Intro: Welcome to the Ashes to Wings podcast, where we tell stories of overcomers, and give you tips and tricks to living a fuller, more embodied life, here's your host, Jenni O'Connor.
Hey friends. Today we’re going to talk about pain. I know it doesn’t sound like a very fun topic, but don’t tune out on me just yet! As someone who has lived with pain daily for over 20 years, I’ve learned to block it out to an extent. The brain does this as a self-defense mechanism... if I focused on pain all the time, it would be a pretty tough life. On my good days I hover at around a 5 out of 10 on the pain scale, and on my slower days I’m up around a 7 or 8. On those days, I can’t even breathe without pain.
I learned at a young age that being tough was admirable. If I kept a brave face through medical procedures, doctors and nurses fussed over how strong I was. Somewhere along the way, I had internalized the messaging that I needed to be brave... to not allow myself to give into the pain, cry, or show I was hurting.
A little over a year ago, I developed Frozen Shoulder. Doctors are still learning what causes it, but they do know it’s an autoimmune response in the body... and my connective tissue disorder made me more at risk for it. Essentially the body creates a hard, tight shell around the shoulder joint, and it’s “frozen” in place. More than just a bit of stiffness, when Frozen Shoulder is going through the freezing phase, it’s excruciatingly painful. Most nights I couldn’t sleep, because there wasn’t a position that didn’t hurt.
After the shoulder completes the freezing process, it stays “frozen” for several months, and then slowly begins to “thaw out.” The whole process takes about a year and a half on average... which is a long time to be without your shoulder when your job is a pole dance instructor. So obviously I was anxious to do anything I could to speed the process along.
After a painful procedure to break up the tissue, I began physical therapy. After five months, we’re starting to make some progress, but it seems unbearably slow. As someone who used to hold her entire body-weight upside-down on a pole, it feels strange to celebrate almost lifting my arm overhead after 5 months of hard work. But, here we are. Each session, my physical therapist, or PT, works to stretch and rotate the joint to its limits, working to bring back my mobility and flexibility. On some days, particularly if my fibromyalgia is flaring up, this is a painful process. We were mid-conversation one day, when she stretched my shoulder deeply, causing me to fall silent and try to breathe through the pain. Ever the astute observer, she asked how my pain level was. Through gritted teeth, I lied, “Eh.. Not too bad!” She eased off the pressure and caught my eye, saying, “You know, you don’t have to be brave.”
It caught me off guard, and that gentle comment brought tears to my eyes. I don’t have to be brave. How strange is it that it took a PT that I barely know to show me what I had believed for so long? How strange is it that I never noticed the heaviness of the belief I was carrying? And yet with that one quiet phrase, she shone a light on a weight I’d carried for almost my entire life.
It’s not your job to be brave through pain.
It’s ok to cry, or to be frustrated, or swear. In fact, studies show swearing actually helps reduce pain levels. You don’t have to put on a brave face and pretend it’s fine... because guess what? It’s not always fine. Sometimes life hurts. Sometimes everything seems overwhelming.
Like my frozen shoulder, working through pain can be a process. You may feel stuck for a while... frozen in place as you figure out what to do and how to handle it. You may go through phases where the pain seems unbearable, or you feel stretched beyond your limitations. And as you work to return to your normal, it may sometimes feel like you’ll never be the same again. But if you can breathe into your situation, acknowledge the pain, and celebrate the small wins, you will find yourself on the road to healing.
So when you’re in a painful situation, ask yourself if you’re allowing yourself time to NOT be brave. You may need to wait until you’re alone, or with someone who will understand... but give yourself that time to feel it. Then wipe your tears, dust yourself off, and start again. Because if we allow ourselves those few moments to acknowledge the pain... if we allow ourselves to actually FEEL it... we can move on to a more truthful acceptance. And only then can we start to rebuild and rise above it.
Outro: Thanks for listening. The best way to learn is to teach someone else. So take one thing you learned today and share it with a friend. Find Jenni on Instagram at the_Jenni_O'Connor and online at JenniOConnor.com. Subscribe for new episodes. Until next time, rise above!