These past two months have been a bit of a whirlwind for me, with some pretty awesome successes but also some pretty spirit-crushing setbacks. It can sometimes be hard for me to figure out where the balance is between successes and setbacks and what direction is the best way forward when I feel like I’m taking two steps back for every one step forward.

But at least I am still moving forward!

Some of the Successes

GRADUATION!

I graduated with my Master of Science degree in Human Movement (with an emphasis in sport and exercise psychology), finishing up my last quarter on Sunday. It’s a pretty awesome feeling, friends. Pretty. Freaking. Awesome.

I started graduate school with a whole bunch of questions and I was seeking a whole bunch of answers. After my injury and surgery, I wanted to learn all I could about persistent and chronic pain so that I could help others get through it or, even better, avoid it all together. Of course, my own pain was a huge driver of my interest in these areas.

I have learned a ton. I even got some answers, though they’re not yet complete. What I learned most is that there is so much more to learn, not just for myself but for the fields of kinesiology and pain science as well. We are really just getting started in the grand scheme of things. The human experience is quite complicated; marvelous, but complex.

But now I know how to ask better questions and seek better answers. I’m excited about all I have yet to learn and all I have yet to share.

A Project Finally Launched

A project I have worked on for close to two years finally resulted in a major win. I have been working on creating an occupational health and safety program with a former colleague who developed the model in the fire department. After some beta-testing and pilots with various agencies, it seems to be a pretty good one.

The program is centered around helping people to move better and help them think a bit differently about movement, pain, and injury so that they can lead a long, healthy, and happy life. It’s awesome. (Not that I’m biased or anything.)

There’s some great things in the works with this project and foundling business (I’ll share more information as things get going) and I think that it’s going to be a major success. I could not be happier for my colleague and friend, who’s brain child this project was, and hope it becomes as big and as impactful as we know it can be.

Some of the Setbacks

Pain. Really. Bad. Pain.

With the launch of the project, I found out that I have still have some pretty significant limitations when it comes to my work capacity and the ways in which I can contribute. The drive, coupled with other logistics of the project itself, flared my pain to levels I hadn’t experienced in months.

It was a dark couple weeks for me, to be honest. I was quite miserable, not just because I was in pain but because it also made me face the facts of my current limitations. Even when I backed off from being on-site, hours of computer work at a time was also not possible for me. This meant that many of the research, writing, and administrative tasks that I could normally do, I wasn’t able to complete, either.

My capacity was overwhelmed; between the elevated and constant pain levels and  finishing up the final weeks of my graduate program (see success above!), I had to let some things go,  including much of my involvement with this project. I had to put my best efforts into getting through the flare and maintaining the quality, consistency, and quantity of my schoolwork (not to mention my 4.0 – I’m a nerd, shut-up, it’s important to me).

Hard Decisions

It was an incredibly difficult decision. But I (finally, with the help of a few great people, including my buddy on the project) recognized, that I can’t be all things if I want to be good at them and if I want to contribute to anything in a meaningful way, I have to stay as healthy, happy, and functional as possible. I have to be able to be my best myself.

But I will keep pushing myself into the red, even when it’s not in best interest, to keep delivering as much as possible and not let anyone down (even if the ‘letting down’ part is only in my head). I’m little good to anyone (including myself) in any capacity when all I see, hear, and feel is pain (I call it ‘pain brain’ – where even the smallest of tasks seem monumental).

But still, even thought I know this stuff, it was all pretty eye-opening to me. I had been doing really well at managing the pain. I had felt like I was on a really good path. I felt pretty ‘normal’.

Sometimes successes and setbacks can lead to confusion and lack of direction. Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It was surprising and jolting to be so derailed.

And I know better. Don’t I?

My pain is always present, that’s the nature of things, but when I’m doing good; it’s very low in intensity , it barely registers on my radar (freeing up my capacity to do all sorts of other things) and I have a bunch of strategies to manage it, be functional, and be happy.

During these good days, it’s almost like I forget that it can be so bad. Then when I flare, it throws me for a complete loop.

(What is that? How can I always be so shocked when I KNOW it’s going to happen? I’m even pretty well prepared for it! If anyone has any tips on this, I’m all ears.)

And of course, when I do have a bad flare-up such as this last one, I blame myself for it. I feel like I’m letting people down: my surgeon for not being ‘fixed’, my husband because he has to deal with this; my business partner because I’m stepping away at the most crucial time of the launch; my friends because I’m anti-social when I’m in pain; pretty much everyone who knows me and may in any way be inconvenienced, made to feel awkward, or is any way affected by my pain.

I regret stuff.  Why did I do this? Why didn’t do that? Why didn’t I see this coming? Why didn’t I DO SOMETHING before it got to this point?

I freak out that I’ve laid to waste days and weeks and months and years of hard work to manage and try to overcome the pain. I panic that I’m back at square one.

This isn’t productive or helpful in getting through it, let me tell you. And much of it is unfounded. Which leads me to:

Knowing Better

So what do I ‘know better’? I know that I can manage my pain symptoms and be fully functional and happy and engaged and active, within certain parameters. It’s when I go outside those parameters that I get in trouble. Why do I go outside the parameters? Part of it, I think, is my pissed-offedness at having limitations that makes me want to push past them, even to my own detriment (and even though I’ve told myself repeatedly that I have accepted them).

