“Unleashing Happiness” a monthly blog by Karen Lee Stevens

Founder and Director of Wellness Programs, Karen Lee Stevens shares her insights as she explores regular topics and experiences through the lens of mental health, wellness and the human-animal bond.

BLOG POST #6 – From Pain to Peace

February 6, 2024


As I perched precariously on the edge of a chair in the ER, doubled over in pain, I couldn’t help but reflect on the unexpected turn my day had taken. The night before had brought on a sudden onset of excruciating abdominal pain and hours of vomiting. I was certain I had a bout of food poisoning, likely triggered by lunch the day before at a new restaurant in town. I had been down this road before and I was prepared for a round of fluids and anti-nausea medication and then sent home to rest and recover. I was not, however, prepared for what happened next.

After a blood draw and a CAT scan, the attending physician came in and matter-of-factly said, “You have acute appendicitis and we’ve called in a surgeon from another hospital to perform surgery on you tonight.” I barely had time to call and text a few friends to let them know where I was before I was whisked off to surgery.

The uncertainty of the outcome and the pain that accompanied the whole ordeal was a bit overwhelming, but in the midst of it all, mindfulness emerged as my trusty co-pilot.

Mindfulness meditation is the ability to be fully present in the moment and to become aware of sights, sounds, and sensations in the body. As challenging as it was, I focused on the sensations I was feeling instead of allowing my mind to be consumed by worries about the impending surgery. The soothing feel of a just-warmed hospital blanket, the steady rise and fall of my chest as I breathed, and even those darn air compression leg wraps they insist you wear to aid circulation helped steady my mind.

The surgery itself was a blur, a journey into the unknown realm of anesthesia-induced oblivion. When I awoke in the recovery room, the pain was there, but so was the awareness cultivated through mindfulness. It was a tool I could continue to rely on as I embarked on the road to recovery. Practicing mindfulness was by no means a magical cure, but redirecting my attention to the present moment felt like swapping out my pain playlist for a chill meditation track.

For anyone who has ever undergone surgery, you know that recovery is seldom a linear process. There are good days and challenging ones, moments of progress and setbacks. Mindfulness was my constant companion in those moments of frustration and fatigue. Whether it was the awareness that it was time for another pain pill or the acceptance that my body needed a nap, mindfulness allowed me to navigate the ebb and flow of the recovery process.

Beyond the physical aspects, mindfulness also played a crucial role in managing my emotional state. The vulnerability that comes with surgery and the scars left behind can be emotionally taxing. Mindfulness provided me with a space for self-compassion, allowing me to acknowledge my emotions without judgment. It became a practice of kindness towards myself as I faced the reality of my changed body and the journey I had undertaken.

As I write this post, the three little laparoscopic incisions on my abdomen serve as a visible reminder of that journey. They are not just marks on the skin but symbols of resilience, of a mind that found calm amid chaos. With mindfulness as my anchor, I was able to navigate the choppy waters of life with newfound steadiness.

When life throws you curveballs, as it inevitably does, I encourage you to explore the power of mindfulness. It may not erase the pain, but it can offer a space for peace, acceptance, and even growth. Remember, you’re not alone in your struggles, and within you lies an inner strength waiting to be discovered. So, take a deep breath, be present, and allow mindfulness to be your compass towards hope and healing.

Questions or comments? Contact Karen@TherapyDogsSB.org

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