Lucy and I had a heart-to-heart the other day.
“Well Goose, this is one of the last days with just the two of us hanging out while the kids at school. Our quiet snuggling days are coming to an end.”
She stared straight ahead in repudiation, but her ear twitched so I knew she heard me. Oh, Lucy.
One Sunday afternoon in November, I was lying on my bed with my hand on my chest to help me focus on my breath. I’d just taken a heavy duty muscle relaxer and was waiting for it to kick in.
“So are you going to do something about this?”
“Yes. I’m going to chiro again. Maybe I’ll take a day off work.”
“A day ain’t going to fix you.” (even PHd’s say ain’t when they’re trying to prove a point.) “You are under an exorbitant amount of stress right now and your body is collapsing. Sure, you can push through. You’ve done that your entire life. And then 3 months from now or 6 months from now, you’ll be here again. Look, just consider taking some more time.”
I stared ahead. (I’m not sure if my ear twitched but I definitely heard him.)
So the next day, I listened (to him and my body) and requested an immediate leave.
“My body is collapsing.”
I decided a month should be plenty of time to heal; it even seemed a bit dramatic. But then a month stretched into two and a half… and here we are today.
In the beginning:
Day 1 – Wake up. Ensure the kids get off to school. Look at Lucy.
“Now what?” She licked her paw and walked back upstairs to bed. Hmmm….
What exactly does one do when they are ‘on leave’?
I did a poll. The answer is: You let your body heal.
Oh. Okay. Second question: How the hell do you do that?
Survey says: Listen to your body.
Lucky for me, my body was being super loud and obnoxious.
If I tried to sit for more than an hour, I’d end up in a lot (more) pain so I moved around. I liked this arrangement because sitting on the couch all day felt lazy. I struggled enormously with the idea that I needed to be productive. And as much as I fully support the idea of resting, I had (*sigh, I have) a huge mental block around putting it into practice.
“Yes, okay. Sit on the couch for a bit and rest. There, okay that’s enough. Now get up and do something. Don’t be so dramatic.”
Then somewhere a voice inside of me – or rather a voice from a friend – would kick in and say, “Hey. Relax. This is WHY you are on a leave. Sit your ass down and REST!!!”
In the beginning (and even now sometimes), I doubted my pain. I truly thought I was faking. Even at it’s most intense, I would think… is it really that bad? Don’t be so dramatic. I doubted every feeling and every thought I had. Thank God I have good sounding boards in my life who I could go to and say, “Is this crazy?” Usually the answer was no. (EXCEPT my idea to pack our stuff up and drive to Mexico forever.. it’s on the back burner for now.)
For about 95% of my time off work, I hid. In my house, away from the world. I didn’t want anyone to see me.
Mostly because if they asked about work, I would not only have to confess my ineptitude but I would also have to think about work. And then I would have to think about how so many people are having to do extra work because I’m lazy, dramatic and have fake pain.
The other reason I hid was because I didn’t think I was actually allowed to have fun while I was off work; at least not public fun.
Throughout the process, and still today, I ask every professional in my life: what caused this to happen and how long til I’m cured? If they could pinpoint an exact injury and healing timeframe, I might be able to accept this. Every single one of them (chiropractor/acupuncturist, massage therapist, counsellor, family doctor) have given me the same (not-what-I-want-to-hear) response – seriously do they all hold secret Erica meetings at the local pub on Tuesdays at 10pm? I wouldn’t know since I’ve locked myself in my house –
The answer to why is:
1) years and years of sitting in front of a computer with often questionable ergonomic setup (the term wear and tear was mentioned numerous times as was aging bodies – ouch! Is 42 officially when my body starts aging?); and
2) years and years of pushing through. Turns out that carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, actually hurts your shoulders. Stress is a motherfucker.
The answer to how long? is more of a shrug. All I know at this point is it will take more than 2.5 months.
To let a body heal:
I think I’m going to write a book called, “So your body has collapsed.” which will provide a step-by-step guide to being in this type of situation. Until then, here’s my list of what I did while trying to let my body heal.
- I got super familiar with every inch of my house.
- I spent hours upon hours at appointments.
- I wrote.
- I read. Everything from classics to philosophy to how-to-manuals..
- I plotted.
- I cried.
- I learned how to nap (when your only companion all day is a cat, you become your environment)
- I hugged my kids.
- I was home for my kids.
- I rested.
- I made very slow-cooked dinners most days. (near the end, I started making doubles of everything and stocking my freezer – I can not wait to enjoy this gift to myself!)
- I organized stuff.
- I sold stuff.
- I felt broken.
- I stretched and did my physio exercises.
- I ate ice cream.
- I daydreamed.
- I walked. and walked and walked.
- I made so many lists. (including this one)
- I created stuff.
- I dreamt the most intense dreams.
- I hurt.
- I journaled.
- I listened to my body. It makes a lot of weird popping noises.
- I became more in touch with my domestic self than ever in my entire life.
- I clenched my teeth so hard I misaligned my jaw.
- I binge-watched on Netflix
- I felt without purpose.
- I felt incredible love and comfort by being with my kids and my partner. The love from the 5 of them is what has pulled me through.
But most days it was not what I was doing but what I wasn’t doing. I wasn’t rushing. I was not frantic. There was time and space to do what needed to be done. The secret was to keep those spaces open; to fill them only with breath. I would occasionally add noise to the white space but now, at the end of it, the silence is mandatory.
Real world, ready or not:
Tomorrow, I return to work.
I spent pretty much the entire last week on the couch, under a heating blanket, eating chocolates, reading and napping. It was my final lap and I was going out Peggy Bundy style. To be fair, I was in considerable pain all of Monday, had four appointments throughout the week and was generally exhausted. I actually mentioned my new sleeping schedule to my MD as a potential cause for alarm. I typically sleep for approx. 6-7 hours/night. In the past month or so I’ve averaged at least 10. Plus naps. Because I’d recently had bloodwork taken which showed normal levels, her diagnosis was that perhaps I’ve finally relaxed enough to let me body do what it wants to do. Who knew my body wanted to sleep? It coulda just sent me a text. Why the drama?
I’m still not 100%. I continue to have a fairly consistent generalized achy feeling throughout my upper body and there are still some days of more acute pain. But it’s my misaligned jaw that is the absolute most annoying symptom of all. Not being able to properly close your mouth makes chewing very uncomfortable. My gum-chewing days are, at least temporarily over but the good news is that ice cream and chocolate just melt in your mouth! (and yes, I have a supa sexy night guard which helps to protect my teeth at night but doesn’t stop me from clenching almost constantly throughout the day.)
But all in all, I’m rested and ready to move forward.
When I started my leave, I kept thinking that if I was just a little stronger, I wouldn’t need to take time off. That if I could just push through, I’d be fine. And I could have chosen to go that route. Pushing through is not always a bad thing. Years of pushing through may have contributed to my collapse but it also got me and my kids to where we are today and in some respects, it has kept us alive.
I know full well that I am writing this from a place of privilege. Trust me, as a single parent on an extremely modest income, many sacrifices were made to allow me to take this time to heal. I feel incredibly lucky to have the savings and benefit plan in place to support this decision.
And now I am back in the real world, mostly. Hit me up – let’s go for a drink – I am no longer hiding and can officially have fun in public again. We just need to schedule it around hockey, work, chores, appointments, and my newest, most important task on my to do list – REST!