Grateful to be okay

Well, if there’s anything I can say I learned last week week (in addition to chiropractors are dangerous), it’s this:

How very, very grateful I am not to have a permanent nerve injury.

image

I guess that’s sort of the obvious thing for anyone to say in this situation.  But what really surprised me was that my biggest fear was not how difficult daily life was going to be if my nerve issues turned out to be permanent.

Instead, what scared me the most was that I might have to give up my chosen career– or, at least, not be able to do it in the way that I want.

It was sort of a reminder for me, in a way, of how much I really want to become a physical therapist.  Because in my daily life, I often get bogged down in the practicalities.  The few remaining prerequisites I would need to take in order to apply to certain programs.  Taking the GRE (again, that is– let’s not talk about how I scored the first time!).

Last Friday, I consulted a neurologist, and was very encouraged by what she said.  On the way home, I stopped in the town of Newburyport, Mass., which is always one of my favorite places to go in the summer.

I could feel my body telling me it was okay to move, that it was okay to start using my legs again.  So I walked around and took in the sunset, gathering my thoughts.

img_7301-2img_7309-3

And I was just sort of thinking of everything I’ve been working on so far– my classes, my blog, my Youtube channel (I have so many ideas for videos I mean to make!).

And of course, the e-book I’ve been working on– Exercises for the Sacroiliac Joint.  It will be quite a bit easier to get back into concentrating on that, now that the question of whether I’ll be partially paralyzed for the rest of my life has been taken off the table.

img_7302

As I have said before, I don’t necessarily think everything happens for a reason.  But as my friend Nicole told me once, “You can make meaning out of things for yourself.”

So there a few lessons I can draw from what happened:

1) I need to explore alternatives to chiropractic adjustments.  Who knows where this will take me?  Maybe I’ll discover something even better, something that will benefit my future patients and make me a better PT.

2) I have such a better understanding now of what it feels like to have nerve damage.  Before, it was something I only could imagine.  Now I have felt it– thankfully, only for about a week.

And 3) What a reminder of how much I really do want to do this.  I want to teach people, I want to educate (and thank God I’ll still be able to use my own body as a tool to do so with).

Sometimes I feel myself get slowed down by the demands of daily life, and the things I have to do just to get into school.   So in a way, it was quite the wake-up call to get in touch with the fear I had, at the thought it could be taken away.

So now, I am grateful to be okay, and it is back to business.

img_7327-1

How I developed central sensitization, Part 4

I began to wonder if something about the compartment syndrome and the leg surgery could have changed something in my chemical makeup, weakening my body and depleting its healing response.

After all, pain was supposed to be my body’s way of telling me that I was injured.  Something was broken; something was wrong.

Time and time again, I’d go to see a doctor, and they wouldn’t be able to find anything wrong.  My elbow was fine; my wrists were fine.  One of my shoulder muscles had a knot the size of a pea, but according to the pain specialist I saw, it  “shouldn’t be causing this much pain.”

It was honestly so, so frustrating.  I really started to think there was something wrong with me that doctors just couldn’t find.  Something wrong in my tissues; maybe some kind of problem with inflammation.

***

My primary care doctor back home started to think there was something wrong with me psychologically; that maybe this was depression, or anxiety.

But her suggestions just didn’t resonate with me.  I’d been depressed before.  I knew what it felt like, and this wasn’t it.  As much physical pain as I was in, I was still in so much less pain, emotionally, than I’d been in as a teenager.

After all, I’d been through a time when it felt like daggers just to breathe; when I was so exhausted from trying to make it through the day that the walk from my parents’ driveway into the house seemed so far I might not make it, and I had to rest in my car.

I’d been through all that, and it hadn’t resulted in physical pain like this.  In fact, my body had been at its peak, running faster and faster.

Now I’d come out of all of that– the clouds had finally lifted, and for the first time, I felt like knew what I wanted out of life.  I was enjoying my classes, and the fact that I was meeting so many like-minded people.  I felt like we were all going to graduate and change the world together.  Finally knew what it felt like to be happy, when before it had been just a word.

How could depression be causing this debilitating pain now, when it never had before?   Apart from the pain itself, I was actually happy with my life now.  It didn’t make any sense.

To be continued in Part 5.

To start from the beginning of this series:

 

The road to physical therapy school

30165824241_93c7f9bf7a_k.jpg

It occurred to me recently that I really haven’t talked much about my progress towards becoming a physical therapist on this blog.

So, if you’re curious, here’s my deal:

I have a Bachelor’s degree in the humanities.  My concentration was social theory, with an emphasis on gender studies.

My goals, when I was in college, were focused in a pretty different direction than the path I’m on now: I wanted to study social policy, and travel abroad working for various non-profits and human rights agencies.  I also wanted to become a psychotherapist.

