Letting go of letting-go!

A few years ago, I had a series of heart attacks.  From out of nowhere they stopped me in my tracks and made me reconsider everything about my life.  You could say they were a major crossroads; I’ve spent a great deal of time since focussed on “letting go” of the feelings I was left with, that I’d been deprived of the future I’d been planning, a brief example of what lay ahead enjoyed, the perfect business collaborations and friendships formed, all to be knocked back, all to be no longer available in my new life.  I think it was only yesterday that it hit me, I’d been so busy trying to let go, I had forgotten to look forward, to plan a new way, to explore what I have now that will shape a new path.

When life changes mean we have to make new choices, we have to allow ourselves a period of time to learn to adjust; that time required for acceptance to replace anger and frustration, time that heals initial pain and confusion and stops us asking “why did this happen to me” and replaces it with “what can I do no that this has happened?” and finally “I’m ready to see a future, how ever different it looks to the one I imagined.” When I was 26, I had a car accident that left me in a wheelchair for almost 12 years and one of my key learnings from this experience was that we have to mourn things we loose, not just people. I lost the use of my legs at 26, I had to mourn all the things I had lost from my independence to my joy of mountain climbing to making love with my husband.  I had suffered a loss, a bereavement, the death of my life the way it had always been.

The last few years have been my time to adjust, to come to terms with my latest loss, the belief that my heart was strong and would work, without me thinking about it, for many years to come.  Once you’ve lived through the heart attacks, the surgery, the physical recovery, the news of heart-failure, the difficulty breathing and total inability to do much of anything without help from others, you start to accept.  Acceptance that you are a different person, physically, and that means mentally too.  Acceptance that life is not going to look how you imagined, or planned. Acceptance that every day is rather special, precious, too important to waste on worries and concerns.

Now, I’ve reached the point of planning for a future; that feels amazing.  Seriously, when you’ve spent a few years not knowing if you’re going to make it, you see every single day as a bonus (even the ones where you feel negative and scared and less than great) because it’s been such an enormous effort, on the part of so many, to make it here.  Planning can take on a whole new meaning now, not just something I’m told to prepare for my business to thrive, but instead, a plan for my life, to live every day as though it might be the last chance I get to enjoy feeling this good.  I’m reminded of a song by Tim McGraw called “My next thirty years” and the lines speak to me of making every moment count.

My focus now is changing, from letting-go to letting-in; I’ve pondered enough times to last me a long, long life, what might have been if I hadn’t had the heart-attacks.  It is time to let in the new, embrace the opportunities starting to come my way with my new focus, my new goals in place.  It can so often be the case that we’re not open to new opportunities because we’re so focussed on the past, the ones we think we missed or messed up.  Not for me, that time in my life is through; I know I have limits, that my heart is depending on me to look after it and make sure I stick to those limits and behave.  And it’s also telling me in a loud, strong, clear voice “I trust you. Go get ’em girl. It’s time!”

And it is time. Time to move forward.  Time to let go of the letting-go and time to get on with the next chapter of this remarkable life.

Dinah x

 

Choosing to accept

Ok, so here’s the thing…..

Of course I’m grateful. Grateful for the new lease of life I’ve been given; for the amazing care at the hospital; the wonderful messages from friends; the visitors who’ve come to cheer me up; the constant, un-ending support from John.

So why am I feeling so down? What is really keeping me awake tonight, the night before I finally get to go home after 33 nights in hospital?

I looked in the full length mirror they have in the shower room here yesterday. I was horrified by what I saw. A body covered in bruises, some so big and dark that they look fake, others tiny and already going green at the edges.

My Body covered in scars, with a new one standing out in the middle of it’s chest; clean incision, well closed (glue not stitches!), neat yet long scar.

I notice the surgeon has lifted my left breast – around four inches, maybe five, as he has closed my rib cage and sealed it with his careful stitching and gluing.

I only notice because my right breast now hangs lower, the nipple pointing straight ahead while the left seems to point slightly to the right. Can you have a lazy nipple, like a lazy eye?

And then I look at my leg. My poor left leg, dominated by a bruise across the whole thigh, that wraps itself around from front to back – or perhaps back to front, I’m not sure.

