The Setback Funsies: Fear, Anxiety, Shame, and Frustration

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

November 8th, 2009 • The Humpty Dumpty ChallengePrint Print

crunch 11_02_09Following my Office Depot setback weekend, Nina started me off on the funky looking elliptical trainer, which is where we always start. While I’d gone up in the resistance level in our previous sessions, on this session I had to go almost all the way back to where I was on the first day.

Nina carefully monitored my pain levels, making adjustments here and there – like asking me to slow down my gait. Still, I couldn’t pull off more than four minutes; because while the pain went away for a bit, it came back.

I had a lot of feelings that day:

1. Fear and Anxiety

I have been so emotionally traumatized (never mind physically injured) by health care practitioners, that I’m now fairly terrified to report when I have had a setback. Will I be judged? Will there be eye-rolling or snickering? A joke or two about my bad luck or bad karma? Body language indicating that I’m hopeless or ridiculous?

When I told Nina, however, she was matter-of-fact and caring. “I can tell you’ve been in pain,” she responded. “You can see it in your eyes. They’re not clear and sparkly and dancy like they were last week.”

lunge prep 11_02_09I wanted to cry.

This is how it should be. This is what all health care practitioners should be like, especially those working with people in chronic pain. I have so many “war stories” to report from the field, where I was left wondering why the practitioners were doing work in health care in the first place, given their ignorance or callousness about the reality of people dealing with health conditions.

Nina actually gave a fuck. Actually noticed and felt compassion for the way the pain had impacted me. That’s just wicked cool.

2. Shame and frustration, mixed in with a little more anxiety.

I had soared so far so fast, but there I was again — pain here, pain there, limiting the ways I could do exercises, if at all. I was back to the yellow band and back to just a few repetitions of each exercise. Damn.

pose preparation 11_02_09Would I be able to pull off this Humpty Dumpty Challenge, I wondered. Had I set myself up for failure? I partially felt like a failure that day, seeing how far back I’d fallen. And I had more fear about whether Nina might react, might get frustrated herself, then act out on me from that place of frustration.

I was poignantly aware that my fears weren’t about Nina. They were residue from the emotionally abusive health care practitioners who’d come before her. As I said to Nina when we had dinner a few nights ago, I am part soaring eagle and part abused puppy dog. The puppy dog part is what was done to me. The eagle part is what I’m doing with what was done to me.

It takes time to build up trust, especially when we’re putting ourselves in the vulnerable situation of patient or client, and especially especially when that setup has been traumatic to us in the past. It’s akin to leaving an abusive relationship, figuring out the elements that make for a healthy relationship, and moving forward in that new relationship:

We have to let go of the past and take a leap of faith, if the new relationship is even going to stand a chance. And yet, we need to value our wisdom and be aware of the possible pitfalls, so that we can protect ourselves. In addition, even if the new relationship is just as healthy as can possibly be, the emotional residue will take time to work itself out. We need to experience different outcomes to the same scenarios, before being able to internalize and trust, oh yeah, this person is safe.

Which leads to the really cool, profoundly sacred thing about being a health care practitioner: You have the power to change someone’s life – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. How’s that for power. Use it responsibly. Use it lovingly. Use it wisely.

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