Discovering opportunity during adversity
Written by Davinnia Tan, Resolution Practitioner
Adversity is defined as a difficult or unpleasant situation.
An opportunity is defined as a time or set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.
The operative word in the definition of ‘opportunity’ is “possible to do something” – this implies that action is required for opportunity to be realised.
As humans, we have been wired to believe we have so much to lose during times of adversity, yet equally where there is acceptance for personal responsibility there is so much to gain.
Maybe this was something you experienced too during the Covid-19 lockdown. At the time of writing, Covid-19 was not a thing; I can only hope my story resonates with those continuing to meander through new adjustments as a result.
In December 2019, I had surgery called a Periacetabular Osteotomy (PAO) which is essentially a pelvis reconstruction to treat hip dysplasia by fracturing the pelvis and repositioning the hip socket in order to preserve one’s hip joint.
Despite experiencing symptoms for three years, PAO is not surgery you commit to lightly. A PAO is considered by surgeons to be more invasive than a hip replacement which in itself is huge, but a PAO has a better prognosis for those with hip dysplasia who have not yet developed arthritis, intended to prevent or delay the need for a hip replacement.
Bone healing takes about 6-12 months. To protect the osteotomy, I was required to lay on my back most of the time for the first six weeks (including when sleeping, but not lie completely flat), with restricted mobilisation. At 3 months, despite consistent rehabilitation there remains noticeable muscle wastage, and unsurprisingly, still a clear ‘fault line’ visible in my pelvis X-ray held by three long screws.
Mentally, the prognosis was excruciatingly difficult to accept initially when diagnosed; I was passionate about health and fitness and had prided myself in overhauling a former unhealthy lifestyle laden with cigarettes and alcohol for an entirely new lifestyle that I had to work hard to attain which included fitness instructing and coaching alongside my full time day job. Because I was still able to push the envelope with my physical fitness, it was difficult to commit to a surgery that entailed breaking my pelvis in several places and re-learning how to walk.
But I committed to and scheduled a date later in the year with my surgeon and began months of detailed preparation that would give the project planners for Transmission Gully a run for their money (I have spreadsheets to prove it).
This ranged from researching and executing the optimum nutrition for bone healing to finding the best and most experienced trainer to get surgery-fit (or also known as ‘prehab’, opposite of rehabilitation); and project planning every week pre and post-surgery (which included noting, for my partner’s benefit, what recycling went out each week on a spread sheet); proactively getting second opinions, and connecting with PAO patients from all over the world; and even some early Christmas shopping.
However, as preparation was ramping up, I was suddenly advised I also required spinal and shoulder surgery. I couldn’t believe it.
I felt betrayed by my efforts for a healthier lifestyle. I started worrying about the lack of time if I wanted to start a family, especially if I underwent other surgeries. I questioned my own tenacity; I questioned how my livelihood may be adversely affected. Despite appearances, friends in the fitness industry were not reliable sources of support or empathy, and very few (understandably so) truly understood the magnitude of this kind of surgery and were even quite negative.
I’d characterised surgery as ‘short term pain for long term gain’ but realised that in my detailed planning for my physical health, I’d left out preparation for my mental fitness. I undertake exercise and reasonably good nutrition for my physical health, so why should mental health and fitness be any different?
Realising that health and fitness encompasses both the physical and mental, I began to do some work in this area, including working with a professional supervisor/counsellor.
In taking a holistic approach to my health and fitness, many unexpected and wonderful revelations came to light. At every stage of the process, instead of expecting to resent changes in my life, the opposite happened; I felt my mindset grow. The first was when I felt my fear dissipate and felt positively ‘surgery-ready’. The next surprise was when I took my first slow steps (needing to use my toes to crawl forward initially) around my hospital bed and blew my nurse’s and physio’s minds. When I was alone, I was filled with immense gratitude and self-validation and burst into happy tears. I knew I was determined, diligent and tenacious. I just had to apply myself and trust the process.
I am now 3+ months post-op and the journey of rehabilitation feels like a working-holiday that keeps on giving.
This, I believe, is a result of finding opportunity during adversity and gaining a shift in my mindset.
