My head is wedged between two pillows, my left arm lays there unmovable, and I’m flat on my back on the living room floor. The window is open, and as the breeze comes across my face, I feel it and it’s excruciating. It feels like needles shooting through my neck and shoulders. I remember thinking, “This is what it must feel like to be a torture victim.”
The Friday before, I was running a conference. At the end of the evening, I went to sit on tall barstool chair and as I did, it split in two. It was cracked but I didn’t know that. My legs flew above my head and I landed upside down on my back as my head snapped back and hit the floor. Instinctively, I reached my left arm out to try and brace myself but failed.
Too shocked and embarrassed, I didn’t realize I was badly hurt. Instead, I jumped up, told myself I was okay, willfully focused on the job at hand, and continued working.
Each day the swelling and pain became worse. By Tuesday morning, I awoke at 4 am in agonizing pain. The slightest movement brought me to tears. “OMG! Why is this getting worse? It should be getting better! I need help but it’s too early and I don’t want to bother anyone.” I lay there for three hours until 7 am, which felt like an okay hour to wake someone.
My friend Natalie came and took me to the Urgent Care. The whole time I’m thinking, “They’ll give me a shot or pills or do something to make it better, and then I’ll go on to work.” I’d brought my work bag and laptop with me.
However, that was not the case. I spent the next six weeks on my living room floor 24/7 in an enduring pain I’d never known before. Later, MRI’s confirmed that I herniated three discs in my neck and torn the cartilage off the bone in my left shoulder joint. When the swelling in my necked peaked, it pinched off the nerve that controls my left shoulder. It would be four months before the nerve healed and my arm could move of its own volition again.
The thoughts that went through my head were: “This is not happening to me. I am healthy and fit. I’ve spent years as a competitive athlete doing basically whatever I felt like - diving, water polo, cross country, college volleyball, triathlons, 100-mile bike rides… Whatever… this is NOT me, a useless lump lying on the floor.” My body was something I could count on and it was betraying me. I felt helpless and I hated it.
As I fought accepting my current situation, Life began teaching me some lessons despite myself. While lying on the floor, I came to see:
- I’d become a workaholic
- I’m attached to seeing myself and being seen by others as having a high capacity and competency, and I’ve lived as though that’s what made me valuable and worthy
- I detest feeling like a burden
- I’m a poor receiver
Choice had been taken away; my ability to control anything had been taken away. I was forced to lie there, be still, and receive help from others. Forced to allow friends and co-workers to bring me to doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, bring me food, and help me dress. One day my co-worker, Sara, came over to visit and check on me. She offered to vacuum and as she vacuumed around me, as I lay on the floor, I wanted to crawl out of my skin with shame. This was an affront to my autonomy.
Receiving people’s kindness and generosity could be uncomfortable for me under joyous circumstances, but to receive such attention when I was vulnerable and in pain was a whole other level of discomfort, and it was humbling.
At six weeks, I received a second steroid injection into my neck. When I woke from the anesthesia, I felt like I’d been reborn. It was the first time since my fall that I didn’t feel the pervasive all-consuming pain. I cried in relief. While the road ahead would include shoulder surgery and a couple of years of physical therapy, the worst was over.
I cannot deny that it seems the most challenging experiences throughout my life have also been ones that have deeply enriched my life with wisdom and life lessons that I do not believe I could have received otherwise.
During my time on the living room floor, I learned what denial looked like from the inside out, to more graciously receive help from others, and I discovered strength in my vulnerability and a gift in my tears.
As time went on, I also came to see that while what was driving me to work hard was a desire to make a difference and a contribution, the shadow side of it was that I had privileged it above my own well-being. An ‘aha’ I’m still learning from and continues to be germane today.
Julio Olalla often says our wounds are our assets. I believe this is true.
- What challenging experiences in your life have led to valuable insights and wisdom?
- What might you still be denying?
- For you to find peace, who or what might you need to forgive?
- What might you need to unlearn?
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Author: Deanne Prymek
As a Professional Certified Coach and Program Director for the Newfield Network USA, I am dedicated to providing leadership coaching, transformational learning, and training programs to support participants achieving sustainable success.
I coach and manage programs, projects & conferences geared toward teaching the skills needed to become a coach and masterful leader in business and life.
My comprehensive program management knowledge and coaching acumen allows me to guide leaders to focus their vision, design conversations, and establish meaningful connections with their teams to inspire, motivate, and deliver results and revenue.