when pain is a gift

September 18, 2014

There’s something uniquely liberating about being reset to a zero. For the first week of my neck injury I thought it was just going to go away. I’d fallen in front of the people I work and climb with, had a bloody fire engine outside the wall and a paramedic holding my neck, I’d cried in front of the people I work with. Mostly I was just embarrassed. I thought that I had massively over reacted and that in a day or two the pain would be gone completely.

A day or two later and the pain had gotten worse so I went to my doctor, got prescribed a metric f*ck tonne of painkillers and referred to a specialist. I kept relatively cheery, the pain killers made me feel like things were definitely getting better. And then two weeks in I came off them to find out there was only a tiny amount of progress.

I went about setting goals for the next week, month, year, decade, to keep me focused, but instead of focusing me they were disheartening. My goal was “full mobility with no pain”, I didn’t realise at the time that was a STUPID as all hell goal. I can’t DO anything towards that goal, in fact if I work too hard I get worse. After the first month was coming to an end and I had gone a few days without painkillers I went about re-reading everything I’d learned about goal setting.

My new goal is to walk three times a day, do my neck strength three times a day and attempt minor glute and core exercises. I could have success EVERY day with these. Success breeds success. This was a DOING goal rather than a BEING goal. Doing goals means I can wake up in the morning and have a job to do, a BEING goal means I can wake up in the morning and check if I’ve reached it and if I haven’t I get sad.

I have a weekly goal, a monthly goal and a mid-term goal, I also have a life time goal. That life time goal felt a million years away from where I am, but now, every time I have a daily success I can imagine it feeding directly into my lifetime success.

Most people have read about or talked about goal setting at some stage and come across the acronym SMART. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time constrained. What I was missing was all of it. I thought full mobility with no pain was realistic and measurable but it’s not, I can’t measure full mobility. For years I thought I had full mobility until someone looked at my shoulders and more or less laughed.

I have had three years of stupid reoccurring injuries and never realised it all came back to a car crash five years ago. So here I am now, I can barely lift a water jug or a rope BUT I can lift them a wee bit for a short time, that’s progress in the last week! Most of the time when I’m not working, I’m lying down resting my neck and getting up to do some strength. I’m at zero. All my muscles are getting weaker from not being used, and there is something strangely liberating about that.

Previously I was trying to work everything or trying to identify what was the weakness I needed to work on the most to try and reduce all these tweaks and injuries I was getting. Now I have to just sit and push my head against my hand to build up the strength so I can hold up my own head for a whole day without painkillers. I have a tick list of stuff to do throughout the day and I have people I trust that will guide me to help me build my body from this point zero to a balanced body.

I should be completely devastated that I can’t climb, especially as the weather has just been a gift! the trad season seems never ending! But the devastation is gone, the majority of the frustration is gone, though occasionally I will throw a strop because I can’t just go out climbing. Instead I am left with this strange re-start button, like a complete system reboot. My return to climbing, which will hopefully happen in this month and not the next, will be on top rope, it will be 4s and it will be one route on the first day. It will not be triumphant, it will be slow.


I know there are people whose zero is much worse than mine and I am thankful for that.