Sunday, February 16, 2014

There and back again: From bliss to pain, then healing

Have you ever felt the elation of absolute bliss--only to plummet to the depths of pain and uncertainty? 

Last September, I experienced a magical day at the Great Circle Music Festival near La Grande, Oregon. I spent the day with my honey listening to live music, dancing, hanging out with friends and basking in Eastern Oregon sunshine. What's not to love about a day so glorious?

Toward the end of the night, music filled the air and the space in front of the stage undulated with dancing bodies. A generous woman had brought an armload of hula hoops and encouraged people to  join her in hooping to the music. I grabbed a hoop and joined my friend, Heather, and her first-grade daughter, Ryleigh.

As we moved our hips to keep our hula hoops rotating, Ryleigh told me something so affirming that I count it as one of my favorite moments ever:

"I want to be like you! You're beautiful and you can do so many things."

Ryleigh's statement made me glow. I wanted to stop right there and give her a big hug.

Only two years before, I had been a miserable mess. Newly divorced and stressed out by a job that was sucking the life out of me, my obese body and my sad countenance proclaimed my unhappiness to the world.

But I'd banished that unhappy woman.

Now as I hula-hooped with Ryleigh, I was a new woman: a dragon boating, swing dancing, belly dancing, kayaking, zip lining, djembe drum playing, hula hooping woman brimming with joy. At that moment, I felt beautiful. Strong. Blissful.

The bliss was short lived.

Two weeks later, I slipped on the porch steps slick with rain. I felt my feet fly from underneath me and thought: "This is going to hurt." My head, neck and back slammed against the steps. I am a tough woman, but I cried. The pain was excruciating.

I had a concussion and a pounding headache. My neck and shoulders were so sore I couldn't turn my head. My back and my entire left side ached. My doctor scheduled physical therapy and prescribed muscle relaxers and extra-strength ibuprofen. She also told me I'd need to take a break from dragon boating and to take it easy. Rest.

One physical therapy session brought no relief, but caused financial stress because my co-pay was so high. I couldn’t afford any more physical therapy, but I did the basic exercises at home. After working all day, I came home, took muscle relaxers and collapsed into bed. So it went for weeks.

I tried some gentle exercise and lifted teeny, tiny weights. It was too soon. The pain worsened. I tried hula hooping with my weighted hoop, an exercise that had brought such joy previously. Now it caused pain. I missed paddling a dragon boat with the Mighty Women. I longed to feel active and powerful again.

Instead, I felt weak and powerless. Was this pain and inactivity my new normal? I'd worked so hard to transform my life and my body at midlife. Would one tiny moment of slipping on the steps change my life forever? I shuddered at that thought.

My pain wasn't debilitating. It was nothing compared to what my friend, Ruth, went through when a mysterious affliction became life threatening and doctors amputated her leg, yet she still hikes. My friend, Kaitlin, has been blind since she was hit by a car at age seven, but she paddles on my dragon boat team. In comparison, what I was dealing with was insignificant. But it had diminished my joy quotient several notches.

Thankfully, my employer's health insurance offered a self-referral benefit of massage and acupuncture at an affordable rate. I'd never had a massage or acupuncture, but I was so tired of hurting that I was willing to try anything that might bring relief and help me get my life back. What a difference the massages made! Who knew that sticking needles in a person's body would be even more relaxing than a massage?

Slowly, as the weeks and then months passed, I began to heal. I've been walking a couple of miles on the trail near my house, and last weekend, after a foot of snow blanketed the ground, I skied through the woods. I wouldn’t qualify for the Olympics at that pace, but I felt strong. Better yet, I didn't have any pain.

This morning, six months after my fall, I wistfully looked at my weighted hula hoop again. Feeling hopeful, I grabbed my hoop and iPod and stepped outside to the garden facing the woods.

After the first song I was winded, but I kept going. As I hooped in rhythm to the music, two Canadian geese honked and flew overhead. I felt in the groove. Elated. Even blissful.

I thought of Ryleigh's words to me six months earlier. And I smiled.