Have you ever noticed a change in how you are feeling? Specifically, in your mood, your emotions, or your energy level? Have you ever realized that this shift in your personality happens at the same time each year? If this is the first year that you have noticed something different about you – if your sleeping patterns have changed, if you are having dreams or flashbacks, if you are feeling sad, or if you don’t fee like your usual self, make a note of the date that the feelings began. In the years to follow, you may realize there is a pattern, and that, no! Nothing is wrong with you!
For as long as I can remember, I have experienced these shifts at different times in my life. I began to connect the dots, and read and research what I was feeling. This is when I learned what anniversary dates were.
Recently, anniversary dates have come to be known by other names: the anniversary reaction or the anniversary effect which occurs when unique sets of unsettling memories, thoughts, or feelings occur on the anniversary date of a traumatic event or significant experience. A natural disaster, the date of a miscarriage, an accident, a major surgery, the birthday of someone who is no longer alive, or the date a loved one who has passed away are some examples of traumatic experiences that many of us have gone through.
On April 23, 2008, I went into the hospital for a major surgery. A week before the surgery, I attempted to write a letter to my four children, and became overcome with such emotion that I was not able to complete this task. Not knowing what to do, or how to deal with my emotions, I hired professional cinematographers and had them videotape a yoga practice. This practice was like my lifeline. I had no idea what I was doing, or why I was doing it, but it was like a moving meditation that struck me at my very core. I did not know what my body would be like after my surgery, or if my body would move differently afterward. I was terrified. It was like an artist painting for maybe the last time, or a musician playing the guitar for possibly the last time, an athlete playing in their possible last game.
I am grateful that today, I am okay. During that 12-hour surgery, something intangible happened. Even though I’m not quite sure what exactly happened, I woke up very weak, but with a sense of strength that I had never felt before. I have always been a very private person – sometimes to a fault. Through my journaling, I have recently learned that I was taught to keep things to myself, and never to share private things with others. I agree to a certain extent that there are certain things I don’t need to shout from a mountain top, but I also believe certain things need to be shared, as it helps our own healing process and may also benefit others who are going through something similar. I know that, by sharing my experience, I can help others to not feel so alone.
What I have noticed is that, every year around the first week of April, there is a shift inside of me on all levels. Some notice. Most don’t. But I always do. I have no regrets that I had a double mastectomy, a full hysterectomy, and reconstruction all at once. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and carried the BRCA 2 mutation, and after genetic testing, I found out that I carried the mutation as well. Yes, I had my surgery before Angelina Jolie, and 10 years ago, it was still new, and many people still do not really know a lot about it. Still, I have no regrets, and I feel healthy. However, I often find myself asking, “Why does my mind trigger these flashbacks, and change of moods?” The reason is that my surgery was still an incredibly traumatic experience. I went under anesthesia, and I had to surrender, and just give in to whatever would lie ahead. It was painful, it was life changing, and there was a sense of loss; yet, I’ve never had time to grieve this loss. Why? Because I was too worried about everyone else, especially my kids, and getting our life back to normal, so I just kept going, and doing what I could. Maybe I was not ready to emotionally deal with what I needed to deal with. Maybe I will never fully understand what happened. What I choose to do each year is to acknowledge my feelings, journal my thoughts, and share a little with others. I post the 5-minute YouTube video I made before my surgery, and I watch it once a year. When I watch it, I see the fear on my face that I am feeling. I see how open my shoulders once were as well as my thoracic spine, but I also see that I am much more connected to my body and soul 10 years later. I have much more awareness of my alignment, as well as my breath. I will never forget April 23, 2008. I will never forget all the wonderful people who supported me, who were there for me, who lifted me up when I was down, who sent meals to our family, and who listened to me cry when I was in pain. There are too many names to mention, but you know who are, and you will always be embedded deep in my heart.
Thank you! For the tenth anniversary of my surgery, I am posting the video below. If you’ve gone through anything similar, I hope it makes you feel less alone, and helps you understand that you are stronger than anything that stands in your way.