What I've Learned About Parenthood and Pain

"Pain is my friend," I whisper to myself, loud enough to be heard by my physical therapist Clare.  She has been working weekly on loosening up my shoulder which had become stiff and painful as a result of a fall this past summer.  The official diagnosis: frozen shoulder.   Thus, my weekly appointments with Clare.

"It's only pain," I repeat, mantra-like.  It hurts like heck when Clare works on my shoulder, because it has become very, very stiff.  It was a gradual stiffening, but when I could no longer undo my bra behind my back, I knew I had to go get help.  Ironically, the only way to loosen up my painfully stiff shoulder is by pushing and pulling through pain.

"You should be our poster child for pain management," laughs Clare.  What I've learned from this wonderful PT is that pain is not necessarily a bad thing.  All my life, I thought pain was bad.  If it hurts, then stop doing it!  However, in this case we have to stretch beyond the pain to break up the adhesion which has gripped my left shoulder like a giant claw.

My weekly sessions with Clare remind me a little bit of giving birth.  Sure, it hurt like crazy when I was in labor.  It felt like my body was being torn in two from the inside out. But, in due time, I was rewarded with a beautiful baby.  A new life began, but only because I worked through that pain and pushed and pushed.  Okay, it helped to have a little epidural, but still...

I pop a few ibuprofen pills before I start driving to my appointments, because I know what's coming.  The pain killers help take the edge off, even just a little.  I also take them 20 minutes prior to my own daily rehab sessions at home when I stretch and pull my shoulder using this pulley I ordered online.  "Pain is my friend," I tell myself.  "pain is good," I repeat as I do my prescribed exercises.  The pain always makes me sweat.

While I've been going through this whole frozen shoulder thing, my kids have also been going through various painful issues of their own -- grades, stress, homework, friends, bullies, etc.  You know, the typical adolescent drama.  I try to listen, and I try even harder to bite my tongue.  The last thing they want is a lecture from me, although I really want to go lecture the teacher or the mean friend or, truth be told, the parents of these meanies.  "You grow from your pain," I finally say to my kids.  It's true, although my kids don't really want to hear it.  I don't want them to withdraw from life in order to avoid pain.  I want them to emerge on the other side a whole lot stronger and more flexible.

"The length of recovery truly depends on the motivation level of the patient," Clare tells me.  "And you are one motivated girl!"  Heck yeah -- I don't want to be stiff the rest of my life.  I want to get back in the game!  I hear about some frozen shoulder patients, usually very old and not very motivated, refusing to work through the pain.  So they get stiffer and stiffer, until they can hardly comb their hair.

Sure, my kids could run away from their problems and withdraw, but I doubt that they would want to live their lives that way.  No one can work through their own pain but themselves.  I am here to help and guide, not to solve, because ultimately they have to live their own lives.

"Wow, you're back to 165 degrees," Clare declares while measuring my attempt at raising my arm straight up.  I'm almost thawed and nearing 180 degrees, and next week will be my final PT session.

My kids are making progress too.  They seem to be a little stronger and a little more grown up since this school year began.  It hasn't been easy, but it's been good.

It's only pain.  Pain is our friend.  Pain is good.

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