Warning: This post contains descriptions of pain, injury and A&E visitation that you may find upsetting.
Most people can recognise when their stress is becoming too much for them to handle, and take steps to manage it. For some people, it might take someone close to them sharing their concerns before they do anything about it. Me? Falling down a flight of stairs and dislocating my shoulder – that was my wake-up call.
Before becoming injured on Sunday, I had planned on writing a blog post about managing difficult emotions, and how I was trying to deal with the stress that turns anxiety into constant, low-level irritation and intermittent bursts of anger directed at loved ones. Dillon and I had gone to Dublin, where my overestimation of how much we could manage to do, and underestimation of how tired the day would make me, had turned what should have been an enjoyable day into one that I wrote off mentally in the end as I just couldn’t cope with it all.
I had high hopes to do as much sightseeing as we could, as well as run some important errands, but had conveniently forgotten how exhausted my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) makes me, how much anxiety I get from large crowds of people, and just how much walking we would be doing throughout the day. I wanted to show Dillon all around Dublin and have a nice day out together, and I couldn’t manage it, but in the end I just took my frustration out on someone who didn’t deserve it.
Then, just as I was thinking about how I could deal with this stress in my life in a better way, ironically even saying to Dillon: ‘Please remind me to slow down if I’m getting anxious’, life hit me smack in the face. And the legs. And the ribs. And the arms. And the shoulder. (Seriously, I fell down a lot of stairs – and smashed into a large ornament at the bottom of them too!) I had missed a couple of steps as I went downstairs, tumbled, slammed into the wall, rolled over, trapped my right arm underneath my body as I fell, and dislocated my shoulder. Luckily, I am left-handed, so of all my limbs for this to happen to at least it’s the least important one!
The pain was like nothing I had ever experienced, and I was later told that what I was feeling would have been twice as bad as giving birth (which, to be fair, gives me some confidence for the future!). At A&E I had an x-ray taken, which confimed that I had not broken anything. The pain was so intense that my worries left me – all thoughts of anything except following the instructions of the medical staff were completely gone. Pain like that narrows your focus – narrows your life, your experience of the world – to the point that you are only breathing, waiting to be told what to do next, and trying your hardest to do it, before the cycle repeats itself. Laughing gas was an experience in itself. The worst part was when the nurse asked me to count to 10 in my head as they proceeded to force my arm back into my shoulder, and my shoulder back in place, and they had not managed to do it by 10 so they just kept counting. (It was back in place on the count of 14, if you’re interested in that sort of thing!)
I’m proud of the fact that I managed to stay calm and tear-free until we got home, when I had a huge panic attack, and needed to sit by the open window until the feeling that I was dying subsided. I think it’s amazing how our bodies can just force anything unnecessary out in times of extreme trauma, and only after they are over we feel the full impact of what has happened to us. Interestingly, while the pain was excruciating at the time (that car journey to the hospital was worse than any rollercoaster ride, which, if you know my feelings about rides, is a sentiment you will appreciate), as soon as my shoulder was back in place it felt like little more than a bad bruise.
With my arm in a sling, and under instructions to keep my shoulder perfectly still while it healed, I needed help with literally everything. Until recently I couldn’t lower myself at all, so any reaching/picking up/sitting down was out of the question. Getting in the bath was impossible, and I couldn’t shower until last night, when I was allowed to take my sling off. Even now that I can keep my sling off except for sleeping and going outside, all strength in my arm has gone, and it is very stiff, so I need help with most things.
Putting in contact lenses to see? Yep. Opening a book? Impossible alone. Putting on and taking off clothes? Same. Going to the toilet? Washing my hair and my body? I need Dillon to do it all for me. That’s difficult for someone both as self-reliant and stubborn as me, but I know I’m beyond lucky to have someone so supportive and kind to help me. I don’t know how someone who lives alone could manage. I also understand now how easy it must be to become housebound if you are old or frail and become injured; in terms of the mental strength it takes, descending the stairs is a real challenge for me now, but I’m trying not to let it get me down.
There is physiotherapy to come, and I have some basic exercises that I am doing regularly to prevent the onset of frozen shoulder, but my arm is now out of the sling and I can type at my normal speed. I wanted to find a method to force myself to slow down, appreciate the moment, and get a better sense of perspective on what matters and what doesn’t, and I suppose life found a way to provide me with one. I’ve got to admit, recovering from traumatic injury is something that even I can’t rush through.