Beauty – The Civil War in My Head

trenchesI’ve never really thought of myself as being beautiful. This is a problem because of my job.

I work in the beauty industry where I encounter women every day who have silky, shiny, deliciously coiffed hair; glowing, blemish-free, wrinkle-free skin; youthful, slender, tight and toned bodies; snow white, straight teeth and chip-free manicured nails with no hang nails or cuticles.

I feel an intense amount of pressure to look a certain way – from society, from the media and mostly from myself. Usually I wind up feeling miserable about the way I look compared to the women I see in the salon and in the media. I see beautiful women. They’re everywhere.

I’m also a yoga teacher where we learn to honor our bodies how they are now in this moment as being perfect. In yoga, we see all life, everything as beautiful and divine, a gift from our Creator.

It’s a civil war in my brain between my ego and my soul. I keep waiting for my General Sherman Soul to go marching through my ego and burn it all to the ground, saving the tiny little Savannah of goodness that lives in my ego. But mostly I feel like this battle is mostly at a stalemate but neither side is willing to surrender.

This is the ultimate lesson for me. Take something that scares the heck out of you and go work in that industry, like someone who’s afraid to fly becoming a pilot.

I look in the mirror every day and most days the image I see does not represent how I feel inside. In my mind, I’m a shimmering dragon soaring above the Earth; I’m a sneaky red fox jumping in the air; I’m a leggy ballerina hair neatly tucked up in a bun twirling until I fall down. In the mirror I see wrinkles, sun spots, oily skin, cellulite, a Buddha belly, gray hair and cobwebs.

I try my best to put on my face and go out into the world. I buy clothing that is somewhat stylish but doesn’t make my bottom look too big. I wear mascara and eye makeup even though I’m allergic and it irritates and burns my eyes. I use hot tools to keep my mop of hair in check.

Talk about being spiritually bereft in the most abundant nation in the world. I hate myself for not being beautiful and then I hate myself for worrying about it. There are days I wish I could go live on a mountain top as a yogi and just meditate this all away. But I still live here in Cincinnati, OH. No mountain tops here.

We exist on this planet, I believe, to learn lessons. This is still one of my lessons – not being good enough. That’s what this all boils down to – a deep seated belief that I’m not good enough and somehow being beautiful will change that.

I hope someday to embody beauty, to feel beautiful in all of my cells that I radiate, to know deep in my heart and soul that I am good enough, to sparkle. But for now, I sit in silent observation as my ego and soul dig deeper trenches, dreaming of flying off to my dragon’s lair.

 

 

 

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Accepting the New You – Part Three of the Pain Management Tool Box

raising my arm

This is me raising my arm after 6 months of not being able to move it more than 6 inches away from my side.

It’s February 7. This is about the time all of those “New Year, New You” resolutions to lose weight, change your hair or find a new job, usually have officially lost all of their steam. Change is hard and it usually requires a catalyst to instigate significant change.

While a simple number change of the year is usually not enough to motivate you past the first few weeks of the year; pain and injury will. No matter how hard you try, pain and injury will require you to make some unwanted, difficult changes to your life. Pain is an amazingly successful catalyst.

Most people, I am high on this list, will fight and resist this change. One of the most common desires people suffering from chronic pain desperately want is to be “normal” again. You want to be able to blow dry your hair, put on your bra, drive your car, go to the grocery store, etc…

I wanted to do all of those things and more. You have to accept that you will never be the same person again. You have to accept that your life will never be the same. You might not ever be able to do certain activities again that you once did with ease.

This was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn. Quite frankly, my struggle to do things the way I used to do them caused me more pain and suffering than I probably should’ve endured. You have to be willing to modify how you do everything to accommodate for your pain and/or injury.

As a result of my C5 Palsy, I couldn’t move my right arm for 6 months. But in reality, it was pretty much useless for 9 months. In that time I had to learn to do everything with my left arm. To understand what I went through, hold your dominant arm behind your back and try to go to the bathroom. Unzip your pants, pull them down, do your business, pull your paints up, zip back up, flush and wash your hands.

I had to lay down on my bed just to get a bra on. I learned to put a shoe string through the loops on my zippers just to be able to wear jeans or pants out in public for any length of time because you can’t lay down on the floor of public bathrooms to zip up your pants. I bought a rocker knife so I could cut my own food.

With each of these modifications, I would break down in tears. I felt so helpless and frustrated, angry even, that I struggled to accomplish simple tasks that a five-year-old could do. This lack of control, this anger, fueled my growing depression. And if you’ve read my other blog posts about pain, you know that depression and pain are linked. As your depression increases, so does your pain and vice versa.

