This morning I got up early and went out to experience what some people would consider a risky activity. I don’t consider it high risk like free climbing or sailing solo around the world but neither of those two activities are in my world so to me they seem risky. To those that undertake these activities it’s possibly not as risky as I perceive it and also understand the times when they are pushing the envelope as apposed to tranquil clear moments. But to insurance companies yes it’s a high-risk activity. I was able to walk up to launched carrying my equipment on my back which weighted around 20kgs, set up and launch into the air and flew around for about an hour before landing. To make that walk required an emotional commitment from me but it required so much more. The number of people it took to pack that equipment and allow it to do it’s job which was to lift me into the thermals and let me drift safely above terra firma taking in the views. Physically there were lots of people who contributed to that walk and their effect is obvious because I literally was walking, climbing and carrying a weight on my back. What of those that formed my emotional walk. If they hadn’t done their roles and I hadn’t learnt to re-engage with their emotions I could have physically learned to walk again but not carry the burden and the climb would have always turned into a sheer foreboding mountain.
During the screaming noise of pain that howls relentlessly through your body and mind, the sheer volume has scratched out your eyes and left you in darkness. The pain produces blinding flashes of information to your brain, which then claws back out through your raw nerves to your limbs, shards of fire carried by sharp needles pulse remorselessly. Your mind, body and soul is dealing with this on a daily, hourly and moment by moment battle for your conscious and unconscious thoughts to cope and deal with even the very thought of existing in your world. This is now your world barely anything beyond your bed or house makes it into your sphere of conscious thoughts.
So what of the people around you? Surely they are there to quite simply make your life as easy as possible. After all you’re the one suffering. You are in, your form of hell; and no one else is suffering like you….!
But of course so are they. Those close to you can be suffering as much trauma or more as they can be kept in a consistent state of helplessness. Fearing the worst or blindly hiding with head in the sand taking nothing on board hoping somehow time can be reset from a saved previous factory setting. For them the fight, flight or freeze is as pronounced as yours. To stay and be an active member of your recovery team is far greater then a professional could possibly ever be as they are connected to you on a hugely personal emotional level. They are as much effected by Fear, Injustice, Catastrophizing, Beliefs and Expectations if not more as they aren’t being clouded by the all-consuming white noise of pain. Your team thus forms the weather pattern around you is as important as the initial patient care. I noticed all too often while lying in bed lots of attention given to the patient but not how the patient interacted with family, friends and day to day health care workers.
At first I spent a lot of time thinking you are the victim you have enough to deal with it’s the weather that needs to change it’s interaction with you. Be always gentle and soothing for you, be the warm light of sunshine for you as and when you need them. Sounds good to have sunshine on demand. This is usually how a lot of people start from an accident or illness. Needing consistent support or even processing space but either way it’s your choice to control your weather environment, life in your bubble. But if you stay there your recovery will be choked and smothered by all the bubble wrap required to keep you in the world only of your making. Each day is new both good and bad.
Then you have the friends who have good intensions but for them time marches on at a much faster rate then you. The injury or illness is now in their past and life is accelerating away from that moment which may now have very little or no effect on their daily lives. How is it fair that because your time has stopped so must theirs? With modern communication you can be left all too aware that your life has changed but theirs hasn’t. If you get stuck with that thought then no day will be new it’ll only be what’s lost not what can now be. Whatever that is or will be.
Lastly medical professionals in general and to a lesser extent random people we met. Medical personal by the very nature have to be exposed to your type of story every day they work. While your brain is being bombarded with pain messages, their senses are being equally hammered by these same messages. Each shift times how many patients they are with. They either turn off their compassion not because they’re not human but because no one can live that raw all the time. Or they turn into a well meaning strength and conditioning coach who’s on a tight timetable. In order for things to happen they must push you and know the long term goals will required often short to medium term pain. Yes that’s right more of it. Plus they can be a clouded view of life on the outside. Simple example being if you work in accident and emergency, you’re bound to see a lot of motorbike accidents. I know during all my many stays in hospital I’ve often been surrounded by motorbike riders. Pins, plaster and stitches coming out of everywhere and covering everything. Of course being a horse rider myself those things are totally safe. So what’s your bias going to be? Take the common factor away. I was sitting in a doctor’s office waiting to review x-rays after recent surgery. He was a really nice guy and had been wonderful throughout my stay. However on this occasion he was a little perplexed with my attitude. Having spent quite some time on the ward I’d gotten to know most of the doctors and nurses fairly well and was showing them some photos of the first trip back into the air (Paragliding), since spending nearly 4 months in hospital having lots of operations to firstly put lots of hardware into me and then remove most of it a year later. Long story short I’d had a fight with gravity while paragliding and to my surprise had lost. This had required the medical profession to do an amazing job and have me able to walk and talk again. For that I could never give them enough praise but this moment in the office could have brought that all undone.
