{The Mental Struggles of Major Surgery and How to Adjust}

It’s been a little over three weeks since my shoulder surgery and to be completely honest, I’ve been extremely discouraged. Countless amounts of people warned me that the recovery for shoulder surgery is long and painstakingly difficult but for some reason I didn’t think it would be this hard for me. I know its only been three weeks but I thought I would be making more progress than I actually am. Not only is the pain and immobility a major issue, no one tells you about the mental effects of a surgery like this. For me, that has been one of the hardest parts. I know this is something most people don’t have to go through but I wanted to write this in hopes that it might help someone else going through the same thing.

After 9 days, I went to my surgeon for my post-op appointment to see how my shoulder was progressing and to get a new set of exercises to start doing each day. I had been having some major pain in my upper arm underneath my shoulder in which the doctor told me I have a large fluid pocket built up. After that diagnosis, the surgeon informed me that my incisions were healing as they should be and started examining the movement of my arm. No, thank you. That seemed impossible considering I haven’t been able to move it much at all.

After that appointment I was down for the count for the next 2 days. Besides my shoulder being tight and in pain, this fluid pocket is literal hell and it hurts with any minuscule movement. My arm is currently like a lump of deadweight that is refusing to do anything, especially straighten out.

Surgeries like this really suck… Once you’re in the clear to start doing more exercises and get PT going, you’re literally rebuilding and teaching your muscles how to perform simple functions again. When I really think of how far this surgery set me back I get so discouraged. I think, well after three weeks I should be able to do this and this again… WRONG. I am definitely making amazing progress and can do more tasks that I was able to a week ago but I’m still not able to put my hair in a pony tail… I’m not even kidding, that has to be one of the worst parts of it… Grayson will put my hair up at night but in the morning it is all messy, greasy and in my face and I’m stuck like that all day until he gets home to help me.

Like I said above, the mental effect of surgery is probably one of the worst. Not only are you in severe pain but you are limited at doing things you would easily do on a day-to-day basis, and then the depression and mental anguish start to set in. So many people have told me that this surgery is going to make me take a break and relax. but this is not relaxing and surprisingly I don’t feel like I have that much free time where I feel up to doing anything.

Trying to talk to friends or family who haven’t experienced a recovery like this don’t seem to truly understand what I’m going through or really how to help in an effective way. It’s always the same thing, you’ll be better in no time, just rest, take a pain pill, you’re doing great, its only been a few weeks… 

DTKAustin shares her experience with having major shoulder surgery and the mental effects it has on your body.

Here are some tips that have helped me get through this tough time – 

STAY ACTIVE AND DO WHAT YOU CAN – This is one of the hardest parts considering that’s all you want to do but you can’t physically get yourself out of bed, get dressed and still have enough energy to walk around or go outside. You can do it. Get out of bed. It seems so easy, but it IS an effort. Get up, get in the bath or shower and feel refreshed! I try and do my small exercises a couple times a day so my shoulder doesn’t lock up from scar tissue build up. Mobility is the key to almost any recovery even though its the last thing you want to do. At least once a day I’ll get out of the house whether it is to go get coffee or go to lunch with a friend, and that has dramatically helped my sanity. I’ve also tried doing some squats and lunges to get my heart rate up so I don’t feel like such a fat ass sitting on the couch all day long. The doctor told me the gym was probably a bad idea this close after surgery with open/healing incisions and the fact that if I fell on the treadmill or elliptical I would be starting all over again.

STAY POSITIVE – Being positive is probably my biggest downfall at this point. After my surgery I was feeling great for the amount of work that they did on my shoulder. I could get around, I was able to eat, and I was weaning myself off the pain pills and feeling really good about where I was. Then, the fluid pocket emerged and I felt like I was moving backwards, like I had made 0 progress the past 2 weeks. This would be my current state. Frustration. My mentality the last few days is that everyday is exactly the same as the last and every week is going to be the same as that. Extremely depressing.

The pain is still pretty intense… But would I rather deal with the anguish of being in pain or the anguish of being on pain pills and REALLY not feeling like myself? I stopped taking my pain pills a week after surgery and have been taking a couple Advil and Tylenol as needed. I’m still in my brace/sling for 10 weeks but I’m able to start PT in a couple more weeks which I’m really looking forward to.

Sleeping is still an effort. I am still sleeping sitting straight up, on my back. Sometimes I can roll slightly on my left side and get comfortable but I have to prop my arm up to where it won’t move around.

