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3 Lessons my Operations taught me: Feel your emotions!

January 30, 2015

Here is the middle post of this trilogy and much like a middle child, this point is as equally important as the other two and shouldn’t be ignored, especially because this topic may seem obvious. Lesson 2: You don’t have to be happy all the time and everyone has a right to feel what they damn well want to feel. Excuse my language, but sometimes the middle child needs to make more of a exclamation to be heard.

Whilst in hospital, the majority of your life is dictated for you – when you eat, sleep, wake up, everything. All of this, you come to accept but there is one aspect that was imposed on me and was so subtle, it went unnoticed for many years. Without meaning to, and often without me even being aware, I found my feelings about my hospital experience and the situation I was in, were being dictated for me. This advice came with the best of intentions – people wanted me to see the positive in a pretty grim situation. Whilst this was beneficial at the time, it actually resulted in me not being able to process the series of events or decipher how I felt about the situation. In fact, I didn’t process the most traumatic of my memories for a good 10 years because they were buried so deeply beneath a wealth of phrases including ‘you should be grateful you survived’, ‘you should be happy we found the tumour before it became malignant’, ‘you should be so proud of yourself for overcoming adversity’ … the list goes on. The problem with these ‘shoulds’ was I didn’t feel that way and when placed in a confusing situation at a young age, you are highly influenced by those surrounding you and so I simply did what I was told and attempted to feel this way. For 10 years following these surgeries, whenever I retold the story, I spoke with such humour and positivity that I was complimented constantly on being admirable, courageous and resilient. A number of words I didn’t feel I deserved. I didn’t DO anything. I spent 4 months in bed bitching and moaning and somehow came out a saint.

After an unexpected lecture triggered all the memories I had suppressed over the years, I had, what I can only call, a meltdown. Suddenly I was overwhelmed by a rush of emotions that couldn’t be processed and resulted in me only being able to cry everyday for three weeks straight. It had reached a point where I was getting flash-backs of surgeries in my sleep and resulted in hallucinations. Unsuprisingly, I got diagnosed with PTSD. Not exactly productive the month before my dissertation was due. Eventually by trawling through my emotions with a fine-tooth comb, I revealed the truth about what I felt at the time. This time, it wasn’t the admirable, courageous and resilient story and for the most part, wasn’t even socially acceptable to say but as this blog is going to be wholly honest, I shall include it. I was 11 years old when all this happened and be warned, the following paragraph will probably read like a child throwing a temper tantrum but such is life.

The truth was I was angry. I was pissed off that I was not normal, that I couldn’t have a normal childhood, that I had spent the majority of my life in hospital and that I had scars all over my stomach so that I could never move on from my horrific past. I was sad. Sad that I had caused so much hurt and fear in my family and constantly worried my parents about my health. I was scared of going back into hospital and this eventually spiralled to me being fearful of anything I deemed risky. Unfortunately, most elements in life include an element of risk so I pretty much lived my life in fear of the dreaded inevitable day I would return back to hospital. Most of all though, the strongest feeling I had was guilt. I was guilty for having survived, when so many other kids didn’t. What made me so special? I felt this enormous weight on my shoulders that I needed to make my life count for all those children that lost their lives in the ICU while I was there. And then on top of this, I felt guilty for having unintentionally ‘fooled’ everyone into thinking I was this saint who was courageous and strong. I felt like I was a fraud.

I don’t regret having waited for 10 years to sift through all this baggage because I also believe that sometimes you are not equipped to handle everything at once. After recovery from the physical trauma of surgery, I was certainly not mentally prepared to deal with the psychological aftermath and at the young age of 11, I was not old enough to understand what had happened, let alone decide how I felt about the situation. Humans are not designed to be happy all day everyday and we should have no shame in admitting that. Whether it is socially acceptable or not, I believe I have a right to feel my emotions and vocalise them. This recent trend of constant positivity can overshadow this as people do not feel like they have a right to, for lack of a better word, self-pity. It is my belief that we all are entitled to those moments, those meltdowns and occasionally feeling lack-lustre and completely apathetic to the world and by truly letting yourself have that time, you can release those emotions, letting them serve their purpose, pick yourself up and dust yourself off and move on.

At which point I will leave you on this ever so enticing cliff-hanger (please note the sarcasm) as that brings me to my final lesson – acceptance.

2 responses to “3 Lessons my Operations taught me: Feel your emotions!

  1. An unnerving example of the damage we do whilst trying to placate. But to placate whom? The family’s feelings of relief, hope and thankfulness are understandable but why do we feel the need to ensure the victim feels the same?
    Having read this article I will never offer those trite but well-meaning words to anyone. I’ll tell them to unleash their feelings and I’ll listen to every word …….. So many people though cannot deal with illness in those they love. Seeing our own mortality and fragility coupled with an impotence to protect those we love proves too much for even the most hardened pragmatist……

    1. Such true words. I personally do not use the words victim, but as the person in the unfortunate situation I already experienced such a lack of control over the circumstances, that I can’t even comprehend how much harder it was for the ones I loved to see me go through it. In this new age of positive psychology and this emphasis on positivity we can often place pressure on the individual to react as they ‘should’ not as they would like to. I love that you commented and shared your thoughts. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on future posts!

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