Life can throw us all curve balls, and it can often happen when we least expect them.
These experiences can knock us for six but they can also be opportunities for learning and personal development.
I’ve been dealing with my own curve ball over the last four years, it wasn’t a single event but an ongoing issue stemming from a moment of physical trauma that has had far reaching consequences for me and those around me.
So here’s a bit of my story.
In May 2015 I slipped whilst playing tennis and injured my left big toe. I was in considerate pain at the time but had absolutely no idea of the ramifications of this single moment.
Now this doesn’t sound very much in itself, it certainly wasn’t life threatening or a serious illness but if I put it in context it may help to explain why it has been so life changing for me.
I’ve always been a very active person, with a passion for sport since childhood, especially tennis, and loved being outside and within the natural world. Tennis was my social network and provided me with valuable insight about myself.
I’d been very fortunate up to this point to enjoy good health and had never needed surgery.
Suddenly from this moment I experienced both acute and chronic pain, mobility problems, repeated visits to hospital for x-rays and scans and surgical procedures, none of which were able to diagnose or resolve the problem, and all the time the pain was getting worse and I was only able to walk very short distances on crutches – and I knew there was something very wrong with my foot but nobody could get to the bottom of it.
Eventually in November 2017 I had a specialist scan which identified I had broken one of my sesamoids, a tiny little bone under my big toe which is crucial for walking and balance. Clarity at last about the problem and hope of a way forward!
I had an operation in November 2017 to remove the broken sesamoid. This was intended to resolve the issue with the remaining sesamoid being able to cope with the weight of my left forefoot on its own, and me getting back to mobility and moving without pain with a year of rehabilitation ahead of me.
However my recovery just didn’t work out that way. I continued to have a lot of pain and stiffness in my left foot and never really got back on my feet properly, and certainly not to pain free walking.
Then in July 2018 things went very quickly downhill to the point that scans revealed the remaining sesamoid and toe joint were both in a degenerative state, I couldn’t weight bear at all on my left foot, I was largely home bound and in excruciating pain.
On top of this was all the heart break of a failed operation and the prospect of further surgery.
In November 2019 I had my first MTP joint fused.
As I write now in February 2019 I am 3 months into another year’s rehabilitation, I am just starting to learn to walk again and developing ways of managing persistent pain and CRPS in my foot.
There is a long way to go with my complete recovery but already there has been much learning along the way. These are my reflections so far:
The importance of Listening - your body usually tells you what’s going on, pain is a sign that something is wrong. Listening to body and what it needs is essential, it’s your best guide, as is the ability to be assertive so others ‘hear’ you. Feeling listened to is validating, it makes pain more bearable and the process of recovery so much easier.
Pacing Yourself - managing pain and recovery isn’t an exact science and it’s important to listen to what’s right for you and go at a pace that suits you, prioritise what’s really important each day, allow yourself time to recover, find a balance between rest and activity, relax, eat nutritiously and sleep well.
Setting Realistic Expectations - often milestones are given about recovery time from injury or surgery and what you should be able to do as you get better, but these expectations are guidelines only. We are individuals, our bodies respond differently, the history to pain is unique and it’s important to work with your own body and to manage your own expectations (and the expectations of others) in an empathetic and realistic way.
Being Kind to Yourself - there’s no straight line with pain or recovery from injury, some days are better than others, it’s easy to get frustrated when things don’t go as you’d hoped or you or others create pressure for you to be back to normal, whatever that means. When you’re having a bad day, it’s ok. Find ways to express and nurture yourself. Understand that it’s very difficult for others to understand what it means for you to be in pain, and sometimes you just need to be really clear with them and tell them how it is for you.
Invest in Yourself – your health and wellbeing matter, you matter, so prioritise your self-care, whether this means resting, doing less or more slowly, or doing things differently – if for instance if you are in too much pain to get out, find ways to stay connected with family and friends such as by phone or skype/facetime. Commit to your physio exercises and integrate into your daily routine. Think flexibly and outside of the box – there’s always a way through challenges. Maybe you can’t do things exactly as you used to but it’s an opportunity to do fresh things and open your mind to new interests. For instance, I haven’t been able to play tennis for years now so I took up singing, something I used to love doing and could do again without needing both feet!
Acceptance – there’s a saying that the more you resist, the more it persists. Pain can stir up all sorts of feelings, including frustration, anger, anxiety, depression and loss. It’s easy to slip into victim mode and feel sorry for yourself. It can feel like a grieving process as you adjust to change and being in pain with its accompanying limitations – surrendering to this process and going with it will be a calmer, less stressful experience than if you fight it or force yourself when you are in pain. And things can get better and accepting where you are right now, and focusing on what’s the very next step you can take rather than the end goal can really make a difference. Over time you may come to see some learning from the situation and feel able to turn these challenges to your advantage. You may never be exactly the same person but we may become a wiser, stronger you who has gained from their experience. Acceptance can also means acknowledging to yourself when you need help and asking for it rather than feeling helpless, guilty and out of control.
Know Your Support Team - being in pain can affect your mood and well being as well as your physical health, it can be an isolating and debilitating experience if you don’t have a supportive network around you. Asking for help may not come easily to you but having a team of people around you made up of professionals, family and friends is really important to deal with the practicalities and emotional consequences of living with pain.
Pain is way more than just physical - a medical approach tends to focus on the physical issue and physical pain but my approach is more holistic. Being in acute or persistent pain is exhausting, it can disturb your mood, libido and sleep patterns, dent your self-esteem and confidence, restrict what you can do both physically and psychologically, and create anxiety, worry and fearful behaviour. Using breathing and relaxation techniques, self-hypnosis, mindfulness can all significantly help with your mindset and attitude to pain, healing and recovery.
Let go of negativity – once a negative hypnotic loop of worrying about the past or the future sets in it can be hard to shift, and can seem like it’s become reality. But thoughts are just thoughts, the past can’t be undone and the future is not within our control, and you have resources in abundance to deal with the here and now. So letting go of these thoughts or emotions is important. Here’s the link to my free meditation to start this process and my accompanying blog.
On a humorous note, my other learning is I am also a master at using crutches and now know how to arrange them so they don’t fall over when I am not using them, something that always used to happen until I was shown the right way – there really should be a handbook on how the use crutches!
Along my long journey to get back to walking and full health I have been reminded that I have all the resources to deal with what I have had to face within each moment, including great courage and resilience.
I have also used a rich toolbox of hypnosis related strategies to help myself and have learned many additional ones.
I have created new networks, great friendships, rekindled old interests and developed fresh skills.
I have also learned that resources for pain relief, pain management and rehabilitation are few and far between.
Over the years I have specialised in working with emotional pain, specifically anxiety as well as grief, and as a result of my personal experiences and what’s helped me I have extended this service to offer empathic and holistic help for pain relief for you if you’ve got a diagnosed injury or illness, or are looking for pain management help pre and post surgery, and to support your psychological recovery and rehabilitation.
If you’d like help with managing chronic pain or are struggling with anxiety relating to an injury, surgery or rehabilitation, do get in touch with me or ring me to arrange a complimentary consultation.