And on the inside of this bruised, swollen thigh, nine small incisions. Proof that they worked hard to harvest enough veins for the by-pass surgery.

Thanks to the swelling, each incision looks angry & ready to burst open, causing the whole leg to look strangely shaped and to rub against my right leg with each step.

“The swelling will go down soon” they tell me. “Keep it elevated and walk a little each day and it will soon be back to normal” (what is normal anyway?)

So when, at 4am the nurse asks me “can’t you sleep Dinah” and I try to explain and she offers me the advice that “you need to be strong Dinah” I really do want to scream!!

I need to be strong!? Have I not been strong enough for a lifetime yet?

Perhaps what she really means is “I don’t know what to say.” Because what is there to say?

John tells me I look gorgeous; I know he means that. Love sees things differently. Love is blind. Love is amazing. I joked with him tonight “it’s a good job you love me already babe, because I wouldn’t have a hope of you taking me home otherwise”

And so, I’ve had a sleepless night, worrying about going home instead of being excited. Worrying about how I will cope with this new body; I had only learnt to love my old one in the last few years and now, well, okay so here’s the thing….

Written the night before I came home from my heart surgery in 2013. I now felt ready to share this here.

Dinah x

Kicking Pain in the “As” – Anger

Anger is almost always portrayed as a negative emotion; something to be worked on, to be avoided with calming techniques and herbal teas.  And often this is the approach required.

However, I have found when dealing with pain that many people bury their anger, seeing it as something to be ashamed of, to apologise for.  They internalise the anger and turn it on themselves, often expressing a feeling of hatred towards themselves and a sense of worthlessness. When we use anger in a different way, as the fourth step of Kicking Pain in the “As” our anger can become a great asset.

I get angry.  Angry that my constant pain prevents me from doing things I love.  Things like hugging, walking the dog, playing my violin, going shopping in town…..That anger could become so destructive, if I let it.  So, instead, I take that anger and I use it as a positive energy to allow me to do more.

Here’s an example: I have played the violin since the age of four.  I got to be pretty good.   I was going to make it my career.  However, by the age of 16 my right shoulder had dislocated so many times that it had to be bolted in place and my choice of career had to be re-thought.  I headed for a professional kitchen to train as a chef, my second greatest love.  Who knew that hours on my feet would cause my ankles to swell to this size of footballs and my hips to start 12 months of constant dislocation?

This was getting monotonous, but I could still continue these two precious activities as hobbies; making music and food for pleasure could certainly bring joy to my world.

Now, thanks to my latest challenge – CRPS – I can no longer play my fiddle or spend more than 20 minutes preparing food.  Am I angry?  You had better believe it! What am I doing with that Anger?  I’m focussing it on the condition, not on myself.  I have conversations with my CRPS (as I have done with my EDS for most of my life) in which I let it know I’m angry.  I tell it how it makes me feel and that it’s not welcome in my world.  I do this out loud and often wonder what people would think if they could hear me (it makes me giggle)!

I also notice my Anger.  When we are conscious of our emotions we take responsibility for them more easily.  By owning my Anger, saying “look at me, being angry today” I can make a decision about what to do with that.  Too often I hear people say “I said something awful to my partner in anger” as if they can pass off the responsibility – “I was in Anger mode so it’s not my fault.”

When I feel Anger, I consciously ask myself “So, what’s that all about?  Why am I angry?  What am I going to do with this energy?” I give myself a choice to use it positively and nine times out of ten, I’ll take it.

The final and key step for me in using my Anger in a positive way is to be real about it.  It’s okay to be angry about the thing that is causing you pain (be that emotional or physical).  Don’t berate yourself for feeling Anger.  You are not a super-human and behaving as one is often simply a cover, a disguise.  I allow myself to say “I’m Angry!” (and trust me, there are some choice, un-repeatable words to go with that)  I allow myself to acknowledge I have good reason to be miffed!  Acknowledge that Anger and give it some breathing space in a safe place.

The top of a mountain is the place I pretend to be when I’m letting it out (just do check the neighbours are out if you’re doing it at home!) and I let rip for a good 10 minutes at least once a week. It’s cleansing.  It’s healing. So today, take that Anger and address it head-on.  Welcome it to your world and acknowledge its’ existence is your responsibility.  Nurture it and allow it to be what it is and use it, as it uses you, to create energy and choices, ones that allow you to be positive and prepared to keep kicking pain in the “As”.

