Pain: Doorway to Your Soul
- Category: Self-Help
Pain, what we try to get away from with distractions, eating disorders, addictions, rationalizations, fantasy beliefs, comfort suppliers turns out to be a grand and relentless teacher. When your pain is strong and impervious to numbing you are confronted by teacher who gets hold of you, body and soul, and will not release you until you have learned what you need to know.
Wet from the pool I slipped on a tile floor at the gym. I came down hard on my shoulder. I didn't know it was broken. I knew I was in pain and the best place to be was flat on my back and immobile.
Early lessons about saying yes and no came in fast. Locker room attendant, with a mindless expression on her face, grabbed my arm right where the pain was most intense and tried to pull me to my feet. I told her to let me go and leave me alone. (The worst thing to do is to move a person who has been injured.) Next, caring and concerned fellow gym mates surrounded me to help by trying to lift my head and give me a pillow. (Very bad thing to do. Head or neck or spine injuries can be made much worse by lifting or moving the head in any way.) I said, no, just let me lie here for a while. Someone asked, "Can we cover you with towels to keep you warm?" (That's good. It may be innocuous or it may really help stave off shock. It wouldn't cause harm and might do good. Plus I thought it would be a good idea to keep them busy doing something that wouldn't hurt me.) I agreed to allow it, and said thank you.
A representative of the gym arrived, looking professionally beautiful if you know what I mean. She was a marketing presence and clearly, to me, wanted to protect the gym. "Do you want an ambulance?" No, I said. I just want to get out of here. I didn't trust these would be caretakers, well intentioned or not. I felt surrounded by the wrong people. With much pain and some assistance I managed to get some clothes on. The gym rep walked me to my car. She had to open the door for me. I could not. She had to buckle me in. I could not. And somehow I drove, slowly and carefully, home. Maybe not the wisest choice, but we don't get to know about the path not taken, do we?
I refused to acknowledge how serious the fall might be and saw three patients about an hour later. Then I called my chiropracter which led to swelling reduction treatment and then x-rays and an MRI. Yes, my shoulder broke in the fall.
Lessons from pain started immediately. Getting out of the club was risky, but getting the right treatment and caring from competent and trusted known people was better than waiting as an anonymous body in a hospital emergency room.
The pain was constant and terrible, but only in certain positions. I could find a way to be pain free, but I couldn't function. Couldn't lift anything, turn a doorknob, put on a bra or a jacket. I was certainly not supposed to drive. I wore shawls a lot. Lessons learned. Who helped and who did not? I won't name names here. It's not necessary. But let me say that a couple of people I thought were close and caring in my life, did nothing. Offered nothing. Left town. Didn't call when they got back. Did send me an e-mail while they were away asking me to take care of their home responsibilities for three days and night so they could extend their trip.
One friend called to say she cleared four or five hours so she could come to me and do whatever I needed: take me shopping, clean my house or whatever I said I wanted. So I had to re evaluate my impressions of the people in my life. Who had empathy and would extend themselves, and who was a continual drain with no empathy or thought to extend themselves?
I couldn't make excuses for anyone that would hold up because my pain was so debilitating that I couldn't put it aside. I slept in a zero gravity cushy chair in my living room for 26 nights because my chiropracter told me I should sleep where I could not roll on to that injured shoulder.
He actually came to my house, delivering a radiant heat machine to me and set it up for me because he thought it would help. He pulled it out of storage. Since when do doctors make housecalls anymore? I was so moved by his thoughtfulness and generous spirit. Plus, he was right. The heat helped a lot. So here was a lesson in kindness, generosity, the value of having trusted and skilled people in my life and the importance of letting my real situation be known.
Then I started to wonder what actually had happened. I could remember my slip, and I could remember my landing, but I could not remember what my body did while I was in the air. This was a tiny moment but oh so critical. I did not land on my head. I did not break my neck. I did not damage my spine. I did not land on my hip. I did not break a bone anywhere that could puncture anything. I did not break a wrist that would have made me more disabled.
