After several weeks of elbow pain, I finally went to physical therapy (PT) to learn what exercises I could do and how to adjust my movements to reduce pain. My physical therapist, Justin, was engaging and thoughtful, and I appreciated his questions as we discussed what activities might have brought on this tendonitis. I thought I might have “tennis elbow,” but it turns out that’s the term for the outside of the elbow pain, and I actually have “golfer’s elbow” (inside of my elbow.) In reality, I do neither sport, so awkward computer posture is more likely the culprit.
Justin then said, “Okay, I would like to do some tests now,” and it hit me. My body felt hot, my stomach clenched, and I felt a little faint. I said, “Justin, can you get me a glass of water? It is hot in here.”
He jumped up, said, “Of course, let’s open the door to increase the airflow,” and brought me a glass of water.
I took the moment to use the Centering Skill of Noticing Myself and the Resilient Mindset of Curiosity. What just happened? Why had a perfectly pleasant and helpful interaction with my new medical provider suddenly made me feel faint? As I thought about the trigger words “do some tests,” memories rushed back to me. Fifteen years ago, I had acute shoulder pain due to stress on my shoulder of swimming laps with poor ergonomics. After a year, I finally succumbed to shoulder surgery, accompanied by more than six months of recovery. Through it all, I had physical therapy—first to try to heal without the surgery, and then to recover from it. The whole experience was harrowing, and “do some tests” signaled that the pain would worsen.
As I drank my glass of water, I was so grateful I took the time to Notice Myself. I shared with Justin my previous experience with PT, which gave him some useful information about me as we continued the session. Talking about it released the power of the memory and helped me be more present in the work I need to do now.
Later, I reflected on all the times the past unwelcomingly intrudes on the present. We are going along our merry way when someone says or does something, and we react way more than the present situation requires. Our Protective Patterns emerge in unhelpful ways. Noticing Myself and the Resilient Mindset of Curiosity can stop that cycle. When we acknowledge our past but not let it hijack us, we can be more present to what is actually going on now and move forward with our healing—whether that is my tendon or our emotional selves.
I was proud I had paused for that moment because I know, in the past, I might have ignored feeling faint, pushed through the emotions because “I didn’t have time for them,” and then wondered why the physical therapy session didn’t go well. Noticing Myself helped me, helped my relationship with Justin, and helped in my healing.
I was also aware that my moment with the physical therapist was small, and many other people are carrying tremendous burdens of trauma or grief, waiting to push them off their feet with a tiny trigger. It gave me even more empathy for others and reminded me of a favorite quote:
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
Can you use the Centering Skill of Noticing Myself when your past activates you?
Meri and the Dovetail Learning team