Category Archives: Hysterectomy

Choosing metamorphosis, part 4

Monarch chrysalisThis is the story of an incompetent chrysalis.

I saw my wonderfully proficient and compassionate surgeon this week for my six week post-hysterectomy check-up. It turns out I’m healing a little slowly, about five days behind the average, and there’s granular tissue on the incision, which is essentially scar tissue covering up an unhealed spot. The granular tissue has been bleeding a little, and my proficient, compassionate surgeon cauterized it with silver nitrate so the incision can heal properly.

Since that appointment, I’ve been beating myself up for being incompetent and defective and a crappy healer and generally being mean to myself. I asked my husband last night if he was disappointed in me, then I cried. I was aware enough to know that’s nuts. I knew, for my own sanity and self-care, that I needed to consider what metaphor I was living in, because, as Martha Beck says, “the metaphors you live by shape everything.”

I realized I was seeing myself as a taker of some high-stakes test, like the SAT or Britain’s A-levels, who’s anxiously waiting for her scores. I believed there was some outside judge or external evaluator who had the power to say whether I was good enough, whether I was competent or incompetent. And woe to me if I was deemed incompetent.

But what would be a metaphor for healing that felt kind and compassionate, that allowed me to take care of myself? A seed? An egg? Those were possibilities, but they didn’t feel quite right. I went to bed pondering the question, and woke up with the answer. If “metamorphosis” seemed like a perfect metaphor for this hysterectomy journey (see my first hysterectomy blog post for the full story), then obviously a chrysalis was the perfect metaphor for healing.

When I chose metamorphosis as the metaphor for this process, I chose better than I knew. Because I made the decision to have surgery at this time, I thought I was more in control than I actually am. But a chrysalis takes all the time it requires to form a strong and capable butterfly. A chrysalis runs on kairos time (God’s time), not chronos time (clock and calendar time). A chrysalis is only incompetent when she white-knuckles life and short-circuits what needs to happen, when she pushes the poor butterfly out before it’s ready. So I’m giving myself the gift and grace of time. I’m accepting and embracing my wonderful body, walking in these familiar mountains, sitting in the luscious sun, and being kind and gentle with myself.

And I’m saying these words of Mary Oliver’s, over and over, like a mantra:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

 

CSNM pond

A pond in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, where I sat in the sun today

Choosing metamorphosis, part 3

Hand to skyRachel Naomi Remen is a physician, writer, and teacher. I’ve been rereading one of her books, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal, during this time in my life of surgery and recovery. In Kitchen Table Wisdom, Dr. Remen shares what she’s learned from living with an often painful and debilitating chronic illness (Chron’s disease), in her profession as a pediatrician and as a therapist for people with cancer and other serious illness, and as a daughter and granddaughter.

In a post the day before my surgery, I made what my mind thought was a crazy commitment, but the commitment felt strong and peaceful so I forged ahead. Here’s what I wrote:

… I’m committing to acceptance of all my emotions and my physical sensations and to noticing and working with my thoughts as needed. I’m committing to the growth and change which are undoubtedly possible these next few days and weeks. I’m committing to vulnerability and to being kind. I’m committing to believing the universe is loving and supportive, and to perceiving people as wanting to help me, wanting only the best for me, loving me. I’m choosing metamorphosis, trusting that what’s coming is amazing — deeper, truer, and fuller that my present life.

Here’s how Rachel Remen puts the same idea:

“Over the years I have seen the power of taking an unconditional relationship to life. I am surprised to have found a sort of willingness to show up for whatever life may offer and meet with it rather than wishing to edit and change the inevitable. Many of my patients also seem to have found their way to this viewpoint on life.

When people begin to take such an attitude they seem to become intensely alive, intensely present. Their losses and suffering have not caused them to reject life, have not cast them into a place of resentment, victimization, or bitterness. As a friend with HIV/AIDS puts it, “I have let go of my preferences and am living with an intense awareness of the miracle of the moment.” Or in the words of another patient, “When you are walking on thin ice, you might as well dance.”

From such people I have learned a new definition of the word “joy.” I had thought joy to be rather synonymous with happiness, but it seems now to be far less vulnerable than happiness. Joy seems to be a part of an unconditional wish to live, not holding back because life may not meet our preferences and expectations. Joy seems to be a function of the willingness to accept the whole, and to show up to meet with whatever is there. It has a kind of invincibility that attachment to a particular outcome would deny us. Rather than the warrior who fights toward a specific outcome and therefore is haunted by the specter of failure and disappointment, it is the lover drunk with the opportunity to love despite the possibility of loss, the player for whom playing has become more important than winning and losing.

The willingness to win or lose moves us out of an adversarial relationship to life and into a powerful kind of openness. From such a position, we can make a greater commitment to life. Not only pleasant life, or comfortable life, or our idea of life, but all life. Joy seems more closely related to aliveness than happiness.

The strength that I notice developing in many of my patients and in myself after all these years could almost be called a form of curiosity. What one of my colleagues calls fearlessness. At one level, of course, I fear outcome as much as anyone. But more and more I am able to move in and out of that and to experience a place beyond preference for outcome, a place beyond life and death. It is a place of freedom, even anticipation. Decisions made from this perspective are life-affirming and not fear-driven. It is a grace.