I saw that in an unconscious way, without conscious thought, my body moved while I was in mid air to arrange a fall that would cause me the least harm. Even the angle was right because, while I was borderline, I did not require surgery. Lesson learned: My body is wise and brilliant. Within me is a life force that supports me regardless of my awareness.
A month prior to my fall, May 13, my dear friend and mentor, Hedda Bolgar died. I went to her funeral. Her memorial was in June. While I managed to drive a few blocks to my medical appointments I knew I could not manage to drive to the Skirball. Even with medical appointments I needed someone to pull my car out of the parking structure because I couldn't turn the wheel without pain.
Again, I was surprised about who had agreed to go with me to the memorial and then backed out. And I was surprised at who offered and did drive me there and picked me up later. Lesson learned: Re evaluate how I evaluate the people in my life. I needed to give more credit to some and less to others.
A veil, or maybe an iron curtain (Thank you, Winston Churchill, for the term) was lifting.
More to come on this because the lessons keep coming. Next will be about standing up for your own life force and honoring yourself in a way that is deeper than I have considered before. I hope you find value in this saga. And also I hope you appreciate the joy and competence I feel in being able to type with two hands on this keyboard as I write to you. :)
- Does any of this story relate to you in some way?
- Can you learn along with me and teach at the same time?
- How has pain helped you to learn and grow?
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Joanna, I am so happy to hear how much better you feel. That had to be a pretty painful experience for you. It is nice to have you back here on the blog. I think I speak for everyone when I say you were greatly missed!
I can say that I can relate to a couple of the things you wrote about. I was recently out of work 6 weeks with a herniated disk. I can truly tell you that I found out who my friends are. I belong to a pretty big church. We have a face book prayer page which I had asked for prayer on a couple of times as well as had posted updates here and there. I was disappointed when only two ladies from my church offered their help to the girls and I during this time.
I was in immense pain. There were days I couldn't even walk. I found out which of my friends were there for me, and which one's were not. It was eye opening for me as well, Joanna.
I can also relate to your experience with your fall. There is, indeed, a strong connection between the mind and body and how they interact. You said you don't exactly remember the fall, but in the split seconds it happened, your mind and body reacted in such a way to land you in the safest manner -albeit not pain free, it wasn't life threatening.
I had the same experience a few weeks ago. I had been successfully nursing my back to health and was feeling pretty good, when one afternoon I slipped on a piece of paper in my den. I also had those split seconds to decide how to fall. I didn't need to reinjure my back and somehow I landed on my hands instead of my bottom.
I think my injury offered me an opportunity to slow down. My life is one hectic pace day after day. It was like the injury was a way of telling me that if I wasn't going to slow down on my own, it was going to slow me down. I was able to get a lot of rest and spend time with my girls. It wasn't always easy since I was in pain, but it was manageable.
Again, glad to see you are feeling better and that you are back here with us, Joanna
I hope you're feeling better. Take care of yourself!
I had to put one of my cats to sleep 3 wks ago and I found out who my real friends are too...and luckily, I have a lot of good ones!!
I'm learning about pain daily it seems whether it is physical, mental or spiritual pain. The pain caused by others and pain caused by myself. I'm learning about what you can endure, what you can overcome and what you can forgive.
When my son died, I learned that most people think that you are so overwhelmed with grief that you won't notice their absence. This is not true. You are overwhelmed, but you notice every detail. I noticed the light and love in the eyes of some of the nurses. I noticed who sat with me in my pain. I noticed who was at the funeral and who was not. I remember who sent cards and thanked them personally. I know who showed up for me. I know who didn't. I forgive them, but I don't need them in my life. I let some close friends go during my time of grief. Sometimes I miss them, but most of the time I do not. I suppose some people would like to put a limit on your feelings or pain. My pain made me think of all the times that I was unaware or said something insensitive to someone in some type of pain. I hope I don't make that mistake again.
