Lessons from an amazing weekend

I had a crazy, fun-filled weekend. The kind of weekend I haven’t had in at least five years. 4634683686_d575b661b5_o

Five years ago, my friends and I went to a “tango night” at a local restaurant.  It was an amazing evening.  The teachers were professional dancers, and a lot of the other students were from other countries.  There was such a fun, friendly, open vibe to the night.

The evening started out with a free tango lesson, and then afterwards, the dance floor opened up to anyone who wanted to come and dance.  Some truly amazing dancers showed up.  I was in my element, starting to picture myself traveling through Argentina.

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But as the night went, on my knees started to hurt. At first, I tried to ignore the pain, but it got worse and worse until eventually, I had to sit down and watch everyone else for the last two hours.

“We’ll go back,” my friends and I all said at the end of the night. I thought I’d fix my knee problems, and organize another group outing in a few months.

***

Of course, it never ended up happening.  People got busy; the friend who organized it the first time moved away.

And I ended up spending the next five years having trouble walking.  My knee problems got a lot worse before they got better, and the months I spent limping and carrying my weight unevenly led me to develop the SI joint issues I still have today.  Basically, it’s been five years since I could stand, or walk, or dance without so much as a thought.

***

Yet somehow, this weekend, everything clicked. I didn’t plan it– I just got caught up in the flow of things, and went where my friends went.

I guess all my strengthening exercises are starting to really pay off, because somehow, I went out dancing Friday and Saturday night. Friday night, I was in one of those loud, crowded bars I normally hate, but the band was actually amazing, and I found myself out on the dance floor with the group.

And then Saturday? Well, it wasn’t tango, but some friends went to a salsa night. I didn’t make it in time for the lesson, but I did make it out onto the dance floor afterwards. I wouldn’t say I wowed anyone with my salsa skills, but I also didn’t need to sit down once the entire night.

But here’s what really shocked me: I was back to where, physically, I had left off five years ago. But nothing about it felt monumental or life-changing.

What was life-changing? Everything it took for me to be okay, in the past five years, when I couldn’t have a weekend like this. All of the restraint it took; all of the patience I was forced to cultivate.

Don’t get me wrong– I haven’t stayed at home for five years, I’ve gone out– but it was never without compromise, never without having to constantly be aware of the nearest chair.

I’ve had to make peace with the fact that I’d be sitting by myself when an amazing song came on and everyone else wanted to be on the dance floor. I’ve had to perfect the art of looking calm, confident, and busy doing things on my cell phone.

***

I’ve been through so much pain, frustration, and effort with my SI joint, I can’t even tell you. As much time as I’ve spent actually exercising, I’ve spent about three times as much time trying to learn about the problem. Researching the joint, consulting different doctors, chiropractors, and PT’s. Learning what movements not to do, which has been just as important as finding the right exercises.

That’s the thing– and I think anyone with chronic pain and health issues knows this– mind over matter doesn’t work. And actually, it’s counterproductive to push yourself into doing something that isn’t good for you.

You have to listen to your body: fine-tune your balancing act of when to push and when to rest. You have to become still.

***

Something that’s helped me immeasurably is learning how to meditate. I actually don’t meditate every day, but learning how to be in the moment in that way has really spilled over into my daily life.

For me, meditation is like an experiment. You take everything that’s bothering you– whether it’s physical pain, or emotional, or stress and anxiety– and you just tell yourself, “Yes, this is all happening… but what if I was okay, anyway?” The problems are all still there, but just for a few minutes, you stop trying to fight them. They exist, but you see that underneath it all, you actually are okay.

Even after I’d only had this experience a few times, I felt as though it began to change the way I saw the world. I just felt calmer; more at peace. Somehow, it started to feel easier for me to notice the good in the world.

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There are different ways to grow as a person. You can go on a journey through the world– you can travel, meet people, and see fascinating things.

But you can also journey inside of yourself, and that can transform your perspective just as much.

I have had to learn how to find peace in the moment. I haven’t had the option of going out and losing myself in the way people describe when they talk about travel. I’ve never backpacked through Europe… I’ve never even backpacked through the White Mountains, like just about everyone else I know.

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But I have been transformed, no doubt.

It’s tempting for me to try to compare myself to other people, to suggest that maybe I have actually learned more by being forced to stay still, compared to people who have been able to leave their problems behind by going out and doing things. But that would be wrong– I don’t know what journeys people are on, or what they are learning.

But I can compare myself to my past self, and say that the things it takes to make me happy now are very different than the things I used to think I needed to be happy.

That night that I was forced to sit down at Tango Night, I thought I was losing a piece of myself that I wouldn’t get back until I could come back and dance again.

Now I see that I didn’t lose anything at all.  In fact, I gained something.

And that is a lesson I’m grateful to have learned.