I started down that road immediately out of college, working at a mental health agency so that I could gain experience before grad school.

Before this, I’d already had a lot of struggles with chronic pain, and had to have surgery for compartment syndrome.  Yet after college, I’d managed to reach some kind of holding pattern where pain didn’t cause me to miss work.  That was, until the awful winter of 2010, when a few things happened in a brief span of time that caused my pain levels to flare way up.

That was my breaking point– when I tried, anew, to get answers.  Finally, after months of searching, I found my physical therapist Tim, who had studied pain neurophysiology education with Neil Pearson.

***

Ultimately, I was so inspired by everything I learned from Tim that it led me to consider becoming a physical therapist.

I’d always found physical therapy to be a fascinating field.  As a high school runner, I’d had a few serious injuries where I really needed PT to get up and moving again.   I had formed some great relationships with my therapists, and hung on every word they said.  A part of me was always a little bit sad when they told me I was doing well enough that I didn’t need to come back.  I would have gladly come back back every day, just to hang out and learn.

When I was a freshman in high school, I partially tore my hip flexor during a cross-country race and was on crutches for months.  It was a physical therapist who helped me overcome my fear and eventually start running again.

Then, when I was 19 and had surgery for compartment syndrome, it was a physical therapist who got me back up and moving again.  While I’ll always be grateful to the surgeon who fixed my legs, my PT was the one who gave me the confidence to actually start using them again.

And now, when my life had ground to a complete halt at age 25 because of constant, debilitating pain, it was a physical therapist who gave me my life back again.

I’d always had so much appreciation for PT’s.  Now, the idea dawned on me: why don’t I try to become one?

***

Growing up, I didn’t really consider myself that much of a science person.  Looking back, I think a lot of that has to do with the environment at my school, and how our science classes were taught.

Once I started looking into becoming a PT– taking classes, shadowing practicing PT’s– I realized I always had been interested in health science, and exercise physiology, and human anatomy.  It had just taken a different form.

I’d always wanted to do the best thing for my body.  I loved when my running coaches talked about strengthening, building endurance, the benefits of stretching.

And I’d always been interested in nutrition, and being healthy overall.

It’s just that when I was younger, I didn’t have the healthiest mindset, and took some of these interests too far.  But my eating disorder was not all of me– it was a snapshot of a specific place I was in, at a certain point in time, at a certain age.  Although I had some distorted beliefs, that does not mean I wasn’t also genuinely interested in health and fitness at the same time.

The difference is that now, I am able to come at it in a much healthier, stable, and more grounded manner, and know that I will be able to help others with similar struggles.

***

Five years later, I can say that I ended up loving all of my prerequisite classes, and I’m so glad I made the decision to take them.

It’s been an incredibly long road.  You see, some of the classes I needed to take had prerequisites of their own.  At the same time, due to my SI joint issues, there were periods of time where I found it incredibly difficult to walk, drive, or even stand up for more than a few minutes.

Despite of all of this, I’m finally at the point now where I’ve basically taken all of the classes I need in order to apply to PT school.  (I might need to take one or two more, depending on specific programs I might try to get into, but most of my bases are covered).

And honestly, I’m so glad I made this decision.  I realized that, while the humanities will always be my first love, I am also a science person, and have been all along.   I couldn’t see it at the time, but I know it now.

Reading List: Vulnerability

24269340074_09e3fe117e_o

This is the question that has consumed me recently: how do people take their most precious and guarded memories, and spin them into stories, unfurling them to the world?

It seems so easy when other people do it– when you read a famous, heart-wrenching novel for class, and analyze its themes. “I could do that,” you say. “Someday maybe I will.”

But it’s so different when you begin to try– shockingly different. In real life, I haven’t begun– I’ve only hinted at my most personal stories. I’ve only begun to write them and tell them in my head.

In the morning I wake up too early, in a panic, short of breath. “What have I done?” I gasp. Then I relax. I haven’t actually written anything yet; haven’t hit publish.

I have so much respect for those who have. I’ve always loved and looked up to writers, but now I do so with a respect that is so much more real now that I’ve begun to consider the task myself.

So here, my readers, are a few things I’ve read recently that have inspired me:

Rian Kerfoot, Truth and Cake:

Mary Gelpi, Fibromy-Awesome: Getting Clean Real talk from a girl with fibromyalgia who talks about how, somedays, bathing is just not on the agenda. I’ve been there.

Bianca Sparacino: “You Are Not for Everyone.”

Beauty Beyond Bones: I love her whole blog, but I’ve recently discovered her early posts, which send chills through me. I so want to tell my story like this. (I was never hospitalized for my eating disorder, but her words resonate on so many levels).

