Recently, I’ve hit a thick wall. I’ve been dealing with some health issues and have had no choice but to take a break. I work five days a week with teens at a high school and, on Saturdays and weeknights, with adults in my private practice. I don’t take a sick day unless it’s physically impossible for me to stand up. If there is a holiday, I leave the country to explore wildlife, hike, dive, or learn about a new culture. It’s all great, except that there are no pauses. My life is fast paced. I work hard and play hard and work hard again.
I tend to choose working over staying at home because I always find something healing in learning from a student or client. However, my break will keep me away from them. What if they are finally ready to release their painful memories and I’m not there to help them? Secrets can chain them to their dark pasts and prevent them from moving on. I will never forget the very first time I was able to tell someone what had happened to me. Physically, It felt like a huge burden being lifted from my body. At that moment, I realized the importance of talking about our secrets and the feelings we have about them. Gradually, I was able to breathe better, walk taller, and look into people’s eyes. That experience motivated me to keep on working — often at breakneck speed. But this time around, something is different.
My hiatus has been giving me a lot of time to think. I wonder whether I’m a “workaholic.” I worry if I’m running away from something by distracting myself. What if it is me that I’m running away from? And why am I running and where am I running to? I’m lucky to have found a career I love. As a social worker, I get to participate in people’s healing, to watch them change and grow, and in return, to grow and expand myself. But it’s a dilemma: How could I be growing and running from myself at the same time?
One thing that is new in my life is that I can finally experience physical pain, from migraines to tiny sensations in my funny bone. Many people in my wellness community think it’s progress that I have started to feel pain, because pain is a normal part of the body’s warning system. Yet for many years, I didn’t feel it. When I was a kid, I remember seeing cuts on my knees or elbows and bruises on my body and blood stains on my clothes that I couldn’t explain. I know being able to disassociate from pain was my body’s way of protecting me as a child. I dissociated from painful memories too. I somehow was able to blackout anything that felt wrong. I couldn’t erase harmful people in my life but somehow was able to block out what they did to me.
As an adult, I had a near death experience because I couldn’t experience the pain that should have warned me that something was very wrong. Lying in an uncomfortable bed at Beth Israel Hospital, I kept refusing to hear and believe that something was wrong with my pregnancy.
“You are bleeding internally, ma’am. Do you not feel the pain?”
“I need a bed for an emergency surgery now!” The doctor was yelling at the person who scheduled these things … “No! She doesn’t have an hour. It has to be now. ”
I can finally cry about the loss, the baby I never got to hold. Even though this was ten years ago, I mourn this experience any time it comes up. In fact, I have started to allow in all that I blacked out as a child and, in that way, am starting to feel whole once again.
Today, I’m not only feeling pain; I’m embracing it. I’m listening to it. It’s telling me I need to pause and enjoy what I have become. It’s telling me to rest, recharge and create something new. It’s telling me that a fast-paced life is just like fighting quicksand and that real living is slowing down. And while I’m resting, I’ve begun my first blog. So dear pain, I hope you see that I sense you, loud and clear. I’m resting and writing. I’m not painproof anymore, but I’m starting to think that’s a good thing.
I'm a licensed clinical social worker with two decades of experience working in New York City public schools and providing social and emotional support for urban youth, immigrants, and their families. I'm Director of Wellness and founding member of Harvest Collegiate, a progressive public high school in Manhattan, where I also train social workers. In my private practice, I treat adults through a mixture of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and Reiki. In my spare time I write literary nonfiction.