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May 27, 2015

Bulging Discs and Poison Ivy: Recovering from Setbacks

Poison Ivy Picture

I was recently corresponding with Dana D., a school leader in Delaware, who apologized for being delayed on an email reply and explained she’d been very sick. She asked me to write more about how to recover from a setback when your system goes off the rails.

As fate would have it, I am particularly primed to write about this topic. In the past four weeks, I have been to the emergency room, a chiropractor, my local Urgent Care, an orthopedist, a surgery center, my general practitioner, a dermatologist, and the pharmacy (many, many times). PS I’m more grateful than ever to have health insurance.

To what do I owe all of these fun medical adventures??? Two things: One bulging and two degenerative discs in my back (SO painful, but I’m on the upswing) AND a raging case of poison ivy (which apparently grows on VINES in the South . . . back in my native Maine, these suckers were low to the ground). It seems I like to “go big or go home” to all aspects of my life!

I’m thankfully on the mend, just in time for heavy summer travel and lots of time with my family at the local pool. However, my systems are still recovering from these setbacks. Here are a few things I’ve tried while tinkering with this work in progress:

1. Overcommunicate with those impacted. I’m sure Kendra, Marin, my father-in-law and the folks at Koya Consulting and KIPP MA were not overly enthused by seeing pictures of my alarmingly blistered arms, but I wanted to warn them in advance, and this picture was worth thousands and thousands of words. And while it was NOT ideal to reschedule two workshops because I couldn’t really walk, I explained the whole situation in detail to two clients who were incredibly understanding. Even my 2.5-year-old knew I couldn’t pick him up, so he learned how to crawl into my lap when I was sitting on the floor!

2. Be extra kind to yourself. I’m not great at getting “taken care of” and I really despise sitting still for long. But the pain medication I had to take for my back caused me to feel really drowsy, so I had to build time to rest each afternoon and go to bed super early. When I tried to power through, I only faced diminishing returns. It was also hard not to run (I’m addicted), miss the 10K I was super excited about, and have my mobility limited. After one afternoon feeling sorry for myself in bed with a big tub of chocolate toffee covered pretzels and The Rosie Project, I gave myself a pep talk and decided to accept reality. And maybe we ate deli sandwiches for dinner for three weeks straight, but so what?

3. Be grateful. Tish Jennings, Gretchen Rubin, and many others write about the importance of keeping gratitude journals and being mindful of positive/negative thought ratios. Each morning my back feels good, I try to pause and be incredibly grateful I am up and functioning for the day. And when I could first pick up my son and run a slow three miles, I really did stop to appreciate these gifts. You almost don’t know what you take for granted!

4. Lean on family and friends. I’m very grateful for my husband who picked up a lot of household slack for me, my WoMo Group and countless other girl friends for their thoughtful calls and texts (did you know there is an emoji for poison ivy?), and our babysitter and extended family for pitching in to help on many fronts, both home and work. THANK YOU.

5. Help others. For a few weeks there, I wasn’t in much of a mood to write. But I could still talk to people. I ended up doing a lot of informal career coaching for folks. I figured that if I couldn’t put a lot out there in the world, at least I could react and respond to other peoples’ questions and requests. This came with the extra boost of feeling reasonably useful.

So, that’s that. My back will always be a little dicey (hello, almost 40!) and I will NEVER touch any plants in my yard again. (My dermatologist told me I am SO allergic to poison ivy that I should basically only go into the woods if I am in a hazmat suit). But setbacks happen. I am so fortunate that neither were life-threatening, and so grateful I have resources like health insurance, job flexibility, and awesome family and friends.

I hope to be fully up and at ‘em soon. And I’ll try not to scare the folks at the Teach For America Social Innovation Awards this week (I’m a judge on the panel) with my poison ivy face!

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