Don’t get me wrong, nudging limitations, testing boundaries, and pushing yourself  are good and smart (in my opinion). Totally blasting through those boundaries and ignoring warning signals (in this instance, my pain getting worse in severity and duration, not being able to sleep because of the pain, short temperament, short attention span, becoming a bit more withdrawn) was not good nor smart. Warning bells are there for a reason.

And I do (sometimes reluctantly) know what I can do to make it much less likely that I will flare up like this in the future. I know that when I take frequent breaks while working on the computer, I do alright (which goes for all of us, really). I know that if I do my Egoscue exercises every day, I do alright. I know that if I walk my 10,000 steps a day, I do alright. I know that if I limit my driving (preferring not to drive at all!), I do alright. I know that if I limit my sitting time and frequently change up my body position, I do alright. I know if I keep moving throughout the day, I do alright. I know that when I sleep 8 hours a night, I do alright. I know when I manage my workload and my time, I do all right. I know when manage my stress, I do alright. I know when I play and have fun and laugh and dance and goof off, I do alright.

But Still Falling Down at Times

My days when I’m managing my pain well are pretty structured. I do anywhere from an hour to four hours of pain-management related stuff everyday, depending on where my pain levels are. When I do this, I KNOW that I will feel my best and be happy and be engaged in the life and world around me.

But sometimes I just don’t. Either because I’m tired of always having to do it or because I have something that I’m trying to get done and I feel like I don’t have the time to do the things I need to do to take care of myself (sound familiar? I’m sure that goes for most of you.). And I suspect it’s the same reason anyone gets frustrated when they once used to be able to do a thing and now they can’t do them the same way anymore.

Isn’t that aggravating for all of us?

Especially when it’s not because we don’t want to do it. Or because we don’t have the right attitude or perseverance or tenacity or desire. Or because someone told us we couldn’t do it.

*sigh*

But rather than lament that I can’t be as physical as I used to be. Or that I sometimes feel like managing my pain symptoms is a part-time job. Or that haven’t been able to sit comfortably on my couch for almost 5 years.  Or that pain will be a constant travel companion. I am trying to focus on all the wonderful things I can do.

Balancing successes and setbacks requires time to reflect

I can walk, which is often when I feel my best. I can cook (notice I didn’t say ‘cook and clean’ as I’m not really so good at the cleaning part of things – though not because of my pain). I can spend time with my boys. I can read and research and write and share information. I can play and have fun. I can love. I can share. I can exercise and be active in ways that my body is happy with. I can laugh. I can think and reflect. I can camp and hike and be outside as much as possible. I can dance. I can explore and discover and learn. I can listen.

I can still help.

I just have to do it differently now.

To be honest, I think this is my biggest hang-up. When I was a firefighter paramedic, I worked a very physical job to help people. When I was a peer fitness trainer, I worked to physically help people get stronger, healthier, and happier. When I worked on occupational injury prevention, I was very physically involved with the people we were trying to help. I was physical, active, in there ‘doing it’. I was making things happen.

I was always hands-on, in a literal sense.

Now I am going to try and help with my hands on a keyboard. Or holding a pen (yes – I still take notes in an actual notebook! With paper and everything!). And I hope that I can reach even more people than I did in my previous roles. It’s exciting. I’m looking forward to this new leg of my journey.

I’m going to make things happen.

We all have to balance successes and setbacks

This post was more of a catharsis for me than anything, really. I just needed to get my thoughts down. And since I have a blog, I figured, why not get them down here? Isn’t that what blogs are for? (I’m still learning that, too.)

Thanks for reading, folks. I appreciate your support, your encouragement, your comments, your likes, and your shares :)

(if you want to share – click on the little envelope thingie down below)

Image of questioning woman courtesy of cuteimage at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

 

 

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2 Responses to "Successes and setbacks: Finding balance and direction"

  1. Hi Jo!!
    Awesome blog and congrats on your graduation!!! I’ve missed my psych classes with you. I Ryan relate to a lot of what you have said. I am not in nearly as much pain as you (God bless you), but completely understand the mindset and the guilt of trying to be everything when you are barely holding on to anything. I have had to re-establish my mind set as well and it is tough. I have found that Napolean Hill had a great point that, “we may not all be able to do great things, but we can do little things in great ways”. It can be frustrating when we get limited; however, I think this is where I need to be mindful of the moment and focus on what I can control. Oh my gosh! Totally easier said than done. You’re doing awesome though Jo and I’m xcited to read your blog. You go girl!!! :-)

    • How wonderful to hear from you, Naomi! And thank you for your kind words. I love the Napoleon Dynamite quote! So perfect.

      I completely agree with you about being mindful of the moment and focusing on what we can control. I get overwhelmed and locked up if I try to think too far ahead, especially when I’m in pain and the smallest tasks feel like the highest mountains.

      But then I just stop, breathe, and enjoy the view: I love the mountains ;)

      It’s truly great to hear from you, Naomi. I, too, miss our classes and discussions together. I’m happy we can still keep in touch!

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