Being alone and in pain is a mind f&*$. I’ve currently never felt more alone in my life…

The thought of not being able to do basic, daily tasks is demoralizing! I’m just glad I can wipe my own ass at this point! But really, I have to plan out my day on when Grayson will be back just to get stuff done that used to take me 5 minutes… Such as getting dressed on my own… I still can’t get a shirt over my head. I wanted to look really cute for lunch one day and I spent TWO hours getting ready. I showered alone, washed my hair, got it dried somehow, half ass put my makeup on with my left hand and then I got stuck trying to put a top on. I literally thought I was going to have to cut myself out of the shirt because I couldn’t move. Or how about going to the UPS store to ship packages. Well, I can’t carry them all, I can’t put them all in a bag, and no, I don’t want to ask the UPS man for help because I want to do it myself!!

I’m SICK of people helping me! Everywhere I go, everything I do, can I help you with that… NO! Please, just let me try to do it on my own. And if I can’t I will most likely throw a fit and want to cry and then ask for help.

This experience has made me so fragile and weak that I want to cry at everything. I get so frustrated and down on myself that all I want to do is have a pitty party and go cry in the closet or in the bath. I’ll be watching TV and a stupid insurance or car commercial comes on and it seriously makes me want to just break down. I mean, WHO AM I??? I don’t cry at stuff like this! I’m like a hormonal pregnant person who’s not pregnant!

I can’t work. If you know me, you know how hard this is. Yes, I have a blog and most people think that’s all I do for work but I own my own company and actually have a very demanding job that takes a lot of physical and mental awareness. I’ve had to turn down so many jobs because of this surgery and I am beyond grateful for the agencies that are waiting for me to recover so they can use me. The blog is also hard to maintain as well… I’m not able to change clothes to go shoot any new content so I haven’t been able to take on any new collaborations besides the one’s that I previously shot for, thankfully!

Find a friend or therapist because they will keep you sane. Staying positive is something that I am working hard on every single day. I have such an amazing husband who helps me out 24/7 with whatever I need and one of my best friends went through the exact same issues when she shattered her leg in a skiing accident. I am so grateful to have a friend that truly understands what I am going through and she has given me some helpful advice on how to get through this hard time. She has been a life saver and I owe her so much for all of the help she has given me. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without the empathy from someone else who has been through the same recovery.

BE REALISTIC – This would not be me… I thought I would have progressed further than I have and even though people told me that this would take months and months to recover, that’s just not the case. PLUS, everyone is 100% different. Take it slow and take your time. Every time I talk to the surgeon I have more and more questions. When can I get out of my sling? When can I start PT? When can I get back to the gym? I have no idea when I will be back to normal and realizing that is the hardest part. It is teaching me to take my life day-by-day and not get discouraged because this is all to be expected. This recovery is SLOW and difficult.

Overall, don’t let your thoughts become your worst enemy. Pain WILL wear down your ability to stay positive and you start thinking you won’t get better. Try and continuously think positive thoughts. Mind over matter is true in these types of cases so use it to your advantage!

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  • Reply
    Jeffrey Dorrell
    February 9, 2017 at 2:24 am

    I so know what you are going through. I, too, was told that my recovery would be difficult and painful. I, too, failed to grasp the full extent of those limitations. I celebrated the tiniest milestones: the first time I could reach the soap dish in the shower, the first time I could wash my hair with my right hand, the first time I could hold a coffee cup and lift it to my mouth, the first time I could thread a belt through the loops on the back of a pair of pants (over a year for that one). It has now been four years, and I am still reaching new milestones. Just the other day, I was able to sleep laying my head on my right forearm for the first time. There is no one who can appreciate how difficult this is without having gone through it. Patience is not my long suit, but I learned a lot of it. I simply had no choice.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 2:26 am

    Hi! I love your blog, and I am sorry recovery has been tough. It’s mentally & physically just awful. I have had two shoulder surgeries (I’m 24) and the recovery is so tough (and long, like months on months). I felt so much of what you’ve talked about. I promise, despite the process being SO slow it does get better! Its’ amazing what a victory it is to be able to touch your head. It’s slow, but you can do it. 🙂 Good luck!!!