***

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9 thoughts on “Lessons from an amazing weekend

  1. I am really happy for you that you have been able to finally get the level of physical activity that you had five years ago!! Congrats!!! I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have a twinge of envy and sadness when I read it though. That’s because my nightmare started thirty years ago, but with surgery, a ton of hard work and going to doctors and physical therapy and my own exercise etc. I was able to at least work although there were days I had to find somewhere to lie down to relieve my pain. But, I finally was able to sit up in a movie theater. However, Eight years ago, I began with additional pain- SI pain, butt pain, pelvic floor pain, and sciatica. I wasn’t able to work anymore and sitting through a movie was out of the question, along with dancing, going out to eat, or to a bar, travelling etc. Even taking a shower is something that must be planned out and then I need to recuperate from. Being I couldn’t work anymore I had to go on disability, move in with my parents at the age of 48. I lost so many things dear to me friends, my career, my independence, my confidence, self esteem, the love of my life, etc.. I went back to being my own detective, teacher, and healthcare practioner and had to reorganize my whole life based on my pain levels. I went from doctor to doctor and physical therapist to acupuncture, to meditation, feldenkrais, to studying chronic pain with lorimer mosely and Dr. Sarno. I have had radio ablations and numerous nerve blocks, but I am still in pain. It is so upsetting because all I do is focus on how I can heal myself to get back to the level I once was so I can return to work and live independently and one day go to a bar with some new friends that Ill make and be able to dance or just sit and watch others. Everything I do is about trying to heal and then rest from my attempts. It is really rather depressing. It is difficult to bring joy in my life when so much has been stripped from my life, but I know others have it worse. It is just very scary not knowing what the future holds and exactly what path to take so that I can get better- in fact this is so exhausting. So, while I am happy for you- I wonder if I am doing something wrong or is it just not in the cards- but I keep trying by walking, walking in a pool and meditating and using a tens unit, journaling, and gathering knowledge. I am able to go out to eat as long as it is a good day and it is only about 45 minutes long. So I have to take stock of my small improvements. God Bless all those who are able to Succeed and banish their chronic pain for good!!!!

    1. Hi Irene, I’m so sorry to hear you’re still going through all this. I should probably clarify that I’m not totally out of the woods yet with my SI issues, but I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to be so active this weekend. I think chronic pain will probably always be a part of my life in one way or another, but I’m lucky that I seem to have found the right tools to limit the effect it has on me.

      I would encourage you to keep looking for answers. Maybe you haven’t found the right PT yet. When my problem first started in 2011, the first four PT’s I found didn’t even know what I was talking about when I mentioned the SI joint. The fifth one was really great, and I still see her today. I then went on to see a sixth and seventh PT, because the fifth didn’t do aquatic PT. However, I didn’t end up feeling like #6 or #7 really understood the problem– their exercises were too much for me and I felt as though they were making my SI joints unstable. So I went back to #5, and now I see her in the office and we just *talk* about my exercises. Then I go and do them in the pool on my own.

      Keep looking! I think you and I may have talked about the Burdenko method of aquatic PT before– I think those exercises are really innovative.

      I don’t know if you have trouble getting down to the floor to stretch/do exercises, but I find it can knock my SI joints out of place. I bought this stretching table on Amazon, and it’s really made a huge difference in my ability to exercise at home. http://amzn.to/1KO675g (It’s pretty firm, so I had to add an exercise mat on top).

      Lastly, has a PT ever shown you how to use muscle contractions to re-align your SI joints? It’s called the muscle energy technique, and I do it all the time. There is a Youtube video on it that I can link to, but it’s not a good idea to do it until you have a PT confirm exactly which way your hips are rotated. You want to make sure you are correcting the right problem. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7zQhxoTSWw

      I hope all this helps! It’s nice to hear from you.

      1. Thank you for your concern and very informative and helpful reply. I truly appreciate. I am happy for you and really don’t want anyone to be in pain. I just have been feeling frustrated and in a state of despair, I guess in regards what to do next. No, I really haven’t found a good PT. They all kind of make my pain worse so Im so leery about going to anyone. My last PT was in the summer. Yes we did talk about the water exercises. Thank you for all the good info and helpful hints you provide. Thank you for allowing me to share my despair with you. It really helped to express it to someone who has been there and understands what I am talking about. I have to say that Im even embarrassed to talk about it with people, but I didn’t feel that way talking to you about it. So thank you and I hope and pray that you and so many others have days like you had last weekend. I do feel it is important to honor and celebrate when we notice the improvements. It really is a big thing to celebrate. WELL DONE!!

  2. Thank you for sharing this experience with us! I find it very inspiring! What stands out for me the most is when you said, “That night that I was forced to sit down at Tango Night, I thought I was losing a piece of myself that I wouldn’t get back until I could come back and dance again. Now I see that I didn’t lose anything at all. In fact, I gained something.”

    This resonates with me. I often look to my past and all the things I could do back then, and I compare it to what I experience now, and I wonder if I’ll ever get the chance to be active like I was before. I feel like chronic pain can take so much from you; activities you like to do, social interactions, hobbies, hope, etc. You know? And to read that you were able to get back out on the dance floor and pick up where you left off after 5 years, is so inspirational. It shows me that things can change for the better and that there can still be moments where you can feel well enough to participate in something you love to do. And of course, too, with the inner work that goes along with this type of journey, I completely agree with you! There really is much to gain when you focus on the moments of the journey.

  3. Awesome post – I wonder if you would consider a blog on mind over matter – where we go wrong with this, AND the immense skill we can attain at using our mind to support our body (meditation and finding joy and peace are definitely ‘using your mind’ practices …

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