In my car on the way to an imaging center in Hackensack NJ for an MRI, I felt harried, yet calm. I knew what to expect, or so I thought. Just a quick X-ray of my shoulder/rotator cuff, then home to walk the puppy and do some work before picking up my son from school. I had pre-registered online, called to make sure my medical insurance would cover the procedure or at least most of it. I felt about as collected as one could feel going for some routine imaging.
Cut to the changing room five minutes later and a technician telling me to remove all jewelry, exchange my clothing for an oversized robe, lock up my possessions and that the MRI would take about thirty minutes. Wait, I thought. Thirty minutes? “In that tube”, I inquired. I had thought this was an in and out kind of thing. “You were thinking of a CAT Scan,” she said. She was right. I had been saying MRI but imagining a CAT Scan which I was familiar with.
The thought of being cloistered in a tight tube shaking and vibrating and clanking in my ears for thirty minutes suddenly made me panic. I began to lose my composure. I started to cough and imagine backing out. She asked if I was okay. I quickly tried to play it cool, gain my composure, mostly for my own sake but she could tell I was having a moment. I removed my necklaces, one rope chain, one with a crescent moon with my son’s name etched in it with his date of birth on the back of the moon, earrings with safety backs that took an eternity to undo, a bracelet with the word LOVE inscribed in it. Then I removed a rose quartz stone from my pocket. I often carry semi-precious stones during challenging weeks as a talisman/good luck charm.
I asked for some water and coughed some more, stalling and I could tell that the technician thought I was about to run for my life. But I didn’t. Which is one of the reasons I am telling you this story.
I could opt out, run for the hills or at least to my car and drive away or I could try to improve my quality of life. I have been dealing with what I have begun to believe is an old injury, but now I’m not sure. I seem to keep agitating the same spot which I had pinpointed as my deltoid. It’s gotten progressively worse and even doing yoga, which seems to help with everything causes more pain. That tells me something. I decided to finally have it X-rayed and the first round showed calcification which apparently can just happen. There does seem to be a boatload of this calcification in and around my rotator cuff which causes inflammation, which causes pain. Not super chronic pain. But chronic enough as it acts up more and more often. I am a believer of facing things that are painful and trying to make them better.
I knew I was having some anxiety. I was masked, a little warm, having a bad allergy day with the pollens counts being so high and nervous (not to mention the pain in my shoulder that brought me here in the first place). I was down on myself a little for having anxiety at all. Then backtracked and reminded myself that it’s not a terrible thing and does not mean I am not brave or together or whatever. I thought about how I would help my son Miles navigate a situation like this one and then I began to talk to myself internally with the compassion I would give to a child or any another human being. We are often most harsh with ourselves. I began to tell myself that it would all be okay and that I could do this and that nothing bad was going to happen. Mind over matter. This was meaningful. To me. Nothing bad is going to happen. Ofttimes the way we feel is directly related to the way we speak to ourselves, which is directly related to the way we continue to feel. Breaking this cycle is possible when we show ourselves some love, patience and grace.
The Technician, whose name was Alex then ushered me up a walking ramp asking me if I was okay, I told her I was. I was saying it and trying to believe it all at once. She handed me earplugs, told me it would be a bit loud, then positioned me on the machine. Above me were plexiglass panels with photo realistic blue skies and clouds. I started to relax. Nature in its many forms (simulated in this case) can be a surefire elixir. She asked me if I wanted headphones to wear over the ear plugs and told me she could run Pandora through the phones and asked if there was any music I would like. I took her up on the offer, naturally and opted for relaxing classical. Nothing to upbeat or frenetic. Something soothing. She got the message. She positioned me, propping up my arm. Offered me a blanket to which I declined and mentioned that my arm might get a little warm throughout the process.
I asked if I would be able to communicate with her during the 30 minutes if I needed to. The thought of being jammed in a tiny vessel with technical noise banging in my ears with no way out terrified me. She then handed me a squishy ball and told me I could hold onto it and squeeze hard if I needed to stop for any reason. This was a huge relief! It was a way out if I needed it. An exit route. An emotional safety net. This changed everything.
