A few weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night in terrible pain. Little did I know that this pain would last all night long regardless of what I took for relief, and that it would not allow me to keep any food down. The first time it happened I thought it was a one time event so when the pain subsided, I went to work as usual, I continued on with life as usual, I planned ahead as usual.
Those plans meant traveling to DC for work, and of course taking my ride-or-die daughter with me in tow. However the pain returned, several nights in a row this time and ultimately I ended up in the ER of a DC hospital. I was there for 14 hours total. Eventually they did an ultrasound and discovered my gallbladder was full of stones and determined that it needed to be removed ASAP. There was just one problem with “ASAP” though. I was in DC, my daughter was in MD, my parents were about to leave the country, and my husband was in ATL. “ASAP” would have to wait. They loaded me up with pain meds and allowed me to leave so I could swoop up my daughter, catch our scheduled flight, and find facilities to have the surgery in Atlanta.
I arrived back in ATL on a Saturday. That Monday I had an appointment with my PCP, that Tuesday I had an appointment with my Specialist, that Thursday I had my pre-op, and a week later (last Thursday) I had the surgery.
So far this has nothing to do with rest, but it will make sense soon.
Just before the pain started, I don’t think it would be far-fetched to say I was going through what I felt was a whirlwind of personal crisis. There was drama at home, drama at work, drama in my friendships, drama in my art, and I was being dramatic with God. I looked at my life and I looked at what was going on in the world around me and I began to doubt whether God actually, really interacted with us personally and intimately. I began to embrace agnostic thinking. I still believed God “was” and “is”, but is He really “mine” and “ours”?
I was emotionally fragile. “This is Us” hadn’t returned yet and there weren’t enough episodes of “Queer Eye” to prompt all the tears out of me that I needed to cry. Soon, however, my tears no longer needed prompting. They were instantly triggered by the most random occurrences. I remember sitting at my desk at work, one moment it was 8am and by the time I looked up again it was 12:30pm and just looking at the time, and realizing that I wasn’t even aware of all the hours that passed triggered me into a puddle of mess. I quickly found a private room to let it out. I sat on the floor sobbing and snotting and just hoping no one would try to come into that room. I felt like I had lost all control. Why would just looking at the time do that to me? If it doesn’t make sense to you, believe me, I don’t think it’s supposed to and that’s the point. I was simply overwhelmed.
But then pain, stones, surgery...REST.
FINDING SANITY IN REST
Surgery forced me to be still. And not just to be still, but to truly be unable to do a whole host of everyday tasks for a while. My job is physical, my daughter is physical, the rhythm of my day when I’m in top shape is like running a marathon, so while others who have had a similar surgery may have resumed their set of activities a little sooner, I knew I needed to approach this very differently.
“Two weeks”, she said. Two weeks is what the nurse told me as we were leaving the hospital. She herself had a similar laparoscopic procedure (on a different organ in her abdomen) and she took the time to break it all the way down for me. “If your job requires you to lift or push items weighing 20 pounds or more you need to give yourself two weeks before returning to work.” She continued, “Your body will need to learn how to break down fat differently now that your gallbladder is gone, so the first time you eat something fatty…believe me…you’re going to want to be home.” I needed her to say no more. She was very clear.
Between the limited mobility, the pain, the pain meds, and honestly just a broken spirit from the events of late, I slept a lot the first few days and it’s absolutely amazing what sleep (REST) will do to help heal the mind and spirit. God hadn’t left me or us, He still cared about every detail of my life, and He still cares about every detail of what’s happening in our country and our world. I just really couldn’t see it or feel it or even consider it while trying to navigate the whirlwind. I needed REST.
REST CREATES OPPORTUNITIES
Even before the surgery, knowing that I would have to navigate several more nights of pain while planning to have the surgery back in Atlanta, I began to embrace the opportunities that this ailment was providing. So I’m going to have to stay awake all night in pain huh…okay, at least let me find some new shows to binge watch to help the hours pass. Shows that I didn’t have the time to enjoy or explore within the normal hustle of my day. I found “The Good Place” on Netflix, it’s wonderful. I discovered “The Good Doctor” and it was so refreshingly beautiful. I found the cross-over actor from “The Good Place” to “The Good Doctor”, he’s one of my favorites now. And post surgery I gave myself time to see if I could embrace these new hosts and new judge on “The Great British Baking Show” and I found that I absolutely could. The new judge is my favorite and her glasses-game is on point!
Also, I found some courses online and learned a new skill while sitting at home. Because of REST, my brain and my life had the space to process this new information and apply it in a productive manner. There is absolutely no way any of this would have happened if my world hadn’t stopped.
Lastly I was presented with a new opportunity while recovering that I would not have had the brain-space or emotional acumen to analyze appropriately with all of the rest of my life hovering right in front of my eyes. THIS was just one way God was saying “I see you…I see ALL of you” and I was humbled.
Rest creates opportunities and we’ll miss them if we don’t stop. However, it is not all roses and fairytales, we have to be honest about the other aspects of rest, which may be some of the reasons why not enough of us take the time that we should.
It’s possible that one of the reasons many of don’t take the time and space to rest is because it is inevitably disruptive. For some of us, the roles we play are so very much connected to our environments and others around us that when we stop it will cause a domino effect of potential chaos. But, sometimes, we have to stop anyway.
