The After

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It’s the middle of the day. I have no where to be, and no pressing task is demanding my attention and energy. Ethan is asleep on the couch with Annie, and it’s the kind of cold day that beckons for cuddling and relaxing.

And, yet, my mind won’t stop racing. I should be working on that newsletter. I should be editing that essay. I should be working on wedding planning. I should organize the spice cabinet. I should clean the tub.

I try to take a nap, but I toss and turn before giving up. I scarf down a piece of dark chocolate, even though I am not hungry after a big breakfast. I pick at my nails. I scroll through social media. I do all the things I usually do when I am trying to shove down emotions.

It’s been 37 days since my surgery, and the tough parts of recovery are behind me. The constant nausea and lack of appetite from the narcotics, the sleepless nights because of the loud ice machine and uncomfortable Styrofoam boots I had to wear to prevent blood clots and turning on my side, and the inability to move from room to room without the help of another person are all over. I am still on crutches out in public, but that will end in a matter of days.

Soon, I will return to normal life.

But, for the last two weeks, a panic has undercoated my days, because I do not want my normal life back. This fear of returning to what was is the reason that my long nails from a month ago are worn down to stubs, that I break into tears every three to four days, and that I all I want to do at the end of each night is turn on a dull movie to numb my feelings.

For months, I have felt strung out and worn down. Part of that is keeping a busy schedule of volunteer commitments, work, social activities, and creative endeavors, but also my exhaustion comes from constantly doubting myself and my role in this world. I never feel like I am doing or giving enough, mostly I just don’t feel like I am enough. These feelings have led to two years of self-exploration that have included: months researching grad school programs to ultimately deciding against it; begrudgingly writing a book that many, many agents declined to represent; a year of sobriety that failed to meet expectations; going to a church different than the one I grew up in but still unsure of it; juice cleanses and elimination diets; the overconsumption of self-help books, spiritual podcasts, and inspirational Instagram accounts; and so many Sundays spent dealing with a rumbling anxiety that I couldn’t figure out how to treat or soothe.

My surgery presented a break from work and my other commitments, but also a pause to the “shoulds” and to-dos. During this time in recovering, I wouldn’t force myself to write or pitch editors and agents. I could forget about my career path and what I wasn’t doing to help it along. Errands and chores could fall to the wayside. My only obligation would be to take care of myself, and let the rest go. Going into the surgery, even Ethan understood what this meant for me. “I am glad you are having this,” he told me. “You need downtime.”

The hip arthroscopy was a success. The only hiccup to the whole day was that we were a bit late due to traffic. The procedure only lasted a couple of hours, and after two more for recovery, I was sent home with an ice machine, a bag full of drugs, and three small incisions on my upper right hip. I slept most of the first two days, waking up to take meds and sit in my CPM machine (which slowly moved my leg for four hours a day). Even the days following, when I was more awake, I watched movies with my mother and talked wedding plans, sometimes writing or answering text messages from friends.

About 10 days after the surgery, I went back to work. I couldn’t move much, but I could work from my bed and couch and so I did to save my sick leave. Soon enough, people started asking to me to write this or send that, and I said yes. After work, often more than the normal 7 hours, I pitched story ideas to editors and worked on ways to get published. I started to feel the stress and scramble of becoming enough again.

The pain has forced me to slow down. Ethan and I bought tickets for a show, but he had to go alone. I’ve missed stortyelling shows, panel discussions, and other events happening in the city. Even this weekend, my hip was causing me so much pain I had to miss a birthday party that I really wanted to attend. Sometimes, I didn’t leave my house for days, only seeing Annie and Ethan. I’d be so sick of my walls that I’d just walk down the stairs to smell the fresh fall air, and even then I would be tired after two flights down and two flights up. The slower pace hasn’t been easy, but I need it, and more than just to heal.

It will be months before I can return to normal physical activities, such as running and yoga, but once I am off crutches I no longer have an excuse to escape my daily life. I will return to working from the office, which means at least 90 minutes of my day will be eat up with a commute, stop relying on Ethan to do all the household chores, and resume my commitments. I won’t be able to spend Saturdays lying around reading books or watchings silly movies. The “shoulds” and to-dos will take me hostage again, and I will lose my breath trying to chase enough.

Just writing this brings tears to my eyes. I do not want to go back to where I was two months ago. I don’t want to wish every day away until the weekend for it only to be spent running from thing to thing.

Well, this is my life, and I can be in control of how I spend it. The last few weeks, breaking down into tears and mindlessly eating, had proven to me that I need to make some changes. Some external, others internal. Some easy, others hard. Some can be made now, others may take several months. Either way, I can’t keep going down this path, which means I gotta turn a corner or two.

Making these changes is going to require vulnerability and courage, humility and strength. I am going to have to ask for help while also disappointing people. I will have to stop letting other people and external comparisons dictate my choices. I am going to have to listen to the quite inner voice and follow only that one.

The good news is that I have done this before. Sometimes I look back on my life and feel like I’ve spent most of it lost and wandering aimlessly, but that’s just a story. The truth is, when it has mattered the most, I’ve put in the determination and the grit to make a change, and it’s lead to some beautiful things. The greatest example of this was when I was living in Sioux Falls eight years ago. I was so, so unhappy. I gave my heart to someone who didn’t deserve it, I trusted people who disregarded me, I emptied my savings trying to make a dream work, and I was failing at nearly everything I tried. But, I dug in harder, and a year later I was living in a dusty hut in rural Niger, happier than I could have ever thought possible.

I probably won’t back to rural Africa (but wouldn’t be that great), but I am committed to leading a life that brings me joy. That may mean different things on different days, but finding joy is my goal.

There are no absolutes in life. You don’t make changes and then happy forever, and you aren’t sad and scared forever, either. Seasons change. We may keep finding ourselves roaming, but if dig down deep, we know how to find our way.

It’s time for me to dig down deep again. I refuse to return to my old life, rather I will start a new one.

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