HEALING WHILE DOING
By: Lauren Anderson
I remember when we were little kids, my mom broke her foot. Or maybe it was her leg? Honestly? I can’t really remember. But I know it was bad, and it put my mom out for many weeks.
It didn’t take long for the infrastructure of the household to break down.
I was really little and even then I thought, “Wow. Mom does everything. What are we gonna do?!?”
I’m kinda laughing as I write this, because if I remember correctly, it was a pretty steep learning curve for the whole family. We managed somehow, and I think… I think… mom got the rest she needed?
But probably not.
I distinctly recall her hobbling in from the living room to help me find something, and then watching her go back and lay down. A swirl of emotions– like, Is she gonna be okay? Why can’t she get better, quicker? I can’t do this without her.
Even though we loved her, and knew that what Mom needed more than anything else was to rest and recover—we couldn’t stop from needing her to do things. We couldn’t stop using her skills or her expertise. We couldn’t manage to leave her alone.
By the very nature of being a “mom” to us, she was forced to continue doing while she was healing.
Cut to a bazillion years later. I’m an adult and I’m at the doctor’s office. I’m complaining about the continuous pain in my elbow. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know how to fix it.
My doctor concludes that it is probably a form of “tennis elbow” or something along those lines. Basically, for simple understanding, it’s a strain that is enflamed, and it keeps feeling bad because it’s caused by a repetitive thing I’m doing.
So the antidote one might assume is to STOP DOING THAT THING.
But I can’t. Because “that thing” that I’m doing is “having and moving my elbow”. And because it’s my elbow and it’s attached to everything, I can’t NOT use it!
(Double negative for a double negative!) So how the F do I heal?
I think of my mom hobbling in from the living room to open a peanut butter jar for her young daughter. And I feel the same way about my elbow as I did about my mom. “Wow. My elbow does everything. What are we gonna do?”
I’m no stranger to this kind of “injury”. I will never forget the months-long process of healing the tendinitis in my wrist. And it’s still a little bitch. I have to really nurse it sometimes, and it acts up when the weather changes.
But at least with my wrist, I could put a brace on, and mitigate the strain it went under. But there is no type of brace for the elbow. My doc did recommend these bands that help bypass some of the strain, so the elbow can rest more… but there is nothing to stop it completely.
Basically, there is no real way for me to rest it completely.
I just have to keep going and somehow “heal” it at the same time.
And it’s reminding me of my mom. And/or any parent that gets sick and still has a family to maintain. Or if you run your own business, or are a primary care-giver etc etc etc. My point is, just about every one on the planet has things to do and stuff they are in charge of.
So how do we take the time to heal ourselves when we still have so much shit to do?
Well, if that’s not the question for these modern times than I don’t know what.
And you know what? I don’t think I have an answer. Even though I would really really like one.
Especially in the wake of all the heavy therapy I’ve been doing. I am just so unbelievably tired. Like to the point where it feels like I have high school mono or something.
(I don’t. I went to the doctor… I’m just saying, that’s what it FEELS like.)
All I want to do is sleep. Because my body is metabolizing something that it buried/denied for years now, and drudging it up and bringing it back to the surface so I can process it. The task is arduous at best, and damn near impossible at worst.
At yet, even though the work of it is difficult, I know it’s for the best. I liken it to painful Physical Therapy that one might undergo. The therapy is painful… because you are teaching yourself and your body how to walk again. And that is no small practice. And each day you get better and stronger. But it is mentally and physically exhausting.
And chances are, even if you were doing that therapy– you would still be required to show up for people and things in your life. Because for as much as we may want to just lay down and “heal”, the world doesn’t seem to want to stop for that.
The world stops for no one.
I think this is also true when it comes to processing grief. I remember my mom saying very vividly in the wake of my brother’s death,
“It feels like the world is in color and I am still in black and white.”
I’ll never forget that feeling either. Wanting to stop and stay. Rest and heal. But the world and everything just keeps churning ever forward. On better days, this could be a sign of hope and progress.
But when you’re hurting? It can feel insurmountable.
So what should we do? How do we do it? How do I rest my elbow and my heart, and still stay gainfully employed and not let anyone (including myself) down?
Well… like I said before, I don’t have the answer. But I want to share three things that my therapist reminds me to do that seem to help.
The first thing she says is: THINGS TAKE TIME.
She reminds me that things “take the time they take” and the process is always longer than we think it’s going to be, or want it to be.
She said this therapy is a lot like Lord of the Rings er something. Even though BIG HUGE battles are fought on page 200, and you feel like “well surely that must be the end right?” And then you look and see you still have 800 more pages to go.
But just reminding myself that it’s a “long race” and not a “short sprint” trains my brain to appreciate the time, and notice the small stuff. After all, I don’t read a book just to finish it, (although that is nice). I read a book because I want to know the story. This is surprisingly helpful to remind myself.
The second thing she always says: TAKE SOME TIME TO REST TODAY.
Even though we are needed, and we have things to do and children to open peanut butter jars for, she always encourages me to look for extra moments within the day to rest EXTRA. Maybe it’s one more hour of sleep. Maybe it’s working from home instead of driving in.
How can I build in a more restful time, so I can give myself more of what I need?
To use that mom story, after she lumbered into the kitchen to help, she lumbered back to sit down again. She didn’t stay standing. Even though she knew there was more to be done. She also asked that we would bring problems to her, as opposed to making her come to them. You get it…
The third and most helpful thing she says is: BE GENTLE WITH MYSELF.
This is my favorite and most useful advice that my therapist has given me. She acknowledges all the work that I have put in, and recognizes the need to be kind and gentle.
That means forgiving myself for not doing that pile of laundry that is just sitting there and mocking me. That means letting myself have 24 hours to respond to an email as opposed to within the hour. That kind of thing.
It’s not an excuse, it’s just holding yourself to a gentle standard. Forgive yourself for not being PERFECT. Acknowledging all that you are dealing with, and giving yourself a pass when you can.
For example, I knew a person that went through chemotherapy to take care of cancer that occurred in their thyroid. Thankfully it worked and the cancer was eradicated. YES!
But months later they were lamenting that their typically lithe body was retaining a few extra pounds. They were being really hard on themselves and holding themselves to a really high standard.
I remember going, “Whoa. Slow down. Remember that cancer you had, and the chemo you went through? Give your body a break. Instead of getting mad that your body isn’t at it’s typical fighting weight, try thanking your body for all the work it did to help you save your life.”
I knew I went in kinda hard there. But from where I was standing, all I could see was this person I loved who was thankfully, cancer free. And instead of being gentle and acknowledging all that work, they were stuck in a loop about their weight. Which was helping no one.
By giving myself permission to be gentle, I feel like I am able to carve out more time for that desperate need to heal. Even though I know I can’t check out completely, because that world spirals ever onward.
So that’s that. That’s all I have to share today.
I am going to take my therapist’s advice and be gentle with myself and forgive myself for not getting this blog posted earlier in the day when I’d normally like to. And then I’m going to do my damn-dest to get some more sleep tonight.
Cause even if it gets frustrating sometimes, I know that Healing while Doing is possible.
And while I sit in my chair, and maybe read a few more pages of that 1,000 page book I’ve decided to tackle… I might just ice my elbow too. And remind myself that things take time.