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 2:30 am

    Hey there!
    I am a recent transplant to Austin and love your blog! Your recovery story is inspiring and I think you’re such a trooper. Hang in there and know it’s ok to have those breakdowns and let the angst out. Thank you for sharing your

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 2:31 am


  • Reply
    Laura Clymore
    February 9, 2017 at 2:32 am

    You are so strong girl. I’ve never had the surgery, but I’ve been the PT working with the patients who’ve endured what you’re going through right now. It is 100% mental. Your BODY will heal. You’re young and healthy, your body will do it’s job and heal…slowly. It’s the mental aspect that is more debilitating. Just know you’re doing better than you think you are. I wish I could give you rainbows. But the ugly truth is, shoulder surgery, especially one as extensive as yours, just sucks. Keep doing what you’re doing; find joy in little milestones. Get creative with your post op wardrobe-lots of slip on maxis maybe? And what about photo shoots for shoes or accessories? You could still do those, IF you felt up to it of course, and your shoulder wouldn’t be a part of the shot. Either way, {que cliche phrase} hang in there. You WILL heal. You WILL regain your independence. Praying for you in the upcoming weeks. Prepare yourself for PT-it’s going to hurt. Again, I wish I had more rainbows lol. Sorry. But it will help you get better so stay tough and positive! And LET PEOPLE HELP YOU! Lol. It doesn’t make you weak. It just means you had a ridiculously awful should surgery and need some assitance for a short while. ☺️ Prayers and positive vibes headed your way!

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 2:59 am

    I’ve been thinking of you tons. So sorry for the struggle. Much love to you.


  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 4:59 am

    loved this honest post and hope you’ll find joy and laughter in the little things, like being able to wipe your own ass =)
    sending lots of warm wishes your way! <3

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 5:15 am

    I have no idea what you’re going through. I had a gum graft surgery this year and thought it was the worst thing ever: but it wasn’t nearly as brutal a recovery as this. But I’m commenting because HOLY SH*T your writing has truly become amazing. Maybe memoir is your genre Wish I had more post op advice but it sucks. There’s no way around that. You’ll come out stronger, no doubt. But that doesn’t numb the pain. All my best.

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 5:24 am

    Hi! I had a painful hernia repair surgery, and pain killers don’t work on me, so the recovery was excruciating. And the alone, isolated feeling is so utterly depressing! I won’t go into my details, but I know what you’re going through. Anyway, I looked forward to the dog walker coming daily so I would have someone to talk to in the kitchen for a few minutes every day. I know you don’t want help, but I would love to come do your hair in a nice ponytail for you and teach you some easy steps to do makeup with your left hand. I could also help with cute hair ideas that will be easy for you to do on your own. Just let me know and I’ll be there. Hang in there!!

    • Reply
      Ashley Hargrove
      February 9, 2017 at 7:26 pm

      Yes, that would be amazing!! Just let me know when you have time because I’ll always be available! 🙂

  • Reply
    Grayson Goff
    February 9, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    Please don’t die on me while I’m away!

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Grayson’s comment made me LOL!
    You are such a strong and wonderful woman; I know how hard it must be to feel so limited right now. I know it’s been awhile, but if you need a friendly face to stop in and fix your ponytail, I gotcha! (Even if you’re in pajamaramas and haven’t showered. Heck, I’ll come over in my own jammies!)
    Stay strong – you got this!!!

    • Reply
      Ashley Hargrove
      February 9, 2017 at 7:27 pm

      Haha, thank you Laura!! I miss you!! It’s been way too long and we definitely need to change that!!

  • Reply
    Pam Dorrell
    February 9, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Your post is great. You shared your ups and downs and provided advice to others which will help them deal with their own post-op struggles. I think this is mentally effecting you so much because you are such an independent person. You have always taken care of things yourself and not being able to do even the little things is depressing. Just keep doing the little things to brighten your day. But most importantly, please accept help from others. You can’t do this alone. People care about you and truly want to help. I wish I lived closer so I could come visit and help you with things. I love you! Mom

  • Reply
    Pam Dorrell
    February 9, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    Do the little things like taking Steven on a walk, going out for lunch, do some window shopping at the mall or Target (your favorite place -he he) just getting out of the house will help.

  • Reply
    Heather Brown
    February 9, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Well written article….Sending prayers your way! xoxo

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Such a well written post! I’ve had to go through physical therapy before and know the struggle of rebuilding that muscle…it sucks and hurts. Keep on trucking because the light at the end of the tunnel will be here before you know it!


  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Loved this post and your honesty for what you are going through. I wish I could give you more encouragement but just know there are lots of people who love you! You are doing GREAT!

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    Sending all the positive vibes your way! Injuries and recovery can be so traumatic but you will get through it! Stay strong girl.

    xo Megan | pinebarrenbeauty.com

  • Reply
    Mary Powers
    February 9, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    I think it’s amazing and honorable that you are being so real about your struggles. I’m so sorry you are having a hard time and I know for a fact I would be too, if I went through this. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about you from following you for a short time, is that you’re a TOUGH woman!! I have thought that from the beginning and it’s always been a quality I’ve admired of you. I have no doubt that you will get through it and in the meantime, you are helping others by sharing your heart. The mental game is the worst. Probably worse than the physical pain, I would imagine. I’ll be praying for you, Ashley!