The photos and videos were of me flying with my partner and friends near Laurieton NSW. It is a beautiful part of the world and the magic was just there topped off by a flight at the end of the week, which you just wanted to keep in your minds eye forever. My wonderful partner who had suffered through the long months of recovery had so very bravely supported my decision to fly again and also realised how much that goal meant to me in terms of helping the recovery itself.
She put her own overwhelming fears behind her and once we agreed how I was to return to the air and the markers I had to pass then she wonderfully got on board. This will sound strange but that week meant more to me then surviving the accident. I don’t mean that in some weird twisted way, I mean that I got to have that goal achieved and shared it with some wonderful people.
But sitting in the chair with my doctor he wanted to inadvertently rob me of that cherished moment.
“How could you do that?!!”
“How could you take that risk again?”
“After all you’ve been through, there is no way I’d do that!!”
For me sitting in that chair it was easy. I simply took out my phone and showed him some photos from the trip. Life is to be lived, I was well on the way to recovering and the scars where from my past not my future. The risk I was taking was calculated, and well within my tolerances for my experience level. So the risk reward outcome was well and truly knocking over towards high reward for low risk.
To my doctor he only saw the negative outcome! Not the spirit soaring into the clouds and beyond. I’m a positive person and knew I’d also looked at the situation with eyes wide open to the possibilities and also knew the highest percentage of an accident was most likely the drive up the hill being hit by a tourist car coming too fast down the windy road and losing control. So in fact the flying itself was going to be relatively safe and I wasn’t going to be pushing the conditions at all.
However if I’d been feeling fragile, mind full of demons and whirling black holes a comment like that could have sent me into a nose dive; worse then the one which lead me into hospital in the first place. My world would have immediately become smaller. I’ve seen it so many times where another persons fears or perspective becomes the Black Death to another. A word, phrase or action can do more to derail a recovery then a slip at the gym or physiotherapist session. Even though they are both very painful.
While your in recovery you feel others should only be feeding you good news and helping you stay up beat but of course this is wrong on so many levels. I always thought of those around you as the weather pattern surrounding your life. If you were out in a storm would you just sit in the open and let it soak you to the bone or would you seek shelter. Hopefully you’d always look around and seek shelter. So if people are your storms and rain should you just stay out in the rain or find a way to protect yourself. Fortifying yourself against the storm, which is now the beginning of your mental gym towards recovery. That way when the clouds clear and the sun shines through you’re wanting to step straight out into it and feel the warmth on your skin again. Rather then shivering in bed as you caught the mental flu from the last storm and sadly haven’t realized the sun is back out. During recovery you need to grab the sun at every moment you can because at times it’ll only be fleeting but knowing the world is still capable of sunshine at all is a gift that can’t afford to be missed.
So what did I say back to my doctor who obviously wasn’t at all impressed by my actions or life choices?
Simply this. “What gives you joy?”
“Walking his dog around the lake.” Came his reply.
And frankly that’s just fine with me. We are all different and thankfully we all find joy in different ways. As much as I enjoy walking our dogs around the lake and seeing the light reflect off ripples, yes that definitely makes me happy and I enjoy the fact I’m alive but does it fill me with joy; not really but my life has always been about doing things towards the edge which give me joy. Obviously since the last accident I’ve taken stock and the edge isn’t as far out there and I’m ok with that but I work hard every day to stop my world getting small. Working physically and mentally to keep it as big as possible for as long as possible.
