The time when I broke a little and pilates mended me.
So here I am post umbilical hernia surgery and currently approaching day 14… two very long but thought provoking weeks.
The quick lowdown:
7 months ago, unknowingly, during a normal strength training session I went and popped my belly button or as the medical professions would say an umbilical hernia!. I knew I had always had an outtie belly button but not to the point where it was protruding and looking a rather delightful colour of purple!. Was it painful? No, not really and to be honest caused me no pain whatsoever in the 6 or so months that I was on the waiting list to get “my little friend” as it was renamed fixed. I continued to train but strength training with heavy weights was a no go.
My initial reaction was just pure frustration but also one of slight embarrassment. Why? Because I was working in this fitness industry as a pilates teacher, helping others to strengthen their core and there I was doing something that ended up pushing me past my limits and in turn damaging my abdominal muscles by allowing a hernia to protrude right through the bellybutton. And. forgetting that I had also grown and produced 2 children and no matter what, those tummy muscles are never going to fully recover to pre pregnancy awesomeness after that.
My ‘inner mind’ started to race with thoughts of being inadequate at my job, I am flawed and therefore not good enough! I have my set of mental tools- realising that its my ‘inner chimp’ that is talking not my rational self!, that help me manage with this side of things so I felt in control and. I continued to train and teach but just brought. more of a deeper awareness to how my body was feeling and modifying should I need to!
Op day approached and I had my pre-op assessment over the phone because I was generally fit and well with no other complications to the procedure.
To be fair, on the day I was petrified. Petrified of the unknown, apart from having the children I had never been under general anaesthetic. The thought filled me with dread, I didn’t want drugs to be pumped into my body – I very rarely took any painkillers of any sort!! I also knew too well that I would probably react and feel rather poorly afterwards.
But I also realised that I was going to have to rest, repair and fight back to my pre op fitness levels. I was preparing. to have what I thought would be just 2 weeks off as a self-employed teacher!
I was at hospital early doors and my hubby had been amazing, and assumed. we would be together. – him being the rational chilled one and me going into panic stations but that was short lived. No. visitors allowed in at all including hubby! Ok no time to think I said my goodbye at the door and that was it until 6.30pm that night.
I guess I’m flying solo for this one then…. no choice…..but in these stressful situations my coping mechanism is to go inward… I tend not to want to talk….or be with people…I just find inner strength… suck it up and get on with it.
A ridiculously long morning passed in my rather fashionable NHS gown and obligatory socks, visits from the nurse, surgeon, anaesthetist and such like came and went. Soon enough I was next on the day patient conveyor belt.
I was ‘packing my pants’ again -it was just the mere thought of someone physically putting something into my body to put me to sleep that felt completely alien to me!! I needn’t have worried soon enough I was waking up in recovery, gasping for that much need cup of tea!! First question – WAS I OK?
The surgery had gone well, the defect in my abdominal wall had been closed and also a piece of gauze placed over… double bubble!.
The afternoon was a drug induced kind of spaced out stupor. I had my 2 cuppas and then needed the dreaded 1st wee!. Luckily hubby was allowed in to help me with this!.. At first not too bad … then boom the old feeling of queasiness set in…. after 3 lots of anti-sickness I managed to chill…. I always suffer with travel sickness and so knew this was going to be the hardest part of it all, petrified that if I was going to chunder I’d bust all the stitches out!
6pm rolled round and it was kick out time- I was ready to get home and see the kids! Still heavily drugged up it was lovely to get home, my youngest loved doing all the nursing duties, my eldest didn’t know what to think. Mum never shows pain, hurt, illness or weakness yet here I am hobbling in looking rather rough, he retreated and was very sheepish not knowing whether to speak to me, be near me or what – he’s like me and his coping mechanisms are to. ‘go inward’?
The sofa aka my best friend:
The first couple of were pretty standard in terms of just having an operation goes I suppose. I kept the painkillers up and to be fair rested!. I was naïve in thinking I would be up and about good to go within a couple of days. I thought I’d be the one that would defy the prescription of rest and recover. I don’t generally do rest, for some reason I saw it as a weakness. I had a pang of guilt because I was basically sitting on my backside while others were out going about their day to day life whilst for me time was standing still. The sofa was my best friend morning, noon and very much so at night, I had 5 or so cushions nestled around me in an upright position, laying down was just not working for me! It felt too intense as if I was being too stretched out, elongation in the torso did not feel good!.
I did learn to more fully appreciate and be totally humbled by my support network around me. At times the world can feel a lonely place but when it was needed my awesome mummy, friends, gym community and family all were there at the end of the phone no matter what! I felt loved and very much supported. If you know me at all I am very house proud, total clean freak and I very much thrive on routine. So my family continued this regimented routine around me knowing full well on a Thursday was change sheets day, Friday was bathroom cleaning day etc. This gave me a sense of peace and harmony , I’ve always stood by happy house, happy mind!
Day 3 and 4 I was more mobile, gingerly moving around the house aware of the swollen belly, the stitches and the ‘I’ve been punched in the tummy 3 million times’ type feeling. But I was ready to start the journey back to feeling more human. With help I managed to get the kids to school, a simple task but at the minute felt somewhat of a daunting task.
It was during these days I realised the extent to which we use our core. The movement of seated to standing took thought and careful precision. As a teacher you can preach about how important it is to engage the deeper core and this is the corset belt to help with your upright position and in turn posture but until you have actually felt a true weakness you do not fully appreciate how vital this is!! This weakness was already having knock on effects, my lower back was twinging, shoulders were aching, hips and glutes felt tight! I yearned for my therapy- I needed my. pilates!!!
