I wake up everyday thinking “today will be the day I no longer have pain.” In the five years since I was injured, however, this has yet to happen. The truth is that I still don’t believe that I am disabled, but I am. I have a cervical and spinal disability.
When I was first injured, I was getting a master's degree in psychology. I wrote every research paper and project on chronic back pain and what, if anything, could help this. Turns out, there isn’t a quick fix, medicine, surgery, or path to take. That was not the answer I was looking for! What I did discover is that being angry, railing against fate, pushing myself, and ignoring my body's innate wisdom did NOT work.
It was a mess! I was a mess. I had lost my career, my relationship, and felt betrayed by my body. I was depressed, anxious, afraid, and pissed. This was not how my life was supposed to be. How was this even happening? Then I had to navigate the absolute nightmare of workers' compensation and not having any income…it was, without a doubt, not how I imagined my life.
I think most people would find that not being able to do laundry, clean, shop for food, or do any housework is welcoming. However, this loss of independence gutted me. I would try to wash my clothes and have to call for help to get them out of the dryer after my back went into spasms. I would buy my groceries and find myself two blocks away from the store and unable to walk another step. I would get on the train to go anywhere and have to get out and find a cab.
I was persistent in ignoring my reality. Until it all changed. I found great doctors and support in my family and friends. I started antidepressants, went to therapy, and started to crack open the door to what was now becoming my new normal. I found myself researching Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in school and started attending lectures about meditation. I began practicing meditation for three minutes a day, pursued classes about positive psychology, and learn all I could about anything that might stop the pain.
I am afraid, however, that the pain hasn’t stopped. My search in anything and everything has shown that there is no one stop shop for chronic pain. In realizing this (and it took a long time) my whole life has been changed. I am disabled. It no longer mystifies me and it has been what has literally made my life purposeful and full – full of love, gratitude, grace, and purpose. I still wake up thinking today is the day, but I know that I will be okay in this moment, with this breath, in this “broken” body.
Learning to love my body is a daily goal. Learning to help others learn to love themselves is my life purpose. I meet each day knowing that every person I talk to has some trauma, some challenge that they are facing. I know that there is innate wisdom in our bodies and minds that we haven’t slowed down to listen to. I have learned through my training as a MBSR, meditation, and yoga teacher that we are meeting this moment as it is and it could be complete crap, but it’s ours in that moment and then it will pass.
I live life in the moments I have, not for the physically-abled old me, but the disabled me. It’s not who I am, it’s something that describes me, like green eyes or being a woman of color. I am my whole self because I found that I can live in this moment, whether it is good, bad, or in between. It is absolutely acceptable to have a completely awful day. It is going to happen. What changes is that there is a recognition that just like your breath, that moment is going to pass. As many wise mentors have said to me, “What else is here?” I am still navigating life as someone whose physical health is constantly challenged. It’s not easy, but life wasn’t easy before I was injured. I now can give myself space and the gentle reminders that there is another breath coming, there is another part of the body not in pain, there is something else there. Living my life in this moment is enough.
Guest post by studio BE Faciliator Mary Rothfusz.
Mary is a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teacher trained at Brown University Mindfulness Center and Global Mindfulness Collaborative. She works at Integrative Health at Weill Cornell. She has trained in Meditation Yoga and has 200 hours of training from Pure Yoga NYC and 100 hours of Yin Yoga training from Adam Stonebraker for the Insight Yoga Institute as she works towards her 500 hours of RTT. She also has her MA in Psychology from City College (2018). She is also completing her training in Breathworks, an MBSR derivative of offerings for pain and stress.