Friday, September 2, 2011

Seeing What Isn't in Sight

I haven't slept on my right side in 18 years.

I haven't carried my purse on my right shoulder in 18 years.

I haven't propped myself up on my right elbow in 18 years.

I haven't done a plank in 18 years.

Why? Because my right shoulder is gimpy. I never actually injured it, but when I do the things listed above (and a few other similar ones), the next day (and the next week or three weeks), I'm in serious pain. I've been to physical therapy a few times, and they've all said that I have rotator cuff issues. I've adjusted my life to fit my shoulder, and as long as I pay attention to what I'm doing, I'm generally fine. I've accepted my limitations and lived with the flare-ups that occur every six months or so.

Then, this week, something changed. This week, I turned my shoulder over to a physical therapist recommended by a friend of mine. See, I was having terrible knee problems this summer, so a friend recommended a PT who she said was absolutely BRILLIANT when it came to diagnosing issues. So, I went to see her, and she was amazing. Her assessment of my knee problems was right on and my knees feel the best they've felt in years.

My referral had more appointments that I didn't need for my knees, and my shoulder was in a bad place again, so I decided to give this goddess a shot at my shoulder.

After listening to my tale of 18 years of woe, and after doing her own assessment, she sat down and looked at me. She said, "Stephanie, it's not your shoulder that's the problem. It's your neck."

I stared at her. "My neck?"

She said, "Have you ever had neck problems?"

"I said, 'No, of course not…" And then my voice faded as I remembered that I sleep with a special foam pillow because my neck used to hurt all the time. And I remembered that when I get stressed, the right side of my neck knots up. And I remembered how I once had a massage therapist (who had 35 years of experience) tell me that I had one of the top five tightest necks she had ever touched in her life. And so on… Hmm… I acknowledge that maybe my neck isn't perfect… So, then I said, "Okay, tell me what to do."

She gave me an assortment of stretching exercises for my neck, and a few strengthening exercises. I was still skeptical, of course. After all, I have pretty well established my identity as a "woman with a bad shoulder," and that's who I am.

Then, on Wednesday morning, at 4am, I was awakened by really brutal pain in my shoulder. Even taking ibuprofen didn't ease it, and by the time I finally gave up the challenge of sleeping and got up, my shoulder was really killing me. My first thought was "I'm never going to be able to pick up all the moving boxes when I move this weekend." But I paused, thought back to my PT appointment and said, "Okay, Sue says that this is my neck, not my shoulder, so let's see what happens."

I then spent 40 minutes doing all the neck stretching exercises she gave me. I felt looser, better, but my shoulder did still hurt. But it kept feeling better and better as the day wore on, and by two o'clock in the afternoon, the pain was COMPLETELY GONE.

GONE in six hours.

Usually, when I feel that kind of pain in my shoulder, it lasts for several weeks.

This time? Six hours.

Why? Because apparently, I am not a "woman with a gimpy shoulder." I am a "woman with an incredibly tight neck who can solve her 18 year shoulder infirmity by stretching."

Damn. That is a serious re-definition of my identity.

I'm not saying I'm ready to sleep on my right shoulder tonight when I hit the sack, but I am seeing myself and my body in a whole new light right now. What I thought was hopeless (18 years of shoulder pain)? Solveable. What I thought was flawed (my shoulder)? Totally fine. What I thought was fine (my neck)? Not so much, but fairly easily treatable.

For me, this wasn't simply a lesson to go to Sue Bloom when I'm injured (though that is a really good lesson).

For me, this was a lesson that sometimes, in life, we look only at the big flashing neon signs pointing our way. We see those massive, obvious obstacles as our only challenges, and we try to solve those huge ones, which is daunting at best, and impossible at worst. But sometimes, if we slow down, and soften our vision, we might see something else going on, something else we didn't even notice, something that we actually can fix, something that is causing those big ripples that are catching all our attention.

A recent example of this was the book I posted about a few weeks ago, the one where I'd written 35k and then realized the book just DIDN'T WORK. I tried to fix it, and couldn't, and finally decided that the book was doomed and I abandoned it.

A month later, I decided to pull it back out and use it for another project. But in order to do so, I had to write a synopsis for it. In the process of writing the synopsis and having to distill the core elements, I suddenly realized what was wrong with the book. It was indeed fundamentally flawed (which is why I hadn't been able to write it), but it was also SO EASY to fix once I realized what it was. I changed the element, wrote the synopsis, then changed the chapters, and suddenly the book came to life. Had I not written the synopsis (and done so with a calm, non-frustrated mind), I never would have stepped back far enough to be able to see what was really going on.

The short lesson from that was to write the synopsis before writing the book, so I can see if everything works. The bigger lesson was the same as my shoulder: that sometimes we get so consumed in what isn't working, that we don't step back far enough with a calm enough mind to see the tiny little screw that's out of place and causing the whole structure to wobble.

Sometimes, it's not easy to get that other viewpoint. For my shoulder, I needed Sue Bloom. For my book, I needed the distance of time and the tool of a synopsis. But if you can do it…

Yes, I grant you that there's not always a simple fix to something. But often, there IS another way around the obstacle, or another path entirely, that will help us get where we really want to go. But we'll see it only if we stop perseverating on the problem long enough to allow ourselves to see the other options. It's a good lesson to learn, and I'm hoping that I've learned it well enough that the next time I'm up against another huge, intimidating brick wall, I will pause, take a deep breath, walk back twenty paces and begin to look in other directions, instead of trying to hit that same wall with my dented hammer again.

What about you? Has there been a time where you've found a solution to a problem only after you allowed yourself to stop staring directly at the problem and turn your head to look in other directions?


Sharon said...

wow, how frustrating and exhilarating it must have been to discover the cause of your shoulder problems. I had intermittent lower back problems for about 15 years (started around 20) I saw doctors who told me to take pain meds and live with it unless I wanted back surgery. I would have to pick my babies up while on my knees sometimes because it was so bad.

Went to see another orthopedic who diagnosed what it was (spondylosis) and she sent me to a physical therapist who gave me exercises for my adductors and within a week I was pain free! Crazy!

Tammy Jones said...

Gongrats on getting unkinked!

I have GOBS of neck issues (which, in turn, translate to shoulder issues) Any tips?