Sometimes learning comes from unlikely sources. My recent experiences recovering from shoulder surgery are an example of this. I have been intrigued to observe how I dealt with my change of circumstances from a coaching perspective.
Surgery to repair torn ligaments and tendons has a very specific aftercare regime to ensure good healing and to minimise the possibility of a re-tear. This involved four weeks in a sling 24/7, not using the arm at all, except for very simple exercises several times a day.
Between weeks four and six I’ve started physio and am gradually weaning myself off the sling. At six weeks, dressing is still a little difficult, food preparation is a challenge, driving needs to wait for another ten days at least and I can only attempt light housework. (OK I’m not distraught about the last item!) I can only lift very light objects and it will be at least three months before I can lift any significant weight. Allaying frustration and staying patient from day to day is proving a challenge. I have had to find ways of adapting to my new circumstances.
Adaptability is crucial for staying positive and strong at times of upset. This might include changing routines, behaviours or ways of thinking. I like to think of myself as adaptable in each of these ways but my experience since the surgery has given me a new understanding of the term.
Knowing when to adapt
I have come to realise that adaptability and self-care don’t always work in harmony. The physiotherapist I saw before the operation was amazed at seeing my MRI scan. My movement was far greater than he would have thought possible from the extent of the damage. With a goal to continue using the arm, my adaptability had found ways of overcoming the injury. A more suitable goal would have been to find the necessary intervention much sooner so that the arm would have a chance to recover. A powerful lesson in self-care.
Accepting not fighting
Now that I have had a full operation, I am adapting to real constraints. After a lifetime of sleeping on my side, I am having to sleep on my back, with my arm carefully supported. The information from the hospital spoke of finding sleep “elusive” to begin with. An understatement! The best thing I can do is to accept rather than fight my discomfort until sleep takes over.
Changing my mind-set
It also helps if I keep my predicament in proportion. My challenges are minor compared to those that many people face. I can turn the constraints into a challenge and find inventive ways to carry out tasks with one hand as if playing a game.
Extending my comfort zone
An important part of coaching is extending our comfort zone as we take steps towards our goal. Steps that initially might seem frightening become easier in the process. I now have a new understanding of this concept as a result of my physiotherapy! Exercises that were painful or difficult the first time became easier over time. What felt difficult last week is now achieved with ease, well most of the time! I’ve recently overdone some of the exercises and suffered a small setback.
I was desperate to get out of the sling but when I initially started to stop using it I felt vulnerable and relieved when I put it on again.
My goal for the first month was to provide the best possible conditions for the shoulder to heal. It took me time to accept that I would need to prioritise this above other goals around walking and going to the gym, for example, or attending events in central London that involved rush hour crowds.
Instead, I had to concentrate more on simple everyday tasks such as showering, dressing and typing on a computer. I could not approach these tasks in a haphazard way but one at a time. An unexpected bonus was to realise the benefits of this methodical approach. Normally, I like to multi-task.
Being kind to myself
My goal now is to regain full motion of my arm. This is going to take time and I am learning not to rush or get cross with myself. In prioritising two physiotherapy appointments a week and exercises three times each day, other tasks are left undone. That is O.K. I do not have to feel guilty. I have to exercise the arm sufficiently to regain good movement at a pace that is challenging but does not compromise healing.
Step by Step
This involves small repeated steps. I’m reminded of occasions when I have attempted to move towards a goal too quickly, leaving out the small steps, taking big leaps and then panicking when I ended up way out of my comfort zone, scurrying back to a safe place, goal unaccomplished.
Hopefully with my learning over the last six weeks I will not repeat this.