Tag Archives: patience

Introducing: Lessons in Catastrophe

I thought I’d introduce a new section to my little internet home here today. It’s called Lessons in Catastrophe. Sounds dramatic, right?

I’m stretching the meaning of catastrophe a little here, folks, in order to encompass a range of life’s difficult experiences. Artistic license. Sometimes catastrophes hit and they really are catastrophes: major health crises, the loss of a loved one, a fire that burns down your home. Sometimes life’s inevitable bumps hit and they can feel like catastrophes: the ending of a friendship, rejection from a dream job, lost luggage.

But isn’t it a beautiful word? Catastrophe. So much more enigmatic and emotive and dramatic than misstep, mishap, failure, disaster.

My life was hit with a catastrophe last May: over the course of several months (and in some way, years), I had really done in my back without even noticing. And then I noticed, because suddenly I was bent double, unable to straighten up, and in so much pain that I couldn’t even sleep at night. All the heavy duty muscle-relaxants, anti-inflammatories, and painkillers they offered me weren’t really doing a thing.

I had slipped discs, bulging discs, facet hypertrophy (kinda like arthritis in your vertebrae), an annulus tear, spinal stenosis. Oh wait, did I say I had these things? I have these things.

Just a few months before I’d moved into a beautiful little flat (apartment!) with my boyfriend. I was living in England, financially independent, and looking forward to making plans for the future.

My catastrophe meant I couldn’t work. Without working, I couldn’t afford to pay rent, let alone physiotherapy, massage, osteopathy fees. I didn’t really have a choice: within weeks everything I had thought my life would be was gone, all my plans for my first post-universities years were over and by mid-June I was a plane back to Canada.

At first I thought I would recover by September. This was going to be a small bump in the road. After all, I was young, healthy, and was getting great physical therapies. In July I was finally cleared to start doing physical therapy, but I could barely walk a block or two without causing the kind of agony that kept me awake at night.

It was August before I could start doing just little activities, like sitting for a short dinner, or going for a short walk without the delayed onset of pain keeping me awake all night.

When September came round and I wasn’t better, I figured it was ok: I’d stay in Canada through Canadian Thanksgiving, then I’d be fine.

Thanksgiving came and went, and I was still in a lot of pain. Not a chance I could be working full time. Then one October evening I tucked one of my bedsheets in and as soon as I stood up, I realized I’d done something: my pain levels shot up and I was worse than I had been in months. My osteopath eventually helped me recover from that dip, but it was then November. I continued my slow upswing through to December. In December someone incredibly important to me passed away and the associated emotional distress aggravated my back.

Then January came and went, and here I am, 9 months later. Today I was told to expect a minimum 2 year recovery.

That all seems pretty quick in my little patient history there, doesn’t it? Those short paragraphs don’t explain the hours that turned into days that turned into months that I have spent alone, at home, recovering. They don’t detail how many nights I spent in sleepless agony, tired to the point of exhaustion but unable to sleep even a moment because of the stabbing, searing pain running down my right leg. They don’t illuminate what it’s like to miss the boyfriend you left behind in another country, or to see the lives of all your friends and family moving on as they go on new adventures. They don’t show what it’s like to be told that you can’t make plans, not even for months from now, because your body probably won’t be able to handle returning to any kind of normalcy, or that despite your otherwise healthy, youthful body, this pain may well be with you for the rest of your life. I can’t even begin to explain what this has been like.

I am learning a lot, riding out this catastrophe. Lessons and insights and truths that I may never have come across if my whole life hadn’t been ground to a halt because a couple discs in my spine wouldn’t stay where they were meant to be.

So in ‘Lessons in Catastrophe’ I am going to write about what I have learned through this particular life catastrophe. This is as much for me as it is for anyone else: my sanity these days hangs by a silvery, delicate thread. Perhaps by reminding myself of what I am learning, I can weave in the strands of strength that help me continue on in this life that is so different from what I had dreamed.

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Shades of Grey…and Compassion

When I was younger, so many things were black and white.

