I recently had lunch with a new friend, and as often happens with people in the helping professions, we were soon talking at a very deep level. In this case, grief and loss associated with medical diagnoses, as she had a life altering one. This conversation got me thinking about my own medical issues, and how to deal with them day-to-day and the changes they cause us to make in our lives.
Whenever I feel any sort of stress in my life, I feel it first in my right shoulder. This is the result of a slipped disk in my neck that radiates pain into this shoulder, an injury from not one, but two car accidents, a year apart (and both caused by other drivers). This injury is definitely better than it once was, but will always be a chronic condition that will never completely heal according to my doctors. (This excerpt is one of my personal stories from my book, Life Transitions: Personal Stories of Hope Through Life’s Most Difficult Challenges and Changes). I have had months of physical therapy at different times in my life to deal with this injury, but it is thankfully pretty stable at this time. However, I recently had to return to physical therapy for another issue.
After years of distance running, and then excessive yard work in the fall, I started having excruciating knee pain. I saw a sport’s medicine doctor, and was soon referred for physical therapy. My physical therapist was great this time around and worked on teaching me new skills and new ways of doing my old exercises- focusing on strengthening my hips to take the pressure off of my knees (which sounds much easier than it actually is!). I now had to learn a new way of doing squats, a new way of doing lunges and a completely new running stride as well. I diligently did my two months of PT and my at-home exercises. I left feeling educated and without knee pain, and went back to my normal everyday lifestyle.
The first day I took my dog for a run with my new found running stride, I got about halfway through my three-mile route, and tripped and fell. Something that has never happened before! My dog very sweetly came over and licked my face; I was a bit dazed, but thankfully uninjured, so I got up, brushed myself off and finished my run.
The very next week, while I was running and trying to remember all the things my physical therapist said to do, as now instead of just zoning out and listening to my music, I’m thinking “lengthen your stride, lead from your hips, land softly on your feet and take the pressure off of your knees,” I tripped and fell again. But this time, I fell hard and was injured. My dog gave me kisses yet again, but then I looked up and was horrified to see a couple walking toward me. My first thought was “how embarrassing!” and my second was “at least I’ll get a little bit of sympathy.” No! (If you can believe that!). The man walked by, gave me a disgusted look and said, “you’re bleeding!” and walked on. The woman said, “hold on to your dog!” and also walked on.
I was shocked, but also somehow felt ashamed too, like someone tripping and falling while out for a run was something very shameful to do. I know it says a lot more about this couple and how they treat people who are down, than it does about me personally, but as I hobbled home, hurting physically and emotionally, I felt angry, oh so very angry (yes, therapists get angry too!). Angry at this couple for the way they treated me, but also angry about this situation, as the more I have to think about my running style, the less natural it is, the less I enjoy doing it, and now, an added worry of, the more I fall down and get hurt!
Once I got home and got cleaned up and bandaged up, I journaled and sat with my feelings of anger until the deeper feelings finally showed themselves. I was feeling sad because running, an activity I love, and one I found after my car accidents when swimming started aggravating my shoulder pain from the slipped disk in my neck, was now aggravating my knee pain. I was feeling scared that if I could not figure out a way to make my new running style natural for me that I may have to give up running and find a completely new activity.
And finally, the grief and loss showed up too. Grief over the loss of the simplicity of taking my dog for a run on a beautiful day in Flower Mound, Texas or running a 5K fun run with my family. The loss of training for a triathlon or marathon, and that indescribable high when you see, and then cross, the finish line, when you know you have made it and accomplished another big goal. And now, realizing that with chronic knee pain, these things are never going to be as they once were before for me. That I am going to have to decide if they are worth it, or if it is time to be open to trying something new.
There’s a great book called The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM) by Hal Elrod about having a set plan each morning to help you reach your goals. His six “SAVERS” include Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading and Scribing. I do most of these things on a daily basis, but as a “recovering perfectionist” I have come to realize that I have become very rigid in my miracle morning, especially when it comes to my three-mile run with my dog. I have started to see that I need to be more open to other forms of exercise, be it walking or yoga or a local exercise class. Maybe I am in need of a new mantra, something like, “be open to changes and new opportunities, always!”
But, if you do see me out running in the future, I will be the one looking down at my feet and avoiding all the cracks in the road!
So, when faced with grief and loss when you can no longer do something you once loved to do, what’s one thing you could choose to do instead today?