There are moments in life that leave you at loose ends. When you lose a loved one, receive bad news, feel helpless to fix someone else’s hurt or are suffering yourself, time takes on a surreal quality measured by increments of pain.
For the last few months, my life has been reduced to a series of remedies for acute, possibly chronic, neck pain. I’ve relied on over the counter analgesics, hot rice bags, frozen peas, vitamin supplements, numbing ointments, herbal tinctures, muscle relaxants, and isometric exercise to dull the everpresent ache in my head, neck and shoulders.
In case you missed the SOS, let me be clear with you: I’m a hot, hurtin’ mess.
My story starts three weeks after sinus surgery this past summer. I woke up one morning with a stabbing sensation radiating from behind my right ear down through my neck.
Always one to panic, I figured the pain was from a mistake made by my surgeon or a malignant brain tumor. As the days turned into weeks and various CT scans and x-rays confirmed that in fact “It’s not a tumor — it’s not a tumor at all” (said in the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger from Kindergarten Cop) I decided all of the experts were wrong.
Regardless of what my surgeon, ER doc, PCP, husband, mother, sister, and children told me, I was convinced I was dying.
And honestly, I felt like death. Turning my head to the right, running, bending over, doing dishes, folding laundry or attempting any one of the other daily activities I’ve performed for the last two decades of my life felt like an exercise in pain management.
How much pain could I realistically take before I would cave and say, “Uncle!”?
Could I swim out to the dock if the only motion that didn’t hurt my neck was the doggie paddle? Could I jog four slow miles or give up running all together? Should I lift weights to strengthen my shoulder muscles or tie a scarf around a hot rice bag and strap it to my neck, permanently?
A thousand more could-should questions went through my head but remembering these questions now or even processing them feels like another exercise in pain management — honestly, what’s the point?
The problem with feeling constant pain is that it scrambles your brain a bit. Between chugging water and taking vitamins, muscle relaxants, and over the counter pain medications — rubbing on sports balms, alternating ice and heat, and going to physical therapy; doing my daily stretches, praying to Mother Mary, and researching brain tumors online — I was miserable.
And I made everyone around me miserable, too. You know what they say about misery. Mine definitely had company.
“Have I told you about my neck? Let me tell you about my neck. Do you know what it feels like to have a tumor compressing all the nerves in your neck?”
I could go on, but you get it. I was a sad sack of suffering that even I wanted to FedEx to some foreign country and be done with. Just “Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life” already and call the game a wash.
The thing is, when you’re in pain, you try and remind yourself of all of the ways you have it better than someone else. At least you can walk. At least you can talk. At least you can eat whatever you want, and you do. Food becomes a sort of medicine and bemoaning your fate a sad, sorry ritual performed everyday in honor of your agony.
But really, none of the comfort foods or long diatribes to my husband on the correct angle of the pillows under my head made me feel one ounce better about my predicament.
You know what did?
Realizing that if this were happening to my mother or my husband or my child or my sister or my friend or any one of the number of people who I love beyond measure I would tell them “Don’t give up.
You’re going to find a way through this. Keep going to the doctor, get a second opinion and then a third. Do the research. Keep trying to isolate where the pain is coming from and do – the – stretches. Keep experimenting with movement and activity until you can figure out how you can live your life again.”
Then, I would hug them and text them and make them cookies and tell them I’m praying for them and send them funny memes or gifs or whatever the word is for those humorous pictures of cats licking cake bowls with uplifting messages like, “You’ll lick this!” beside them.
It turns out, patience isn’t something we give ourselves much of when it comes to overcoming our own ailments. It’s easier to give grace to others than it is to ourselves, and I’m not exactly sure why.
So, three months into what could be the worst year ever (of all of our lives), I’m learning to accept the fact that I can’t do everything I did before as well as I did before. I may not be able to look down at my laptop or grab the clothes out of the dryer, but I can put my laptop eye level and have the kids onload the dryer.
I won’t be able to go on long runs or bend over to unload the dishwasher for the foreseeable future — oh well.
I can go on shorter runs and have the hubs take care of the dishes.
What am I truly missing out on here?
I’m minus my illusions: the illusion of control, the fallacy of invincibility and the belief that everything in my life has to be what I think it should.
Because life doesn’t work that way. I’m pretty sure when Carrie sang “Jesus take the wheel” and Bob crooned, “Dropkick me, Jesus,” they knew somebody else was in charge.
And now, for the first time in a long time, I’m starting to remember that “Serenity Prayer” hanging on my mother’s wall beside her nightstand.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to accept the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Wishing you all serenity, courage and wisdom now.
God bless. <3