The Challenge of Recovering from an Upheaval

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

November 23rd, 2010 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

There’s been a lot of upheaval in my life recently, a lot of things out of my control, a lot of things putting me into flight or fight mode — which effectively compromises my ability to self heal. 

That in itself has set me into a spiral of panic and fear, and I have been left with the feeling of, that’s it, my life is over, it’s all downhill from here, I’m going to end up a broken bag lady living in my mom’s busted RV on some street corner (thank heavens for the RV, or it would be the street itself), all of my stuff is going to be thrown in some dumpster, I’ll be in horrific pain from the lack of facilities to effectively keep my pain away, and who knows, I might just slit my wrists, because I won’t be up to handle it all.

My mom and my best friend have been assuring me that I’m just in a really rough spot but that I will pull through it, as I always do — that I will poke and prod and turn things around and kick them and peer into them while standing on my head, as my mom says, until I figure out how to make them work for me.  In fact, my mom and best friend are convinced that I’m on the verge of some huge breakthrough in my work.

It felt like that when I moved up here.  Despite the fact that I was in horrific pain and that my life had just been turned upside down, I felt that I was moving toward something, something grand.  But then it seemed that everything just continued to assault me and throw both me and my finances out of whack, creating a vicious cycle that has felt impossible to break.

When living with a chronic pain condition, things are a lot more unstable and frightening than when we have our full capacity at our disposal.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I no longer can rely on the always-available backup jobs of working as a waitress or as a secretary, until I can get myself back on my feet. 

A big part of why I have been mostly pain-free is that I have created a life that supports my stability and healing: I work from home; I have an empty living room with a carpet, that serves as my dance studio; and I are very careful about the people with whom I associate, so as to manage my energy and outlook. That said, my life as a house of cards.  Take away my access to nutritious food, to an orthopedic bed, to an ergonomic desk, or to a place where I can dance; put me in an environment that is loud, cold, and/or aggressive, and I can fall apart in nanosecond.

That’s basically what’s been going on recently.  I’m super duper careful about where I live.  I’ve got an excellent track record of finding amazing sanctuaries in urban environments — places that facilitate my healing. People always go, “ooh-aah” when they enter my homes. But since being dislodged from my sanctuary in Los Angeles, I’ve not been able to find a safe space.  

The first place I moved seemed totally tranquil — a townhouse bordering a river.  I did have a little apprehension about the fact that there was a dumpster near the unit.  It was double or more the distance of the dumpster from my previous apartment, however, so I figured I would be safe.  I had no way of knowing that residents in that complex play basketball with their trash — throwing fairly heavy objects into the dumpster, from a distance. As in, boom-crash-bang.

I never knew when it was coming, so there was not only the matter of the noise itself, which, depending on the intensity, could throw me into an auditory setback and horrific nerve pain for a couple of days, but there was also the anxiety that accompanied it.  My life came to revolve around that dumpster — always trying to keep an eye on it, so that I could preempt an assault on my nerves.

In situations like this, one is dependent on others for compassion, support, and cooperation.  That was not forthcoming in this environment.  The grounds keeper and grounds manager were outright hostile to me when I requested accommodation, and I ended up in tears from the emotional assault on top of the audio assault.  I did my best to negotiate accommodation, and I stayed positive in my interactions with the manager, who was far more caring and responsive.  But ultimately, that place was not a home.  It was just a holding pen until I could find a safe space to live.

The next place seemed not only quiet but also a loving, gentle, supportive environment.  When I mentioned the issue I’d been having with the dumpster in my previous housing situation, the leasing representative told me that the management would be happy to special-order a sign for the dumpster (farther away still from my new unit), asking people to be gentle when disposing of their trash.  In addition, it seemed that the overall vibe in this place was much more cultured and considerate.

I did consider moving into a house, because I knew that as quiet as an apartment complex may seem, there is always the issue of maintenance doing work around the property.  But a house has its own issues, which I won’t get into here.  Suffice it to say, I looked up and down and all around; there were numerous factors to take into consideration; and moving to this apartment complex seemed to be my best option.

But when push came to shove, and there were assaults on my ears, the management seemed to drag its feet in response — leaving me, once again, extremely anxious and struggling to manage my life, despite doing everything in my power to take care of myself.  And then, following the tree-cutting incident, I was thrown into more pain and compromised hearing than I had experienced since my initial auditory injury. 

Add to these circumstances the fact that banging sounds kept coming from my neighbors’ unit downstairs — seemingly every time they closed doors, drawers, and cabinets — and I became a wreck. Great. Between 8 am – 4 pm, I have to worry about audio assault from maintenance. From 4 pm – 10 pm and from 6:30 am – 7:30 am on the weekdays, and pretty much throughout the entire weekends, I have to worry about it coming from my neighbors.

You can imagine my frustration and sense of despair.  Coupled with a tanked bank account, maxed-out credit cards, and no financial safety net among my family and friends, it all seemed downhill.  Without a safe space, how could I possibly recuperate?  And without funds, how could I find a safe space?

But then, as my mom and best friend predicted, I woke up this morning with a can-do attitude.  I decided to write up an action plan, which I will share in an upcoming installment of my blog post.

I think it really helped that my best friend and I talked for at least an hour last night, and that I could hear her (our) little kiddie-kids in the background. My friend and I have had a really hard time reaching each other — serious games of phone tag — and I’ve been feeling very alone, isolated, and friendless.  But then to finally speak with someone who understands me so well and who loves me so much and who has such a big heart and free spirit and deep well of compassion, well, that was really healing.

Then there’s the fact that my mom has been sending me healing energy all day every day, and it’s been helping my ears and head calm down and regain balance. So that’s it, I’m off to write my action plan – in which I will outline what is working, what is not working, what my anxieties and fears are, what my toolkit is for responding to them, and what my action steps are going to be from here.

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