In following the theme of just how taxing rehabilitation can be (see previous post, an important excerpt from my memoirs in the making), I thought I’d bring some feedback from my personal trainer into the forefront for today, which may elevate some hope, following that somewhat dreary ending to my preceding post (sorry about that).
I began my workout regime again this week, my first full week back home in the States, and while I was working with my trainer at the gym, he told me to do this extremely challenging exercise: stand on one leg and with opposite arm extended forward, vertically holding a weighted bar, raising and lowering the bar from shoulder height to about 45 degrees up and back down again. It is a somewhat simple movement for the average Joe or Jane, but when you’ve got an affected side, it’s nearly impossible. The concentration it takes to keep balancing on that leg (especially when it’s the weaker leg with propensities to twisting its ankle or let its knee hyperextend, like mine) is tiring enough, let alone simultaneously with the arm exercise.
So balancing on my left, weaker leg, lifting and lowering the bar with my right arm was pie. Meanwhile, my body swayed back and forth, and I could raise and lower the bar maybe once or twice before I would tower over and fall off the one-leg stand.
Balancing on the right leg, my body was stable, but because my left shoulder is still subluxed (yes, after seven years — contrary to what the therapists said, it is not just a muscular thing), it was uncomfortable (slightly painful) to try and lift the weighted bar any higher than my ribs! And in addition to that, to hold the bar vertically. In fact, it was so “impossible” that my trainer swapped the bar for a six-pound dumbbell — promptly traded in again for one of four pounds — and told me to hold it horizontally instead. It was a little more feasible this way, but still heavily cringeworthy and challenging.
After struggling to do this exercise for a while, my trainer told me, “It won’t help you improve if it’s not hard.”
Very true, but I replied that the problem with rehab is exactly this: when you’re trying to do something that seems simple — even though there is really no such thing as a simple movement — eventually your ego will kick in once you’re concentrating all your brainpower to do it. That darned ego will crack through your determination to tackle that “simple” task, making you not want to do what you need to do to get better.
Thus goes the internal tug-of-war that is neurological reprogramming.
And so my trainer responded, “You must let the zen mind be the void.”
And how to do that? It may seem sometimes I get all pseudo-Buddhist or meta-physical on you guys, but this piece of advice came from an ex-army lieutenant who’s had to wade through his share of fury issues — and it’s because these concepts of quietude and peace really do bring about an effective means of getting through a lot of life’s swampiness.
Once you make the conscious decision to calm your mind down and stop beating yourself up for the stuff you know how easy it is to do, it’ll make the struggle more bearable.
Plus, it helps to break things down rationally: I, for example, used to play the piano beautifully. (I played for eight years.) The other day, my four-year-old little cousin was banging on the piano for fun, as little tykes tend to do. My father called me downstairs to play something for her, and all I could really do was sit beside her and play a simple C scale up and down an octave.
It was a bit of a bummer for me to “see how far I’d fallen,” the girl with the formerly flying fingers that churned out sonata after sonata now only able to sprawl out her right hand in a spindly, basic arpeggio in C, or only able to play the first couple of margins of Les Misérables’ “On My Own” — just the introduction prior to the actual song. Playing the piano with one hand only is no musician’s idea of fun, or of art.
Hold up a second, though. Any of you who play or used to play the piano knows just how much practice is required. And practice, I would wager, is exactly what drives so many people to quit piano or what have you — it’s a seemingly mindless task of doing the same thing over and over and over, ironing out all the errors, breaking down each line of musical notes margin by margin until the muscle memory learns, at last, the precision required to play that tune.
And with all the neurological training that you’d done as a baby, a toddler, beefing up those teeny intrinsic muscles within your fingers and then learning to use them properly — a task, which if you ever lost motor control due to Central Nervous System trauma, you have to redo — can you (or I) truly blame yourself for not being able to reproduce that beautiful piano melody today? Really?
It is the zen mind, that calm center within you that forgives yourself of its current shortcomings, that will gently urge you out of that resentment and frustration that always comes with rehabilitation. It will remind you, without judgment of its own, that you’re being too hard on yourself and that only through this resistance and pushing yourself through it because you have no choice — just as a baby – will you come out the other side.
To our healing,