As the primary parent responsible for my daughters schedule and as her “chief artistic encourager” I tried to supplement myself as much as possible while I recovered. My amazing cousin was so very gracious to come down from Baltimore. She works from home so she had the ability to stay with us, help get the kid ready in the morning, and then take her to school before she started her work day. She was also very instrumental in the evening after my daughter returned home. She made her dinner, gave her a bath, and prepped her for bed before turning her over to me.
Then I had to put on my big girl panties and ask a fellow Mom from the school, who lives nearby, if she could please bring my daughter home everyday for a week. That mom was very gracious and we’ve moved from school parental acquaintances to being genuine friends. I supplied her with a car seat and a customized sketch pad with pens attached so that my daughter could draw on the way home from school like she was accustomed to doing while in the car with me. I did everything I could to try to make her world feel as uninterrupted as possible.
But even with all this extra support, the world was different for my daughter and it was still disrupted. She got home later than usual because this other mom got off work later that I normally would. Getting home later meant eating dinner later, meant getting bath later, meant getting to bed later, meant getting cranky and less cooperative for a longer period of her bedtime routine which also meant taking longer to go to sleep because she longed for the lost attention from her mom and dad.
The house was disrupted. I took the time to clean up as much as possible the day before the surgery to help set a tone of cleanliness and order before I was immobile, but even with that day of cleaning, without my constant energy and focus on maintaining that clean, ultimately several areas of the home lacked attention and fell into modes of chaos.
My side hustle was disrupted. I have no less than five pre-recorded podcast episodes that need to be edited and released, but all of that is on hold while I put me first.
Yeah so, rest disrupts. Let’s not get it twisted…but also, let’s not allow that truth to keep us from doing what we need to do to heal and recover. Let us plan and prepare as much as we can, but at the end of the day, the podcast episode will never get released, the house will never get cleaned, and the kid will never have our time…if we aren’t sane…or if we aren’t alive.
THE WORLD DOESN’T STOP WHEN WE REST
More than the fact that I missed a seriously cool costume party put on by some good friends. Or I missed the costume contest happening at work (for humans and fur-babies alike). When I say the world doesn’t stop in this instance, what I really mean is it’s not just that the good doesn’t stop, but also, neither does the bad.
Sometimes we don’t take the time and space to rest because we want to be ready and available and able to respond when things go wrong around us or when others need our help. I’m getting to the age where not only is it not unlikely for an older family member to have a health crisis, it is also not unlikely that a peer or a close friend would also be having their own health crisis as well. Just prior to my surgery, a minimum of three other people in my sphere of influence posted online about their own health concerns, all of which are now navigating through a new debilitating diagnosis that they’ll have to manage the rest of their lives. When I saw their posts prior to surgery, I wasn’t in a position to offer any real support or encouragement, and after surgery I had to make my own self-care a priority. It’s not easy to put yourself first when you prefer to be in the position of elevating others. However, enjoying and experiencing the healing power only found in REST requires a righteous selfishness for short period of time. Oh, and the bad didn’t stop there.
On the same day of my surgery, a close family member, that we depend on regularly to help with our daughter, suffered from a stroke and had to make her own emergency trip to the ER. It was not long after my husband brought me home from the hospital that he had to immediately rush back out. Then a few days after that, the generous mom who was bringing our daughter home from school, got into nearly a head-on collision immediately after dropping her off and leaving our house. Everyone in the accident walked away with no serious injuries (thank God), however her car was totaled. Just a couple days after that, our daughter woke up in the middle of the night vomiting everywhere. She vomited all over the bed, all over her clothes, and then stood at the toilet just letting loose. It was 2am. My husband and I went into action, he cleaned up the mess in the room, I cleaned up her and threw her in the tub, no one was getting back to sleep anytime soon. And lastly, at some point during the week while my car was being used by others, a rock made contact with the windshield to the degree that it is now officially cracked and needs to be replaced.
The world doesn’t stop when we rest!
Outside of inserting myself as much as possible with our daughter, guess what I could have done about the other issues before or while they were happening…absolutely nothing. We can’t deny ourselves REST because we are constantly concerned about or worried about others. Every time I get on an airplane with my daughter, and I mean EVERY SINGLE TIME, the flight attendant is sure to come directly to my seat and remind me that if anything happens, and the cabin pressure changes, to be sure to put the mask on myself FIRST and then I can put it on my daughter. If I’m not breathing…I can’t help her.
The world will keep turning, with all of it’s good and it’s bad when we take the time to rest. But better that we emerge to face that good and bad when we are whole rather then when we are in a constant state of unease and brokenness.
I mentioned things that were very personally impactful to me during my recovery, but I do not want to fail to mention that also during this time a white armed gunman took the lives of two black senior citizens who were grocery shopping simply because of the color of their skin. And then another white gunman shot and killed 11 other senior citizens while they worshiped simply because of their religion. It’s exhausting, and tiring, and depressing to deal with such matters on a regular basis. We must, we must, we must must must…take the time to REST.
A quick note: For anyone wondering “Where is the dad through all this morning and bed time routine.” My husband is in law school, was studying for and taking mid-terms, and had to be at the hospital with our other sick family member while I was recovering. This is why he is not mentioned as much in this post. But please believe that if he returned home late in the evening and our daughter was still unable to fall asleep, he took the reigns from me so I could get in the bed and put in the time to help get her down.