Sade Andria Zabala: I discovered her a few months ago when I was heart-broken, and her words ripped me apart more and then healed me at the same time.

All of these pieces of writing are breathtaking — check them out!

Fear of authenticity

emas-pounder-spring-branches.jpg

I’ve noticed something about myself, since I started this blog. I love, love, love sharing my writing with others, and forming connections. Every time I have a meaningful moment on here– let’s say I publish a particularly personal post, and people really respond to it– I’m exhilarated. I get totally fired up. I start planning my next post immediately, and come up with a long list of topics for future posts…

…and then somehow, I don’t end up publishing anything for like a month.

Something in me always pulls away. I get stage fright about telling my story publicly; I procrastinate. I decide I don’t want to publish something until it’s perfect, and the next post is never perfect.

For a while I just thought this had to do with my fear of putting myself out there and being judged by strangers; of writing something really personal and then wishing I could take it back.

But I’m realizing now that there might be a deeper level to my hesitations.

***********************************************************

I think it has more to do with the fact that sometimes it can be painful to get in touch with that deepest part of yourself. The part of you that’s really you, that knows exactly what you want most out of life. Sometimes it’s easier, safer, to pretend that that space within you doesn’t exist. To focus on the tangible, the everyday.

I seem to go through months- or even year-long phases where I focus most of my attention on the more surface aspects of life. I am practical; pragmatic; planning my future. What graduate program do I want to attend? (Been stuck on that one for a while). Where do I want to live? What do I need on my next trip to the grocery store?

I want to be put together; organized. I don’t want the future to catch me off-guard.

***********************************************************

Something I’ve learned about myself is that I’m happier when I’m busy; when I’m surrounded by other people, and by ideas. I get really focused on things– my classes when I was in college. Different internships. And then, after college, the various jobs that I’ve had.

And with each one, for a little while, I’ll think that I’ve made it; that I’ve finally figured it all out. But after a while, when I’ve been focusing exclusively on other people’s ideas and never on my own, I start to feel a creeping sense of emptiness.

I try to ignore it at first. I mean, it’s an unpleasant sensation—obviously, my first response is going to be to try to block it out.

But it grows, and grows, until there will be a night when I feel distraught and cannot sleep. I will no longer have the option to try to hide; it is time to return to my own center. To get in touch with what I want, not what I think I have to do.

And for some reason, it always hurts at first, to come back in touch with this place within myself.

Does that make sense to anyone else?

It’s not that my hopes and dreams and desires are painful– it’s that it was painful for me to suppress them. I was so busy being distracted that I didn’t notice the pain building up, and now there’s a scab.

It’s not as though there has always been one thing, one way of living, one career path that my inner voice has always told me to do. First, I wanted to be a psychotherapist. Then, I wanted to work in social justice, with more of an advocacy role. Then, a few years ago, when my own physical issues had opened my eyes, I decided I wanted to become a physical therapist.  It’s not like there was one thing my true self has been telling me to do, and I’ve ignored it.

Instead, I think it has more to do with a way of being, of remembering to be in touch with that space within yourself on a more regular basis.

Why do I block out that voice? I don’t know. I think it’s because I’m not completely sure there is a place for that part of me in the world. If I was to truly listen to myself, to rely on intuition, to push ahead nonstop, guns blazing… what would happen? I’m afraid everything would turn out wrong.

So I temper that voice. I focus on external ways of making sure I’m making the right choices. (What are my PT-prerequisites? What’s the best way to build my resume until then?).

***********************************************************

Working on this blog, however, requires me to get in touch with that space within myself.

It’s a totally different experience than writing when someone else is telling you to. I can write academic papers or reports in my sleep; I can edit your paper, and you’ll be shocked at how much better I make it (haha, really!).

But writing in a truly personal way– especially when others are going to see it, when it’s a representation of yourself that you’re putting out into the world– requires a certain clarity; a sense of purpose. It requires being in touch with that truest, deepest part of yourself.

And it’s honestly hard to do that, at least on a regular basis. It’s hard for me, and I have the feeling that it’s probably hard for a lot of people.

But I also have the feeling that it’s not an issue for everyone; that there are people who have found a way to live out of that most authentic part of themselves on a regular basis, and that for them, it isn’t painful.

How do people do that? I want to know.

I have started to look for answers. I recently watched the movie “Wild,” based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, and it blew my mind. I’ve also recently started to check out Brene Brown‘s work on vulnerability, after seeing some friends whose opinions I really respect rave about her.

I’ll let you know what I find out.

In the meantime, I am happy to at least have some insight into the problem, because I think that was probably half of the battle.

***********************************************************

Please, please, please, let me know what you guys think!  Does this dilemma sound familiar to anyone else?  I want to know your thoughts!

Photo credit: Magnus Karlsson