Ease. Relaxation. Going with a new flow.
The opposite of force feels like letting go.
Sounds like a vacation, except that making peace with injury is an uncomfortable reality that can be, well, uncomfortable. And there is Pain and there are Possibilities…
So what is the opposite of force, really? The best way to articulate it is no force.
It took a while before I got my hands on a copy of the CT scan from Concordia Hospital and saw not only one herniated spinal disc, compressing a nerve root (which my MD had explained as the catalyst for pain and numbness) but Discs plural, bulging & herniated. Not just one area (L4-L5) but also L3-L4 and L5-S1… a bit of a mess. And there were other unwelcome signs of “wear and tear”, both evident and suspected in the notes from the person who saw my spine, up close and personal. It would seem that for the first month and a half that I was injured, some additional damage occurred. It would seem that some of this damage was not a one time thing but accumulated over a longer time. And I was sad for my body.
When discussing injury and pain, a trusted therapist once told me to “just be with it”. Don’t run around it or try to avoid it. Make peace with where you are.”
When I am gardening, I can “just be” with my plants and even though I have no horticultural education whatsoever, they communicate with me And when I (sorta kinda) understand what they need, I know what to do to help them along.
It was harder to decipher what my body wanted from me. I had to learn to speak it’s new language and it was communicated in a strange code.
I stopped writing for a while. I stopped making forceful efforts to understand and deal with what was going on and went into some silence and stillness when it was possible. I took the recommended drugs and did other natural things to promote healing and wellness, but spent little time reflecting on being creative or doing anything, really, other than heal.
Wake up, day 45, drink coffee, check to do list: 1) HEAL. 2) Anything else that fits in.
A “vacation” like this gets very boring and after a while, my real “to do” list eventually got the best of me. Panic was easy to find when I was confronted with some harsh realities that felt like brick walls. But balance has been most evident on the days when I can be both still and creative, or neither.
When I can heal and also find space for the two biggest aspects of the thing I call a “career” (making music and helping others make music); into which I throw my heart and soul, I feel successful. And for them to happen well, I really, really rely on my body. And it was not well, friends. For months it was not even close. It was significantly worse than the first time I felt “disc”. In fact… this has been the most difficult recovery of my life.
Once upon a time, I was guided by effort. Anything that was good would surely come as the result of “effort-ing” in some direction. Now, I have a different definition of what POSITIVE effort is and feel more guided by the concept of feeling better, even incrementally. I used to believe that hard work was necessary for success and that gain was (largely) arrived at through pain. Injuries have taught me otherwise. And I’m honestly wondering if the pursuit of feeling good, if striving to feel even a little better is the real work of life.
My body likes to be mobile and has become increasingly flexible. It once did things like run, rollerblade, dance workouts and yoga. After the first time I experienced a spinal disc injury three years ago, the only one of these activities I continued to do was yoga. I couldn’t run without pain for years and had trouble building up exercise bike time and with other things like dancing and even simple movements in Tai Chi. And I learned a lot of other techniques for relieving tension that I employed to a nearly compulsive degree on occasion.
It has become increasingly evident that this initial indication of my spine’s weakest link never healed properly the first time around. One therapist described a “guitar string” of tension that remained from the left side of my neck to my right hip. Though a plethora of different therapies and conditioning, my body learned how to carry and play an accordion and eventually learned how to ride Dad’s heavy 1982 Honda 900 motorcycle. But there was that ever present tension… always daily tension to alleviate in order to feel good enough to enjoy life and do all that I want to do musically. It was like I just couldn’t get strong enough to feel good. Despite sporadic increase in core strength, a dependency on performing straight-legged stretches to take pressure out of my low back and hips (particularly the right side) was ever-present. Until now.
So after the hospital, I was forced to relax. There wasn’t much else I could do. Lay on belly, get up, move around slowly, lay back down. Muscles and nerves were able to chill out and rejuvenate a bit. And, wildly and wonderfully, the guitar string of tension let go. (Imagine a physical version of the “twang” of a broken string. I imagine that is the sound my body would have emanated as I lay on the cot in Emerg for hours and hours… a sound that echoed for weeks.)
Now (more than two months later), I feel an evenness throughout my body that I haven’t felt in years. Despite initial diagnoses like “herniated” and “bulging” discs, I feel stable most of the time. As though left and right sides of my body are working together better and more often than not. Could it be that my body is correcting itself? The response of medical professionals has been that it makes perfect sense.
I knew there was value in this, but I really didn’t know how much. I have a chance at health – a real chance! But real health must be allowed if it is to be enjoyed, so I’m doing all that I can to help things along.
