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Learning to take it slow

When I alerted my readers that I would be taking time off from writing to recover from surgery, many sent me kind words with a common theme: "Take time to heal."

"Give your body time to heal," said one. "Rest and sleep," said another. "Be sure to take all the time you need for a full recovery!" and "Don't try to power through. Stop, lie down and rest. ... We will still be here."

I was hearing the wisdom of experience: been there, didn't take the time, thought I was healed, wasn't.

That certainly has been my experience from previous times of loss and stress. I haven't always taken enough time to heal. I moved on too soon, when my head, in effect, was still woozy.

Even now, a week after surgery, I find my mind drifting off. I will be thinking through a sentence and find I have jumped tracks. I will need to read the same page of a novel several times and replay a scene in a recorded TV show. So this time I am taking time. No rushing back to work, no making important decisions, no feeling impatient to have my wits fully about me.

I'm revisiting earlier healing scenarios. After 9/11, for example, many wanted to seize control of the situation and begin making critical decisions. Partly, that was the inevitable fog of war; action needed to be taken. But some of our response was an unfortunate rush to reassert control, and a rush to escape the pain of loss and feeling helpless. The decisions that came out of that rush were poor.

I remember a time when I had been pummeled in a job. Once out the door, I wanted to take control, get my life in order, be free of pain. I rushed it. Even though I tried to learn from the experience, I wanted the interim to end ASAP. Impatience led me to see things without sufficient clarity and to make decisions that weren't wise. Looking back on it, my rush to escape the agony merely extended the agony.

One way to assert control was to manage the flow of information. It's better, I now realize, to be radically transparent.

A second way was to play all roles myself. I would be patient, chronicler, therapist and source of strength. I allowed my daily writings to go from the revelations of autobiographical discovery to self-obsession and self-justification. My writings became dull.

This time, I'm setting no internal stopwatch, imposing no expectations, not seeing this recovery time as an unfortunate pause before real life resumes. With the help of my extraordinary wife, I'm allowing myself to move slowly, to focus on pain management, to take my medications as instructed, to let my body tell me when it's time to extend my afternoon walk.

Most difficult for me, and yet most critical, when I try to write and sense my mind clouding over, I close my laptop and turn to reading. For me, not writing is a bit like not breathing, but I know it's part of getting healthy.

I've made two discoveries: Giving up control is far more healing than trying to assert control. And people are amazingly kind. If given the opening to express concern and affection, they do so. I'm not sure what I expected. This surgery is a first for me. But I treasure what has come thus far: a calming and affirming tenderness. 


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