Patience is Everything
This is Part 25 of a serial blog originally titled 'Martha Carter's Healing Journey'. In Part 24, I share a ‘confession’ about an emotional and physical rollercoaster experience while attending a retreat in March 2019. In Part 23, I circle back to the topic of Somatics to update readers on my research and experience with this incredible healing practice since my December blog. Missed the earlier posts? Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, and Part 22.
When it comes to scoliosis, patience is everything.
Action, determination, and patience.
At least that’s what it feels like to me.
Following my confession last month about a frustrating day of body awareness and transformation, it occurs to me that by calling it a ‘day’, I am not fully recognizing the truth of my frustrations around scoliosis.
They are constant.
What am I going to do about it?
I always seem to have determination to figure out a way to find relief.
And I have learned that it takes time.
I stay positive and trust that things can get better.
And I have learned to rest as much as possible.
So where does mindfulness come in?
This blog answers that question.
Learning about Patience
After I had my rods removed, I was left with a torso that still felt like it was in a body cast.
The tissues were stiff, I had limited mobility, I was weak where many muscles had atrophied from my long bedstay, and the entire right side of my back was a block of scar tissue.
(More details on that story in my blog Part 4.)
I learned a lesson in patience and trust when a massage therapist told me it would take about TEN YEARS to break up the scar tissue. Somehow that didn’t discourage me.
What choice did I have?
We started the massage treatments—shout-out to our amazing TOPS associate Rosa Dawn Nichol—and about eight years later, the scar tissue was gone! Over that time, the changes were constant. One day, I almost fell over from dizziness when I took a deep breath and my ‘stuck’ ribs released for the first time in over 21 years. The massage treatments, coupled with training at the gym, allowed my tissues to soften, move, breathe—affecting me for the better in every way. It was dramatic, and I could hardly wait to ‘finish’ and get back to ‘normal’.
(That story is here)
I have to laugh at that idea now! As I have since learned, there is no ‘normal’ and there is no ‘finishing’...
For most of us with scoliosis, and especially those with a scoliosis fusion, the asymmetry is always there, and it causes all kinds of imbalances, in every system of the body, which can lead to chronic health issues for many people.
It is Never Finished: Working Towards Mindfulness
I will never finish exploring my options, because the discomfort never really goes away.
The more I learn and practice exercise techniques such as yoga, somatics, and Pilates—my preferred three—the more I feel better. I am stronger, more flexible, and have more mobility.
However, thanks to these practices, I am also much more aware of all my imbalances; my curves, twists, compressions, and pains. And that is not always easy. Sometimes it just feels easier to ignore the issues and pretend they are not there.
But healing does not work that way.
The more you can observe what is going on in your body (or with anything in life, for that matter!), the more you can affect change.
This is healing.
You have to be patient. And while you are being patient, you also have to be mindful, and observe and celebrate the changes as they happen.
Otherwise you may not notice them, and you will be forever frustrated.
This realization has taken years.
Most of us don’t want to think about our scoliosis. What a pain! (literally… haha). I spent many years pretending I didn’t have any issues. The medical system sets us up: we are told there is nothing to do, other than get a brace or have surgery. They say there should be no pain. Get on with your life. Ignore, deny, etc… Avoidance.
But this approach is not sustainable or helpful.
At some point along the way, almost everyone with scoliosis will have some kind of issue - or many - that needs addressing. The body is constantly changing and shifting throughout our lives, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. It takes tremendous courage and patience to face the issues head on, to try new approaches and believe that things can get better; to take the time that is really needed to affect change.
This is healing.
Noticing the Small Stuff that Leads to Big Stuff
When I reflect back on that day and the experience of frustration in my last blog, after a couple of months, this is how I now see it:
I was taking a workshop where I found many of the movements challenging for my fused spine. They were not extremely advanced exercises, but some felt awkward and even slightly painful. I know how to look after myself, but I when I started to compare myself to everyone else in the class - or to the way I thought I was supposed to be doing it - my ego went nuts. I got angry, frustrated, emotional, cranky, unreasonable - and my determination worked against me, as I pushed myself a bit harder than I should have.
