Set-backs. Obstacles. Plateaus. Aren’t they just so annoying? Whatever you’re working on – weight loss, a house project, trying to organize a group of busy people – having something pop up when things are going well is just plain annoying. It can also be frustrating, heartbreaking, and depressing. But perhaps there’s another option.
The headache started Sunday evening and by the end of the night my neck and shoulders were very tight. When I woke up on Monday my entire back had seized up and I still had that pesky headache. The pain was excruciating, like no back pain I’ve ever had before. It brought tears to my eyes and started to make me nauseous. The muscle relaxers I took on Monday and then Tuesday helped a little in that they made me sleep a lot so I didn’t realize I was in pain. But they also made me very emotional. I’m talking watching a non-handy homeowner install a piece of molding on HGTV made me weep.
I fought going to the doctor initially, because I have had back issues in the past and felt certain that I knew how to deal with this. But when I woke up on Wednesday with the same headache and new shooting pains through my hips and knees, I gave in and made myself an appointment. I literally burst out into tears when the nurse took notes for the doctor about what my problem was and came dangerously close to moving into the hyperventilating cry. It was completely pathetic. The doctor poked and prodded at all of my sore spots and determined there was nothing I could do besides trying a different muscle relaxer. That made me cry even more.
I felt so sorry for myself.
But then I began to think about people who have to deal with pain all the time, and how difficult that must be. How small tasks must feel impossible from time to time. My house certainly didn’t get cleaned all week, dishes piling up in the sink, laundry spilling over onto all surfaces of my bedroom. And somehow just the thought of all of those people in pain out there transformed my self-pity into a strange and new feeling about my body. I believe the word is appreciation.
Now I’ve spent some time working on my self-esteem, my confidence and my body image. And I’ve done some pretty good work. You might even say that I like myself. Go figure. But I’ve never really connected to ideas like “your body is your temple.” I mean I understand it and agree with it intellectually, but it just didn’t resonate with me, probably because I would never want to be described as a temple. That sounds big and stocky, not beautiful and attractive. Also it sounds like I should be sitting on a hillside meditating with chimes and crystals and cleansing my aura or some crap like that. But after this week, this idea has started to make complete sense to me.
Ideally, a temple is a place that you enter in order to feel love. It’s a place of gratitude and worship. Perhaps the word “temple” has been ruined for me by religious institutions that are rule-focused & politicized instead of spiritual and self-reflecting. But because I was forced to sit with my body all week with nothing to do but watch bad rom-coms and reflect on my pain, I started to feel this appreciation, gratitude, love for my body.
I started to listen and actually HEAR my body’s signals and messages.
Since I’ve been nauseous all week, food wasn’t sounding so hot. But I knew I had to eat something if only so I could take more drugs to calm my aches and pains. So I went to the store and I allowed myself to pick up whatever sounded good. Cheap soft bread, real butter, a single serving of Cheerios & Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and a sleeve of Ritz crackers. I was a little worried that I would go out of control with real butter in my house and bread for toasting. I mean one of the best things in the world is basic toast with melty butter, right? Well my body rewarded me for listening to it while packing a basket at the store by giving me very clear signals as to when I was done eating. And because I was in this newfound state of appreciation I actually stopped. No planning, no counting, no weighing & measuring. Just me and my body.
That doesn’t mean that when I’m back to 100% I’m going to bring boxes of sugary cereals and real butter into my regular rotation. I mean, I haven’t had a vegetable in a week. That’s not healthy. But I think I have established a language with my body now that I can carry onward on this journey of mine to gain control without losing my mind.
So yes, this week has been frustrating, heartbreaking and depressing, but because I surrendered to the situation (I mean I didn’t really have any other choice) I was able to learn something from this set-back. And I think that’s why set-backs happen, why obstacles get thrown our way – because there’s a lesson to be learned. And if we reflect what the lesson might be while we’re amidst the struggle of the set-back I believe we’ll find it sooner.
God, I’ve watched too much Oprah in my life.