It’s been almost four months since my brain surgery and I am still struggling to get back to normal. Physically, I feel fairly good but mentally, I’m just feeling increasingly overwhelmed every. single. day. However, there are a few things that help tremendously and I am thankful that they exist.
This is an open letter that I’m writing to my current self. I am writing this letter as I’m recovering from a recent brain surgery, which I was hoping would change my perspective drastically, but so far, has mainly turned me into a slightly less tolerable version of myself: To someone who uses having a headache as an excuse to get out of the things that I just don’t want to do. Other than that, I am now more riddled with anxiety than I have ever been in my entire life and for those who know me personally, that’s really saying something.
Where I’m at physically:
My dreams have become extremely vivid. I mainly attribute this to the anti-seizure medication that I’ve been using for the past three months as a precaution after the surgery. These dreams are usually pretty nonsensical and thoroughly amusing, nothing traumatic or nightmarish — unless I’ve had too much to eat right before going to bed… Then it’s a completely different story. Freud would have a field day with what I have to work with nowadays.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that, a part of my skull – just underneath my forehead where they probably did all the drilling – keeps morphing into different shapes. I asked my doctor about it and he said that I didn’t need to worry because everything looks just fine. He also told me to stop staring at myself — specifically at my scar— in the mirror so much, but my vain self has already disregarded his advice like 6 times today.
Sometimes when I’m washing my face, I feel a tiny bump on my forehead and occasionally that bump hurts a little. Once the tumor is removed, the surgeon replaces the bone flap with small titanium plates and screws. So that’s what the bump is — screws…in my skull… Honestly, it’s hilarious because when you think about it, “to have a screw loose” would literally be a life threatening thing for me in this scenario.
Where I’m at mentally:
Allow me to paint a picture in your head: If my anxiety were a sundae, the cherry on top of it would be even more anxiety — that’s where I’m at mentally right now. I constantly worry about my own health, the health of my loved ones, my job, my social life, my body and my life in general. Between daily fits of anxiety and bits of tumultuous dreaming, I do not get much sleep, which leaves me feeling exhausted practically all day, everyday.
I know I should feel grateful and 90% of the time I truly am. I am grateful for everything that I have. I’m grateful for having regained my health in such a short time. I am grateful that I’m able to spend more quality time with my loved ones. I am grateful for being alive, but… There’s always a “but”. It’s the human condition and there’s nothing I can do about it.
The truth is, I still have crippling anxiety that only slightly subsides when I listen to the unexpected 80's smash hit “Big in Japan” by the German synth-pop band Alphaville on repeat until I lose myself in a daydream that involves the Pacific Coast Highway, a 1985 Ford Mustang convertible and the pleasant feeling of a warm summer’s breeze, playfully caressing my skin.
Let’s crank up the music and without further ado, I present to you a somewhat comprehensive list of all the things that have helped me cope with the process of recovery (so far):
1. “Big in Japan” by Alphaville 🎵
We’ve already covered that.
Here’s an amazing cover that I recently discovered, which I hope brightens up your day as it does mine.
2. Reading stuff that I actually enjoy 📚
I’ve been trying to get myself to read world literature classics for a while now. To tell you the truth, it has been an ongoing struggle. Don’t get me wrong, there are some classics that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but you have to be in the right state of mind while reading them to fully appreciate their brilliance and I’m just nowhere near there. I have finally made my peace with this fact and succumbed to the fiery grips of my all-time favorite guilty pleasure — Young Adult fiction and fantasy novels.
I just can’t resist a good old YA fiction novel with a brooding male protagonist who sounds way too mature and cynical for an actual 17-year old, that it’s evident a 40-something year-old man was behind his creation.
And then, there’s YA fantasy novels written mostly by middle aged women; those who have cracked the code for captivating an audience of hormonal teenage girls and young adults alike, all over the world. In these novels, the male protagonist is almost always oddly mysterious and uses thinly veiled manipulation techniques to assert power over the naïve girl with serious self-esteem issues — but in a sexy (!) kind of way, you know.