Physical pain forces me to be in my body, something I struggle with. Something I still try to avoid with food or other mind numbing distractions. I should want to change that more than I want to stay the same.
When I avoid something because I don't want to feel, I make the situation worse, I make it harder to endure and harder to overcome. I make it hard for the people around me. It snowballs out of control. I created some big problems for myself that I am having to endure and fix. It has been hard for me emotionally and physically. I haven't taken care of myself during the process, letting old habits take over to reduce the pain. The pain won't reduce.
I'm trying my best and I am working hard at fixing the most pressing problem, but I have a friend who would like to punish me for it, repeatedly, by condemning me or shaming me. I don't know why this person is doing this. My problem is making me confront all of my painful feelings and shortcomings, but I have to accept that this is the way it is. I haven't done anything horrible. I just created a time consuming project for myself that leaves all other responsibilities waiting. I have to change, because in reality, I might be doing better, but I'm not doing well. There's plenty of room for improvement.
The thing is, I need help. I don't mean professionally, I go to therapy as I should. I need help with all of the day to day pieces that I can't manage. That I pretend I am managing. When I tell someone that I am overwhelmed and I need help, like my husband, his reaction isn't supportive, its more blame. How do I decrease the problem when everything needs attention and I am so overwhelmed? Why are people giving me such a hard time when they see how hard I am working? Why am I doing that to myself?
What was the question again? lol
When I was really down and out with my back I needed help. I got help, but not always from whom it was expected. I did learn through the process, how good it felt to be thought of and remembered, and cared about. I can say, that since then, I have made it a point to take meals or at least, email friends and acquaintances when I find out they are not doing well. This process is healing for everyone involved. In fact, I think I get more out of giving then receiving.
One problem I do have, however, is not asking for help in the beginning. I tend to wait until things are really bad before I will ask that anyone "put themselves out" for me. Like I am not worth helping.
It has been a really hot and humid week for those of us on the East Coast. Numerous people have died from the heat. The heat index is in the triple digits and it's almost impossible to be outside longer than to just get to your car and into a building. Being at the pool is pretty bad, if that tells you anything. This being said, I was "taking care" of myself by drinking lots and lots of water earlier this week. I forgot that what goes in, must come out, and that what comes out must be replaced ie, minerals, vitamins, etc.
I found myself quite dehydrated by mid week. I was waking with muscle cramps from my hips to my toes. I have since been to the doctor who did some blood work and recommended a regiment for getting my electrolytes back on track. (I had to convince him -and others- that I was not throwing up or using diuretics), nonetheless, I am on the mend. However, the cramps have left me with very, very sore calf muscles. I had to call out of work today because it is hard to walk.
During this most recent process of pain, I found myself fantasizing about someone taking care of me. "don't get up, let me help you...you are in pain...let me take care of the kids...let me get your dinner, let me fluff your pillows..." This makes me laugh because it will never happen. But then I wonder if I would even let it happen. I am so used to taking care of myself -from a very young age- that I get embarrassed and uncomfortable asking for help.
My point here, finally - lol - is that I need to learn to let others help me. The ones that will, the ones that want to. I think that I have been my own worst enemy at times with subconsciously pushing help away. I don't always have to say I don't want help, sometimes it's written all over my being. Then I get mad for not getting help. Most of my friends have told me that the thing they admire most about me is my "fierce independence"....that's quite odd to me, as I feel anything but. Funny how we can emit vibes contrary to how we really feel on the inside.
It's funny how things come to me later...after I have written a couple of times already on a topic. I was just going to say that, while there were many people who knew I was hurting and didn't help, there were many who, simply, did not know.
When I was injured and bored and laying on the couch day in and day out, it became easy for me to notice how much time was in a day. How slowly the clock ticked. It was easy for me to notice everything and keep up with everyone via facebook....I had time to read every post and email several times over. So naturally, I began to feel that others had the same amount of time...which was not at all the case.
