What back pain has taught me about slowing down

For quite a few years now I have been plagued by back pain. It started when I misstepped while running a half-marathon in 2012. I stepped wrong, felt my spine compress, and ever since about every year or so I have a herniated disc that falls out of place and decides I am going to have to go a lot slower for a while. And I hate going slow. And it showed in my recovery. The cycle would go; I hurt my back working out, working in the yard, sleeping, whatever. Then for the next two weeks I stubbornly power through. Generally in great pain and I become very grumpy and lash out at people. Not the best way to recover. I would get mad, yell, and otherwise become a jerk because I did not want to show vulnerability in any way. But this time it was different. This time I gave into the pain and let it guide me. I was working out in the Marriott Copley Place Gym in Boston one morning and I heard the familiar click of my back slipping out. I have come to know this sound and know what follows. Instant pain. And a searing pain that cannot be treated with any effectiveness. It hurts to sit, it hurts to stand, getting up from a chair or from bed is torture. Coughing just sends me into a panic because of the pain. It’s bad. So, up swelled the anger and the frustration. But this time I decided on a different approach. I decided to be honest with myself and others and embrace the pain.

Instead of living in quiet misery where I hoped no one noticed I was vulnerable and fragile I became more willing to share my pain and employ the many ways you can remain supported even with chronic back pain. I still got all of the business I needed to in order to get my work done and meet obligations but I was deliberate in telling others that I might be slower or wince a bit because I had hurt my back. I used handrails and supports to get up, sit down, and walk. And I found that while I still had to endure a lot of pain, it worked. I have seemingly cut my recovery time in half (and also thanks to my doctor, she was great too.) and in just five days I am feeling much better. However, I am a bit different this time than last and I learned five lessons on patience and support.

1. Supports are there for a reason, use them – handrails and such are designed to support people who need extra support. Use them.

2. Be honest with people – tell them you are hurting and to be patient. You will be amazed at how patient people can be. One afternoon I had to tell my friend Adam we needed to go back to the room to rest and he understood without reservation.

3. Show pain – holding it in can have all sorts of negative consequences. Let yourself show pain and others will sympathize. Do fake the pain but if it genuine your peers will understand.

4. Rest when you need to – sometimes just to get some relief you need to lie down or sit down to relieve the pressure on your back. When you need to do so then do so.

5. Follow the doctors advice when she gives you medicine and support. – They know what you are going through and will order the right course of treatment. Use it.

After following these rules my back felt much better. One can think about life in this way. Life is nothing more than an elongated back pain. In order to combat the negative effects there needs to a commitment to personal time, be patient, use the supports, and rest when needed. So I think I will be more present and deliberate with my life too. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and then use that support when you need it. So, take it a bit slower, enjoy the day, and do what you can do.

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