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  • Writer's pictureElana

May 23: my surge-versa-ry

On May 23rd 2012, exactly one year ago, I underwent surgery on both my upper and lower jaw. It was a huge event in my personal life that awakened me to many feelings and ultimately enabled me to change my path and begin the journey that I'm on now.

May 23rd was by no means the beginning of this journey, though.

Navin and I moved to Seattle only a couple of months after getting married. Our lives were a whirlwind of excitement. We were starting our married lives together, we were moving to the beautiful west coast and to the U.S., and I had a very exciting job that was moving us out there. We immediately fell in love with Seattle; it was late January and not only was there no snow on the ground, but the trees were in bloom. We began to explore the many great restaurants in this beautiful city, bought a car, and bought our very first home. While Navin was waiting for his work authorization, he was able to take time off and take the lead on unpacking into our new house, go to the gym and learn new things like how to cook and play piano. I was travelling a lot for work to New York, LA, Palm Springs, and different parts of Europe and I was quite happy to be brushing shoulders with celebrities along the way.

Then only a few months after moving, the product I was working on failed and my job was at risk. Navin had received his work authorization but struggled to find a job. We had moved away from our families and comfort and security and it felt like we lost everything. Still we were optimistic and persistent. I took advantage of my lack of work to take care of personal errands and set up informational interviews to find a new job within the company. I changed my hairstyle and dressed up every day to lift my spirits.

But as many of you know, the rollercoaster continued.

Among my errands, I had my first visit to our new dentist where he broke the news to me that I would be needing braces to correct my open bite. This was my breaking point. I pulled over on my way home and the weight of everything that was going on flowed through me and streamed down my face. I called my mother who, in an effort to help me get perspective that things could be worse, told me that someone I loved very much had cancer. I had dropped Navin off at the gym on my way to the dentist, and intended to meet up with him there, but surprised him when I stormed in, fully dressed, and broke down into sobs at his elliptical machine.

Well as you know, Navin and I both landed great jobs but the waves just kept crashing down. At my first appointment with the orthodontist, not only was I completely shocked at the cost of orthodontia (thank you Mama & D for the first time around), but I was shocked to find out that I not only needed braces, I also needed jaw surgery. And when I went to see the surgeon, not only was I disappointed and frightened to hear that I was one of the worst cases he had ever seen, but even more so to hear that the open bite was caused by the bone wearing away at my condyle and that the process of this disease (called 'idiopathic condylar resorption') was still active. I can't even describe how I felt. How does one feel after passing their breaking point, and continuing to get more bad news after more bad news.

Things started to turn around. I found an exciting new job and so did Navin. But for a year I wasn't allowed to even start with braces as we worked to stabilize my jaw and recalcify my bone. I had to modify my diet (no more almonds, no hard candies or gummies, no raw carrots…), wear a splint 24 hours a day, and take medication that sometimes made me throw up in the mornings. All very fun things.

Once that milestone had passed, and everything was stable, I started with braces, which lasted for 17 months in total, but it was just under a year before I was allowed to have surgery.

This surgery scared the living daylight out of me…to the point where I would get so upset and overwhelmed with each visit that I would no longer visit my surgeon alone; Navin was my extra set of ears.

Leading up to the surgery a few things took place that were significant to my life changing decision and led to the journey I'm on now:

- I had received feedback in my annual performance review (2 years in a row) that in order to be successful in my career path, I would need to change my personality. I was told to have sharper elbows and step on more toes; the first feedback I had ever received that I wasn't sure I wanted to accept. - I was feeling so stressed and burnt out at work that every night I came home and became a zombie in front of the TV. I wasn't staying in touch with my family because of my schedule and the time change, I had no energy to do anything in the evenings and I fell asleep on the couch every night. I wanted the day to end so I could have some rest and I never wanted the next day to come. And this pattern repeated every day. - To help kill the zombie that I felt I was becoming, give myself more energy and reawaken my creativity, I signed up for improv classes and singing lessons, both of which instantly made me significantly happier. - In my singing lessons, my teacher encouraged me to write a song. I did. It's called "The Lady of the Sea". I think in some ways that song saved me. - For Navin's birthday, we thought it would be fun to go to a restaurant that had a Tarot Card Reader. Despite my skepticism, she blew my mind by first asking me what was wrong with my health, touching upon many other very specific issues that I was facing. She said things that were so specific to me that I sat in the bar of this restaurant, crying to a stranger. Then when I left to go get cash to pay her with, she warned Navin of the fear that I was facing about my upcoming surgery. She offered to send me positive energy when the time for my surgery came. I ended up taking her up on that offer and keeping her up to speed on when my surgery was taking place. - We got our Mitzi, who reminded me what it was like to wake up with a smile on my face and forced me to have more balance because coming home from work and being a zombie on the couch would have been met by loud barks, paws in my face and probably many accidents on our carpet.

With only a month's notice, I scheduled a date for my surgery. When the time came, I had my Navin and my mom to take care of me. I had a collection of liquid diet recipes and puzzles and movies ready to go. But I was still scared. We all were. The risks and chances of something not going perfectly were high. I started having panic attacks. And even with my extra set of ears, we didn't hear or process everything that we were told about the surgery or my recovery.

When I was brought up to my hospital room after the surgery was over, I was apparently singing to myself in my unconscious state. When my mom asked Navin what I was singing, he told her "The Lady of the Sea" (my song). The surgeon came up to tell them how perfectly everything had gone and the next day I was sent home to recover.

My recovery was more difficult than I had been prepared for. The first 2 weeks were horrible, with lots of swelling and pain, but no more horrible than I had expected. It was the slow progress after those 2 weeks had passed that wore on me and made me feel like the failure and disappointment that fed my depression.

“Sometimes in tragedy we find our life’s purpose. The eye sheds a tear to find its focus.” - Robert Brault

But all of these setbacks and struggles have led me to where I am now. I decided not to accept the feedback that I should become "harsher" in order to succeed, and am in search of a career path where I can be myself and be successful. I am spending my self-imposed sabbatical doing all sorts of activities that make me happy and bring me energy. I no longer have jaw pain, and even more setbacks have come my way, but I do have a big happy smile.

So I thought that for this posting, it might be nice for me to share some of the lyrics of "The Lady of the Sea" by yours truly (with the help my loved ones and my singing teacher, Ilen Halogram)…

Here's the chorus, which is what I was apparently singing to myself in my sedated stupor:

"The lady of the sea Will guide you through the waves Even though the changes may be great The tide will rise and fall And you can have it all You could discover a whole new world"

Also a sample of some winning lyrics from the verses and bridge …

"Be open to change and the ways you can transform It's gonna happen anyway so navigate the storm"

"Clouds have parted from the sky there's a chance for a fresh start Trust that things will turn out fine and follow your heart"

Here's a short video of me and Ilen Halogram (my singing teacher and co-writer of this song) performing at my very first open mic night!

It is nice to take days like this anniversary of my surgery to see how far I've come. I've learned so much and am in such a better place than I was only one year ago. As I write this, I am with family and preparing for my sister Tamara's bridal shower. And even though I haven't had a smooth ride, even over the past few weeks, I look back at these setbacks with an appreciation for where they have led me so far and who I am turning into. At the very minimum, I can say that I'm much more resilient now than I was 3 years ago when I first got news of the surgery, or even one short year ago when I was singing in my subconscious to soothe myself.

In a singing lesson last month, when we were working on the recording of The Lady of the Sea, my teacher turned to me and said "I love this song. And it really came true for you!"

And she's right. Cheesy as it may sound, clouds have parted from my sky and it's time for my fresh start... so far things are already better because I've followed my heart.

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