I write this to say, that not all the people I was initially disappointed in for not helping me were as in the "know" as I thought they were. Because they have lives they are living. Lives like mine...going 60 miles an hour. I have to admit, my blinders are on more to the plight of others when I am overwhelmed with day to day events. I guess I got a little dose of self-importance when I was sick. It has been a gradual process, but I have begun to forgive those who probably never really knew I needed help. I'll never know for sure, but I should give some of them the benefit of the doubt.
I've been dealing with weeks of Migraines off and on (mostly on) and I've been very blessed with understanding bosses, co-workers and friends. They have taken me away from my dancing and I'm beginning to feel the lack of moment in my body. Not good!! But today is my second day without a headache so I'm on the right track!!
Missed you Joanna, and I'm glad you're feeling better!
it's lovely to have you back here blogging again, you have been missed whilst you've been away taking care of your shoulder!
I think it's true that in difficult times we find out who our true friends are, and that can be quite emotional - I can remember not that long ago, during a difficult time, getting a message from someone who I knew was a friend, but I had never classed as a close/true friend... and the message said "I admire you so much, I love you and I'm here for you - now, tell me, what exactly do you need from me, tell me, what do you need me to do that will help?" and I was very blown away, that not only did she show her support, but she outrightly asked me what it was that she could do to help - I suppose the difference was that what she offered was "active support" rather than "passive support".
I've realised in the last few years since I started therapy, and started to let people in, let them see my flaws and my weaknesses, and stopped trying to project an image of being someone who is always fine, always there for others but never needs help herself, that I am very lucky - I am someone who makes friends very easily, but I tend to let the majority of them slide - I don't have enough time to maintain friendships just for the sake of having a huge circle of friends, but the handful that I do maintain, it seems have in the main, been the right ones to maintain, and I am very grateful for that.
Tracy, I noticed what you said about struggling to ask people for help, I used to be like that too - overly strong, independent, scared of being burdensome, scared of rejection, but I have learned that asking for help sometimes makes people see your warmth and that you're human just like everyone else, and I've found it has very much created and strengthened the bonds of my friendships, they have become truly reciprocal two-way things, and much closer and warmer. By sharing my own difficulties and letting people help, I'm now aware of how fond people are of me, how much they care, how much worth and value I have to others, and them to me - it was hard at first, it was alien to me, but it has been so rewarding, and a big contribution to my feeling "whole".
Pain is an interesting teacher. I've know it well for thirty some odd years. I listen to it and try to understand what it's telling me. Sometimes I determine it's danger pain and I take some sort of action or stop some sort of action. Other times I determine that I'm in a down cycle and it's awful but it's what is and I try to keep going.
My latest adventure with pain was having to go off of the heavy anti-inflammatory meds I've been on for decades as it was causing me to develop ulcers after all these years. The doc wanted me to go on some controlled substance meds for the pain he said was coming but I decided I wanted to experience the new pain and understand it. It was shocking for the first three weeks but now it has become my new normal. I don't enjoy having more pain but it's do-able. I'm hoping I can maintain my stance this fall as it always gets worse when the weather changes.
I'm definitely someone who has had to learn to ask for help. There are lots of things I just can't do physically...or just shouldn't do. People can see when I'm not doing well so they usually question whether I should be lifting or carrying things. Or they offer an arm when I look unsteady on stairs. I used to cherish being independent and now I am grateful to have people who know me well enough to give me a talking to when they see me doing stuff I shouldn't.
"Friends" come and go I've learned. I have a small circle of heart friends that I know will drop everything to help me. The other people get overwhelmed with their own lives and I think that even though they want to help, and say so, they have their own stuff to deal with. I think most of us fill our lives too full to be able to do a lot of the things we think would be nice or right to do. I try my hardest to be available for my friends and even I falter too.
Kym - I hope your migraines stay away. I've been away from dancing for the last month and I hate not being there.
Tracy - stay hydrated! I've been watching the news and it sounds very difficult over on your coast.
Please be patient with me.