Rib

Rib

I began writing this blog a couple of months ago but haven’t had time to finish it.  I’m quite certain I’ll be able to post it tonight though, because I literally have nothing else to do.  My back is out and this is the one of the very few things I can control.  Lying on my stomach here on the couch, propped up by my elbows and pillow, sipping OJ and water, I’m not going anywhere.  Not until my back and hips say otherwise.  But this was supposed to be about my rib

When it’s not where it should be, I have no choice but to slow down or stop.  I can’t breathe without it digging into my lungs.  I can’t reach or stretch, twist, turn or move properly.  Immobilized, I’m forced to be still, listen and contemplate how to better my situation by taking care of myself.  (In other words, SLOW DOWN.)  For a long time it was the only way my body could get me to do this and so it used my rib like an emergency siren when necessary.  In the end, I’ve actually become grateful for that!  The consequences otherwise would have been dire.  But it appears I have learned to process mid-back tension so well that my rib is no longer the “breaking point” for my body.  A new emergency siren has appeared: my low back and hips.  They’re undeniably angry right now and won’t let me forget it.  They’ve even gone so far as to limit my walking ability solely to washroom and kitchen trips.

I wonder why such drastic measures should be necessary in order to get my attention?  Why must my back and neck resort to crippling pain and punishment before I can learn to be still and contemplate taking care of myself on my own?  As the sole proprietor of my body, isn’t that… like… my job?

“Crippled Inside” – John Lennon cover (demo)

I first remember hurting my back when I was about 9 or 10.  As I was walking home from school to have lunch, someone who wasn’t paying attention while riding their bike on the sidewalk crashed into me, knocked me down and drove right over me.

The rest of my life has consisted of a series of car accidents, improper lifting (in fact, carrying too much weight most of the time) and extreme stress.  One injury after another.  Some resulting from my own choices and others not.  But all have done varying levels of damage to my neck and spine.

I sought care from a Chiropractor I’d seen irregularly since I was young.  But without stretching, working out, lifting properly or doing much of anything to look after myself… well, let’s just say the “band-aid” effect didn’t last very long.  It was like trying to push a moving vehicle in a certain direction while steering the opposite way.

The whole time, my back and neck were trying to communicate with me.  Although I was well aware of the pain, I didn’t understand what my body was saying and was therefore unable to respond.  I wanted someone else (ie. the Chiro) to fix me and grew exasperated with my body for making me hurt; trying to tune it out or ignore it completely and keep my focus elsewhere.  This was a relatively easy task because I kept myself very busy with all kinds of things I considered more important than my own health and healing.

You see, I was one of those perpetually stressed out “type A personality complex” people who travel through life at a million miles an hour and prioritize the needs of everyone else in the world before their own.  You know the ones.  I had to make everybody happy at any expense… or ELSE!  Or else what?  I don’t know.  I also don’t know why I let so many other people’s version of “good enough” cloud my vision of who I was and wanted to become.  But I was so preoccupied that I didn’t treat my own body with very much respect and my spine deeply experienced the harmful effects of all that abuse.  Eventually, things got so bad that it retaliated.  Over time, it had learned how to fight back.  And that’s how I finally learned to pay attention.

My Dad was in pain for 13 months before being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.  Although he was initially only given 60-90 days to live, he fought harder than I can describe and lived for years beyond a “terminal” diagnosis.  I learned more about real strength and true healing from him than I could ever describe.

In 2008 I began putting some of these lessons into practice and pursuing my own healing journey.  I tried different methods of working out, practiced stretching and changed my eating habits.  While I was touring my album all over Western Canada that year, Dad’s condition had improved to the point of baffling specialists.  But when I returned after several weeks on the road it quickly became clear that he was in more pain than ever before and a year long roller-coaster ride of ups, downs, twists and turns began.  And my spine felt all of them.

After accidentally falling down the stairs one day, I decided to give Physiotherapy a shot, which helped me target and strengthen those tired muscles I had been abusing for so long.  My Physio showed me that I was not a wimp and also taught me how to work out properly, relax and release nerve tension.

