Surrender

I drew this mandala as part of my healing process.

Within yourself lies a realm of deep wisdom.  We think we are the mind, but we are not. The mind is just a part of who we are; the body holds much of our life experience and at times, seems to have a life of its own. At times, it’s as if you are on auto-pilot.  You drive yourself home without even remembering the drive in the same way your brain breathes for you without thought and digests for you without reason.  You don’t have to ask your arm to catch a ball, it will reach up and do it automatically if you’ve trained it to do such a thing. I can ride a horse in my sleep, I’ve done it enough times.  And apparently, I can also saddle one while my mind is occupied elsewhere. (Confusing reference?  Please read my last post.)

Which is where the seed of my accident began.  On autopilot, I saddled up my horse and somehow must have missed a step because not 15 minutes later I was on the ground and hours later, contemplating how my life was going to radically change with rotator cuff surgery. There I was with a left arm that felt deaf to the commands of my mind, the signals couldn’t get through, certainly something was torn and mechanically in need of repair.

During the weeks since the accident, I have been thinking a great deal about the autonomic system and how it failed me after years of doing the same procedure countless times.  In the retelling of my tale to my friend Fran, I was loaned a book to shed some light on the subject.  Deep Survival outlines how chaos theory and active systems interact, how experts make mistakes, and how some mistakes can be deadly.  Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales is a study of accidents and why some people survive them and why some do not. I would highly recommend this book if you, like me, are invested in not just knowing how accidents happen, but why they happen.  I actually was comforted in learning more about how the brain works and how I missed crucial steps by being on autopilot.  It was my expertise in the subject (saddling a horse) that was the pivotal point in which the system of horse-saddling failed.

However, knowing more did not prepare me for the magic that was to follow weeks later as I settled into my recovery.  I do not use the word magic lightly… however, the brain is still a mysterious place, we have yet to fully understand all its secrets. But, before the magic, a quick backstory: 18 days after my trip to the ER, I was denied by my insurance to have a critical MRI ordered by my orthopedic specialist.  Without this procedure, he couldn’t give a definitive diagnosis and proceed with surgery, though clearly, I was heading in that direction as I’d failed all the mobility tests.  The only way to lift my arm was using the other one to carry it into place.  Even in bed I had to reach over to place my arm next to me, the shoulder refused to work as it should.  But the wisdom of the insurance company decided I should have physical therapy for 6 weeks before an MRI. I was stunned by the delay and what I saw as interference in my health care.  To repeal the claim would take longer than the PT, so I called and made an appointment for the next day to get started on what I saw as “going through the motions”.  I also made a critical decision at that point.  Rather than express frustration or fight with my emotional reactions, I would “let it go”.  I surrendered to the situation.

Surrender, as I read later in Gonzales’ book, is a critical part of survival.  By surrender, he means seeing the situation as it IS, not as we want it to BE. The sooner you can accept your surroundings, or your situation, the sooner you can get down to the business of survival and doing what must be done.

With surrender, I discovered an awareness of the healing choices before me: I could fight the insurance company’s policy and stomp about in righteous indignation or I could release my need to insert my will and see what would come next.

Surrender is not the same as “let it go”; I could never quite figure out HOW to “let it go”.  But the concept of surrender I understand because surrender isn’t a passive act.  Surrender is an action of acceptance.  For someone with a willful determination in life, taking an action to accept is much easier to DO.  “Let go” seems like a not-doing, I don’t know how to “not do”.  It’s funny though, as I further my meditation practice, I now understand “not doing” better. Still, “not doing” can’t be done as it’s more like the negative space in a field of objects. But I digress.

I surrendered to the denial of my MRI and that night, when I went to bed, I prayed for the strength and wisdom in knowing the difference between what I could change and what I couldn’t.  The Serenity prayer is near and dear to my heart.  I did not sleep well, the injury kept me up, it was still painful and limiting my usual sleep position.  At 4 AM, mind zipping from thought to thought, I arose and sat in meditation, but could not still my mind. After 20 minutes, I gave up and returned to bed. I sent out a prayer, a silent wish for acceptance and help to get me through the night.  And then, a few deep breaths later, I felt an urge to stretch.  I did so, and along with my right arm reaching above my head, my left arm joined it on its own!  The signal to stretch was transmitted to my arm and although it hurt a little at the top of the stretch, it went up just like it always had before.

Shocked at my arms’ response, I hopped out of bed and tried it again from a standing position.  Yup!  It worked; it wasn’t a dream! I tested it a few more times before waking up my husband to share the magical news.  I had no explanation other than a mystical one but I was flooded with emotions and cried with relief.

The next day my new Physical Therapist, Dr. Abbey, was amazed and pleased at this turn of events.  After reading the surgeons report, she did not expect to see me raise my arm.

“Believe me,” I told her, “I am just as surprised.  It went from not responding to this!” and I waved it up in the air.

“Well, the brain is remarkable.” She went on to speculate, “I can’t say for sure this is what happened, but the body remembers injury and since you had a previous injury in that same shoulder, when you traumatized it with your fall, the brain shut down the signals.  It remembered what happened last time and shut it down so it could heal.”

If this is not an example of the illusion of control, I don’t know what is. That the accident happened at all was out of my control; why wouldn’t the recovery be the same?