    – Mary

  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    sending you positive vibes babe! hope you have a speedy recovery!

  • Reply
    Shelby Back
    February 9, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    I can only imagine what you’re going through! Bravo for sharing your honest story & struggles! I’m sending well wishing your way!


  • Reply
    February 9, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your tips. I have never had surgery before but this was such a well-written and thoroughly explained post that I can fully empathize with what you are experiencing. You have an amazing outlook and even though I know it must be hard it’s great that you’re putting such a positive spin on your pain and using your platform to educate others about this little-known issue. Wishing you the best for a speedy recovery!



  • Reply
    sarah lindner
    February 10, 2017 at 1:44 am

    Please don’t die on grayson while he is away 🙂
    Bear & Sarah

  • Reply
    February 10, 2017 at 3:00 am

    Ugh I so know what you’re going through because I’m experiencing it right now too! I had oral surgery pretty much the same time you had your shoulder surgery and I *still* can only have liquid foods and the bottom of my face is swollen and numb/painful (and I can hardly talk haha). I’ve tried to just ‘relax’ too, but honestly this is wayyyy harder than I ever thought it would be! I thought I’d be able to do a lot more things by now for sure, but it’s just so slow! I have a hard time getting anything done too and want to cry all the time! Hang in there girl!


    • Reply
      Ashley Hargrove
      February 10, 2017 at 4:24 am

      Poor thing!! I hope you start feeling better soon!

  • Reply
    Living in Color
    February 11, 2017 at 4:36 am

    I seriously cannot imagine – so glad you are okay though! <3

    xo, L

  • Reply
    Amanda John
    February 11, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    I’m a physical therapist so I loved to be able to hear your thoughts and hope to be even more understanding with my patients throughout their rehab process. Hang in there girlfriend.

  • Reply
    February 11, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    I am so sorry you are going through this! In high school I broke both of my arms at the same time and had to have surgery on one arm, so I definitely can relate to what you are going through. It is tough to not be able to do normal stuff and feeling like you should be further along in your progress. It all just takes time but you are stronger than you think you are (mentally and physically) and will get through this! Sending positive thoughts your way! xo

  • Reply
    February 15, 2017 at 6:07 am

    One of the things I have always loved about your blog is your realness. You are so transparent I love it. I could literally see everything in your day! You literally could write a book you’re such an excellent writer. But besides that I want to commend you for all that you’ve done and all that you’ve been through. I know that it might seem that you’re not doing that great but you’ve come very far in three weeks!!! I know some of the feelings that you felt of people always trying to help you and not being able to work. Not being able to take on collaborations… I can’t imagine but I do know that this is temporary and I want to encourage you to hang in there. These are amazing tips and again thank you so much for shedding light on the mental struggles because it’s real.

  • Reply
    July 1, 2017 at 11:23 am

    Oh man was this a great post. I am currently in a sling, recovering from shoulder surgery. The mental struggle is real! I have 7 kids at home and even though I prepared meals ahead of time and had everything lined up-it’s been SO hard AND the pony tail thing! Yes! Thank you for the smile this morning. It feels nice to know there are others out there who understand.

    • Reply
      Ashley Hargrove
      July 2, 2017 at 3:21 am

      I am SO glad my post helped a little! I really needed an outlet to express how I felt because there was literally no one that understood what I was going through. Keep your head up! It DOES get better but it is SLOW AS HELL!! Just be religious with PT when you are able to go and you will get your hair up in no time!! That was literally my ONLY goal with PT. ha! 🙂

  • Reply
    Catherine Dowhan
    August 2, 2017 at 2:22 am

    Saw your blog, needed it tonight! I’m at ten weeks, total shoulder replacement. Three times a week PT in morning and moving around in pool most afternoons. At 73 I walk two plus miles a day, physically healthy., weight fine, used to being very independent! My progress seems so slow but I know I am making progress but am still so sore, love ice pack in evenings. I needed a boast in mental patience….thank you,

    • Reply
      Ashley Hargrove
      August 2, 2017 at 4:44 pm

      Hey Catherine – Keep your head up! It does get better but it also takes so much time which is a bummer. I am about 7 months out and still have some trouble with mine but am 95% recovered. Stick with PT and you will start seeing progress faster and faster! I’ll be thinking about you!!

