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.

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