I began to feel a little more like myself. I asked her if I could do some deep breathing, I thought she would welcome the idea, but apparently deep breathing might be too much movement and mess up the procedure. Normal breathing only. Thank goodness for that. No breathing for thirty minutes would obviously not be an option for me. Okay, so I could breathe consciously, just not with too much gusto. Fair enough. It didn’t matter because once the machine went on and the music started flowing though my headphones with the first few notes of Debussy’s Clair de Lune, a song so familiar, almost like an old friend my eyes flooded with tears, as the fear left my being. I just knew I would be okay. The music had very literally soothed my body and mind. My breathing returned to a very natural, nourishing even inhaling/ exhaling pattern as I felt this calming breathreturn. I became more confident in my ability to flow almost effortlessly through this procedure. Each song was a gem that I knew like a lifelong lullaby. I had reconnected with my breath.
Then another monumental thing happened. Alex told me I was doing great! The time started to pass more quickly, with each song. I got used to the clanking and banging and buzzing all around me. I was able to let the sound happen and then move past me. It was like meditating. I told myself at some point in the music and incessant banging that I would use this time to take a little rest and do a little meditating which I sorely needed after a lousy night of sleep with the dog whimpering, our son waking from a nightmare and feeling like I had barely slept when the alarm sounded.
“You’re doing great!” she said again, following it up with a declaration of only six minutes left! I could easily have endured another fifteen. The uplifting, calming and compassionate aspect of the tried and true “You’re doing great!” reinforcer simply cannot be overstated. We all need to hear this. I tell it to people. I mean it when I say it. I wanna encourage those around me…. my son, my puppy, my husband, my parents, colleagues, fellow musicians, and everyone under the sun who is doing their best! I think it’s important to let people know that they are doing great when they truly are especially when self doubt strikes. It’s also a sign of appreciation.You’re doing great and You can do it go a very long way! The power of positivity has always been incredibly intriguing to me. I advocate this. I preach this. I teach this and yet I need to be reminded too because I am human, and I falter and fail like the best of them.
I completed the MRI. No stopping and starting. No sweat in the end. Hopefully I’ll receive the right treatment and be feeling good as new soon enough. I try to learn from the experiences that are challenging and to humbly impart some wisdom where I feel it may serve someone. So many of our experiences depend on where we are at the moment things occur. On another day I may have been less overwhelmed. Who knows? Doesn’t really matter because the moment has passed and here I am typing with a cool glass of water beside me, the sun setting through my window, my son watching Star Wars, the puppy resting, the hubby on his way back with dinner and a peaceful calm and contented feeling of being home, being safe, being healthy and knowing that summer is on the way!
So here is a cheat sheet, some bullet points to file under (THE NEXT TIME I HAPPEN TO COLLIDE WITH A STRESSFUL SITUATION — SPECIFICALLY OF THE UNKNOWN VARIETY)
SHOW YOURSELF COMPASSION
IT’S OKAY TO STRUGGLE SOMETIMES
TALK NICELY TO YOURSELF (not necessarily out loud)
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
THERE IS ALWAYS A WAY OUT, A SIDE DOOR, OR AN ALTERNATE ROUTE. YOU CAN RENAVIGATE, REGROUP, RESCHEDULE AND RETURN TO THIS WHEN READY.
CONNECTING TO YOUR BREATH IS THE FASTEST WAY TO GET CALM
NATURE CAN SOOTHE YOUR SOUL
YOU CAN DO IT!… AND YOU’RE DOING GREAT
MUSIC WILL CALM YOU, HEAL YOU AND REMIND YOU OF WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU ARE. MADE OF.
DON’T BEAT YOURELF UP. LIFE CAN BE TOUGH SOMETIMES. LEARN THE LESSONS. MOVE ON. THE NEXT MOMENT IS ALREADY HAPPENING.