  • Reply
    October 9, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am about to have a reverse total shoulder replacement in 5 weeks and I am very worried about how I am going to sleep as I have such a difficult time right now and cannot sleep on my back. I’m only 52 and am in agony so this is my last resort.

    • Reply
      Ashley Hargrove
      October 9, 2017 at 10:42 pm

      Ugh, keep your head up! It is definitely not fun at all but hopefully you’ll be good as new afterwards. Sleep honestly wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be but the pain pills helped. There are some gummies by Olly that are for Sleep that I have been taking and they have been working wonders!

  • Reply
    Cecilia Cunnick
    November 6, 2017 at 3:17 am

    I had surgery Sept 12th on my shoulder. On Sept. 19th, I was adjusting my “nest” (propped up pillows) in bed and fell. Not sure if I tried to catch myself or landed on it. I’m here to say that it hurt like a mother bear. I’ve been doing PT for 5 weeks. Each visit I see a little more improvement so something must be going my way. As much as I’d like to think I can do things on my own, I quickly learned that pulling a bag of dog food off the shelf at the store, was not one of them. Asking for help was hard but I figured that’s what the man at the store is getting paid for. When he sees me now he asks if I need help. We’re buddys now. I still have an achiness in my shoulder. I can hardly wait for that to go away, however some days are better than others. People are sick of me talking about my surgery. I’m sick of myself!! I want to be able to hug someone without it killing me. I’d like to be able to eat my food with my right hand. Oh and wiping my butt??? That’ll be awesome when I can use the proper hand : ) Sorry for rambling on. I know how you feel and it kinda sucks. I just keep telling myself “baby steps” …. Hang in

    • Reply
      Ashley Hargrove
      November 6, 2017 at 1:49 pm

      Ugh, I 100% feel your pain. Literally. I don’t think people, including myself, knew what this type of surgery would entail and how difficult simple tasks would be! Like wiping your butt!! Seriously, awful. I’d have to take a shower or bath every single time I’d go to the bathroom!! Which was another pain of having to try and do that on my own! You’ll get there!! It’s been about 11 months since my surgery and I am still dealing with recovery but I am 1000000x better than before!

  • Reply
    November 9, 2017 at 12:56 am

    I don’t know if you read this/& or see it? But i’m 24 & have just had a total reverse shoulder replacement with various complications.
    I too thought ohhhh it’ll be fine, get on with it/get over it. It wasn’t until a few weeks later when not only my shoulder was hurting but my hip too (as they decided to take bone graft from my hip to use in my shoulder). Then a week after that I find out I have quite a severe infection in my bones & I have to take 8 antibiotics a day for the next 3 months.
    I wanted to just say to you that your blog made for such good reason & has helped me to understand that i’m not the only person in the world having to deal with this.
    It’s weird because if I was to write a blog, I would write exactly this!
    So thank you, you’re incredible & I hope you have recovered well,

    • Reply
      Ashley Hargrove
      November 9, 2017 at 1:17 am

      Oh my gosh, I am SO sorry you are having to go through that. I can’t even imagine how you must be feeling. I’m here for you if you need to talk or need anything at all! Keep your head up; it WILL get better. I am still having pain in my shoulder and its been 8 months BUT it is slowly getting better, thankfully!!

  • Reply
    November 13, 2017 at 6:07 am

    Just curious…what shoulder surgery did you have? I’m scheduled to have surgery on my right shoulder for a tear in my labrum in a couple weeks (right before my 30th birthday….ugh) and I’m pretty terrified. I’m an ICU nurse so I’m having to take a few weeks off work (really probably 6 weeks but I’m in total denial about that because I’m not really sure what I’m going to do) and I’ve never had surgery before. Any other tips or advice or any other suggestions? Hope you are feeling much better and you are recovering well.

    • Reply
      Ashley Hargrove
      November 13, 2017 at 5:07 pm

      I had the same thing! Torn labrum, they thought I had a torn rotator cuff in addition and then I had 3 screws put in because my shoulder kept falling out of socket. Thinking back, after 6 weeks I was doing OK but I wasn’t near able to use my arm like I was before the surgery. PT took about 4 weeks to get me back to the point I could actually put my hair up again. Mine might have been longer because of the screws in there but I definitely recommend resting as much as you can and definitely don’t overdo it because it will set you back. Start PT as soon as you are allowed and hit it hard! Go everyday if you can and tell them you have goals to meet for work and most will work to meet those goals. It’s a tough surgery but you are going to do awesome!

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