Written by Sue Fuller-Good (MSc Physio WITS) Physiotherapist with a special interest in the mind-body connection
As I write this, today a year ago - nearly to the hour, I fell from almost the top of Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg, and landed on a tiny ledge some 50 meters below. It was a completely horrific day and an utterly terrifying experience. Today I look back on not only that day, but on the year that has been in many ways devoted to rebuilding my body and mind. I look back with amazement at what the journey has included and I look forward to continuing the road to recovery and to taking full advantage of all I have learnt along the way.
I wanted to share with you what I have discovered so far on this rocky and treacherous journey, because I know you too have walked a path of recovery this year after the COVID pandemic. You too, have had to rebuild and reclaim lost and damaged parts of yourself and your life and so I figured we could explore this together.
The first thing I marvel at is the millions of baby steps it’s taken. Not all of them have taken me forward, but if I add them all up, they have contributed to a forward propulsion. I had to keep checking back on how far I had come in order to stay grateful and motivated and not fall into a pool of despondency. When you get up after a calamity or disappointment, the improvement curve is never a straight line. It’s always a fulminating course; it goes up and down, but overall, the trajectory is upwards. But if you don’t take the baby steps you won’t go anywhere.
Secondly, your journey is your own. My journey was my own. There were literally hundreds of people who contributed and there were many who helped significantly, but no-one could really understand and no-one could do it for me. When I was fed up and frustrated, almost everyone tried to fix it and deny my right to frustration. Not because they are unkind or don’t care, no, because they couldn’t stand their own helplessness as they watched my struggle. I can only empathize with this. I can’t stand it when people struggle either. I also want to make it better, often by trying to convince them not to feel the way they feel. In the end you feel what you feel! Feelings have no morals. There is no right or wrong way to feel. There is just the way you feel. Denying feelings doesn’t help at all. Owning them and claiming them is what helps. Admitting to them is what enables us to experience them so they can pass. No-one can be happy all the time, or positive, or upbeat and that’s okay. As long as the feelings pass - like waves which recede and give way to a new wave potentially less difficult emotion, it’s all okay. Toxic positivity is toxic!
Then there is the third thing. Everything is transient, nothing lasts forever or is permanent. Not pain, not suffering, not heartache. Remembering the transient nature of everything got me through. Firstly, on the mountain in the eight-and-a-half-hour rescue operation, I kept telling myself over and over again, that this would pass. It kept me sane; it gave me the strength to handle it. Maybe if you are stuck on a “ledge” and trying to find ways to get off it, remembering this can help you too. In the long nights where pain kept me awake and I couldn’t find a place to be comfortable or a position to lie in, in the five months on crutches or the six weeks in a wheelchair, knowing this would pass helped so much. Whatever pain you are experiencing or sense of being unable to move forward the way you want to, keep this in mind.
The fourth thing, I recognize is that the sweet spot is crucial to find and to keep! Many times, I drove forward too hard and set myself back which wasn’t helpful at all. Consistency is king and crashing and burning doesn’t help you to win in the end. I had to navigate the rehabilitation with wisdom, patience and restraint. I had to keep my ego (which wanted results fast) at bay and keep tuning in to my body to find the right amount of everything, every time. So finding the middle ground between driving and striving, and complacency and apathy was an ongoing opportunity for mindful reflection. I found that spot by getting it wrong and trying again repeatedly. Is that middle ground eluding you. Could this be a place for careful reflection?
The fifth thing is patience. I always say that when God dished out patience, I was standing in the wrong queue. I got none! “Patience is a virtue, virtue is a grace”.... was something I chanted to myself over and over again in the long months of walking with a brace and a stick, hobbling with pain on every step. Allowing the healing to take the time it needs is an act of patience. The body can’t be rushed. Neither can many things in life. Is it possible you too need to cultivate the virtue of patience, so you can allow your projects time to incubate and grow? Is patience the resource you need to allow your creations time to evolve, your relationships time to heal and deepen, your body time to get fit and healthy, your financial investments time to compound?