I saw my blood cells and some of them were in better shape than others. Testing revealed low absorption of sodium and proteins as well as super low cholesterol (which apparently are all kind of a big deal for the body’s ability to rebuild spinal material). Helping myself absorb all the good things I eat and drink was step 1.
Switching to Athletic Therapy was a very large and deliberate step 2. This is only my first week and already I have learned so much about the way my body wasn’t moving correctly during certain movements in Physiotherapy and how to properly accomplish other things I’ve done before or haven’t tried. Before this, I was doing my best to find that postural sweet spot and keep the evenness in my body, but it was a lot more difficult without the right help. And laser therapy is doing amazing things for the nerve root in my back and numbness in my foot and leg, both of which are slowly and steadily improving. Which is great, because I would like to eventually feel ALL of my nerves once again, thank you very much! If I say no to activities that will harm me or inhibit the healing process, that feels like I am telling my body it is valuable.
As the climb toward total wellness continues, I’m pacing myself with slow, gradual increases by acute awareness of every movement I make. I’m learning how to heal even better than ever and I think life is about to get a lot more fun!
I just have to stay balanced. To listen to how my body responds and decide to feel better and better. After all, it would be so nice if this were the last time I had to find myself in this injured position. And it would be amazing to attend for an MRI scan in December and have it show no abnormalities whatsoever. (I think it’s possible!)
Although it can feel like my world has become a blur of appointments and controlled movements, of stretching and icing… it’s worth finding out how well I can be. And my body is worth protecting, caring for and helping. Like my plants.
My plants are… OK. Perennials are doing better than seedlings. They are in good soil, being watered and occasionally fertilized and are alive, but not huge. I think using peat pots when I sowed some seeds somehow inhibited their growth, even slightly. But my plants are flowering (some are even fruiting) and they’re coming along. And I’m cool with that. They can bloom whenever they feel like it and lots of them are in bloom. Caring for them with good posture and slow pace is healing me. So it’s okay that they took seemingly forever (most of the summer so far) to plant and their growth can be slow for a while, until the next time it rains and their roots can run even deeper.
Last month, I performed in Steinbach and Gimli in the same weekend; both are approximately an hour drive from Winnipeg. It was difficult for many reasons and although there was some recovery afterward, two good things were realized as a result of this experiment. The direction of tension in my body shifted and I felt what it was like for the disc’s position to change and the “guitar string” to exist from right (opposite) neck to left (opposite) hip in a major way. Although this felt like an annoying irritation in the healing process, it served to confirm that the sensation of the disc not healing properly years ago is both familiar and correctible. And after some treatments from some therapists, evenness has returned. This also proved that I can build up my driving tolerance by taking frequent, timed breaks… which gave me the confidence to move toward my plans for August.
Next month I’m scheduled to do a series of songwriting workshops, programs, mentoring sessions and performances with RuBarb Productions in Moose Jaw, SK… before being joined by Claire Bestland for some performances in Alberta. I am so happy to be moving toward these great things! But they will involve some stretching of limitations and for a while I was undecided about them. But now, with the right supports in place, I believe I can do so while maintaining balance and without putting my health at risk. Which is great news for many reasons – the main one being that this is my dream: I want to travel the world and share the music I’ve created while helping others create their own. And August is a great opportunity to incorporate both aspects of my career into two Provinces. But it is the only journey of it’s kind that I’m willing to pursue until the healing of my spine is complete. Or at least, until moving in this expansive direction creates more excitement than anxiety. Which is easiest when I look at all of the great things that are on the way. (See the FULL list at lindseywhite.com)
My sisters were recently in town with my nieces, who gave me the gift of a beautiful arena for positive motion in my own back yard when they painted my garden.
I look at it while I water the plants or exercise, stretch and do Tai Chi. It reminds me that artistic expression is the most natural thing in the world, that my desire to bend and move and create with the ease of a child is a viable dream, and that it is a dream that exists in a profound way on the other side of this. But however it exists, it definitely exists in a state of balance.
Tonight, I’ll perform in Gimli again (With Mitch Dorge at The Ship & Plough Gastropub – tell your friends!) but this time I know how to stay more balanced. And starting tomorrow I get to Fringe with some truly awesome people! (Catch my student, Aydin and I at Kids Fringe in Winnipeg on Sunday at 6pm.)
Some aspects of my current limitations and challenges are particularly frustrating. I don’t like arguing for them, but explaining the realities of where I’m at is sometimes necessary. The healing of the partially numb nerve in my foot and leg is evidenced by nighttime (sometimes daytime) burning and other uncomfortable realities. But it also tells me honestly and with certainty how much moving I’ve done each day.