Here’s to a pain free day Dinah x

Kicking pain in the “As” – Accommodation

Accommodation is the third step in Kicking Pain in the “As”, and in this third blog in the series, I look at how accommodation of the symptoms of my conditions has allowed me to live a positive life with pain.

Chronic pain could lead, very easily, to a pattern of “I can’t do that” in our lives; constantly telling ourselves, and others, what we are not able to do.  However, when we approach it from the “I can do that” space, we find our lives feel more positive, more fulfilling.   We have a greater sense of accomplishment.

In order to get to the “I can do that” place, we have to learn to accommodate our pain and the limitations it imposes on us.  Instead of fighting it, battling with it and hoping that this time we will prove we can do it, we can be more strategic.

Let’s look at this situation you’re in from a different perspective.  Imagine that today, you found a puppy.  It was tied to a tree in a park and you knew, instantly, that you had to find a way to give it a home.  Everyone around you is telling you all the reasons why it’s a bad idea, not least that you work long hours and that, no matter how much they promise, your teenagers won’t help with the walking.  Yet, despite all their (unsolicited) advice, you will find a way.  You’ll accommodate this new, gorgeous animal into your family and everyone will  make it work.  You’ll change patterns and discover new joys and experiences that were absent from your life before.

Pain is certainly no puppy!  However, when you accommodate it, when you make allowances, work as a team with family and friends, do things a new way, you can discover new joys too.  Sound unlikely?  That’s the “I can’t do that” voice; it’s become a habit and you’ll have to be prepared to tell if to “shove off!” as you learn the new “I can do that” habit.

Now, before you think that what I’m really saying is “learn to live with it” or “there’s nothing you can do about it so accept it” that’s not what I mean.  This links back to the first two steps – and you’re not able to accommodate without acceptance, or face it with courage and determination without first thinking about your attitude and taking responsibility for it.

I’ve already started my day with accommodation of my EDS; I dislocated my hip during the night, so I had to work from the sofa rather than my office this morning.  Did it stop me?  No; I accommodated it, and then got on with my day.  Does that mean I didn’t allow myself to say “I wish that hadn’t happened!”? No way!  I certainly had a few choice words to say about it before I accommodated it.  That’s real, that’s allowed.

As I type this, I’m watching Pickle accommodate Lillie (if somewhat reluctantly at first) who is determined that there is plenty of space next to me for both of them!  She’s already accepted that sharing the space is going to be better than leaving it all together and has returned to a state of happy purring as Lillie gives her head a good wash!

So today, think about some steps you can take to accommodate your pain into your world; ways that allow you to be kind to yourself without overwhelming yourself.  Start with something small, one step at a time.

Here’s to a pain-free day

Dinah x

Kicking Pain in the “As” – Acceptance

I believe Acceptance is the second step to living a positive life with pain;
whether your pain is emotional or physical.

Acceptance not as a way of giving-in, but as a way of moving on, of focussing on the important things.

In this second blog in my series  – Kicking Pain in the “As” – I’m looking at how

Acceptance impacts the way I deal with pain and embrace the things I believe
I do have the power to change.

Acceptance in this context, takes three forms for me:

– Acceptance of what I cannot change

– Acceptance of help from others

– Acceptance of the hidden gift

 Acceptance of what I cannot change

This section from The Serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr sums it up for me:

“…give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other…”

I have learned to see this as a liberating view-point when dealing with pain, be it emotional of physical.  For example, there are memories of things that happened to me in childhood that are neither positive nor helpful for me to mull over;  I cannot change the fact that they happened, I cannot, no matter how much effort or self-belief I have, make them un-happen.  So I Accept them.  I Accept that they are part of my history, that they are part of the reason I am the person I am today.  I do not use my energy on regrets or “if only…”s.

The same applies to physical pain;  I have two conditions that mean I have chronic, physical pain in my daily life.  I cannot change that.  What I can change is the amount of my time and energy I give to it; how much of that is spent on wishing it was different rather than finding new, positive ways to use my energy.

I am not suggesting that Acceptance of this nature is easy; but I am suggesting we can make a choice to make it harder than it needs to be when we attempt to fight against it.