If in a relationship your partner hit you, you left, automatically, like a knee-jerk reaction. Same if he cheated on you. If someone raped you, you went straight to the police and gave them all the information you could. If someone in a position of authority to you sexually harassed you, you reported them to all the relevant people immediately. Your responsibility was partly to yourself, but it was also to every other person that might potentially be hurt by your decision to not speak out. Right and wrong. Black and white.

I can read the paragraph that I just wrote, and believe every word to be true. I can read it and feel the fierceness of the statements: a reminder to all the world that such acts can not go unreported, without consequence, that individuals are strong and that no one, no one should take advantage or abuse in such a way.

This I believe. I swear I do.

But…

But so help me God, I have come to know shades of grey in the midst of that stark black and white. And suddenly I can’t see the way forward, because every path that once was white is muddled by things I never thought could exist in those situations…

Like fear. Like trust. Like uncertainty. Like family. Like power. Like habit. Like self-protection.

Like (and oh how unbelievable this might have sounded to me, once upon a time) that keeping silent might be the very thing, the only thing that gives you the space and time to heal, because speaking out might actually shred your heart in ways which would only continue to damage you, at a time when any more damage might truly break you.

I am learning not to judge those who live through situations that were once so black and white. Because they are coping the only way they can. They are doing the best they can. They are protecting themselves, and trying to heal, and holding on as best they can. Because nothing is black and white anymore. Because unless you can feel just how a soul is being broken and trying to piece itself together again, then you are in no position, and have no right, to judge them.

Because I’ve had to learn not to judge myself.

So here, in the midst of the shades of grey, between old convictions and new understanding, I am learning to hold compassion instead of judgment.

How about you? Is the world as black and white for you as it once may have been?

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Conundrum – The Tipping Point

How do you know when you have reached the tipping point? What tell-tale signs alert you that your situation is unsustainable? How do you know how much you can endure?

How do you know when you’ve had enough?

The difficulty of the matter is that I have found, time and time again, that we say to ourselves ‘this is it. This is enough. This cannot go on”. And then we turn around…and allow it to continue.

How many times have you been in a relationship that is breaking your heart, yet found yourself seemingly unable to leave? How many times have you thought to yourself ‘I have got to quit this job’, but then stayed on for months or years? How many times have you looked at a situation and realized that the costs outweighed the benefits, that it was ripping you apart, and yet, still continued on with it?

The beauty of this dilemma is that it demonstrates the strength of the human spirit. We can survive in the most dismal of situations, holding on to that hope that someday, it will be different.

The drawback is that we suffer for so long, because we are able to bear it, instead of making the change that we know we need.

So, given our astounding capacity to endure, how do we pin-point that moment when something inside says to us “ENOUGH”?

This morning I found myself in floods of tears. These were tears of anger and frustration: for 9 months my life has been put on hold by slipped and bulging discs in my back. I quit my job, gave up my apartment with my boyfriend, left my life in England and moved back across the Atlantic ocean to live with my mother, who has been supporting me as I try to heal.

Other than the crippling nature of this problem in my lumbar spine, I am a fit, healthy 24 year old woman. A fit, healthy, normally active 24 year old woman who has been cooped up in her bedroom for 9 months.

My tears of frustration came as, from deep somewhere in side of me, I howled “ENOUGH”.

But even as I have tears rolling down my cheeks, I am aware that my spine might not capitulate with my fervour. There is a thin line that I am trying to walk between making sure that my emotional world isn’t shattered by pressing the ‘pause’ button on my life, and the fact that my physical body simply cannot function the way it should.

So I am asking myself: is this one of those defining moments where, after all that time, you recognize the signs that tell you that you are at the tipping point, and finally, finally get out? Or is it simply one of those heartbreaking moments where you recognize the tipping point, you can see change, but you pull back and continue on, making use of your incredible ability to endure?

Can you tell the difference between those two moments? You are stood at the edge of abyss: can you tell the difference between the ‘enough’ that will help you step off into the unknown and change, and the ‘enough’ that still lets you step back from the edge, into enduring that old situation?

I’m not sure I’ve worked out the difference yet.

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