Post #6 in the series "Reprocessing Chronic Pain"
It's been a roller-coaster of a week. At the most stressful moments, when my body reacted with pain, I feared that I'd lost all the progress I'd made and that this system wasn't going to help me after all. I was almost embarrassed - but also sad - looking back at the optimistic post title "It's Working." Will the next one have to be called "Oh Well. Not So Much?" But it's never that simple. I had built a solid foundation and though there were unexpected pauses in the construction process, I'm not starting over from scratch every time I return to the PRT practices.
I had a real light-bulb moment last Friday when my husband and I went to get our booster vaccines at the local grocery store pharmacy. I'd been having pain on and off all day and by the time 4:30 came, which was when we'd made the appointment, I was tired and cranky. We arrived right on time. They said, "have a seat. There are people before you." I felt a surge of irritation. The complaining story that played out in my head went something like this. "Ugh there are 4 other people here. Are they all waiting for vaccines? There seem to be two pharmacy staff behind the glass doing nothing. What's going on? Why are they just sitting there and not calling people in? I knew we should have gone somewhere else. I bet they are totally incompetent here." I'm usually pretty understanding and patient, especially with health care providers in a pandemic, but when the mind is set to complaint mode, the stories are not so nice.
I stood, pacing. Then I sat. I felt pain in my low back and left shoulder. "I'm so tired. It's been half an hour. How much longer? I just want to get this done and go home. I have that stew to make when I get home. I figured this would take no more than 30 minutes and I'd be home with plenty of time to chop veggies and potatoes. I'm going to be in too much pain to stand at the counter by the time we get home." Anyone who has experienced chronic pain or fatigue will be familiar with this inner monologue - especially when things don't go as planned. We only have so much energy - so many "spoons" to spend in a day. Real dread and terror can arise when we think we are going to run out before "everything gets done." It can be the beginning of a downward spiral.
I looked over at my husband who is one of the most patient people in the entire world (unless there's a rude or careless driver. That ticks him off big time). I shared my frustration. Even as I was speaking the words, I realized that all I was doing was telling myself a story that was creating tension in my body. He gave me a reassuring look and took my hand. He let me know, without speaking, "being stressed is not going to get us our vaccine any faster. Relax. It will all work out. I'm right here with you."
So I paused. I breathed into the pain. I got curious. What would happen in my body if I changed the story I was telling myself about sitting here waiting? I glanced over at the other folks who were still sitting there too - there were two adults and two young kids. The kids were squirmy and restless and I'm sure the parents were feeling impatient also. But they were playing and laughing and eating snacks. Rather than resent them for being "in front" of us I just smiled at how cute the kids were. I felt our interconnectedness, our common humanity. I evoked gratitude for the pharmacy staff, doing a hard job, probably underpaid, rushed, and pressured. I focused on the calm energy coming from my husband. I did a quick body scan