– Acceptance of help from others

There comes a time when the effort required to do something on your own, apparently in some attempt to prove a point (most often to yourself) is just too much;  that moment where we have to accept that we need help.  It can be painful, humiliating, frustrating.  Or it can be part of the Acceptance process.

I know that my husband, John, likes to “fix” things.  He’s always been the person that remains calm in a crisis, calmly getting on with what has to be done as people around him panic.  And he likes to fix problems; give him time and he will find a way.  He’s proved this time and again when the medical profession did not have a way to help me and he would disappear into his garage and emerge with some adapted object that proved to be just what was required.

So, as part of my Acceptance of help. I’ve accepted that letting John help me is also helping him.  When I block out his offers of help, carrying on regardless with stubborn determination, I’m not just making it harder for myself, but for those around me too.  Particularly John.  So, I accept his help, his ability to see the wood for the trees, his strength and courage, his constant support and encouragement.

– Acceptance of the hidden gift

When I had a road accident at 26 years old, I was told I would never walk again.  I went from active super-woman to being dependant on my wheelchair to get everywhere.  It was a huge thing to have to learn to Accept.

Around a year after my accident, I sat John down one evening and told him I would understand if this was all too much; that if he wanted “out” I would never hold that against him.  “I don’t want you to stay because you feel sorry for me or out of some sense of duty” I told him.  He looked me in the eye and said “I didn’t marry you because you could walk.  I married you because you’re fiesty, determined, strong, outspoken and brave.  And since your accident, you’ve become these things all the more.  How could I not want to stay?”

Every time I recall that conversation, my eyes fill with tears.  John allowed me to Accept that with every new challenge, we find new gifts.  I found it so hard to see how my accident had changed me;  I saw a woman confined to a wheelchair.  John saw a woman of strength, courage and determination.  As I learned to Accept the gifts that each new chapter brought to our lives, I was able to truly reach that place of Acceptance where I could focus on a positive future.

Are you ready to Accept?

Dinah

Kicking Pain in the “As” -Attitude

“You have a serious attitude problem young lady”….

One of the most common sentences I heard at School as a child.  I did have “attitude” even from a very young age, though whether I would call it a problem is debatable.

You see, it’s my Attitude that forms the foundations for the way I cope with pain in my life.  It’s my Attitude that’s allowed me to make choices, take back control and make progress beyond expectations (mostly those of others) all my life.  In this series of blogs, I’m going to share my approach –  “Kicking Pain the As” – and Attitude is the platform on which that process is built.

I choose my Attitude; we all do.  Sometimes it is a challenge to choose a positive one, but it is still a choice we can make.  If I’m making that sound simple, it’s because I believe it is.  I know it’s not always easy, but that’s not the same thing.  It is simple, we just make it complicated.

Here’s how I think about Attitude:

If I choose to take responsibility for my mood, my attitude, my thoughts, then I can have a real impact on the outcome.  I can choose to be grumpy or feel sorry for myself; the outcome will be that I feel down, depressed, my pain becomes my focus and I lose my sense of hope.

I can, conversely, choose to be positive and celebrate each good, pain free moment in my day; the outcome will be that I look for the moments of joy, the points in my day that remind me of the wonderful people in my world, the talents I still have (don’t ever underestimate the importance of being able to make good coffee) and the things I’ve achieved.

That’s why I see it as simple – I’d take option two any day.  Simple choice.

So how about when it’s really difficult?  When I don’t believe there is anything positive?  When the pain takes over and all I want to do is say “I’ve had enough” or “This is just not fair”. What then?  Then, I choose to allow myself to wobble.  I allow myself moments, even whole days to wobble, to say those things and accept it really is not fair.  The important thing, is that I set a time limit.  It’s my choice to have that wobble, to allow myself time to say “I’m human and I have days where I feel like I can’t take any more” and it’s also my choice to say “wobble over”.

Is it easy?  Rarely.  More often than not, it requires effort and determination, courage and a few tears, encouragement from others and commitment to my promise to myself, that I would choose my Attitude, take ownership of it and commit to choosing one that is good for my heart, my soul, my family and my journey.

I’m heading for Positive – what Attitude will you choose today?

Dinah x