A PAINFUL PERSPECTIVE

Hello! It has been a little while since I have written a proper blog post and I have missed it so much. If you follow me over on Facebook or Instagram you will see that I have been busy organising our family-friendly hikes as well as attending the UK Blog Awards where I was delighted to be a finalist in the Baby & Parenting category. My husband and I enjoyed the fabulous and glamorous awards night and celebrations at the London Marriott Grosvenor Square Hotel and then spent the rest of the weekend exploring London, wandering around in tropical temperatures soaking up the buzz and being tourists for a while. It was a lot of fun to spend some quality time together, with kids spending the weekend at their Grandparents we were able to chat and dine without interruption and even stay up late! What a treat!

While it has been a busy time in some respects, the reason I have been away from the laptop and doing any real writing for over a month now is because I managed to sustain an injury which has prevented me from sitting at a computer for prolonged periods of time. I have slipped a disc in my upper back just under my shoulder blade, thus trapping nerves in my shoulder, arm, chest and right hand. Two days after diagnosis we were set to travel to the Trossachs in Scotland for a week of family time spent hiking in this wonderful and picturesque region. Needless to say, our plans had to change entirely, and while we still travelled to our beautiful little rental log cabin in Strathyre, I spent the majority of the week either lying on the sofa or lying in bed crying with the gnawing and relentless pain in my shoulder. I have truly never experienced pain like it and just wanted to close my eyes and go into hibernation mode. The pain was mostly concentrated in my shoulder and neck, which meant I was unable to even fully lift my head to appreciate my surroundings and the pins and needles running down my arm and into my hand were constantly biting and sending jolts of sharp pain up my arm. Thankfully, I have a truly patient and kind husband who took on the task of doing EVERYTHING. I couldn’t, and still can’t even lift a kettle with my right hand, so he kept the tea flowing while I was laid-up doing not much besides weeping and apologising for being a burden. I felt a bit useless to be completely honest, but as I stared out the window of the cabin and listened to the sound of the birds in the trees, the river rushing by and my boys’ whoops and cheers as they kicked a football around outside, I became aware that even in the midst of such agonising and debilitating pain, I was learning some things. Sleep deprivation and a painkiller-induced delirium didn’t quite allow me to hone in clearly on these lessons at the time, I was just aware that some things were shifting in my mind, and, just over a month down the road, with a little bit of relief thanks to the amazing physiotherapist I am seeing, I am able to now focus a little better and pick out some of the things I was being taught during what has been one of the toughest times in my life both physically and mentally.

LESSONS I’VE LEARNED:

    1. What it’s like to watch from the sidelines: As someone who loves to ‘muck in’ and get involved whatever the occasion, I found it really challenging being physically forced to be an observer of life going on around me. We had gone away with big plans to hike and explore the Trossachs, with the intention of blogging about our adventures. I was unable to walk more than a few metres on the flat for 3 weeks without being out of breath and in serious pain. That’s so frustrating and disappointing when you’re used to being extremely active. Watching my husband and kids playing outside, swimming in the river and going off for a few local walks was in one sense good, because if truth be told when in that amount of pain I just wanted to be left alone. On the other hand, I was itching to join them, to go roam and play, but I simply could not. I learned what it must feel like for others who are suffering, or who lack confidence in themselves and their abilities, and I can now hopefully empathise with people who feel they are observers rather than players. I hope that this new found understanding will enable me to support people on their own paths to recovery or in growing their confidence, and also encourage people to step out or give things a go, in whatever form that may be.

      2. To relinquish control: This is quite a biggie, as a busy Mum/ Wife/ Student/ Employee/ Blogger, I am so used to being organised and working to a fairly tight schedule. But, I had to learn to let it all just ‘be’. I wasn’t being the Mum and Wife I wanted to be, physically I couldn’t and I was in so much pain I became withdrawn and inward looking. My studies had to be put on hold much to my disappointment. I had to take time off work and have only just returned in a reduced capacity. I was unable to think about or even work on the blog. Suddenly, all the things that give my life meaning felt like they had been blown up into the air by a fierce wind and I couldn’t grasp the strewn pieces, I couldn’t extend my arm either physically or metaphorically – I was broken and low. For the first time in my life I had to just let go and allow myself to be looked after. Asking for help is not something I often have to do. I am used to caring for kids and managing a team at work, but suddenly, I was having to say ‘I can’t do that right now’ and to allow others to share the load. And you know what? It was ok. Others like to help out if they can, and it’s not a sign of weakness to say you can’t do something! I am still getting used to this new found vulnerability and dependence, but I think I quite like it!

        3. What it’s like to experience true stillness and rest: I have spent, and am still spending, a huge amount of time sitting around and sleeping in order to aid my healing. I was under strict orders from my consultant not to walk for at least 2 weeks (and definitely no hills for the foreseeable – we’ll see!), to not lift anything and not to drive. I was thrust into doing nothing and to begin with was frustrated and annoyed, but as the days passed and I wasn’t seeing any relief from the pain, I realized that this injury was going to take time to heal. I accepted that I had to rest and once I submitted to that I was aware that I rarely truly rest. My mind is constantly buzzing, my days spent on the move and my breath short and shallow. I needed to learn to rest properly and breathe deeply, and to not feel the pangs of guilt that often accompany doing nothing. There’s a massive difference in resting and being a lazy, I wasn’t being lazy, I was healing I had to remind myself repeatedly. And so I rested. I dosed on an off and did little else. It was only on return to Northern Ireland and returning to my GP and 6 physio sessions later that I have begun to feel any sort relief. I’ve been told that the nerve pain may take over a year to fully settle, so, I am continuing to listen to my body and rest and be still when I need to.

          4. Self-compassion: During the first few weeks of physical pain and upset, I realized just how hard I am on myself in so many respects. I set such high standards and if I fail to reach them I would have that niggling sense of failure sweep through me. I wasn’t allowing myself room for learning or error, and that’s not a healthy frame of mind. Through hours of forced rest I had loads of time to think and slow down and create room for self-compassion, to be gentle with myself and know that it’s ok just to be. That even in my weakest moments, I am enough.

            5. To appreciate all the goodness I have in my life: Suffering with an injury that enforces stillness and strips bare your day really causes you to think. Without my writing, my outdoor adventures, my study timetable and my job responsibilities I came to see how full my life still is because of the incredible friends and family I have around me. I was cared for. I was brought tea and nutritious meals. My 3 gorgeous boys brought ‘healing water’ from the river and prayed for me. I had so many texts and calls and words of support that love and encouragement enveloped me so tangibly I felt stronger because of them. When we take away all the ‘stuff’ that makes up our days and that we devote so much time and effort to, what we are left with is the people that make our lives worthwhile and meaningful. That is precious and should never be taken for granted. I am so unbelievably grateful for all the wonderful opportunities and privileges I have in life – the chance to study again and pursue a career, a passion for writing and chasing after my dreams, a job I enjoy and a beautiful country that I am free to explore, but above and beyond that, I am so grateful for my husband, my children and the incredible people that are part of my life.

              It has taken me hours upon hours to write this post because I have been up and down like a yoyo due to the persistent pain in my neck. My healing journey continues and I know it will take time to fully recuperate. There are some things I cannot do but will come back with patience and strengthening but I have accepted this and feel at peace with it despite my limitations. Human bodies are amazing and can bounce back from terrible illness and injury and for that I am also glad. Isn’t it amazing how it can sometimes take something horrible to stop us in our tracks to really appreciate exactly what riches we have? How a seemingly huge and badly-timed obstacle is actually a detour on a road of learning and growth.

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