Coping with mysterious pain, creating a safe space in surgery, and envisioning healing.
“I had a mysterious injury in my scapula, but it was hard to pinpoint where it was because the pain spread to surrounding areas. It was a weightlifting injury – I was pushing too hard and thought I was invincible, but this made me realize there is a such thing as "too much," which was a hard lesson. I was a personal trainer; working with weights was my full-time job and my hobby, and I took it very seriously. I sought medical attention, but no one could tell me what it was. The general consensus was, ‘You pulled a muscle; just rest it.’ That was hard for me, but I did it. And the shoulder didn’t get better, it got worse.
I tried a chiropractor, massage, acupuncture, an orthopedist, and pain management specialists. This carried on for several months, and it was devastating. It went on so long – almost a year – that some doctors insinuated that I made it up. But I could not use my arm without feeling crippled the next day. It became emotionally taxing; there was no progress. The injury started to affect back and knees because I was compensating in my movements. And I couldn’t do the one thing that was my passion. I was declining mentally. It was my right arm, and I’m right-handed. Putting groceries away, carry a bag over my shoulder, sleeping on it wrong all hurt.
I finally saw a specialist who nailed the diagnosis. It was a scapular detachment, which can’t be seen through any of the X-rays and MRIs I had done. The only way to fix it is a surgery invented by one surgeon in Kentucky. Part of me was relieved, but it was a major shoulder surgery out of state by a surgeon who didn’t take my insurance. And I lived alone in NY. I’d have to take at least three months off work, do physical therapy for up to nine months, and I’d need help for four or five weeks because my arm would be in a brace and I couldn’t drive or pick anything up.
I never had surgery before and I was prideful that I never had any health conditions or injury. It felt shameful that I brought this on myself and it led to this year-long situation.
I went to see Priya a few times leading up to the surgery. We knew the surgery would be scary, but it was the recovery after that would be the most difficult. So we did four to six weeks of prep work leading up to surgery. She had me journal the same thing over and over again to create a mental image of how each part of it would go – the surgery and the recovery. I did a lot of visualization about how I wanted it to turn out using very specific language – there was no room for maybes; we were reinforcing definite concepts.
She worked with me to create a safe place in my brain that I could go if I was scared or nervous. I was so glad I had that tool going into the surgery because there were moments that were terrifying. I had this place I could go to really easily and feel calm and at peace. Without it I’m not sure I would’ve known where to put those emotions. I still have and use that tool.
After surgery, the visualizations changed. We worked out how I’d manage my pain and my emotions, reinforced it through hypnotherapy, and worked on it in my journal. Ultimately, I pictured myself a few months down the road, starting graduate school, driving there on my own, and walking around with a book bag on my shoulder. And at the end, I did exactly the scenario we pictured."