Pros, Cons & the Grey Areas In-Between

Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions I have been thinking a lot lately about the emotional turbulence I have dealt with throughout this ordeal. I have been trying to create mental pro and con lists in relation to surgery and have been unsuccessful as yet. There have to be good things that have come out of surgery but I have had a tough time teasing them out. It doesn’t help that my mood swings wildly from optimistic and hopeful to defeated and blah sometimes more than once a day, although it tends to rest on the downside more often than not. I have been trying to pinpoint what sets off these drastic transitions but have yet to discover their cause. I feel so many different things about this injury and the state of my life now I am not sure I can clearly articulate any single one or apply the terms pro and con, there is just too much grey area. So I thought that, like Susannah(a wonderful blogger whose life seems amazing and I am really not sure how she does it) helpfully suggested, I would try to work out some of the emotions bombarding me.

I am angry. Oh so angry, some days it borders on full blown rage. I am angry for many different reasons, from the loss of years of my life, to my physical limitations, to the way I have been treated by Workman’s Comp. (Who are trying to get me to do a gradual return to work starting in two weeks. I have not gone to physio once and have not seen my surgeon since October, so I am justifiably terrified and angry about the lack of medical knowledge the people forcing me back to work have.) I am angry about more than just the injury and the three years it has lingered for, I am angry that it caused a breakdown in my self-worth and brought me down a path of depression and uselessness. I am angry that I have had to grieve the life I had, where I could be carefree when hiking and feel completely confident in my body’s ability to function properly. I am angry that I am still with C., practically in the same position we were last year, and the year before that. I am angry that I can’t make this recovery any faster and I am especially angry that I have months before I will see if this surgery was a success.

Along with all this simmering anger comes resentment. I resent all the things I am angry about. I resent that I can’t be a fit, healthy and happy individual. I resent that I know things I could do that may help, but lack the desire to try. I resent that nothing has come easy in the past few years. I resent that so many people have said if I just forget about the surgery I will be better. I resent that I am depressed and struggling to want to live. I resent that workman’s comp guidelines for spinal surgery say you are fit for work 56 days after a spinal surgery, but that they don’t differentiate between a discectomy and a full on fusion with hardware. I resent that they don’t understand the underlying fear I feel when told I have to prepare myself for a return to work. I resent that I now have anxiety issues that I can’t seem to control. And I resent that I have to be on such a cocktail of meds to make my life tolerable in the psychological and pain control sense.

Fear has permeated my psyche and tainted my recovery from the beginning. I am so scared. So overwhelmingly terrified that thinking about another non-union and subsequent spinal fusion makes my breath catch in the very real beginnings of an anxiety attack. It starts off that I feel I can’t breathe then there is tingling in my hands and I get stars in my vision. Finally, if I can’t calm myself down I end up blacking out. It has only happened five or six times this year but it is certainly scary when it does. I am also terrified that I will never be able to be happy with where I am and what I am doing. I am terrified I won’t find a place where I feel like I belong and am loved and safe. I am afraid that I am going to fail. Fail in life, fail in healing, fail in being a good partner, just generally that I will fail and have been failing for a while.

Angry girl.

I have always felt like I underachieved, in university I wrote papers in a day because I knew I could get at least a B and didn’t fight for the A’s. It led me to feel like a fraud. It also made it hard to sink my teeth into anything I found really  interesting. I feel like I have been lost to myself for so long, or that I am not sure I ever knew myself to begin with. When this injury happened I had never had the opportunity to think about what I want out of life because I was so wrapped up in trying to make it work day to day. I don’t know how to go about learning what I want and need when it is a struggle to shower bi-daily. How do I start discovering new things when I am exhausted by the mere basics of existence?

All these negative emotions churn inside me so often it makes it difficult to realize the good emotions when they come around. (And to trust that they are real and not a farce created to hide what I see as my rotten bits.) I do feel gratitude – I am grateful that I can walk and that it is even possible to have spine surgery. I am grateful that I haven’t had to pay for my surgeries and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to have the best orthopaedic surgeon work with me. I am grateful for my parents support and their unconditional love. I am grateful for all the wonderful people I met and worked with in physio therapy and I am especially grateful that I had such an amazing advocate in my chiropractor and continue to have outstanding support from my family doctor as well. I am eternally grateful for this blog, even if I don’t use it as often as I should. I am indebted and indescribably grateful for my readers who have found my words worth perusing and every comment is a revelation and treasured.

So there are things I am grateful for and I know that my life is not all bad, doom and gloom. I just can’t seem to shake to feeling that there is something I should be doing, or could be doing that would make me want to get out of bed in the morning. That I have some larger goal than to work a menial job, but I have no idea what that goal is. I want and need a direction and goals desperately but can’t seem to find either.

What do you do when your sense of self is badly shaken? How do you motivate yourself in the morning? How do you eradicate guilt? (Another emotion I haven’t discussed here but experience an abundance of.) I guess the basis of my questions are what makes all the struggles worthwhile for you? How did you discover your self and your unique path in life? When did you remedy your view of yourself with your ideal self? When, and how, did you learn to accept the things you can change and find motivation for the things that can? Why does life seem so vibrant to some and so dreary to others?

There are a ton of strong, confident and utterly content women who read this blog, and maybe a couple of men. Winking smile I realize that you may not have an answer to all, or any, of these inquiries but if you can answer and would like to, I would love to hear from you. Even if you have no answers,  like me, knowing there are others who feel lost means  a lot.

As always, thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate it greatly and with sincerity.

                – S.


