5 Life Lessons I Learned From a Forced Pause

Here at Camille Styles, we often talk about the practice of slowing down, from trying to stay more present, to lessons learned from the pandemic  and even one penned by yours truly on how to listen to my body. Though, it wasn’t until a physical injury earlier this month that catapulted me into a forced pause where I had no other choice than to not just slow down, but establish an entirely new routine and shift priorities almost immediately. 

To make a long story short: while I was out for a run on the trail, my lower back started to hurt unlike anything I’ve ever felt to the point it took my breath away. It took me almost 30 minutes just to finish walking home, and later that evening, I couldn’t walk or sit without being in excruciating pain. The very next day I was at the physical therapist’s learning about paraspinal muscles and the SI joints, and we got straight to work.  

Not being able to move my body in even the simplest of ways immediately redirected my attention to care for myself in a way I haven’t before.

Everything I had booked in my calendar from Barry’s Bootcamp, dinners out, to morning coffee walks around the lake with friends were all scratched so I could take that time and energy to focus on my body feeling good. That meant carving out time for physical therapy appointments and mobility exercises in the evening, booking acupuncture, cutting back on anything causing inflammation in my body (alcohol, food, stress!), and getting more sleep than ever before. 

The second I canceled everything, I felt a huge wave of relief wash over me. Having zero plans outside of taking care of my body felt freeing, and I had zero guilt about it because it was the only priority that mattered.

For a moment, I felt like Carrie Bradshaw with my internal monologue loudly asking, “Why do we wait for an accident and pain to slow us down and pause, when it feels this good?” I’m happy to report at the time of publishing this piece, after three full weeks of physical therapy, dry needling, cupping, mobility exercises, acupuncture, not drinking, eliminating anything causing inflammation in my body, and only moving my body intentionally and slowly, I finally feel healed and can move without pain.

In those three weeks, I picked up a couple of new habits and learned a few lessons that I’m now carrying with me into my daily life. 

Lesson 1: Going hard and fast (with anything) doesn’t mean efficient

My physical therapist gave me one exercise to do two times a day which focused on activating and building strength in my hamstrings for roughly five minutes per round. Watching her do it, it looked easy and almost like a waste of time. This, coming from someone who likes to lift heavy, sprint fast, and break a strong sweat to know I really “worked hard.” Into my second rep on the first round, my muscles were burning, and the movement was harder than doing 40lb weighted squats. We’ve been so conditioned and marketed to believe that we need to spend 45+ minutes busting our bodies in a workout, when, we can build strength in an intentional and short amount of time. 

This sentiment has me considering how I approach work and relationships and visualizing my PT exercise as a guide to a slow build as a marker to strength and productivity. 

Lesson 2: Pause from a place of pleasure vs. pain 

Question for the audience: what is your relationship with boundaries on your calendar/schedule? Is it easy for you to say no, even if you have the time open? 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we hold our social calendars and book or overschedule ourselves. I’m taking that same energy I had when I canceled plans due to a physical necessity and applying it to my mental health as a necessity. What that looks like in practice: calendar blocking my mornings for me time (movement, etc); booking myself “free weeks” when I keep an entire week free from plans to focus on what needs to get done, and adding cal blocks to the day before/after travel so I can get ready before my trip and have a day to readjust after my trip. I owe it to myself. You probably do, too! 

Lesson 3: What once suited me, might not anymore

The always present reminder that it’s okay to change our minds as we are constantly evolving, learning, unlearning, and discovering new ways of living. I love the freedom in this and find it exciting—it allows me to operate from a place of “newness,” and discovery. Not being able to run or go to a HIIT workout felt a little devastating as I had set some new strength goals, but those would’ve only made the pain worse and the path to recovery longer. So, I had to discover new ways of moving and build a completely new routine and schedule. Rather than fixating on ways I couldn’t move, I got to choose movements that would alleviate pain and be productive to recovery. What a gift to release ourselves from the “shoulds” and focus on what we need for ourselves right now to push us forward. 

Lesson 4: Share your experiences

While I’m typically bold about what I share (especially here!), I can also revert to a place of holding back because I don’t want people to feel they need to give me special attention. All of that is now thrown out the window because this experience has taught me the power of sharing; there is an entire community who has likely been through what you’re experiencing and they’ve got the potential to save you time, money, and resources. It’s also been wonderful for others to know what’s been going on so they have context or clarity around response time and interest. 

It goes without saying, but of course, only share what is comfortable to you and only you. 

Lesson 5: When something feels off, address it immediately

I saved the best and most important for last. When my injury happened, I felt it immediately. My body felt off and it wasn’t a feeling of soreness, it was pain. I called my physical therapist and took care of it straight away—she shared that I came in at just the right time before it got worse and potentially more damaging. In the past, I would’ve waited it out for a variety of reasons, and I’m thankful I took action quickly. I applied this same notion to a recent relationship that felt a bit off and it was a really monumental moment to have a vulnerable and beautiful conversation that led to strengthening the bond.

I know the hard conversations or actions can feel really big and almost easier to put off, but it’s always always always worth it. Like Glennon Doyle says, “we can do hard things.” I am leaning the hardest into this lesson, even though I know it’s one we truly already know. 

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