Let me make something clear, I am in no way bashing these novels for their usage of stereotypical characters and similar plot lines. If anything, their formulaic approach to story-telling is a proven recipe for success, there’s no doubt about that. Plus, they present the reader with the perfect escape from the mundane: Everything a disillusioned Millennial like me is looking for in a good book. So, basically for now: Reality (0): YA fiction (1).
3. Movies and TV shows about superheroes. 🧙🏼♀️
I admire superheroes. Not because they possess vaguely defined —nowadays all-encompassing — abilities, but because they rarely think their actions through before acting on them (besides Doctor Strange). They just do it, Nike style. In that sense, superheroes are the anti-thesis of what I believe myself to be. Whatever the issue at hand may be, I always get so consumed by my own thoughts that the unhealthy coping mechanism I picked up in my childhood of “running away from my problems” kicks in. And, mind you, not in a cool “creating a TV sitcom safe haven where I get to avoid dealing with the trauma caused by losing both my brother and AI husband” sort of way, either. It’s more like “devouring everything in my fridge that has an ounce of sugar in it in one sitting and sleeping the entire day” kind-of-way. Totally, un-glamorous.
I have always loved watching movies and TV shows with elements of fantasy. They transport me into exciting different worlds with alternate realities where people are otherworldly, stuff are magical and it is possible to resurrect the dead albeit usually with terrifying consequences. Still, it’s the perfect escape. Can you sense a pattern here?!
Great for my soul, not-so-great for my body… Terrible for my insecure yet gluttonous brain which absolutely loves making me feel guilty about eating candy, while simultaneously making my hand reach out to the cabinet for more. Seriously?! You are the brain, make better decisions. I guess my brain loses all rational thinking abilities when endorphins are at stake. Well, you can’t argue with science. *shoves another piece of chocolate in mouth for instant gratification*
5. Healthy Foods. 🥕🍅🥒
Great for my body and over-thinking brain, meh for my soul. I’ve been trying to eat healthy for the past few months as I’ve been working out a bit more than I used to. By healthy, I mean only a couple of pieces of candy per day, because I have absolutely zero self-control. Today, for example, I ate half a bag of maltesers and half of a chocolate chip cookie, thinking I would be feeling only half as guilty, but my protruding belly tells me otherwise.
I am 100% an emotional eater. I will eat spinach for lunch, a bag of caramel popcorn later in the day and feel guilty for the rest of the night until I workout tomorrow because this is a vicious cycle and I currently don’t have the patience to work on fixing this issue. 🙃
6. Movement, exercise, going out to grab a cup of coffee. 🏃♀️
When I’m not running away from my problems metaphorically by watching or reading stuff, I tend to run away from them physically. I find that the best thing to do when I have writer’s block is to put my computer aside and just do a little workout or go out to grab a cup of coffee. I find that, distancing myself from a project that I’m working on even for a short period of time, helps me come back to it with a fresh perspective and when my brain is caffeinated, it’s even better!
This is also a fact: Exercise of any kind increases your serotonin levels, so get moving! Sometimes it’s easier said than done, believe me I know. I find that it makes it easier for me when I workout in the morning and then start the day. Find out what makes it easier for you and make it a part of your routine.
7. Chatting with friends and family. 🤗💛
Having a good support network to rely on during difficult times is crucial. Though I haven’t seen most of my friends literally in years due to the pandemic, it always makes me feel happy when I send them a text to exchange pleasantries or when we have long phone conversations where we talk about our lives.
In the end, I feel better once I remind myself that recovery is a process and that there may occasionally be bumps on the road. After all, I am only human and I’m trying to navigate through this thing called life in my own terms, just as everyone else.
**Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, psychiatrist or a nutritionist (and I somewhat regret my life choices in this regard). If you are reading my stories to get a professional opinion, you are at the wrong place. I am merely sharing these anecdotes for two reasons: 1) to provide myself with an outlet where I can let go of all my bottled-up emotions, 2) hope to lend a helping hand to those who are going through similar situations, in the process.