The previous injury Dr. Abbey referred to had been several years ago when I was struck with a frozen shoulder.  That shoulder injury had taken almost a year to recover from, hence my dismay at facing another prolonged recovery.  But clearly my brain and body had other ideas when it came to this injury which showed me, I wasn’t as in control of myself as I thought I had been.  I couldn’t even shape the outcome of the recovery!  And I had tried, weeks of follow up appointments, phone calls, trying to push forward my MRI until the day it was denied.  I did everything I could and it still was beyond my ability to affect the outcome.  It was THIS concept, coupled with the accident that was a huge wake up call.  I’ve thought about this a lot… but here’s the gist of it:

                                           

                  Do your best, but be prepared to surrender.  Not everything is yours to control.  Sometimes, not even your own body. 

 

I guess that’s where prayer comes into play.

Pushing the Reset Button

(Dear Readers, this is not a usual art related post.  If you read my blog looking for an image, well, you may want to skip this one.  Thanks for following along, next post will be about my newest commission, a dog portrait of Elton the wonder cur!)

Pushing the Reset Button

When an electrical system has an overload of current, a circuit is tripped, effectively breaking the connection of electrical power to the receiving agent. Be it a motor or a relay, the object no longer has access to current and thus maintains its ability to function. Without the tripped circuit, too much amperage can disable the object, rendering it broken or useless. After the power surge, one can reconnect safely to the electrical source by pushing a reset button.

And so it happened to me. Metaphorically, of course.

On Sunday, March 13th my head exploded violently. Sudden nausea, vomiting and pain which felt like I’d been shot. It’s called a thunderclap migraine episode, and usually signifies something very, very bad. The next day, my head still aching, I did some internet research and learned more about this phenomenon. I was ignorant about migraines as I had never had one before, I rarely get headaches for that matter. I called my physician about it and she promptly sent me to the hospital for a CT scan. It was inconclusive, no hemorrhaging. Was there an aneurism waiting to go off? Only a MRI would show. I didn’t have to do it, but the on call doctor said, (when I asked what would she do) that she would. “For peace of mind.”

Now, I know my busy mind, my creative-worrying mind, my alarmist mind… so I agreed. I needed that peace of mind. Big time. I was wheeled back down to imaging for another test after which I was wheeled back to the emergency room to wait. The room was darkened and quiet. I had no reception, so my phone could not entertain nor inform. I told my husband who was out of town working, that I was driving myself to the ER under doctors orders. That was the last he heard from me until later that afternoon when I was released. He was going to have to wait as well.

In the meanwhile, I started my second solo wait. I didn’t mind, I had wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to be thinking about anyone else during that time. I disobeyed doctor’s orders by driving myself in; the idea of calling a neighbor then corralling my thoughts about how I was messing up their day, their schedule, their whatever…. silly of me, yes, but I wanted that space. I didn’t want to allay anyone’s fears or concerns or have them reassure me and mine. Because as odd as this sounds, I didn’t have any. To worry is to think about the future. To get creative with what could happen, to what my life would be like when they gave me the news, whatever the news may be. I just wanted to focus on the moment and I needed to be alone in order to keep my focus.

Lately I’ve been working on that busy, creative mind of mine. Getting a handle on all it’s wild ways… the over thinking, the catastrophizing, the micro-manager of my life. It has been said that worrying is a waste of imagination. Well, in my case, I seem to be blessed with a massive supply of imagination. I often have to dial down the imagining; worry and talking myself out of worrying is an Olympic sport. And yes, it is fucking exhausting at times. In the previous months I had been subjecting my mind to a barrage of high voltage imaginative current… a continuous assault of intense thought, worry and mental gymnastics.

I finally found something that seemed to work like a surge protector, or maybe more like a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. It came to me as a book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I heard about it in January but it took me a month to get my hands on a copy. There is so much to this book, I don’t want to get into it, read it for yourself if you feel intrigued, but the main premise is a simple one: now is all there is. If you can focus your mind on being here, being present in the now, then you can erase your worries, your ruminating, your anxiety and depression which are all based on the future or the past. I loved Be Here Now by Ram Dass, which spoke to my 20 year old self quite deeply. But The Power of Now made more sense to my older self, it has affected me in a powerful way.

As I lay in the curtained cubicle of the Emergency Room, I focused on my breath. On listening to the sounds around me. Not thinking about “what if”. I just focused on being there, in the room, being alert, aware and waited. Which was all I could do… just wait. I don’t know how long I waited, time seemed to stand still, though I do know I was there for well over 3 hours. And then the waiting was over.

The doctor beamed back into the room. They found nothing. No enlarged vessels, no aneurysm, no tumor, no bleeding, nothing abnormal. The MRI was clean! The sudden migraine? A fluke, who knows? But whatever it was, I made her day and I was cleared to go. The nurse was all smiles. He said, “We give people bad news all the time. They come in here with a massive headache like that and then we see something. Usually not good. I’m so happy for you!”

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough… out into the cloudy skies. The sun broke through a gap as I walked back to my car, pausing on the way for an ambulance to pass. Someone else on their way to bad news perhaps, but not me. Not today.

I’ve been thinking about this moment for the past few weeks. I finished my Eckhart Tolle book and started another. I’ve watched his videos on Youtube, perused his website. Learned more about him and how he’s met with the Dali Lama, worked with Ram Dass, been interviewed by Oprah for her Super Soul series. I had never heard about him before this January and he’d been teaching these universal truths for years and moving in some pretty famous circles. I keep thinking about a circuit breaker… how I had felt overwhelmed and how learning about Tolle’s teachings gave me a respite from all that high wattage.

I’m not the same person I was before. I am, but I’m not. Maybe in an alternate reality I did have a brain aneurysm and was changed. How imaginative of me! But in this reality, I got to walk out of there with all my electrical parts in good working order, that surge didn’t fry my circuits. Now I can push that reset button. And start all over again.