Last Saturday was a bastard, or so I thought.
That morning, I threw my back out to the point where I couldn't walk and could barely move. I was getting ready to go to the local market to meet up with friends and have a nice relaxing time. I bent down to pick up my purse and that's when it struck...unbelievable agony. Everything seized up. It was as though someone with a voodoo doll jabbed a big old pin right into my low back and another into my hips, simultaneously.
I tried to focus on my breathing and relax my muscles, but it wasn't working. I was done for. No fun. No friends. No market. Only pain.
The next two days consisted mostly of bed rest, painkillers, ice, heat, and gentle massage (thanks, James). I considered going to a doctor or the hospital, but realized that that would mean sitting or standing around for several hours, and that did not sound like a good plan.
While lying in bed, all sorts of thoughts and feelings flooded in. I was going to have a nice weekend. I was going to get out in nature, see friends, work on creative projects like writing and painting, and be productive. Now what?
I had to accept that there wasn't much I could do. I had to stay in bed, on a super hot weekend, no less. I didn't have a choice in the matter. I did, however, have one choice--how I would respond to the situation.
At the beginning of this year, I read Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning. If you haven't read it, I suggest that you do. In his book, Frankl (a Jewish psychologist) discusses his experience as a prisoner in concentration camps during WWII. What Frankl suggests is that we have the power to endure any suffering, as long as we find meaning within that suffering. Now, I'm not comparing my back injury to the Holocaust, but Frankl's message of changing one's perspective can certainly be applied to various circumstances.
Frankl wrote, "When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." Interestingly, I came across Man's Search for Meaning while going through some difficult health challenges. I had also been listening to various podcasts on self care, and was working on making changes in order to reduce stress and anxiety. I see now that, while I was taking in all of this information, I wasn't really listening.
One of my favourite podcasts, Anxiety Slayers, often discusses pain and anxiety and how resisting things only makes them persist. I've been ignoring chronic back pain for a long time, and look where it got me. This attitude of "sucking it up" and "pushing through" can lead to serious problems and, unfortunately, slowing down is often considered lazy. We actually feel guilty about taking a break sometimes. I'm beginning to wonder if that's what brought on the panic. Yes, there was the acute pain, but also the feeling of not being able to do things made me tense up and freak out!
When I finally began to accept my situation, the intense pain became white noise. It faded into the background a bit. Plus, I spent most of the weekend hopped up on painkillers and eating chips and pizza in bed while watching countless episodes of The Joy of Painting on Netflix. I wasn't painting, but I was watching Bob Ross paint, and that in itself is pretty awesome.
It's not just his paintings, though, Bob Ross offers all kinds of wisdom and insight about animals, nature, encouragement and simplicity--truly inspiring stuff. But it wasn't always that way.
A handsome young Ross
Although he became synonymous with painting beautiful landscapes and "happy trees," Bob Ross used to be a master sergeant in the Air Force. He was known for being a hard-ass. "I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work. The job requires you to be a mean, tough person. And I was fed up with it."
So even Bob Ross had to work on changing his attitude, and look what he did! He created a peaceful, gentle existence. A world where animals and trees are friends, and it's okay to be weird. A world where "there are no mistakes, only happy accidents."
I hope that all makes sense. I'm still working on my first cup of coffee and haven't taken my first painkiller. But, hey, I'm already writing, so the day can't be all that bad.
I'm finally doing it--pulling my insides out and splattering them around for all to see. Here we go!