For the first time I understood the real meaning of what a pain point is. Ironically, I regularly referred to the term ‘pain point’ in my problem-solving coaching, without quite knowing exactly what it meant. Until the day a physiotherapist pressed on my pain point during manual physiotherapy and the pain struck like a lightning bolt.
It all started around 4 years ago when my family decided to take a break from routine and join a family camp promoting wellbeing in Beit El Wadi off Cairo-Alexandria desert road. My family was excited to try the zip line for the first time. Excited and anxious, I agreed with my husband that we would jump simultaneously from two different stations. Apparently, my husband was too anxious himself to stick to our agreement, and out of the corner of my eye I saw him jumping off before the agreed-upon time.
On reflex, I jerked myself quickly, and jumped too. It was fast, fun and exhilarating. But the sudden movement inflicted pain in my neck and the middle of my shoulder blade and I needed physiotherapy for the first time in my life. I took electric physiotherapy and finished the treatment with minor improvement to the pain. My shoulder became my weak spot, and whenever I was stressed, the pain returned.
Life is like riding a zip line. There are those who tense up during the ride and there are those who enjoy its exhilaration. Some will avoid it altogether, and others will seek it. After the injury, I felt that I would not be so thrilled to ride a zip line again. I was wrong. When on a family holiday, in Jamaica, I got to experience zip lining again. Before we even started, we had to get the safety gear on and hear the safety instructions, followed by long queues waiting to take a leap of faith and jump overlooking the forest trees.
With all the waiting, I was anxious, excited and could feel my heart beating faster. We zipped from one platform to the next, probably about eight in total. On my first ride I was kindergartener. By my last ride I was a master. Simply incomparable! The longest ride had a huge platform giving you space to run and jump into the air. I ran for it and jumped and screamed my heart out. My sweet sister in law came after me and I noticed that she did not run, and let her weight carry her on the line. I was about to head out to the next platform, but decided to wait for her. Time passed and she was not to be seen. After a couple of anxious minutes passed, she appeared, slowly pulling herself on the line to create forward momentum.
Apparently, since she had not run, she'd stopped mid-way and needed help to get across to the other side. It reminded me that in life, as when riding a zip line, give it all you have in order to ensure a smooth journey. Don’t let past experiences of pain or trauma haunt you. Be brave, get on the zip line and enjoy the exhilarating feeling and the beauty around you. What is your zip lining strategy?
Meanwhile, the pain in my shoulder used to come and go and I did not complain, until one morning it shifted to my neck. Apparently, the stress of moving offices was the instigator to the pain. I was among the employees who strongly resisted the new office move. Our company had grown, and we couldn't stay in our old offices. We had to move. To my absolute horror, the company, after scanning the market, decided to relocate to the Far East side of town, a 50 to 70 kilometer commute depending on the route.
Mentally I was not at all ready to commute and when the move took place I was on annual leave. Living in denial, the first time I visited the new office was the first day I went to work from there. The location was such a big turn off for me that even my curiosity to see the new offices did not avail. Needless to say, my first day at the new office was not pleasant.
With the long commute in the morning, I stopped exercising at the sports club before heading to work, as my goal was to drive the least possible hours. The strategy was to arrive early and leave early when possible, avoiding the suffocating Cairo traffic. Of course, this strategy did not always work and I ended up driving longer hours than previously.
The mind is very powerful. With the feelings of denial and anxiety predominant, not surprisingly, this new set up took a toll on my health. I partook in a stress and resilience survey among senior management at my company, and results showed that I was highly stressed and in dire need of relaxation. The company doctor recommended regular massage and even physiotherapy. It was very challenging for me to find the time for either, though I managed occasional massage.
With the passing of time, the combination of lack of exercise, increased anxiety, more driving and overall negative inclination meant that I woke up one morning with a stiff neck. That morning I car pooled with my colleagues to avoid driving and saw the company doctor, who once again recommended physiotherapy and gave me the contact of a center in my neighborhood.
The painful stiff neck gave me no choice but to find time for physiotherapy. I would need to have 6 sessions of manual physiotherapy and laser therapy. The treatment eased the pain gradually, though there were days when the pain increased. After the 6 sessions, another round of 6 sessions of manual physiotherapy and aqua therapy was prescribed. Apparently, the lack of exercise had left my muscles weak. During the physiotherapy my therapist told me that a daily regimen of ten to twenty minutes of exercises to strengthen my back, shoulders and neck was needed, which I took to diligently.
After a couple of months, the company doctor requested that I fill the stress and resilience test once again. The results were much more favorable compared to the year before. Not perfect, however clearly better with the more laid-back approach. After our 1 on 1 discussion, he informed me of his plans to schedule 'stress at work awareness' sessions along with art therapy which would assist my colleagues and I in our journey towards wellbeing.
As healthy thoughts lead to a healthy mind, I decided to take a different approach with my long commute. I now use Uber on the days I know I will return during heavy traffic. Sometimes I carpool with my colleagues, and other days I drive. While driving, I take the time to listen to various kinds of music. Sometimes I'm singing along, sometimes it's relaxing, meditative music. Other times it's religious verses. My friend recommends that I use this time to listen to audio books but for me that would be like going on a glass boat ride in the Red Sea to see the rich colorful corals and fish instead of snorkeling or diving and experiencing it in full. I decided to enjoy the scenery. Cairo is known for the beautiful, scenic Nile, which I love to observe in its eternal beauty. No words can describe how the river Nile flows, it is best to be seen in person.
Some days, I decide to have some fun reading the 2-3 Arabic letters on the license plate of the cars in front of me and have a few good laughs at their sounds, other days I repeat positive affirmations of what I want to attract and I repeat a prayer thanking God for all my blessings. When was the last time you really looked out the windscreen and felt in awe of your environment?
My two cents: Never underestimate the power of your mind and thoughts. The proverb, “a healthy mind breeds a healthy body" is a proverb because it speaks the truth. Once I changed my attitude towards my commute, I was relieved from unnecessary anxiety which had clouded my body, and my personal and professional life.
I am grateful to be working in my company which takes employees wellbeing to heart and clearly treats people as its biggest asset. Take care of yourself and do not feel that it is a luxury to take time to relax. We are living in a demanding and challenging world where it is not just normal, but vital, to take time off for your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. You cannot be productive if you are feeling pain. Take care of you!
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