The sixth thing is surrender. This is another sweet spot opportunity. There is a tiny place in the middle of acceptance and fighting for change. This elusive spot gives rise to incredible peace and calm. Sometimes it’s tempting to err into victim status and sometimes it’s hard not to rail against life. To control the controllable and accept without complacency is the masterful act of surrender. I found myself hovering on either side of this sweet spot on so many occasions. When I found my way to surrender, I could enjoy the adventure I found myself in, and suck it dry for all it had to offer: insight, self-awareness and growth, down time, opportunity to shatter the latticework of the habits I had allowed to become my normal, opportunity to change my beliefs and behavior. When I missed this sweet spot, I either felt sorry for myself or felt angry for the way things were. How fascinating it is that, without the circumstances changing at all, I could adjust the way I felt completely. Can this navigation, using the compass of the sweet spot help you right now?
The seventh is self-care. Oh wow, this one was tough. I had missed this modality out of my repertoire so many times in my pre-accident life. I had no real clue what self-care for me looked like. I started with compassion. That worked. I acknowledged all the fears that my accident and state of physical disability had evoked, and I recognized I needed some tender loving care from myself. I was terrified of losing my physical freedom and the joy I had always had access to through my body. I was even more terrified of losing my independence and yes, I guess - control. I hated needing help to the degree that I did. I felt vulnerable and a burden. In the beginning, I even needed help to get to the toilet, shower and dress. That excruciating dependence and helplessness was much more painful than all the fractures and operations. So, I needed to be kind to myself. I needed to be gentle and tolerant. This is what I mean by self-care. I needed to set reasonable goals, to celebrate my successes, to let myself off the hook when necessary and push myself gently with a carrot and not a stick. I needed my inner voice to be gentle, I needed to give myself enough time to do things, and I needed to drop the bar of what I expected from myself and put my own needs at the front of the queue. I didn’t succeed every day, but I did better than I have before. Listen to this and check in with you! Has there been some unfair labor practice dished out from you to you? Has there been some cruel parenting from your inner dictator? Has there been some beating and harsh judgement going on? STOP! Now, today. You are part of our beautiful planet, and you need care and kindness. You need to be treated with respect and compassion.
Nothing could ever have prepared me for the waves of challenge that this year brought. Beyond trying to recover and reclaim my health and wellbeing, my partner lost his health and received a cancer diagnosis, requiring three massive surgeries to get him into the clear. Just when we were settling back down after all of that, my beloved sister passed away in the UK. Her death was sudden, unexpected, and left her children and our family reeling from the trauma of loss and gasping with grief. As these waves and waves kept coming, I felt like I have so often, when swimming in a rough ocean. Just as I managed to get up, get my breath and wipe my eyes, the next wave crashed down on me. It felt as if I would never get my breath back properly, but I did, bit by bit. It felt like I would never get my feet back on solid ground, but I did. If you are in a wild sea right now, trust yourself and the process of life. Relax and confront the waves one by one. Keep breathing and trucking on. You can survive so much more than you ever thought you could. The bottom of the barrel of your own reserves is so much deeper than you think. You will be okay.
I could go on, but for now, I will stop and let you get on with your end of year rush. What I am going to do in the new year, is unpack each of these learnings week by week and together we can walk into 2023 reinforced after the challenges of the past few years, armed with the learnings that all the difficulties have offered us. Please join me for the discovery and join the conversation on my social pages or on my blog, and please share what you think so we can all benefit from the conversation.
In the meantime, have a wonderful and blessed holiday season if you are taking a holiday, and a Happy Christmas or Hannukah if you are celebrating either festival. We will reconnect in 2023 and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the support and loyalty over this past year. May you have wellbeing and lots of sweet spot times with your family and friends, and loads of laughter and fun to rejuvenate you.
See What Our Readers Have to Say:
"You are an inspiration ! Can’t even begin to imagine what you’ve been through this year , and as you say on all fronts . You may not have patience but you most certainly have buckets full of grace."
- Gaynor Poretti
"What an amazing newsletter packed full of rich personal observations and lessons. I loved reading it and salute you for getting through 12 months of crashing waves. What a year you have had, survived, endured and learnt from. I keep thinking how your book arriving post all of this is just perfect timing. "
- Nikki Bush
"I felt myself reading and rereading everything you wrote. Almost like hanging onto each word trying to learn from you. I really thank you for sharing so much of your life and experiences, pain and emotions with us, which cannot be easy. "
- Fiona Manoim