...and I find myself knowing...
"...and I find myself knowing the things that I knew. Which is is all that you can do on this side of the blue.." Joanna Newsom
I have often found myself saying that you rarely learn things just once. It is not entirely true of course as some things are so profound that they stay with you from the moment you experience them. It is just such an experience, along with the return of life's usual routines, that drew me to write this blog post. At the very least it serves as a reminder for me to recall the lessons I had learned through this period of my life; lessons and truths that helped me recover from a painful operation and something I'm determined never to forget.
It's a little over a year and a half since my spinal surgery (Microdiscectomy) and 2 and a half years since I started getting nerve pain from a collapsed disc in my back (Sciatica). I dare not count how many pills I took over those months. I rattled around at 29 per day for a good while. Looking back it feels quite surreal now. The weeks blend into each other and it is hard to distinguish points in time during the months of lying on my back. Firstly I should say that my friends and family have been an incredible support and I am truly blessed to have them in my life. I have no doubt that their support and encouragement played an enormous factor in my recovery. I am also extremely aware that there are others who endure so much more suffering in their life. I don't profess to know any answers, but that said, I'd like to share a small but crucial part of my experience in the hope that it may make a difference to someone somewhere.
As anyone who has had to endure any kind of recovery will know an internal struggle emerges as well as a physical one. The world doesn't slow down for you when you yourself are forced to stop. This can feel very isolating even if you are getting support from loved ones. Throw medication in the mix and you can easily feel alienated from the world with thoughts that don't feel like your own. With the prospect of large swathes of solitude ahead I realised that my mental state was going to play an enormous part in getting through this next period of my life. Having spent years working as a professional gardener and musician I had certainly grown accustomed to an active life. In the early days I began to wonder if it was possible to look at my new and severely limited situation as an opportunity instead of something that was happening to me.
I'd like to think that life doesn't happen to you. We are not removed from it in that sense. We move through its ever changing myriad of pathways, sensing, perceiving and interacting along the way. Perhaps we can be guilty of lulling ourselves into modes of 'knowing'. Being predisposed to predict and measure our immediate physical world may tell us that we are 'familiar with the rules', which strengthens and assures our sense of place. For the most part I would imagine forecasting outcomes based on experience is crucial to our fundamental survival. After all it would be rather distracting to question and challenge every tiny detail of our existence whilst going about our everyday routines. However, I wonder if the same sensory processes that assure us that the world is as we suspect it to be, could spill over into our emotional processes and become an obstruction when faced with the prospect of dealing with something difficult and painful? This human experience is after all, an aspect of our perception, and perception heavily informs our reality. Even the slightest shift can present a whole new experience. I've come to believe an intricate exchange can exist within the tangle of life's soaring highs and lumping great misfortunes: a trade.
Since November 2012 I'd pushed through the increasing pain. After struggling through the summer playing gigs, rehearsing, working outside and spending all my money on acupuncture 3 times week I finally stopped everything at the beginning of August 2013 after a gig in York and gave in to the pain. I wondered if I could use the focus in a new way and distract myself constructively. If I could accept the things that were happening to my body and see new opportunities within my altered routine, then perhaps I could actually get through the whole thing without too much upheaval. It turns out that this approach began a curious awakening of sorts.
Within days I had set myself tasks that I could achieve in a small space of time and larger tasks that I would dip into if I felt I had the energy. I built a little guitar pedal within a couple of weeks, edited two and a half years worth of gig photos, and started writing new songs. I changed my whole studio around so I could lie down whilst reaching for anything I needed and made lots of notes. A process began to emerge. I felt I had begun to think more creatively again. Without the day to day pressures and distractions of pushing through the pain I had the time to follow my instincts and act on my ideas, despite being muddled and convoluted. All these little tasks were things that I did because they gave me a sense of achievement and purpose, however small and unimportant they may seem now. As much as distractions and little achievements helped, in many ways, these were reminders. A touchstone back in to my usual life. Naturally this helps make you feel more 'normal' if only for a moment, but things are not normal and a larger truth had yet to present its self. What happens when you can't get up and do those little things for the day? There is a good chance you do battle once again with your fears, doubts and emotions. I cried a lot. Your emotional self is a powerful thing and it relishes in freaking out. I would remind myself that is the nature of emotions. To expect anything different would be cruel to yourself so I would greet them, invite them in and have a good cry or laugh, or laugh and cry and send them on their way. I realised that you must acknowledge where you are and be kind to yourself. To embrace uncertainty is to acknowledge your own vulnerability in this life. There is nothing to be gained from giving yourself a hard time over your lack of control. Little achievements and emotional purging aside I became fascinated by negotiating my new existence, doing my best to shrug off the differences from my usual life and forge into a new realm. To see uncertainty , acknowledge and accept it, is incredibly powerful. It is not to give in but to welcome: I caught myself starting to feel fortunate.
Just as the melancholy of a cloudy day may prompt us to look inward and ask ourselves deeper questions in life, it would seem something of this can hold true for injury and pain. You stand ( or in my case lie ) face to face with the discomfort, forcing your brain to do remarkable things to distract you. Its primal. Humans, along with dogs, tilt their heads when looking at something new and unusual. It would seem that we are hard wired to ask more of our selves; to alter our perception; change our brain rhythms and forge a new memory in an effort to understand; to seek a new connection. Apart from the discomfort and the pain and worry on the faces of loved ones, I feel blessed to have been reminded of something of ourselves; a resilience which lies within us all. The stress of worry is stripped of its power when you are reminded of this and I gratefully received this lesson. The key is remembering.
Here I am months later gigging, writing, working outside, setting up a new business and trying to take care of my back. Life has sped up once more but I carry something with me now. A secret; a glowing comforting reminder that we are all able despite misfortune. In fact, unexpectedly, misfortune carries with it a new set of rules affording an opportunity to take; a corner to turn; a new experience to forge. It won't wind back the time. It won't make the pain disappear. It won't comfort the loved ones who are caught in their own world of worry, but the quiet humble whisper of acceptance will open up a strength, an inspiration, and a sense of peace that you never knew you had in you.