Just over a year ago, I was made redundant from my job and was trying to decide what to do next. My daughter was coming to the end of her maternity leave and suggested I go and live with them in London for six months to care for her two preschoolers when she went back to work. It seemed like a perfect solution for everyone and for the first two weeks all was good. Then one evening in my third week there I was tidying up the apartment when I bent down to pick up some clothes off the floor and heard my back crack. A sharp pain shot down both legs and I could barely straighten. A trip to a specialist the following day confirmed that I’d severely herniated a disk in my lower back and back surgery was recommended as the best option. I was devastated.
In the space of a few hours I’d gone from supporting and caring for my family to being a liability. Because I could barely look after myself, let alone my two grandchildren, my daughter and son in law had to juggle taking time off work to care for us all. I was facing a situation with financial and health implications that terrified me. I’d always been fit and enjoyed working out at a gym and running. Suddenly there was a possibility that I might never do those things again.
We discussed my situation together and I made the decision that while surgery might need to be considered in the future, I would not go down that path to begin with. Some high powered medication from the specialist got me through the first few weeks as the inflammation settled and I began to function again to a limited degree. My grandchildren and I figured out ways to get by – we’d lie on the ground together for story-time or they’d climb onto a chair when they needed to be picked up. It took nearly 3 months before I could sit without pain shooting down my legs, but ever so slowly with care, massages and rest, the pain subsided and my back began to heal.
It’s now been 14 months since I injured my back and a month ago I felt well enough to join a local fitness club. What a milestone!!! The trainer gave me a gentle weights routine that protected my back and I slowly jogged on a treadmill for the first time in over a year. I’m beginning to increase my overall fitness and although I often feel exhausted at the end of each workout, my back has remained fine. I feel comfortable working out with weights again, I can run a short distance and I’m beginning to feel that my back has almost completely healed.
So how did I get to this place where my injury is pretty much behind me? Looking back I believe there were four choices I made that were the key. I chose to:
Take responsibility for my situation. When I walked out of the specialist’s office I could either give responsibility for the decision to the specialist (whatever you suggest Doctor!) or make the decision myself. I chose to make the decision myself which meant weighing up the options and consciously choosing my next steps. The specialist was keen to operate and although I knew surgery might be necessary in the future, I chose to give my back a chance to heal naturally. I listened to expert advice, but made the decision I felt was best for me.
Listen to my body and my emotions. I had to make huge changes in my everyday life for almost six months. I couldn’t sit in a cafe and drink coffee or eat a meal for a long time and when I physically overdid things I felt angry and frustrated with my situation. But I learned to listen to my body and instead of allowing my emotions to get me down, I acknowledged them and used them to motivate and keep me going when I felt sore or discouraged.
Focus my attention on the best outcome. I imagined being healthy and fit again during those times when I was in pain or feeling frustrated. I focused on the specific experiences I wanted to have in the future – to play football with my grandchildren in the park, to sit with my family for dinner rather than standing up at the bench, to work out in a gym and to run. I chose not to feel sorry for myself but to focus on the future I wanted.
Do small things each day that would take me closer to the outcome I wanted. Once the initial trauma in my back had settled, I went for a slow walk each day regardless of the weather. Over time I added appropriate exercises to my daily routine to stretch out my muscles and increase my limited flexibility. I didn’t always feel like exercising, but I chose to do the things I knew would take me closer to my goal, regardless of how I felt at the time.
I know I was lucky and if my injury had been more serious, I might not have been able to choose the pathway I did. But I also believe that the four choices I made are a big reason I’m where I am today.
Which of these choices do you struggle with the most?
Is it taking responsibility for your life, or listening to your emotions, or focusing on the best outcome or doing the small things that take you closer to your goals
I’d love to hear which of these choices you find the most difficult and whether you’ve made similar choices to achieve the outcomes you want in your life.
Image by Procsilas Moscas