On the day I celebrated my forty-fifth birthday, my yearly custom typically included eagerly anticipating a sumptuous meal with my husband, opening thoughtfully presented gifts from my four lively teens, lunching out with treasured friends stretched casually over several weeks’ time, and savoring the largest section of the most decadent chocolate cake ever conceived. There were myriad activities I should have been looking forward to, but I wasn’t. In truth, the very thought of commemorating this previously ritually joyous event made me even more depressed. Depressed? Did I mention the word depressed? Couldn’t have…not me. Not the “I’m always in control of my subdued emotional persona” which I had effectively portrayed to the world for the past forty-four years of my existence. Then why? Why was it that I found facing the truth of my current predicament so very painful? Why did a simple elective shoulder surgery send me into a period of emotional despair? I wasn’t depressed before I opted to have my loose shoulder tightened. So what exactly was the trigger? Something transpired within my psyche during those subsequent post-op days that sent me spiraling into a black, obscure night of the soul. The worst aspect of this terrifying, albeit temporary experience, was that I felt powerless…utterly helpless…and entirely alone on this companionless journey.
Although I never, ever, would have anticipated reacting in such dramatic fashion to an elective surgical procedure, I have had to face up to what happened to me during those early post-surgery weeks. If I had been privy to an outsider’s unbiased observation of my inner-emotional workings, I would have clearly declared that the woman in question (me) was undoubtedly depressed. Yet I couldn’t, wouldn’t dare, name it at the time. I was too ashamed; too humiliated by this debilitating label…in fact, I was horrified that others, including intimate family and friends, would come to the same conclusion that I secretly feared. I was not in control, rather, I was so emotionally out of control that I apprehensively worried my mind was coming unhinged.
Having never experienced such drastic fluctuations in my emotional state before, I didn’t recognize the signals of depression. True enough, I wasn’t sleeping…. enduring continual shoulder pain for weeks on end will inhibit even the soundest reposer from gaining daily needed rest. I had also stopped exercising for a solid month post-surgery, something I’ve never done in my entire adult life. This too, may have contributed to how off-kilter my body felt as it responded to this drastic change in my former daily pattern. Most significantly, most terrifyingly, it was as though someone was pinning me against the wall…and no matter how mightily I struggled, I couldn’t break free. It was in this skewed frame of mind that I unwisely, almost obsessively, began contemplating life…. my faith, my marriage, my work, my future…. for hours on end. Pondering the past, present, and future through these murky, dimly lit lenses was not a good thing. I’d sit alone with a growing inner remorse while reliving past decisions and regretting poor choices. This habit alone increased my sense of despair, my lack of hope.
Thankfully, I had outside support or I may have begun believing that my wild mental digressions into the hopeless were true. Because my family and friends continued to speak positive words of truth, accurately assessing my life, indeed my very person, I was able to heed that small, still-sane, voice in me that continued to resist these negative mind-speaks. It was a battle to be sure, one that I fought hour by hour, and often I found myself placing a desperate telephone call to a trusted friend for perspective, to vent, to question, and for prayer.
Now I can see that some of the most helpful advice I received during those darkly tenuous post-op weeks, were the suggestions to care for my physical body, to treat myself with a tender care, and to allow myself generosity of forgiveness, and time…. lots of time to rest, recover, and rejuvenate. Admittedly, I felt as though I was spoiling myself adhering to such loving counsel…but after a bit; I realized my friends were right. And so wise. My body needed a quiet period to heal…it was up to me to see that I made the right choices to allow this to happen. As I met with the surgeon after my operation, difficult as it was, I explained my emotional tailspin in brief. With a prescription for a sleep aid in hand and some fresh determination, I left the office feeling a bit more ready to proactively heal in the most “stationary” sense of the word. Sleep eventually became a blessed respite and my outlook improved dramatically. Daily exercising helped me “work out” some of the doldrums as well. I ate with authority…. meaning with full intention of building nutritious food stocks into every meal. And…I continued to lean on my family and friends, for conversation, for hugs, and for simple caring. It took a full three months before I realized I was almost “me” again. Still, every once in a while, when I grew especially tired or stressed, I felt that ominous dark cloud begin to dodge my every step. So, I would retreat a bit from life’s busyness, rest some more, and relish everyday simple joys.
Who could have foreseen that during one of the most productive and most satisfying periods of mid-life that a simple elective surgery could wreck such emotional havoc? Certainly not me. Yet countless other women have experienced the same uncontrollable response to their own “mid-life triggers” into depression. Mid-life women are all too often literally sandwiched betwixt and between their partners, children, parents, friends, and colleagues’ needs and expectations thus forfeiting their own health in the process. At some point, every woman must stand apart and carefully assess her life, both internally and externally with tempered realism. Otherwise, the sudden and frequently devastating onslaught of depression may render her incapable of functioning and feeling utterly hopeless. By exploring some common triggers that mid-life women may face if they find themselves suffering for a time with mild depression, women can move through this time of emotional tension more fully armed and better prepared.
Out of this experience (and three more shoulder surgeries) grew a women's inspirational health book, Burdens Do a Body Good: Meeting Life's Challenges with Strength (and Soul) and co-authored with my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Christopher A. Foetisch.
All user-generated information on this site is the opinion of its author only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for any medical conditions. Members and guests are responsible for their own posts and the potential consequences of those posts detailed in our Terms of Service.