By Wendy Jackson.
I had my second back surgery shortly after I turned 40.
I knew I needed it and that cortisone shots would not be on the menu when I lost feeling in my right foot and it turned in at a awkward angle that I could not unbend on my own. I could not wiggle my toes. And it hurt like a motherf*cker.
I was not upset that I needed the surgery.
My first one was not terrible and my recovery was unremarkable. At 40 I had just run my first 5k and was determined to be that woman who ages gracefully and looks better with the years. I wanted to be that woman in MORE magazine with the caption “This is what 40 looks like”.
I was most upset that I was going to miss the annual girls get away (read: drinking, laughing, sleeping, dancing, eating fest) on the river. It’s an amazing little place, with the best view, and to be surrounded by love and laughter all weekend- it’s something I look forward to. The girls offered to take me immediately from the hospital and nurture me on the dock all weekend with promises of good behavior, plenty of painkillers, and the best bed in the house.
My doctor and husband said no. (It should be noted that my husband considered it, he knew how crushed I was to be missing it.)
I assumed of course, that I would exit the hospital good as new with a few prescriptions and a stern “no driving for 6 weeks” as I had before. A few weeks of physical therapy and we are back on track to being 40 and Fabulous.
But when the doctor came in after surgery and asked if I could wiggle my toes, I could not. When he asked if I could ‘feel this’, I didn’t feel it . And when I tried to straighten my foot from that awkward angle, it wouldn’t. And when I asked the doctor to tell me when it would all come back to normal, he couldn’t.
So I did what any normal person would do-I cried.
I cried in my bed, on my couch, and in public. I cried after a full day of shoe shopping, my dear husband trying to find me cute shoes to fit over this hideous leg brace I had been fitted with. I cried in the shower, the howling kind of cry that you don’t want to share. I slipped so deeply and so quickly into this desperate place, that I didn’t notice it. Or maybe I did. I don’t remember. I just know that I blamed it on grief and the normal, totally acceptable grieving process when you lose something or someone. And I was losing a part of me.
I was losing the part of me that rocked platform, spiked or chunky heels. The me that loved to dress up, and felt sexy, and beautiful. I was losing the part that could chase my kids around the yard and up the stairs as I pinched their bottom and they laughed. I was losing the woman that just ran 3.2 miles and felt powerful and renewed. I was losing the girl that walked effortlessly on the beach, the boat, the dock, the cobblestone sidewalks downtown.
Suddenly my husband was offering me his arm, not in that romantic, Victorian way, but in that way you offer aid to an elderly woman crossing the road. I was losing freedoms I never imagined-stand up paddleboarding, my step classes, and yes, my yoga.
And that is how I justified the crying, the depression and the hole that I was in. I don’t need medication, this is normal, I kept saying. Until the day I admitted to my husband that there were days when I would drive over the rivers that surround this city, so beautiful and serene, the most peaceful views I have ever seen-and think ‘if I just turn the wheel really hard, really fast, I could go over the edge’.
But I already had, hadn’t I? By just thinking that, by actually saying that, I had stepped off of grief and into something entirely different.
Medication. Reiki. Accupuncture. Therapy. It is hard to say which one helped me the most.
I stomped my feet and said ‘enough!’ and tried everything at once. I chucked the brace in the back of the closet and vowed to retrain my leg and my body. I sold, donated and gave away my shoe collection and vowed one day that I would wear heels again. I went back to the gym and tried my yoga-failing miserably, but I tried.
I told my husband to hold my hand, not take my arm. I still had 9 months of 40 left-plenty of time to get back on track…
But just months later there was a car accident, not my fault, and when the car stopped everything was muffled, and my ears were ringing terribly. The ER said it was ‘temporary, it happens, don’t worry’. But it wasn’t, and three days later I had the volume on the TV at 32 and I knew it was not good. So off to the doctor, and the ENT and the audiologist I went.
Bilateral sensorinueral hearing loss. Threshhold shift. Permanent.
I laughed. I actually laughed as I heard it, thinking Really? Is this real?’After the leg ordeal, can this really be happening to me? As I sat in the doctors office while they put goo in my ear to take an impression for hearing aids, tears streaming silently down my face, I saw myself walking toward that hole again. It is dark, and comforting, and it was calling me. I had just turned 41. This was not how it was supposed to be.
They say that God (or the universe, or whatever you believe in) keeps giving you the same test until you learn the lesson. What lesson was I missing? Why was I being punished? Was this karma? What had I done to deserve this? How on earth did I get here, how did I become this broken person? I was off my meds, and I was trying to make sense of this, and couldn’t. I was determined to push through it, on my own, to be stronger, to be a fighter, and I could not let go of that picture of myself in my head that I had when I turned 40. I kept going back to that place-but it was all different now. I felt as though I was made of glass, and that at any moment, I would shatter and just disappear.
Today, I am 43. Three years of changes, challenges, tears, anxiety, depression, medication. Three years fighting with my doctors, my lawyers, my husband, my friends, and myself.
I kept trying to get back on an earlier path, not realizing it was long gone, washed away years before.
I keep looking at that one picture, that one moment- I was forty and fabulous, and I didn’t even know it.
And there is the lesson.
I wanted THE job, THE body, THE friends, THE life that I thought by 40 I should have. But I had it all along and I didn’t take the time to see it, let alone be thankful for it.
I wasted so much time, so much energy, so much love and life trying to go backwards so that I could move forward, when all I really needed to do was sit still. I needed simply to be present and see everything around me, to feel and acknowledge what I was feeling and then let it go. I didn’t have to fight everyday, I just had to put down my baggage, take a deep breath, and move forward.
Fabulous according to Webster’s Dictionary means: resembling or suggesting a fable : of an incredible, astonishing, or exaggerated nature. It lists related words as : fabricated, fantastic (also fantastical), fictional, fictitious; fanciful, imaginary, imagined, invented, made-up, make-believe, pretend, unreal.
So no, I am not 43 and Fabulous. I am 43 and Free. And strong. And authentic. And honest, happy, loved, present and peaceful.
And that is much, much better.
Wendy Jackson is a mom, wife, lover of life and laughter, books, music and writing. She recently attended Jen Pastiloff and Emily Rapp’s writing retreat to Vermont. Book the 2015 retreat here.