October 2018 marks the one-year anniversary of my reconstructive jaw surgery that cured my sleep apnea, but triggered a three-month depression. With the benefit of a tool kit of positive psychology interventions and the support of a team of healthcare professionals, I've been able to emerge stronger than ever.
Here’s what I’ve taken away from my experiences over the past year -- insights I hope you'll find helpful.
Keep the long view in mind. The statistics were clear - if I didn’t treat my sleep apnea, I would be putting myself at increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Enduring a year-long recovery from an aggressive surgical solution, when compared with the long-term health consequences of doing nothing, helped me to keep the bigger picture in mind. This long view provided the meaning and purpose I would need to endure such a challenging rehabilitation, a sentiment best captured by the Nietzsche quote: “One who has a why can endure any how.”
Don’t go it alone. It was not surprising that I fell into a deep depression the first few months into my recovery, but when I woke up on January 1st, tired of the wallowing, I made the decision - New Year, New Me! My first step was to use the SPIRE Check-in exercise to pinpoint what actions I could take in each of the wellbeing domains: spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational, and emotional. It became clear I would need support and guidance from trusted experts to help me get my life back on track - a decision that not only accelerated my healing but also took my recovery to a whole new level.
Practice patience, grit, and self-compassion. Making any significant change in our life (be it physical or emotional) is challenging because our brains like the comfort and safety of the habits we’ve created. Willpower alone is not enough to overcome the hardwiring of our nervous system. Real change takes persistent action over an extended period of time in the direction of our desired outcome. Be prepared to stumble, hit roadblocks, and become frustrated along the way. Even though I knew this from the outset, I still couldn't have done it alone, it was my team of experts who offered multiple strategies, held me accountable to follow through on my treatment plan, and cheered me on when things got tough.
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Stop tolerating, rationalizing and coping. Pain (be it physical or emotional) alerts us that something is out of alignment and must be adjusted, I've learned that often time early distress signals keep getting louder until they gain our attention. Discomfort only works if we act on it, I now see that by tolerating, rationalizing and coping with my physical symptoms for so long I had inadvertently prolonged my own suffering. Today when I notice discomfort – be it physical or emotional - I elevate my awareness, pause, and get curious. If it’s a physical pain I adjust how I’m seated, I shift my standing posture, or start moving through exercise. If the dis-ease feels emotional, I reflect on what triggered it and take action rather than avoiding a potentially difficult conversation by tolerating or rationalizing.
Don’t settle for less. When I shared how much better I was feeling as a result of my surgery, my cardiologist offered the best response – “Oxygen”. It was true, like a fish who doesn’t know they're swimming in water, I had no idea how labored my breathing was – it was the only normal I knew. It wasn’t until my windpipe tripled and the oxygen started (literally) gushing in that I could finally appreciate all that I had been missing. We often settle for what we have - not knowing how much better our lives could be.
Since my own transformative journey, my mission to inspire, educate, and support women to reclaim their own joy has become even more urgent. If I've learned anything this past year it's this - we have the power to stop our suffering and start living our joy - the choice is entirely up to us!
Schedule a free ½ hour consultation and reclaim your joy!
Tolerating, rationalizing, and coping simply prolongs the suffering.
In case you missed it, here’s a link to download Reset. Recover. Rewire. The 3’Rs for Stress Relief. It is filled with proven actions you can take to create Islands of Sanity throughout your stressful day.
Based on her unique life experiences, and certifications in the science of positive psychology and the art of life coaching, Alison offers practical wisdom that helps women navigate midlife transitions with clarity and confidence. www.alisondeutsch.com