I was not feeling patient, trusting, or mindful. I was frustrated.
I had no choice but to surrender. I went to my room where I rested, cried, and let it be.
The next day, I awakened to a new awareness. An area in my lower back which has been chronically tight forever, was moving a bit more. Just a bit, but that was worth noticing. Without as much emotional turmoil, I was able to explore more sensation and recognize the subtle discomfort as a shift for the better.
If I had stayed frustrated, I would have missed it.
Since then, it’s like I am constantly and slowly uncovering new potential—maybe not as big and dramatic as releasing my ribs that day when I finally took a deep breath, but who knows? As my lower back continues to open, I find new connections to both my torso and my limbs. There is both a ripple effect and an accumulation of small changes, as every system in my body continues to benefit from that first frustrating shift.
The more I pay attention - even now, two months later - the more I can feel that positive incremental changes have continued every day since then, leading to a more connected and integrated feeling in my whole body. Empowered.
For the first time in my life, I have a proper veggie garden where I go every day to observe its progress (Take note, I had raised beds built to make it easier on my back!).
I was out there yesterday, taking a break from writing this blog, and it suddenly occurred to me that gardens are a perfect metaphor.
Gardens are all about patience: seeds don’t grow overnight, and there is no guarantee that they will grow at all.
The gardener needs to choose a good location, clear the land, and prepare the soil. After planting, the seeds need constant attention to make sure that the conditions stay favourable for optimum growth. And then, at a certain point, the seeds, which are often VERY small, split, put down roots, and push themselves up through the soil.
For the gardener, there are many things to consider, including light, heat, air quality, pests, animals, and more.
The garden needs to be weeded and watered regularly—not just once at the beginning of the season.
As the plants grow, it is important to notice the small things, like whether or not fresh seedlings are thriving or struggling. Whether they need more water, fertilizer, or stakes. For some plants, the progress is easy and constant. For others, there are unexpected challenges as a mould suddenly appears, or an overnight cold snap destroys a whole row. Sometimes you need to re-seed, or reposition some of the plants.
There are many surprises, but you just have to do the best that you can...
One of many examples: I planted my garlic last fall, and it looked like nothing was happening for six months until suddenly little sprouts started poking through the dirt. Now they are quite tall, but they will still not be fully formed for several more months! And I have to resist the desire to dig one up to see what it looks like. I know I still have to be patient and to wait for the full results!
The Garden Metaphor
I realize this is just like listening to my body… It’s not all good and all bad. It just is.
The ‘seeds’ that I planted on that difficult workshop day are now being watched closely.
I am constantly revisiting the new sensations in my body, and making sure that I keep the seeds alive as they take root and affect my whole body. With my physical and supportive care practices, I weed and water them regularly. Sometimes it seems there is nothing happening, but then there is another little shift: ‘Oh look, this one is sprouting!’
I know I can’t rush it. Like the garlic, I can’t expect to see all the changes before they have fully formed. Instead, I am trying to enjoy the slow and steady changes without getting impatient for the results. I try to pat myself on the back for what is working well, and try not to get too discouraged when something doesn’t quite work.
All I can do is create the best conditions possible, stay determined, trustful, and mindful, and rest when necessary.
There is no ‘normal’ and no ‘finishing’. Like my garden, I am engaged in the never-ending cycle of nature. Seasons come and go. There are times of great action and change, and other times when the field goes fallow, resting and preparing itself for the next season. Sometimes a plant appears completely dead, but with the right conditions, it comes back to life. Rest, restore, recover—repeat. To paraphrase a saying, sometimes we feel like we are buried, but really we have just been planted, and it is time to bloom. I can hardly wait to see how that garlic turns out.
Patience is everything!
”Avoiding triggers isn't healing. Healing happens when you are triggered and you are able to move through the pain, the pattern, and the story - and walk your way to a different ending.”
— Vienna Pharaon
PS— I wanted to mention that both this and my last blog refer to a wonderful workshop I took with one of the TOPS associates, Darcy McMurray, in Mexico in March 2019. Although the retreat was not specifically for people with scoliosis, Darcy is extremely knowledgeable, and incredible at working with all body types and issues!
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