it to “the other side” I knew that it would be a beneficial practice to get back into meditating regularly to aid my recovery process…but I absolutely could not bring myself to do it. The whole concept of meditation was associated with this traumatic event now, since I introduced it and relied upon it so heavily leading up to surgery day. Even though I eventually thought I could try a little bit again, I definitely could NOT listen to (or even look at) either of the CDs that I listened to regularly prior to surgery. I wanted to believe that I could maybe find another one that would be tolerable, but they all seemed to want me to find my “ideal place of relaxation” again, which was my Croatian yellow raft… and I could NOT bring myself to go there again. I would tense up at the thought of it, and I would feel my heart rate picking up. (I was a little bit sad to think that one of my most purely blissful experiences was now blackened.)
After about a month, however, the trauma kind of…faded. I imagine it’s somewhat like childbirth; if someone asks you immediately after you’ve been through the horrendously painful experience of labor and delivery, if you want to have another baby, it’s just too soon to imagine reliving it. (If you’re like I was, you’re horrified by the question, but then you heal, your memory softens a bit, you’re overwhelmed with love…and then you maybe consider reliving it because you’re stronger now. (By using this example, I don’t so much want to relive brain surgery, but I have reached a point of being okay with reliving the story.) I am thrilled that enough healing and loving has taken place that I can return in mind to my yellow raft again. I’m sure there will be times when I’ll need it again.
(Additionally, my friend Shana, a therapist, said that there are some very helpful kinds of therapy out there that are well-worth doing if you have some lingering tension about your experience.)