The 5 Life (Changing) Lessons I Learned from 10 Nightmarish Months of Sickness and Injury

Fair warning: pain, vulnerability and candor ahead. I’m not usually one to share the darker side of my life. Judging by my facebook updates, you’d assume it’s pretty much round-the-clock rainbows and unicorns over here. Yeah…not so much.

The 5 Life (Changing) Lessons I Learned from 10 Nightmarish Months of Sickness and Injury

Also, since this is a business blog, I was hesitant to share this with you, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these lessons I’ve learned so brutally are relevant to you, whether you’re employed, an entrepreneur, or somewhere in between.

And while I was initially inclined to feel sorry for myself, regarding myself merely as the victim of one unfortunate set of circumstances after the next, I’ve come to realize my own responsibility in it all. And therein lies the gold 

Only through learning what I could, at every stage of my ordeal, and gleaning the gold, have I managed to keep my face toward the sky. Plus, my ego is quick to remind me that getting depressed and giving up is for wimps. 😉

It is the sheer quantity and quality of gold that I’ve gleaned that compelled me to share it with you. 

Making good choices comes from experience; experience comes from making poor choices. Painful poetry.

If what you read here helps you avoid even the tiniest shred of the pain I’ve felt, I’ll have achieved much.

Here’s a list of the sickness and injuries I’ve endured over the last 10 months:

  • I herniated disks in my back causing chronic back pain
  • I got a flu shot that wound up causing a full-on shoulder injury and damaging my immune system
  • I tore my MCL (medial collateral ligament) in my knee
  • I became afflicted with a mysterious case of insanely intense itching all over my body
  • I got the worst flu of my life (poetically after getting the flu shot that caused a cascade of other problems)
  • I got the worst cold of my life

…I’m going to share the lessons learned from the first injury in this post, with future installments for the others.

Injury #1: My back Exploded with Pain

The nightmare began one day, last April. While doing nothing out of the ordinary, I felt, maybe even heard my back explode with pain at what turned out to be Lumbar vertebrae 2, or L2. I was brought to my knees, tears flowing unbidden from my eyes.

Over the eleven months since that day, I’ve been in one degree or another of chronic pain. Sitting at my desk became impossible without severe pain. So I transitioned to a standing work station; but it turned out that standing for long periods was  no walk in the park either, so I’ve taken to punctuating the standing with bouts of lying down on my firm futon.

What I’ve learned:

Shortly before I blew my back out, I created a goal of being in the “Best shape of my life”. I began working out, lifting weights and swimming. I run two businesses and have two small children, so my time is stretched pretty thin.

I figured if I were going to reach my goal, that I had to maximize what little gym time I had. To that end, stretching seemed optional to me. I’d rush out of the house after dinner to make it in time to the gym. I wasn’t fully present as I exercised, trying to cram in as many different lifts as I could.

In the several months I was doing this, I did, in fact, gain more muscle mass than ever and attain the most desirable physique I’d ever had. I was certain I’d attained my goal. I even posted photos of my newly acquired “guns” on facebook, for all to see. And here they are for you to see now…

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Then, seemingly out of nowhere, my back exploded.

But it was not “out of nowhere”. In fact, my back had been communicating with me for months. I just wasn’t listening. I was summarily ignoring these subtle warnings – the persistent, nagging tightness and ache in my back. I had ignored, too, my wife’s suggestions to stretch during my workout.

And that morning in April, the final straw broke this camel’s back.

 

Lesson #1: Only Fools Rush In

Big change comes from many small actions, over time. Slow and steady wins the race. In my haste to have my body “look good”, I forsook the whole picture of my total health. I mistook “being buffer than ever in my life” for “being in the best shape of my life”.

Of course I’d heard all these catchy sayings, but I hadn’t truly learned the lesson. Apparently, I had to experience it.

Ironically, this and my other injuries and sickness have prevented me from getting back into the gym for months. I’m just now getting back into my gym groove.

 

Lesson #2: Recovery is a Total Time Suck

Maintaining my health takes far less time and hassle than getting it back.

Between physical therapy, acupuncture, doctors’ visits, epidural injections of cortisone, and the time I lost in a dull fog while taking pain pills, my back injury has cost me hundreds of hours’ time, in addition to the pain.

The irony is that I got myself into this mess by trying to save time, and cram more fitness into a smaller space.

As cliche as it is, there truly are no shortcuts to fitness. Now, I am committed to retaining and refining my health. I’m focussing on that “ounce of prevention” to avoid the “pound of cure”.

I’ve still got the goal of being in the best shape of my life, but now that looks like being capable, agile, pain-free, and full of energy. Muscle definition takes a big back-seat.

I’ve heard it said that true learning doesn’t occur without a change in behavior.

Now, I take it slow and easy. I don’t rush. Ever. I don’t get to do as many exercises, but I enjoy the process of every movement. I relish the time I get to relax and stretch in the sauna after my workout. I’ve retained some of my definition, but I’m not buff anymore. But I know now that I’d rather feel great than be buff.

I’d love to learn from you! What’s one challenge you’ve faced with your health and what have you learned from it? Go here and leave a comment to share!

This is the first in a series of posts on what I’ve learned from from 10 months of sickness and injury. Next week I’m going to share about the single greatest mistake I’ve made with my body…I got a simple flu shot…and the nightmarish results will likely make you cringe.