I’ve had this blog on my mind on and off for well over a year but every time I go to write, it goes into a blurry mess. How do you write about how other people’s words and actions build you up or tear you down? Can one word or sentence push you into the quick sand or better still pull you out of it?
What you want vs what you need is so often determined and influenced by those around you. What I noticed very early on during recovery that those people that come in contact with you can have a huge influence on how you feel about the day the moment and the future. If they are stuck in the past ie cause of the pain or look too far into the future and not recognise the here and now. Being a member of your support team is a difficult gig and almost impossible to pull the right levels at the right times but knowing someone is in your corner but not trying to carrying all the emotional baggage is a great and powerful thing. At the end of the day only you can carry the baggage and process it. Like physical recovery you need to learn to understand your baggage, how best to lighten it and then balance it for the road ahead.
The first and most important thing is you literally can’t change the past. No matter what, end of story it just can’t happen, so this is now and that’s all there is too it.
30 minutes is a long time for the seeds of doubt to be sown and 30 days is a short time to lay the foundations of good habits. This is why people with a bad attitude or doubts have to be recognised for what they are.
When we are in pain the process to get physically out of pain can be all consuming but part of getting tough again to go to the mind rehab as well as the body workshop and a big section of that is not only dealing with the body sending through too much misinformation for the brain to work through but the very real situation of turning yourself around from either a passive or active victim to a strong mind able to fortify your emotions against other peoples fears, beliefs and experiences or expectations. Then you’ve really turned the corner in your own life and hence recovery.
How do you make goals real especially when every day you didn’t manage to get barely any sleep last night or the night before that or the night before that. It’s far easier to have dreams and let them be smashed against the black hole of hopelessness which drains you of all hope though a thousand slow cuts. So can you even have goals, do they make it better or worse? For me I needed two main things. One I did need goals both long (6+ months) and very short term (the next hour or week) and two for me I had to have a realistic grasp of time. Without that nothing works. Importantly it is your gasp of time that puts everything else in perspective. Pain robs you of many things and one of those is time. Moments can seem like hours or days. Making time move and become real has huge knock on effects. Every effort can seem like a tiny useless grain of sand without measure. No record of its’ existence nothing to show for the tears and agonising torture that it took to do the most simple thing like putting on your socks or sitting upright in a chair. Those grains unless you place them in a jar you won’t realize over the days and weeks and months that they slowly add up. At first filling the bottom layer of the jar is a marathon in 40 degree heat and the road is melting your shoes the effort is beyond compare, then adding a second layer, so the glass below is harder to see makes the first marathon seem like child’s play. You are left feeling nothing is working nothing is worth this much effort, but there it is now two layers of sand across the bottom of your jar of time. Then stupidly somehow your jar gets knocks over and some grains are lost but some remain. Those that remain are some how ever so slightly bigger because by righting the glass resilience has made them bigger. They may be fewer but they’ll be harder to knock over next time. You know this marathon thing now yes it’s crap but you know where you can rest under the shade of a tree for a moment without falling out of the race now. You know that there are rehydrating stations scattered throughout the course and you can make it between each of them now. Still sucks still leaves you exhausted every moment of the day but those gains keep coming because you keep getting up and taking one step after the other further then you really would like to but far enough to earn another grain of sand into the jar of time. Life mightn’t give you credit however what you are earning is the knowledge to being able to repeat the effort, to settle your demons into the a place where you can use them rather then them having all the say. Their chants of – “No you can’t!” “How much will that hurt later!” “Your tooooooooo tired to make that effort!” “It’s your fault you deserved this!” “This always happens to you!” Can now become your energy force to just get it DONE!
The buck stops here – the sign on President Truman’s desk. That’s what it’s all about to make it your life again. It’s about how you respond to your weather pattern not how they respond to you. You’re not the only one hurting or with experiences, people do too. But you’re the only one who can make the most of those around you and be ready for the sunshine even on rainy days.
It is your life, don’t let it be others physically or mentally. We all need at times to hit the gym physically and mentally, to recover from both lifes’ ups and downs.