The magic word: sleep.
Oh sleep. How underrated this word is. Prior to my surgery, I never really had much trouble falling asleep. Well except those days that I chose to drink tea after 3pm, like the regular bubble tea indulgence after dinner or drinking a cup of green tea that has been sitting there too long. The strong caffeine in tea can keep me up at night and end up having a restless night of sleep. It's like getting drunk and falling asleep and end up waking up at 2am. (Ever had those nights?)
Any way, sleep became a huge issue for me after the surgery. First, it was the discomfort from the Steri-Strips. About 10-12 tapes were taped across my incision vertically to cover the incision so I was afraid to move around my neck and let's be frank, my neck was also very stiff for at least 2 weeks. I still remember the first night after I got home, I was supposed to 'take a shower'. Because I'm not supposed to get the incision wet, so I couldn't wash my hair, which made this entire experience more uncomfortable. I used a wet warm towel to clean my arms and shoulders. It was then I realized I still had a lot of the sterilization chemicals on me, guess they sprayed it once I went under? It was all pink. and it stopped right where they taped my gown. After I finally managed to lay in bed with the comfort of having 5 pillows under me. I felt a sense of relieve. Finally I'm home. No more hospital food. No more the narrow hospital washroom. I just gotta remember to take down the time I take Tylenol or Advil so that I could take them interchangeably.
Although, I would say the reclining bed in the hospital would have really helped. Here I am, having an extremely stiff neck, under sore shoulder blades from not moving around, my back was hanging on top of I don't even know how many pillows, I couldn't sleep. I felt like my mind was running a race. not a marathon, but a fast, intense race. There are images playing in front of my eyes, like when you fast forward a movie.
1 hour passed, nothing. 2 hours passed, nothing. I started Googling ways to fall asleep. Not much. I downloaded a few apps to help me. Nothing really worked. Just when I got really really tired, I think I fell asleep for a little bit. Of course, I tried getting up, adjusting the pillows, going to the bathroom. Nothing really helped. The next morning, I woke up to a very tired husband because he also didn't get much sleep from me moving all the time. Now that I think back, I realized, that was so hard. I didn't want to move around to wake him but at the same time my body was just so uncomfortable. So in hindsight, it would have been helpful to sleep by myself instead. I know he wanted to support me and care for me, but for the sake of sleep, it's probably better off to sleep on your own for a little while.
Then the real battle started. Each night I start a routine, washing my hair with the help from parents (yes, I needed both of them to help me washing my hair over the bath tub.); diffusing lavender essential oil in my diffuser; putting on hand cream and eye mask; sounds pretty calming right? Except no, the real discomfort is from the pillows. Because my body was so stiff, I couldn't really relax my neck. So every night it's a struggle to adjust the pillow positioning. One night, I even got up and went to the guest bedroom so that I could watch some shows without waking up the husband.
It slowly got better as the number of pillows under my head went away. I remember the first time I fell asleep, I was like, finally! I haven't had this feeling in a very long time. And that must have been at least 2 weeks after the surgery. Every day became a struggle since I'm so tired during the day and I would nap and at night I would have so much trouble sleeping.
March 4th rolled around. We went to see my surgeon and he told me that I'm cancer free! I was so happy. So happy and relaxed. He also removed the strip tapes, which finally allowed me to move my neck.
Later on, I realized I was having a lot of anxiety, which was recognized as 'can't shut off my brain' by me at the time. I found it much easier to explain it as anxiety because I was anxious that my other part of thyroid wouldn't be working as well. Since I couldn't get my thyroid level tested, it's really unknown at this point whether this was hormone induced. So this struggle went on for a while, some nights would be better than others, but overall it's been really hard.
When I went back to work it was about the same. Each night I'd fall asleep but I'd wake up by 2am or 3am each night. By about right after lunch time, I'd just get so tired. Every day was a struggle, of trying to get more sleep, waking up at night and eventually stay tired all the time.
Under the recommendation of a lovely family member, I went to see a naturopathic doctor. And let me tell you, I'm so skeptical. I think I would probably rather trust a Chinese medicine doctor but I was really fed up with not getting sleep, so I went. It opened a new world for me. One of the most beneficial thing I learned from her was, if I'm tired, it doesn't matter where I am and when, I should just sleep. This gave me so much freedom! I could finally relax after work and get that nap in without feeling guilty about how it might affect my sleep at night. I even managed to take a couple of naps on the weekends, which made me feel so much better.
I probably used almost a whole 50ml bottle of lavender essential oil, besides the fact that it smells really nice, it didn't really help. I ordered a few more and one of them is the Do Terra Serenity blend. I learned it from the Do Terra podcast, it made some difference but not dramatic. I also listened to their advice to rub it under my big toe with some fractionated coconut oil, again, it made some difference on some nights.
So eventually I gave up. I gave up thinking about sleep, stressing over not getting enough sleep, stressing over after I got a good night sleep, will it happen again? Like seriously, there's no winning here. So gave in. I left it to my routine. I made a point to meditate in the morning and not drink caffeine after 3pm, I make a point to go to the work out class (not every day but I try to go every other day). And it worked like magic, for a little while it really helped. So if you are not getting any sleep, or if you are worried about not getting enough sleep to function, just ignore your fears and just let everything go. Once you let go of that stress and anxiety, that's when your body really starts to relax and heal.
So go ahead, let everything go, and then, sleep. :)