I have learned how to seek and find value in many things. And I have come to believe that we often get better at doing this through facing the challenging difficulties life has to offer. This concept recently inspired a song called “Pain and Possibilities” and has become more profound to me than ever through an unexpected injury.
Last year’s Renegade release was, to me, empowering proof that I had “written the book” on this subject; deciding to carefully assess tools within my own hands and make something of my choosing with them (in a world that would rather we make something else and often presents conflicting circumstances). I made art out of some immensely difficult things that I expressed and expressed until I was healthy and pursuing a joyful, celebratory lifestyle!
There was obviously so much more for me to learn; more value to uncover through a significant amount of pain.
Just before Easter weekend, a very nice young man backed into my parked car while I was sitting in it, with the force of a medium high five. No damage… just the outline of my license plate in the dust. Two days later, I sneezed while sitting at my desk and felt the word “disc” cross my mind as a wave of familiar pain rippled through my body. As I became increasingly less mobile in the hours, days and weeks that followed, therapists confirmed and I finally realized that what I was experiencing was caused by the world’s most gentle motor vehicle accident. (Maybe not statistically the most gentle, but it felt that way.) And it does make sense, considering that this is not the only accident my body has recovered from. I believe this one is the seventh. Hearing that usually makes people wince.
I didn’t want to be car accident girl anymore. I was so enjoying telling people about how strong, healthy and capable I was feeling after losing so much empowerment when the last accident took place. I can now acknowledge how much fear I used to hold onto. Fear of this injury recurring, of losing my physical strength again, of being so out of control.
In April, I started experiencing sciatica (excruciating pain in the body’s largest nerve). It became clear that Chiropractic, Acupuncture and Massage treatment weren’t fixing the problem on their own. I saw a Physiotherapist who manually rotated my hip back into place after telling me it was positioned too far forward. It took some pressure off. The sciatic pain was somewhat alleviated. And I felt relieved that my earlier “disc” feeling was wrong; grateful to have such seemingly positive results. The pain took breaks and I could think more clearly. So I allowed him to do the same movements again the following week.
Two days after hip move #2, I was in the worst pain of my life, and my foot and lower leg went partially numb. Unable to walk or drive, I visited the Emergency room at Concordia Hospital. They called my name for triage, I made a sudden movement toward gathering my things and having my Mom help me toward the window when my lower back went into spasm and I collapsed. Incidentally, the next words out of my mouth were, “I’m fine”. Which by now, I knew full well was not true.
A CT scan came later and revealed a herniated disc in my spine (between L4 and L5) that compressed a nerve root, which in turn caused sciatica and eventual numbness in my lower right foot and leg. Not a great diagnosis for anyone to receive, but my inner being rejoiced at the restoration of trust between my body and I.
“I was on the mark. I know what to do. I’ve done this before. Now we can move forward!”
The good news is that this will heal. The good news is that I have time to recover. The good news is that my mobility is increasing now, instead of decreasing. And that I never lost it completely. The good news is that I can walk and stretch and ice and a thousand other cumulatively healthy things that are causing a surge of wellness in my body. I can play instruments and run all my music programs! The good news is that my body and I are communicating better and it is responding well to the relaxation and recovery I am pursuing.
The bad news is something I am focusing on less and less.
Far from being in denial, this is more about working with that which can be controlled as opposed to wasting time on the uncontrollable or giving attention to that which is unwanted. At first I was more reluctant in this arena… but it has become easier to care for my body with all the love I have offered to my baby plants as we grow stronger together. If one of them looks too hot or dry or big for it’s pot, it is of no benefit to them if I lament lost leaves or growth or strength without taking initiative to provide water, shade, pruning or repotting. Whatever can move things forward in a positive direction! I like to imagine that the health of my spine outgrew it’s current container and needed a new, healthier alternative. Realistically, it needed even more care.
My Dad was a pro when it came to silencing his own fear and pain by intensely focusing on better feeling thoughts. I don’t think he was always quite so professional though – I think when it came to emotional pain, he was quite expressive and open for most of his life about how bad it felt to feel bad. But cancer gave him an opportunity to learn this new skill and I’m so glad I was able to absorb so much from watching his recovery, relapse and death.
I observed him ignoring “energy vampires”, refusing to complain and making jokes with nurses that made everyone’s day a little brighter. I thought of this while watching puppy videos on my cellphone with my partner in the ER and made sure to show gratitude to some very awesome medical staff for their kindness.
I saw Dad learn to ask for help by asking for help; gradually accepting his limitations as well as the help that was offered while they increased. I have recently relied on some great coworkers, students, colleagues and friends to help me lift things that do not serve me to carry and drive me around while it is less than beneficial for me to drive myself.
