2018 marked the countdown to a milestone birthday: the BIG 5-0. My imagination stirred with fun ideas for a year-long celebration of a colorful life. Go on a retreat. Dine and laugh with friends until my sides split open. Travel to a new place. Keep up with favorite pastimes like yoga, walking and reading. My excitement grew off the charts at the thought of completing the best checklist I’ve ever created.
The themes of “Celebrate” and “Radiate” set this monumental year into motion. My mission was to dance and glow for the next 365 days like the world is watching. Sounds like a fabulous plan, right?
As I was about to launch the year of amazingness, my world started to slow down...a lot. In January, my left shoulder began to twinge and then spasm at night. The sharp and painful spasms jolted me out of a sound sleep with no warning. Soon enough the random spasms showed up during the day.
My left arm inched barely away from my body. I tired easily after a shower and dressing up for the day. Anxiety stepped in with a vengeance as I could not predict when or to what degree the next spasm would occur. What was happening to me? How could suffering and misery try to shake me from my mission to celebrate and radiate? Will I ever recover from this agonizing experience?
After living with frozen shoulder for the past two months, I have had time to reflect on how it has changed my outlook and goals for a happy birthday.
Pain calls on us to mature.
Every day is a new chapter on the pain journey. Otherwise we play the victim. I keep a keen eye on my mental state - especially at night when pain gave way to restlessness. My sleep pattern has dramatically shifted from hours of solid rest to celebrating two or three hours of good sleep. Whenever I awake in pain, I tap into options to calm down the suffering and promote ease. I recite inspiring quotes and mantras or conjure an image of a holy person to keep me grounded.
Pain tests what we value most.
Whenever my frustration gets the best of me and the pain persists for hours, I remind myself how I value healing over suffering. I remember the many who have allowed me to witness how they overcame pain through the years. Their courage to face their demons and move forward with a new version of themselves keeps me strong and inspired on the inside.
Pain disrupts routines.
With an arm that can barely bend, yoga was immediately taken away from me. For weeks I avoided driving alone in case my arm decided to act-out. To keep myself sane, I focus on the things I can do without triggering a spam. I sleep and rest when my body says enough. I walk at the gym with the regulars.
Every time I feel physical pain I must choose to stay in the distraction of suffering or create a new, healthy distraction. In the morning I play upbeat songs to get through the lengthy effort of getting ready for the day. I commit to daily exercise to stretch my arm a little bit more. I prepare myself for a long recovery, with daily glimpses of what normal will look like for a while.
Pain creates dependency.
In the acute phase of frozen shoulder I became desperate for help. Online searches on the subject filled my head with options like cortisone shots and surgery. I decided to go with a chiropractor who understood my condition and plotted an aggressive care plan. His belief in the process gave me the assurance I needed to depend on him. We meet every day to push my arms' limits and develop its strength.
Pain teaches us appreciation.
Imagine the joy I felt when both hands could reach up and wash my hair! On another happy day I was able to tie my shoes. The tight and protective boundaries established by frozen shoulder were slowly but surely releasing their grip.
Pain forces unexpected compromises.
When pain walked into my life, I was unprepared for the fallout. I had to take prescription drugs to get good sleep. The couch became my new bed. Ice packs, lotions, baths and homemade remedies attempted to soothe the constant ache. My new routine demanded time and focus on activities I declared I had no time for. Instead of compromise, I began shifting to understand there was no way out of pain until I committed my whole self to healing.
Pain deepens compassion and tenderness.
Keeping myself in a state of high stress and tensing up my body was not going to help me get better. To maintain a healing mindset, I choose to be defined by compassion not chaos. Now I say kind words to my body and breathe into the pain. I laugh often and believe I am one day closer to again raising both hands above my head.
When I go about my day, I am more aware of those in physical pain. Instead of aligning with the pain I choose to connect to tenderness. My heart opens as I send love and light to break up their suffering, loneliness and emotional breakdowns. I silently offer blessings and offer heartfelt wishes for a permanent return to wellness.
Back to my birthday celebration...what does celebrating and radiating look like now? My updated wish list:
- Experience a complete recovery from frozen shoulder
- Return to yoga with two healthy arms
- Carry my luggage through the airport without help
- Put on my clothes without hurting
- Move forward with more passion and bounce than ever
- Enjoy conversations focused on healing rather than pain