Overcoming a Setback

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

May 25th, 2009 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

I’m having a setback.  Last week, someone at the meeting of my spiritual group decided that she didn’t have the time to walk behind the four chairs of the row in front of her, so that she could use the designated walkway to get to the bathroom.  Instead, without warning, she leapt over the chair to my right.

Not only I was startled — which in itself causes a shock to my nervous system and therefore pain in the weak parts of my body — but I was sitting crosslegged and saw that her foot was heading right toward mine. So in a protective move, I yanked my foot out of the collision path.

That action triggered an old ankle injury, causing pain that got progressively worse over the next couple of days and affecting everything from my ability to get around to my ability to sleep.  One night, for example, as I shifted the position of my leg, I got a jolt of excruciating pain in my ankle — a 10 on the classic pain scale of 1-10. 

I’m now having trouble walking in my own apartment, never mind from one location to another.  This disability in turn is having a negative impact on everything in my life — my ability to exercise, to shop for things I need, to wear shoes other than sneakers, to do my laundry, to otherwise go up and down the three flights of stairs to my apartment. It also has affected my state of mind, leaving me feeling angry at and frustrated by other people’s carelessness. 

I take excellent care of myself — among other things, implementing precautionary measures wherever I can anticipate them.  At the meetings of my spiritual group, for example, I specifically make a point of sitting in a chair where there is space around me, so that I don’t end up getting accidentally banged into by someone else.  And a couple of minutes before the meeting adjourns, I get up and stand to the side, waiting until the crowd thins before heading back into the center. 

But how could I possibly have predicted that someone would jump out from behind me, considering that we were at a meeting — not a track and field event or elementary school playground? And why is it that people do things like that without any warning?  Above and beyond all else, it’s rude and inconsiderate, disrespectful to the body space of another human being.  Just taking an extra two seconds to say “excuse me” would have given me the heads-up I needed to avoid this situation altogether.

What’s more, these kind of behaviors amp up the sense of anxiety that those of us with disabilities have walking through the world. We don’t just have to navigate through the challenges already presented to us.  We also have to anticipate and proactively defend ourselves against the abrupt, careless behaviors of those around us. 

And sometimes we just cannot predict those things: The woman who jumped over my wheelchair because doing so was faster than walking around it. The cyclist who ran into me from behind, on a sidewalk. The doctor who dumped a cup of liquid nitrogen onto the examining table, splashing it into my eye, because he thought it would be fun to watch the bubbles bounce. The driver who came into my lane and crashed into me head-on.

These behaviors can impact our lives not only by injuring or re-injuring us, but also by emotionally traumatizing us — promoting a sense of fear, a feeling that the only safe place is in our homes, alone. As such, these behaviors contribute further to the isolation experienced by those of us with chronic pain and other forms of chronic illness and disability.

As far as this incident goes, I am taking a week off of my meetings, because suddenly I do not feel safe in them.  I need to let the emotional charge of this incident pass before I can go back. I also need to feel strong enough that I can tell the woman who jumped over the chair exactly how her behavior impacted me.

Meanwhile, I am reminding myself that I have this blog specifically so that I can express my anger and distress, then let it go. Hanging onto the frustration and sadness only feeds negativity into my nervous system.  So now that I have put this experience out into the universe, I will focus my attention on feeding positive, loving, healing energy into my ankle; living at the edge of my physical ability in each given moment; and rejoicing in what I can do instead of grieving over what I can’t.

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