And although Dad’s eventual diagnosis was a near death experience from the start, who knows how long any of us really have here anyway. Maybe thinking like today might be our last is ultimately the wisest and most beneficial thing to do. It made me compulsively wonder what I would do with full health, if and when it were available to me for the rest of my life…
While going through notes for a workshop I’m to deliver at a conference next week, I came across this:
“Asking… defining “what we like / don’t like” and “what we want / don’t want” is how we make all major life decisions and is at the heart of artistic development. It’s how creativity happens. The ability to do it quickly is essential to operating at genius levels.”
I have been saying for a while that injuries have helped me to focus more on what I love, desire and want than ever before, because I’ve had to put forth more effort in this direction than I ever have due to the “inspiration” of pain. This injury has also proven just how much I learned from spending so much time in recovery in the past. Ways to take care of myself, deeply relax, tune out negativity and be receptive to learning while enjoying life as much as possible. I’m now making better decisions more quickly, responding to my body’s communication with more confidence and ignoring that which does not fit within that framework.
Today I did some (slow, careful) Tai Chi movements in my back yard with great delight. And I’m writing from my lawn-office where I am thoroughly enjoying time spent with birds, bugs, plants, sun and shade. And with the resurfacing of occasional pain, there is the sincere thankfulness that it is intermittent and decreasing in intensity and frequency.
I’m choosing to release emotions that need to find their way out. I’m grieving losses like time and energy and mostly, the moments I have turned against myself during this process. (A practice I have intended to abandon for good so many times.) The compassion of others has become less important as I continually find my way back to self compassion. (I wrote a whole blog on that called: “The Accordion and the Motorcycle.“)
My backyard garden was my training ground last time I found myself in this arena and I have no doubt this season will prove the same. It takes practice to do all the various movements required to care for plants… with great care, correct posture and pace; between resting, stretching and walking. But I’ve been doing it in small doses, and I believe it is healing me. I know it is. And the plants are thriving, which is a bonus.
I’ve always been a quick healer but this time around, I can almost feel real love healing me. And I now know the value in all of this. It’s not about being grateful FOR pain, but finding reasons to celebrate, love and enjoy life regardless of its presence or absence.
I’m writing a new song that will soon be ready to share. (It began in my head when I couldn’t even make it over to the piano to play.) It’s about turning inward, communication and the empowering realization that my Dad was right when he said, “you have all you need to become all you desire”. It’s also about the moment of decision to turn away from pain and toward the creative process of defining your own existence. Of writing your own story. Of living on purpose and with deliberate, creative energy. It’s called Valedictorian (something I have never been in real life)… and it’s coming soon.
I don’t think it’s coincidental that I recently felt compelled to re-read Amanda Palmer’s book, “The Art of Asking”, which reminded me of the necessity of asking in order to move forward toward these ends with great courage. It’s by asking and receiving more than I had been at the time of this injury, that I have been able to focus and dream and envision how the value that I’m finding through all of this will contribute toward the future that is before me.
At this time last year, I was counting down the final days before Renegade’s release. (It’s an album & companion book with it’s very own dedicated blog space here: “Renegade IS“.)
My next performance this year is on June 1st at a very cool new music sharing event: Joe Curtis & Guests / Open mic night! I’m looking forward to playing new music, Renegade music and all that I’ve been creating in between. There are Festivals around the corner and I could not be more excited to be back on the road again with Claire Bestland. (Catch us in Alberta in August!)
This is only some of all the awesomeness that 2016 has to offer, but my healing journey is not quite complete. If you want to help, picture my cells regenerating. I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes crazy things have crazy results and besides, it can’t hurt. I believe it is possible and that the regeneration of my spine is already happening, as evidenced by signs that my damaged nerve is coming back “online”. (Yesss!)
You can help by envisioning some of the insanely awesome plans I have for my future… including yoga, motorcycle riding, music making and lots of music sharing all over the world! One day, I want to be able to do yoga with my children and dance and play like I’m in a Prince video in my kitchen between tours. I want to enjoy every moment with the man I love and build our dream lives together with strength and passion and patience and so much more…
And now I’m ready. I can see the picture of my future health more clearly than ever and know exactly how I will enjoy it. Not only that, but in the mean time I’m enjoying the process of what I want becoming reality. In other words, “up here, I’m already there”. And I hope you are too. If not, I’ll leave you with some words from “The Sound of Water” – a song by my girlfriend, Sarah Slean:
“When the light is hard to find, when you’re walking blind you only need to change your mind.”