Firstly, I gave myself permission for acknowledging fear was ok, but that I was brave in choosing surgery over delay and denial. I was still considered high functioning and high performing at the gym, despite having trouble with walking. Yet I chose to “give that up” for the potential of even better function, and a sustainably long active life. I reminded myself these reasons were the same reasons that motivated my change in lifestyle, so this choice should be no different. I also began to appreciate what my body could do in spite of hip dysplasia; in a way, not knowing of my structural defect for over 30 years meant I never lived with self-imposed limitations. But I also knew, what good was a burpee if I couldn’t hike or walk to work? Acceptance of my own vulnerability was powerful.
During my hospital stay, the White Island eruption tragedy happened; you can only imagine how this soberingly puts things in perspective.
I felt overwhelming gratitude for my anaesthetist, surgeon, nurses, down to the inventors of crutches and catheters; and the rest of my body that I could still count on and more.
Returning home, the mandatory rest meant I had to learn to let go of some things; it meant more opportunity to spend more time with my family; and to experience truth depths of love by loved ones and my partner.
I developed a heightened appreciation for the friends in my life that cared. When you’re incapacitated and home bound, sometimes the best days are when you have visitors.
This heightened appreciation extends to my employer and colleagues who were incredibly supportive, and also allowing me to return early to work (when I asked and was medically cleared). Many people I meet as part of my job believe that not working at all for an extended amount of time helps them, when in fact, only delays the inevitable and can have the reverse effect on rehabilitation. Yes, it can be tough initially (believe me!) but you will adapt – adaptability is a strength that will see you through and through.
I also became privy to a world where many permanently disabled became a source of inspiration in my early weeks of rehab. As an independent reviewer of ACC decisions, I regularly meet many who are incapacitated; but it was not until I was in the hydrotherapy pool that I had a profound appreciation for the kind of drive and adaptability that exists. As I was wheeled into the pool the first time, I felt in awe of those around me; they inspire me more so than athletes.
And as each day and each week passes, I get to celebrate every milestone. I no longer have to “toe crawl” to ‘walk’ and can actually step forward with my entire limb; I can sneeze and sit in a car going over road humps without pain, I am able to get in and out of bed more easily, put my socks on, and step out of the shower without crutches, and the best one – to carry my cup of coffee to wherever I please. I don’t believe I was one to ever take for granted what I had pre-surgery, but right now I have a heightened gratitude for the simplest of things, including those I can do for someone else.
It took an operation that I didn’t want, to fill my gratitude and happiness bucket.
Too often, we are consumed by being too “busy”, so we fill our calendars with ‘things’ we tag as “important”, believing these things will add value to our life and set us up for the future, without sitting back and truly questioning if these ‘things’ are really adding value to our lives.
It is in this “busy-ness” that we suddenly struggle with adversity when things are “taken away” from us. But what if we took personal responsibility for overcoming adversity? If it’s anything I have learnt, adversity can surprise you; but first you have got to open yourself up to opportunities in adversity and then seize on those opportunities – opportunities to make room for other areas of life we claim to be “too busy for”.
The saying, “your trauma is not your fault, but your healing is your responsibility”, definitely rings true.
When our physical abilities are “taken away”, instead of dwelling on what you don’t have, it can be an opportunity to work on mental fitness.
The important message I want to share is that whatever the adversity is, we can choose to take personal responsibility over adversity, whatever that looks like for you. Yes, experiencing conflict, pain, grief, or stress is a rite of passage to healing; but in those moments, there may be opportunities to resolve, reset, or to be free, or to create a new future you didn’t plan for. There may not be perfection, but there will be progress.
My opportunities led to experiences which in turn led to immense gratitude and more.
Coincidentally (or not), gratitude has been shown to be associated with happiness. Those are the kinds of opportunities you don’t really want to miss… Afterall, it’s not called a window of opportunity for nothing.
About the author
Davinnia Tan is a Resolution Practitioner at FairWay. She currently works in FairWay’s ACC services team.
Davinnia has a Bachelor of Laws and Arts and a Masters of Laws, and was admitted to the High Court as a Barrister and Solicitor. Davinnia is also accredited as a mediator, and is a qualified fitness instructor.
If you would like to get in touch with Davinnia, please contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org