14 thoughts on “Pros, Cons & the Grey Areas In-Between

  1. Oh, I so relate to this post. I wrote a similar one just last month. But like you, I don’t have any answers either

    • S. says:

      Thanks, Doll! It seems the answers are elusive, and I am not always sure that I gain anything from asking them.
      All the best,
      oo – S.

      • I think it does. Someone out there might have some answers. But even if they don’t, I find that just writing it down helps a little.

        Or at least, you’ll hear from other people going through similar events. I know I used to think I was a weirdo. I mean, I am still weird, but at least now I know I am not alone in my weirdness, if you know what I mean…

        I don’t know. Maybe I’m just crazy! 😉

  2. benzeknees says:

    I have never had surgery on my back, but I was born with Spina Bifida & have suffered from back pain & weakness my whole life, so I think I can understand a bit about what you’re going through. Also, I have suffered with panic disorder most of my life & I certainly understand a panic attack. Have you sought medical help for your panic attacks? There are a number of anti-anxiety medications which are quite helpful, sometimes you have to try a few before you find the right one though.
    If you are still experiencing panic attacks, whether medicated or not, I can offer some suggestions to help. Panic attacks are our body’s way of dealing with fight or flight response which is essentially a dump of adrenaline to our system. Adrenaline speeds up your heart, cuts circulation to your extremities (which often manifests as tingling or burning), can often feel like someone has poured acid over your head & leads to feelings of breathlessness or feelings of difficulty breathing. Do these symptoms sound familiar?
    I fought for years to try to combat panic attacks with cycles of medication & non-medication. I worked hard to control my panic attacks with non-medicinal methods. The greatest thing I ever learned about panic attacks – they will not kill you (even though they feel like they will) & the more you fight a panic attack, the longer it will take to get over it. At the first sign of a panic attack I take action:
    1) I recognize the symptoms as a panic attack & nothing more
    2) I begin deep breathing exercises – deep breathing keeps you from hyper-ventilating & helps to slow your heart rate. The intake of oxygen will also have a calming effect on your system.
    3) I often get up & begin pacing. This helps to dissipate the extra adrenaline in my system by using it up with action.
    4) I begin a continuous conversation with myself in my head. For me it sounds like this, “This is only a panic attack. If you breathe through this, it will only last for 20 minutes. If you try to fight these symptoms, the attack can last longer. I only need to breathe deeply for a little while & I will begin to feel better. Just be as calm as you can & breathe.” Repeat, repeat, repeat until the panic attack is over.
    I would strongly suggest you talk to your physician about your thoughts & feelings – the fear, the inability to function, feeling stuck & the anger. You may be experiencing some depression.
    Sorry to take so long in your comment section, but I hope some of the methods I have used will be helpful to you.

    • S. says:

      Hey There,
      First, never apologize for taking up space in the comments. I am always incredibly grateful to hear what others have to say, so comment on!
      I have addressed these issues with my doc and am on a cocktail of anti-anxiety/depression meds. As of right now I am on a SSRI, SNRI, zoloft and elavil along with clonazepam when I feel panicked. I have also worked with a psychoogist for over a year, stopping only because I changed cities and lost workman’s comp’s financial assistance for one.
      I have been on a waiting list for a depression and chronic pain rehab program at my local mental health facility for over a year. Along with my anxiety and depression there is the added complication of being on pain killers, muscle relaxers and nerve inhibitors. Technically I have a narcotic addiction and even though I don’t abuse the substances I will have to go through the same withdrawal and rehab.
      Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you so much for your advice. I will definitely try out your method of staving off an anxiety attack and let you know how it goes!
      I hope this not finds you well and happy!
      – S.

      • benzeknees says:

        Glad if I can help in any way. I’ve been through panic & it is very draining. At my worst I was having 40 panic attacks a day – it was like a continuous cycle. I recognize some of the medications you are taking & I have had success with some of them.
        I might just add, I have also had problems with Workers Comp. They have changed their entire working premise over the last few years & I can see some benefit to it. They now believe if you treat someone like they are disabled by allowing them to stay off work for longer periods of time, the person will start to think of themselves as disabled. I fractured my right (predominant) wrist a few years ago. I took one day off work & continued to work without the use of my right arm for 12 weeks (during the cast period & rehab). A year after my injury when they wanted to close my case, I pushed back & had to be evaluated by one of their physicians. In the end, it was determined have a slight permanent disability & do not have full use of my right wrist & received a small settlement. I think Workers Comp needs to re-think their standards for getting people back to work & make it dependent on a case by case basis instead of a standard one size fits all type of basis.

  3. catterel says:

    Hi S. – I have no advice to offer, but lots of admiration for your grit and honesty with yourself. And I agree that verbalising all this stuff must be beneficial in some way. I wish you everything you need, and am sure that somehow, even if we don’t recognise it at the time, all this suffering we have to go through in our lives will make us stronger and better if we can channel our energies positively. You have all my sympathy.

    • S. says:

      Thank you so much, Catterel. To hear this from one as wise as you makes it feel more authentic. Your thoughts are always enlightening.
      xo- S.

  4. Caroline says:

    Your determination will get you there. Focusing on the positives is so important. Remember what you focus on is what you get.

    How about making your first goal to get yourself better, come what may. What steps could you take to remove all stress from your life. It seems to me that right now you need nurturing and being cared for. Can you achieve this and if so how?

    Make a list of the gains and what you won’t have by achieving this goal. What steps you need to put in place to give it every chance of success.

    Happy to discuss this more via email if this helps.


  5. Wow, you some great comments. A wonderful post full of info. I too have gotten panic attacks. They are awful, no question. Moving around has always helped me.

    • S. says:

      Thanks for the thoughts, Susannah. I have been trying to get out and walk more, but the cruel Canadian winter is setting in! Brr.
      xo- S.

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