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Pain is your gps

Things don’t really get solved. They come together and fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

Pema Chödrön

Normally when I’m in pain I don’t pay much attention to it. I have a really high pain tolerance, it’s not a good thing. It’s made me reckless and make bad choices, it’s pushed me way past my limit. My high pain tolerance and complete lack of self care skill made it possible for me to go to work almost every day for a year with so much back pain I could barley walk. But I had to be at work. Because that was the priority.

So, when I started therapy in late 2015 because I was falling apart, literally and figuratively, I didn’t know that pain is a warning system of sorts. Pain, both physical and psychological, is the body’s way of saying, please slow down. Or, in my case, please stop. My body had been giving me warning signs for almost a year and I wasn’t listening. The amount of pressure and stress I am able to withstand without cracking is a lot. This is not a good thing. It is, in fact, very much a bad thing. Ok, good and bad are judgements. Let’s say that it’s not ideal. It’s not functional as my therapist would say.

So dysfunctional me with a basically broken back and an incredibly high ability to withstand pressure and stress goes to work everyday and pushes herself to do more, better things. And then, in July of 2015, I stopped sleeping. Just overnight, stopped. This was my body telling me, enough Janet, you’re done. And I STILL DID NOT LISTEN. I kept going to work, on no sleep. I kept pushing through the pain, making myself believe that I had to, that my worth depended on my ability to cope with pain, no matter how great. Eventually, I stopped being able to go to work because I was so exhausted I couldn’t see straight.

So that’s what pain is, a gps. Or like a tornado warning system that sounds the blare in the midwest and tells folks to head for the cellar. I didn’t listen to what my body needed or what my brain needed me to do. I didn’t heed the warnings. I didn’t slow down, or take a break or hit pause on my life and the choices I was making (e.g. the dysfunctional ones). I have learned a lot about myself in the last three years. I’m a recovering perfectionist. Being super good at my job is really important to me. But when the warning bells start to fly, I pay closer attention now, I try very hard to listen. There are days when I do this well and days when I don’t. But more and more I’m trying to separate myself from this fallacy that I am what I do. I’m only good enough when I’m productive, when I’m not “resting on my laurels” as my father liked to say.

I have plenty of unproductive moments and even some days when I just don’t want to get anything done. But still, I push myself too hard. I’m working on it, I’m imperfect and that’s ok. And so are you, and that’s ok too. Just heed the warning bells in your life that are ringing, follow your gps. xo Janet

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