It’s been 2 years since my craniotomy. The meaning making of this unforeseen health crisis has been unfolding. As I was recovering from the craniotomy, I did not want to rush into accepting a trite meaning(i.e there’s a higher purpose or this is meant for my good). In a culture that does not promote time to slow down and contemplate, I wanted to give myself the time for the meaning to organically unfold. As I’ve been writing about this experience, I realized that the meaning is just this: the tectonic existential shift had been begging these questions: what it is that I want from my life, what is it that I want more of, what is it that I want less of? This surgery emphasized to me, that I’m definitely in mid-life and moving ever so much closer to death as the years fly by. This tectonic shift was a catalyst to deconstruct and disrupt the ways of my living and being and requiring change.
Requisite of change mainly came in these areas of my life, as I have already recounted at length: to reawaken and bring clarity on how I want to live, my long held views of myself in my immediate family, and finally a shift in my career. Existentially, I want to live more light-heartedly, with more acceptance of myself and others I care about, less agitation towards mine or their idiosyncrasies. As one who is the organizer, the planner, the manager of my family, it’s easy to believe the smooth, functioning of my family is dependent on me. I realized I was taking on too much responsibility either out of maintaining the status quo or not knowing how to let go control and allowing the natural consequences to occur and experiencing the myriad of inconveniences it may cause (i.e. allowing my girls to learn how to do laundry and the whites coming out all pink or red because they forgot to separate their laundry). In order to change the status quo, conversations and negotiations, about what had been expected of my role and my husband’s and my daughters’ roles had to be redefined.
A couple months prior to my tumor diagnosis, I had already been considering a career shift. For 15 years, I had been a mental health therapist in private practice specializing in identity formation around race and culture. I loved my work and found it meaningful, but I began to wonder if I wanted to continue being a therapist or to shift my career in a different direction and what that direction would be. Shortly after my surgery, I was pressed to make a decision about whether to continue subleasing my office space. As I made the decision to let go of my sublease, it was the first step towards a decision that would be reaffirmed in the following 6 months. My work collaborating with people to bring about change in their lives through therapy was coming to end, but those skills would be harnessed in coaching. While in the midst of those 6 months, it was not as clear to me how or where I would land. It’s hard to let go of what gives us meaning and what’s familiar and step into the unknown. But I knew I had to make that internal shift.
Life throws all of us lots of different punches...some we see coming and adeptly recover from and some are so hard, so fast, and so unexpected that we are completely knocked on our backs, figuring out how to get back up. So how do we regain our footing when a sudden health diagnosis, or loss of a job or relationship, financial devastation, initiates a monumental, existential shift? Change, no matter how small or monumental, seen or unforeseen, has a ripple effect and often is destabilizing. Through my unforeseen health diagnosis, asking myself these questions and stumbling my way to possible answers helped me to regain my foothold:
1)What is your expectation of yourself in handling these unforeseen changes?The expectations are not just my own but also from those who care about me or even come from societal/cultural expectations. In the month before my craniotomy, I gave myself the permission to slow my life down and have the time to reflect and process the overwhelming emotions. There were a number of details and decisions which needed to be arranged, not only related to my surgery but also surrounding the care of my family. I could have easily allowed myself to get distracted with these external details instead of focusing on what was happening internally. Our American culture does not champion time of reflection, grieving, being present to the moment. What attitude do I have towards myself? Do I have an attitude of compassion and support as I wrestle with these changes?
2)What helps you to center or ground? How do you care for yourself? Does taking long walks, exercise or getting massages, talking to a supportive friend, partner, or a family member help you feel calm? How does your faith or religious practices: praying, meditating, gathering with others for support in your faith community keep you from being overwhelmed with life? Just on a day to day basis, life can overwhelm us but these centering components can become our life line, when we are going through significant changes in our lives. For me, talking with supportive friends and my husband helped ground me but my faith practice of attending church and praying with my faith community provided a great of deal solace during this turbulent existential shift.
3)Who can support you during this time? My post-operative recovery time was 4-6 weeks. During this time, my family and I, depended on many people to provide care for us. Even before the surgery, close friends established a “bring a meal” calendar post-operation. During my surgery and days after post-op in the hospital, my husband and I depended on my sister and my adult niece and close friends from church to care for our daughters. In these periods when life change is thrust upon us, it’s important not only to identify who we depend on for support but also being willing and vulnerable to ask for support. We are not meant to do this life alone and be self-sufficient but sometimes we’re too afraid to acknowledge and ask for help and support.
Don’t rush through it, don’t bypass it, but PAY ATTENTION & LISTEN to the message/messages this tectonic existential place has for you! I know it’s easier to gloss over this place because it’s easier to manage the emotions that brings you back to the chaos of this period in your life, more comfortable to say it happened and now you’re on the other side. I’m telling you this place matters because it’s what drives you to live, either out of fear or courage. It’s what tells you what you’re living for and what matters to you.. It gives you inspiration to live out the rest of your days.