I was diagnosed with developmental hip dysplasia just as I was about to go to university. While I was there, I ignored it. If you pretend it’s not there, it’s not happening, right? But it was, and it was getting worse. I wrote a few blog posts on my hip journey, you can check them out in the “Health” section if you would like to know more detail. Somewhere along the way, I had got it into my head that I could do the operations within 4-6 months of each other, and be back on my feet and carrying on with my life within a year. I was wrong. It took me six months to find the right doctor and make arrangements in the UK. It would take one year for the left leg to fully recover post-op. One year for the right leg. I would lose two and a half years of my life to these hip operations.
Let me preface this by saying that I know I am incredibly lucky. I found an incredible surgeon, had health insurance to cover the operation, was lent the most beautiful flat to recover in and was taken care of every step of the way by my mum. This is not a pity post. This is an attempt, by someone who never talks about her thoughts and feelings, to be open and map out the mental journey I’ve been on over the last few years.
Everyone has always fixated on the operation and the pain, but the hardest hurdle was definitely the mental one. Along my journey there were three main stations that I stopped at: General-Anxiety-and-Overthinking Suburb, Loss-of-Independence Town and finally, Comparison-Trap City.
General Anxiety & Overthinking
From the moment I was diagnosed, my overthinking mind has been my worst enemy. Nothing illustrates this more than in the lead up to my two operations. During the first one I was terrified because of the unknown. I read all the books, blogs and Facebook accounts, focusing on all the bad experiences. In the lead up to the second – despite the fact that the first operation had gone so well – I was terrified of the known. My mind blew all the bad things out of proportion and conjured up the worst possible scenarios (including possible death). There was no winning. Couple that with the fact that, as an exercise addict, I felt intensely anxious every time someone else talked about exercising and their workouts when I hadn’t done any exercise myself. It was a cocktail of stress and freak outs.
Equally, coming to terms with the fact that I would have to set aside two years to undergo two serious reconstructive surgeries was a battle. There were a lot of ups and downs. None more so that during the year between the operations. I definitely wallowed in hopelessness and anxiety – a lot. I was given a lot of pep talks and a lot of books on resilience and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). I even took an online course on how to deal with anxiety and depression. Although it didn’t seem like it at the time, it all helped as I slowly came to realise that the only things we can control are our reactions.
Loss of Independence
Aside from the general anxiety, I had to reconcile myself with my loss of independence and total reliance on others. I don’t know if many of you have been on crutches before, but it turns a simple task into a mammoth expedition. I’ve always been very independent and hate asking for help. So after the operation, when I became dependent on others for even a cup of tea, it was a hard pill to swallow. It didn’t help that mum thought I was addicted to tea and started rationing my cups. When I was complaining to my friend about this “inhumane” behaviour, he suggested educating her about the UN’s Protocol on Torture. It did not work. It wasn’t just the tea that sparked issues. I couldn’t go out by myself. I couldn’t cook for myself. I couldn’t really shower by myself. It’s very difficult to ask someone to keep doing extra tasks for you when you can see the annoyance flash across their face and you know that they are in pain themselves.
The inability to do things for myself was humbling, and at times humiliating – I couldn’t dress myself for at least a month! The loss of independence was hard. It was always something I had taken for granted, but losing it shook up my perspective. I had to constantly remind myself that this was temporary. And keep telling myself that my mum would still love me after this…right?
Finally, we throw in modern technology’s contribution to widespread anxiety – the comparison trap. During my immediate recovery especially, I found myself spending hour upon hour mindlessly scrolling through social media. As I did this I found myself hating myself and this situation more and more. There were endless pictures of people leading their #bestlives. People exercising all the time, taking their health for granted, and living their lives without a second thought for how that would make me feel – the absolute nerve! How dare they?! It was all totally ridiculous, but that’s how I felt. I kept constantly comparing my life with that of people I didn’t talk to and was barely friends with. I was obsessing over their highlights, seeing what progressions they made in their lives and feeling hopelessly stagnant. It felt like it was a race and I was losing. Everyone else was halfway down the racetrack and my starting starting gate hadn’t even opened yet.
The reality was, of course, nothing like that. I had not lost two years at all, I had just taken a different path. My life progressed too, in between operations. I got better, made friends, changed jobs and even moved in with my boyfriend for the few months we were in the same country. It was just harder for me to see all these things when I was busy fixating on everyone else’s lives.
Over the last two years I was thrust into situations which taught me a lot about resilience and coping with anxiety. But more than that I’ve learnt that there is no such thing as a perfect life, there will always be something to derail your plan and stress out about. You have to let yourself feel what you feel, acknowledge it, and then move forward.
Now I am facing a very different challenge. My life so far has been dictated by “musts” and “needs” but now it’s all stretched out before me, with so many wide open roads. I’m going to have to make some real decisions and do some real, serious adulting very soon. And that’s a whole other mental battle!