The following year, it got ugly.

Everything changed in 2009.

I was in another freak car accident when it rained (yes, RAINED) in February.  The following day my Dad had a seizure and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where cancer was discovered in his brain.

That was the first time I remember being totally immobilized because of my rib.

My back and neck muscles had been fighting back against such incredibly painful stress and tension for so long that something finally had to give and as it turns out, it was my rib. I thought maybe it went out of place to teach me a lesson in respect… because it kept happening.  Over and over again at the most inopportune times, when I was unable or unwilling to focus on healing.

After my Dad passed away that summer, my whole body went into shock and my spine became rigid and full of impenetrable tension.  My muscles were all tied up in knots and clenched tight as fists without ever being able to relax.  My rib dislocated again and again; for the rest of that year I was repeatedly immobilized.  But I was never really able to stop moving and that was the frustrating part.  In fact, I had to move to a new home altogether to be healthy.  It was already the most difficult year of my life and the aggravation of being in pain all the time was not helping.  (In fact, I recall something I wrote that autumn that ended with the greatest self-encouragement I could summon: “it is almost November and I am not dead.”)  It was becoming increasingly impossible for me to carry on like this, which is a good thing because it provoked me to turn inward and focus my time and energy on getting well.  It caused me to make difficult decisions that honoured my own well being ahead of the opinions of others.

That’s when I really started to wake up and heal.

I chose ability over disability and wellness over unwellness.  And the learning curve hasn’t ended since.  It has been slow and gradual, but definite.  This year I’ve made long, difficult strides down my healing journey – listening to my body more than ever before, astonished at the difference that each level of progress has made!  But in September of this year (much to my shock and disappointment) the rib thing happened again.

I spent this summer working with about 150 kids at a variety of different jobs  – subbing, playing music and going on field trips.  I learned that caring for young people is one of the most difficult jobs in the world (physically, mentally, emotionally and in all other ways).  It requires an enormous amount of awareness, energy and flexibility, as well as a much greater devotion to self-care and recovery than ever before.  Child care taught me that I had it backwards before; that taking care of myself first, before caring for anyone else is the only way to truly benefit others.  It taught me that I only really have as much to give to others as I first give to myself!  (An astonishing concept that I’m relieved to have grasped PRIOR to motherhood.)

Anyway, as I was crouching down to tell stories on a blanket outside one afternoon, a child riding a small 2-wheel bicycle came around a corner quickly and slammed right into my back.  I tried to collect myself… to pretend it wasn’t happening again, even to the point of ignoring what had happened.  But before long it became clear that I was once again headed in a backwards direction and my whole body retaliated with it’s favourite method of communication – pain.

Pain is not always a bad thing and is not necessarily as evil as it is made out to be.  How severely we are affected and afflicted doesn’t seem to be determined by how terrible the mechanism is,  but by what is done with it.  How it is handled.  The body is like the ultimate “karma machine” in that it really does reap whatever is sown and when it comes to communication, pain is it’s first language.

There is no stress, (anxiety, worry, denial, however you classify fear), there is no toxic substance, imbalance, guilt or rejection that does not affect it.  I know this because I can feel it now.  I’ve experienced it.  And I’ve discovered that although no two people experience illness and healing alike, it all goes somewhere – the good “stuff” and the bad.  Like plants, we grow based on our specific and individual needs and how much of them we actually receive.  Like animals, we become ill or injured for two reasons: outside attack and inward response.

The body knows exactly what it needs and it demands our respect.  Regardless of how long it takes for us to pay attention or find the “right” healing method, our illnesses and injuries usually make themselves known through some form of tension, pain or discomfort until they are addressed.

It all goes somewhere, but every body is different.  I have a friend who holds it all in her sinuses, another who suffers from sporadic periods of gout and I know many others who experience what I experience – back and neck problems.  Wherever it goes, it never does a very good job of hiding.  Not for long, anyway.  However the farther it is buried under our skin it seems, the easier it is to ignore.  And that’s what I did for years – ignored it whenever possible; and then became upset when my body refused to work for me at times when I really needed it to.  Believe it or not, despite all those Elementary School classes on food groups and hygiene, I didn’t understand health or how to BE healthy at all!  I never learned the principles behind healthy living and thought that being “strong” meant forcing things to happen, rather than allowing them to occur naturally by providing what is required.  I know better now.

