That is the single worst thing that you could say to someone who is NOT relaxed. However, I often find myself commanding my body to relax, "Relax. Stop worrying. Relax!"
Our bodies are not Siri. Despite the incredible feats that our body can accomplish, it does not always respond on command. By ordering our body to "Relax!" our sympathetic nervous system doesn't just comply, inhibiting the "danger! danger!" signals to our adrenal glands. Our adrenal glands don't simply stop producing the stress hormone, cortisol. Our breathing doesn't just automatically slow it's rate. We simply cannot control our reaction to stress by commanding it to "RELAX!"
I've been working with my Pain Psychologist to identify and challenge negative thinking patterns and behaviour that is affecting me. It's called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which has helped to change the way I think and feel about situations, and as a result, has helped me to chill out and experience less pain. It works! It's taken a lot of homework and practice, but I'm feeling much more equipped to deal with stress and anxiety, specifically as it relates to my condition and pain.
But...I still have challenging days where negative thoughts spin out of control and my strategies just aren't as effective. Cue Easter Break 2017. I had 10 days off of work. Although I had a few appointments throughout the week, the majority of my schedule was wide open. Lots of time to "relax."
I found myself laying by the pool, book in hand, listening to the waves crash in the distance. "Relax. This is nice."
I found myself sipping my tea on the couch, cuddled up with my cat, watching celebrity interviews on the Today show. "Relax. You enjoy this."
I found myself exercising in the pool, stretching my muscles and feeling my body move effortlessly in the water. "Relax. This feels good."
Problem: I was not relaxed. My jaw was clenched. My fingers were chewed until they were raw (stress causes me to forgo food for fingers). My stomach churned with nerves. My tried and tested meditation techniques were only providing temporary relief from anxiety. I was sucking back a daily vodka paralyzer, which only made my head ache. Boo. People attempt to emulate my environment with sound machines and heat lamps, and here I was, in a tropical paradise, cocktail in hand, and unable to relax! RELAX DAMMIT!
On Wednesday, I met with an Orthopedic Surgeon on island who is new to me. I can't recall his name, but I do know that he is Finnish. I required this Surgeon's signature to authorize my cartilage implantation surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, which is scheduled for May 15. Over the past 4 years, I've had dozens of appointments with at least 8 different Orthopedic Surgeons. Each of these specialists agree that my condition is severe and rare, and the majority of these specialists state that there is no treatment for this condition. This is why I sought out a Surgeon who researches my condition at a University known for its medical advancements. He believes that this upcoming surgery could result in very positive results for me. I'm putting my trust in this person who has presented me with a few decades of research and a history of positive results with respect to my rare condition. If I can't trust him, who can I trust?
So it shouldn't have surprised me or gotten under my skin when the Finnish Doc kindly agreed to sign off on my surgery, but then expressed skepticism with regards to a positive surgery outcome.
Instead of spewing out the numbers, the research, and the evidence that support my upcoming surgery, I sat in silence. I felt my shoulders rise defensively to my ears. My heart fell. And there it was. Doubt.
I listened intently for 10 minutes as he expressed his apprehension regarding the surgery. Instead of breaking down and crying in the Orthopedic Surgeon's office (my MO), I composed myself, straightened my back, and spoke in a calm, confident voice, "Do you have any alternative solutions for me?"
Taken aback he responded, "No."
"Okay then. Thank you for your time. I am a strong person. I am educated. I am very aware of what this surgery entails. It was nice to meet you." This man was not going to see my tears.
Surprisingly, the Surgeon nodded and responded, "I can see that. I wish you all the best."
I took my signed paper and exited the hospital in the middle of a massive thunderstorm. Fitting. I then sat in my car and... well, I cried. Ugh. Good times. RELAX!
I've been enthusiastically explaining this surgery for the past year, "It's incredible. They are harvesting my cartilage in a lab! They will implant it back in my knee. Isn't technology and modern medicine amazing?" The reality is, I'm just not so sure. I want to be sure. The research is convincing. The science side of my brain tells me that this surgery makes sense. However, I've underwent 8 surgeries, and although many of them have provided temporary relief, I have yet to experience more than a year of reprieve. Am I doing this because I believe in it? Or am I doing this because I have no choice?
So I have some doubt. Instead of bottling up that doubt and facing the world with a brave face and enthusiasm for modern medicine, I decided to tell people. I met with my island besties on Thursday for a really fantastic pre-birthday celebration at the Kimpton Spa. I sipped champagne, soaked in the waterfall hot tub with perfectly pedicured toes and admitted to my friends that I am afraid. They listened. They reassured me. And I felt better. I began to relax.
I messaged with my Canadian buddies. I told them about my appointment and we chatted back and forth. They called the Finnish surgeon bad names. And I felt better. A little more relaxed.
|I'm calling it: Best Pina Colada on island at the Kimpton|
|Spectacular spa day with my island girls|
|My new wine glass, "Ship Happens." These girls know what I like!|
The next day, my 38th birthday, Ev and I hopped on plane for a quick 45 minute flight to Jamaica (Confession: I drank the complimentary in-flight rum punch at 7:00AM) and settled in at Strawberry Hill, our own beautiful cottage nestled 3100 feet above sea level in the Blue Mountains. Immediately noting that there was no TV and the only sounds were the cool mountain breeze blowing through our cottage, the chirping of birds, and the occasional distant sound of honking (the road up the mountain is so narrow that you must honk when you are driving to warn oncoming traffic!), I was initially concerned that there wasn't enough action to distract me from my anxiety. I was so wrong. It was wonderful. Ev and I spent hours drinking Red Stripes on our mountain deck (because Jamaica!), watching and feeling the clouds pass directly in front of us, listening to Bob Marley's greatest hits (because Jamaica!), and just hanging out. We indulged in spa treatments, amazing meals and cocktails, and soaked in the serenity and peace. At night, our little cottage echoed with the sound of the rain on the roof and the wind blowing through our louvered wooden windows. Our four poster bed was heated and I don't think I've ever slept so soundly. It was just awesome. Although I have a severe dislike for the word, "romantic" (If you have to state that something is romantic, is it really romantic??), I will say that the weekend was "mystical." Yes, that's the word. Mystical. We discussed my fears about my upcoming surgery - but it didn't consume my thoughts or our conversation. We just thoroughly enjoyed each other's company, and I submitted 100% to relaxation. Caveat: Do not go to strawberry Hill with someone you don't like. You will be spending a lot of time together. We observed a bird-watching couple arguing mountainside and pondered the possibility of them starring in the next Dateline Murder Mystery (the husband is always guilty, by the way). Ensure that your travel partner is your best buddy for this particular getaway.
Despite the mystique of Strawberry Hill, the experience didn't magically wipe away all my worries and fears, but I feel better about things. I am afraid. I have doubt. But I've made a decision to have this surgery. I am committed. The surgery is booked. My cartilage is growing in a Boston lab as we speak. It is the right decision because it is the decision that I have made.
|The view from our mountain cottage|
|My birthday dinner - 38 isn't so bad!|
|My knees are soaking up the freedom!|
|A Biloxi Mama and her little Biloxi kittens. The resort is looking after these guys in return for pest control!|
|So I ordered the complimentary rum punch on the 7am flight. It was my birthday!|
|Ev's showing me how to "wine"|
|My new buddy. Apty named "Whitey"|
|The lights of Kingston from 3100 feet|