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Stillness in Post Operative Recovery by Emil

Stillness in Post Operative Recovery by Emil
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Usually, when I travel I try to pack light with only the necessities. But when I was packing for my trip in October I stuffed my bags with many “essentials”, including my rice cooker, aroma diffuser, and four large pillows. Clearly, my priorities were different this time around. I was leaving for a trip to San Francisco where I would have surgery and then stay a week for recovery. So I headed up north with my partner Catherine, my dog Chopper, and a very full car.

I’d been working for 14 months, talking to doctors, psychologists, and insurance representatives for my surgery. Because my procedure was related to my gender transition, just getting the surgery meant jumping through a series of hoops. But despite working so long for a surgery that would improve my quality of life, I wasn’t excited at all. As the trip came closer I became increasingly frantic about the projects I needed to finish, the work I would miss, and the physical limitations I would need to navigate in the following months of recovery. 

It was easy to look at my medical leave as a blockade, a setback to my goals and intentions. But I didn’t want to treat this time as something I just needed to “get through”. This was an important time of transition, and like other stressful times in my life, I felt there was something to be learned. The outcome of surgery was out of my control, but how I reacted to the situation was something I could work on. 
I wanted to reframe this time as an opportunity to observe life from a place of stillness. Normally if I’m not feeling well, I tune out the discomfort with video games or movies to pass the time. It was tempting to tune out during the discomfort of post-operative healing, but I wanted to be present in my time of recovery.

I booked a quiet Airbnb with a garden and no TV and packed with the mindset of going on an analogue meditative retreat. My blue Travelers Notebook acted as my wallet and sketchbook. My Jibun Techo Biz B6 which is my current go-to planner for daily scheduling, highlights, and notes. Lastly Hobonichi Cousin, which I keep as a journal for more detailed reflections and thoughts. I also packed some washi tape samples and my favorite fountain pens: my Lamy Safari Petrol and Kaweco Sport Cappuccino. These tools help me to process both my daily life and my inner dialogue. But because they all prompt me to reflect in different ways, I wanted to have them all available to me. I didn’t have any solid plan of what I would be using or writing. I just wanted to focus on being present and responding to the moment.

In the first few days after my surgery, my movement was extremely limited, especially in my upper body. Getting up, lifting, or reaching was impossible without assistance. I relied heavily on my partner Catherine for help. But to preserve some of my autonomy and to relieve some pressure off of them I had tried to prepare ahead of time. I borrowed the studio’s Analogue Bag to use as a caddy for my notebooks and pens. This way I knew where all my tools were if I needed to bring it from one room to another. It seems like a small thing, but when your movement is strained, just getting up to get a forgotten pen can be a difficult, if not painful, task. Another convenient tool was a bed tray table my friend offered to lend me for my trip. It ended up being especially helpful in the first few days of recovery. Set up on the bed, I could use it for meals and journaling without straining myself. So even on the days when I was most immobilized I could still write and draw, which is how I spent most of my time that week.

Coincidentally, a couple of weeks before my surgery I had started practicing Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages. This helped me while I was preparing for my trip in organizing my thoughts and after my surgery, they helped me sort through some of my mental clutter. Putting my unregulated thoughts down helped me to notice recurring thoughts and emotions. I would then take these into my Hobonichi cousin to reflect on deeper. Like many transgender individuals, my journey to a more honest expression of self is a complicated cocktail of emotions. Journaling is essential to my mental health hygiene, and writing helped to process and reconnect with my body.

All in all, I feel really lucky. My recovery was incredibly smooth and I regained mobility at a faster rate than I had expected. I feel that part of it had to do with the love and positive vibes I was given from my friends and family, as well as the care I had given myself in preparation. I received warm wishes, cards, and gifts before my trip and brought them with me to revisit. Adding them to my journal I would relive the feelings of encouragement and reflect on how many supportive people I have in my life.

I have a strong memory of sitting at the dining room table with Catherine watching the sunset surrounded by my analogue tools. Despite my bandages, I felt completely content and happy in that moment. I was reminded of how aside from the functional aspects of my tools, just seeing, using and touching the pens and paper gave me a sense of comfort. Completely removed from my usual setting, with the sole purpose of healing, I felt a mental quiet. I had written “Maybe I had needed this. This forced time to rest and reflect.” I still think back to that feeling to remind myself to try to bring that sense of quiet into my daily life.

At some point, we are all faced with times when we need to put our “productive life” on hold to care for our health, both mental or physical. If you are preparing for such a time, I hope you can set up an atmosphere for yourself that brings you peace and happiness. Ask yourself what you can learn in this moment, and how you can apply that when you return to your normal routine. Treat this time as important, listen to your mind and body. Remember, your time of rest has just as much value as your time for work.

You can find Emil at:
Everydayemil @ Instagram
Emil's Website

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  • Bobbie Howard: March 03, 2020

    Beautiful photos and story – thank you for sharing !

  • Susan Brady: December 14, 2019

    Emil, I am glad your surgery went well and I hope you continue to make a speedy recovery. I love how thoughtful you were about planning to have just what you need with you through the whole experience. Our notebooks – and partners, be they people or pets – can be such a comfort to us! Peace and best wishes for the new year!

  • Ami King: December 05, 2019

    That was a beautiful reflection that we can all learn from. Thank you.

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