I had been advised no exercise or exertion what so ever for 4 weeks, I didn’t want to jeopardise the surgery or my recovery but I also knew what my body needed! Movement and stretching. The ‘brain fog ‘ and slight dizziness still persisted. So I found a sunny quiet spot at home and I rolled my mat out. I intuitively started to move through some very gentle seated stretches, simple shoulder rolls, small side bends, cat/cow stretch in seated, 90:90 hip switches, minute supine pelvic tilts finishing with a child pose and some alternate nostril breath work. Ten minutes had passed and I felt bloody amazing.. I was energised, uplifted and felt freedom in the body through the act of stretching and movement. My passion as a teacher is to help people move better who’d in turn benefits their daily life’s and this was absolutely concreting my decision to become a pilates teacher!
Permission to heal:
Day 7 crept round, at last I felt improvements, I was back to some form of normality, yet still fully aware of being in very early stages of post op recovery. The swelling had reduced. somewhat, the scar was healing nicely and stitches starting to dissolve. So far so good! Although against advice I was back driving, a little hoovering but took regular breaks as these physical activities were actually proving to be very tiresome which for me was particularly annoying considering my ‘normal’ life is a hive of activity! But I slowly felt that I was learnt that I am healing, and I was slowly giving myself permission to do so. I am very stubborn but I needed to if I was going to make any improvements.
I am nearing day 14 as I sit here writing. Physically I am feeling stronger, continuing with daily pilates movements, school routines, house routines whilst still interspersed with periods of quietness and stillness.
Work wise though I was not feeling at all ready to return. Originally I had scheduled 2 weeks off but in truth I wasn’t and am still not ready physically or mentally. I made the decision to extend by another week giving me 3 weeks off. I put my heart and soul into my teaching but I just feel too fragile still. And I’m OK with that having given myself permission.
Pause for thought:
This little hernia. journey has actually been a very thought provoking learning curve and one that will impact me in the future both as a person but also through my teaching as a pilates instructor:
- Pilates is and always will be my therapy for so many reasons- primarily it keeps both my mind and body healthy and happy!! The 2 very famous quotes that sum up the importance of pilates to me are these:-
“Change happens through movement, and movement heals”
“The mind when housed within a healthful body, possess a glorious sense of power”
Mindfulness is a ‘big topic’ at the minute but for me I find mindfulness through my movement
Pilates is just my thing!
• To become a more empathic teacher, within my mixed ability classes I always made sure I had layers for each client to work from so that they could feel in control of their movement and not at its mercy. But I never really understood how for instance a new client felt coming into a pilates class with an injury or weakness. Having been reminded ,first-hand of the. fine balance between. both your mind and body I now more fully appreciate why these layers to movement are so important. So much so I am determined to start a beginners pilates class. To give clients the space to tune back into their bodies, give them my time and knowledge and give them an increased sense of power and control over their own bodies when at times you feel at its mercy.
• Grateful and thankful for the amazing network I have surrounding my life. Never be too insular. These people – friends, family, communities you are part of are vital parts of your jigsaw! Taking time to truly appreciate this should never be overlooked. I’m making sure I go for those much needed coffee dates with friends guilt free, getting all the adventures in with the kids and hubby, checking in with the family, getting that Sunday roast in where we can all sit round a table and communicate and being an active, supportive member of whichever community I am a part of. You never know when you will need them [ or when they may need you]!
• Pressing that pause button is needed! I was forced into it to allow my body to recover from surgery otherwise I would not have purposely taken this time to pause and reflect. But finding stillness, resting when your body is asking for rest is actually a very freeing and uplifting experience. I’m no longer overthinking, over analysing, I actually haven’t been as active with. checking social media (which for me can sometimes be a constant battle of comparison of my life to others, a thief of happiness and contentment). It also very importantly gave me time…… time to set some achievable goals for my little pilates business, sieving though my sometimes jumbled thoughts of what I think I should be seen to be doing from what I actually want to do! Giving me an ideal balance of work, family life but also sometimes overlooked but just as important ‘me’ time to do whatever I so wished to do!
• Slow and steady will win the race. Regaining my fitness levels will take time and I’m ok with that, one thing. I am certain of is that I do not want to particularly revisit this surgery again, I refuse to run the risk of the hernia reoccurring by my desire to ‘get back into shape’ as long as I’m healthy both in body and mind that will suit me just fine!
• Do more of what makes you happy, I know easier said than done! These 2 weeks have given me the ability to strip everything back, truly appreciate and just love the life i have created, really being present in the moment you are in right now, not always striving to look to the future, seeking pastures green but finding acceptance in the here and now and soaking it all in for what it is.
• I have always and will always come back to the one little life quote that has seen me though the ups and downs (so much so I have this tattoo as a constant reminder) -To have hope, love, and faith.
By articulating my thoughts and putting down these words I hope that this will not only help anyone who may need to have. similar surgery but also give. my clients a little insight into me as a person not just as their teacher . Importantly, it has served as a. i reminder to myself to be able to come back to this experience, look at the lessons I learnt. and value the people that were a part of it .
I feel stronger now – not broken as I felt at the beginning, more able to take a situation for what it is, draw on my strengths understanding my weaknesses and drawing out all the positives no matter how small they may be.
So yes this pilates girl did break but she is being carefully. put back together piece by piece by stronger ‘glue’ to form a slightly more knowledgeable, experienced , contented girl!