Patience for Success: Slowing down to Move ForwardAug 13, 2021
The surgeon looked at me and said “you won’t be heavy lifting, running or racing anymore”. My L4L5 and L5S1 discs were crushed. I glared at him with a look that said “Oh really?” Clearly he didn’t know me well enough.
This was over 30 years in the making. Lots of wear and tear, overuse, under recovery, disc bulges and pain. There was not one thing to blame. Lifting heavy weights during long days coaching national team athletes, demonstrating movements without a warm up, birthing 2 children, car accident, horseback riding falls, many sports injuries. Pick one or some.
My back did not present any worthwhile surgery options that the doctor felt would make a difference. In fact, surgery could make things worse. This had been going on for years but this time was different. I was always able to rehab myself through flare-ups and get back to life quickly… or I just “muscled through” the pain and found a way to keep going. There was no pause button for me. Maybe you are familiar... Squirming in restaurant chairs, muscle rub at night, pain killers, agonizing car rides with no cruise control, breathtaking stabs of unexpected pain, sharp shooting, dull achy, tingling in the feet, weird pain in the nether regions… I thought I had it all…yet...
One day, without warning, when I tried to walk normally I had ‘drop foot’. I couldn’t pick up my right foot properly and my 4 toes were like floppy fish. They wouldn’t work. This led to my 3rd MRI and EMG testing to check the nerve conductivity in my legs. In that appointment (with the surgeon who told me I wouldn’t be running again) I saw the imaging of my crushed discs and learned that I had 70% nerve function bilaterally. “Hmmm” I thought “at least I can pick up my foot now- that means I'm improving”. By that point (12 weeks later- the time it took to get the specialist appointment) my leg was actually moving well enough to walk. I wondered what the percentage of function would have been 3 months prior when I couldn’t walk and my toes flopped. I couldn’t run, my toes still weren’t working normally and the surgeon didn’t suggest any viable options. I left the appointment unusually light hearted. I sighed, smiled and began the hard part. Being patient.
If you have ever had back pain, like most people at some point in their lives, you know that it affects every aspect of your daily living. If you heal and overcome the injury or chronic pain, you live with the apprehension of knowing it could come back. Many people then turn to living as though they are still injured, guarded or apprehensive for the rest of their lives. I don’t blame them. The pain sends a strong message and teaches us to step back from the hot stove. In this case, whatever you perceive caused the back pain. I didn't have one thing that caused my back damage. It was my whole life. I wasn't about to avoid everything.
That day in the Dr’s office after the EMG testing and reviewing my MRI I had the information, could see the difference in my discs, understood the limitations in my nerve signals and it was exactly the clarity I needed. I felt like a weight had been lifted. I felt like I owed my body a huge apology. I had been a bully. Pushing my body through exhaustion countless times without listening to the pleas for recovery. I knew exactly what it needed now.
He didn’t know what I knew. I had rehabbed countless injuries, brought broken bodies back to world class performance, worked in a chronic pain clinic and coached the thoughts of hundreds who didn’t believe in themselves or possibility. He didn’t know what I had overcome in my life, how many times I had been told no, too small, too female, too risky. He didn’t know that I just needed to understand what I was dealing with in order to coach myself as I would coach others. What a concept. Giving myself the grace, support and care that I would for everyone else!
I had the knowledge and coaching experience in anatomy, physiology, rehabilitation and performance but now I needed my brain to generate something different. Commitment. Determination. And most of all, patience. The same emotions and attributes needed to grow a business, make a national team, raise a family… go figure!
It has been almost 4 years since the drop foot. 2 years of no running, 2 years of no squats or olympic lifts and still training everyday for my best ability. Daily workouts, daily meditation, daily stretching, rolling and mobility. Monthly massage, occasional acupuncture, regular inversion table and pain management. The biggest most important practice of all was patience. Without it I would have stopped trying after the second week. The reward simply doesn’t show up right away. Relying on a positive feedback loop isn’t an option when the results I am looking for take months or even years.
Patience looks like:
- Commitment to the process
- Not making set-backs wrong
- Recommitting after set-backs
- Trying new things while giving the current efforts 100%
- Confidence that I am exactly where I am supposed to be
Patience was something that I had regularly scoffed at...
“I am not exactly a patient person”
“I want it not now, but yesterday”
These were my consistent thoughts.
Yet there I was. Supporting the long and slow process of nerve regeneration in every way I could without medication. Why? Because it is worth it. Going for a huge, full, adventurous, healthy, vibrant version of life is what I am after and having my most capable body is part of that vision.
Patience is the best tool I have right now to succeed. Not just at healing and physical performance but at business, my marriage, my family engagements and life. As an achiever I am willing to work 10x harder to get the outcome I want… however, that mentality has typically had a bigger cost than I wanted. Injury, burnout, chronic pain, stress and staggering over the finish line without remembering the journey let alone enjoying it!
Here are some thought tools I have practiced for patience that may be useful for you ….
1. When thinking:
“This shouldn’t have happened”
Try: “What are my options?”
2. When thinking:
“ ________ will never be the same again”
Try: “What do I want this to look like going forward?”
3. When thinking:
“This is so hard”
Try: “This is so worth it”
4. When thinking;
“I am not making progress”
Try: “This is part of the process”
5. When thinking:
“I can’t handle this”
Try: “I can handle anything”
6. When thinking:
“I’m doing the right things but it isn’t working”
Try: “I can figure this out and I have the resources to solve this problem”
7. When thinking:
“I don’t know how or what to do”
Try: “I’ve figured out things before and I can get through this too”
8. When thinking:
Try: “This is my life and I can create whatever I want”
9. When thinking:
Try: “I can reach out to those I love”
10. When thinking:
“What if this is it?”
Try: “I am committed to being my best no matter what”
The truth is we live in a culture of immediate feedback. Don’t get me wrong. Practicing patience still requires taking action. The areas that tend to take the longest and require the most work (aka action) are the ones that often have the most fulfillment. The patience it took to start a business and run it for 16 years, nurture a blended family, rejuvenate a marriage, start a new business and overcome the countless set-backs along the way comes from the same well. It doesn’t run dry. It is renewed by knowing that I am on the right track. This is my only life and I am committed to making it incredible.
The patience is the success. Patience allows us to embrace all of life, not just the parts we think we want. It allows us to accept when things don’t go our way without making it wrong. Patience is less energy consuming than impatience and wrong making. It allows greater perspective and space. Patience allows.
Would I wish my back issues on anyone? No. Have I wished it was easier? Umm yeah. I also realize I am right where I am supposed to be and that is more fulfilling than any shortcut. Oh and as a bonus, I am pain free 95% of the time, run intervals weekly, do plyometrics weekly, am squatting and lifting and know how to manage any symptoms with confidence. Am I back to doing almost everything? YES. Am I back to my best level yet? No. But I am so much more fulfilled and connected to my body. Thank you patience.
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