To the degree that we can relinquish personal preference, we free ourselves from win/lose thinking and the fear that feeds on it. It is that freedom which helps a team to go to the Super Bowl. An adversarial position may not be the strongest position in life. Freedom may be a stronger position than control. It is certainly a stronger and far wiser position than fear.

There is a fundamental paradox here. The less we are attached to life, the more alive we can become. The less we have preferences about life, the more deeply we can experience and participate in life.” (p. 171-172)

Amen.

Remen, R. N. (1996). Kitchen table wisdom: Stories that heal. New York: Riverhead.

Photo credit: Morguefile, penywise

 

 

 

Choosing metamorphosis, part 2

Sun, clouds, firs on Mt. Ashland

Sun, clouds, and firs on Mt. Ashland in the Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon.

Three days ago, six days post-surgery, my husband took me to the top of Mt. Ashland for lunch. He hiked while I sat in the sun and listened to hawks and wind in the firs, and quiet. Blessed quiet.

Last week I blogged about my upcoming hysterectomy. I made some (what I think were fairly audacious) commitments in that blog. Here’s the relevant paragraph:

… I’m committing to acceptance of all my emotions and my physical sensations and to noticing and working with my thoughts as needed. I’m committing to the growth and change which are undoubtedly possible these next few days and weeks. I’m committing to vulnerability and to being kind. I’m committing to believing the universe is loving and supportive, and to perceiving people as wanting to help me, wanting only the best for me, loving me. I’m choosing metamorphosis, trusting that what’s coming is amazing — deeper, truer, and fuller that my present life.

I was largely able to keep my commitments when I was in the thick of it: through surgery and the acute recovery phase, and I know my attitude made a huge difference. I needed some encouragement to use my call button in the hospital, to say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry to be such a bother.” I’m pretty sure I had a couple of unkind moments, but I think it was only twice. It was pretty easy to believe the universe is loving and supportive when just about everyone around me was there to help me feel better and get well. Cards, flowers, meals, lovely body-care products — all were tangible expressions of love. And the prayers. Oh, the prayers. I felt incredibly supported and cared for.

But now, nine days later, I am feeling much better and I am having a hell of a time. I feel well enough that I want to be doing things again. And I’m realizing that, for me, “doing things” means striving and earning my right to exist. Just sitting here, knitting and reading and watching TED talks (and writing, obviously) is sometimes so hard I could cry. And have. But it’s clearly what my body needs me to do, and if I ignore my body’s messages, I’m toast. Dead meat.

So, I have two take-aways today, right now, at this moment.

  1. I have a long way to go in the whole trusting my intuition/body/universe department. I still want to look outside myself for direction and affirmation.
  2. I am not in charge of physical reality or other people. Just because I think the world (or my body) should be a certain way doesn’t mean that it is. And I suffer when I compare how I think things should be in this moment with how they actually are, and find the present moment wanting.

I’m so not in charge of what God wants to teach me. And clearly I need to learn these things. So my commitment is to gratitude for my body’s amazing healing power, for what I’m learning, and for the universe which is kind and unconditionally loving. I will stay in my chrysalis as long as I need to.

Here’s a haiku I wrote while sitting in the sun atop Mt. Ashland last Tuesday:

Clouds wind sun sky hawk

Made of God and galaxies

All of us stardust.

Thank you for your prayers and well-wishes. I am grateful.

Choosing metamorphosis, part 1

Swallowtail on thistle

Look what metamorphosis can do!

I am having a hysterectomy tomorrow. I’m okay with this. In fact, I’m more than okay with this.

The part of my brain that worries about being socially acceptable is telling me that being okay with a hysterectomy (and maybe even being a little excited) is WEIRD and something I shouldn’t tell people, because I’m “supposed” to be scared and resentful and resistant. Which I was, at first, but I’m not anymore. What changed? I did.

I’m choosing to have my uterus removed because my mom died, too early, of uterine cancer, an especially rare and deadly sort, and I am a DES daughter.

When I first made the decision, I felt angry and sad. As I paid attention to the anger and sadness, I realized that I needed to thank my uterus for her faithful service over the years, and to explain to her why she was being asked to leave the party.  Anger and sadness became low-grade anxiety and low-level grief and grudging acceptance.

Then yesterday I remembered one of Danielle LaPorte’s “truthbombs”: Metamorphosis is inherently destructive.

What if I approached this surgery as a metamorphosis? What if I embraced the experience with open arms and an open heart? What if I wholeheartedly committed to simply being present for all of it — anesthesia, pain, recovery, being cared for — the whole shebang? This feels so good.

I probably needed to do the “resistance/fear/grief thing” before I could get here, though.

But grief, pain, and fear will be just part of what I imagine I will notice and feel.

So I’m committing to acceptance of all my emotions and my physical sensations and to noticing and working with my thoughts as needed.

I’m committing to the growth and change which are undoubtedly possible these next few days and weeks.

I’m committing to vulnerability and to being kind.

I’m committing to believing the universe is loving and supportive, and to perceiving people as wanting to help me, wanting only the best for me, loving me.

I’m choosing metamorphosis, trusting that what’s coming is amazing — deeper, truer, and fuller that my present life.

Wish me luck! I’ll let you know how it goes.