Easing Back into Life
The first few days were rocky though. As I started to cautiously ease back into more normal activities (like driving and laundry and dishes and cleaning and cooking and other REALLY basic everyday activities), I found myself second-guessing every request, every commitment, and every task. "I want to do it, but am I capable? I think I can now, but will I be able when the time comes? Will I have enough time? Enough energy? Enough mental capacity to handle it?"
Normally, I'm extemely confident and sure of what my capabilities are. If I say I can or will do something, I will--end of story. But suddenly, I found that while I'm not completely incapable of everything, I definitely am not able to keep up with my old pace of life. So I don't intuitively know how much to commit to or how much time to reserve for every task, and it's hard to account for my mood changes...of which there are many.
It's a very odd feeling not to trust myself. I don't trust that the "right now" Andrea will feel the same as the Andrea three days from now (or even three hours from now). Everything takes a little longer than it used to (sometimes a lot longer) and depletes a little more mental and physical energy than I expect it to. So that has taken some adjusting, and some trial and error, to see just what the current version of me is able to do everyday. Needless to say, I've had to go very slow so I don't get myself in a pickle and become completely overwhelmed.
I've found though, as the week progressed, my physical and mental state and confidence has improved every day as I've found "success" in various activities.
Physically, I'm definitely improving. I'm stiff and still a little sore and uncomfortable, but I'm not hurting anymore. I've spent a good portion of each day focusing on stretching and physical therapy exercises to increase my flexibility and mobility. I've needed that particularly in my shoulders and arms after surgery, but my legs have done nothing for a month too, so they're pretty tight these days as well. I've been able to do some some low impact bodyweight exercises and walking to slowly ease back into working out. I'm focusing on taking small, slow steps forward so that I don't hurt myself. I've been able to see progress pretty quickly, particularly in flexibility, which has been very encouraging.
I'm not there yet, but maybe in a couple of weeks I'll be back to doing my 4-5 day a week Burn workouts (modified though, for sure). For now, I'm thankful for modified 15 to 20 minute BenderFitness.com workouts, SaraBethYoga YouTube stretching videos and the walking path around the park behind our house.
Mentally, I've started trying to exercise the creative and business side of my brain again, while doing some work at my computer. While it feels a little like I'm stumbling around to remember what I'm doing, it's been a good way to slowly transition back to work-mode before I have to hit the ground running. I'm saving any physical sign-painting work until after the new year, just to give my body plenty of time to heal and to see what kind of energy levels I have each day.
Multi-tasking and thinking about more than one thing at a time is much more difficult for me right now than it used to be. Maybe that's long-term effects from chemo? Maybe it's just from the stress of the year. Hard to say. The more I do though, the more confident I feel about being able to manage my workload. Most days. Some days I fall apart and am overwhelmed...
...which takes me to...
Emotionally, I'm slowly doing better each day, and I'm starting to stack up some good days finally. But still, I never know when or why I might just burst into tears or have a sudden pang of anxiety or dread. I had a complete fall apart about a Christmas tree I ordered from Amazon (after hours of research) arriving WITHOUT A WAY TO PLUG IT IN and said "Christmas is cancelled. We aren't decorating." And I would have stuck to that too...but Ben saved Christmas and found a better looking, less expensive, more fabulous tree at Home Depot and brought it home by the time I had dragged my defeated and angry and depressed self out of bed and downstairs the next day. True story. And yes, Amazon accepted the return. And we did end up decorating for Christmas (cheerfully). The point of that story is that any little thing has the potential to set me spiraling. I can't always control it, though I do try to throttle it from destroying everyone in my path.
...which is a good segue to...
Socially, I'm REALLY struggling with how to be social (which I need) and see my friends and family again in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic situation we have found ourselves in. While I'm trying to go back to "normal" -- normal isn't there to go back to! I can't just get together with a group of friends or our family for dinner or to hang out at their house, or meet up for coffee or a project without thinking about ALL THE COVID crap.
While I'm pretty sure my family are all very low risk for serious side effects from getting Covid, I have inconvenienced them enough this year and would feel terrible to be the one to bring it home and force our whole household to strictly quarantine right now. But, I also really dislike the feeling of trying to interact with people I know and love while wearing a mask. You miss so much of the experience of being with someone when you can't see their face or expressions. Instead of being uplifting to see them, it depresses me--and so I avoid those kinds of interactions as a protective coping mechanism. After all the depressing stuff I've been through this year, every little thing feels so much heavier than it should. I need to be putting together a lot more non-depressing experiences to rebuild my resilience. So (in cases where a mask is not required or specifically requested), I either say "no" to the get-together and avoid seeing anyone in person, or I say "oh forget it" and risk the interaction mask-free, which is wonderfully rejuvenating. But then I feel guilty or like I'm doing something "wrong" if I hug a friend or have a maskless meeting or get-together. I'm inconsistent at best, and I admit that. And I know I'm not alone in that constant back-and-forth struggle.
For me personally, I think it boils down to this: Sometimes, the risk of mental, emotional and social harm done by staying isolated is higher and more emergent than the risk of physically contracting or spreading COVID. So I guess that's my personal measuring stick. It's not perfect, and it's a sliding scale depending on the day and the circumstance and even the minute. Frankly, it's an exhausting decision-making process that happens multiple times a day, with every single request, event, outing, and interaction that we're faced with. I'm aware that sometimes how I behave may look careless or inconsistent from the outside looking in. But before you judge, please know that I'm doing the best I can to stay sane and survive--just like you are, just like everyone is in this insane world that we have to navigate.
So, that's the 5 week post-surgery, after cancer treatment, trying-to-put-my-life-back-together update. Clearly, I'm a work in progress in ALL the areas of my life. I guess that's nothing out of the ordinary for anyone...