Instead of trying to find ways to dominate my body and make it “obey” my command for it to heal, I’m discovering an entirely different communication process.  A method of listening and adjusting; of endeavouring to learn new techniques every day and employing whatever works.  It’s a gradual process of becoming “in tune” with my body’s operation on a moment by moment basis.  The closer I listen, the more I learn… and it doesn’t have to shout as much to make it’s concerns heard.

Listening requires so many different things.  They are too numerous to ever list in one blog… (all the therapies and exercises, techniques and positions, stretching & breathing, heat, ice, food, drink, sleep, etc.) …they all spell one major gigantic commitment: TIME.  And if I want to have any of that to invest in others, my body has taught me that I must commit to spending my time providing what it requests first.

I find that Network Chiropractic, which involves a series of gentle touches, instead of “cracking” or manual manipulation has a much greater and deeper healing effect.  Massage Therapy has also been incredibly effective in helping me process tension.  (I recommend both therapies to many friends all the time!)  But most of my healing process has been self-directed by listening to the voice of my body.

Some of the things I’ve needed have been a little unusual, but if I keep listening to what is required… if I trust myself and just do it anyway, I’m always amazed at the new level of health and healing with which I’m rewarded.

For instance:

  • Rolling on a tennis ball or foam roll helps massage muscle groups that are difficult to reach.
  • Drinking orange juice during yoga makes a big difference.
  • Sleeping when I’m tired, even when inconvenient, rejuvenates my muscles when they just won’t stretch. (I slept for 13 hours last night – holy crap!)
  • I’ll often employ 3 different methods of working out & stretching in the same day.
  • At times, I pinch my neck muscles like a perogy because it’s the best way to relieve tension at the moment.

“It’s worth it if it’s worth it” has become my new motto, slogan, mantra – my deeply held belief that has yet to be proven wrong.  And also “whatever it takes”.  Even if it takes stopping altogether.  Any effort I’ve made in the direction of healing has always been worth it.  There are no exceptions – only excuses.  And why would I waste something as precious as time on that?

It’s up to me to decide when my physical level of health is “good enough” and where I stop pursuing and prioritizing healing.  If I spend time releasing tension when it is small and/or barely noticeable, it doesn’t have a chance to build up.  As a result, I have fewer interruptions in my life because I don’t need to spend as much time releasing tension.  I also don’t often get taken out completely like I am now.

Times like these are difficult – when I’m immobilized and can’t do very much other than sleep.  What to do then?  What to do when nothing is all you can do?  Staying put is hard and those who know how much I love music will understand my longing to play.  But believe it or not, it is most difficult for me to aggressively pursue a healthy spine when I’m not in pain.  When I feel well, it can be easy to “slack off” – to go back to my previous mentality where everything else in the world was more important than myself.  And that only leads me back in the direction of disability.

There are many people who preferred the “old me” and became offended when I felt I had no choice but to pursue my own needs before theirs.  Believe it or not, it’s still worth it.

Not only is my body an instrument, but it is MY instrument.  And if I expect it to work for the rest of my life it is my job to remain in tune with it at all times and to keep it as finely tuned as possible.  Even if it means not making people happy.  Even if it means being stuck on the couch, on my stomach this evening.

Nature will only grow as fast as it will grow.  You can’t overwater plants and expect them to grow faster; neither can you neglect them completely or only concern yourself with appearances and expect them to be strong.

So tonight I’ll stay home and breathe, letting the vitamin C and the ice do their thing.  And when my body tells me to do something else, I’ll be ready.  Until then, I guess I’ll hit ‘publish’ and keep doing “whatever it takes” to heal…

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~ by lindseywhitemusic on December 5, 2011.

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