Gone But Not Forgotten: Healing, recovery, and self-preservation

Supervised physical therapy may be helpful to ...Image via Wikipedia

(If you think you’ve seen this post before, there’s a reason; it did make a brief appearance last week. But it is being re-published today, having been a casualty of the Great Blogger Outage of 2011 on May 12-13. )

You never really notice how used to something you’ve become until it’s not there any more – or as Joni Mitchell put it, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” That thought usually serves to remind us not to take good things for granted, but it also applies to not-so-good things we just learn to get used to…until, one day, we notice we don’t have to accommodate them anymore. Something has gone away; something has healed.

Before I sought treatment for depression, some of the feelings associated with it had been present for so long that I’d decided the way they shaped my worldview must be my “normal,” then and now and for the foreseeable future. However, “normal” isn’t necessarily a synonym for “healthy,” and that’s something I don’t think I fully grasped until some time after an effective combination of therapy and medication got me to a better place.

The healing process is more straightforward for physical injuries, perhaps, but there are similarities. It’s been ten months since I originally dislocated my right shoulder. I re-injured it a few months later, and had surgery in January to correct the problem – hopefully, for good. My recovery during the last several months hasn’t just been from the surgery itself; it’s also been a time of addressing the underlying conditions that made the shoulder unstable in the first place, and developing the strength to use it properly and keep it where it belongs.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that certain routine movements of my arm – mostly reaching – weren’t causing me pain any more…and recalled that prior to surgery, they had, and they’d been doing it for awhile. I’d taught myself to make those movements more gingerly and cautiously to minimize the pain, and it still feels strange to realize it’s not there (although it’s still wise for me to move with care). For the months between the original injury and the surgery, my right arm and shoulder would feel fatigued and sore for the rest of the day after doing the grocery shopping or cleaning up around the house; now they don’t. I was unable to sleep on my right side for months, and had required an extra pillow to support my arm; it’s no longer necessary.

At my last follow-up with my orthopedist, I was cleared to discontinue physical therapy and advised that I could pursue most activities other than contact sports. (No loss; I never played contact sports before I injured my shoulder. I am a certified non-jock. You may recall that I dislocated it – twice – simply tripping and falling while walking.) I will be seeing him again at the end of June – exactly a year after all this started – and perhaps that will be my last visit. He’s done an excellent job, as did the physical-therapy team, but I can’t honestly say I’ll miss any of them.

Some people may feel invulnerable after recovering from a major injury or illness, but I’m not one of them. I find it hard to let go of just a little fear of recurrence, and I feel like I need that fear to help keep me on the right path to maintain well-being. That’s a lesson learned the hard way; having ceased to focus on keeping up the healthy habits that helped me lose almost 30 pounds several years ago, I’ve now gained it all back, and am on medication for high cholesterol to boot. Clearly, I need to pay attention – to how I’m feeling, to what I’m eating, and to where I’m walking. Sometimes when you notice something’s gone, you realize it really isn’t something you wanted to have in the first place, and there’s no sense of nostalgia associated with it; you’re pretty sure you don’t want it back again.

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