I’ve been in my head a lot lately during my recovery process, and one of the things that struck me hard today was that often, how I feel about a situation is decided by my vantage point, not the actual facts about the situation. This strategy was something I was taught when I was in therapy in my early 20s, and it’s called “cognitive behavioral therapy“. Here are a few examples (warning: the negative responses to almost all of these facts involve copious amounts of swearing).
Fact 1: I need pain medications, muscle relaxants, and other drugs to get me through the day at an acceptable level of pain.
Negative Thoughts: Shit, this sucks. I hate medications, I hate taking a big mouthful of pills three times a day, and I’m just over it. Let’s wean ASAP. Fuck it, let’s even stop taking calcium supplements.
Positive Thoughts: These medications enable me to move my body more than I have in months, and get more exercise than I have since early April. Moving my body encourages it to grow bone faster around the fusion site. The medications I’m taking now are what my surgeon expected I’d be taking now, and I’m recovering according to or faster than the plan.
It’s a daily war, it’s exhausting, but it’s worth it — I think I’m winning.
Fact 2: Walking is important for my recovery, and it challenges muscles I haven’t used in a long time. I feel like my bio-mechanics are different with the realignment of my spine and removal of broken vertebrae parts.
Negative Thoughts: Walking hurts, it’s boring, and I hate it. I’d rather be moving at a faster rate of speed — running, cycling, driving a car, etc. My feet hurt, my calves hurt, and this new gait thing is making my glute muscles hurt for the first time in a long time. Let’s quit.
Positive Thoughts: Walking is one of the safest ways for me to get exercise right now*, and it enables me to get places I need since I’m not driving yet. (Aside: Tried driving yesterday, wasn’t so reassuring … but I can do it.) Today, I walked up the hill to the grocery store!
Fact 3: I tend to walk fastest when walking along the path on the side of the highway. It is often loud with vehicle traffic.
Negative Thoughts: I hate this, the people in the cars look at me and I feel like a sausage jammed into this clothing. It’s loud, I can’t hear my headphones very well, so let’s go back home.
Positive Thoughts: The even blacktop path along the highway lets me exert myself the most. The smooth, even pavement with no seams mitigates the dizziness and vertigo; I can expend more energy focusing on keeping my HR up vs. worrying about falling. I go fastest along the highway. The extra noise is worth it because I can feel the ENDORPHINS when I get home.
Fact 4: Today I walked to the grocery store, bought fresh Brussels sprouts, carried them home and sauteed them with bacon and walnuts. Then, my back muscles promptly started spasming.
Negative Thoughts: Holy fuck. For the first time in a full 28 days I cook something involving real, fresh ingredients. It was quick, it was easy, and I can’t even do that without severe back spasms?! UGH. FML.
Positive Thoughts: I did it! I walked to the grocery store!! I carried home a pound of Brussels sprouts, prepped them myself, cooked them, ate them AND THEY WERE GODDAMN DELICIOUS. I successfully cooked something healthful for the first time in over a month! I have medications to combat the spasms; they are a common occurrence and shouldn’t be alarming. They are part of my body figuring out it’s new biomechanics.
Long story short, lately I’ve been fighting with myself to stay more in the “Positive Thoughts” zone. It feels cheesy, almost like there’s an adult in my head chastising a toddler for being a whiny little thing, and redirecting. It’s a daily war, it’s exhausting, but it’s worth it — I think I’m winning.
* Internet source re: walking after spinal fusion:
Activity encourages healing blood flow. Movement and activity promotes healthy blood circulation, and blood brings the oxygen required to the healing site. Lack of oxygen will delay or sometimes prevent healing of tissues and healthy bone growth, which are critical to a successful fusion outcome
In addition to the physical benefits, a careful return to normal activity has many emotional and psychological benefits, such as production of endorphins—the body’s natural pain killing chemicals —and the feeling of well-being from staying active, enjoying fresh air and sunshine, and more.