I am doing my best to focus more on what I want and love than the undesirable truths, while continuing to see wellness in my future. I can see myself running, rollerblading, trampolining and doing Nia dance workouts again. And maybe one day carrying my own child around in my belly… with great core strength and without pain. I am daring to trust that my cells do, in fact, know what to do and that in the absence of pressure or resistance, with the right challenges, they will regenerate completely and heal. For good. No more of this “I wake up feeling almost healthy, BUT” tension. I am also in daily pursuit of the delicate balance between believing the best and letting go of the schedule.
I can believe that I am strong and also that I don’t have to be as strong as I want to be TODAY. I can believe that one day, I will once again feel what it’s like to ride a bike, run, dance and move without fear, while not putting one ounce of pressure on when those things will happen.
The opposite of force, for me, is allowing.
And allowing healing is very much like allowing a small child to grow. The moment-by-moment schedule often seems equally demanding.
So. Here are a few of the daily activities that help me allow healing to happen:
- Sleep hard
- Listen to a physical well being meditations while making the morning coffee
- Eat fruit
- Take herbs to help with inflammation and regulation of B vitamins, trace minerals and super oils
- Do 5 out of the 8 moves in a stretch called “Ba Duan Jin” (one day I’ll be able to do all 8 again)
- Do assisted squats, hip bridges, dead bug (ab exercises) and dead lifts (2-3 x a day)
- Drink chlorophyl water
- Take more herbs (and sometimes a drug) with lunch
- Drink green “Water water” tea from my Acupuncturist to help my spleen
- Walk around the block (x ?)
- Stretch out hips (x ?)
- Do back bend and cobra movements (x ?)
- Take more herbs with probiotics at bed time
- Chiro (2 x weekly)
- Athletic Therapy (2 x weekly)
- Acupuncture (weekly)
- MD and other appointments (occasionally)
Aaaaand… I’m also somehow keeping my business running which involves making a lot of music and a lot of communication happening in between all of this. Which is an impossible schedule for any human to attain.
Which is why last week, I lost it. (Emotionally.) A bunch of times. I felt the full weight of how incredibly hard this has been. And my physical balance teetered, but did not topple.
Last weekend, before remembering the anniversary of my Dad’s death, I made a conscious and focused decision to relax. Like after the hospital. And I was able to “just be” with one day at a time. There has been some pressure that feels like responsibility, but has indicated fear. And fear is not allowing. I believe it prevents recovery. So I drove less and walked more, worked less physically and more with emotion. I admired plants and laid in grass and moved gently. And this week, I began increasing my driving time with the intention of creating as much ease as possible while travelling next month.
I cannot express enough how much I have truly valued the help, encouragement and understanding of good friends throughout the last 3.5 months. Thank you to everyone who has driven me somewhere or lifted my piano, amplifier, merch bag, guitar(s) or anything else that I have chosen to abstain from. Thanks for hugs from caring people and uplifting conversations with all kinds of relations who love me.
Thank you to everyone who can envision me riding my motorcycle (which is actually Dad’s motorcycle, who is named Betty) instead of using her to dry herbs. Think of me running, friends, with my partner’s eventual-puppy. And think of me dancing like no one is watching and riding Harleys (not at the same time) and that is what we will see.
With so many young people graduating last month, I felt myself experiencing emotions similar to those of their endings and beginnings. There is a definite shift in my understanding of what full health and feeling good (not just “OK”) will be like in my body. I feel my future and it is pretty awesome. I’m moving toward it every day! I’m done with “guitar strings of tension” and learning to believe that there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to experience a strong, active life at the end of a full recovery. But I’m also learning that the process will look different than I thought it would, that calmness is a superpower and that there will be strength-building, but no force. There will be allowing of frustration and tears, but no complaining or looking back. There will be stretching, but not compulsively or in a state of panic to release tension. I will relax. There will be ease. I will repeat the mantra of “no force” and I will accept all the help offered to me while remembering, again and again that the real battle is in my own mind; with my own thoughts and words. It is a battle I can win over and over again by focusing more on the desired end result than pain, struggle, or the many challenges involved along the way. I can be grateful in this process and hopeful more than I despair. And therein lies my power. Maybe I knew it all along.
And now, I’ve shared a new song called “Valedictorian” that encompasses this part of my story.
It’s hard not to feel rushed at times… I would like to feel stronger now, please. And in the mean time, I would like to avoid confessing injury whenever possible. (Talking about it often doesn’t help.) But balance, evenness and peace with reality (however comfortable or uncomfortable) are coming easier every day. If I can do it, maybe we call can too.