Around the 6th month, I began to accept these modifications and even get good at them. I could get dressed in 10 minutes, not the 20 – 25 it first took me. I became proficient using my rocker knife. I could wear jeans in public and go to the bathroom. Coincidentally (or not), it was around this time, I finally started to be able to make small movements with my right arm.

When you are recovering from a serious injury or chronic pain, your body is working incredibly hard. You need to give yourself a break and give your aching, injured body some love. You need to accept the new you. You need to come to terms with the fact that your life will never be the same. The sooner you are able to do this, the sooner your body can focus fully on healing and not fighting itself.

I was lucky. I got my right arm back. Some people do not. Those people still go on with their lives. How they go on is their choice – accepting the new or fighting it.

Looking back, I wish my occupational therapist or my neurosurgeon would’ve told me this. I wish I would’ve celebrated each of my small victories instead of wishing for the past. It’s not easy to learn how to do activities a different way.

Accept that you now have a new normal. Accept that no matter how small a step might seem it’s still a step in the right direction. Accept that LOVING your body will always help you heal faster than hating it.

Get Movin! – #2 in My Pain Management Tool Box

childspose

I’m the one on the left. Or as I like to say the one in the crazy leopard print pants with the wild hair.

When you’re in chronic, debilitating pain, it seems counter-intuitive to move. All you really want to do is be as still as possible and if you’re lucky, sleep. My pain went away when I slept. It was like 4-hour mini vacation from Pain Island.

So why do people want you to MOVE when you just want to be still? Here is my second item in my Pain Management Tool Box – Gentle Movement Every Day.

One reason it’s important to incorporate gentle movement if you’re suffering from chronic pain is our lymphatic system. Lymph is a fluid in our body that among other things carries garbage away from our muscles. But unlike blood, nothing pumps lymph through our body. We have to move it physically through hydration, gentle movement, like stretching, swimming and rhythmic movement, and massage.

When lymph builds up in an area, especially one you’re not moving because it hurts, it will create swelling. This buildup of toxins and swelling is called an edema and it’s a serious medical condition.

How many of us learned the RICE method in health class? Rest. Elevation. Ice. Compression. It’s still being used by many people today. But if you talk to some physicians and physical therapists, they will not recommend RICE for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they know it will prevent the lymph from moving in the affected area, which creates swelling. And swelling is inflammation which is pain.

In a 2004 systematic review of 49 different studies regarding mobilization vs immobilization of the limbs Nash et al concluded, “Mobilization increases blood flow and so reduces muscle atrophy, disuse osteoporosis, adhesions, and joint stiffness. Early mobilization seems to decrease pain, swelling, and stiffness, and patients generally prefer it to immobilization. It results in earlier return to work, a greater range of motion, and fewer complications and residual symptoms. This systematic review of all upper- and lower-limb injuries, including fractures, consistently found in favor of early mobilization over rest. The best evidence at hand suggests the medical profession generally errs too conservatively on the side of immobilization.”

From Nash C. Resting injured limbs delays recovery: a systematic review. The Journal of Family Practice. 2004;53(9). Retrieved online on 3/5/14 from http://www.jfponline.com/Pages.asp?AID=1772.

Many physicians are starting to recommend MEAT = Movement, Exercise, Analgesics and Treatment. As I think about the HOURS I spent icing myself down after my surgery to numb my pain and the subsequent nerve damage I developed AFTER my surgery, I have to wonder how much that ice really helped me. It numbed my post op pain but at what cost?

Another benefit of gentle movement is that when you move, your body releases endorphins. These are the feel good chemicals that will give you a “runner’s high.”

When you’re in chronic pain, you’re probably not going to be running but by moving through walking, you will still release endorphins. Endorphins act like analgesics. They decrease how we feel pain without the horrible side effects many people experience from taking prescription opioid based analgesics such as morphine.

So what are some good gentle movements for people in chronic pain?

Walking – Walk in the mall. Take the stairs if you’re able. Park a little farther away in the parking lot at the grocery store. I used to walk up and down my street with my neck brace on in my PJ’s. No wonder my neighbors think I’m crazy.

Yoga – I really recommend restorative yoga or if you can afford it, a private consultation with a yoga therapist or a physical therapist who’s also a yoga teacher. I know some amazing people if you’re looking for a referral.

Swimming – If you’re able to swim, being in water takes the pressure off your body. It supports you and allows you to move more. I am not the greatest swimmer so I use a kick boards to give me extra support.

If there are other activities you LOVE, talk to an instructor or expert or your physician about ways to modify it to accommodate your body. Many times they’re able to suggest alternative things you can do. I’ve seen women in their 8th month of pregnancy in Zumba classes. They just don’t do the jumps or a lot of the arm movements. Good instructors/trainers want you to be healthy and are always happy to work with you to do a particular activity.

Find ways to MOVE your body and get the lymph and endorphins flowing.