by Nikki Rappaport
In April I had surgery to remove a uterine fibroid. It had grow to the size of a small melon. I named it Frank. Frank had been growing quietly for ten years. My doctor felt it simply by pressing on my abdomen during a routine check-up and an ultrasound confirmed it. The pain intensified as I searched for the right surgeon and finally, several months later I had the surgery: a “bikini-cut” like a C-section to remove Frank, two nights in the hospital, and six weeks recovering.
Needing surgery and having surgery was emotionally and physically intense. Now being on the other side of it, it feels like a giant weight (literally! this thing was huge) has been lifted from my life. But the gift of surgery, besides ultimately being pain-free, was required time for self-care that led to strength and gratitude. This was the type of care I had often pushed aside and now, it was necessary, though I was completely unprepared for it.
Hopefully you never have to have surgery or take significant medical leave from work. But if you do, or have a friend who has to, or you’re have something in your mind or body that needs healing, here are a five ways to take care of yourself during a major health crisis.
1. Talk about it and embrace help.
Earlier this year I began telling women I had a fibroid and nearly everyone had a story to share about their uterus or their mom’s or friend’s uterus. I found out that nearly one in three women have a fibroid – though not all need to be surgically removed. I was shocked how much we had to talk about once I brought it up. We rarely talk about these common issues. Why do we keep this stuff to ourselves? Especially when issues “down there” are not only physically painful, but they carry significant emotional weight too?
I started making women’s health a topic with friends. I told trusted coworkers why I was sitting on a pillow and why my face might look scrunched. A friend said to me, “If you had a broken arm, everyone would be asking if you were okay.” Let people in. Tell them about your pain and plans. You may end up encouraging a friend go see a doctor. You might feel less alone and scared. You may find a different kind of support network you didn’t know existed. And you’ll need them for when you’re recovering.
And the toughest part may be the most gratifying of all: When you’re at home resting, tell people and allow them to care for you. Friends brought me food and coloring books, some just sat with me. Bottom line, you don’t need to do this alone, and the women in your life, in particular, are here for you.
2. Write everything down.
Did I have surgery on my brain? No, but it definitely felt that way. I felt crazy trying to recall all of the details about my insurance and short-term disability policies. It made me feel stupid which triggered anxiety and sadness.
Even months later I’ve questioned if I actually paid that bill. Write it down. There will be a lot of information from doctors, the insurance company, the hospital, and your HR representative, and often this information can be conflicting. Have an account of everything, rather than trying to remember. And don’t feel bad asking for another explanation or questioning that hospital bill.
3. Go slow. Then go even slower.
It’s a gift to be prescribed to go slow. Not forever of course, but for a short amount of time. For those of us always on the move, it’s not easy. Healing can be a magical thing, but it takes time. Go easy on yourself and know that recovery is not going to be linear. Embrace the slow and your body’s magic.
4. Be prepared to feel left out. And make plans to fit in.
If you love your work and the people you work with, a leave of absence will feel like a mini breakup. There will be meetings and decisions without you. While torturous some days, you’ve got bigger fish to fry. Your health will always be more important, and a daily reminder of that allowed me to focus and rest my mind.
Instead, find projects that will make you feel accomplished. I completed home projects that made me feel creative (like potting a new plant or hanging new art on the walls). I cooked new things because I had the time to invest in a complex recipe. I finished books in days instead of months. Knit, paint, meditate, write poems, brew coffee. Even if you only have the stamina to do it for a few short spurts. Practice gratitude for the things you can control and let go of the things you can’t. Especially work.
5. If you can, indulge in products that help you feel better!
Yes, most of healing is in your mind and body, but some great products can go a long way in making yourself feel beautiful, cozy, happier. A few of my recommendations:
The simplest face routine seriously saved me. It made me feel clean and glowy instead of, well horrible: Micellar water (you just wipe it on and it cleans ev-ery-thing!) and Vitamin C-packed brightening oil.
I never thought I could wear a bralette (even the word makes me cringe and basically says, “no big boobs allowed”) but I found this one and it changed everything. I wore it through my recovery and honestly still wear it on weekends.
After a tortuous few months with my vagina, we needed to become friends again, and I did after I met the Maude vibe (seriously everything they make makes you feel great about sex).
Remember wearing nightgowns when we were little girls? Bring them back! They are comfy and breezy, and let’s be real, a pantless home life is the best life.
Nikki Rappaport is a brand creator and storyteller in Washington, DC. Follow her creative journey in food and art @nikkirap.
Lede image/artwork by [Zoe Buckman] (http://www.zoebuckman.com/). Following images by Cecile Dormeau and Sonya Borisova. Interested in more stories like this? Subscribe to our newsletter – we send it every Friday. Subscribe here.