Sllllllooooooooooooow down. Just stop. Listen. It’s not easy, I know, but our lives depend on it…and not just because of a virus.
Two years ago, almost to the day, I had back surgery. I had debilitating sciatica. It had originally been brought on by doing one of those mum and baby exercise classes where you jog around a park doing circuits with your baby in the pram. I thought I was ready, my body clearly wasn’t. I didn’t actually feel anything ‘go’ at the time, but I sensed that I had held a plank position just a little too long. The next day I couldn’t move. I was in agony. Eventually it got better but for the following 18 months, it was something that kept coming back, healing up and coming back again. Finally, one morning early in February 2018, I rolled the top half of my body one way while keeping my legs where they were in bed and I felt a ‘ping’. An electric shock of pain shot out from my lower back and down my right leg. I screamed out in shock and pain…and fear.
I haven’t really talked about this before, but I believe my back ‘broke’ because I hadn’t listened well enough to what my body was telling me. I had tried to listen to myself in my grief, but I think I had decided that in some ways, I’d grieved enough and that it was time to ‘get back to normal’. Which for me means loading up my plate with lots of ‘stuff’. Going back to work (doing a job I just wasn’t feeling anymore), carrying on with my studies, being a mum to Benjamin, a wife, a friend. I had, I feel, headed off a full blown nervous breakdown about six months previously by deciding to stop working. I took up meditation and yoga again. Had regular massages. I slowed down. Which was exactly what I needed to do. I had been having a lot of panic attacks, my body hurt all over and I was grinding my teeth at night. My jaw was constantly sore and I had headaches. I realised that I needed time, I had gone back to work too quickly after losing Luna. Then, after about three months of slowing down, I felt a little better and I started feeling like I ‘should’ get back to work and studying. We moved house during this time as well. I spent my spare time ripping out dirty, smelly carpets and scrubbing down floors and walls that hadn’t been cleaned in years. Then the whole pre-Christmas lead up, into January and Luna’s first birth/death day. Two weeks later, my back went…’the straw that broke the camels back’ comes to mind. I was broken. My mental health was just about hanging on, but my physical health was done.
This was the price of not listening well enough. I thought I knew what was best, I was wrong. I thought I could ignore physical pain, as long as I was giving enough attention to my emotional pain. Clearly though, I wasn’t giving enough attention, or rather, the right kind of attention to my emotional pain. I was throwing everything and the kitchen sink at my grief. Which was, ironically, the problem. What I actually needed to do was sit still and be with my grief for longer than I thought. Grieving takes whatever time it takes. It doesn’t give a shit about your timetable or commitments. Of course, things still need to get done. Mortgage needs to be paid, there are meals to make and Benjamin needs parenting…but there was a whole load of stuff I didn’t need to be doing, or to the degree I was doing it.
The injury was pre-existing, it was a weak spot. But I know my grief and my sciatica are linked. We often hold grief in our hips and thighs. These muscles tighten up and blood flow becomes constricted. Muscles don’t work independently of each other, if one is injured, it has a knock on effect to the whole body. I also believe in the power of the mind-body to do what it feels necessary to get what it needs and if that means causing injury so that everything can stop, so be it. Sound familiar? It does to me. Right now, we could be forgiven for thinking Mother Nature has taken things into her own hands, and effectively broken our collective back. We’ve been stilled. We’ve known for a long time that our world is hurting. Climate change, oceans choking with plastics, rain forests being decimated for palm oil, rampant poverty, civil wars – all are linked together, nothing can be held in isolation. Put pressure on one area of the system, other areas begin to buckle under the weight. We are connected to everyone and everything on our planet. We like to fool ourselves with distractions which make us think we are independent of everyone and everything else, but we’re wrong. If what is happening right now to the entire world doesn’t prove that, I don’t know what can.
I had my surgery after nine weeks of brutal, life-limiting pain. It was the worst physical pain I have ever felt. I was exhausted by it. Immediately after my surgery I felt relief. The pain had gone. I felt…lighter. Free. It’s what we will all feel when lockdown ends and Covid19 begins to become a memory. My back needs constant care however. I need to make time for yoga. I need to make sure I sit and stand correctly. Meditation helps me quieten down to ‘hear’ what my body is saying to me. Where I’m holding emotion and what needs my love and care. Massage or acupuncture (when I can afford it) helps too. If I neglect myself, my back lets me know. If I ignore it for too long, the pain expands to other areas of my body. If we go back to the way things were, the path we were on pre-lockdown, I feel certain that things will get bad again, worse even.
Nature has levelled us. Stopped us in our tracks. She has pressed ‘pause’ on all of our lives. We are feeling the excruciating pain of this, some more than others perhaps and at different stages (mine was a couple of weeks ago). We have no choice but to listen to what she has to say. What do you hear? Will you listen? It’s time reset, repair and regenerate.